Richard Cumberland

Life
1731-1811 [Sir Richard Cumberland]; b. 19 Feb. 1731/32; ed. Cambridge, sec. to Lord Halifax in board of trade, and Ulster secretary, 1761; wrote sentimenal comedy, esp. The West Indian, acted 1771; also The Contemplatist; and Poems, chiefly pastoral (1766); edited British Drama (1817), which includes Centlivre et al.; d. 7 May; his sister Mary Alcock, author of The Air-Balloon, A Poem (1799), was probably born in Ireland [PI]. ODNB PI GBI OG OCEL OCTH OCIL FDA

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Works
Richard Dircks, ed., The Unpublished Plays of Richard Cumberland, Vol. 2 (NY: AMS 1992), 320pp. ; Memoirs of Richard Cumberland. Written by Himself. ... Interspersed with Anecdotes and Characters of Several of the Most Distinguished Persons of His Time ... (1806); Supplement to Memoirs ... With an Index (1807) [Glasgow University Library].

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Commentary
Oliver Goldsmith, in in Retaliation: wrote of Cumberland in that he ‘made it his care/To draw men as they ought be, not as they are’.

G. C. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (1937), Richard Cumberland, Under Sec. to Lord Lieutenant in 1761, frequent visitor to Ireland where his father, Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmore, distinguished himself by his care for his Irish tenants. Major [Denis] O’Flaherty, a sentimental creation, appears in The West Indian, and later in The Natural Son, and is said to be based on a Col. O’Brien. The Major, as a Catholic, can get no commission in the British army and serves in the Irish Brigade instead, most recently in Poland (”such another set of madcaps, by the lord Harry, I never knew what they were scuffling about.”); he plays the part of the thwarted lovers’ friend. In The Natural Son, he is in the service of Austria; he brings news to Sir Jeffrey Latimer of the death of his cousin Mrs Frances Latimer and the fact that Blushenly, brought up by Sir Jeffrey, is her natural son and heir, she being ‘a saint upon earth though she made a small slip in her youth, and bore you over the left shoulder, as the saying is; a frolic, nothing more.’ [Note that this is the obverse declaration of the news brought by O’Halloran of the birthright of Miss Nugent, in The Absentee.] Rewarded by his kindness, O’Flaherty contemplates returning to Ireland “where with a rood of potatoes in my front, and an acre of bog at my back I can sit chirping like an old cricket in my chimney corner.”

Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fior-Ghael: Studies in the Idea of Irish Nationality, Its Development and Literary Expression Prior To The Nineteenth Century (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co. 1986) , p.141: Richard Cumberland’s Major Dennis O’Flaherty, appearing first in The West Indian, was a star-vehicle for Moody and Owenson. ‘Another hero your excuse implores, / Sent by your sister kingdom to your shores; / Doom’d by Religion’s too severe command, / To fight for bread against his native land / A brave, unthinking, animated rogue, / With here and there a touch upon the brogue./Laugh, but despise him not, for on his lip/His errors lie; his heart can never trip’ (Prologue). Leerssen quotes briefly from J. O. Bartley’s more extensive excerpt from Cumberland’s Memoirs, I, 274-76 [in Teague, Shenkin and Sawney, 1954], where Cumberland explains the circumstances and motives involved in the creation of this character, ‘an opportunity of shewing at least my good will to mankind, if I introduced the characters of persons, who had been usually exhibited on the stage, as the butts for ridicule and abuse, and endeavoured to present them in such lights, as might tend to reconcile the world to them, and them to the world.’ Cumberland speaks of the courage and honour natural to a character in spite of the ‘impolitic alternative, to which his religious disqualification had reduced a gallant and a loyal subject of his natural king.’ Likeable O’Flaherty was revived later in The Natural Son (1784). (Leerssen, 1986, .)

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Quotations
Memoirs [regarding the role of May Dennis O’Flaherty in West Indian (1771)]: ‘an opportunity for shewing at least my good will to mankind, if I introduced the characters of persons, who had been usually exhibited on the stage, as butts for ridicule and abuse, and endeavoured to present them in such lights, as might tend to reconcile them to the world. I took the characters of an Irishman and a West Indian ... For my Irishman I had a scheme rather more complicated; I put him into the Austrian service, and exhibited him in the livery of a foreign master, to mpress upon the audience the melancholy and impolitic alternative, to which his religious disqualification had reduced a gallant and a loyal subject of his natural king, I gave him courage, for it belongs to his nation; I endowed him with honour, for it belongs to his profession; and I made him proud, jealous, susceptible, for such the exile veteran will be, who lives by the earnings of his sword, and is not allowed to draw it in the service of that country whch gave him birth, and which of course he was bound to defend, for his phraseology I had the glossary ready at my hand; for his mistakes and trips, vulgarly called bulls, I did not know the Irishman of the stage then existig, whom I would wish to make my model, their gross absurdities and unnatural contrarieties have not a shade of character in them. When his imagination is warmed, and his ideas rush up him in a cluster, ’tis them the Irishman will sometimes blunder; his fancy having supplied more words than his tongue can well dispose of, it will occasionally trip. But the imitation must be delicately conducted; his meaning is clear, he conceives reightly, though in delivery he is confused; and the art, as I conceive it, of finding language for the Irish characer on the stage consists not in making him foolish, vulgar and absurd, but on the contrary, whilst you furnish him with expressions, that excite laughter, you must graft upon them sentiments, that deserve applause.’ (Memoirs I, 274-76; quoted in J. O. Bartley, ‘The Stage Irishman 1760-1800’ [Chap. X], Teague, Shenkin, and Sawney, Cork 1954; see also, ‘Bulls and Blunders’ [Chap. XI].)

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References
Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles cites Clonfert as the place where Cumberland wrote The West Indian (1771); play includes Irish char. Major O’Flagherty (John Moody orig., later acted definitively by Robert Owenson, father of Sydney); cited in SD and OG, as well as GBI. NOTE GBI says West Indian written at Clonfert. OCEL, remarks that Cumberland is caricatured by Sheridan as ‘Sir Fretful Plagi[a]ry’ in The Critic. OCTH adds that he commenced drama out of financial embarrassment as was morbidly sensitive to criticism. And NOTE, Allardyce Nicoll, ‘ ... that sickly emotionalism which had been passed down from Cumberland and Kelly’, in 19th c. Drama, p. 153.

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Notes
The Note of Hand (1774), is a moral lesson against racing and gambling, has Young Rivers gamble away his Irish estate to his disguised uncle; the tenant O’Connor MacCormuck teaches him the effects of his profligacy, and converting him, is made agent for the estate, ‘tell my needy tenants, theY shall no longer be rack’d to pamper the carcase of a race-horse, and support the profligate excesses of the gaming table.’ MacCormuck reveals the trickery and deceits of the card-sharpers. (See Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, 1986, p.156.)

Sir John Gilbert, History of Dublin ii, pp.50-52, quotes Cumberland at some length on contemporary literary society in Dublin, and in particular on George Faulkner’s gatherings [prob. Memoirs; no source given]. In Vol. iii, p.289, Gilbert remarks that Richard was son of Denis Cumberland, Bishop of Clonfert.

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