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stared at for not being particular? Or if the Particularity lies in owning my Weakness, will my wisest Reader be so inhuman as not to pardon it? But if there should be such a one, let me at least beg him to show me that strange Man who is perfect ! Is any one more unhappy, more ridiculous, than he who is always laboring to be thought so, or that is impatient when he is not thought so ? Having brought myself to be easy under whatever the World may say of my Undertaking, you may still ask me why I give myself all this trouble? Is it for Fame, or Profit to myself, or Use or Delight to others ? For all these Considerations I have neither Fondness nor Indifference : If I obtain none of them, the Amusement, at worst, will be a Reward that must constantly go along with the Labor. But behind all this there is something inwardly inciting, which I cannot express in few Words; I must therefore a little make bold with your Patience.
A Man who has passed above Forty Years of his Life upon a Theater, where he has never appeared to be Himself, may have naturally excited the Curiosity of his Spectators to know what he really was when in nobody's Shape but his own; and whether he, who by his Profession had so long been ridiculing his Benefactors, might not, when the Coat of his Profession was off, deserve to be laughed at himself; or from his being often seen in the most flagrant and immoral Characters, whether he might not see as great a Rogue when he looked into the Glass himself as when he held it to others.
I was born in London, on the 6th of November, 1671, in Southampton Street, facing Southampton-House. My Father, Caius Gabriel Cibber, was a Native of Holstein, who came into England some time before the Restoration of King Charles II. to follow his Profession, which was that of a Statuary, etc. The Basso Relievo on the Pedestal of the Great Column in the City, and the two Figures of the Lunaticks, the Raving and the Melancholy, over the Gates of Bethlehem Hospital, are no ill Monuments of his Fame as an Artist. My Mother was the Daughter of William Colley, Esq.; of a very ancient Family of Glaiston in Rutlandshire, where she was born. My Mother's Brother, Edward Colley, Esq. (who gave me my Christian Name), being the last Heir Male of it, the Family is now extinct.
In the Year 1682, at little more than Ten Years of Age, I was sent to the Free-School of Grantham in Lincolnshire, where
I stayed till I got through it, from the lowest Form to the uppermost. And such Learning as that School could give me is the most I pretend to (which, though I have not utterly forgot, I cannot say I have much improved by Study), but even there I remember I was the same inconsistent Creature I have been ever since I always in full Spirits, in some small Capacity to do right, but in a more frequent Alacrity to do wrong; and consequently often under a worse Character than I wholly deserved. A giddy Negligence always possessed me, and so much, that I remember I was once whipped for my Theme, though my Master told me, at the same time, what was good of it was better than any Boy's in the Form. And (whatever Shame it
may be to own it) I have observed the same odd Fate has frequently attended the course of my later Conduct in Life. The unskillful openness, or in plain Terms, the Indiscretion I have always acted with from my Youth, has drawn more illwill towards me, than Men of worse Morals and more Wit might have met with. My Ignorance and want of Jealousy of Mankind has been so strong, that it is with Reluctance I even yet believe any Person I am acquainted with can be capable of Envy, Malice, or Ingratitude : And to show you what a Mortification it was to me, in my very boyish Days, to find myself mistaken, give me leave to tell you a School Story.
À great Boy, near the Head taller than myself, in some wrangle at Play had insulted me; upon which I was fool. hardy enough to give him a Box on the Ear; the Blow was soon returned with another that brought me under him and at his Mercy. Another Lad, whom I really loved and thought a good-natured one, cried out with some warmth to my Antagonist (while I was down), Beat him, beat him soundly! This so amazed me that I lost all my Spirits to resist, and burst into Tears ! When the Fray was over I took my friend aside, and asked him, How he came to be so earnestly against me? To which, with some glouting Confusion, he replied, Because you are always jeering and making a Jest of me to every Boy in the School. Many a Mischief have I brought upon myself by the same Folly in riper Life. Whatever Reason I had to reproach my Companion's declaring against me, I had none to wonder at it while I was so often hurting him : Thus I deserved his Enmity by my not having Sense enough to know I had hurt him; and he hated me because he had not Sense enough to know that I never intended to hurt him.
As this is the first remarkable Error of my Life I can recollect, I cannot pass it by without throwing out some further Reflections upon it; whether flat or spirited, new or common, false or true, right or wrong, they will be still my own, and consequently like me; I will therefore boldly go on ; for I am only obliged to give you my own, and not a good Picture, to show as well the Weakness as the Strength of my Understanding. It is not on what I write, but on my Reader's Curiosity I rely to be read through: At worst, though the Impartial may be tired, the Ill-natured (no small number) I know will see the bottom of me.
What I observed then, upon my having undesignedly provoked
School-Friend into an Enemy, is a common Case in Society; Errors of this kind often sour the Blood of Acquaintance into an inconceivable A version, where it is little suspected. It is not enough to say of your Raillery that you intended no offense ; if the Person you offer it to has either a wrong Head, or wants a Capacity to make that Distinction, it may have the same effect as the Intention of the grossest Injury : And in reality, if you know his Parts are too slow to return it in kind, it is a vain and idle Inhumanity, and sometimes draws the Aggressor into difficulties not easily got out of : Or to give the Case more scope, suppose your Friend may have a passive Indulgence for your Mirth, if you find him silent at it, though you were as intrepid as Cæsar, there can be no excuse for your not leaving it off. When you are conscious that your Antagonist can give as well as take, then indeed the smarter the Hit the more agreeable the Party : A Man of cheerful Sense among Friends will never be grave upon an Attack of this kind, but rather thank you that you have given him a Right to be even with you : There are few Men (though they may be Masters of both) that on such occasions had not rather show their Parts than their Courage, and the Preference is just ; a Bull-Dog may have one, and only a Man can have the other. Thus it happens that in the coarse Merriment of common People, when the Jest begins to swell into Earnest ; for want of this Election you may observe, he that has least wit generally gives the first Blow. Now, as among the Better sort, a readiness of Wit is not always a Sign of intrinsick Merit; so the want of that readiness is no Reproach to a Man of plain Sense and Civility, who therefore (methinks) should never have these lengths of Liberty taken with him. Wit there becomes absurd, if not
insolent; ill-natured I am sure it is, which Imputation a generous Spirit will always avoid, for the same Reason that a Man of real Honor will never send a Challenge to a Cripple. The inward Wounds that are given by the inconsiderate Insults of Wit to those that want it, are as dangerous as those given by Oppression to Inferiors ; as long in healing, and perhaps never forgiven. There is besides (and little worse than this) a mutual Grossness in Raillery that sometimes is more painful to the Hearers that are not concerned in it than to the Persons engaged. I have seen a couple of these clumsy Combatants drub one another with as little Manners or Mercy as if they had two Flails in their Hands; Children at Play with Caseknives could not give you more Apprehension of their doing one another a Mischief. And yet, when the Contest has been over, the Boobys have looked round them for Approbation, and upon being told they were admirably well matched have sat down (bedaubed as they were) contented at making it a drawn Battle. ...
To get through the necessary Cares of Life with a Train of Pleasures at our Heels in vain calling after us, to give a constant Preference to the Business of the Day, and yet be able to laugh while we are about it, to make even Society the subservient Reward of it, is a State of Happiness which the gravest Precepts of moral Wisdom will not easily teach us to exceed. When I speak of Happiness, I go no higher than that which is contained in the World we now tread upon ; and when I speak of Laughter, I don't simply mean that which every Oaf is capable of, but that which has its sensible Motive and proper Season. When I look into my present Self, and afterwards cast my Eye round all my Hopes, I don't see any one Pursuit of them that should so reasonably rouse me out of a Nod in my Great Chair, as a call to those agreeable Parties I have sometimes the Happiness to mix with, where I always assert the equal Liberty of leaving them, when my Spirits have done their best with them.
Now, Sir, as I have been making my way for above Forty Years through a Crowd of Cares (all which, by the Favor of Providence, I have honestly got rid of), is it a time of Day for me to leave off these Fooleries, and to set up a new Character ? Can it be worth my while to waste my Spirits, to bake my Blood, with serious Contemplations, and perhaps impair my Health, in the fruitless Study of advancing myself into the
better Opinion of those very - very few Wise Men that are as old as I am ? No, the Part I have acted in real Life shall be all of a Piece,
Servetur ad imum,
Qualis ab incepto processerit. (Horace.) I will not go out of my Character by straining to be wiser than I can be, or by being more affectedly pensive than I need be ; whatever I am, Men of Sense will know me to be, put on what Disguise I will ; I can no more put off my Follies than my Skin; I have often tried, but they stick too close to me: nor am I sure my Friends are displeased with them; for, besides that in this Light I afford them frequent matter of Mirth, they may possibly be less uneasy at their own Foibles when they have so old a Precedent to keep them in Countenance : Nay, there are some frank enough to confess they envy what they laugh at; and when I have seen others, whose Rank and Fortune have laid a sort of Restraint upon their Liberty of pleasing their Company by pleasing themselves, I have said softly to myself, — Well, there is some Advantage in having neither Rank nor Fortune ! Not but there are among them a third Sort, who have the particular Happiness of unbending into the very Wantonness of Good-humor without depreciating their Dignity; He that is not Master of that Freedom, let his Condition be never so exalted, must still want something to come up to the Happiness of his Inferiors who enjoy it. If Socrates could take pleasure in playing at Even or Odd with his Children, or Agesilaus divert himself in riding the Hobby-horse with them, am I obliged to be as eminent as either of them before I am as frolicsome? If the Emperor Adrian, near his death, could play with his very Soul, his Animula, &c., and regret that it could be no longer companionable ; if Greatness at the same time was not the Delight he was so loth to part with, sure then these cheerful Amusements I am contending for must have no inconsiderable share in our Happiness ; he that does not choose to live his own way, suffers others to choose for him. Give me the Joy I always took in the End of an old song,
My Mind, my Mind is a Kingdom to me! If I can please myself with my own Follies, have not I a plentiful Provision for Life ? If the World thinks me a