Theophilus Cibber (17031758)



  • Actor
  • Author
  • Theatre Manager
Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

CIBBER, THEOPHILUS (1703–1758), actor and playwright, a son of Colley Cibber [q. v.], was born on 26 Nov. 1703, received his education at Winchester College, and made his first appearance on the stage in 1721, when he played the part of Daniel in the 'Conscious Lovers' at Drury Lane. Possessing considerable ability, and aided both by his father's influence and the patronage of Steele, he came quickly into favour with the public. 'The features of his face,' says Baker, 'were rather disgusting,' and his voice was peculiarly shrill; but these defects were largely balanced by his knowledge of stage business and his vivacity of manner. From 1 Sept. 1731 to 1 June 1732 he was a patentee of Drury Lane Theatre in the place of Colley Cibber, who had delegated the office to his son for 442l. At the end of that period Colley Cibber sold his patent, and the younger Cibber migrated to the little theatre in the Haymarket. In 1733 Cibber took the part of Bajazet in Rowe's 'Tamerlane' at Bartholomew Fair. His first wife, an actress of some slight distinction (Jenny Johnson), died in that year, leaving two daughters; and in April 1734 he married Susannah Maria Arne [see Cibber, Susannah Maria], then known only as a singer, but afterwards very famous as an actress. He returned in 1734 to Drury Lane, where for some time he was acting-manager. Pecuniary difficulties, caused by his incurable habits of extravagance, induced him to take a journey into France early in 1738 in order to be out of the reach of his creditors. Returning in the winter, he brought an action against a country gentleman named Sloper for criminal conversation with Mrs. Cibber. He claimed 5,000l., but the jury assessed the damages at 10l., as it was clearly established, in course of evidence, that Cibber had connived at the intimacy. In the following year he brought another action against Sloper for detaining Mrs. Cibber; he claimed 10,000l. damages, but was awarded only a twentieth part of that amount. About this time he entertained the notion of publishing by subscription his autobiography. His proposal had barely been laid before the public when there appeared 'An Apology for the Life of Mr. T… C… supposed to be written by himself,' London, 1740, a caustic review (ascribed to Fielding) of a not too reputable career. 'Who the low rogue of an author was,' wrote Cibber thirteen years afterwards (Lives and Characters of the most Eminent Actors), 'I could never learn.' When this 'Apology' was published, Cibber abandoned his project, and returned (he assures us) the subscriptions that he had received. In 1741-2 he was playing at Drury Lane, and in 1742-3 at Lincoln's Inn Fields. His services were engaged in the summer of 1743 at the Theatre Royal, Dublin, on which occasion he had a lively passage of arms with Thomas Sheridan. The dispute, which passed into a paper war, arose from Sheridan's refusal to act the part of Cato in Addison's play (Cibber personating Syphax) on finding that he was unable to obtain a certain robe that he considered indispensable to the part. In 1744 Cibber acted at the Haymarket, and from 1745 to 1749 at Covent Garden. Among his most successful characters were Lord Foppington in the 'Careless Husband,' Sir Francis Wronghead in the 'Provoked Husband,' Abel in the 'Committee,' and Ancient Pistol. In 1753 he published 'The Lives and Characters of the most Eminent Actors and Actresses of Great Britain and Ireland,' part i., to which is prefixed A Familiar Mr. William Warburton,' 8vo. In the introduction he states that he intended to write 'a regular account of the English and Irish stage with the lives of the deceased actors of whom I can speak more fully from the year 1720.' Part i., which contained a life of Barton Booth, was the beginning and the end of this undertaking. The epistle to Warburton was an answer to Warburton's attacks on Colley Cibber in the notes to the 'Dunciad.' In 1753 appeared 'An Account of the Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland,' 5 vols. 12mo, with the name of 'Mr. Cibber' on the title-page of the first volume, and with Theophilus Cibber's name attached to the later volumes. Dr. Johnson told Boswell that Cibber, who was then in the king's bench, accepted ten guineas from the sellers for allowing them to prefix his name to the lives, and that he had no hand in the authorship of the book, which was mainly written by Robert Shiels (Johnson's amanuensis); but the truth is that Gibber revised and improved the whole work and wrote some of the lives himself, receiving from the booksellers an honorarium of twenty guineas (Boswell's, Johnson, ed. Croker, 1848, pp. 504, 818). The book is largely based on earlier compilations by Langbaine, Jacob, Coxeter, and others, and contains little original matter of importance. In 1756 Cibber acted at the Haymarket, and was afterwards engaged at Covent Garden. In 1756 he published 'Dissertations on Theatrical Subjects as they have several times been delivered to the Public. ... With an appendix which contains several matters relative to the Stage, not yet made public,' 8vo. The first dissertation contains an inquiry into the conduct of the patentees of Drury Lane Theatre and a protest against the growing popularity of farces; in the second dissertation Gibber draws a comparison between Garrick's acting of Lear and Barry's, giving the preference to the latter. Among the contents of the appendix is an epistle (which had been published in the previous year) to Garrick, in which Cibber complains of having received very ungenerous treatment from the great actor. Following the epistle are some letters to the Duke of Grafton, the lord-chamberlain, setting forth Cibber's grievances. In October 1758 Gibber embarked at Parkgate to cross to Dublin, where his services had been engaged by Sheridan to support the Theatre Royal in opposition to the newly opened theatre in Crow Street. The vessel was driven from its course and wrecked off the coast of Scotland; a few of the passengers were saved, but Cibber perished.

Cibber's dramatic pieces are: 1. 'The Lover,' 1730, 8vo, acted at Drury Lane with no great success. It is dedicated to his first wife. 2. 'Patie and Peggy; or, the Fair Foundling. A Scotch ballad opera,' 1730, 8vo (in one act), founded on Ramsay's 'Gentle Shepherd;' acted at Drury Lane. The writer says it was planned and finished in one day. 3. 'The Harlot's Progress; or, the Ridotto al Fresco,' 1733, 4to, acted at Drury Lane; a short 'grotesque pantomime,' dedicated to Hogarth. Portraits of Hogarth and of Cibber (as Pistol) are prefixed. 4. 'The Auction,' 1757, 8vo, a farce acted at the Haymarket ; it consists merely of a few scenes from Fielding's 'Historical Register.' Two unprinted pieces have been ascribed to Cibber — 'Damon and Daphne,' a pastoral in two acts, performed (without success) at Drury Lane in May 1733; and 'The Mock Officer,' s.d. He also published alterations of 'Henry VI' (n. d., second edit. 1724), and of 'Romeo and Juliet' (1748). Appended to 'Romeo and Juliet' is 'A Serio-Gomic Apology for part of the life of Mr. Theophilus Cibber, Gomedian,' containing an account of his endeavours to get a license for the Haymarket. In 1733 Gibber published 'A Letter to J. Highmore,' in which he complained of the harsh treatment he had received from the patentees of Druiy Lane, and in 1752 defended himself in 'A Lick at a Liar, or Calumny detected, being an occasional letter to a friend,' from the charge of having defrauded his creditors.

[Biographia Dramatica, ed. Stephen Jones; Genest's History of the Stage, iii. 112, 423, 542-4, iv. 171, 530-6; The Tryals of two causes between Theophilus Cibber, gent., and William Sloper, esq., defendant (1740); Boswell's Johnson, ed. Croker, 1848, pp. 57, 504, 818; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 217, 2nd ser. vii. 410.]