Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Charke, Charlotte

CHARKE, CHARLOTTE (d. 1760?), actress and writer, was the youngest daughter of Colley Cibber [q. v.] An autobiography, published five years before her death, and since reprinted, has supplied the materials for many subsequent lives of its author. This work is without dates, and in many respects untrustworthy. According to it Charlotte Cibber was born when her mother was forty-five years of age, and came 'not only as an unexpected but an unwelcome guest into the family.' Her education at 'a famous school in Park Street, Westminster,' kept by a Mrs. Draper, included Italian and Latin in addition to music and dancing. After her mother's retirement to Hillingdon, near Uxbridge, Charlotte showed the addiction to manly pursuits characteristic of her future life, and, besides becoming a good shot, took to dressing horses and digging in the garden. While very young she was married (assumably in February 1729) to Richard Charke, variously described as a violinist and a singer, who was at this period a member of the Drury Lane company. The marriage proved unhappy, and shortly after the birth of a child Mrs. Charke quitted a husband whom she charges with excessive irregularity. She now took to the stage. According to her own statement her first appearance was on the last night of Mrs. Oldfield's performance, when (28 April 1730) she played Mademoiselle in the 'Provoked Wife.' This was, in fact, Mrs. Charke's second appearance, her first having taken place on 8 April in the same part for the benefit of Mrs. Thurmond. Her success was fairly rapid. The following season, 1730–1, she replaced for a while Mrs. Porter as Alicia in 'Jane Shore,' and was assigned Arabella in the 'Fair Quaker.' She was (22 June 1731) the original Lucy in the 'Merchant, or the True History of George Barnwell,' subsequently known as ' George Barnwell.' Thalia in Cooke's 'Triumph of Love and Honour' was also created by her on 18 Aug. 1731. In the following year she played Miss Hoyden in the 'Relapse,' and Damon in a two-act pastoral called 'Damon and Daphne.' In 1733, with some other actors, she seceded to the Haymarket, where she took many characters of importance, principally in comedy, and on 12 March 1734 she reappeared at Drury Lane, of which Fleetwood became manager. Among the characters in which she now appeared was Roderigo in 'Othello.' Her assumption of masculine characters is unmentioned in her autobiography, in which, however, she records her performance, chiefly as a substitute for other actresses, of such parts as Andromache, Cleopatra, and Queen Elizabeth. In 1736, having quarrelled with Fleetwood, her manager, she appeared at the Haymarket, and in 1737 was one of Gifford's company at Lincoln's Inn Fields. From this date her name disappears from theatrical bills. The 'Biographia Dramatica' says that among the causes of her father's bitter quarrel with her was her gratuitous assumption at the Haymarket of the character of Fopling Fribble, intended as a satire on Colley Cibber, in the 'Battle of the Poets, or the Contention for the Laurel,' a new act introduced by Fielding in his 'Tom Thumb,' on 1 Jan. 1731. If this statement is correct, Colley Cibber on this occasion forgave his daughter, since after she had left Drury Lane in a fit of petulance and written against Fleetwood, her former manager, a splenetic piece entitled 'The Art of Management,' 8vo, 1735, which was bought up by Fleetwood and is now of excessive rarity, Cibber was the means of bringing about a reconciliation. Subsequently Cibber withdrew altogether from her and remained deaf to her numerous appeals. Her career from this time becomes hopelessly fantastic. She first commenced business as a grocer and oil dealer in a shop in Long Acre. Abandoning this, she set up a puppet show over the Tennis Court in James Street, Haymarket. Her husband, who had continually sponged upon her, having died in Jamaica, she contracted a connection, which she implies rather than asserts is matrimonial, with a gentleman whose name she refuses to divulge, who lived a very brief time after their union, and left her in poverty worse than before. After an experience of a sponging-house, from which she was relieved by a subscription on the part of the coffee-house keepers in Covent Garden and their female frequenters, she took any occupation that was offered at the lower class theatres, playing by preference masculine characters, and assuming masculine gear as her ordinary dress. She describes her conquest in this attire over numbers of her own sex who could not pierce her disguise, and she became, as she states, through her brother's recommendation, valet de chambre to a nobleman. To support her child she sold sausages, was a waiter in the King's Head Tavern at Marylebone, opened a public-house in Drury Lane, and took an engagement to work an exhibition of puppets under a Mr. Russell in Brewer Street. For a short time she reappeared at the Haymarket, playing, 1744-6, Macheath. After the departure to Covent Garden of Theophilus Cibber [q. v.], her brother and manager, against whom the lord chamberlain had issued an interdict, Mrs. Charke tried to manage the company, and to produce 'Pope Joan,' with her niece, a daughter of Theophilus, as Angeline. Owing to the interference of Colley Cibber, Theophilus withdrew his daughter, and the experiment was a failure. In March and April 1755 she published in eight numbers an account of her life, in which she is at no pains to disguise her flightiness and extravagant proceeding. This was published as a 12mo volume in 1755, and afterwards included in the series of autobiographies issued by Hunt & Clarke in 1827, &c. In the 'Monthly Magazine' Samuel Whyte, who accompanied a friend, a bookseller, to her lodging to hear her read a novel, gave a harrowing account of her appearance and the squalor of her surroundings. She died, according to the 'Biographia Dramatica' and the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' 6 April 1760, but according to a supplement to the reprint of her biography in 1759. In addition to 'The Art of Management,' which was not acted, she wrote two plays, which were acted and not printed. These are 'The Carnival, or Harlequin Blunderer,' produced at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre 1736, doubtless during the summer season, June-August, and 'Tit for Tat, or Comedy and Tragedy at War,' acted at Punch's Theatre in St. James's Street, 1743. She is also responsible for two novels of slender merit, 'The Lover's Treat, or unnatural Hatred,' London, 8vo, n. d.: 'The History of Henry Dumont, Esq., and Miss Charlotte Evelyn, with some Critical Remarks on Comic Actors,' London, 12mo, n. d. The critical remarks on actors promised in the title are omitted. The Samuel Whyte to whom the account of her squalid surroundings is due was probably the same S. Whyte by whom, as partner of H. Slater, jun., at Holborn Bars, the 'History of Henry Dumont' was published, and his companion who paid Mrs. Charke ten guineas for the manuscript of a novel was presumably the H. Slater, jun., in question.

[A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Charke, written by herself, London, 1776; the same, London, printed for Hunt & Clarke, 1827; Genest's Account of the Stage; works mentioned.]

J. K.