Richard Owen Cambridge

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:308-12.

MR. RICHARD OWEN CAMBRIDGE. My intercourse with this gentleman was of so slight a nature, that I can have no reason to introduce him into this work except from my sincere respect for his character, talents, attainments, and compositions; but he held so high a reputation, and upon such solid grounds, that it is a kind of duty to pay a respectful tribute to his memory. I had the pleasure of being introduced to him by my old friend Dr. Monsey, and of dining with him at the Governor's table at Chelsea Hospital, when there was nobody present but the doctor, Mr. Cambridge, and myself. I was then well acquainted with the literary productions of Mr. Cambridge, and was, therefore, particularly attentive to everything he said; and I now sincerely regret that I had not, early in life, conceived the design of the present work, for then I should have endeavoured to retain in my memory many observations and events, perhaps of much greater importance than any I have now been able to record.

As Dr. Monsey had seldom an opportunity of seeing Mr. Cambridge, and was sufficiently aware of the value of his guest, he gave the rein of conversation entirely to him, and was as attentive as myself. Part of the conversation passed on the politics of the day, but was soon transferred to literary topics, which seemed to be the favourite subjects with Mr. Cambridge. Unhappily the cares and troubles of the world have demanded too much of my attention to admit of accurate recollections of innumerable circumstances which have occurred in the course of a long protracted life. But I deem it an honour to have known Mr. Cambridge, and am proud of the opportunity of introducing his name on the present occasion.

I remember that in speaking of Don Quixote, he declared he considered it one of the greatest productions of the human mind, and supported his opinions with reasons, which it would be much for my advantage if I could recollect. He seemed to think that Goldsmith had been overrated as a poet, but spoke very favourably of his prose works. He said he thought the best lines in all Goldsmith's poetical works, were his character of Garrick in "Retaliation," as nicely discriminated, humorously combined, and admirably appropriate.

Dr. Monsey, with whom Mr. Cambridge's poem of "The Scribbleriad" was a great favourite, mentioned it with high praise, and expressed his surprise that it was not more a favourite with the world at large. Mr. Cambridge spoke of it modestly as a work that had given him little trouble, and said that it was chiefly composed while he was under the hands of his hairdresser. The remark of the doctor, whether suggested on that or any other occasion, induced Mr. Cambridge to send him the following jeu d'esprit, which I insert with pleasure, as it is so complimentary to the taste and judgment of my old friend, who was himself an excellent humorous poet.

Physician to Chelsea Hospital,
Upon his expressing his surprise that "The Scribbleriad" was not more known and talked of.

Dear Doctor, did you ever hear I had
So piqued myself on "The Scribbleriad,"
That every pensioner of Chelsea
The learning and the wit should well see?
Enough for me if only one see,
But let that one be Doctor Monsey.

It is not in my power to do justice to "The Scribbleriad," which is really a work not only of "learning and wit," to use the words of the author, but of rare and profound learning, as well as of great humour and poetical merit. The object is to ridicule false learning, absurd inventions, superstition, and the general follies of mankind. It is little creditable to the taste of the public, that such a work should not have become popular, and it may fairly be said, that the fault is not the want of any intellectual power in the author, but in the ignorance and want of taste in the readers.

When Archdeacon Cambridge published the life and works of his venerable father, there appeared in a certain northern vehicle of criticism, remarkable for vanity and dashing audacity, a very flippant account of the publication. It was my intention to have written an answer to this frivolous and unjust attack upon the works of so accomplished a scholar and so excellent a poet as Mr. Cambridge; but reflecting that I was no match for the young gentlemen that were then reported to be the conductors of that source of northern asperity, self-conceit, and censorious violence, and that the archdeacon's tribute of filial respect to the memory of his father was a substantial monument of parental excellence that time could not impair, I desisted from the rash undertaking.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cambridge a second time, and the conversation chiefly related to Dr. Monsey. I afterwards, for the last time, saw him walking arm in arm with Lord North, then Prime Minister, who seemed very attentive to him, and to be laughing at something which he was saying.

My late friend, Mr. Jerningham, related to me the following whimsical anecdote, but did not vouch for the truth of it. Mr. Cambridge had observed the following inscription over a hatter's shop just as the painter had finished the letters, "Good hats sold here." Crossing the way, and making a suitable apology, he politely addressed the master of the shop, observing that he hoped he would excuse his making a remark on the inscription. The hatter said he should be much obliged to him, and desired to hear what he had to say. "Why," said Mr. Cambridge, the word 'good' seems unnecessary, for if you did not sell good hats, no customer would come again." "True," said the hatter. "Painter! rub out good. Pray, sir, have you anything more to say? — I beseech you go on." "Why," said Mr. Cambridge, "the word 'hats' is certainly needless, for if people looked at your shop-window, and saw nothing but hats, they would not expect to buy meat, or anything but hats." "True again," said the man. "Painter! rub out hats. Well, sir, is all right now?" "No, certainly," rejoined Mr. Cambridge; "the word 'sold' would be ridiculous if it were to remain, for nobody would expect you to give away your hats." "Very true," said the man. "Painter, rub out sold;" adding, "Now, sir, I suppose you have no farther objection." "Yes, one more," said Mr. Cambridge; "the word 'here' is perfectly absurd by itself, for nobody would go to another shop to buy your hats." "Quite right," said the man. "Painter! rub out here;" and then he courteously thanked Mr. Cambridge for his kindness.