Richard Owen Cambridge

Henry Francis Cary, "Lives of the Poets: Richard Owen Cambridge" London Magazine 5 (May 1822) 433-36.

RICHARD CAMBRIDGE, the son of a Turkey merchant, descended from a family long settled in Gloucestershire, was born in London, on the fourteenth of February, 1717. His father dying soon after his birth, the care of his education devolved on his mother and his maternal uncle, Thomas Owen, Esq. a lawyer who had retired from practice to his seat in Buckinghamshire, and who, having no children of his own, adopted his nephew. At an early age he was sent to Eton, where, among his schoolfellows and associates, were Gray, West, Jacob Bryant, the Earl of Orford, and others eminent for wit or learning. Here he contracted not only a literary taste and habits of study, but that preference for the quiet amusements of a country life, which afterwards formed a part of his character. In 1734 he was removed from Eton to Oxford, and admitted a gentleman commoner of St. John's College. On the marriage of the Prince of Wales, two years after, he contributed some verses to the Congratulatory Poems from that University. A ludicrous picture; which he draws of academical festivity, betrays the future author of the Scribleriad:—

In flowing robes and squared caps advance,
Pallas their guide, her ever-favour'd band;
As they approach they join in mystic dance,
Large scrolls of paper waving in their hand;
Nearer they come, I heard them sweetly sing.

He left the University without taking a degree, and in 1737 became a member of Lincoln's Inn. In four years after he married the second daughter of George Trenchard, Esq. of Woolverton, in Dorsetshire, who was Member of Parliament for Poole, and son of Sir John Trenchard, Secretary of State to King William. Retiring to his family mansion of Whitminster, in Gloucestershire, on the banks of the Stroud, he employed himself in making that stream navigable to its junction with the Severn, in improving his buildings, and in ornamenting his grounds, which lay pleasantly in the rich vale of Berkeley. Here his happiness was interrupted by the death of one among his former playmates at Eton, whom he had most distinguished by his affection. This was Captain Berkeley, an officer, who in those happy times, when military men were not yet educated apart from scholars, had added to his other accomplishments a love of letters, and who fell in the battle of Fontenoy. This affliction discouraged him from proceeding in a poem on Society, which he had intended as a memorial of their friendship. The opening does not promise well enough to make us regret its discontinuance.

At Whitminster he had the honour of entertaining the Prince of Wales, with his consort, and their daughter the late Duchess Dowager of Brunswick, then on a visit to Lord Bathurst at Cirencester. The royal guests were feasted in a vessel of his own constructing, that was moored on a reach of the Severn; and the Prince gratified him by declaring, that he had often made similar attempts on the Thames, but never with equal success. To the exercise of mechanical ingenuity in improving the art of boat-building, he added uncommon skill in the use of the bow and arrows and had assembled all the varieties of those instruments that could be procured from different countries.

He appears to have possessed in an unusual degree, the power of suddenly ingratiating himself with those who conversed with him. A gentleman who had never before seen him, and who had reluctantly accompanied the Prince in his aquatic expedition, was so much pleased with Cambridge, as to be among the foremost to acknowledge his satisfaction; and having been introduced by William Whitehead, then tutor to the Earl of Jersey's eldest son, into the house of that nobleman, he soon became a welcome guest, and formed a lasting friendship with one of the family, who was afterwards Earl of Clarendon. In the number of his intimates he reckoned Bathurst, afterwards Chancellor, with whom an acquaintance, begun at Eton, had been continued at Lincoln's Inn; Carteret, Lyttelton, Grenville, Chesterfield, Yorke, Pitt, and Pulteney. In order to facilitate his intercourse with such associates, and perhaps in conformity with the advice of his departed friend Berkeley, who had recommended London as the proper stage for the display of his poetical talent, he was induced to pass two of his winters in the capital; but finding that the air of the town was injurious to his health, in 1751 he purchased a residence at Twickenham. He had now another opportunity of showing his taste for rural embellishment, in counteracting the effects of his predecessor's formality, in opening his lawns and grouping his trees with an art that wore the appearance of negligence. An addition to his fortune by the decease of his uncle Mr. Owen, who left him his name together with his estate, enabled him to gratify these propensities. By some of his powerful friends he had been urged to obtain a seat in Parliament, and addict himself to a public life; but he valued his tranquillity too highly to comply with their solicitations. A sonnet addressed to him by his friend Edwards, author of the Canons of Criticism, and which is not without elegance, tended to confirm him in his resolve.

In the year of his removal to Twickenham, the Scribleriad was published, a poem calculated to please the learned, rather than the vulgar, and with respect to which he had observed the rule of the nonum prematur in annum. To The World, the periodical paper undertaken soon after by Moore, and continued for four years, he contributed twenty-one numbers. Though determined against taking an active part in public affairs, yet he shewed himself to be far from indifferent to the interests of his country. Her maritime glory more peculiarly engaged his attention.

Anson, Boscawen, and indeed nearly all the distinguished seamen of his day, were among his intimates or acquaintance; and he assisted some of the principal navigators in drawing up the relations which they gave to the world of their discoveries. In 1761, he was prompted by his apprehensions, that the nation was not sufficiently on her guard against the endeavours making by the French to deprive her of her possessions in the East, to publish a History of the War upon the Coast of Coromandel. The great work undertaken by Mr. Orme prevented him from pursuing the subject.

Continuing thus to pass his days in the enjoyment of domestic happiness and learned ease, surrounded by a train of menials grown grey in his service, exercising the rites of hospitality with uniform cheerfulness, and performing the duties of religion with exemplary punctuality, respected by the good and admired by the ingenious; he reached his eighty-third year with little inconvenience from the usual infirmities of age. His faculties then declining, he was dismissed by a gradual exhaustion of his natural powers, and resigning his breath without a sigh on the seventeenth of September, 1802—

Like ripe fruit he dropp'd
Into his mother's lap for death mature.

Having always lived in an union of the utmost tenderness with his family, he exhibited a pleasing instance of the "ruling passion strong in death." "Having passed," says his son, "a considerable time in a sort of doze, from which it was thought he had hardly strength to revive, he awoke, and upon seeing me, feebly articulated, 'How do the dear people do?' When I answered that they were well; with a smile upon his countenance, and an increased energy of voice, he replied, 'I thank God;' and then reposed his head upon his pillow, and spoke no more."

He was buried at Twickenham, where, on inquiring a few years ago, I found that no monument had been raised to his memory.

He left behind a widow, a daughter, and two sons. Prom the narrative of his life written by one of these, the Reverend Archdeacon Cambridge, and prefixed to a handsome edition of his Poems and his papers in The World, the above account has been chiefly extracted.

Chesterfield, another of the contributors to The World, inserted in it a short character of him under the name of Cantabrigiensis, introduced by an encomium on his temperance; for he was a water-drinker.

That he was what is commonly termed a news-monger, appears from the following laughable story told by the late Mr. George Hardinge, the Welch Judge:—

"I wished upon some occasion to borrow a Martial. He told me he had no such book, except by heart. I therefore inferred, that he could not immediately detect me. Accordingly I sent him an epigram which I had made, and an English version of it, as from the original. He commended the latter, but said, that it wanted the neatness of the Roman. When I undeceived him, he laughed, and forgave me.

"It originated in a whimsical fact. Mr. Cambridge had a rage for news; and living in effect at Richmond, though on the other side of the Thames, he had the command of many political reporters. As I was then in professional business at my chambers, I knew less of public news than he did; and every Saturday, in my way from Lincoln's Inn to a villa of my own near him, called upon him for the news from London. This I told him was not unlike what Martial said L. iii. 7.

Deciano salutem.

Vix Roma egressus, villa novus advena, ruris
Vicini dominum te "quid in urbe?" rogo.
Tu novitatis amans Roma si Tibura malles
Per nos "de villa quae nova" disce "tua."
Nichols's Illust. of the Literary Hist. of the xviii. Cent. v. i. p. 131."

Of his poems, which are neither numerous, nor exhibit much variety of manner, little remains to be said. Archimage, though a sprightly sally, cannot be ranked among the successful imitations of Spenser's style. "Als ne" and "mote," how often soever repeated, do not go far towards a resemblance of the Faery Queene.

In his preface to the Scribleriad, which betrays great solicitude to explain and vindicate the plan of the poem, he declares that his intention is "to shew the vanity and uselessness of many studies, reduce them to a less formidable appearance, and invite our youth to application, by letting them see that a less degree of it than they apprehend, judiciously directed, and a very few books indeed, well recommended, will give them all the real information which they are to expect from human science." The design was a laudable one. In the poem itself we feel the want of some principal event, on the development and issue of which the interest of the whole may turn; as in those patterns of the mock-heroic, the Secchia Rapita, the Lutrin, and the Rape of the Lock; an advantage, which these poems in some measure derive from having been founded in fact; for however trifling the incident by which the imagination of the poet may have been first excited, when once known or believed to be true, it communicates something of its own reality to all the fictions that grow out of it. The hero too is one of the [Greek characters]; or rather is but the shadow of a shade; for he has taken the character of Martinus Scriblerus, as he found it in the memoirs of that unsubstantial personage. The adventures indeed in which the author has engaged him, though they did not require much power of invention, are yet sufficiently ludicrous; and we join, perhaps, more willingly in the laugh, as it is aimed at general folly and not at individual weakness. The wit is not condensed and sparkling as in the Dunciad; the writer's chief resource consisting in an adaptation of passages from writers, ancient and modern, to the purposes of a grave burlesque; and for the application of these, by a contrivance not very artificial, it is sometimes necessary to recur to the notes. The style, if it be not distinguished by any remarkable strength or elegance, is at least free and unaffected.

The imitations of Horace are often happy: that addressed to Lord Bathurst, particularly towards the latter part, is perhaps the best. Of the original jeux d'esprits, the verses occasioned by the Marriage and Game Acts, both passed the same session, have, I think, most merit. The Fable of Jotham, or the Borough Hunters, does not make up by ingenuity for what it wants in reverence. In the Fakeer, a tale professedly borrowed from Voltaire, the story takes a less humorous turn than as it is told in the extracts from Pere Le Comte's memoirs in the preface.