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There is such an essential distinction between self-composed and other Biography, that the principal literary object of our undertaking is at once apparent. It is, in fact, to collect into one consecutive publication, genuine materials for a diversified study of the human character, by selecting the most curious and interesting Autobiographical Memoirs now extant. It is evident that, when disposed to be sincere, no man can do so much justice to the springs and motives of his own character and actions as himself; and when even otherwise, by showing what he wishes to appear, he generally discovers what he really is. Statesmen, from Sully down to BUBB DODDINGTON; men of genius and literature, as GIBBON, HUME, ROUSSEAU, Goethe, MARMONTEL, ALFIERI, FRANKLIN, and many more; the more curious and distinctively featured religious enthusiasts, not forgetting the extraordinary journals of John WESLEY and GEORGE WHITFIELD; artists, from BENVENUTO Cellini downwards; dramatists, players, and similar autobiographers of a lighter order, as COLLEY CIBBER, GOLDONI, CUMBERLAND, C. DIBDIN, &c.; mystics and impostors, as CARDAN, WILLIAM LILLY, PSALMANAZAR, and others; tradesmen, especially booksellers, as DUNTON and LACKINGTON—all are strongly exhibitive of character. Even the coarser lines of adventuring life supply several self-written memoirs of considerable interest ; nor has the enterprising felon himself always refused to record his own exploits and progressive criminality, in a manner that may advance an instructive knowledge of human nature. Thus, if variety be a charm, the work, with unity of plan, embraces a very great diversity of subject matter; and, as a whole, forms a series of self-drawn portraits which could not be otherwise collected without considerable trouble
That the vivacious Colley Cibber was a coxcomb, seems to have been admitted on all sides in his own day; but notwithstanding the too rancorous satire of Pope, that he was a coxcomb of talent is now as generally agreed. In fact, the vanity of this man of the stage and of the world was of that constitutionally mercurial kind which, as the result of temperament and organization, forms its own apology, and is compatible with abilities of no common order. So at least it proved in the instance of Cibber, whose spontaneous egotism and buoyant self-complacency are qualified by a portion of wit, spirit, and knowledge of life, which not only renders them inoffensive, but in a very high degree attractive. Regarded in any light, the charge of dulness, so splenetically advanced by Pope, was particularly unmerited; and the deposition of Theobald, to make Čibbera totally different character—the hero of the Dunciad, is by the best critics deemed no trifling blemish in that celebrated production. Nor did the poet gain much in other respects by his warfare with the player; the pamphleteering railleryof the one being quite as much relished as the piquant lines of the other, while the controversy lasted; however the superior setting of the revenge of the too waspish bard may operate in reference to posterity. In short, Cibber not being a dunce, Pope could not make him one. The power of genius itself is bounded in this direction; and it is well; as even the despotism of genius, like all other despotism, is too often disposed to prove tyrannical.
But setting aside the claims of the man, Cibber's “Apology” will always retain a respectable share of the reputation which it very largely enjoyed in its own day, as forming a history of the stage during a very interesting period. Although the gross license of the previous age was by no means completely retrenched, the effect of the strictures of Jeremy Collier, and of the moral and critical tact of Steele and Addison, had produced an approach to much greater order; and probably in the department of domestic comedy, in which Cibber chiefly shone both as a dramatist and performer, it may be deemed in respect to England the era of the greatest excellence. The author of the “ Careless Husband,” to say nothing of his other comedies and adaptations, has a right to attention on this point, and may be attended to with great advantage. In addition also to abundance of anecdote, and to the sprightliness and good-humoured frankness with which he communicates his information, Cibber has admirably characterised the excellencies and defects of contemporary performers ; and a number of distinguished names among that evanescent order of personages are fixed in a species of existence sufficient to afford curious and instructive points of comparison with the histrionic talent of later or of present times. The Bettertons, the Booths, the Wilkses, the Barrys, the Bracegirdles, the Oldfields, &c. &c. pass before our eyes like the ghosts conjured up for the amusement of Gulliver by the governor of Glubbduborib. Being called up, as in that celebrated instance, by 11 adequate magician, they are not summoned in vain. Cibber knew his art well, life and manners still better; his criticism is therefore of that sound description which unpremeditatedly illustrates the one in discussing the points of the other. This art is said to be gradually becoming defunct : if so, less need be said by way of preface to a republication of one of the best examples in existence of stage criticism.
To conclude: as curiously self-exhibitive on the part of the author, and pleasantly informing in a particular line of inquiry, few books have been found more generally and socially amusing, or have been perused more diffusively and with greater pleasure, than the“ Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber.”