1806
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Memoirs of Richard Cumberland.

Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, written by himself. 2 Vols.

Richard Cumberland


Recalling his student days (circa 1751), Richard Cumberland describes beginning an imitation of the Faerie Queene only to break off from "this jingling strain of obsolete versification" when ridiculed by his mother. Not seen.

Perhaps Cumberland's The Complaint. A Pastoral, published in Miscellaneous Poems (1778) dates from this period — it contains a few archaisms. Late in life he assisted Sir James Bland Burges with Richard the First, a Poem in Eighteen Books (1801) — one of the longest poems ever written in Spenserians. Cumberland did not think much of the stanza Burgess had selected: "The era in which my friend has placed his poem, the hero he has chosen, and the chivalric character with which he has very properly marked it, are circumstances that might naturally prevail with him for modelling it upon the stanza of the Fairy Queen, which, though it has not so proud a march as the heroic verse, has certainly more of the knightly prance in it, and of course more to the writer's purpose than the rhyming couplet" Memoirs (1806-07, 1856) 320.

Annual Register: "In the annals of literature the name of Cumberland is entitled to hold an eminent place. Few authors have produced a greater number of works, or of more various kinds. He has come before the public as a poet, a dramatist, both tragic and comic, a novel writer, an essayist, a moralist, and a classical scholar, and in all these parts has been received with applause. It remains to be seen how he has acquitted himself as a biographer; himself, too, being the subject which he delineates. In the picture, however, which he has drawn, he forms only one figure, though the principal one, of a groupe; as he has introduced numerous portraitures of literary or political personages, with whom he was acquainted in the course of a long and somewhat busy existence. These portraitures are executed with an abundance of spirit and grace, and with not more skill, we believe, than fidelity of resemblance" (1806) 982.

Sir James Mackintosh: "Our present book is Cumberland, in which everything is agreeable, but the account of the author's present situation, which is interesting, but painfully so" 16 July 1806; in Life of Sir James Mackintosh (1853) 1:291.

Anne Seward to Dr. Mansel: "In despite of Mr. Cumberland's repeated disavowals of envy and injustice towards other authors, this egotistic volume of his rivets, instead of removing, my long-established conviction that Sheridan's portrait of Sir Fretful Plagiary, is not a caricature. That conviction was founded on attested anecdotes of his ingratitude, his pride, and his envy of superior writers" 28 August 1806; in Letters (1806) 6:309.

Thomas Frognall Dibdin: "There appeared an animated and interesting piece of auto-biography by the late Richard Cumberland, in one quarto volume, which has been reprinted in octavo, and of which I warrant the perusal to be a source of entertainment to the reader. Cumberland was a brilliant scholar, dramatist, and prose writer; almost the last of the Johnsonian school" Library Companion (1824; 1825) 2:547-48.

William Goodhugh: "Cumberland was a brilliant scholar, dramatist, and prose writer; his portrait of Bub Doddington is executed perfectly con amore" The English Gentleman's Library Manual (1827) 90.




The style of living in this place [York] was so new to me and out of character, when contrasted by the habits and study and retirement which I had been accustomed to, that it seemed to enfeeble and depress that portion of genius which nature had endowed me with. I hunted in the mornings, danced in the evenings, and devoted but a small portion of my time to anything that deserved the name of study. I had no books of my own, and unfortunately got engaged with Spenser's Fairy Queen, in imitation of which I began to string nonsensical stanzas to the same rhyming kind of measure. Though I trust I should not have surrendered any length of time to this jingling strain of obsolete versification, yet I am indebted to my mother for the seasonable contempt she threw upon my imitations, felt the force of her reproof, and laid the Fairy Queen upon its shelf.


[(1856) 66-67]