1790
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Envy.

St. James's Chronicle or British Evening Post (21 August 1790).

Richard Cumberland


A character of Envy in two couplet stanzas, adapted from Ovid and the Faerie Queene 1.4.30-31: "Furious thereat, the self-tormenting sprite | Drew forth an asp, and (terrible to sight) | To its left pap the envenom'd reptile prest." The poem, signed "Mr. Cumberland," made its original appearance in the conclusion of the 94th number of The Observer, where it illustrates the character of "Walter Wormwood." According to many contemporary accounts, Richard Cumberland was a thoroughly vain man who would have been quite familiar with the pains he describes. He admired the Faerie Queene, though not Spenser's stanza.

Charles Brockden Brown?: "The author has not acquired much fame, except on account of a few popular comedies. Few writers, indeed, have been so voluminous, and at the same time have written so little that is likely to last longer than himself. He has been an epic, tragic, and comic poet but his single epic, and his many tragedies, have been read by few, and by nobody twice; and only three or four, among a score or two of his comedies, are of sterling merit or durable reputation. The most interesting parts of these memoirs are those which relate to other people. When he speaks only of himself, he has little to say that is worth hearing for its own sake, and that little does not acquire much additional importance by any peculiar felicity in his mode of saying it" in review of Cumberland's Memoirs; Literary Magazine and American Register [Philadelphia] 6 (July 1806) 33-34.

George Saintsbury: "A rather curious person, and better known to literature as Sir Fretful Plagiary, but a scholar, a skilful playwright, and no contemptible man of letters" A Short History of English Literature (1898) 639.

Rowland E. Prothero: "Sneer [in Sheridan's The Critic], speaking of 'Sir Fretful Plagiary,' says, 'He is as envious as an old maid verging on the desperation of six and thirty; and then the insidious humility with which he seduces you to give a free opinion on any of his works can be exceeded only by the petulant arrogance with which he is sure to reject your observations'" Byron, Letters and Journals (1898-1901) 2:149n.



Oh! never let me see that shape again!
Exile me rather to some savage den,
Far from the social haunts of men;
Horrible phantom! pale it was as death,
Consumption fed upon its meagre cheek,
And ever as the fiend essay'd to speak,
Dreadfully stream'd its pestilential breath!
Fang'd like the wolf it was, and all as gaunt,
And still it prowl'd around us and around,
Rolling its squinting eyes askaunt,
Wherever human happiness was found.

Furious thereat, the self-tormenting sprite
Drew forth an asp, and (terrible to sight)
To its left pap the envenom'd reptile prest;
Which gnaw'd and worm'd into its tortur'd breast.
The desperate suicide, with pain,
Writh'd to and fro, and yell'd amain;
And then, with hollow dying cadence, cries—
It is not of this asp that ENVY dies;
'Tis not this reptile's tooth that gives the smart;
'Tis others' happiness that gnaws my heart.

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