to neutralize the wholesome effect of such a production ;
and, with much wit and pleasantry, to degrade virtue from
her novel elevation.
Gibber, in the meantime, was unceasing in his efforts to
gain applause as an actor, and his long and patient study
obtained its deserved success. He appeared, with consi-
derable approbation, in the characters of lago, Wolsey,
Richard III., and others; but in tragic parts he never
attained the excellence he had exhibited in comedy. His
voice was deficient in depth and volume; and so im-
portant is voice in tragedy, that it may be doubted
whether all other qualifications wiU not go for nothing if
that one be wanting.
In 1697, he produced "Woman's Wit, or the Lady in
Fashion," which was but coolly received. His first play
seems to have exhausted his stock of reading and observa-
tion, which he had not had as yet sufficient time to replenish.
His next effort, " Xerxes," a tragedy, was likewise a failure.
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COLLEY GIBBER. 255
In a paper in " The Tatler," Steele has a sly joke on the pre-
mature fate of this play. Among the items in a theatrical
inventory are " The imperial robes of Xerxes, never worn
but once.'* In fact, our author evidently mistook his powers
if he expected to excel in tragedy, for which neither his
studies nor the original constitution of his mind^ in the
least degree, fitted him.
In the following year (1700), he had a salve for his
wounded vanity in the great success of his new comedy of
"Love makes the Man, or the Fop's Fortune/' which
was brought out at Drury Lane. In the same year, he
altered Shakespeare's " King Richard III." for the stage ;
but the licenser cut out the whole of the first act, not
allowing " the small indulgence of a speech or two, that
the other four acts might limp on with a little less
absurdity." This slashing application of the knife was
occasioned by the zeal of the Master of the Revels for the
existing order of things, fearing lest the people might be
reminded by the miseries of King Henry VI. of the con-
dition of their exiled King James ; so firm, at that time,
was Whig reliance in the vaunted popularity of the
The division among the players, which we shall enter
into more particulariy in a succeeding page, had been
attended with serious results to both parties. Free trade
in the drama was, by no means, a successfiil experiment
in those days ; and the miseries to which the two com-
panies were reduced by their competition has been gra-
phically depicted by Gibber himself, who was one of
the sufferers. The actors were seldom paid more than
half their nominal salaries, and sometimes performed for
six weeks together without receiving a day's pay; and
Gibber, in these straits, found the proceeds of his pen a
most welcome supply. " It may be observable, too," says
he, " that my muse and my spouse were equally prolific.
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256 COLLEY GIBBER.
that 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 between us, of both
which kinds some died in their infancy, and near an
equal number of each were alive when I quitted the
In 1703, his comedy, "She would and she would
not, or the Kind Impostor," was brought out at Drury
Lane; and, in the following year, he produced "The
Careless Husband," which, it is generally conceded, is by
far the best of his productions. Pope has adverted to the
high esteem in which this piece was held in his Imitations
from Horace :
"The people's voice is odd;
It is, and it is not, the voice of Qod.
To Gammer Gorton if it give the bays.
And yet deny The Careless Husband praise."
This work is a master-piece in its way, and presents,
perhaps, the most favourable specimen of Gibber's genius.
Congreve used to say of him, that his plays had many
things that looked like wit but were not wit. Certainly
he was deficient in that unrivalled felicity, which could
dispose each gem in the setting that would best set oflF its
lustre ; but, on the other hand, his dialogue gained in ease,
and, if less striking, was more natural, and did not seem
a mere vehicle for the introduction of choice sayings.
" The Careless Husband" owes little to plot or incident.
The characters are not such as would at first sight excite
much interest, and the broader features of comedy are
wanting. The manners are those of fashionable life,
which are apt to pall when continued unrelieved through
a lengthened performance, and the whole dramatic per-
soruB are but seven ; but there is a polish and a grace
pervading the whole composition which charms the
spectator; and the attention is kept alive, and curiosity
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COLLEY GIBBER. 25?
excited throughout, to a degree which evidences the hand
of a master.
In 1706 he again attempted a tragedy, and brought out
his " PeroUa and Isadore," which ran a week and then
sank into oblivion. His. two comedies, "The Double
Gallant, or the Sick Lady's Cure," and " The Lady's Last
Stake, or the Wife's Resentment," followed during the
The former of these two plays, through caprice or mis-
management, was not a favourite on its first appearance ;
but on its revival two years afterwards, its merits were
better appreciated, and it became a stock play. The latter
showed talent, but this perpetual harping on the same string
began to tire. The follies of fashionable life admitted not
of much variety, and Gibber detecting the changing senti-
ments of his auditors, turned to other sources of interest.
Owen Swiney had now taken the theatre in the Hay-
market, upon some understanding with Rich, the most
influential of the patentees of Drury Lane. Rich had
excepted to his engaging Gibber, but without avail, as,
on some dispute between the two. Gibber, thinking him-
self ill-used, left Rich and joined Swiney. The two
theatres, however, coalesced in the following year, when
as his friend, Golonel Brett, had obtained a share in the
patent, Gibber returned to Drury Lane. This was the
Brett who marrieH the Gountess of Macclesfield, the
reputed mother of Savage. In 1709, on the suspension
of the privileges of the patent by the Lord Ghamberlain,
Gibber, in conjunction with Wilks, Dogget, and Mrs.
Oldfield, returned to the Haymarket, where two years
afterwards he obtained a share in the management ; and
his vanity, his most prominent characteristic through life,
was in a flutter of excitement on the occasion. He
became joint patentee of Drury Lane, being associated
with Gollier, Wilks, and Dogget.
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258 COLLEY CIBBER.
His conduct as a manager presents the brightest side
of his character. The judgment and resolution he dis-
played, strange in one of so mercurial a temperament, the
mismanagement he corrected, the difficulties he overcame
by his marvellous equanimity and perseverance, and the
strict punctuality he observed in all pecuniary engage-
ments, constituted him, in the opinion of one well com-
petent to judge, " a character of as singular utility to the
theatre as any that ever existed."
We embrace so tempting an opportunity to suspend the
narrative, in order to present to the reader a rapid sketch
of theatrical history from the time of Davenant to the final
retirement of Gibber.
As we have observed in a preceding memoir, at the
Restoration two companies were established by royal
letters patent. In the dearth of existing dramatic talent,
their principal resource lay in the older writers, and parti-
cularly in the works of Shakespeare, Jonson, Massinger,
and Fletcher, with the xmderstood proviso that the two
theatres should never bring out the same play at the same
In the rivalry of competition, Davenant, probably during
a temporary depression, called in auxiliary aid, and by
opera, masque, and spectacle, outran his competitor in
public favour. Killegrew took up the same weapons, and
angry altercations arose between the two companies, while
both seemed on the verge of ruin.
In 1684, Betterton, who had succeeded Davenant in
the management, to put a stop to these dissensions, pro-
posed a union. A suspension of hostilities was agreed
upon, and the companies united under Davenant's patent.
This, with the dormant one of Killegrew, had all the proper-
ties of personal estate. Davenant bequeathed it to his son
Charles; h^ q,ssigned it to his brother Alexander, who
sold it to Christopher Rich, a lawyer. From Rich it went
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COLLEY GIBBER. 259
to his son, who devised it to his four daughters, of whom
it was purchased by Colman and others.
At the junction of the two companies, they performed
at Drury Lane under the title of the King's Company,
and cheered themselves with the flattering assurance of
comfortable success. In this, however, they were speedily
deceived. The management, freed from the spur of com-
petition, grew lax and negligent, audiences decreased, and
while the patentees dictated their own terms to the actors,
they were unable to enjoy their monopoly in peace among
themselves. Of the twenty shares into which the profits
were divided, ten had been appropriated to the proprietors,
and the remaining ten, in certain proportions, to the actors.
The proprietors who took the one moiety were likewise
ten in number. These, impelled by whim or necessity,
sold their shares or parts of their shares ; and thus money-
lenders and speculators were introduced into the manage-
ment, who obtruded their voices and gave their votes on
matters of which they knew absolutely nothing. The
natural consequences ensued, receipts diminished, and the
incompetent managers revenged their own folly on the
helpless actors by diminishing their quota of the profits.
Betterton, who to save the two companies from ruin,
had planned the coalition, now perceived that the remedy
had become worse than the disease, and abetted by the
principal performers, he, through the medium of Lord
Dorset, represented their case to the consideration of
King William IIL The patentees, secwe in their fancied
rights, by the advice of Rich, maintained that by law no
other patent could be granted. This assumption was
stigmatized by the opposite party as a slight on the
Prerogative; and the lawyers consulted by Betterton,
unanimously gave as their opinion, that the grants of
Charles interfered not in the slightest degree with the
power of any succeeding Prince to confer similar privileges
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260 COLLEY CIBBER.
at discretion. The patentees saw their error, and made
overtures of reconciliation- At this crisis Queen Mary
died, and the closing of the theatre gave Betterton time
to mature his designs.
The opposite party, in the meantime, were not idle ;
they doubled the salaries of their actors, and beat up for
recruits in all quarters. The principal performers, how-
ever, felt that the cause of Betterton was their own; they
had an audience of the King, who promised them his
protection, and were empowered by royal licence to open
a theatre for themselves. Subscriptions were instantly
set on foot to provide the necessary funds ; there was no
lack of popular sympathy, and they established themselves
in the Tennis Court in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
The patentees were necessarily beforehand, and com-
menced the campaign with Mrs. Behn's " Abdelazar, or
the Moor's Revenge," the prologue to which was Gibber's
first attempt in literature. In about a fortnight's time,
such was the incredible diligence of Betterton, the rival
house opened (April 13th, 1695) with Congreve's "Love
for Love," and the success of this play was so unpre-
cedented, that it sufficed of itself to keep the theatre afloat
during the whole season.
Various devices were resorted to by the Drury Lane
company to win back public favour. Rich, chagrined at
the preference given to the theatre in Lincoln's Inn
Fields by persons of distinction, and calculating on the
influence servants possessed over the actions of their
masters, resorted to the unworthy expedient of opening
the gallery free to footmen and others, who had before
been excluded altogether from the house. " If he did
this to get applause," says Gibber, " he certainly succeeded,
for it often thundered from the full gallery above, while
the thin pit and scanty boxes below were in a state of
perfect serenity." The privilege once accorded, became
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COLLEY GIBBER. 261
a most formidable nuisance, and was with ditBculty
Another device of this crafty lawyer was to admit " fast
raen" behind the scenes, sometimes on payment of money,
sometimes gratis ; and the same authority observes that,
" the inconveniences of the custom we found so intolerable,
when we afterwards had the stage in our hands, that at
the hazard of our lives we were forced to get rid of them."
The tide of public favour, however, at first ran strongly
with Betterton, but gradually " the novelty of encouraging
merit wore off." The Drury Lane company, likewise,
conscious of inferior talents, exerted themselves with the
greater diligence ; the actors and actresses were younger,
and more ambitious of distinction. Gibber, Southeme,
and Vanbrugh wrote for them; while Betterton's company,
too confident in their merit and experience, flushed with
success, grew slothful and negligent, and were in turn
Finding their popularity on the wane, they accused
the capriciousness of the public, the public recriminated
on their supineness, and when they followed the example
of Drury Lane, in only paying the actors and employes as
receipts fell in, their condemnation was imreserved.
It was about this time that Collier's famous book
Posturing and tumbling now became fashionable frivoli-
ties, in which the two theatres condescended to a degrading
rivalry^ Vanbrugh, for some cause unexplained, deserted
Drury Lane, and projected a new theatre to be built in
the Haymarket, with a more especial view in its con-
struction to the requirements of opera and spectacle. The
necessary powers were obtained, and the theatre was built
in 1705. It opened with operas, the principal performers
singing in Italian, the rest singing and reciting in English.
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262 COLLEY CIBBER.
The sitxiation of the theatre, however, was disadvantageous.
Drury Lane, being near the city and the Inns of Court,
the principal support of the theatres, felt the benefit of
the propinquity. A walk ^along the ill-paved and worse-
lighted Strand, was then a formidable undertaking, and
cabs had not been invented.
In the following year Betterton, sinking in years, and
finding his affiiirs in an unprosperous state, induced his
fellows to dissolve partnership, and advised them to put
themselves under Congreve and Vanbrugh at the Hay-
market. Congreve declined the labour of management,
Vanbrugh was unequal to it, and was desirous of amal-
gamating with Drury Lane. Rich, at the latter theatre, by
incessant scheming, had absorbed nearly the whole pro-
prietorship into his own hands. When he heard that Van-
brugh's new theatre was in the market, he grasped at that
likewise, but, in his cunning, overreached himself. Under
a formal verbal agreement, which he intended as a blind,
he empowered one Swiney, whom he regarded as his tool,
to treat with Vanbrugh as in his name, intending to take
advantage of or to reject the bargain, according to the
issue of the speculation. Swiney treated for it with Van-
brugh, and purchased it, ingratiated himself with several
actors, was joined by Gibber and others, and then boldly
pressed Rich to fulfil at once his part of the contract. This
led to a rupture, and the credit of ingenuousness and fair
dealing lay in public estimation with Swiney. Rich, instead
of having an accomplice, had raised up a competitor.
The last remaining partner of any importance at Drury
Lane had been Sir Thomas Skipwith. He, disgusted
with Rich's meddling propensities, had presented his
share to Colonel Brett. Brett began at once to busy
himself at the theatre, and, being a man of fashion,
endeavoured to raise the tone of the place. By Gibber's
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COLLEY GIBBER. 263
advioe^he proposed a partnership between the two theatres,
which, through his interest with the Vice-Chamberlain, he
was enabled to carry into effect. The terms were, that
the performances at Drury Lane should be kept distinct,
so that the former should confine itself to the drama, and
spectacle and opera should be relegated to the latter. The
agreement lasted but a year, for Rich, who delighted in
confusion, and was jealous of all interference, opposed
Brett in all his plans, frightened him by imaginary
liabilities brought by fictitious claimants, and Skipwith
was induced to resume his gift.
Rich, now autocrat of the theatrical world, began to
torment the actors, who, as there was no hostile theatre
to take refuge in, were obliged to submit to his per -
verseness ; everything fell into confusion, and the manager
was happy. The actors complained to the Lord Cham*
berlain, who issued an order to close the house. Mean-
while Swiney's powers were enlarged, and he treated with
the ejected actors for the production of plays at the
Haymarket. Cibber's influence had been strongly, though
secretly at work through all these shifting circumstances.
He had a marvellous keenness of vision, where his own
interests were concerned, and possessed, or assumed an
unruffled equanimity, which blinded all suspicion of his
designs. He pursued his aim with that patient pertinacity
which can almost compel success, and he now reaped the
reward of his clear-sightedness. Rich's power was
annihilated, an independent and powerful company was
formed, and the Haymarket opened under the man-
agement of Wilks, Dogget, Mrs. Oldfield, and Cibber.
Mrs. Oldfield soon retired upon a special allowance, and
Cibber, by playing off his intractable coadjutors the one
against the other, and making himself the referee upon
all occasions of dispute, obtained the great object of his
ambition, the entire and actuaJ management.
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264 COLLEY CIBBER.
Rich had hired Drury Lane, on the condition that he
should pay £3 a-night while the house was open. As
the house was now closed, and the payment of rent sus-
pended, the proprietors, without cancelling his lease,
granted another to one Collier, a lawyer, M.P. for
ComwaD. By his interest at Court, he obtained a sepa-
rate licence ; and flourishing this lease and licence against
Rich's lease and patent, he seized the occasion of a night
of public rejoicing, and with a mob at his heels, broke
into the house, and violently ejected the rightful tenant.
In these prosaic times, how curiously do we look back
upon those roystering days of tumultuous licence. This
dashing feat actually overwhelmed Collier with popu-
larity ; and by the aid of Miss Santlowe's acting
in " The Fair Quaker of Deal," his house filled nightly.
Rich bowed, with a forced composure, to these strange
and adverse circumstances, and turned his attention else-
Upon the dissolution of Betterton's company, he had
taken a lease of the house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, in
order that no one else might open it ; and he now fell
back upon that property, and undertook to rebuild it.
He died, however, before its completion, though his son
afterwards opened it, and enjoyed there a prosperous
career. It stood behind the present College of Surgeons,
and the principal entrance was in Portugal Street. Here
Quin played all his characters. Here Fenton produced
his '* Mariamne ;" and Miss Lavinia Fenton, the original
Polly Peachum, by her wit and sprightliness, here fascinated
a ducal heart, and became afterwards Duchess of Bolton.
Gifi^ard, from Goodman's Fields, took it on lease in 1732.
In 1756, it was transformed into a barrack. It was next
converted into a china repository, and was taken down in
August, 1848, to make room for the improvements in
connection with the Royal College of Surgeons.
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COLLEY CIBBER. 265
Gibber, at the Haymarket, was now sanguine in
the anticipation of success; but unexpected circum
stances balked his well-grounded expectations. Sache-
verell's trial became the all-absorbing topic of interest,
and Collier's success at Di-ury Lane materially interfered
with his receipts. Eventually, however, the tide turned.
Collier, as soon as his speculation began to fail, and
Swiney's to succeed, coolly proposed an exchange, with
the restoration of the old agreement, that Drury Lane
should be appropriated to drama and the Haymarket to
opera and spectacle. He succeeded in compelling the
acceptance of this unfair proposal ; when finding* matters
not at all mended by the change, he again audaciously
availed himself of his enormous interest at Court to
reverse his own imperious arrangement.
A fresh mandate was issued, Swiney was obliged to
return to the Haymarket, and, in consequence, to retire to
Boulogne, and expiated, by a twenty years' exile. Collier's
tyranny and mismanagement. Everything went wrong,
till Collier was bribed to abstain from interfering in any
way with either of the theatres. He was paid £700 a-year
to remain idle ; and the three actors — Cibber, Wilks, and .
Dogget — ^began their celebrated management. The part-
nership commenced in 1711.
Cibber's tactics were those of a consummate general.
Residing the vulgar ambition of ostentatious power, he
aimed to control, and direct its secret springs ; and
the perverse and self-opiniated co-managers were made
unconsciously the mere puppets to work out his schemes.
The obstinacy and tenacity of purpose of Wilks, the
frowardness and meddling industry of Dogget, became
mere instruments in his hands, which he pointed and used
with consummate tact; but in nothing was his address
more apparent or his efforts more laudable than in the
financial department. Dogget was parsimonious, Wilks
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266 COLLEY CIBBER.
inclined to expense. Gibber made the propensity of each
a check on that of the other, and was himself so bent on
equity and feir dealing, that, for the first time, perhaps, in
theatrical management, for the space of twenty years,
every tradesman's bill was paid directly it was sent in ;
and although, by a somewhat unusual arrangement, no
written agreement was ever entered into with the actors,
and the sums appended to their names on the pay-list were
their only security, yet every one connected with the theatre
received their dues without disputes, and with exemplary
punctuality. Every Monday morning all claims were
liquidated before a penny of the receipts were touched,
and the managers could, in addition, afford to double the
salaries of all their actors.
All was now smooth sailing, consequently there is little
to record. One feature in the management may deserve
the attention of contemporary actors and managers.
These men — all, perhaps, exceeding in abilities any actors
of the present day — never declined to take an insigni-
ficant part to strengthen the general cast of a play.
Starring was not then the supercilious folly of every
successful actor. The company accordingly worked toge-
ther better, the gratification of the public was increased,
while the actor himself gained in the variety and
extended range of his powers. In 1714, Dogget, in a
huff, retired to make way for Booth, who had acquired
universal popularity by his performance of Cato, in Addi-
At the accession of George I., Gibber, with wary keen-
ness, perceived a chance of ridding himself of Collier.
Their licence being held at pleasure, on Queen Anne's
death a renewal became necessary. Sir Richard Steele
had great influence at Court, especially with the Duke of
Marlborough. He had always manifested a strong predi-
lection for the theatre, and had frequently eulogised the
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COLLEY CIBBER. 267
actors in his papers in " The Tatler.*' Gibber resolved to
play off Steele against Collier, and succeeded. Steele
applied to the Duke, and through his influence, obtained
a licence in the names of himself, Gibber, Wilks, and
Booth; and, as with the change of ministers Gol-
lier's influence vanished, he was quietly thrown over-
Young Rich opened the new house in Lincoln's Inn
Fields under his father's patent. Gibber preferring the
permanency of a patent to the more temporary security of
a licence, thought the present a favourable opportunity to
apply for a similar privilege. He represented the case to