1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Cumberland

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 2:161-64.



MR. RICHARD CUMBERLAND. What I remember of this gentleman was both disagreeable and pleasing. When he was not touched with jealousy of other writers, his manners were highly gratifying. He was full of anecdotes, but sometimes his memory failed, and little reliance could be placed on the accuracy of his narrations. He had a great command of language, and has left full evidence of his having been a good scholar, as well as a sagacious critic. His observations on "The Fatal Dowry" of Massinger, compared with "The Fair Penitent" of Rowe, which my friend Gifford has introduced in his admirable edition of Massinger's Plays, are ingenious and profound; but it is by no means improbable, that if Rowe had been as distant from him in point of time, and Massinger as near to his period as Rowe, he would have found good reasons for preferring "The Fair Penitent," and his arguments have been as strong in favour of the latter.

The first time that I was in company with Mr. Cumberland, was at the chaplain's table in St. James's Palace. Among the party, was Dr. or Mr. Jackson, one of His Majesty's chaplains. Jackson, whose character resembled that of Mr. Cumberland In veneration for the higher ranks, began with asking how Lord Edward Bentinck was, that nobleman having married a daughter of Mr. Cumberland. Mr. Cumberland expatiated upon the health of his lordship, and nothing was heard but about his lordship for some time, his lordship's title adorning every inquiry, and closing every answer. At length, when his lordship had sufficiently wearied the company, Lady Edward was introduced in turn, and engrossed nearly as much of the conversation as his lordship, with as much repetition of her ladyship's title.

When these subjects were exhausted, it became Mr. Cumberland's turn to inquire, and as Jackson was patronized by the Duke of Leeds, Mr. Cumberland, of course, thought it his duty to inquire after his Grace. His grace then was echoed over the table as frequently as had been his lordship and her ladyship. At length the conversation became general; but some contemporary dramatic author having been mentioned with commendation, Mr. Cumberland began to express his surprise that so favourable an account had been given of a writer so little entitled to notice, much less to praise. The gentleman who had commended the author in question, attempted modestly to support his opinion. Mr. Cumberland became heated, and spoke in so irritable a manner, that the gentleman thought proper to drop the subject.

Dr. Taylor, chaplain to His Majesty, and Jackson's coadjutor, was at the dinner, with the Rev. Mr. Penneck. Mr. Nicol, the venerable bookseller to His Majesty, and myself, after the dinner, adjourned for tea to the house of Mr. Nicol in Pall Mall; and I remember that Mr. Nicol, after a liberal compliment to the talents and attainments of Mr. Cumberland, concluded, in reference to the want of temper which he had shown at the table, with observing, that he was "a man without a skin."

Jackson was generally known by the designation of "Con." Jackson, an abridgment of "consequential," on account of the affected dignity of his deportment, and the manner in which he larded his conversation with the names of his noble connexions. My late friend Sir James Bland, who omitted his former name of Burgess, wrote a very humorous tale respecting this Dr. Jackson, entitled "The Bishop's Wig," founded on a report that the doctor had ordered a wig in expectation that he should obtain a mitre through the influence of his patron the Duke of Leeds. Sir James had written many other humorous productions of the same description, and I was not a little gratified, when, referring to my tale of "Monsieur Tonson," he addressed me once in company, and sportively said, "Ah! Taylor, nobody can write tales but you and I."

Mr. Cumberland certainly displayed his critical acumen, when he was the means of introducing Mr. Dowton to the London stage, one of the best comic actors within my remembrance. It is with much reluctance that I have given this unfavourable account of a gentleman whom I cannot but admire as a scholar and an author; but though I could relate other anecdotes of the same kind, I shall take leave of him with one anecdote that was told me by my early and most intimate friend the late Mr. Richardson, author of the comedy entitled "The Fugitive," and one of the writers of "The Rolliad and the Probationary Odes."

Mr. Cumberland came one night to Mr. Sheridan's box in the theatre somewhat late, and stumbled at the entrance. Mr. Sheridan sprang forward and assisted him. "Ah! sir," said Cumberland, "you are the only man to assist a falling author. Mr. Sheridan, in waggery or forgetfulness, said, "Rising, you mean," the very words which Mr. Sheridan has assigned to Sir Fretful Plagiary, in "The Critic," a character commonly understood to be drawn for Mr. Cumberland.