Richard Cumberland

Stephen Jones, in Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse (1812) 1:159-62.

RICHARD CUMBERLAND is the son of Dr. Denison Cumberland, late Bishop of Kilmore, in Ireland, by Joanna, youngest daughter of the celebrated Dr. Bentley (a lady on whom the well-known pastoral of Phebe, by Dr. Byrom, printed in The Spectator, No. 603, was written), and great-grandson of Dr. Richard Cumberland, Bishop of Peterborough.

He was born February 19, 1732, in the master's lodge of Trinity College, Cambridge, under the roof of his grandfather Bentley, in what is called the Judge's Chamber. When turned of six years of age, he was sent to the school of Bury St. Edmund's; whence he was in due time transplanted to Westminster. At the age of fourteen Mr. C. was admitted of Trinity College, Cambridge; whence, after a long and assiduous course of study, he launched into the great world, and became a private confidential secretary to Lord Halifax, then at the head of the Board of Trade; which situation he held with great credit to himself, till his Lordship went out of office.

Soon after this, he obtained the lay fellowship of Trinity College, vacant by the death of Mr. Titley, the Danish Envoy. This fellowship, however, he did not hold long; for, on obtaining, through the patronage of Lord Halifax, a small establishment as crown agent for the province of Nova Scotia, he married Elizabeth, only daughter of George Ridge, Esq. of Kilmiston, in Hampshire, in whose family he had long been intimate.

When Lord Halifax returned to administration, and was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Mr. C. went with him to that country, as under-secretary; his father, as one of his chaplains; and his brother-in-law, Capt. William Ridge, as one of his aides-du-camp.

Before Lord Halifax quitted Ireland to become Secretary of State, Mr. Cumberland's father had been made Bishop of Clonfert; and Mr. Cumberland himself, who had declined a baronetcy which had been offered him by his patron, came to England with his Lordship, and was appointed, we believe, to the situation of assistant secretary to the Board of Trade.

About the year 1771, the Bishop of Clonfert was translated to Kilmore; which see, however, he held not long, being translated to a better world; to which he was followed by his lady in June 1775.

The accession of Lord George Germaine to the seals for the colonial department promoted Mr. Cumberland from a subaltern at the Board of Trade to the post of secretary.

In the year 1780 he was sent on a secret and confidential mission to the court of Spain; and it is reported, that his embassy would have been successful, but for the riots in London, and the capture of our East and West India fleets, which inspired the Spaniards with more confidence than they had before possessed. In this mission Mr. Cumberland necessarily incurred great expenses; and he was cruelly neglected by ministers after the conclusion of his negotiation. It was, however, during his residence in that country that he collected the Anecdotes of eminent Painters in Spain, which he afterwards published.

By the provisions of Mr. Burke's well-known bill, the Board of Trade was annihilated, and Mr. Cumberland was set adrift with a compensation of scarcely a moiety in value of what he had been deprived of. He now retired, with his family, to Tunbridge Wells, where he has continued, we believe, ever since to reside, universally respected. Of his dramatic works we annex what we believe to be a correct list [omitted].

Besides the labour, as well as genius, implied in the execution of this unexampled collection of plays written by one author, we are to give Mr. Cumberland credit for other works, which do great honour both to his head and heart. Of these the principal are as follow: Anecdotes of eminent Painters in Spain, 2 vols.; The Observer, a periodical paper, 6 vols.; Arundel, a novel, 2 vols; Henry, a novel, 2 vols; Calvary, an epic poem; The Exodiad, an epic poem (in conjunction with Sir James Bland Burges, who was his near neighbour at Tunbridge Wells); and Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, written by Himself, 2 vols. To these we may add numerous Prologues and Epilogues, Tracts controversial and political, and a few Poems.

That a man of such learning, of such versatility of literary talent, such unquestionable genius, and such sound morality, should, in "the vale of years," feel the want of what he has lost by his exertions for the public good, must, to every feeling mind, be a subject of keen regret; yet the fact seems to be placed beyond doubt by the following annunciation, in 1809, to publish a 4to. volume of his dramas, which, we are sorry to say, because it implies a want of encouragement, has not yet (April 1811) appeared:


It was my purpose to have reserved these MSS. for the eventual use and advantage of a beloved daughter after my decease; but the circumstances of my story, which are before the public, and to which I can appeal without a blush, make it needless for me to state why I am not able to fulfil that purpose: I therefore now, with full reliance on the candour and protection of my countrymen at large, solicit their subscription to these unpublished dramas; conscious as I am, that neither in this instance, nor in any other through the course of my long-continued labours, have I willfully directed the humble talents, with which God hath endowed me, otherwise than to his service, and the genuine interests (so far as I understand them) of benevolence and virtue.