1809 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Owen Cambridge

Nathan Drake, in Essays Illustrative of the Rambler (1809-10) 2:269-276.



RICHARD OWEN CAMBRIDGE was born in London in the year 1717, and after the usual education at Eton, was, in 1734, entered as a gentleman commoner of St. Johns College, Oxford. In 1737 he became a member of Lincoln's Inn, and in 1741 he was united to Miss Trenchard, grand-daughter of Sir John Trenchard, Secretary of State to King William, a lady of great beauty, amiable manners, and high accomplishments, with whom he passed a period of full sixty years in the enjoyment of uninterrupted domestic happiness.

On his marriage, he removed to his family seat at Whitminster in Gloucestershire, beautifully situated on the banks of the Severn; where, in the cultivation of science and belles lettres, and in the tasteful disposal of his grounds, he employed talents and acquirements of no ordinary kind; for his learning was profound, and his genius Yen satire and elegant.

About the year 1750 Mr. Cambridge received a considerable addition to an income, already in dependent, by the death of Mr. Owen; an acquisition which induced him to purchase a villa at Twickenham, in which, for more than thirty years, he continued to live in a style of great hospitality, and was not only the intimate friend of his illustrious neighbour Pope, but of the most distinguished characters of the metropolis, to which, from its vicinity, he was a frequent visitor.

In the year 1751, Mr. Cambridge presented the public with the first fruits of his studies in a mock-heroic poem, entitled, The Scribleriad, in six books, 4to; a production which, with great felicity, and in a most spirited strain of poetic irony, ridicules the false taste and literature of the age, and by exposing the follies and mistakes of vain pretenders, contributed to the amelioration of the public judgment.

The reputation which this poem conferred upon our author, as a wit, a scholar and a critic, was still further extended by the part which, in 1753, and the three subsequent years, he took in the composition of the World. The following anecdote relative to this paper, which is given on the authority of his son and biographer, will illustrate a striking feature in the character of Mr. Cambridge, namely, his love of repartee, and the brilliancy of his conversational wit. "A note from Mr. Moore," the conductor of the World," requesting an essay, was put into my father's hands on a Sunday morning as he was going to church; my mother observing him rather inattentive during the sermon, whispered, 'Of what are you thinking?' he replied, 'Of the next World my dear.'"

The last work of any considerable size which Mr. Cambridge produced, was An Account of the War in India, between the English and French, on the Coast of Coromandel, from the year 1750 to 1760, 4to. This historical publication appeared in 1761, and is valuable for its accuracy and authenticity.

Besides the pieces that we have now enumerated, Mr. Cambridge was the author of a variety of small poems, epigrams, &c. &c. some of which were printed in the sixth volume of Dodsley's Collection. His last jeu d'esprit was a versification of Gibbon's account of his own life, finished with exquisite pleasantry and humour.

To his eighty-third year Mr. Cambridge continued to exercise all his mental faculties in full perfection, and even to this late period he had experienced little of the usual bodily infirmities of age. A defect of hearing and of sight, however, now occurred; and at length mere debility and exhaustion, unaccompanied by any symptom of disease, closed his valuable life, on the 17th of September 1802, and in his eighty-sixth year.

For the following character of this amiable man, which, from every account, appears by no means overcharged, we are indebted to a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine [October 1802, p. 978]. "His various and extensive information," he remarks, "his pure and classical taste, his brilliant yet harmless wit, his uncommon cheerfulness and vivacity, were acknowledged, during a long series of years, by all who had the happiness of enjoying his society, which was sought for, and highly valued, by many of the most distinguished scholars and statesmen of this country. But his talents and his acquirements make the least part of the praise belonging to him. It is chiefly for the upright manliness and independence of his mind, for his mild and benevolent disposition, his warm and unvaried affection to his family and friends, his kindness to his dependents, and for his firm faith and trust in the Christian religion, which were manifested through life by the practice of every Christian duty, and produced the most exemplary patience under the various infirmities of a tedious decline, that those who were near witnesses of his amiableness and worth will continue to cherish the memory of this excellent man, and to reflect with pleasure on his many virtues."

Mr. Cambridge's first paper in the World is No. 50, dated December the 13th, 1753, on the various motives for visiting the capital; the immediately subsequent paper, on the multiplicity of acquaintance, is, likewise, his; and from this period he continued a pretty frequent correspondent, having contributed eleven numbers to the second volume, and seven to the third; to the fourth, however, he was much less liberal of assistance, No. 206 in that volume being the only essay of his composition.

For the friendship and literary aid of Mr. Cambridge the editor of the World was indebted to Lord Lyttelton; an obligation certainly of much value; for, though some of his essays betray marks of haste with respect to style, and were, indeed, written, it is said, almost extempore, they are, notwithstanding, rich in an original vein of wit and humour, and exhibit, also, many indications of the classical purity of his taste. Nos. 118 and 119 on Gardening, and its vicissitudes in this island are peculiarly pleasing; and the second of these papers is a specimen of the delicate and sportive raillery so familiar to our author. Speaking in No. 118 of the prevalence of the Dutch taste in Gardening, he observes, that several of our best writers had early entertained nobler ideas on the subject; and instances Sir William Temple, who, "in his gardens of Epicurus, expatiates with great pleasure on that at More-Park in Hertfordshire; yet after he has extolled it as the pattern of a perfect garden for use, beauty, and magnificence, he rises to nobler images, and, in a kind of prophetic spirit, points out a higher style, free and unconfined." The passage here alluded to, is certainly very remarkable; for after Sir William has been lavishing his praise on a species of gardening as formal as the most rigid architecture, he adds, "What I have said, of the best forms of Gardens is meant only of such as are in some sort regular; for there may be other forms wholly irregular, that may, for ought I know, have more beauty than any of the others; but they must owe it to some extraordinary dispositions of Nature in the seat, or some great race of fancy and judgment in the contrivance, which may reduce many disagreeing parts into some figure which shall yet upon the whole be very agreeable. Something of this I have seen in some places, and heard more of it from others who have lived much among the Chineses." Mr. Mason, in his English Garden, has, likewise, noticed this aberration of Temple from the formal fashion of the times; and, after versifying what he had given in prose as the picture of a perfect garden, exclaims,

And yet full oft
O'er Temple's studious hour did Truth preside,
Sprinkling her lustre o'er his classic page:
"There hear his candour own in fashion's spite,
In spite of courtly dulness, hear it own
There is a grace in wild variety
Surpassing rule and order." Temple yes,
There is a grace; and let eternal wreaths
Adorn their brows who fixt its empire here.
Book 1. I. 483.