페이지 이미지

a wrong label," and Pope “to an apothecary who did not mind his business.”*

Cibber triumphed in the arduous conflict—though sometimes he felt that, like the Patriarch of old, he was wrestling, not with an equal, but one of celestial race," and the hollow of his thigh was out of joint." Still, however, he triumphed, by that singular felicity of character, that inimitable gaieté de cæur, that honest simplicity of truth, from which Howed so warm an admiration of the genius of his adversary; and that exquisite tact in the characters of men, which carried down this child of airy humour to the verge of his ninetieth year, with all the enjoyments of strong animal spirits, and all that innocent egotism which became frequently a source of his own raillery. He has applied to himself the epithet “impenetrable, which was probably in the mind of Johnson when he noticed his “impenetrable impudence.” A critic has charged him with “effrontery." I Critics are apt to admit me. Even the malicious, though they may like the libel, don't always believe it.” His reason for reply is, that his silence should not be further reproached “as a plain confession of my being a bankrupt in wit, if I don't immediately answer those bills of discredit you have drawn upon me.” There is no doubt that Cibber perpetually found instigators to encourage these attacks ; and one forcible argument he says was, that "a disgrace, from such a pen, would stick upon me to posterity.” He seems to be aware that his acquaintance cheer him to the lists “for their particular amusement.”

* “His edition of Shakspeare proved no better than a foil to set off the superiority of Theobald's; and Cibber bore away the palm from him in the drama. We have an account of two attempts of Pope's, one in each of the two principal branches of this species of poetry, and both unsuccessful. The fate of the comedy has been already mentioned (in page 300), and the tragedy was saved from the like fate by one not less ignominious, being condemned and burnt by his own hands. It was called Cleone, and formed upon the same story as a late one wrote and published by Mr. Dodsley with the same title in 1759. See Dodsley's Preface.”- Biographia Britannica, 1760.

+ Armstrong, who was a keen observer of man, has expressed his uncommon delight in the company of Cibber. “Beside his abilities as a writer (as a writer of comedies, Armstrong means), and the singular variety of his powers as an actor, he was to the last one of the most agreeable, cheerful, and best-humoured men you would ever wish to converse with."-Warton's Pope, vol. iv. 160.

Cibber was one of those rare beings whose dispositions Hume describes "as preferable to an inheritance of 10,0001. a year.”

I Dr. Aikin, in his Biographical Dictionary, has thus written on Cibber : “It cannot be doubted, tbat, at the time, the contest was more painful to Pope than to Cibber. But Pope's satire is immortal, whereas Cibber's sarcasms are no longer read. Cibber may therefore be represented

too much of traditional opinion into their own; it is necessary sometimes to correct the knowledge we receive. For my part, I can almost believe that Cibber was a modest man !* to future times with less credit for abilities than he really deserves ; for be was certainly no dunce, though not, in the higher sense of the word, man of genius. His effrontery and vanity could not be easily overcharged, even by a foe. Indeed, they are striking features in the portrait drawn by himself.” Dr. Aikin's political morality often vented its indignation at the successful injustice of great power! Why should not the same spirit conduct him in the Literary Republic ? With the just sentiments he has given on Cibber, it was the duty of an intrepid critic to raise a moral feeling against the despotism of genius, and to have protested against the arbitrary power of Pope. It is participating in the injustice to pass it by, without even a regret at its effect.

As for Cibber himself, he declares he was not impudent, and I am disposed to take his own word, for he modestly asserts this, in a remark on Pope's expression,

"Cibberian forehead," “ by which I find you modestly mean Cibberian impudence, as a sample of the strongest.-Sir, your humble servant—but pray, sir, in your 'Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot' (where, by the way, in your ample description of a great Poet, you slily hook in a whole hat-full of virtues to your own character) have not you this particular line ?

* And thought a Lie, in verse or prose, the same-"" Cibber laments it is not so, for “any accusation in smooth verse will always sound well, though it is not tied down to have a tittle of truth in it, when the strongest defence in poor humble prose, not having that harmonious advantage, takes nobody by the ear--very hard upon an innocent man! For suppose in prose, now, I were as confidently to insist that you were an honest, good-natured, inoffensive creature, would my barely say. ing so be any proof of it? No sure. Why then, might it not be supposed an equal truth, that both our assertions were equally false? Yours, when you call me impudent ; mine, when I call you modest, &c. While my superiors suffer me occasionally to sit down with them, I hope it will be thought that rather the Papal than the Cibberian forehead ought to be out of countenance.” I give this as a specimen of Cibber's serious reasonings they are poor ; and they had been so from a greater genius ; for ridicule and satire, being only a mere abuse of eloquence, can never be effectually op1. osed by truisms. Satire must be repelled by sutire ; and Cibber's sarcasms obtained what Cibber's reasonings failed in.

Vain as Cibber has been called, and vain as he affects to be, he has spoken of his own merits as a comic writer, --and he was a very great one, --with a manly moderation, very surprising indeed in a rain man. Pope has sung in his Dunciad, most harmoniously inhuman,

“How, with less reading than makes felons scape,
Less human genius than God gives an ape,
Small thanks to France, and none to Rome or Greece,
A patch’d, vamp'd, future, old, revived new piece ;
'Twixt Plautus, Fletcher, Congreve, and Corneille,
Can make a CIBBER, Johnson, and OZELL."

as he was most certainly a man of genius. Cibber had lived a dissipated life, and his philosophical indifference, with his careless gaiety, was the breastplate which even the wit of Pope failed to pierce. During twenty years' persecution for his unlucky Odes, he never lost his temper; he would read to his friends the best things pointed against them, with all the spirit the authors could wish ; and would himself write

Blasting as was this criticism, it could not raise the anger of the gay and careless Cibber. Yet what could have put it to a sharper test? Johnson and Ozell are names which have long disappeared from the dramatic annals, and could only have been coupled with Cibber to give an idea of what the satirist meant by “the human genius of an ape." But listen to the mild, yet the firm tone of Cibber-he talks like injured innocence, and he triumphs over Pope, in all the dignity of truth.—I appeal to Cibber's posterity!

“And pray, sir, why my name under this scurvy picture? I flatter myself, that if you had not put it there, nobody else would have thought it like me ; nor can I easily believe that you yourself do ; but perhaps you imagined it would be a laughing ornament to your verse, and had a mind to divert other people's spleen with it as well as your own. Now let me hold up my head a little, and then we shall see how the features hit me." He proceeds to relate, how “many of those plays have lived the longer for my meddling with them.” He mentions several, which “had been dead to the stage out of all memory, which have since been in a constant course of acting above these thirty or forty years.” And then he adds : “Do those altered plays at all take from the merit of those more successful pieces, which were entirely my own ?-When a man is abused, he has a right to speak even laudable truths of himself, to confront his slanderer. Let me therefore add, that my first Comedy of The Pool in Fashion was as much (though not so valuable) an original, as any work Mr. Pope himself has produced. It is now forty-seven years since its first appearance on the stage, where it has kept its station, to this very day, without ever lying one winter dormant. Nine years after this, I brought on The Careless Husband, with still greater success; and was that too

"A patch’d, vamp'd, future, old, revived new piece!" Let the many living spectators of these plays, then, judge between us, whether the above verses came from the honesty of a satirist, who would be thought, like you, the upright censor of mankind. Sir, this libel was below you! Satire, without truth, recoils upon its author, and must, at other times, render him suspected of prejudice, even where he may be just; as frauds, in religion, make more atheists than converts ; and the bad heart, Mr. Pope, that points an injury with verse, makes it the more unpardonable, as it is not the result of sudden passion, but of an indulged and slowly-meditating ill-nature. What a merry mixed mortal has nature made you, that can debase that strength and excellence of genius to the lowest human weakness, that of offering unprovoked injuries, at the hazard of your being ridiculous too, when the venom you spit falls short of your aim !” I have quoted largely, to show that Čibber was capable of exerting a dignified remonstrance, as well as pointing the lightest, yet keenest, shafts of sarcastic wit.

epigrams for the pleasure of hearing them repeated while sitting in coffee-houses; and whenever they were applauded as “Palpable hits !”“Keen!”“Things with a spirit in them !"-he enjoyed these attacks on himself by himself.* If this be vanity, it is at least “ Cibberian."

It was, indeed, the singularity of his personal character which so long injured his genius, and laid him open to the perpetual attacks of his contemporaries, who were mean enough to ridicule undisguised foibles, but dared not be just to the redeeming virtues of his genius. Yet his genius far exceeded his literary frailties. He knew he was no poet, yet he would string wretched rhymes, even when not salaried for them; and once wrote an Essay on Cicero's character, for which his dotage was scarcely an apology ;--so much he preferred amusement to prudence. Another foible was to act tragedies with a squeaking voices, and to write them with a

Ayre's “Memoirs of Pope," vol. ii. p. 82. + Even the “Grub-street Journal” had its jest on his appointment to the laureateship. In No. 52 was the following epigram :

“ Well, said Apollo, still 'tis mine

To give the real laurel :
For that my Pope, my son divine,

Of rivals ends the quarrel.
But guessing who would have the luck

To be the birth-day fibber,
I thought of Dennis, Tibbald, Duck,

But never dreamt of Cibber !"-ED. # It may be reasonably doubted, however, if vanity had not somethinz to do with this--the vanity of appearing as a philosophical writer, and astonishing the friends who had considered him only as a good comedian. The volume was magnificently printed in quarto on fine paper," for the author," in 1747. It is 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." The entire work is a series of somewhat toofamiliar notes on the various passages of " Cicero's Life and Times," as narrated by Middleton. He terms the unsettled state after the death of Sylla " an uncomfortable time for those sober citizens who had a mind and a right to be quiet." His professional character breaks forth when he speaks of Roscius instructing Cicero in acting; and in the very commencement of his grave labour he rambles back to the theatre to quote a scene from Vanbrugh's Relapse, as a proof how little fashionable readers think while they read. Colley's well-meaning but free-and-easy reflections on the gravities of Roman history, in the progress of bis work, are remarkable, and have all the author's coarse common-sense, but very little depth or refinement-ED.

With what good-humour he retorts a piece of sly malice of Pope's ;

genius about the same size for the sublime ; but the malice of his contemporaries seemed to forget that he was creating new dramatic existences in the exquisite personifications of his comic characters; and was producing some of our standard comedies, composed with such real genius, that they still support the reputation of the English stage.

In the “Apology for his Life," Cibber had shown himself a generous and an ill-treated adversary, and at all times was prodigal of his eulogiums, even after the death of Pope ; but, when remonstrance and good temper failed to sheathe with their oil the sharp sting of the wasp, as his weakest talent was not the ludicrous, he resolved to gain the laughers over, who, in the notes to the Dunciad, after quoting Jacob's account of Cibber's talents, adds—“Mr. Jacob omitted to remark that he is particularly admirable in tragedy." To which Cibber rejoins— “Ay, sir, and your remark has omitted, too, that (with all his commendations) I can't dance upon the rope, or make a saddle, nor play upon the organ. My dear, dear Mr. Pope, how could a man of your stinging capacity let so tame, so low a reflection escape him? Why, this hardly rises above the petty malice of Miss Molly. 'Ay, ay, you may think my sister as handsome as you please, but if you were to see her legs !' If I have made so many crowded theatres laugh, and in the right place, too, for above forty years together, am I to make up the number of your dunces, because I have not the equal talent of making them cry too? Make it your own case. Is what you have excelled in at all the worse for your having so dismally dabbled in the farce of Three Hours after Marriage? What mighty reason will the world have to laugh at my weakness in tragedy, more than at yours in comedy ?

I will preserve one anecdote of that felicity of temper--that undisturbed good-humour which never abandoned Cibber in his most distressful moments. When he brought out, in 1724, his Cæsar in Egypt, at a great expense, and "a beggarly account of empty boxes” was the result, it raised some altercations between the poet and his brother managers, the bard still struggling for another and another night. At length he closed the quarrel with a pun, which confessed the misfortune, with his own good-humour. In a periodical publication of the times I find the circumstance recorded in this neat epigram :

On the Sixth Night of CIBBER'S “ Cæsar in Egypt.
When the pack'd audience from their posts retired,
And Julius in a general hiss expired;
Sage Booth to Cibber cried, “Compute our gains !
These dogs of Egypt, and their dowdy queans,
But ill requite these habits and these scenes,
To rob Corneille for such a motley piece :
His geese were swans ; but zounds! thy swans are geese!"
Rubbing his firm invulnerable brow,
The bard replied “The critics must allow
'Twas ne'er in Cæsar's destiny to run!"
Wilks bow'd, and bless'd the gay pacific pun.

« 이전계속 »