Cibber, Colley

, poet-laureat to George II. and a dramatic writer of considerable genius, was born in Southampton-street, London, November 6, 1671. His father, Caius Gabriel Cibber, was an eminent statuary,*


Cains Gabriel Cibber, or Cibert, son of a cabinet-maker to the king of Denmark, was born at Fiensburg, in the duchy of Holstein, and discovering a talent for sculpture, was sent at the king’s expence to Rome. He came to England not long before the restoration, and worked for John Stone, son of Nicholas, who, going to Holland, and being seized with a palsy, Cibber his foreman was sent to conduct him home. He afterwards became carver to the king’s closet. He was twice married. It was his second wife who was the mother of Colley. The most capital of his works are the two admirable figures of Melancholy and raving Madness, before the front of Bethlehem. His other works are the bas-reliefs on two sides of the Monument the fountain in Soho-square and one of the fine vases at Hampton-court, said to be done in competition with a foreigner who executed the other, but nobody has told us which is Cibber’s: he exe cuted also most of the statues of kings round the Royal Exchange, as far as king Charles; and that of sir Thomas Gresham, in the piazza beneath. The first duke of Devonshire employed him much at Chatsworth, where two sphinxes on large bases, well executed, and with ornaments in good taste, are of his work; and till very lately there was a statue of Neptune in a fountain, still better. He carved there several door-cases of alabaster, with rich foliage, and many ornaments in the chapel and on each side of the altar is a statue by him, Faith and Hope the draperies have great merit, but the airs of the heads are not so good as that of the Neptune. Cibber built the Danish church in London, and was buried there himself, with his second wife, for whom a monument was erected in 1696. He died himself about 1700, at the age of seventy. Walpole’s Anecdotes of Painting, &c.

and his mother was the daughter of William Colley, esq. of an ancient family of Glaiston, in Rutland. He took his Christian name from her brother, Edward Colley, esq. In 1681—2 he was sent to the free-school of Grantham, in Lincolnshire and such learning he tells us, as that school could give him, is the most he ever pretended to, neither utterly forgetting, nor much improving it afterwards by study. In 1687 he stood at the election of Winchester scholars, upon the credit of being descended by his mother’s side from William of Wykeham, the founder; but not succeeding, he prevailed with his father, who intended him for the church, to send him to the university. The revolution of 1688, however, gave a turn to Cibber’s fortune; and instead of going to an university, he supplied his father’s place in the army, under the earl of Devonshire, at Nottingham, who was on his road to Chatsworth, in Derbyshire. There his father was then employed, with | other artists of all kinds, changing the architecture and decorations of that seat. The revolution having been accomplished without bloodshed, Cibber had no opportunity of proving his valour, and immediately determined to gratify a very early inclination he had somehow formed for the stage. Here, however, he did not meet with much encouragement at first, being full three quarters of a year before he was taken into a salary of 105. per week; yet this, with the assistance of food and raiment at his father’s house, he tells us he then thought a most plentiful accession, and himself the happiest of mortals. The first part in which he appeared with any success, was the chaplain in the “Orphan,” which he performed so well, that Goodman, an old celebrated actor, affirmed with an oath, that he would one day make a good actor. This commendation from an acknowledged judge, filled his bosom, as he tells us, with such transports, that he questioned whether Alexander himself, or Charles XII. of Sweden, felt greater at the head of their victorious armies. The next part he played, was that of Lord Touchwood, in Congreve’s “Double Dealer,” acted before queen Mary which he prepared upon only one day’s notice, by the recommendation of the author, and so well, that Congreve declared he had not only answered, but exceeded his expectations; and from the character he gave of him, his salary was raised from 15s. a week, as it then stood, to 20s. The part of Fondlewife, in the “Old Batchelor,” was the next in which he distinguished himself.

All this applause, however, did not advance him in the manner he had reason to expect and therefore, that his ambition might have another trial, he resolved to shew himself as a writer. With this view he wrote his first play, called “Love’s last Shift,” acted Jan. 1695, in which he performed the part of sir Novelty Fashion. This comedy met with great success, and the character of the fop was so well executed, that from that time Cibber was considered as having no equal in parts of the same cast. He now turned his attention principally to writing, and it is observable, says he, “that my muse and my spouse (for he was married at this time) were equally prolific; the one was seldom the mother of a child, but in the same year the other made me the father of a play. I think we had a dozen of each sort between us; of both which kinds some | died in their infancy, and near an equal number of each were alive when I quitted the theatre.

The “Careless Husband,” which is reckoned his best play, was acted in 1704 with great success, a great portion of which he very handsomely places to the account of Mrs. Oldfield, a celebrated actress, who gave great spirit to the character of Lady Betty Modish; yet not more than the author himself in the part of Lord Foppington, wherein he was inimitable. But of all his plays, none was of more importance to the public and to himself, than his comedy called the “Nonjuror,” which was acted in 1717, and dedicated to the king: the hint of it he took from the TartufFe of Moliere. It was considered, however, as a party piece, and it is said that, as he foresaw, he had never after fair-play given to any thing he wrote, and was the constant butt of Mist in his “Weekly Journal,” and of all the Jacobite faction. But this is not an exact state of the case. It is true that he incurred the ridicule of the Jacobites, but the Jacobites only laughed at him in common with all the wits of the day. This general contempt was afterwards heightened by Pope’s making him the hero of the “Duneiad” instead of Theobald, a transfer undoubtedly mean and absurd on Pope’s part, since what was written for Theobald, a dull plodder, could never suit Cibber, a gay lively writer, and certainly a man of wit However, if the Nonjuror brought upon its author some imaginary evils, it procured him also some advantage, for when he presented it to George I. the king ordered him 200l. and the merit of it, as he himself confesses, made him poet-laureat in 1730. Here again he incurred the ridicule of his brother wits, by his annual odes, which had no merit but their loyalty, lyric poetry being a species of writing for which he had not the least talent, and which he probably would not have attempted, had not his office rendered it necessary. These repeated efforts of his enemies sometimes hindered the success of his dramatic pieces; and the attacks against him, in verse and in prose, were now numerous and incessant, as appears by the early volumes of the Gentleman’s Magazine.*


Among the opponents of Cibber, we know of no individual who returns so often to the charge as Fielding, both in his novels and plays, nor with such fyree of humonr.

But he appears to have been so little affected by them, that he joined | heartily in the laugh agaiost himself:, and even contributed to increase the merriment of the public at his own expence.

The same year (1730) he quitted the stage, though he occasionally appeared on it afterwards; in particular, when “Papal Tyranny in the reign of king John,” a tragedy of his own, was acted in 1744, he performed the part of Pandulph, the pope’s legate, with great spirit and vigour, though he was at that time above seventy years of age. He died Dec. 12, 1757. His plays, such of them as he thought worth preserving, he collected and published in 2 vols. 4to. Though Pope has made him the prince of dunces, yet he was a man of parts, but vain, and never so happy as when among the great, making sport for people who had more money, but less wit than himself. Dr. Johnson says he was by no means a blockhead, but by arrogating to himself too much, he was in danger of losing that degree of estimation to which he was entitled. Of this we have a proof in a work he published in 1747, entitled “The Character and Conduct of Cicero considered, from the History of his Life by the Rev. Dr. Middleton; with occasional Essays and Observations upon the most memorable Facts and Persons during that Period,” 4to. Cibber was much better qualified to estimate the merits of his brother comedians, than to investigate the conduct of Cicero. As to his moral character, we know not that any thing mean or dishonourable has ever been imputed to him, and his “Letter to Pope,” expostulating with him for placing him in the Dunciad, does some credit to his spirit, and is a more able defence of his conduct than Pope could answer. Although addicted to the promiscuous gallantries of the stage, and affecting the “gay seducer” to the last, he pleased the moral Richardson so well by his flattery, that the latter conceived a high idea of him, and wondered on one occasion, that Dr. Johnson, then a young man, could treat Cibber with familiarity! The best edition of Cibber’s Works is that of 1760, in 5 vols. 12mo. His “Life,” from which much of this article is taken, has been often reprinted. 1


Biog. Brit. P-ioj. Dram. Life written by himself; and that prefixed to his works. Swift’s Works; see Index. Victor’s Works, vol. I. p. 71,7‘2, 93, 94, &c. Davies’s Life of Garrick, vol. I. and Dramatic Miscellanies. Richardson’s Correspondence. Bowles’s edit, of Pope’s Works, Ruffhead’s Life of Pope, 4to, p. 299. Boswell-’s Life of Johnson.