We certainly have no wish for the death of Mr. Cumberland; on the contrary, we hope he will live long enough to make a large supplement to these memoirs: but he has embarrassed us a little by publishing this volume in his lifetime. We are extremely unwilling to say any thing that may hurt the feelings of a man of distinguished talents, who is drawing to the end of his career, and imagines that he has hitherto been ill used by the world: but he has shown, in this publication, such an appetite for praise, and such a jealousy of censure, that we are afraid we cannot do our duty conscientiously, without giving him offence. The truth is, that the book has rather disappointed us. We expected it to be extremely amusing; and it is not. There is too much of the first part of the title in it, and too little of the last. Of the life and writings of Richard Cumberland, we hear more than enough; but of the distinguished persons with whom he lived, we have many fewer characters and anecdotes than we could have wished. We are the more inclined to regret this, both because the general style of Mr. Cumberland's compositions has convinced us, that no one could have exhibited characters and anecdotes in a more engaging manner, and because, from what he has put into this book, we actually see that he had excellent opportunities for collecting and still better talents for relating them. The anecdotes and characters which we have, are given in a very pleasing and animated manner, and form the chief merit of the publication; but they do not occupy one tenth part of it; and the rest is filled with details that do not often interest; and observations that do not always amuse.
Authors, we think, should not be encouraged to write their own lives. The genius of Rousseau, his enthusiasm, and the novelty of his plan, have rendered the Confessions, in some respects, the most interesting of books, but a writer, who is in full possession of his senses, who has lived in the world like the men and women who compose it, and whose vanity aims only at the praise of great talents and accomplishments, must not hope to write a book like the Confessions; and is scarcely to be trusted with the delineation of his own character, or the narrative of his own adventures. We have no objection, however, to let authors tell their own story, as an apology for telling that of all their acquaintances; and can easily forgive them for grouping and assorting their anecdotes of their contemporaries, according to the chronology and incidents of their own lives. This is but indulging the painter of a great gallery of worthies with a pannel for his own portrait; and though it will probably he the least like of the whole collection, it would be hard to grudge him this little gratification.
Life has often been compared to a journey; and the simile seems to hold better in nothing than in the identity of the rules by which those who write their travels, and those who write their lives, should be governed. When a man returns from visiting any celebrated region, we expect to hear much more of the things and persons he has seen, than of his own personal transactions; and are naturally disappointed if, after saying that he lived much with illustrious statesmen or heroes, he chooses rather to tell us of his own travelling equipage, or of his cookery and servants, than to give us any account of the character and conversation of those distinguished persons. In the same manner, when, at the close of a long life, spent in circles of literary and political celebrity, an author its down to give the world an account of his retrospections, it is reasonable to stipulate that he shall talk less of himself than of his associates, and natural to complain, if he tells long stories of his schoolmasters and grandmothers, while he passes over some of the most illustrious of his companions, with a bare mention of their names.
Mr. Cumberland has offended a little in this way. He has also composed these memoirs, we think, in too diffuse, rambling, and careless a style. There is evidently no selection or method in his narrative; and unweighed remarks, and fatiguing apologies and protestations are tediously interwoven with it in the genuine style of good-natured but irrepressible loquacity. The whole composition, indeed, has not only too much the air of conversation; it has sometimes an unfortunate resemblance to the conversation of a professed talker; and we meet with many passages in which the author appears to work himself up to an artificial vivacity, and to give a certain air of smartness to his expression, by the introduction of cant phrases, odd metaphors, and a sort of practised and theatrical originality. The work, however, is well worth going over, and contains many more amusing passages than we can afford to extract on the present occasion.
Mr. Cumberland was born in 1732; and he has a very natural pride in relating, that his paternal great grandfather was the learned and most exemplary Bishop Cumberland, author of the treatise "De Legibus Naturae;" and that his maternal grandfather was the celebrated Dr. Richard Bentley. Of the last of these distinguished persons he has given, from the distinct recollection of his childhood, a much more amiable and engaging representation than has hitherto been made public. Instead of the haughty and morose critic and controversialist, we learn, with pleasure, that he was as remarkable for mildness and kind affections in private life, a for profound erudition and sagacity as an author. Mr. Cumberland has collected a number of little anecdotes that seem to be quite conclusive upon this head; but we rather insert the following general testimony.
"I had a sister somewhat older than myself. Had there been any of that sternness in my grandfather, which is so falsely imputed to him, it may well he supposed we should have been awed into silence in his presence, to which we were admitted every day. Nothing can be further from the truth; he was the unwearied patron and promoter of all our childish sports and sallies; at all times ready to detach himself from any topic of conversation to take an interest and bear his part in our amusements. The eager curiosity natural to our age, and the questions it gave birth to, so teazing to many parents, he, on the contrary, attended to and encouraged, as the claims of infant reason never to be evaded or abased; strongly recommending, that to all such inquiries answers should be given according to the strictest truth, and information dealt to us in the clearest terms, as a sacred duty never to be departed from. I have broken in upon him many a time in his hours of study, when he would put his book aside, ring his hand-bell for his servant and be led to his shelves to take down a picture book for my amusement. I do not say that his good-nature always gained its object, as the pictures which his books generally supplied me with were anatomical drawings of dissected bodies, very little calculated to communicate delight; but he had nothing better to produce; and surely such an effort on his part, however unsuccessful, was no feature of a cynic: a cynic should be made of sterner stuff.
"Once, and only once, I recollect his giving me a gentle rebuke for making a most outrageous noise in the room over his library, and disturbing him in his studies; I had no apprehension of anger from him, and confidently answered that I could not help it, as I had been at battledore and shuttlecock with Master Gooch, the Bishop of Ely's son. 'And I have been at this sport with his father,' he replied; 'but thine has been the more amusing game; so there's no harm done.'" p. 7, 8.
He also mentions, that when his adversary Collins had fallen into poverty in his latter days, Bentley, apprehending that he was in some measure responsible for his loss of reputation, contrived to administer to his necessities in a way not less creditable to his delicacy than to his liberality.
The youngest daughter of this illustrious scholar, the Phoebe of Byron's pastoral, and herself a woman of extraordinary accomplishments, was the mother of Mr. Cumberland. His father, who appears also to have been a man of the most blameless and amiable dispositions, and to have united, in a very exemplary way, the characters of a clergyman and a gentleman, was Rector of Stanwick in Northampton at the birth of his son. He went to school first at Bury St. Edmunds, and afterwards at Westminster. But the most valuable part of his early education was that for which he was indebted to the taste and intelligence of his mother. We insert with pleasure the following amiable paragraph.
"It was in these intervals from school that my mother began to form both my taste and my ear for poetry, by employing me every evening to read to her, of which art she was a very able mistress. Our readings were, with very few exceptions, confined to the chosen plays of Shakspeare, whom she both admired and understood in the true spirit and sense of the author. Under her instruction I became passionately fond of these our evening entertainments; in the mean time, she was attentive to model my recitation, and correct my manner with exact precision. Her comments and illustrations were such aids and instructions to a pupil in poetry, as few could have given. What I could not else have understood, she could aptly explain; and what I ought to admire and feel, nobody could more happily select and recommend. I well remember the care she took to mark out for my observation, the peculiar excellence of that unrivalled poet, in the consistency and preservation of his characters; and wherever instances occurred amongst the starts and sallies of his unlettered fancy, of the extravagant and false sublime, her discernment oftentimes prevented me from being so dazzled by the glitter of the period as to misapply my admiration, and betray my want of taste. With all her father's critical acumen, she could trace and teach me to unravel, all the meanders of his metaphor, and point out where it illuminated, or where it only loaded and obscured the meaning. These were happy hours and interesting lectures to me, whilst my beloved lather, ever placid and complacent. sate beside us, and took part in our amusement: his voice was never heard but in the tone of approbation; his countenance never marked but with the natural traces of his idelible and hereditary benevolence." p. 39, 40.
The effect of these readings was, that the young author, at twelve years of age, produced a sort of drama, called "Shakspeare in the shades," composed almost entirely of passages from that great writer, strung together and assorted with no despicable ingenuity. He has inserted rather a long extract from this juvenile compilation. There is next an animated and minute account of his studies at Westminster, with flattering characters of the head masters, from Nichols to Vincent. Throughout the work, indeed, he is too full of eulogies, and seems resolved to deserve every body's good word, by the most profuse and indulgent commendation. At this early period of his life, he first saw Garrick in the character of Lothario, and has left this animated account of the impression which the scene made upon his mind.
"I have the spectacle even now, as it were, before my eyes. Quin presented himself, upon the rising of the curtain, in a green velvet coat embroidered down the seams, an enormous full-bottomed periwig, rolled stockings, and high-heeled square toed shoes: with very little variation of cadence, and in a deep full tone, accompanied by a sawing kind of action, which had more of the senate than of the stage in it, he rolled out his heroics with an air of dignified indifference, that seemed to disdain the plaudits that were bestowed upon him. Mrs. Cibber, in a key high pitched, but sweet withal, sung, or rather recitatived, Rowe's harmonious strain, something in the manner of the Improvisatories: it was so extremely wanting in contrast, that though it did not wound the ear, it wearied it: when she had once recited two or three speeches, I could anticipate the manner of every succeeding one. It was like a long old legendary ballad of innumerable stanzas, every one of which is sung to the same tune, eternally chiming in the ear without variation or relief. Mrs. Pritchard was an actress of a different cast, had more nature, and of course more change of tone, and variety both of action and expression. In my opinion, the comparison was decidedly in her favour. But when, after long and eager expectation, I first beheld little Garrick, then young and light, and alive in every muscle end in every feature, come bounding on the stage, and pointing at the wittol Altamont and heavy-paced Horatio — heavens, what a transition! — it seemed as if a whole century had been stept over in the transition of a single scene; old things were done away, and a new order at once brought forward, bright and luminous, and clearly destined to dispel the barbarisms and bigotry of a tasteless age, too long attached to the prejudices of custom, and superstitiously devoted to the illusions of imposing declamation. This heaven-born actor was then struggling to emancipate his audience from the slavery they were resigned to; and though at times he succeeded in throwing in some gleams of new-born light upon them, yet in general they seemed to love darkness better than ugh!; and in the dialogue of altercation between Horatio and Lothario, bestowed far the greater show of hands upon the master of the old school than upon the founder of the new. I thank my stars, my feelings in those moments led me right; they were those of nature, and therefore could not err." p. 59. 60.
In his fourteenth year he was entered of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he seems to have lived a very regular, studious, and innocent life; and acquired great reputation by keeping an act, at the age of seventeen, against "a finished mathematician, and black-bearded philosopher from the North country." He took his bachelor's degree with equal honour; and obtained a high place among the wranglers of his year. Upon this occasion he makes a considerable digression in praise of mathematical learning, and contends, with much zeal, that it is to the neglect of these studies that we should impute all the bad argument we hear in common conversation. We do not think this proposition made out by demonstrative evidence; but it leads the author to make some lively observations, which we shall subjoin as a fair specimen of the general disquisitions which he has occasionally introduced into these memoirs.
"Hear the crude opinions that are let loose upon society in our table conversations; mark the wild and wandering arguments that are launched at random, without ever hitting the mark they should be levelled at; what does all this noise and nonsense prove, but that the talker has indeed acquired the fluency of words, but never known the exercise of thought, or attended to the developement of a single proposition? Tell him that he ought to hear what may be said on the other side of the question — he agrees to it, and either begs leave to wind up with a hew words more, which he winds arid wire-draws without end; or, having paused to hear, hears with impatience a very little, foreknows every thing you had further to say, cuts short your argument and bolts in upon you with — an answer to that argument? No; with a continuation of his own gabble; and, having stifled you with the torrent of his trash, places your contempt to the credit of his own capacity, and foolishly conceives he talks with reason, because he has not patience to attend to any reasoning but his own.
"There are also others, whose vivacity of imagination having never felt the trammels of a syllogism, is for ever flying off into digression and display — "Quo teneam nodo mutantem Protea formas?"—
"To attempt at hedging in these cuckows is but lost labour. These gentlemen are very entertaining, as long as novelties with no meaning can entertain you; they have a great variety of opinions which if you oppose, they do not defend, and if you agree with, they desert. Their talk is like the wild notes of birds, amongst which you shall distinguish some of pleasant tone, but out of which you compose no tune or harmony of song. These men would have set down Archimedes for a fool, when he danced for joy at the solution of a proposition, and mistaken Newton for a madman, when in the surplice, which he put on for chapel over night, he was found the next morning, in the same place and posture, fixed in profound meditation on his theory of the prismatic colours. So great is their distaste for demonstration, they think no truth is worth the waiting for; the mountain must come to them, they are not by half so complaisant as Mahomet. They are not easily reconciled to truisms, but have no particular objection to impossibilities. For argument they have no ear; it does not touch them; it fetters fancy, and dulls the edge of repartee. If by chance they find themselves in an untenable position, and wit is not at hand to help them out of it, they will take up with a pun, and ride home upon a horse laugh if they can't keep their ground, they won't wait to be attacked and driven out of it. Whilst a reasoning man will be picking his way out of a dilemma, they, who never reason at all, jump over it, and land themselves at once upon new ground, where they take an imposing attitude, and escape pursuit. Whatever these men do, whether they talk, or write, or act, it is without deliberation, without consistency, without plan. Having no expanse of mind, they can comprehend only in part; they will promise an epic poem, and produce an epigram. In short, they glitter, pass away, and are forgotten; their outset makes a show of mighty things; they stray out of their course into by-ways and obliquities; and, when out of sight of their contemporaries, are for ever lost to posterity." p. 81-34.
This is certainly very brisk and lively, but it does not correspond at all with our notions of good writing. It is the style of a smart talker, spoiled by the habit of writing comedies; every thing is broken into points, and varnished into brilliancy; there is a constant exaggeration, which offends against candour and sober judgment; and an unremitting and visible effort, which is painful and oppressive to the imagination. His characters of individuals have something of the same faults; he seems always to study effect, much more than truth of delineation; and exaggerates the characteristic, till the natural can no longer be recognized. On the stage this is necessary, like rouge and false eyebrows; but it defeats the very end of delineating real characters, and begets a distrust, that stands equally in the way of our pleasure and our information.
Mr. Cumberland, whose health had been injured by too close application to study, now passed some months at York, in a state of complete intellectual relaxation, if we may judge from the complexion of the stanzas with which he has filled three or four pages as a specimen of his occupations upon this excursion. He now began to turn his thoughts to the clerical profession, and to take measures for securing his election as a fellow of his college; but was tempted from the studies and pursuits to which he had always been inclined both by his own dispositions and the example of his respected ancestors, by an offer which was made on the part of Lord Halifax, then at the head of the Board of Trade, to receive him into the situation of his private secretary. This change of his prospects and views in life, he has lived long enough he assures us, to regret most bitterly. The account which he gives of his first impressions, on being thus thrust into the great society of London, is sufficiently striking and natural.
"The whole town indeed was before me; but it had not for me either friend or relation, to whom I could resort for comfort or for counsel. With a head filled with Greek and Latin, and a heart left behind me in my college, I was completely out of my element. I saw myself unlike the people about me, and was embarrassed in circles, which according to the manners of those days were not to he approached without a set of ceremonies and manoeuvres, not very pleasant to perform, and, when awkwardly performed, not very edifying to behold. In these graces Lord Halifax was a model; his address was noble and impressive; he could never be mistaken for less than he was, whilst his official secretary, Pownall, who egregiously overacted his imitations of him, could as little be mistaken for more than he was. In the world, which I now belonged to, I heard very little, except now and then a quotation from Lord Halifax, that in any degree interested me; there were talkers, however, who would take possession of a subject as a highwayman does of a purse, without knowing what it contained, or caring whom it belonged to; many of these gentlemen had doubtless found that ignorance had been no obstacle to their advancement, and now they seemed resolved it should be no bar to their assurance. I found there was a polite as well as a political glossary, which involved mysteries little less obscure than those which are couched under the hieroglyphics of Egypt, and I perceived that whosoever had the ready use and apt application of those pass-words, was by right looked up to as the best bred and best informed man in the company." p. 102.
A little afterwards, he follows out the same train of thinking in that peculiar and ambitious style which we have already ventured to disapprove of. After professing his own want of the faculty of noting times and seasons, and seizing lucky minutes with address and promptitude, he says,
"A man, who is gifted with these lucky talents, is armed with hands, as a ship with grappling irons, ready to catch hold of, and make himself fast to every thing he comes in contact with; and such a man, with all these properties of adhesion, has also the property, like the polypus, of a most miraculous and convenient indivisibility; cut off his hold, nay, cut him how you will, he is still a polypus, whole and entire. Men of this sort shall work their way out of their obscurity like cockroaches out of the hold of a ship, and crawl into notice, nay even into king's palaces, as the frogs did into Pharaoh's. These are the stray children, turned loose upon the world, whom fortune in her charity takes charge of, and for whose guidance in the by-ways and cross-roads of their pilgrimage she sets up fairy finger-posts, discoverable by them whose eyes are near the ground, but unperceived by such whose looks are raised above it.
"But there are more than these. Vain men will have their flatterers, rich men their followers, and powerful men their dependants. A great man in office is like a great whale in the ocean; there will be a swordfish and a thresher, a Junius and a John Wilkes, ever in his wake and arming to attack him: These are the vext spirits of the deep, who trouble the waters, turning them up from the very bottom, that they may emerge from their mud, and float upon the surface of the billows in foam of their own making.
"But whilst these men may he said to fight their way into consequence, and so long as they can but live in notice are content to live in trouble, there is a vast majority of easy, unambitious, courteous, humble servants, whose unoffending vanity aspires no higher than like Samson's bees to make honey in the bowels of a lion, and fatten on the offal of a rich man's superfluities. They ask no more of fortune than to float like the horse dung with the apples, and enjoy the credit of good company as they travel flown the smooth and easy stream of life. For these there is a vast demand, and their talents are as various as the uses they are put to. Every great, rich, and consequential man, who has not the wisdom to hold his tongue, must enjoy his privilege of talking, and there must be dull fellows to listen to him; again, if, by talking about what he does not understand, he gets into embarrassments, there must be clever fellows to help him out of them: when he would be merry, there must he witty rogues to make him laugh; when he would be sorrowful, there must he sad rogues to sigh and groan and make long faces: as a great man must be never in the wrong, there must be hardy rascals, who will swear he is always in the right; as he must never -shw fear, of course he must never see danger; and as his courage must at no time sink, there must be friends at all times ready to prevent its being tried?' p. 112-115.
He left London for a short time, to stand candidate for his fellowship, which he obtained with great honour, though not without considerable struggle and opposition; and on his return to town, ventured for the first time to the press with a church-yard elegy, in imitation of Gray. Soon after, he projected an epic poem on the discovery of India, of which a considerable part was executed. He has inserted six or seven pages, as a specimen, in this work; but we hope the public is to see no more of it: it is cumbrous, prosaic, and utterly uninteresting.
Soon after this, Mr. Cumberland's father exchanged his living of Stanwick for that of Fulham, in order that his son might have the benefit of his society, while obliged to reside in the vicinity of the metropolis. The celebrated Bubb Dodington resided at this time in the neighbouring parish of Hammersmith; and Mr. Cumberland, who soon became a frequent guest at his table, has given a very entertaining account of his character and peculiarities. We shall insert as much as we can make room for.
"Our splendid host was excelled by no man in doing the honours of his house and table; to the ladies he had all the courtly and profound devotion of a Spaniard, with the ease and gaiety of a Frenchman towards the men. His mansion was magnificent, massy, and stretching out to a great extent of front, with an enormous portico of Doric columns, ascended by a stately flight of steps; there were turrets and wings that went I know not whither, though now they are levelled with the ground, and gone to more ignoble uses: Vanbrugh, who constructed this superb edifice, seemed to have had the plan of Blenheim in his thoughts, and the interior was as proud and splendid as the exterior was bold and imposing. All this was exactly in unison with the taste of its magnificent owner, who had gilt and furnished the apartments with a profusion of finery, that kept no terms with simplicity, and not always with elegance or harmony of style. Whatever Mr. Dodington's revenue then was, he had the happy art of managing it with that regularity and economy, that I believe he made more display at less cost, than any man in the kingdom but himself could have done. His town house in Pall-Mall, his villa at Hammersmith, and the mansion above described, were such establishments as few nobles in the nation were possessed of. In either of these he was not to be approached but through a suite of apartments, and rarely seated but under painted ceilings and gilt entablatures. In his villa you were conducted through two rows of antique marble statues, ranged in a gallery floored with the rarest marbles, and enriched with columns of granite and lapis lazuli; his saloon was hung with the finest Gobelin tapestry, and he slept in a bed encanopied with peacock's feathers in the style of Mrs. Montague. When he passed from Pall-Mall to La Trappe it was always in a coach, which I could suspect had been his ambassadorial equipage at Madrid, drawn by six fat unwieldy black horses, short docked and of colossal dignity; neither was he less characteristic in apparel than in equipage; he had a wardrobe loaded with rich and flaring suits, each in itself a load to the wearer, and of these I have no doubt but many were coeval with his embassy above mentioned, and every birthday had added to the stock. In doing this he so contrived as never to put his old dresses out of countenance, by any variations in the fashion of the new; in the mean time, his bulk and corpulency gave full display to a vast expanse and profusion of brocade and embroidery, and this, when set off with an enormous tye-periwig and deep-laced ruffles, gave the picture of an ancient courtier in his gala habit, or Quin in his stage dress; nevertheless, it must be confessed this style, though out of date, was not out of character, but harmonized so well with the person of the wearer, that I remember when he made his first speech in the House of Peers as Lord Melcombe, all the flashes of his wit, all the studied phrases and well turned periods of his rhetoric lost their effect simply because the orator had laid aside his magisterial tye, and put on a modern bag wig, which was as much out of costume upon the broad expanse of his shoulders, as a cue would have been upon the robes off he Lord Chief Justice.
"Having thus dilated more than perhaps I should have done upon this distinguished person's passion for magnificence and display, when I proceed to inquire into those principles of good taste, which should naturally have been the accompaniments and directors of that magnificence, I fear I must be compelled by truth to admit that in these he was deficient. Of pictures he seemed to take his estimate only by their cost; in fact, he was not possessed of any; but I recollect his saying to me one day in his great saloon at Eastbury, that if he had half a score pictures of a thousand pounds a piece, he would gladly decorate his wails with them, in place of which I am sorry to say he had stuck up immense patches of gilt leather, shaped into bugle horns, upon hangings of rich crimson velvet, and round his state bed he displayed a carpeting of gold and silver-embroidery, which too glaringly betrayed its derivation from coat, waiscoat, and breeches, by the testimony of pockets, buttons holes and loops, with other equally incontrovertible witnesses, subpoena'd from the tailor's shopboard. When he paid his court at St. James's to the present queen upon her nuptials, he approached to kiss her hand, decked in an embroidered suit of silk, with lilac waiscot and breeches, the latter of which in the act of kneeling down forgot their duty, and broke loose from their moorings in a very indecorous and uncourtly manner." p. 140-43.
"During my stay at Eastbury, we were visited by the late Mr. Henry Fox and Mr. Alderman Beckford: the solid good sense of the former, and the dashing loquacity of the latter, formed a striking contrast between the characters of these gentlemen. To Mr. Fox our host paid all that courtly homage, which he so well knew how to time and where to apply; to Beckford he did not observe the same attentions, but in the happiest flow of his raillery and wit combatted this intrepid talker with admirable effect. It was an interlude truly comic and amusing. Beckford loud, voluble, self-sufficient, and galled by hits, which he could not parry and probably did not expect, laid himself more and more open in the vehemence of his argument; Dodington, lolling in his chair in perfect apathy and self-command, dozing and even snoring at intervals in his lethargic way, broke out every now and then into such gleams and flashes of wit and irony, as by the contrast of his phlegm with the other's impetuosity, made his humour irresitible, and set the table in a roar. He was here upon his very strongest ground." p. 144, 145.
"He wrote small poems with great pains, and elaborate letters with much terseness of style, and some quaintness of expression: I have seen him refer to a volume of his own verses in manuscript, but he was very shy, and I never had the perusal of it. I was rather better acquainted with his diary, which since his death has been published, and I well remember the temporary disgust he seemed to take, when upon his asking what I would do with it, should he bequeath it to my discretion, I instantly replied, that I would destroy it. There was a third, which I more coveted a sight of than of either of the above, as it contained a miscellaneous collection of anecdotes, repartees, good sayings, and humorous incidents, of which he was part author and part compiler, and out of which he was in the habit of refreshing his memory, when he prepared himself to expect certain men of wit and pleasantry, either at his own house or elsewhere. Upon this practice, which he did not affect to conceal, be observed to me one day, that it was a compliment he paid to society, when he submitted to steal weapons out of his own armoury for their entertainment, and ingenuously added, that although his memory was not in general, so correct as it had been, yet he trusted it would save him from the disgrace of repeating the same story to the same hearers, or foisting it into conversation in the wrong place or out of time." p. 147, 148.
Our author next commemorates his first dramatic production, which was finished in 1757. It was upon a most unfortunate subject, the Banishment of Cicero; and was accordingly rejected by Garrick, though recommended to him by the powerful interest of Lord Halifax. The author afterwards published it: but it has never come in our way; and we are quite satisfied with the speeches of Gabinius and Clodius, with which he has been pleased to embellish the pages before us. About this time he obtained the situation of Crown agent for Nova Scotia, and ventured to marry a lady of great worth and beauty, to whom he had long been attached.
Upon the death of the King, Lord Halifax was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; and Mr. Cumberland proposed to follow him into that kingdom. He takes his last leave of his friend Mr. Dodington, now raised to the honour of the peerage, in the following characteristic sentence.
"I had taken leave of Lord Melcombe the day preceding the coronation, and found him before a looking glass in his new robes, practising attitudes, and debating within himself upon the most graceful mode of carrying his coronet in the procession. He was in high glee with his fresh and blooming honours, and I left him in the act of dictating a billet to Lady Hervey, apprising her that a young lord was corning to throw himself at her feet." p. 159.
The celebrated Single-Speech Hamilton went as chief secretary, with the Lord Lieutenant. His character is well drawn by Mr. Cumberland in the following sentences.
"He spoke well, but not often, in the Irish House or Commons. He had a promptitude of thought, and a rapid flow of well-conceived matter, with many other requisites, that only seemed waiting for opportunities to establish his reputation as an orator. He had a striking countenance, a graceful carriage, great self-possession and personal courage: he was not easily put out of his way by any of those unaccommodating repugnances that men of weaker nerves, or more tender con sciences, might have stumbled at, or been checked by: he could mask the passions that were natural to him, and assume those that did not belong to him: he was indefatigable, meditative, mysterious: his opinions were the result of long labour and much reflection, but he had the art of setting them forth as if they were the starts of ready genius and a quick perception: he had as much seeming steadiness as a partisan could stand in need of, and all the real flexibility that could suit his purpose, or advance his interest. He would fain have retained his connexion with Edmund Burke, and associated him to his politics, for he well knew the value of his talents, but in that object he was soon disappointed: the genius of Burke was of too high a cast to endure debasement." p. 169-70.
Mr. Cumberland seems inclined to think him the author of Junius, and adds the following anecdote in support of that opinion.
"When I was called in jointly with Secretary Hamilton to take the project and rough copy of the Lord Lieutenant's speech into consideration, I could not help remarking the extraordinary efforts which that gentleman made to engraft his own very peculiar style upon the sketch before him: in this I sometimes agreed with him, but more commonly opposed him, till Lord Halifax, whose patience began to be exhausted, no longer submitted his copy to be dissected, but took it to himself with such alterations as he saw fit to adopt, and those but few. I must candidly acknowledge that at times when I have heard people searching for internal evidence in the style of Junius as to the author of those famous letters, I have called to recollection this circumstance, which I have now related, and occasionally said that the style of Junius bore a strong resemblance to what I had observed of the style of Secretary Hamilton: beyond this I never had the least grounds for conjecture." p. 164.
In Dublin, Mr. Cumberland was introduced to a new and a more miscellaneous society than he had hitherto been used to, and has presented his readers with striking sketches of Dr. Pococke and Primate Stone. We are more amused, however, with the following picture of George Faulkner.
"Description must fall short in the attempt to convey any sketch of that eccentric being to those who have not read him in the notes of Jephson, or seen him in the mimickry of Foote, who, in his portraits of Faulkner, found the only fitter whom his extravagant pencil could not caricature; for he had a solemn intrepidity of egotism, and a daring contempt of absurdity, that fairly outfaced imitation, and, like Garrick's Ode on Shakspeare, which Johnson said 'defied criticism,' so did George, in the original spirit of his own perfect buffoonery, defy caricature. He never deigned to join in the laugh he had raised, nor seemed to have a feeling of the ridicule he had provoked. At the same time that he was preeminently, and by preference, the butt and buffoon of the company, he could find openings and opportunities for hits of retaliation, which were such left handed thrusts as few could parry: nobody could foresee where they would fall; nobody, of course, was fore-armed: and as there was in his calculation, but one supereminent character in the kingdom Ireland and he the printer of the Dublin Journal, rank was no shield against George's arrows, which flew where he listed, and fixed or missed as chance directed, he cared not about consequences. He gave good meat and excellent claret in abundance, I sat at his table once from dinner till two in the morning, whilst George swallowed immense potations with one solitary sodden strawberry at the bottom of the glass, which he said was recommended to him by his doctor for its cooling properties. He never lost his recollection or equilibrium the whole time, and was in excellent foolery. It was a singular coincidence, that there was a person in company who had received his reprieve at the gallows, and the very judge who had passed sentence of death upon him: but this did not in the least disturb the harmony of the society, nor embarrass any human creature present." p. 174-5.
In the end of the Lieutenancy of Lord Halifax, Mr. Cumberland's father was promoted to the see of Clonfert in Ireland; and upon that noble Lord's nomination to the high office of Secretary of State, our author suffered the mortification of being superseded in his situation of secretary, and seems to have thought himself but indifferently compensated by the appointment of clerk to the Board of Trade. In this situation, he wrote an opera, and the comedy of "The Brothers," which was acted with considerable applause. There is some good dramatic criticism in this and in other parts of the book; but we are more edified by his characteristic anecdotes of Irish manners and characters, which he had an opportunity of collecting when upon a visit to his father in his residence of Clonfert. They are all a little overcharged, we suspect: but are very amusing. Our readers may take the following picture of a native Irish baron.
"On this visit to Mr. Talbot, I was accompanied by lord Eyre of Eyre Court, a near neighbour and friend of my father. This noble Lord, though pretty far advanced in years, was so correctly indigenous, as never to have been out of Ireland in his life, and not often so far from Eyre Court as in this tour to Mr. Talbot's. Proprietor of a vast extent of soil, not very productive, and inhabiting a spacious mansion, not in the best repair, he lived according to the style of the country with more hospitality than elegance: whilst his table groaned with abundance the order and good taste of its arrangement were little thought of: the slaughtered ox was hung up whole, and the hungry servitor supplied himself with his dole of flesh, sliced from off the carcase. His Lordship's day was so apportioned, as to give the afternoon by much the largest share of it: during which from an early dinner, to the hour of rest, he never left his chair, nor did the claret ever quit the table. This did not produce inebriety, for it was sipping rather than drinking, that filled up the time; and this mechanical process of gradually moistening the human clay, was carried on with very little aid from conversation, for his Lordship's companions were not very communicative, and fortunately he was not very curious. He lived in an enviable independence as to reading, and of course he had no books. Not one of the windows of his castle was made to open, but luckily he had no liking for fresh air, and the consequence may be better conceived than described." p. 206-7.
The following traits are from the opposite extreme in the scale of society.
"Amongst the labourers in my father's garden, there were three brothers of the name of O'Rourke, regularly descended from the kings of Connaught, if they were exactly to be credited for the correctness of their genealogy. There was also an elder brother of these, Thomas O'Rourke, who filled the superior station of hind, or headman; it was his wife that burnt the bewitched turkies, whilst Tom burnt his wig for joy of my victory at the cock match, and threw a proper parcel of oatmeal into the air as a votive offering for my glorious success. One of the younger brothers was upon crutches in consequence of a contusion on his hip, which he literally acquired as follows — When my hither came down to Clonfert, from Dublin, it was announced to him that the bishop was arrived; the poor fellow was then in the act of lopping a tree in the garden; transported at the tidings, he exclaimed — 'Is my lord come? Then I'll throw myself out of this same tree for joy.' — He exactly fulfilled his word, and laid himself up for some months.
"When I accompanied my mother from Clontfert to Dublin, my father having gone before, we passed the night at Killbeggan, where Sir Thomas Cuffe (knighted in a frolic by Lord Townshend) kept the inn. A certain Mr. Geoghegan was extremely drunk, noisy and brutally troublesome to Lady Cuffe the hostess: Thomas O'Rourke was with us, and being much scandalized with the behaviour of Geoghegan, took me aside, and in a whisper said — 'Squire, will I quiet this same Mr. Geoghegan?' When I replied, By all means, but how was it to be done? — Tom produced a knife of formidable length, and demanded — 'Haven't I got this? And won't this do the job; and hasn't he wounded the woman of the inn with a chopping knife; and what is this but a knife; and wou'dn't it he a good deed to put him to death like a mad dog? Therefore, Squire, do ye see, if it will pleasure you and my lady there above stairs, who is ill enough, God he knows, I'll put this knife into that same Mr. Geoghegan's ribs, and be off the next moment on the gray mare; and is'nt she in the stable? Therefore only say the word, and I'll do it.' This was the true and exact proposal of Thomas O'Rourke, and as nearly as 1 can remember, I have stated it in his very words." p. 212-3.
On his return from Ireland, Mr. Cumberland brought out his excellent play of the West Indian, which was received with unbounded applause, and, seems to have decided him in favour of this species of composition. He also wrote a pamphlet vindicating the memory of his grandfather Dr. Bentley from what appeared to him an illiberal attack of Bishop Lowth.
At this period of his story he introduces several sketches and characters of his literary friends, which are executed, for the most part, with great force and vivacity. Of Garrick he says
"Nature had done so much for him, that he could not help being an actor; she gave him a frame of so manageable a proportion, and from its flexibility so perfectly under command, that by its aptitude and elasticity, he could draw it out to fit any sizes of character, that tragedy could offer to him, and contract it to any scale of ridiculous diminution, that his Abel Drugger, Scrub, or Fribble, could require of him to sink it to. His eye, in the mean time, was so penetrating, so speaking; his brow so moveable, and all his features so plastic, and so accommodating, that wherever his mind impelled them, they would go; and before his tongue could give the text, his countenance would express the spirit and the passion of the part he was encharged with." p. 245-6.
The following picture of Soame Jenyns is excellent.
"A disagreement about a name or a date will mar the best story that was ever put together. Sir Joshua Reynolds luckily could not bear an interpreter of this sort; Johnson would not hear, or if he heard him, would not heed him; Soame Jenyns heard him, heeded him, set him right, and took up his tale, where he had left it, without any diminution of its humour, adding only a few more twists to his snuff box, a few more taps upon the lid of it, with a preparatory grunt or two, the invariable forerunners of the amenity that was at the heels of them. He was the man who bore his part in all societies with the most even temper and undisturbed hilarity of all the good companions whom I ever knew. He came into your house at the very moment you had put upon your card; he dressed himself to do your party honour in all the colours of the jay; his lace indeed had long since lost its lustre, but his coat had faithfully retained its cut since the days when gentlemen embroidered figured velvets with short sleeves, boot cuffs, and buckram skirts: as nature had cast him in the exact mould of an ill made pair of still stays, be followed her so close in the fashion of his coat, that it was doubted if he did not wear them; because he had a protuberant wen just under his poll, he wore a wig that did not cover above half his head. His eyes were protruded like the eyes of the lobster, who wears them at the end of his feelers, and yet there was room between one of these and his nose for another wen, that added nothing to his beauty; yet I heard this good man very innocently remark, when Gibbon published his history, that he wondered anybody so ugly could write a book.
"Such was the exterior of a man, who was the charm of the circle, and gave a zest to every company he came into; his pleasantry was of a sort peculiar to himself; it harmonized with every thing; it was like the bread to our dinner; you did not perhaps make it the whole, or principle part of your meal, but it was an admirable and wholesome auxiliary to your other viands. Soame Jenyns told you no long stories, engrossed not much of your attention, and was not angry with those that did; his thoughts were original, and were apt to have a very whimsical affinity to the paradox in them: he wrote verses upon dancing, and prose upon the origin of evil, yet he was a very indifferent metaphysician and a worse dancer: ill nature and personality, with the single exception of his lines upon Johnson, I never heard fall from his lips; those lines I have forgotten, though I believe I was the first person to whom he recited them; they were very bad, but he had been told that Johnson ridiculed his metaphysics, and some of us had just then been making extemporary epitaphs upon each other: though his wit was harmless, yet the general cast of it was ironical: there was a terseness in his repartees, that had a play of words as well as of thought; as, when speaking of the difference between laying out money upon land, or purchasing into the funds, he said, 'One was principal without interest, and the other interest without principal.' Certain it is he had a brevity of expression, that never hung upon the ear, and you felt the point in the very moment that he made the push." p. 247-249.
Foote is frequently introduced. The following story we think very ludicrous.
"I remember well, when Garrick and I made him a visit, poor Foote had something worse than a dull man to struggle with, and matter of fact brought home to him in a way that, for a time entirely overthrew his spirits, and most completely frighted him from his propriety. We had taken him by surprise, and of course were with him some hours before dinner, to make sure of our own if we had missed of his. He seemed overjoyed to see us, engaged us to stay, walked with us in his garden, and read to us some scenes roughly sketched for his Maid of Bath. His dinner was quite good enough, and his wine superlative: Sir Robert Fletcher, who had served in the East Indies, dropt in before dinner, and made the fourth of our party: When we had passed about two hours in perfect harmony and hilarity, Garrick called for his tea, and Sir Robert rose to depart: there was an unlucky screen in the room that hid the door, and behind which Sir Robert hid himself for some purpose, whether natural or artificial I know not; but Foote, supposing him gone, instantly began to play off his ridicule at the expense of his departed guest. I must confess it was (in the cant phrase) a way that he had, and just now a very unlucky way, for Sir Robert bolting from behind the screen, cried out — 'I am not gone, Foote; spare me till I am out of hearing; and now with your leave, I will stay till these gentlemen depart, and then you shall amuse me at their cost as you have amused them at mine.'" p. 250-1.
Of Goldsmith he says,
"That he was fantastically and whimsically vain, all the world knows; but there was no settled and inherent malice in his heart. He was tenacious to a ridiculous extreme of certain pretensions that did not, and by nature could not, belong to him, and at the same time inexcusably careless of the tame which he had powers to command. His table-talk was, as Garrick aptly compared it, like that or a parrot, whilst he wrote like Apollo; he had gleams of eloquence, and at times a majesty of thought, but, in general, his tongue and his pen had two very different styles of talking. What foibles he had he took no pains to conceal; the good qualities of his heart were too frequently obscured by the carelessness of his conduct, and the frivolity of his manners. Sir Joshua Reynolds was very good to him, and would have drilled him into better trim and order for society, if he would have been amenable; for Reynolds was a perfect gentleman, had good sense, great propriety, with all the social attributes, and all the graces of hospitality, equal to any man.
"Distress drove Goldsmith upon undertakings neither congenial with his studies nor worthy of his talents. I remember him, when in his chamber in the Temple, he showed me the beginning of his Animated Nature; it was with a sigh such as genius draws, when hard necessity diverts it from its bent to drudge for bread, and talk of birds and beasts and creeping things, which Pidcock's show-man would have done as well. Poor fellow, he hardly knew an ass from a mule, nor a turkey from a goose, but when he saw it on the table." p. 257-9.
In pursuing the same speculation, he introduces another still more celebrated character.
"Who will say that Johnson himself would have been such a champion in literature, such a front-rank soldier in the fields of fame, if he had not been pressed into the service, and driven on to glory with the bayonet of sharp necessity pointed at his back? If fortune had turned him into a field of clover, he would have laid down and rolled in it. The mere manual labour of writing would not have allowed his lassitude and love of ease to have taken the pen out of the inkhorn, unless the cravings of hunger had reminded him that he must fill the sheet before he saw the table-cloth. He might, indeed, have knocked down Oshourne for a blockhead, but he would not have knocked him down with a folio of his own writing, he would perhaps have been the dictator of a club, and, wherever he sate down to conversation, there must have been that splash of strong bold thought about him that we might still have had a collectanea after his death; but of prose I guess not much, of works of labour none, of fancy perhaps something more, especially of poetry, which, under favour, I conceive was not his tower of strength." p. 259-60.
"Anecdotes of time past, scenes of his own life, and characters of humourists, enthusiasts, crackbrained projectors, and a variety of strange beings, that he had chanced upon, when detailed by him at length, and garnished with those episodical remarks, sometimes comic, sometimes grave, which he would throw in with infinite fertility of fancy, were a treat, winch, though not always to be purchased by five and twenty cups of tea, I have often had the happiness to enjoy for less than half the number. He was easily led into topics; it was not easy to turn him from them; but who would wish it? If a man wanted to show himself off by getting up and riding upon him, he was sure to run restive and kick him off; you might as safely have backed Bucephalus, before Alexander had lunged him. Neither did he always like to be over-fondled; when a certain gentleman out-acted his part in this way, he is said to have demanded of him — 'What provokes your risibility, Sir? Have I said any thing that you understand? — Then I ask pardon of the rest of the company—' But this is Henderson's anecdote of him, and I won't swear he did not make it himself." p. 263-264.
"I have heard Dr. Johnson relate with infinite humour the circumstance of his rescuing Goldsmith from a ridiculous dilemma, by the purchase-money of his Vicar of Wakefield, which he sold on his behalf to Dodsley, and, as I think, for the sum of ten pounds only. He had run up a debt with his landlady, for board and lodging, of some few pounds, and was at his wit's end how to wipe off the score, and keep a roof over his head, except by closing with a very staggering proposal on her part, and taking his creditor to wile, whose charms were very far from alluring, whilst her demands were extremely urgent. In this crisis of his fate he was found by Johnson, in the act of meditating on the melancholy alternative before him. He showed Johnson his manuscript of the Vicar of Wakefield, but seemed to be without any plan, or even hope of raising money upon the disposal of it; when Johnson cast his eye upon it, he discovered something that gave him hope, and immediately took it to Dodsley, who paid down the price above mentioned in ready money, and added an eventual condition upon its future sale. Johnson described the precautions he took in concealing the amount of the sum he had in hand, which he prudently administered to him by a guinea at a time. In the event he paid off the landlady's score, and redeemed the person of his friend from her embraces." — p. 273.
These are almost all the literary characters of whom Mr. Cumberland has made any particular mention; and though we are little more than half through the volume, we believe we are not very far from the conclusion of our extracts. The remainder of it is occupied, chiefly, with the personal transactions and family arrangements of the author, in which it is not reasonable to suppose that the public should take any great interest. His father was translated to the see of Kilmore, and died soon after. Our author himself wrote a variety of plays, and some odes and other poems, which had respectively their merited success, and was appointed Secretary to the Colonial Department, through the friendly interest of Lord George Germain, then at the head of that Board. He was ever afterwards the zealous friend and defender of his patron; and spent much of his time in his society. The following anecdote struck us as curious and important.
"It happened to me to he present, and sitting next to Admiral Rodney it table, when the thought seemed first to occur to him of breaking the French line, by passing through it in the heat of the action. It was at Lord George Germian's house at Stoneland, after dinner, when, having asked a number of questions about the manoeuvring of columns, and the effect of charging with them on a line of infantry; he proceeded to arrange a parcel of cherrystones, which he had collected from the table, and forming them as two fleets drawn up in a line, and opposed to each other, he at once arrested our attention, which had not been very generally engaged by his preparatory inquiries, by declaring he was determined so to pierce the enemy's line of battle, (arranging his maneuvre at the same time on the table) if ever it was his fortune to bring them into action." p. 298.
This statement at first sight, appears to be inconsistent with the claim of our ingenious countryman Mr. Clerk of Eldin to the brilliant and important discovery to which it alludes; and to say the truth, we cannot help entertaining some doubts of Mr. Cumberland's accuracy in the detail of a conversation which took place five and twenty years before he committed it to writing; but upon attending to the circumstances of the case, it does not appear to us that the anecdote, even if recorded with perfect correctness, affords the slightest ground for calling in question the originality or importance of Mr. Clerk's admitted discovery. Even if Admiral Rodney had really conceived this brilliant idea at the very moment commemorated by Mr. Cumberland, it is apparent that Mr. Clerk had been beforehand with him in the conception; and we should only have the extraordinary, though not unprecedented, case of the same discovery having been made successively by two separate individuals. The conversation recorded by Mr. Cumberland appears to have taken place recently before the Admiral's departure for the West Indies in January, 1780; but Mr. Clerk had brought his plan to maturity, and communicated the particulars of it to several persons, immediately after Keppel's action off Ushant, nearly two years before, and while Admiral Rodney was resident abroad. But this is not all. Mr. Clerk has himself stated, in his preface, that having gone to London in the end of the year 1779, he had a meeting, by appointment, with Mr. R. Atkinson, Admiral Rodney's particular friend, and another with Sir Charles Douglas, his Captain, at which he detailed, and fully explained to these gentlemen, every part of his system, for the express purpose of having it communicated to the Admiral before his departure with the fleet which he bad been appointed to command. Mr. Clerk adds, that he understood that such a communication was accordingly made, and that he has it from the best authority, that the Admiral expressed his zealous approbation of the scheme before he left London, and, after his return, made no scruple to acknowledge that it was Mr. Clerk who had suggested the manoeuvres by which he had obtained the victory of the 12th April, 1782. These facts, we have no doubt, may still be established; and it is pleasing to observe, that they rather serve to explain, than to contradict, the particulars related by Mr. Cumberland. It is not very likely that a scheme of such magnitude should suggest itself, for the first time, in the gaiety of a conversation at table; but if it had been recently, communicated to the noble Admiral, it is abundantly natural that the accidental mention of breaking lines of infantry in land battles, should lead him to speak of it; and if he did not happen to mention with whom the suggestion had originated, it was equally natural for Mr. Cumberland to suppose that it had that moment presented itself.
Soon after this, Mr. Cumberland was induced to undertake a private mission to the court of Spain, of which he has introduced a very long and languishing account; and for the trouble and expenses of which, he complains very vehemently that he has received no compensation on the part of the British government. Our tribunal is not competent to the determination of such causes. Nor would any tribunal, we suppose, think it expedient to hazard an opinion upon the statement of one of the parties. There are some little pieces of good description interspersed in the dull diplomacy of the hundred quarto pages to which the Spanish biography is extended; and a curious account of a wonderful gypsey actress at, Madrid, which we regret not being able to extract.
Upon his return, Mr. Cumberland had soon to witness the demolition of the Board of Trade, in consequence of Mr. Burke's Reform bill; and was deprived of his secretaryship, on a compensation scarcely amounting to a moiety of what was taken away. Upon this diminished income he retired with his family to Tunbridge Wells, where he has continued ever since to reside, and to amuse himself by writing essays, comedies, novels, and these memoirs.
There is little in the subsequent part of the book that seems to require any detail. The author criticises his own works with considerable candour and acuteness, and with little more than a natural partiality. He assures us, that the Israelites never made him any acknowledgment for the exertions he made in their favour; and this strain of ingratitude seems to have gone far to ruin them in his good opinion. He gives a long account of the retirement and death of Lord Sackville; and runs into a very silly and splenetic rhapsody on the fame of the Young Roscius, whose gains and popularity have evidently afflicted him more than was necessary. He praises the poetical labours of Sir James Bland Burges and Mr. Hayley; and informs us, that Junius is savage; Sterne, frivolous and pathetic; and Edmund Burke, graceful in his anger, and musical even in his madness. The volume closes with a tribute to the filial piety of his youngest daughter.
We will pronounce no general judgment on the literary merits of Mr. Cumberland; but our opinion of them certainly has not been raised by the perusal of these memoirs. There is no depth of thought, nor dignity of sentiment about him; — he is too frisky for an old man, and too gossipping for an historian. His style is too negligent even for the most familiar composition; and though he has proved himself upon other occasions, to be a great master of good English, he has admitted a number or phrases into this work, which, we are inclined to think, would scarcely pass comment even in conversation. "I declare to truth" — "with the greatest leasure in life" — "She would lead off in her best manner," &c. are expressions which we should not expect to hear in the society to which Mr. Cumberland belongs; — "laid," for lay, is still more insufferable from the antagonist of Lowth, and the descendant of Bentley; — "querulential" strikes our ear as exotic: — "locate, location, and locality," for situation simply, seem also to be bad; and "intuition," for observation, sounds very pedantic, to say the least of it. Upon the whole, however, this volume is not the work of an ordinary writer; and we should probably have been more indulgent to its faults, if the excellence of some of the author's former productions had not sent us to its perusal with expectations perhaps somewhat extravagant.