Cibber, Susanna Maria

, wife of the preceding, and for several years the best actress in England, was the daughter of an eminent upholsterer in Covent-garden, and sister to Dr. Thomas Augustin Arne, the musician. Her first appearance on the stage was as a singer, in which the sweetness of her voice rendered her very conspicuous, although she had not much judgment, nor a good ear. It was in this situation, that, in April 1734, she married Theoph. Cibber, then a widower for the second time. The first year of their nuptials was attended with as much felicity as could be expected, but the match was by no means agreeable to his father, who had entertained hopes of settling his son in a higher rank in life than the stage; but the amiable deportment of his daughter-in-law, and the seeming reformation of his son, induced him to take the young couple into favour. As he was a manager of Drury-lane play-house at that time, and his son having hinted somewhat respecting Mrs. Cibber’s talents as an actress, he desired to hear a specimen. Upon this her first attempt to declaim in tragedy, he was happy to discover that her speaking voice was perfectly musical, her expression both in voice and feature, strong and pathetic at pleasure, and her figure at that time perfectly in proportion. He therefore assiduously undertook to cultivate those talents, and produced her in 1736, in the character | of Zara, in Aaron Hill’s tragedy, being its first representation. The audience were both delighted and astonished. The piece, which was at best an indifferent translation, made its way upon the stage; and Mrs. Cibber’s, reputation as an actress was fully established, with its agreeable concomitants, a rise of salary, &c. The character, however, which she acquired in public, was lost in private life. She was married to a man who was luxurious and prodigal, and rapacious after money to gratify his passions or vanity, and at length he resolved to make a profit of the honour of his wife. With this view, therefore, he cemented the closest friendship with a gentleman, whom he introduced to his wife, recommended to her, gave them frequent interviews, and even saw them put, as if by accident, in the same bed, and had then the impudence to commence a trial for criminal correspondence, which brought to light his nefarious conduct. He laid his damages at 5000l. but the jury discerning the baseness of his conduct, gave only 10l. costs; a sum not sufficient to reimburse him a fortieth part of his expences. From that time Mrs. Cibber discontinued living with her husband, and resided entirely with the gentleman who was the defendant in this abominable trial.

As an actress, she was thought most excellent in tender parts, till, during the rebellion, she appeared in the character of Constance, in Shakspeare’s King John, in which she manifested not only the maternal tenderness of a Merope, but such dignity, spirit, and passion, as perhaps have never been exceeded, if equalled, on any stage. Handel himself was exceedingly partial to her, and took the trouble of teaching her the parts expressly composed for her limited compass of voice, which was a mezzo soprano, almost, indeed, a contralto, of only six or seven notes, with all the drudgery of repetition necessary to undergo in teaching persons more by the ear than the eye. He and Quin usually spent their Sunday evenings at Mrs. Cibber’s, where wit and humour were more frequently of the party, than Melpomene, Euterpe, or Orpheus.*


A gentleman who was in company with.Mr. Garrick when the news of her death was brought, heard him thus pronounce her eulogium: “Then Tragedy expired with her; and yet she was the greatest female plague belonging to my house. I could easily parry the artless thrusts, and despise the coarse language of some of my other heroines; but whatever was Cibber’s object, a new part, or a new dress, she was always sure to carry her point, by the acuteness of her invention, and the steadiness of her perseverance,

| Besides her excellence as an actress, she has some claims as a translator, the “Oracle of St.,Foix” being rendered by her into English in 1752, and played for her benefit, not entirely without success. The disorder of which she died was supposed to be a rupture of one of the coats of the stomach, which formed a sack at the bottom of it, into which the food passed, and thus prevented digestion. She died Jan. 30, 1766, and was buried in one of the cloisters of Westminster-abbey leaving one child by the gentleman with whom she cohabited. 1

Biog. Dram.—Rees’s Cyclopædia.