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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

VI. The Restoration Drama

§ 25. His Apology for his Life

He left us in his Apology for his Life an incomparable record (published in 1740). It is to his talent of observation, to his good-humour, and to his sense of justice that we owe the best set of theatrical portraits that ever came down to us. As much as words can tell, he has told us of Mrs. Bracegirdle and Betterton, of Leigh and Nokes, of Estcourt and Powell, of all the brilliant actors, who in our golden age of comedy made the representation of that comedy possible. And he has done this with never a jealous word, with never a hinted dislike at a prosperous rival. Above all, he has drawn an imperishable portrait of himself, a man protected against insult by a triple brass of confidence, whose vanity smiled untouched at the fierce assaults of desperate enemies. That presently he was chosen by Pope to succeed Theobald on the throne of folly gave him a strange pleasure, and he discovered, I think, the real reason of Pope’s choice. “Right or wrong,” said he, “a lick at the laureat will always be a sure bait, ad captandum vulgus, to catch him little readers.” It was, in effect, the laureate unworthy of his wreath that the great poet attacked, and the poet’s shaft should have been directed against the court which put Cibber in a false position. His laureate odes, sunk in the waters of oblivion, no longer trouble us. We may even forget the skilful maker of stageplays. The historian of the theatre, the apologist, who has left behind him the best commentary that we have upon the comedy of manners, will still be entitled to the world’s gratitude, though he wears the bays no longer on his brow.