Theophilus Cibber.

The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V online

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unknown author might meet with a difficulty of this sort; since an
eager desire to peruse a new piece, with a fashionable name to it,
shall, in one day, occasion the sale of thousands of what may never
reach a second edition: while a work, that has only its intrinsic
merit to depend on, may lie long dormant in a Bookseller's shop,
'till some person, eminent for taste, points out its worth to the
many, declares the bullion sterling, stamps its value with his name,
and makes it pass current with the world. Such was the fate of
Thomson at this juncture: Such heretofore was Milton's, whose works
were only found in the libraries of the curious, or judicious few,
'till Addison's remarks spread a taste for them; and, at length, it
became even unfashionable not to have read them.

[5] The old name of China.

[6] Mr. Quin.

[7] The mention of this name reminds me of an obligation I had to Mr.
Thomson; and, at once, an opportunity offers, of gratefully
acknowledging the favour, and doing myself justice.

I had the pleasure of perusing the play of Agamemnon, before it was
introduced to the manager. Mr. Thomson was so thoroughly satisfied
(I might say more) with my reading of it; he said, he was confirmed
in his design of giving to me the part of Melisander. When I
expressed my sentiments of the favour, he told me, he thought it
none; that my old acquaintance Savage knew, he had not forgot my
taste in reading the poem of Winter some years before: he added,
that when (before this meeting) he had expressed his doubt, to which
of the actors he should give this part (as he had seen but few plays
since his return from abroad) Savage warmly urged, I was the fittest
person, and, with an oath affirmed, that Theo. Cibber would taste
it, feel it, and act it; perhaps he might extravagantly add, 'beyond
any one else.' 'Tis likely, Mr. Savage might be then more vehement
in this assertion, as some of his friends had been more used to see
me in a comic, than a serious light; and which was, indeed, more
frequently my choice. But to go on. When I read the play to the
manager, Mr. Quin, &c. (at which several gentlemen, intimate friends
of the author, were present) I was complimented by them all; Mr.
Quin particularly declared, he never heard a play done so much
justice to, in reading, through all its various parts, Mrs. Porter
also (who on this occasion was to appear in the character of
Clytemnestra) so much approved my entering into the taste, sense,
and spirit of the piece, that she was pleased to desire me to repeat
a reading of it, which, at her request, and that of other principal
performers, I often did; they all confessed their approbation, with
thanks.

When this play was to come forward into rehearsal, Mr. Thomson told
me, another actor had been recommended to him for this part in
private, by the manager (who, by the way) our author, or any one
else, never esteemed as the best judge, of either play, or player.
But money may purchase, and interest procure, a patent, though they
cannot purchase taste, or parts, the person proposed was, possibly,
some favoured flatterer, the partner of his private pleasures, or
humble admirer of his table talk: These little monarchs have their
little courtiers. Mr. Thomson insisted on my keeping the part. He
said, 'Twas his opinion, none but myself, or Mr. Quin, could do it
any justice; and, as that excellent actor could not be spared from
the part of Agamemnon (in the performance of which character he
added to his reputation, though before justly rated as the first
actor of that time) he was peremptory for my appearing in it; I did
so, and acquitted myself to the satisfaction of the author and his
friends (men eminent in rank, in taste, and knowledge) and received
testimonies of approbation from the audience, by their attention and
applause.

By this time the reader may be ready to cry out, 'to what purpose is
all this?' Have patience, sir. As I gained reputation in the
forementioned character, is there any crime in acknowledging my
obligation to Mr. Thomson? or, am I unpardonable, though I should
pride myself on his good opinion and friendship? may not gratitude,
as well as vanity, be concerned in this relation? but there is
another reason that may stand as an excuse, for my being led into
this long narrative; which, as it is only an annotation, not made
part of our author's life, the reader, at his option, may peruse, or
pass it over, without being interrupted in his attention to what
more immediately concerns Mr. Thomson. As what I have related is a
truth, which living men of worth can testify; and as it evidently
shows that Mr. Savage's opinion of me as an actor was, in this
latter part of his life, far from contemptible, of which, perhaps,
in his earlier days he had too lavishly spoke; I thought this no
improper (nor ill-timed) contradiction to a remark the writer of[7A]
Mr. Savage's Life has been pleased, in his Gaité de Coeur, to make,
which almost amounts to an unhandsome innuendo, that Mr. Savage, and
some of his friends, thought me no actor at all.

I accidentally met with the book some years ago, and dipt into that
part where the author says, 'The preface (to Sir Thomas Overbury)
contains a very liberal encomium on the blooming excellences of Mr.
Theophilus Cibber, which Mr. Savage could not, in the latter part of
his life, see his friends about to read, without snatching the play
out of their hands.' As poor Savage was well remembered to have been
as inconsiderate, inconsistent, and inconstant a mortal as ever
existed, what he might have said carried but little weight; and, as
he would blow both hot and cold, nay, too frequently, to gratify the
company present, would sacrifice the absent, though his best friend,
I disregarded this invidious hint, 'till I was lately informed, a
person of distinction in the learned world, had condescended to
become the biographer of this unhappy man's unimportant life: as the
sanction of such a name might prove of prejudice to me, I have since
thought it worth my notice.

The truth is, I met Savage one summer, in a condition too melancholy
for description. He was starving; I supported him, and my father
cloathed him, 'till his tragedy was brought on the stage, where it
met with success in the representation, tho' acted by the young part
of the company, in the summer season; whatever might be the merit of
his play, his necessities were too pressing to wait 'till winter for
its performance. When it was just going to be published (as I met
with uncommon encouragement in my young attempt in the part of
Somerset) he repeated to me a most extraordinary compliment, as he
might then think it, which, he said, he intended to make me in his
preface. Neither my youth (for I was then but 18) or vanity, was so
devoid of judgment, as to prevent my objecting to it. I told him, I
imagined this extravagancy would have so contrary an effect to his
intention, that what he kindly meant for praise, might be
misinterpreted, or render him liable to censure, and me to ridicule;
I insisted on his omitting it: contrary to his usual obstinacy, he
consented, and sent his orders to the Printer to leave it out; it
was too late; the sheets were all work'd off, and the play was
advertised to come out (as it did) the next day. T.C.

[7A] _Published about the year_ 1743.


* * * * *


ALEXANDER POPE, Esq;

This illustrious poet was born at London, in 1688, and was descended
from a good family of that name, in Oxfordshire, the head of which was
the earl of Downe, whose sole heiress married the earl of Lindsey. His
father, a man of primitive simplicity, and integrity of manners, was a
merchant of London, who upon the Revolution quitted trade, and converted
his effects into money, amounting to near 10,000 l. with which he
retired into the country; and died in 1717, at the age of 75.

Our poet's mother, who lived to a very advanced age, being 93 years old
when she died, in 1733, was the daughter of William Turner, Esq; of
York. She had three brothers, one of whom was killed, another died in
the service of king Charles; and the eldest following his fortunes, and
becoming a general officer in Spain, left her what estate remained after
sequestration, and forfeitures of her family. To these circumstances our
poet alludes in his epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot, in which he mentions his
parents.

Of gentle blood (part shed in honour's cause,
While yet in Britain, honour had applause)
Each parent sprang, - What fortune pray? - their own,
And better got than Bestia's from the throne.
Born to no pride, inheriting no strife,
Nor marrying discord in a noble wife;
Stranger to civil and religious rage,
The good man walked innoxious thro' his age:
No courts he saw; no suits would ever try;
Nor dar'd an oath, nor hazarded a lye:
Unlearn'd, he knew no schoolmen's subtle art,
No language, but the language of the heart:
By nature honest, by experience wise,
Healthy by temp'rance, and by exercise;
His life though long, to sickness past unknown,
His death was instant and without a groan.

The education of our great author was attended with circumstances very
singular; and some of them extremely unfavourable; but the amazing force
of his genius fully compensated the want of any advantage in his
earliest instruction. He owed the knowledge of his letters to an aunt;
and having learned very early to read, took great delight in it, and
taught himself to write by copying after printed books, the characters
of which he could imitate to great perfection. He began to compose
verses, farther back than he could well remember; and at eight years of
age, when he was put under one Taverner a priest, who taught him the
rudiments of the Latin and Greek tongues at the same time, he met with
Ogilby's Homer, which gave him great delight; and this was encreased by
Sandys's Ovid: The raptures which these authors, even in the disguise of
such translations, then yielded him, were so strong, that he spoke of
them with pleasure ever after. From Mr. Taverner's tuition he was sent
to a private school at Twiford, near Winchester, where he continued
about a year, and was then removed to another near Hyde Park Corner; but
was so unfortunate as to lose under his two last masters, what he had
acquired under the first.

While he remained at this school, being permitted to go to the
play-house, with some of his school fellows of a more advanced age, he
was so charmed with dramatic representations, that he formed the
translation of the Iliad into a play, from several of the speeches in
Ogilby's translation, connected with verses of his own; and the several
parts were performed by the upper boys of the school, except that of
Ajax by the master's gardener. At the age of 12 our young poet, went
with his father to reside at his house at Binfield, in Windsor forest,
where he was for a few months under the tuition of another priest, with
as little success as before; so that he resolved now to become his own
master, by reading those Classic Writers which gave him most
entertainment; and by this method, at fifteen he gained a ready habit in
the learned languages, to which he soon after added the French and
Italian. Upon his retreat to the forest, he became first acquainted with
the writings of Waller, Spenser and Dryden; in the last of which he
immediately found what he wanted; and the poems of that excellent writer
were never out of his hands; they became his model, and from them alone
he learned the whole magic of his versification.

The first of our author's compositions now extant in print, is an Ode on
Solitude, written before he was twelve years old: Which, consider'd as
the production of so early an age, is a perfect master piece; nor need
he have been ashamed of it, had it been written in the meridian of his
genius. While it breathes the most delicate spirit of poetry, it at the
same time demonstrates his love of solitude, and the rational pleasures
which attend the retreats of a contented country life.

Two years after this he translated the first Book of Statius' Thebais,
and wrote a copy of verses on Silence, in imitation of the Earl of
Rochester's poem on Nothing[1]. Thus we find him no sooner capable of
holding the pen, than he employed it in writing verses,

"_He lisp'd [Transcriber's note: 'lips'd' in original] in Numbers, for
the Numbers came_."

Though we have had frequent opportunity to observe, that poets have
given early displays of genius, yet we cannot recollect, that among the
inspired tribe, one can be found who at the age of twelve could produce
so animated an Ode; or at the age of fourteen translate from the Latin.
It has been reported indeed, concerning Mr. Dryden, that when he was at
Westminster-School, the master who had assigned a poetical task to some
of the boys, of writing a Paraphrase on our Saviour's Miracle, of
turning Water into Wine, was perfectly astonished when young Dryden
presented him with the following line, which he asserted was the best
comment could be written upon it.

The conscious water saw its God, and blush'd.

This was the only instance of an early appearance of genius in this
great man, for he was turn'd of 30 before he acquired any reputation; an
age in which Mr. Pope's was in its full distinction.

The year following that in which Mr. Pope wrote his poem on Silence, he
began an Epic Poem, intitled Alcander, which he afterwards very
judiciously committed to the flames, as he did likewise a Comedy, and a
Tragedy; the latter taken from a story in the legend of St. Genevieve;
both of these being the product of those early days. But his Pastorals,
which were written in 1704, when he was only 16 years of age, were
esteemed by Sir William Trumbull, Mr. Granville, Mr. Wycherley, Mr.
Walsh and others of his friends, too valuable to be condemned to the
same fate.

Mr. Pope's Pastorals are four, viz.

Spring, address'd to Sir William Trumbull,
Summer, to Dr. Garth.
Autumn, to Mr. Wycherley.
Winter, in memory of Mrs. Tempest.

The three great writers of Pastoral Dialogue, which Mr. Pope in some
measure seems to imitate, are Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser. Mr. Pope
is of opinion, that Theocritus excells all others in nature and
simplicity.

That Virgil, who copies Theocritus, refines on his original; and in all
points in which judgment has the principal part is much superior to his
master.

That among the moderns, their success has been, greatest who have most
endeavoured to make these antients their pattern. The most considerable
genius appears in the famous Tasso, and our Spenser. Tasso in his Aminta
has far excelled all the pastoral writers, as in his Gierusalemme he has
outdone the Epic Poets of his own country. But as this piece seems to
have been the original of a new sort of poem, the Pastoral Comedy, in
Italy, it cannot so well be considered as a copy of the antients.
Spenser's Calendar, in Mr. Dryden's opinion, is the most compleat work
of this kind, which any nation has produced ever since the time of
Virgil. But this he said before Mr. Pope's Pastorals appeared.

Mr. Walsh pronounces on our Shepherd's Boy (as Mr. Pope called himself)
the following judgment, in a letter to Mr. Wycherly.

'The verses are very tender and easy. The author seems to have a
particular genius for that kind of poetry, and a judgment that much
exceeds the years, you told me he was of. It is no flattery at all to
say, that Virgil had written nothing so good at his age. I shall take it
as a favour if you will bring me acquainted with him; and if he will
give himself the trouble, any morning, to call at my house, I shall be
very glad to read the verses with him, and give him him my opinion of
the particulars more largely than I can well do in this letter.'

Thus early was Mr. Pope introduced to the acquaintance of men of genius,
and so improved every advantage, that he made a more rapid progress
towards a consummation in fame, than any of our former English poets.
His Messiah; his Windsor-Forest, the first part of which was written at
the same time with his pastorals; his Essay on Criticism in 1709, and
his Rape of the Lock in 1712, established his poetical character in such
a manner, that he was called upon by the public voice, to enrich our
language with the translation of the Iliad; which he began at 25, and
executed in five years. This was published for his own benefit, by
subscription, the only kind of reward, which he received for his
writings, which do honour to our age and country: His religion rendering
him incapable of a place, which the lord treasurer Oxford used to
express his concern for, but without offering him a pension, as the earl
of Halifax, and Mr. Secretary Craggs afterwards did, though Mr. Pope
declined it.

The reputation of Mr. Pope gaining every day upon the world, he was
caressed, flattered, and railed at; according as he was feared, or loved
by different persons. Mr. Wycherley was amongst the first authors of
established reputation, who contributed to advance his fame, and with
whom he for some time lived in the most unreserved intimacy. This poet,
in his old age, conceived a design of publishing his poems, and as he
was but a very imperfect master of numbers, he entrusted his manuscripts
to Mr. Pope, and submitted them to his correction. The freedom which our
young bard was under a necessity to use, in order to polish and refine
what was in the original, rough, unharmonious, and indelicate, proved
disgustful to the old gentleman, then near 70, who, perhaps, was a
little ashamed, that a boy at 16 should so severely correct his works.
Letters of dissatisfaction were written by Mr. Wycherley, and at last he
informed him, in few words, that he was going out of town, without
mentioning to what place, and did not expect to hear from him 'till he
came back. This cold indifference extorted from Mr. Pope a protestation,
that nothing should induce him ever to write to him again.
Notwithstanding this peevish behaviour of Mr. Wycherley, occasioned by
jealousy and infirmities, Mr. Pope preserved a constant respect and
reverence for him while he lived, and after his death lamented him. In a
letter to Edward Blount, esq; written immediately upon the death of this
poet, he has there related some anecdotes of Wycherly, which we shall
insert here, especially as they are not taken notice of in his life.

'DEAR SIR,

'I know of nothing that will be so interesting to you, at present, as
some circumstances of the last act of that eminent comic poet, and our
friend, Wycherley. He had often told me, as, I doubt not, he did all his
acquaintance, that he would marry, as soon as his life was despaired of:
accordingly, a few days before his death, he underwent the ceremony, and
joined together those two sacraments, which, wise men say, should be the
last we receive; for, if you observe, matrimony is placed after extreme
unction in our catechism, as a kind of hint of the order of time in
which they are to be taken. The old man then lay down, satisfied in the
conscience of having, by this one act, paid his just debts, obliged a
woman, who, he was told, had merit, and shewn a heroic resentment of
the ill usage of his next heir. Some hundred pounds which he had with
the lady, discharged those debts; a jointure of four hundred a year made
her a recompence; and the nephew he left to comfort himself, as well as
he could, with the miserable remains of a mortgaged estate. I saw our
friend twice after this was done, less peevish in his sickness, than he
used to be in his health, neither much afraid of dying, nor (which in
him had been more likely) much ashamed of marrying. The evening before
he expired, he called his young wife to the bed side, and earnestly
entreated her not to deny him one request, the last he should ever make.
Upon her assurance of consenting to it, he told her, my dear, it is only
this, that you will never marry an old man again. I cannot help
remarking, that sickness, which often destroys both wit and wisdom, yet
seldom has power to remove that talent we call humour. Mr. Wycherley
shewed this even in this last compliment, though, I think, his request a
little hard; for why should he bar her from doubling her jointure on the
same easy terms.'

One of the most affecting and tender compositions of Mr. Pope, is, his
Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady, built on a true story. We
are informed in the Life of Pope, for which Curl obtained a patent, that
this young lady was a particular favourite of the poet, though it is not
ascertained whether he himself was the person from whom she was removed.
This young lady was of very high birth, possessed an opulent fortune,
and under the tutorage of an uncle, who gave her an education suitable
to her titles and pretensions. She was esteemed a match for the greatest
peer in the realm, but, in her early years, she suffered her heart to be
engaged by a young gentleman, and in consequence of this attachment,
rejected offers made to her by persons of quality, seconded by the
sollicitations of her uncle. Her guardian being surprized at this
behaviour, set spies upon her, to find out the real cause of her
indifference. Her correspondence with her lover was soon discovered,
and, when urged upon that topic, she had too much truth and honour to
deny it. The uncle finding, that she would make no efforts to disengage
her affection, after a little time forced her abroad, where she was
received with a ceremony due to her quality, but restricted from the
conversation of every one, but the spies of this severe guardian, so
that it was impossible for her lover even to have a letter delivered to
her hands. She languished in this place a considerable time, bore an
infinite deal of sickness, and was overwhelmed with the profoundest
sorrow. Nature being wearied out with continual distress, and being
driven at last to despair, the unfortunate lady, as Mr. Pope justly
calls her, put an end to her own life, having bribed a maid servant to
procure her a sword. She was found upon the ground weltering in her
blood. The severity of the laws of the place, where this fair
unfortunate perished, denied her Christian burial, and she was interred
without solemnity, or even any attendants to perform the last offices of
the dead, except some young people of the neighbourhood, who saw her put
into common ground, and strewed the grave with flowers.

The poet in the elegy takes occasion to mingle with the tears of sorrow,
just reproaches upon her cruel uncle, who drove her to this violation.

But thou, false guardian of a charge too good,
Thou base betrayer of a brother's blood!
See on those ruby lips the trembling breath,
Those cheeks now fading at the blast of death:
Lifeless the breast, which warm'd the world before,
And those love-darting eyes must roll no more.

The conclusion of this elegy is irresistably affecting.

So peaceful rests, without a stone, a name,
Which once had beauty, titles, wealth and fame,
How lov'd, how honoured once, avails thee not,
To whom related, or by whom begot;
A heap of dust alone remains of thee;
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be!

No poem of our author's more deservedly obtained him reputation, than
his Essay on Criticism. Mr. Addison, in his Spectator, No. 253, has
celebrated it with such profuse terms of admiration, that it is really
astonishing, to find the same man endeavouring afterwards to diminish
that fame he had contributed to raise so high.

The art of criticism (says he) which was published some months ago, is a
master-piece in its kind. The observations follow one another, like
those in Horace's Art of Poetry, without that methodical regularity,
which would have been requisite in a prose writer. They are some of them
uncommon, but such as the reader must assent to, when he sees them
explained with that elegance and perspicuity in which they are
delivered. As for those which are the most known, and the most received,
they are placed in so beautiful a light, and illustrated with such apt
allusions, that they have in them all the graces of novelty, and make


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Online LibraryTheophilus CibberThe Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Volume V → online text (page 16 of 25)