London Stories: A Visit to Charlotte Cibber by Samuel Whyte

London Stories

I wasn’t familiar with Charlotte Cibber or Samuel Whyte before reading A Visit to Charlotte Cibber. (Some of you might be familiar with Colley Cibber though, who was an English actor-manager, playwright and Poet Laureate. Charlotte was Colley’s youngest child.) Samuel Whyte was a writer, and Charlotte in her early life was an actress and playwright, following the footsteps of her father. So Charlotte’s youth was privileged until she had a fallout with her father.

Wikipedia gives an extensive account of Charlotte’s life. After rebelling against her father, Charlotte tried to make it on her own, yet, unfortunately, almost all her business ventures failed. Ultimately, she turned to writing to make a living. In 1754, Charlotte had written her debut novel, The History of Mr. Henry Dumont, Esq; and Miss Charlotte Evelyn, and A Visit to Charlotte Cibber describes the events that took place when Samuel Whyte and a bookseller friend of his went to hear Charlotte read it.

Samuel Whyte begins with a description of the house Charlotte lived by then, a place which clearly lacked any opulence. A mutilated pair of bellows formed a makeshift writing desk for Charlotte, her inkstand was a broken tea-cup, and her only pen was worn to a stump. I think Whyte was genuinely flabbergasted by Charlotte’s downfall because she “was born in affluence and educated with care and tenderness, her servants in livery, and splendid equipage at her command, with swarms of time-serving sycophants officiously buzzing in her train.” However, their visit doesn’t turn around Charlotte’s fortune either, as the bookseller only offers to pay ten guineas for the novel when she was demanding thirty for it. So A Visit to Charlotte Cibber is rather a short, sad account of an unfortunate woman.

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