This author, distinguished in the eighteenth century, survived till the present was considerably advanced, interesting to the public, as well as to private society, not only on account of his own claims to distinction, but as the last of that constellation of genius which the predominating spirit of Johnson had assembled about him, and in which he presided a stern Aristarchus. Cumberland's character and writings are associated with those of Goldsmith, of Burke, of Percy, of Reynolds, names which sound in our ears as those of English classics. He was his own biographer; and from his Memoirs we are enabled to trace a brief sketch of his life and labours, as also of his temper and character; on which latter subject we have the evidence of contemporaries, and perhaps some recollections of our own.
RICHARD CUMBERLAND boasted himself, with honest pride, the descendant of parents respectable for their station, eminent in learning, and no less for worth and piety. The celebrated Richard Bentley was his maternal grandfather, a name dreaded as well as respected in literature, and which his descendant, on several occasions, protected with filial respect against those, who continued over his grave the insults which he had received from the wits of queen Anne's reign. This eminent scholar had one son, the well-known author of The Wishes, and two daughters. The second, Joanna, the Phoebe of Byron's pastoral, married Denison Cumberland, son of an arch-deacon, and grandson of Richard Cumberland, Bishop of Peterborough. Though possessed of some independence, he became Rector of Stanwick, at the instance of his father-in-law, Dr. Bentley, and, in course of time, Bishop of Clonfert, and was afterwards translated to the see of Kilmore.
Richard Cumberland, the subject of this memoir, was the second child of this marriage, the eldest being Joanna, a daughter. He was born on the 19th of February 1732; and, as he naturally delights to record with precision, in an apartment called the Judge's Chamber, of the Master's Lodge of Trinity College, then occupied by his celebrated maternal grandfather — "inter sylvas Academi." With equal minuteness the grandson of the learned Bentley goes through the course of his earlier studies, and registers his progress under Kinsman of St. Edmondsbury, afterwards at Westminster, and finally at Cambridge; in all which seminaries of classical erudition, he highly distinguished himself. At college lie endangered his health by the severity with which he followed his studies, obtained his Bachelor's degree with honour, and passed with triumph a peculiarly difficult examination; the result of which was his being elected to a Fellowship.
Amid his classical pursuits, the cultivation of English letters was not neglected, and Cumberland became the author of many poems of considerable merit. It may be observed, however, that he seldom seems to have struck out an original path for himself, but rather wrote because others had written successfully, and in the manner of which they had set an example, than from the strong impulse of that inward fire, which makes or forces away for its own coruscations, without respect to the course of others. Thus Cumberland wrote an Elegy in a Churchyard on Saint Mark's Eve, because Gray had, with general applause, published an Elegy in a Country Churchyard. He composed a drama on the subject of Elfrida, and with a chorus, in imitation of Mason; he imitated Hammond, and he imitated Spenser, and seems to display a mind full of information and activity, abounding with the natural desire of distinction, but which had not yet attained sufficient confidence in its own resources, to attempt a road to eminence of his own discovery; and this is a defect from which none of his compositions are perhaps entirely free.
Mr. Cumberland's original destiny was to have walked the respectable and retired path by which his ancestors had ascended to church dignity; and there is every reason to believe, that, as he was their equal in worth and learning, his success in life might have been the same as theirs. But a temptation, difficult to be resisted, turned him from the study of divinity to that of politics.
The Rev. Mr. Cumberland, father of the poet, had it in his power to render some important political services to the Marquis of Halifax, then distinguished as public character; and in recompense or acknowledgment of this, young Richard was withdrawn from the groves of Cam, and the tranquil pursuit of a learned profession, to attend the noble lord in the advantageous and confidential situation of private secretary. Amidst much circumlocution and moral reflection, which Cumberland bestows on this promotion and change of pursuit, the reader may fairly infer, that though he discharged with regularity the ostensible duties of his office, it was not suited to him; nor did he give the full satisfaction which perhaps he might have done, had a raw academician, his head full, as he says, of Greek and Latin, and little acquainted with the affairs of the existing world, been in the first place introduced for a time to busy life as a spectator, ere called to take an active part in it as a duty. His situation, however, led him into the best society, and ensured liberal favour and patronage (so far as praise and recommendation went) to the efforts of his muse. In particular, his connexion with Lord Halifax introduced our author to Bubb Doddington, afterwards Lord Melcombe, of Diary memory, who affected the character of Mecaenas, and was in reality an accomplished man.
It was under the joint auspices of Lords Halifax and Melcombe, that Cumberland executed what he has entitled his first legitimate drama, The Banishment of Cicero — an unhappy subject, the deficiencies of which are not redeemed by much powerful writing. This tragedy was recommended to Garrick by the two noble patrons of Cumberland but, in despite of his deference for great names and high authorities, the manager would not venture on so unpromising a subject of representation. The Banishment of Cicero was published by the author, who frankly admits, that in doing so he printed Garrick's vindication.
About this times as an earnest of future favours, Cumberland obtained, through the influence of Lord Halifax, the office of crown-agent for the province of Nova Scotia, and conceived his fortune sufficiently advanced in the world, to settle himself by marriage. In 1759, therefore, he united himself to Elizabeth, only daughter of George Ridge, of Kilmerton, by Miss Brooke, a niece of Cumberland's grandfather, Bentley. Mrs. Cumberland was accomplished and beautiful, and the path of promotion appeared to brighten before the happy bridegroom.
Lord Bute's star was now rising fist in the political horizon, and both the Marquis of Halifax and the versatile Bubb Doddington had determined to worship the influence of this short-lived luminary. The latter obtained a British peerage, a barren honour, which only entitled him to walk in the procession at the coronation, and the former had the Lieutenancy of Ireland. The celebrated Single-Speech Hamilton held the post of Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant, while Cumberland, not to his perfect content, was obliged to confine himself to the secondary department of Ulster Secretary. There was wisdom, perhaps, in the selection, though it would have been unreasonable to expect the disappointed private secretary to concur in that opinion. No one ever doubted the acute political and practical talents of William Gerard Hamilton, while Cumberland possessed, perhaps, too mush of the poetical temperament to rival him as a man of business. A vivid imagination, eager on its own schemes, and unapt to be stirred by matter of duller import; a sanguine temper, to which hopes too often seem as certainties, joined to a certain portion both of self-opinion and self-will, although they are delightful, considered as the attributes of an intimate friend, are inconvenient ingredients in the character of a dependant, whose duty lies in the paths of ordinary business. Besides, Mr. D'Israeli has produced the following curious evidence, to show that Cumberland's habits were not those which fit a man for ordinary affairs: "A friend who was in office with the late Mr. Cumberland, assures me that he was so intractable to the forms of business, and so easily induced to do more or to do less than he ought, that he was compelled to perform the official business of this literary man, to free himself from his annoyance; and yet Cumberland could not be reproached with any deficiency in a knowledge of the human character, which he was always touching with a caustic pleasantry."
Cumberland, however, rendered his principal some effectual service, even in the most worldly application of the phrase — he discovered a number of lapsed patents, the renewal of which the Lord-Lieutenant found a convenient fund of influence; but the Ulster Secretary had no other reward than the empty offer of a baronetcy, which he wisely declined. He was gratified, however, though less directly, by the promotion of his father to the see of Clonfert in Ireland. The new prelate shifted his residence to that kingdom, where, during his subsequent life, his son, with pious duty, spent some considerable part of every year in attendance on his declining age.
Lord Halifax, on his return to England, obtained the seals of Secretary of State, and Cumberland, a candidate for the office of Under Secretary, received the cold answer from his patron, that "he was not fit for every situation;" a reason scarce rendered more palatable by the special addition, that he did not possess the necessary fluency in the French tongue. Sedgewick, the successful competitor, vacated a situation at the Board of Trade, called Clerk of Reports, and Cumberland became desirous to hold it in his room. As this was in the gift of Lord Hillsborough, the proposal to, apply for it was in a manner withdrawing from the patronage of Lord Halifax, who seems to have considered it as such, and there ensued some coldness betwixt the minister and his late private secretary. On looking at these events, we can see that Cumberland was probably no good man of business, as it is called, certainly no good courtier; for, holding such a confidential situation with Lord Halifax, he must otherwise have rendered himself either too useful, or too agreeable, to be easily parted with.
An attempt of Cumberland's to fill up the poetical part of an English opera, incurred the jealousy of Bickerstaff the author of Love in a Village, then in possession of that department of dramatic composition. The piece, called the Summer's Tale, succeeded in such a degree, as induced the rival writer to vent his indignation in every species of abuse against the author and the drama, in a much better spirit, Cumberland ascribed Bickerstaff's hostility to an anxious apprehension for his interest, and generously intimated his intention to interfere no further with him as a writer of operas. The dispute led to important consequences; for Smith, well known by the deserved appellation of Gentleman Smith, then of Covent-Garden, turned the author's dramatic genius into a better channel, by strongly recommending to him to attempt the legitimate drama. By this encouragement, Mr. Cumberland was induced to commence his dramatic career, which he often pursued with success, and almost always with such indefatigable industry, as has no parallel in our theatrical history.
The Brothers was the first fruit of this ample harvest. It was received with applause, and is still on the stock-list of acting plays. The sudden assumption of spirit by Sir Benjamin Dove, like Luke's change from servility to insolence, is one of those incidents which always tell well upon the spectator. The author acknowledges his obligations to Fletcher's Little French Lawyer; but the comedy is brought to hear on a point so different, that little is in this instance detracted from its merit.
But the West Indian, which succeeded in the following year, raised its author much higher in the class of dramatic writers of the period, and — had Sheridan not been — must have placed Cumberland decidedly at the head of the list. It is a classical comedy; the dialogue spirited and elegant; the characters well conceived, and presenting bold features, though still within the line of probability; and the plot regularly conducted, and happily extricated. The character of Major O'Flaherty, those who have seen it represented by Jack Johnstone will always consider as one of the most efficient in the British drama, it could only have been drawn by one who, like Cumberland, had enjoyed repeated opportunities of forming a true estimate of the Irish gentleman; and the Austrian cockade in his hat, might serve to remind the British administration, that they had sacrificed the services of this noble and martial race to unjust restrictions and political prejudices. The character of Major O'Flaherty may have had the additional merit of suggesting that of Sir Lucius O'Trigger; but the latter is a companion, not a copy, of Cumberland's portrait.
Garrick, reconciled with the author by a happy touch of praise in the prologue to The Brothers, contributed an epilogue, and Tom King supported the character of Belcour with that elastic energy, which gave reality to all the freaks of a child of the sun, whose benevolence seems as instinctive as his passions.
The Fashionable Lover, which followed the West Indian, was an addition to Cumberland's reputation. There was the same elegance of dialogue, but much less of the "vis comica." The scenes hang heavy on the stage, and the character of Colin M'Leod, the honest Scotch servant, not being drawn from nature, has little, excepting tameness, to distinguish it from the Gibbies and Sawnies which had hitherto possession of the stage, as the popular representatives of the Scottish nation. The author himself is, doubtless, of a different opinion, and labours hard to place his Fashionable Lovers by the side of the West Indian, in point of merit; but the critic cannot avoid assenting to the judgment of the audience. The Cholerick Man was next acted, and was well received, though now forgotten; and other dramatic sketches, of minor importance, were given by Cumberland to the public, before the production of his Battle of Hastings, a tragedy, in which the language, often uncommonly striking, has more merit than the characters or the plot. The latter has the inconvenient fault of being inconsistent with history, which at once affords a hold to every critic of the most ordinary degree of information. It was successful, however, Henderson performing the principal character. Bickerstaff being off the stage, our author also wrote Calypso, and another opera, with the view of serving a meritorious young composer, named Butler.
Neither did these dramatic labours entirely occupy Cumberland's time. He found leisure to defend the memory of his grandfather, Bentley, in a controversy with Lowth, and to plead the cause of the unhappy Daniel Perreau, over whose fate hangs a veil so mysterious. Cumberland drew up his address to the jury, an elegant and affecting piece of composition, which had much effect on the audience in general, though it failed in moving those who had the fate of the accused in their hands.
The satisfaction which the author must have derived from the success of his various dramatic labours, seems to have been embittered by the criticisms to which, whether just or invidious, all authors, but especially those who write for the theatre, are exposed. He acknowledges that he gave too much attention to the calumnies and abuse of the public press, and tells us, that Garrick used to call him the man without a skin. Unquestionably, toughness of hide is necessary on such occasions; but on the whole, it will be found that they who give but slight attention to such poisoned arrows, experience least pain from their venom.
There was, indeed, in Cumberland's situation, enough to console him for greater mortifications than malevolent criticism ought to have had power to inflict. He was happy in his family, consisting of four sons and two daughters. All the former entered the Kings service; the first and third as soldiers, the second and fourth in the navy. Besides these domestic blessings, Cumberland stood in the first ranks of literature, and, as a matter of course, in the first rank in society, to which, in England, successful literature is a ready passport. His habits and manners qualified him for enjoying this distinguished situation, and his fortune, including the profits of his office, and his literary revenues, seems not to have been inadequate to his maintaining his ground in society. It was shortly after improved by Lord George Germain, afterwards Lord Sackville, who promoted him in the handsomest manner to the situation of Secretary to the Board of Trade, at which he had hitherto held a subordinate situation.
A distant relation also, Decimus Reynolds, constituted Mr. Cumberland heir to a considerable property, and placed his will in the hands of his intended successor, in order that he might not be tempted to alter it at a future period. Cumberland was too honourably minded to accept of it, otherwise than as a deposite to be called back at the testator's pleasure. After the course of several years, Mr. Reynolds resumed it accordingly. Another remarkable disappointment had in the meanwhile befallen, which, while it closed his further progress in political life, gave a blow to his private fortune which it never seems to have recovered, and in the author's own words, "very strongly contrasted and changed the complexion of his latter days from that of the preceding ones."
In the year 1780, hopes were entertained of detaching Spain from the hostile confederacy by which Britain was all but overwhelmed. That kingdom could not but dread the example held out by the North Americans to their own colonies. It was supposed possible to open a negotiation with the minister, Florida Blanca, and Richard Cumberland was the agent privately intrusted with conducting this political intrigue. He was to proceed in a frigate to Lisbon, under pretence of a voyage for health or pleasure; and either to go on to Madrid, or to return to Britain, as he should be advised, after communicating with the Abbe Hussey, chaplain to his Catholic Majesty, the secret agent in this important affair. Mrs. Cumberland and her daughters accompanied him on this expedition. On the voyage, the envoy had an opportunity, precious to an author and dramatist, of seeing British courage displayed on its own proper element, by an action betwixt the Milford and a French frigate, in which the latter was captured. He celebrated this action in a very spirited sea song, which we remember popular some years afterwards.
There was one point of the utmost consequence in the proposed treaty, a point which always has been so in negotiations with Spain, and which will again become so whenever she shall regain her place in the European republic. This point respects Gibraltar. There is little doubt that the temptation of recovering this important fortress was the bait which drew the Spanish nation into the American war; and could this fortress have been ceded to its natural possessor, mere regard to the Family Compact would not have opposed any insurmountable obstacle to a separate peace with England. But the hearts of the English people were as unalterably fixed on retaining this badge of conquest, as those of the Spaniards upon regaining it; and in truth its surrender must have been generally regarded at home and abroad as a dereliction of national honour, and a confession of national weakness. Mr. Cumberland was therefore instructed not to proceed to Madrid, until he should learn from the Abbe Hussey whether the cession of this important fortress was, or was not, to be made, on the part of Spain, the basis of the proposed negotiation. In the former event, the secret envoy of England was not to advance to Madrid; but, on the contrary, to return to Britain. It was to ascertain this point that Hussey went to Madrid; but unhappily his letters to Cumberland, who remained at Lisbon, while they encouraged him to try the event of a negotiation, being desirous perhaps, on his own account, that the negotiations should not be broken off, gave him no assurances whatever upon the point by which his motions were to be regulated. Walpole, the British Minister at Lisbon, seems to have been through the Abbe's duplicity, and advised Cumberland to conform implicitly to his instructions, and either return home, or at least not leave Lisbon without fresh orders from England. Unluckily, Mr. Cumberland had adopted the idea that delay would be fatal to the success of the treaty, and, sanguine respecting the peaceful dispositions of the Spanish ministry, and confident in the integrity of Hussey, he resolved to proceed to Madrid upon his own responsibility — a temerity against which the event ought to warn all political agents.
The following paragraph of a letter to Lord Hillsborough, shows Mr. Cumberland's sense of the risk which he thought it his duty to incur:—
"I am sensible I have taken a step which exposes me to censure upon failure of success, unless the reasons on which I have acted be weighed with candour, and even with indulgence. In the decision I have taken for entering Spain, I have had no other object but to keep alive a treaty to which any backwardness or evasion on my part would, I am persuaded, be immediate extinction. I know where my danger lies; but as my endeavours for the public service, and the honour of your administration, are sincere, I have no doubt that I shall obtain your protection."
From this quotation, to which others might be added, it is evident that, even in Cumberland's own eyes, nothing but his success could entirely vindicate him from the charge of officious temerity; and the events which were in the meantime occurring in London, removed this chance to an incalculable distance. When he arrived at Madrid, be found Florida Blanca in full possession of the whole history of the mob termed Lord George Gordon's, and, like foreigners on all such occasions, bent to perceive in the explosion of a popular tumult the downfall of the British monarch and ministry. A negotiation, of a delicate nature at any rate, and opened under such auspices, could hardly be expected to prosper, although Mr. Cumberland did his best to keep it alive. Under a reluctant permission of the British ministry, rather extorted than granted, the envoy resided about twelve months in Madrid, trying earnestly to knit the bonds of amity between ministers, who seem to have had little serious hope or intention of pacification, until at length Cumberland's return was commanded in express terms, on the 18th January 1781. The point upon which his negotiation finally shipwrecked, was that very article to which his instructions from the beginning had especially directed him, the cession of Gibraltar. According to Cumberland, the Spaniards only wanted to talk on this subject; and if he had been permitted to have given accommodation in a matter of mere punctilio, the object of a separate treaty might have been accomplished. To this sanguine statement we can give no credit. Spain was at the very moment employed in actively combining the whole strength of her kingdom for the recovery of this fortress, with which she naturally esteemed her national honour peculiarly connected. She was bribed by the promise of the most active and powerful assistance from France; and it is very improbable that her ministry would have sacrificed the high hopes which they entertained of carrying this important place by force of arms, in exchange for anything short of its specific surrender.
Still, however, as Mr. Cumberland acted with the most perfect good faith, find with a zeal, the fault of which was only its excess, the reader can scarce be prepared, by our account of his errors, for the unworthy treatment to which he was subjected. Our author affirms, and we must presume with perfect accuracy, that when he set out upon this mission, besides receiving a thousand pounds in hand, he had assurance from the Secretary of the Treasury, that all bills drawn by Mr. Cumberland on his own bank, should be instantly replaced from the treasury; and he states, that, notwithstanding this positive pledge, accompanied by the naming a very large sum as placed at his discretion, no one penny was ever so replaced by government; and that he was obliged to repay from his private fortune, to a ruinous extent, the bankers who had advanced money on his private credit; for which, by no species of appeal or application, was he ever able to obtain reimbursement.
Whatever may be thought of Mr. Cumberland's political prudence in venturing beyond his commission, or of his sanguine disposition, which too long continued to hope a favourable issue to a desperate negotiation, there can be no doubt that he was suffered to remain at Madrid, in the character of a British agent, recognized as such by the ministry, in constant correspondence with the Secretary of State, and receiving from him directions respecting his residence at, or departure from, Madrid. There seems, therefore, to have been neither humanity nor justice in refusing the payment of his draughts, and subjecting him to such wants and difficulties, that, after having declined the liberal offer of the Spanish monarch to defray his expenses, the British agent was only extricated from the situation of a penniless bankrupt, by the compassion of a private friend, who advanced him a seasonable loan of five hundred pounds. The state of the balance due to him was indeed considerable, being no less than four thousand five hundred pounds; and it may be thought, that, as Mr. Cumberland's situation was ostensibly that of a private gentleman, travelling for health, much expense could not — at least ought not — to have attended his establishment. But his wife and daughters were in family with him; and we must allow for domestic comfort, and even some sort of splendour, in an individual, who was to hold communication with the principal servants of the Spanish crown. Besides, he had been promised an ample allowance for secret-service money, out of a sum placed at his own discretion. The truth seems to be, that Lord North's administration thought a thousand pounds was enough to have lost on an unsuccessful negotiation; and as Cumberland had certainly made himself in some degree responsible for the event, the same ministers, who, doubtless, would have had no objection to avow the issue of his intrigues had they been successful, chose, on the contrary event, to disown them.
To encounter the unexpected losses to which he was thus subjected, Mr. Cumberland was under the necessity of parting with his paternal property at an unfavourable season, and when its value could not be obtained. Shortly after followed the dissolution of the Board of Trade; and the situation of Secretary fell under Burke's economical pruning-knife — a compensation amounting only to one-half the value being appointed to the holder. Thus unpleasingly relieved from official and political duties, Mr. Cumberland adopted the prudent resolution of relinquishing his town residence, and settling himself and his family at Tunbridge, where he continued to live in retirement, yet not without the exercise of an elegant hospitality, till the final close of his long life.
The Anecdotes of Eminent Painters in Spain, in two volumes, together with a Catalogue of the Pictures which adorn the Escurial, suffered to be made by the King of Spain's express permission, were the principal fruits of our author's visit to the continent. Yet we ought to except the very pretty story of Nicolas Pedrosa, an excellent imitation of Le Sage, which appeared in the Observer, a periodical paper, which Cumberland edited with considerable success. This was one of the literary enterprizes in which the author, from his acquaintance with men and manners, as well as his taste and learning, was well qualified to excel, and the work continues to afford amusement both to the general reader and the scholar. The latter is deeply interested in the curious and classical account which the Observer contains of the early Greek drama. In this department, Cumberland has acknowledged his debts to the celebrated Bentley, his grandfather, and to his less known, but scarce less ingenious relation, Richard Bentley, son of the celebrated scholar, and author of the comedy or farce termed The Wishes. The aid of the former was derived from the notes which Cumberland possessed, but that of Richard Bentley was more direct.
This learned and ingenious, but rather eccentric person, was the friend of Horace Walpole, who, as his nephew Cumberland complains with some justice, exercised the rights of patronage rather unmercifully. He had been unsuccessful as a dramatic author. His comic piece entitled The Wishes, was written with a view of ridiculing the ancient drama of Greece, particularly in their pedantic adherence to the unities. This was a purpose which could scarcely be understood by a vulgar audience, for much of it turned on the absurd structure of the stage of Athens, and the peculiar stoicism with which the Chorus, supposed to be spectators of the scene, deduce moral lessons of the justice of the gods from the atrocities which the action exhibits, but without stirring a finger to interfere or to prevent them. In ridicule of this absurdity, the Chorus in The Wishes are informed that a madman has just broken his way into the cellars, with a torch in his hand, to set fire to a magazine of gunpowder; on which, instead of using any means of prevention or escape, they began, in strophe and antistrophe, to lament their own condition, and exclaim against the thrice-unhappy madman — or rather the thrice-unhappy friends of the madman, who had not taken measures of securing him — or rather upon the six-times unhappy fate of themselves, thus exposed to the madman's fury. All this is a good jest to those who remember the stoicism with which the Choruses of Aeschylus and Euripides view and comment upon the horrors which they witness on the stage, but it might have been esteemed caviare to the British audience in general; yet the entertainment was well received until the extravagant incident of hanging Harlequin on the stage. The author was so sensible of the absurdity of this exhibition, that he whispered to his nephew, Cumberland, during the representation, — "If they do not damn this, they deserve to be d—d themselves;" and, as he spoke, the condemnation of the piece was complete. It is much to be wished that this singular performance were given to the public in print. — The notice of Richard Bentley has led us something from our purpose, which only called on us to remark, that he furnished Cumberland with those splendid translations from the Greek dramatists which adorn The Observer. The author, however, claims for himself the praise due to a version of the Clouds of Aristophanes, afterwards incorporated with this periodical work.
The modern characters introduced by Cumberland in his Observer, were his own; and that of the benevolent Israelite, Abraham Abrahams, was, he informs us, written upon principle, in behalf of a persecuted race. He followed up this generous intention in a popular comedy, entitled "The Jew." The dramatic character of Sheva, combining the extremes of habitual parsimony and native philanthropy, was written in the same spirit of benevolence as that of Abrahams, and was excellently performed by Jack Bannister. The public prints gave the Jews credit for acknowledging their gratitude in a very substantial form. The author, in his Memoirs, does not disguise his wish, that they had flattered him with some token of the debt which he conceives them to have owed. We think, however, that a prior token of regard should have been bestowed on the author of Joshua, in the tale of Count Fathom; and, moreover, we cannot be surprised that the people in question felt a portrait in which they were rendered ludicrous as well as interesting, to be something between an affront and a compliment. Few of the better class of the Jewish persuasion would, we believe, be disposed to admit either Abrahams or Sheva as fitting representatives of their tribe.
In his retreat at Tunbridge, labouring in the bosom of his family, and making their common sitting-room his place of study, Cumberland continued to compose a number of dramatic pieces, of which he himself seems almost to have forgotten the names, and of which a modern reader can trace very few. We have subjoined, however, a list of them, with his other works, taken from the index of his Memoirs. Several were successful; several unfortunate; many never performed at all; but the spirit of the author continued unwearied and undismayed. The Arab, The Walloons, and many other plays, are forgotten; but the character of Penruddock, in the Wheel of Fortune, well conceived in itself, and admirably supported by Kemble, and since by Charles Young, continues to command attention and applause. The Carmelite, a tragedy, on the regular tragic plan, attracted much attention, as the inimitable Siddons played the part of the Lady of Saint Valois, and Kemble that of Montgomery. The plot, however, had that fault which, after all, clings to many of Cumberland's pieces — there was a want of originality. The spectator, or reader, was by the story irresistibly reminded of Douglas, and there was more taste than genius in the dialogue. The language was better than the sentiments; but the grace of the one could not always disguise that the other wanted novelty. The Brothers, The West Indian, and The Wheel of Fortune, stand high in the list of acting plays, and we are assured, by a very competent judge, that First Love, which we have not ourselves lately seen, is an excellent comedy, and maintains possession of the stage. The drama must have been Cumberland's favourite style of composition, for he went on, shooting shaft after shaft at the mark which he did not always hit, and often effacing by futures the memory of triumphant successes. His plays at last amounted to upwards of fifty, and intercession and flattery were sometimes necessary to force their way to the stage. On these occasions, the Green-room traditions avow that the veteran bard did not hesitate to bestow the most copious praises on the company who were to bring forward a new piece, at the expense of their rivals of the other house, who had his tribute of commendation in their turn, when their acceptance of a play put them in his good graces. It was also said, that when many of the dramatic authors united in a complaint to the Lord Chancellor against the late Mr. Sheridan, then manager of Drury-Lane, he prevented Cumberland from joining the confederacy, by offering to bring out any manuscript play which he should select for performance. But selection was not an easy task to an author, to whom all the offspring of his genius were equally dear. After much nervous hesitation, he trusted the chance of fortune; and out of a dozen of manuscript plays which lay by him, is said to have reached the manager the first which came to hand, without reading the title. Yet if Cumberland had the fondness of an author for his own productions, it must be owned he had also the fortitude to submit, without murmuring, to the decision of the public. "I have had my full share of success, and I trust I have paid my tax for it," he says, good-humouredly, "always without mutiny, and very generally without murmuring. I have never irritated the town by making a sturdy stand against their opposition, when they have been pleased to point it against any one of my productions. I never failed to withdraw myself on the very first intimation that I was unwelcome; and the only offence that I have been guilty of, is, that I have not always thought the worse of a composition, only because the public did not think well of it."
The Sacred Muse shared with her dramatic sisters in Cumberland's worship. In his poem of Calvary, he treated of a subject which, notwithstanding Klopstock's success, may be termed too lofty and too awful to be the subject of verse. He also wrote, in a literary partnership with Sir James Bland Burgess, (well known as the author of Richard Coeur de Lion, and other compositions,) The Exodiad, an epic poem, founded on sacred history. By Calvary the author sustained the inconvenient loss of an hundred pounds, and The Exodiad did not prove generally successful.
The author also undertook the task of compiling his own Memoirs; and the well-known Mr. Richard Sharpe, equally beloved for his virtues, and admired for the extent of his information, and the grace with which he communicates it, by encouraging Mr. Cumberland to become his own biographer, has performed a most acceptable service to the public. It is indeed one of the author's most pleasing works, and conveys a very accurate idea of his talents, feelings, and character, with many powerful sketches of the age which has passed away. It is impossible to read, without deep interest, Cumberland's account of the theatre in Goodmans Fields, where Garrick, in the flower of his youth, and all the energy of genius, bounded on the stage as Lothario, and pointed out to ridicule the wittol husband and the heavy-paced Horatio; while in the last character, Mr. Quin, contrasting the old with the modern dramatic manner, surly and solemn, in a dark-green coat, profusely embroidered, an enormous periwig, rolled stockings, and high-heeled, square-toed shoes, mouthed out his heroics in a deep, full, unvaried tone of declamation, accompanied by a kind of sawing action, which had more of the senate than the stage. Several characters of distinguished individuals were also drawn in the Memoirs with much force; particularly those of Doddington, Lord Halifax, Lord Sackville, George Selwyn, and others of the past age. There are some traits of satire and ridicule which are perhaps a little over-charged. This work was to have remained in manuscript until the author's death, when certainly such a publication appears with a better grace than while the auto-biographer still treads the stage. But Mr. Cumberland, notwithstanding his indefatigable labours, had never been in easy circumstances, since his unlucky negotiation in Spain; and in the work itself, he makes the affecting confession, that circumstances, paramount to prudence and propriety, urged him to anticipate the date of publication. The Memoirs were bought by Lackington's house for £500, and passed speedily from a quarto to an octavo shape.
We have yet to mention another undertaking of this unwearied author, at a period of life advanced beyond the ordinary date of humanity. The Edinburgh Review was now in possession of a full tide of popularity, and the Quarterly Review was just commenced, or about to commence, under powerful auspices, when Mr. Cumberland undertook the conduct of a critical work, which he entitled The London Review, on an entirely new plan, inasmuch as each article was to be published with the author's name annexed. He was supported by assistants of very considerable talents; but, after two or three numbers, the scheme became abortive. In fact, though the plan contained an appearance of more boldness and fairness than the ordinary scheme of anonymous criticism, yet it involved certain inconveniences, which its author did not foresee. It is true, no one seriously believes that, because the imposing personal plural "We" is adopted in a critical article, the reader is from that circumstance to infer that the various pieces in a periodical review, are subjected to the revisal of a board of literary judges, and that each criticism is sanctioned by their general suffrage, and bears the stamp of their joint wisdom. Still, however, the use of the first personal plural is so far legitimate, that in every well-governed publication of the kind, the articles, by whomsoever written, are at least revised by the competent person selected as editor, which affords a better warrant to the public for candour and caution, than if each were to rest on the separate responsibility of the individual writer. It is even more important to remark, that the anonymous character of periodical criticism has a tendency to give freedom to literary discussion, and at the same time, to soften the animosities to which it might otherwise give rise; and, in that respect, the peculiar language which members of- the senate hold towards each other, and which is for that reason called parliamentary, resembles the ordinary style of critical discussion. An author who is severely criticized in a review, can hardly he entitled, in the ordinary case, to take notice of it otherwise than as a literary question; whereas a direct and immediate collision, with a particular individual, seems to tend either, on the one hand, to limit the freedom of criticism, by placing it under the regulation of a timid complaisance, or, on the other, to render it (which is, to say the least, needless) of a fiercer and more personal cast, and thereby endanger the decorum, and perhaps the peace of society. Besides this, there will always be a greater authority ascribed by the generality of readers to the oracular opinion issued from the cloudy sanctuary of an invisible body, than to the mere dictum of a man with a Christian name and sirname, which may not sound much better than those of the author over whom he predominates. In the far-famed Secret Tribunal of Germany, it was the invisibility of the judges which gave them all their awful jurisdiction.
So numerous were Cumberland's publications, that, having hurried through the greater part of them, we have yet to mention his novels, though it is as a writer of fictitious history he is here introduced. They were three in number, Arundel, Henry, and John de Lancaster. The two first were deservedly well received by the public; the last was a labour of old age, and was less fortunate. It would be altogether unfair to dwell upon it, as forming a part of those productions on which the literary reputation must permanently rest.
Arundel, the first of these novels, was hastily written during the residence of a few weeks at Brighthelmstone, and sent to the press by detached parcels. It showed at the first glance what is seldom to be found in novels, the certainty that the author had been well acquainted with schools, with courts, and with fashionable life, and
knew the topics on which he was employing his pen. The style, also, was easy and clear, and the characters boldly and firmly sketched. Cumberland, in describing Arundel's feelings at exchaning his college society, and the pursuits of learning, too become secretary to the Earl of G., unquestionably remembered the alteration of his own destination in early life. But there is no reason to think that in the darker shades of the Earl of G. he had any intention to satirize his patron, the Earl of Halifax, whom he paints in his Memoirs in much more agreeable colours.
The success which this work obtained, without labour, induced the author to write Henry, on which he bestowed his utmost attention. He formed it upon Fielding's model, and employed two years in polishing and correcting the style. Perhaps it does not, after all, claim such great precedence over Arundel as the labour of the author induced him to expect. Yet it would be unjust to deny to Henry the praise of an excellent novel. There is much beauty of description, and considerable display of acquaintance with English life in the lower ranks; indeed, Cumberland's clowns, sketched from his favourite men of Kent, amongst whom he spent his life, may be placed by the side of similar portraits by the first masters.
Above all, the character of Ezekiel Daw, though the outline must have been suggested by that of Abraham Adams, is so well distinguished by original and spirited conception, that it may pass for an excellent original. The Methodists, as they abhor the lighter arts of literature, and perhaps contemn those which are more serious, have, as might have been expected, met much rough usage at the hands of novelists and dramatic authors, who generally represent them either as idiots or hypocrites. A very different feeling is due to many, perhaps to most, of this enthusiastic sect; nor is it rashly to be inferred, that he who makes religion the general object of his life, is for that sole reason to be held either a fool or an impostor. The professions of strict piety are inconsistent with open vice, and therefore must, in the general case, lead men to avoid the secret practice of what, openly known, must be attended with loss of character; and thus the Methodists, and other rigid sectaries, oppose to temptation the strong barriers of interest and habitual restraint, in addition to those restrictions which religion and morality impose on all men. The touch of enthusiasm connected with Methodism renders it a species of devotion, warmly affecting the feelings, and therefore peculiarly calculated to operate upon the millions of ignorant poor, whose understandings. The most learned divines would in vain address by mere force of argument; and, doubtless, many such simple enthusiasts as Ezekiel Daw, by their well-meant and indefatigable exertions amongst the stubborn and ignorant, have been the instruments of Providence to call such men from a state of degrading and brutal profligacy, to a life more worthy of rational beings, and of the name of Christians. Thus thinking, we are of opinion that the character of Ezekiel Daw, which shows the Methodist preacher in his strength and in his weakness, bold and fervent when in discharge of his mission, simple, well-meaning, and even absurd, in the ordinary affairs of life, is not only an exquisite, but a just portrait.
Cumberland seems to have been less happy in some of the incidents of low life, which he has introduced. He forced, as we have some reason to suspect, his own elegance of ideas, into an imitation of Fielding's scenes of this nature; and, as bashful men sometimes turn impudent in labouring to be easy, our ingenious author has occasionally, in his descriptions of Zachary Cawdle and his spouse, become disgusting, when he meant to be humorous.
The author of Henry piqued himself particularly on the conduct of the story, but we confess ourselves unable to discover much sufficient reason. His skein is neither more artfully perplexed, nor more happily disentangled, than in many tales of the same kind; there is the usual, perhaps we should call it the necessary, degree of improbability, for which the reader must make the usual and necessary allowance, and little can be said in this respect, either to praise or censure the author. But there is one series of incidents, connected with a train of sentiment rather peculiar to Cumberland, which may be traced through several of his dramas, which appears in Arundel, and which makes a principal part of the interest in Henry. He had a peculiar taste in love affairs, which induced him to reverse the usual and natural practice of courtship, and to throw upon the softer sex the task of wooing, which is more gracefully, as well as naturally, the province of the man. In Henry, he has carried this further, and endowed his hero with all the self-denial of the Hebrew patriarch, when he has placed him within the influence of a seductive being, much more fascinating in her address, than the frail Egyptian matron. In this point, Cumberland either did not copy his master, Fielding, at all, or, what cannot be conceived of an author so acute, he mistook for serious that author's ironical account of the continence of Joseph Andrews. We do not desire to bestow many words on this topic; but we are afraid, such is the universal inaccuracy of moral feeling in this age, that a more judicious author would not have striven against the stream, by holding up his hero as an example of what is likely to create more ridicule than imitation.
It might be also justly urged against the author, that the situations in which Henry is placed with Susan May, exceed the decent license permitted to modern writers; and certainly they do so. But Cumberland himself entertained a different opinion, and concludes with this apology; — "If, in my zeal to exhibit virtue triumphant over the most tempting allurements, I have painted those allurements in too vivid colours, I am sorry, and ask pardon of all those who think the moral did not heal the mischief."
Another peculiarity of our author's plots is, that an affair of honour, a duel either designed or actually fought, forms an ordinary part of them. This may be expected in fictitious history, as a frequent incident, since the remains of the Gothic customs survive in that particular only, and since the indulgence which it yields to the angry passions gives an opportunity, valuable to the novelist, of stepping beyond the limits prescribed by the ordinary rules of society, and introducing scenes of violence, without incurring the charge of improbability. But Cumberland himself had something of a chivalrous disposition. His mind was nurtured in sentiments of honour, and in the necessity of maintaining reputation with the hazard of life; in which he resembled another dramatic poet, the celebrated author of Douglas, who was also an enthusiast on the point of honour. In private life, Cumberland has proved his courage; and in his Memoirs he mentions, with some complacency, his having extorted from a "rough and boisterous captain of the sea" an apology for some expressions reflecting on his friend and patron, Lord Sackvile. In his Memoirs, he dwells with pleasure on the attachment shown to him by two companies of Volunteers, raised in the town of Tunbridge, and attaches considerable importance to the commission of Commandant, with which their choice had invested him. They presented their commander with a sword, and, when their pay was withdrawn, offered to continue their service, gratuitously, under him.
The long and active literary life of this amiable man and ingenious author, was concluded on the 7th May 1811, in his eightieth year, at the house of Mr. Henry Fry, in Bedford Place, Russel Square, and he was interred in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey.
His literary executors were Mr. Richard Sharpe, already mentioned, Mr. Rogers, the distinguished author of The Pleasures of Memory, and Sir James Bland Burgess; but we have seen none of his posthumous works, except Retrospection, a poem in blank verse, which appeared in 1812, and which seems to have been wrought up out of the ideas which had suggested themselves, while he was engaged in writing his Memoirs.
Mr. Cumberland had the misfortune to outlive his lady and several of his family. His surviving offspring were Charles, who, we believe, held high rank in the army, and William, a post-captain in the navy. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Lord Edward Bentinck, son of the Duke of Portland; his second, Sophia, was less happily wedded to William Badcock, Esq., who died in the prime of life, and left a family of four grandchildren, whom Chancery awarded to the care of Mr. Cumberland. His third surviving daughter was Frances Marianne, born during his unlucky embassy to Spain. To her the author affectionately inscribed his Memoirs, "as having found, in her filial affection, all the comforts that the best of friends could give, and derived, from her talents and understanding, all the enjoyments that the most pleasing of companions could communicate."
In youth, Mr. Cumberland must have been handsome; in age, he possessed a pleasing external appearance, and the polite ease of a gentleman, accustomed to the best company. In society, he was eloquent, well-informed, and full of anecdote; a willing dealer in the commerce of praise, or — for he took no great pains to ascertain its sincerity — we should rather say, of flattery. His conversation often showed the author in his strong and in his weak points. The foibles are well-known which Sheridan embodied on the stage in the character of Sir Fretful Plagiary. But it is not from a caricature that a just picture can be drawn, and in the little pettish sub-acidity of temper which Cumberland sometimes exhibited, there was more of humorous sadness, than of ill-will, either to his critics or his contemporaries. He certainly, like most poets, was little disposed to yield to the assaults of the former, and often, like a gallant commander, drew all his forces together, to defend the point which was least tenable. He was a veteran also, the last living representative of the literature of his own age, and conceived himself the surviving depository of their fame, obliged to lay lance in rest against all which was inconsistent with the rules which they had laid down or observed. In these characters it cannot be denied, that while he was stoutly combatting for the cause of legitimate comedy and the regular novel, Cumberland manifested something of personal feeling in his zeal against those contemporaries who had found new roads, or by-paths, as he thought them, to fame and popularity, and forestalled such as were scrupulously treading the beaten high-way, without turning to the right or to the left. These imperfections, arising, perhaps, from natural temper, from a sense of unmerited neglect, and the pressure of disadvantageous circumstances of fortune, or from the keen spirit of rivalry proper to men of an ardent disposition, rendered irritable by the eagerness of a contest for public applause, are the foibles rather of the profession than the individual; and though the man of letters might have been more happy had he been able entirely to subdue them, they detract nothing from the character of the man of worth, the scholar, and the gentleman.
We believe Cumberland's character to have been justly, as well as affectionately, summed up in the sermon preached on occasion of his funeral, by his venerable friend, Dr. Vincent, then Dean of Westminster. "The person you now see deposited, is Richard Cumberland, an author of no small merit; his writings were chiefly for the stage, but of strict moral tendency — they were not without their faults, but these were not of a gross description. He wrote as much as any, and few wrote better; and his works will be held in the highest estimation, so long as the English language is understood. He considered the theatre as a school for moral improvement, and his remains, are truly worthy of mingling with the illustrious dead which surround us. In his subjects on Divinity, you find the true Christian spirit; and may God, in his mercy, assign him the true Christian reward!"
CATALOGUE OF CUMBERLAND'S WORKS, FROM THE INDEX TO HIS MEMOIRS.
BANISHMENT OF CICERO.
BATTLE OF HASTINGS.
BRUTUS THE ELDER.
CLOUDS, FROM THE GREEK OF ARISTOPHANES.
DAYS OF GERI.
HINT TO HUSBANDS.
JOANNA OF MONTFAUCON.
LAST OF THE FAMILY.
NOTE OF HAND.
SHAKSPEARE IN THE SHADES.
TIMON OF ATHENS.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
WIDOW OF DELPHI.
WORD FOR NATURE.
LINES TO PRINCESS AMELIA.
EPILOGUE TO THE ARAB.
VERSES TO. DR. JAMES.
ON NELSON'S DEATH.
ODE TO THE SUN.
LINES ADDRESSED TO PITT.
—TO THE PRINCE OF WALES.
LINES TO ROMNEY THE FAINTER.
ELEGY ON ST. MARK'S EVE.
TRANSLATIONS FROM THE TROADES.
CURTIUS REDEEMED FROM THE GULPH.
EVIDENCES OF THE CHRISTIAN REVELATION.
CONTROVERSY WITH LOWTH ON THE SUBJECT OF DR. BENTLEY.
ANECDOTES OF EMINENT PAINTERS IN SPAIN.
CATALOGUE OF PAINTINGS IN THE KING OF SPAIN'S PALACE.
PERIODICAL PAPERS IN THE OBSERVER.
TRANSLATION OF THE PSALMS.
JOHN DE LANCASTER.
To this formidable list there remain yet to be added the critical papers written by the author for the London Review; Retrospection, a poem, in blank verse, on the author's own past life; and perhaps other publications, unknown to the Editor.
ABBOTSFORD, DECEMBER 1824.