Imágenes de página



(APRIL, 1806.)

Memoirs of Richard Cumberland: written by himself. Containing an Account of his Life and Writings, interspersed with Anecdotes and Characters of the most distinguished Persons of his Time with whom he had Intercourse or Connexion. 4to. pp. 533. London: 1806.*

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

* I reprint part of this paper-for the sake chiefly of the anecdotes of Bentley, Bubb Dodington, Soame Jenyns, and a few others, which I think remarkable- and very much, also, for the lively and graphic account of the impression of Garrick's new style of acting, as compared with that of Quin and the old schools-which is as good and as curious as Colley Cibber's admirable sketches of Betterton and Booth.



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, generally, 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 aquaintances; 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 panel for his own portrait; and though it will probably be 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 remarkable 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 sits 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 looking 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 greatgrandfather was the learned and most exemplary Bishop Cumberland, author of the treatise De Legibus Natura; 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 here learn, with pleasure, that he was as remarkable for mildness and kind affections in private



life, as 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 be 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 abused; 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.""


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,

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

and to have united, in a very exemplary way, the characters of a clergyman and a gentleman, was Rector of Stanwick in Northamptonshire 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 Shakespeare, whom she both admired and understood in the true spirit and sense of the author. 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 father, 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 indelible and hereditary benevolence."

The effect of these readings was, that the young author, at twelve years of age, produced a sort of drama, called "Shakespeare in the Shades," composed almost entirely of passages from that great writer, strung_together and assorted with no despicable ingenuity. But it is more to the purpose to observe that, 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 strains, something in the manner of the Improvisatori: 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

« AnteriorContinuar »