Clive, Catherine (DNB00)
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CLIVE, CATHERINE, commonly known as Kitty Clive (1711–1785), was the daughter of William Raftor, an Irish gentleman of good family. He was a lawyer in Kilkenny, who lost his property by reason of having joined the army which fought for James II at the battle of the Boyne, and after spending some years of exile in France returned to England on receiving a pardon from Queen Anne, settled in London, and married a Mrs. Daniels, daughter of a well-to-do citizen of Fishstreet Hill. The Raftor family was probably too large for their means; for all we know of Kitty Clive points to the conclusion that her education was of the scantiest. Her spelling to the last was bad even for the last century. What she wrote, however, was marked by strong common sense, and she made her way to eminence by sheer force of a vigorous genius, in spite of a want of refinement which was incompatible with good early culture. If we are to believe Mr. Lee Lewis, she was when very young in the service of a Miss Knowles, afterwards Mrs. Young, who lodged in a house in Church Row, Houndsditch, opposite to the Bell Tavern, a great resort of actors, at which the Beef Steak Club was held. Kitty Raftor, Lewis says, 'being one day washing the steps of the door and singing, the windows of the club room being open, they were instantly crowded ' by the members of the club, ' who were all enchanted with her natural grace and simplicity.' Mr. Beard and Mr. Dunstall, both of them actors and singers, were among those present, and under their auspices Miss Raftor was introduced to the stage. Lewis gives this story on the authority of Mr. Thomas Young, a son of Mrs. Young, and himself an actor and singer. But it is not confirmed by any contemporary evidence, and seems most improbable; for to wash down the doorsteps of a lodging-house was surely not the duty of a lodger's, but rather of the landlady's maid. Whether Miss Raftor owed her introduction to the stage in this way or not, her special gift of vivid impersonation was such that she was sure to have found her way thither sooner or later through strong natural inclination. The theatre and actors very early took hold of her imagination; for she herself told Chetwood that when she was twelve years old, her friend, Miss Johnson, afterwards married to Theophilus Cibber [q. v.], and herself 'used to tag after Wilks wherever they saw him, and gape at him as a wonder.' Wilks, born in 1670, was by this time over fifty, but years had not deprived him of his fine figure and face, nor of 'the easy frankness of a gentleman,' and the 'singular talent in representing the graces of nature,' for which Steele tells us in the 'Tatler' (No. 182) he was distinguished. Sharing Miss Johnson's admiration for their stage hero, Miss Raftor was pretty sure to follow her example in going upon the stage. She found her way to the notice of Colley Gibber, then manager of Drury Lane. She had youth, spirit, a fine and trained singing voice, and by the time she was seventeen he found a place for her as Ismenes, page to Ziphares, in Nat Lee's tragedy of 'Mithridates, King of Pontus,' where she was well fitted with the song written for the piece by Sir Car Scroop, her execution of which established her as a favourite with the town. Her next great success was in 1729 as Phillida in Colley Cibber's ballad opera 'Love in a Riddle.' A cabal had been formed to damn the piece, and although the Prince of Wales was present, so violent was the uproar, that before Miss Raftor's entrance on the scene, late in the play, was reached, the author had promised to withdraw it. But no sooner did she make her appearance than the clamour abated; she went on with her song, and the tide turned. 'Zounds, Tom,' one of the rioters, according to Chetwood, was heard to exclaim, 'take care, or that charming little devil will spoil all.' And spoil all she did for the night, so far as Cibber's enemies were concerned. But not even Phillida could prolong the life of the piece, and it was at once withdrawn. So great, however, was the impression produced by Miss Raftor that her portrait as Phillida was immediately painted by Schalken and engraved by Faber, and from it we see that youth and animated expression, and not beauty of features, formed the attraction of the young actress. Two years later (1731) she established a reputation as a comic actress of the strongest type as Nell in Coffey's farce, 'The Devil to pay, or the Wives metamorphosed,' one of the many dramatic works which have owed their hold on the stage solely to the genius of the actors, who put into them qualities of character and interest which will be sought for in the text in vain. So long as Mrs. Clive remained on the stage the original Nell was always in high favour with the town, and its transmitted reputation kept the farce upon the stage for many years after she left it. After the retirement of Mrs. Jordan, who was the only other celebrated Nell, it fell into what to a mere reader seems merited oblivion. While Miss Raftor's success in a piece which gave scope at once to her charm as a singer of ballads and to her exuberant humour was yet recent, she married a barrister, Mr. George Clive. The union ended by mutual consent not long afterwards in separation. The impulsive Kitty probably was not very easy to live with, and both found their peace in living apart. She was not, however, a woman to make bad worse by seeking consolation elsewhere. Her character then and to the last was unblemished. She was still living with Mr. Clive when Fielding wrote of her (1734), in the preface to the 'Intriguing Chambermaid': 'Great favourite as you at present are with your audience, you would be much more so were they acquainted with your private character ; could they see you laying out great part of the profits which arise to you from entertaining them so well, in the support of an aged father; did they see you, who can charm them on the stage with personating the foolish and vicious characters of your sex, acting in real life the part of the best wife, the best daughter, the best sister, and the best friend.' The eulogy was proved by Mrs. dive's after-life to be well founded. She remained at Drury Lane till 1741, growing steadily in public favour by her vivid power of impersonation, and by the rich flow of native humour which she threw into her parts. So long as she kept to strongly emphasised comedy and well-marked characters of middle or low life, or to her favourite task of ridiculing the extravagances of Italian opera and its professors, which her accomplishments as a musician enabled her to do with singular success, she was on firm ground. But her usual good sense failed her when in 1741 she ventured to appear as Portia to Macklin's Shylock. It says little for the taste of the town that she was not only endured in the character, but even admired. Macklin had some time before rescued the character of Shylock from the hands of comic actors into which it had fallen before his time, and now Mrs. Clive reduced to the level of vulgar comedy the most refined, accomplished, and intellectual of Shakespeare's women. The trial scene was used by her as the means of introducing buffoonish imitations of the manners of an Old Bailey barrister. This setting on of a quantity of barren spectators to laugh so far succeeded, that the 'Dramatic Censor' says 'the applause she received in Portia was disgraceful both to herself and the audience.' The same defect in taste and judgment induced Mrs. Clive, as years went on, to persist in attempting parts in genteel comedy, and even in tragedy, for which she was utterly unfitted both by person and mind. As Garrick was great in farce and comedy as well as tragedy, she seems to have thought her powers were no less varied. But the true appreciation of them was no doubt expressed by the critic just quoted when he said: 'Mrs. Clive, peculiarly happy in low humour, with a most disagreeable face and person, was always the joy of her audience when she kept clear of anything serious and genteel.' Except during a short visit to Dublin in 1741, she acted only in London. Like Mrs. Cibber, she was a favourite with Handel, and sang the music of Dalilah on the first production of his oratorio of 'Samson' (1742). In many of the ephemeral pieces in which she appeared songs were introduced for her, in which her fine voice and piquant delivery were turned to account. Her own taste, however, seems to have run towards music of a higher class. In her portrait, now in the Garrick Club, painted when she was clearly past middle age, she holds in her hand Handel's setting of Milton's 'Sweet bird, that shuns the noise of folly,' and Horace Walpole, writing to his friend George Montague (5 July 1761), speaks of Mrs. Clive's disappointment at Mr. Montague's not coming to Strawberry Hill, 'where she had proposed to play at quadrille with him from dinner till supper, and to sing old Purcell to him from supper to breakfast next morning.' When Garrick became lessee of Drury Lane Theatre in 1746, he enrolled her in his company, and with him she remained, except for a brief interval, until she retired from the stage on 24 April 1769, when he played Don Felix to her Violante in the comedy of the 'Wonder.' Each had the truest respect for the genius of the other. Mrs. Clive, according to Tate Wilkinson, who saw much of her behind the scenes at Drury Lane, 'was a mixture of combustibles; she was passionate, cross, and vulgar,' and this side of her character often fretted her manager, and put his temper to the severest trial. 'I am very glad you are come to your usual spirits,' he wrote in answer to a scolding letter from her on recovering from an illness. He had learned patience, for she was but one of many who strained his forbearance to the uttermost by evil temper, jealousy, and caprice, without any of her genius to qualify the trial. At heart Mrs. Clive was fond of Garrick, and thoroughly appreciated his merits both as man and actor. He, on the other hand, knew that on the stage in her special line of characters she was invaluable, and that under the blunt and rude manner in which she was apt to indulge there was a truly generous nature and a large vein of vigorous common sense. He was therefore very sorry to lose tier services, but, finding she was bent on retirement, he showed his good will by offering to play the leading part at her farewell benefit. 'How charming you can be when you are good!' she wrote in answer to his offer, adding that it convinced her he had 'a sort of a sneaking kindness for your "Pivy" [a pet name he had given her]. I suppose I shall have you tapping me on the shoulder (as you do to Violante) when I bid you farewell, and desiring one tender look before we part.' The friendship between them lasted to the end. An active correspondence passed between Drury Lane and Strawberry Hill, to which Mrs. Clive had retreated. A house there (Clive's-den he called it) had been given to her by her old friend Horace Walpole, who, petit maître as he was, obviously found in her rough, outspoken humour a delightful contrast to the insipidities of the fine ladies of his circle. When Mrs. Clive heard of her old manager's approaching retirement from the stage, and his intention to become churchwarden, justice of the peace, &c., down at his Twickenham villa, she wrote (31 Jan. 1773): 'I schream'd at your parish business. I think I see you in your churchwardenship, quareling for not making their brown loaves big enough; but for God's sake never think of being a justice of the peace, for the people will quarel on purpose to be brought before you to hear you talk, so that you may have as much business upon the lawn as you had upon the boards. If I should live to be thaw'd, I will come to town on purpose to kiss you; and in the summer, as you say, I hope we shall see each other ten times as often, when we will talk and dance and sing, and send our hearers laughing to their beds.' It is clear from Horace Walpole's correspondence that Mrs. Clive by the originality and shrewdness of her talk held her ground among his most distinguished visitors, male and female, at Strawberry Hill. How well able she was to do so may be argued from what Johnson said of her to Boswell: 'Clive, sir, is a good thing to sit by; she always understands what you say. In the sprightliness of humour I have never seen her equalled.' And she, in no way awed by the great man, used to say of him, 'I love to sit by Dr. Johnson; he always entertains me.' Here is one of her sayings that would have delighted him. When asked why she did not visit certain people of noble rank whose character in private life was not unexceptionable, she replied, 'Why because, my dear, I choose my company as I do my fruit, there- fore I am not for damaged quality.' Johnson admired her acting greatly, and thought her only second to Garrick. 'Without the least exaggeration,' Goldsmith writes ('Bee,' No. 5), 'she has more true humour than any actor or actress on the English or any other stage I have seen.' Victor says 'her extraordinary talents could even raise a dramatic trifle, provided there were nature in it, to a character of importance. Witness the Fine Lady in [Garrick's] "Lethe," and the yet smaller part of Lady Fuz in the "Peep behind the Curtain." Such sketches in her hand showed high finished pictures.' Her merits in this respect are recognised in Churchill's 'Rosciad ' (1761):
In spite of outward blemishes she shone,
For humour famed, and humour all her own;
Easy, as if at home, the stage she trod,
Nor sought the critic's praise, nor fear'd his rod;
Original in spirit and in ease,
She pleased by hiding all attempts to please;
No comic actress ever yet could raise,
On humour's base, more merit or more praise.
Mrs. Clive died at Little Strawberry Hill on 6 Dec. 1785, and was buried in Twickenham Churchyard. Walpole put up an urn in the shrubbery attached to her cottage, with the following inscription by himself:
Ye smiles and jests, still hover round;
This is mirth's consecrated ground.
Here lived the laughter-loving dame,
A matchless actress, Clive her name;
The comic muse with her retired,
And shed a tear when she expired.
Mrs. Clive wrote four small dramatic sketches: 1. 'The Rehearsal, or Boys in Petticoats,' 1753. 2. 'Every Woman in her Humour,' 1760. 3. 'Sketch of a Fine Lady's Return from a Rout,' 1763. 4. 'The Faithful Irish Woman,' 1765. Only the first of these was printed. A fifth piece, the 'Island of Slaves,' translated from Marivaux's 'Isle des Esclaves,' acted for her benefit at Drury Lane, 26 March 1761, has been attributed to her on doubtful authority. There are several portraits of Mrs. Clive still in existence, one of great merit by Hogarth; one by Davison, engraved in mezzotint by Van Haacken; one now in the Garrick Club, by a painter unknown, but probably Van Haacken; and one which was sold at Strawberry Hill in 1884. There is also a rare engraving of her as Mrs. Riot, the Fine Lady, in 'Lethe,' with a pug dog under her arm, by A. Mosley, 1750, by which time she had developed into the full blown and florid dame, who looks quite the person to keep her stage associates in order, as Tate Wilkinson says she did. Her figure in this character in contemporary Chelsea ware is still in great demand among collectors.
[Chetwood's History of the Stage; Davies's Life of Garrick; Genest; The Dramatic Censor, 1770; Victor's History of the Theatres; Boswell's Johnson; Garrick Correspondence; Tate Wilkinson's Memoirs; Lee Lewis's Memoirs; H. Walpole's Correspondence; manuscript letters.]