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Cibber-passed through every vicissitude of fortune, and succeeded in rendering herself more unpleasantly notorious than any of her relations. From her childhood she affected the amusements, manners, and habits of the opposite sex; and for some years, to render herself as unwomanly as possible, she assumed the masculine attire. Her husband,
Mr. Richard Charke (a member of Fielding's Great Mogul's Company), was a celebrated performer on the violin. He was a man of dissolute habits; and after a life of much misery and many vicissitudes, he died in the island of Jamaica; leaving his eccentric wife free to contract a second marriage, of which privilege she availed herself by secretly espousing "a very worthy gentleman," whose name she studiously concealed, and who died soon after their union. In her youth Mrs. Charke prided herself on her skill in the use of the currycomb. She could groom a horse as well as the best stableboy at Newmarket, and a more daring rider never bestrode a quadruped. To complete her list of feminine accomplishments, she was an excellent shot, and from a child passionately fond of fire-arms. Her career in life was as diversified as her character was eccentric. She was "everything by turns, and nothing long." First an actress, in which profession she generally selected male characters; then the keeper of an oil-shop in Long Acre, where she was the dupe of sharpers, and a general object of curiosity; then again an actress in the lowest theatrical parts; then a nobleman's valet, and after that a maker and seller of sausages. Next a waiter at a tavern in Marylebone, and then the manager of a strolling company of players; after that the keeper of a public-house in Drury Lane, and, failing in this employment, actress again in a company assembled at the Haymarket by her brother Theophilus (in imitation it would seem of Fielding); then for a time the assistant of an eminent exhibitor of puppets: for nearly nine years after that leading a miserable and vagabond life as a strolling player; then reappearing in
London, and publishing an account of her strange adventures; after which she opened a public-house in Islington, and died there in 1760. Such was the career of the Laureate's youngest child, who is said to have possessed much of the cleverness of her family, combined with more than a due proportion of their eccentricity. With her father she was all her lifetime on unfriendly terms. At an early period of her chequered existence she appears to have grievously offended him, and he never forgave her. In her bitterest distresses-in the hour of her most abject poverty, he refused to assist her: a circumstance the more remarkable as Cibber was esteemed by his contemporaries a good-natured man.
The Laureate did not escape the raillery of Fielding in his "Historical Register." He is introduced under the name of Ground-Ivy, and his impertinent alterations of Shakspere are deservedly held up to the indignant contempt of the public. The following may be numbered amongst the happiest passages of Fielding's dramatic satire.
Ground-Ivy. What are you doing here?
Apollo. I am casting the parts in the tragedy of King John.' Ground-Ivy. Then you are casting the parts in a tragedy that wont do.
Apollo. How, sir! Was it not written by Shakspere? And was not Shakspere one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived?
Ground-Ivy. No, sir; Shakspere was a pretty fellow, and said some things which only want a little of my licking to do well enough; King John, as now writ, will not do. But a word in your ear-I will make him do.
Ground-Ivy. By alteration, sir: it was a maxim of mine, when I was at the head of theatrical affairs, that no play, tho' ever so good, would do without alteration. For instance, in the play before us, the bastard Faulconbridge is a most effeminate character, for which
(1) A ridiculous version of "King John," by Cibber, under the title of "Papal Tyranny," was at this time rehearsed at Drury Lane, but withdrawn in deference to the critics. The idea was a favourite one with Cibber, for he returned to the stage in 1745, when seventy-three years old, to play the part of Pandulph, the pope's nuncio, in a play bearing the same title. ("Baker's Biographia Dramatica.")
reason I would cut him out, and put all his sentiments in the mouth of Constance, who is so much properer to speak them. Let me tell you, Mr. Apollo, propriety of character, dignity of diction, and emphasis of sentiment, are the things I chiefly consider on these
Prompter. I am only afraid as Shakspere is so popular an author, and you, asking your pardon, so unpopular
Ground-Ivy. D—, I'll write to the town, and desire them to be civil, and that in so modest a manner that an army of Cossacks shall be melted. I'll tell them that no actors are equal to me, and no authors ever were superior: and how do you think I can insinuate that in a modest manner?
Prompter. Nay, faith, I can't tell.
Ground-Ivy. Why, I'll tell them that the former only tread on my heels, and that the greatest among the latter have been damned as well as myself; and after that, what do you think of your popularity? I can tell you, Mr. Prompter, I have seen things carried in the house against the voice of the people before to-day.
Apollo. Let them hiss, let them hiss, and grumble as much as they please, as long as we get their money.
Medley. There, sir, is the sentiment of a great man,
to come from the great Apollo himself.
Sourwit. He's worthy his sire, indeed. To think of this gentleman for altering Shakspere!
Medley. Sir, I will maintain this gentleman as proper as any man in the kingdom for the business.
Medley. Ay, sir; for as Shakspere is already good enough for people of taste, he must be altered to the palates of those who have none; and if you will grant that, who can be properer to alter him for the worse?
Of the justice and propriety of this satire there can be no doubt, and it also shows that Fielding, in point of dramatic taste, was much in advance of his age. Alterations and perversions of Shakspere were at this time uniformly substituted in representation for his genuine productions. To make matters worse, the clumsiest of workmen had been employed in this objectionable occupation. "Even Nahum Tate," as observed by Mr. Campbell," after his wholesale murder of King David, laid his hangman hands on Coriolanus." 1 The same inferior versifier produced
(1) The Ingratitude of a Commonwealth; or, the Fall of Coriolanus. 1681.
an improved version of "King Lear," from which the Fool was altogether banished, and a love-plot introduced between Edgar and Cordelia. So vitiated was the taste of the playgoing public, even in the middle of the eighteenth century, that when an attempt was made to play "King Lear" as Shakspere wrote it, the audience, we are told by Dr. Johnson, decided in favour of Tate! Cibber's alterations, in like manner, obtained a firm hold on the stage, and one of them (that of "Richard III.") still retains a place amongst the stock-pieces of the theatre. The preference shown by the multitude for the brass of Tate and Cibber to the gold of Shakspere was no unfit subject for Fielding's indignant satire. The mischief perpetrated by these unscrupulous adapters was of so extensive and permanent a character, that generation after generation felt its influence; and it is doubtful even yet whether the world appreciates the full force of the truth, that to submit the work of a great artist to the touch of an inferior hand is the worst of profanity.1
"The Historical Register" was published with a dedication "to the Public," written in the same tone as the piece itself. Ministerial scribes had denounced the satire for its seditious tendency, but by these attacks Fielding was nothing daunted. He boldly claimed the protection of the public, on the ground of the necessity he had for so potent a patron, "to defend him from the iniquitous surmises of a certain anonymous dialogous author," who in "The Gazetteer" (a celebrated ministerial print) had represented his play as aiming, in conjunction with The Miller of Mansfield,' the overthrow of the m Fielding,
(1) Had Fielding lived in the middle of the nineteenth, instead of that of the eighteenth century, he would have been gratified by Mr. Macready's restoration to the stage of the text of Shakspere-deserving of all commendation and gratitude.
(2) This farce was first acted in 1736, and published in 1737. It is founded on the old ballad of "The King and the Miller of Mansfield," and contains a great deal of pointed satire upon courtiers and the corruptions of a court, which
thus attacked, makes the following retort on his antagonists:" The eagerness which these gentlemen express at applying all manner of evil character to their patrons, brings to my mind a story I have somewhere read-As two gentlemen were walking the street together, the one said to the other, upon spying the figure of an ass hung out, Bob, Bob, look yonder! some impudent rascal has hung out your picture on a sign-post!' The grave companion, who had the misfortune to be exceedingly short-sighted, fell into a violent rage, and calling to the master of the house, threatened to prosecute him for exposing his features in that public manner. The poor landlord, as you may well conceive, was extremely astonished, and denied the fact; upon which the witty spark who had just mentioned the resemblance, appealed to the
were considered to have reference to the politics of the period, and greatly contributed to its popularity. Its author was Dodsley, the well-known bookseller,-first a footman, and indebted for an introduction to literature to the kindness and protection of Pope.
The Gazetteers are thus mentioned in "The Dunciad" (book i.):
"And see thy very Gazetteers give o'er,
E'en Ralph repents, and Henley writes no more.'
And in the notes (by Warburton) the following account is given of the ministerial press, and the money lavished upon it :-"The Daily Gazetteer was a title given very properly to certain papers, each of which lasted but a day. Into this, as a common sink, was received all the trash which had been before dispersed in several journals, and circulated at the expense of the nation. The authors were the same obscure men; though sometimes relieved by occasional essays from statesmen, courtiers, bishops, deans, and doctors. The meaner sort were rewarded with money; others with places or benefices from a hundred to a thousand a year. It appears from the report of the secret committee for enquiring into the conduct of R[obert] Earl of O[rford]:- That no less than fifty thousand and seventy-seven pounds were paid to authors and printers of newspapers, such as Free Britons, Daily Courants, Corn-Cutter's Journals, Gazetteers, and other political papers, between February 10, 1731, and February 10, 1741' which shows the benevolence of one minister to have expended, for the current dulness of ten years in Britain, double the sum which gained Louis XIV. so much honour in annual pensions to learned men all over Europe." Such a distribution of public money amongst the dullest writers for the press was calculated to excite the indignation of Fielding, and men of his class, relying upon their talents for support. Arnall, an attorney, who wrote for "The Free Briton," and is mentioned in "The Dunciad," boasted that he had received for Free Britons, in four years, £10,997 68, 8d, out of the Treasury. .