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Cibber, Colley / A Letter from Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope

To H. T. Swedenberg, Junior
_founder_, _protector_, _friend_

_He that delights to_ Plant _and_ Set,
_Makes_ After-Ages _in his_ Debt.

Where could they find another formed so fit,
To poise, with solid sense, a sprightly wit?
Were these both wanting, as they both abound,
Where could so firm integrity be found?

The verse and emblem are from George Wither, _A Collection of Emblems,
Ancient and Modern_ (London, 1635), illustration xxxv, page 35.

The lines of poetry (123-126) are from "To My Honoured Kinsman John
Driden," in John Dryden, _The Works of John Dryden_, ed. Sir Walter
Scott, rev. and corr. George Saintsbury (Edinburgh: William Patterson,
1885), xi, 78.





_Introduction by_



William E. Conway, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
George Robert Guffey, University of California, Los Angeles
Maximillian E. Novak, University of California, Los Angeles
David S. Rodes, University of California, Los Angeles


Richard C. Boys, University of Michigan
James L. Clifford, Columbia University
Ralph Cohen, University of Virginia
Vinton A. Dearing, University of California, Los Angeles
Arthur Friedman, University of Chicago
Louis A. Landa, Princeton University
Earl Miner, Princeton University
Samuel H. Monk, University of Minnesota
Everett T. Moore, University of California, Los Angeles
Lawrence Clark Powell, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
James Sutherland, University College, London
H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles
Robert Vosper, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
Curt A. Zimansky, State University of Iowa


Edna C. Davis, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library


Jean T. Shebanek, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

Typography by Wm. M. Cheney


In the twentieth century, Colley Cibber's name has become synonymous
with "fool." Pope's _Dunciad_, the culmination of their long quarrel,
has done its work well, and Cibber, now too often regarded merely as a
pretentious dunce, has been relegated to an undeserved obscurity.

The history of this feud is replete with inconsistencies.[1] The image
Cibber presents of himself as a charming, good-natured, thick-skinned
featherbrain is as true as Pope's of himself as a patient, humorous,
objective moralist. Each picture is somewhat manipulated by its creator.
The reasons behind the manipulation are less matters of outright untruth
than of complex personalities disclosing only what they regard as
pertinent. Cibber, the actor, always tries to charm his audience; Pope,
the satirist, proffers those aspects best suited to his moral purpose.

Although the fact of their differences is evident in Pope's writings
after 1730, explanations of the cause, continuation and climax tend to
be muddled. The cause generally cited is Cibber's story in the Letter
concerning _Three Hours after Marriage_ and _The Rehearsal_. This is not
only a one-sided version, it is not even strongly substantiated. As
Norman Ault pointed out, it was not reported in any of the periodicals
at a time when such incidents were seized upon by journalists hungry for
gossip.[2] The only confirmation aside from Cibber is Montagu Bacon's
letter to his cousin James Montagu, which gives a slightly less
vivacious account:

'I don't know whether you heard, before you went out of town, that
_The Rehearsal_ was revived ... and Cibber interlarded it with
several things in ridicule of the last play, upon which Pope went
up to him and told him he was a rascal, and if he were able he
would cane him; that his friend Gay was a proper fellow, and if he
went on in his sauciness he might expect such a reception from
him. The next night Gay came accordingly, and, treating him as Pope
had done the night before, Cibber very fairly gave him a fillip on
the nose, which made them both roar. The Guards came and parted
them, and carried away Gay, and so ended this poetical scuffle.'[3]

A more likely cause is the second story in the _Letter_, the visit to
the bawdy house. If, as Ault goes on to suggest, there is even a shadow
of truth in it, Pope's attitude, as well as his reluctance to reveal its
cause, is understandable. The question then becomes: why did he
continually provoke Cibber, knowing the latter had such a story at hand?
This, however, might not be so illogical as it appears. Pope's work in
the thirties abounds in sneers at the actor, but none of them is equal
in scale to the full attack launched against Theobald. In comparison
with the 1735 portraits of Atticus and Sporus, the comments on Cibber
are minor barbs that could be ignored by a man whose reputation was
secure in its own right. Cibber evidently believed he was in such a
position, for he offered no defense before 1740, and took no offensive
action before 1742.

The "wicked wasp of Twickenham" is supposed to have meditated long and
fiendishly before bursting forth against his enemies, yet the _Dunciad_
of 1728 reveals no evidence of long fermentation. The choice of Theobald
as king of the Dunces obviously derives from _Shakespeare Restored; or a
Specimen of the many errors as well committed as unamended by Mr. Pope,
in his late edition of that Poet_ (1726). Theobald's remarks on Pope's
slipshod editing of Shakespeare are not couched in diplomatic terms, and
would be especially galling if Warburton's note is true:

During two whole years while Mr. Pope was preparing his Edition of
Shakespear, he publish'd Advertisements, requesting assistance, and
promising satisfaction to any who could contribute to its greater
perfection. But this Restorer, who was at that time solliciting
favours of him by letters, did wholly conceal his design, till
after its publication: (which he was since not asham'd to own, in a
_Daily Journal_, of Nov. 26, 1728.)[4]

Pedantic, unimaginative and presumptuous, Theobald was the logical
choice for a Dunce King in 1728. Dennis, Ducket, Burnet, Gildon _et
cie._, had assailed him for years, and the prompt responses by
Scriblerus merely increased their fury. Pope bore as many undeserved
blows as Cibber, and he was no model of patience; the intense
hostilities waged against him in the twenties were ample cause for an
epic answer.[5]

Pope claimed he attacked only those who had attacked him. It seems
strange that, among the inimical host who had indulged in verbal
violence, he should have revised his satire against the one man who had
not contributed to the paper war, and who had, in his _Apology_, made
humble acknowledgment of Pope's gifts: "How terrible a Weapon is Satyr
in the hands of a great Genius?" Cibber asks, remarking on Pope's acid
portrait of Addison, and adds:

But the Pain which the Acrimony of those Verses gave me is, in some
measure, allay'd in finding that this inimitable Writer, as he
advances in Years, has since had Candour enough to celebrate the
same Person for his visible Merit. Happy Genius! whose Verse, like
the Eye of Beauty, can heal the deepest Wounds with the least
Glance of Favour.[6]

Even stranger is that with such eminent and vocal enemies as Lord Hervey
and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, he should have been concerned with a
seventy-year-old semi-retired player who was too ineffectual, it would
appear, to be a proper target for his great satire, and whose words in
print could never have been a real threat.

The words "in print" are important, especially with reference to Cibber.
As far as direct attack in the form of broadsides, pamphlets and the
like, Cibber is clearly innocent; however, like many actors, he was an
expert improvisator of stage dialogue, and this in itself is a reason to
believe that his side of the feud was kept up from the theater platform.
A more potent and public method of ridicule would be difficult to

Stage warfare was as prevalent as paper warfare, as Cibber's mockery of
_Three Hours after Marriage_ suggests, and as the prologues and
epilogues amply demonstrate. _The Non-Juror_ (1719) with its
anti-Catholic remarks and its Jesuit villain played by Cibber himself,
has several barbs directed at Pope.[7]

If Pope's wounds had been festering since 1715, he had a perfect
opportunity to avenge them in the _Dunciad Variorum_ of 1729. When Gay's
_Polly_ was suppressed that year, Cibber was accused of being
responsible (though it was never proved),[8] since he had first refused
_The Beggar's Opera_, and then failed miserably to imitate its success
with his own _Love in a Riddle_. He was at this time more widely known
than Theobald, and had been a favorite target for anti-Hanoverians since
_The Non-Juror_.[9] It is very odd that Pope should have ignored this
chance, particularly when so many of his dunces are playwrights, only to
take it up fourteen years later under much less favorable
circumstances--when he himself was mortally ill and Cibber out of the
public eye--unless something else had provoked him.

One view is that the laureateship triggered the alteration, but while it
is true that Cibber was one of the worst versifiers ever to wear the
bays, that honor had been conferred in 1730, thirteen years before the
last _Dunciad_. The flood of burlesque Odes that followed each of
Cibber's Birth-Day and New-Year efforts had ebbed by the mid-thirties,
and in 1743 the laureate was a stale joke.

The _Apology_'s praise of Pope did not benefit Cibber; years before the
_Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot_ had stated:

A Fool quite angry is quite innocent;
Alas! 'tis ten times worse when they repent (108-109).

and the minor slap on the wrist was misquoted by Pope, as the _Letter_
points out. The exchange is interesting, for it is an indication that
the man behind the actor's mask might have been less thick-skinned than
he liked to seem, that he was genuinely hurt by Pope's shafts.

Cibber did not mind being portrayed as a fool. That, after all was the
character he had created as Sir Novelty Fashion in _Love's Last Shift_
(1696), and which he continued to play in public throughout his life.
But a charge of immorality did bother him, for he was anxious to be
considered a moral man. Apparently he was--his enemies charged him with
gambling, highhandedness and plagiarism, but his life seems to have
been surprisingly free of the kind of scandal that plagued most
theatrical personalities. His plays embody the materialistic
middle-class values which he champions in his later prose writings, and
of all Pope's arrows, "And has not Colley still his lord and whore?"[10]
seems to have struck deepest. It may be significant that the bawdy house
story follows close upon Cibber's plaintive remonstrance against this

As long as Cibber was in his own territory, he could answer Pope orally,
but when he at last decided to reply in print, he was at a distinct
disadvantage. The actor has a notorious disregard for the written word;
his own experience on stage tells him that what is being said has less
impact than the manner in which it is delivered. Cibber's lack of
concern for language had been well publicized. His comment that Anne
Oldfield "Out-did her usual Out-doing"[11] was never allowed to rest,
and Fielding rarely missed an opportunity to use Cibber's "paraphonalia"
against him; that the most merciless parody of his Odes could scarcely
sink to the depths of the originals, did not deter the efforts of the

He was not entirely insensible of his weaknesses. The second edition of
_The Provoked Husband_ was silently changed to "Out-did her usual
Excellence," and the spelling of paraphernalia corrected. Dr. Johnson's
testimony supports this view of Cibber's seriousness:

His friends gave out that he _intended_ his birth-day Odes should
be bad: but that was not the case, Sir; for he kept them many
months by him, and a few years before he died he shewed me one of
them, with great solicitude to render it as perfect as might be,
and I made some corrections, to which he was not very willing to

His unwillingness to take Johnson's advice might be more than mere
egotism, if the Ode was the same one mentioned elsewhere in the _Life_,
"I remember when he brought me one of his Odes to have my opinion of it,
I could not bear such nonsense, and would not let him read it to the
end; so little respect had I for _that great man_! (laughing.)."[14]

The laureateship marked only one of several changes in Cibber's life. In
1730, the triumvirate of actor-managers and their leading lady, a
quartet which had supported Drury Lane through its most prosperous
years, was broken by the death of Anne Oldfield; Wilks followed in 1732,
and Booth, too ill to perform for two years, in 1733. Cibber's royal
appointment meant a sure annual income of 100 (plus a butt of sack
worth 26), his children were grown, and he could afford some freedom
from the demands of the theater at last. He continued to act, but with
lessening frequency, until 1746, when as Cardinal Pandulph in his own
_Papal Tyranny in the Reign of King John_, he played the last role of a
career spanning more than half a century.

By 1740, he was far enough removed from the theater to have a slightly
different perspective on language. The _Apology_ betrays a concern for
his reputation beyond the immediate audience, and the need to leave a
written record other than his plays. Cibber had written prefaces and
dedications, but from this point on, he was to pursue his nondramatic
writing with _The egoist; or, Colley upon Cibber Being His Own Picture
retouch'd, to so plain a Likeness, that no One, now, would have the Face
to own it, but Himself_ (1743); _The lady's lecture, a theatrical
dialogue, between Sir Charles Easy and his marriageable daughter. Being
an attempt to engage obedience by filial liberty, and to given the
maiden conduct of virtue, chearfulness_ (1748); and _The Character and
Conduct of Cicero_ (1749), which Davies defends:

A player daring to write upon a known subject without a college
permission, was a shocking offense; and yet Dr. Middleton, to whom
the conduct of Cicero was addressed, spoke of it with respect; and
Mr. Hooke, the writer of the best Roman History in our language,
has quoted Cibber's arguments in this [his?] pamphlet against the
murderers of Julius Caesar, and speaks of them, not only with
honour, but insists upon them as cogent and unanswerable.[15]

Cibber seems to have become more and more aware of the written word as a
powerful legacy, and Pope's attacks began to hold a menace they had not
had during the years of lighthearted stage warfare. On 20 March 1742,
the _New Dunciad_ struck him with enough force to cause him to reply
with this open _Letter_ of 7 July, which attracted a great deal of
attention.[16] Four engravings and at least six pamphlets, all focusing
on the bawdy house story, were shortly in circulation. Whether or not
the story is true, or whether it was even believed, is immaterial. Its
importance lies in that it allowed Pope's enemies to have at him in the
most devastating way. The _Letter_ may well have been as painful as
Jonathan Richardson, Jr. claimed when he told Dr. Johnson that

he attended his father, the painter, on a visit to Twickenham when
one of Cibber's pamphlets had just come into Pope's hands. 'These
things are my diversion,' said Pope. They sat by him while he read
it, and saw his features writhing with anguish. After the visitors
had taken their leave, young Richardson said to his father that he
'hoped to be preserved from such diversion as had been that day the
lot of Pope.'[17]

If so, the other attacks must have been shattering, since they lacked
even the surface good humor of Cibber's _Letter_. Pope, at any rate, was
concerned enough to tell Spence:

The story published by Cibber, as to the main point, is an absolute
lie. I do remember that I was invited by Lord Warwick to pass an
evening with him. He carried me and Cibber in his coach to a
bawdy-house. There was a woman there, but I had nothing to do with
her of the kind that Cibber mentions, to the best of my memory--and
I had so few things of that kind ever on my hands that I could
scarce have forgot it, especially so circumstanced as he

An answer to the _Letter_ was demanded, and it was not long in coming.
In August/September, Pope wrote his friend Hugh Bethel concerning a copy
of the _New Dunciad_ he had sent him:

That poem has not done me, or my Quiet, the least harm; only it
provokd Cibber to write a very foolish & impudent Letter, which I
have no cause to be sorry for, & perhaps next Winter I shall be
thought to be glad of: But I lay in my Claim to you, to Testify for
me, that if he should chance to die before a New & Improved Edition
of the Dunciad comes out, I have already, actually written (before,
& not after his death) all I shall ever say about him.[19]

A Cibber-baiting campaign was undertaken by the poet's friends, and the
actor responded with _The egoist_, in which he defended himself, as in
his _Apology_, by freely admitting his flaws with infuriating
complacency. Then a false leaf of the last _Dunciad_ came into his hands
(though certainly not directly from Pope), and he published a second,
very brief, letter which indicated some stress. Pope knew, and at least
tacitly approved, of these tactics, for in February of 1743, he wrote
Lord Marchmont:

I won't publish the fourth _Dunciad_ as 'tis newset till
Michaelmas, that we may have time to play Cibber all the while....
He will be stuck, like the man in the almanac, not deep, but all
over. He won't know which way to turn himself to. Exhausted at the
first stroke, and reduced to passion and calling names, so that he
won't be able to write more, and won't be able to bear living
without writing.[20]

Copyright difficulties not mentioned by Pope prevented the Michaelmas
publication date, but on 29 October 1743, the final _Dunciad_ appeared
with its new hero, for all the world to see.

Cibber kept his promise to "have the last word." _Another Letter from
Mr. Cibber to Mr. Pope_ followed the publication of this _Dunciad_,
stating his grievances with somewhat less humor, a number of
scatological references, and an accusation against Warburton for
instigating the change. Included was a twenty-page aside on the
offending Bishop, revealing a startlingly thorough knowledge of his
writings. This was the end. Cibber's friends were eager for him to keep
up his side of the battle, but he, having had his say, resumed his
good-humor and refused to speak out again.

It has been suggested that Pope may have planned the change in hero
earlier, and aimed the _New Dunciad_ with the express purpose of goading
Cibber into just such a reply as the _Letter_. This is, of course,
possible, but it cannot be more than speculation; the final _Dunciad_
does show evidence of hasty revision. Pope was severely ill when his
last variation on the dunce theme appeared, and the seven months of life
remaining to him were clearly not enough to permit him to polish it to
the level of perfection customary in his work. But, as Warburton once
noted, quality and posterity have awarded Pope the final say:

Quoth Cibber to Pope, Tho' in Verse you foreclose,
I'll have the last Word; for by G--, I'll write prose.
Poor Colly, thy Reas'ning is none of the strongest,
For know, the last Word is the Word that lasts longest.[21]

Cibber's words have not been reprinted since the eighteenth century, and
his reputation has become so distorted it is sometimes difficult to find
the man who, for so many years, amused and delighted London audiences.
Yet, if one looks closely, under the froth and foppery, some of the
charm and perception of the man still shines through.

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