Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 10.djvu/369

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Cibber
Cibber
361

said with some warmth, 'Don't tell me, Mr. Garrick ! That woman has a heart, and can do anything where passion is required.' He proved to he right. As Constance, Victor writes, 'Mrs. Oihher surpassed all that have followed her. When, the cardinal and others attempting to comfort her, she sank on the ground, and, looking round with a dignified wildness and horror, said,

 Here I and sorrow sit ;
Here is my throne, bid kings come bow to it,

nothing that ever was exhibited could exceed this picture of distress. And nothing that ever came from the mouth of mortal was ever spoken with more dignified propriety.' Davies also, speaking of her (Dram. Misc. i. 66) in the same play, says : 'When going off the stage ehe uttered the words, "O Lord, my boy, my Arthur, my fair son !" with such an emphatical scream of agony as will never be forgotten by those who heard her.* The same wrtter in his 'Life of Garrick' says : 'Her great excellence consisted in that simplicity which needed no ornament ; in that sensibility which despised all artw There was in her countenance a small share of beauty ; but nature had given her such symmetry of form and fine expression of feature that she preserved all the appearance of youth long after she had reached to middle life. The harmony of her voice was as powerful as the animation of her look. In grief or tenderness her eyes looked as if they were in tears ; in rage and despair they seemed to dart flashes of fire. In spite of the unimportance of her figure she maintained a dignity in her action and a grace in her step. This description is borne out by the fine engraved portraits of Mrs. Cibber, of which there are several, in which sensibility, refinement, and imaginative dreaminess are very marked. Looking at these, it is easy to understand Charles Diodin's remark, that she was, like Garrick, 'the character she represented. Love, rage, resentment, pity, disdain, find all the gpradations of the various passions she greatly felt and vigorously expressed.' In Ophelia she was no less admirable than in Constance or Bel videra. 'Her features, figure, and singing,' says Tate Wilkinson, 'made her appear the best Ophelia that ever appeared eitner before or since.' It says much for her excellence that Wilkinson, who spared none of her contemporaries in his mimicry, avows that she was beyond his power of imitation. The combination of strong feeling with intuitive grace was manifestly the secret of her charm. Her emotions told upon her health, and when exhausted with the strain upon them she would say she wished her nerves were made of cart-ropes. An actress of this stamp was siire to seek association with an actor like Garrick. Covent Garden had been the arena of her earliest triumphs ; but she joined Garrick at Drury Lane in 1763, and remained there till her death. They were so like each other that it was said they might have been brother and sister. Under his influence she threw off some of the mannerisms of her earlier stvle ; but they were never wholly got rid of, and a critic writing soon after her death (Dramatic Censor, 1770), while admitting that 'in grief and distraction no idea could go beyond her execution,' says that 'after all she had a relish of the old ritum-ti, which often gave us offence.' By the year 1760 she had attained such excellence that in a eulogium, enthusiastic yet discriminating, Churchill speaks of her as

Form'd for the tragic scene, to grace the stage
With rival excellence of love and rage.
Mistress of each soft art, with matchless skill,
To turn and wind the passions as she will ;
To melt the heart with sympathetic woe,
Awake the sigh and teach the tear to flow ;
To put on phrenzy's wild distracted glare,
And freeze the soul with horror and despair.

Churchill notes in strong terms her failure in comedy, for which she mistakenly thought she had a gift. Her sense of humour, obviously great and often flashing out in her letters, was greater than her power of expressing it upon the stage. Garrick*s gaiety and brilliancy of spirits in society delighted her. Garrick, she writes to her brother, has been here' (Woodhays, Sloper's house) 'this three weeks, in great good humour and spirits, and, in short, we are all as merry as the day is long.' Garrick was apparently in the habit of taking Sloper*s house at Woodhays on his way in his frequent visits to take the waters in Bath ; and in a letter to him in November 1766 she speaks of having 'lost some happy laughing days by your Bath expedition not taking place.' She had some of his vivacity as a letter-writer, and in the letter just quoted, after mentioning that their friend. Dr. Banr, had sent her a small account of (Garrick's 'theatrical stud and the ponies that run,' this, she adds, had determined her 'to enter my favourite mare Belvidera six or seven days after I come to London. She is an old one, but I believe she will still beat the fillies, as she is sound, wind and limb, has never yet flung her rider, and will take care not to come in on the wrong side of the field.* Her health had, however, for some years been precarious, and within little more than two months after this letter was written the voice of the Bel videra, Constance, Alicia, who was so confident of her