Cumberland, Richard


Cumberland, Richard

▪ British bishop and philosopher

born July 15, 1631, London, Eng.
died Oct. 9, 1718, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
 English theologian, Anglican bishop, and philosopher of ethics.

      In 1658 Cumberland left the study of medicine at the University of Cambridge to serve in the rectory of Brampton House in Northamptonshire and three years later became one of the 12 official preachers at Cambridge. In 1667 he joined the rectory of Allhallows at Stamford. He was named bishop of Peterborough in 1691.

      Cumberland, like others at Cambridge in his time, was strongly interested in Hebraic antiquities, and in 1686 he published An Essay Toward the Recovery of the Jewish Measures and Weights. . . . Similarly, his Origines Gentium Antiquissimae . . . (1724) and Sanchoniatho's Phoenician History (1720) were efforts to shed light on historical events related by the Old Testament; both were published posthumously by his son-in-law, Squier Payne.

      Cumberland's reputation, however, rests on his De Legibus Naturae, Disquisitio Philosophica (1672; A Philosophical Enquiry into the Laws of Nature, 1750). Although it is basically an attack on the views of Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes, Thomas), the book begins by a consideration of those of Hugo Grotius (Grotius, Hugo), Dutch jurist and theologian. Grotius had based the authenticity of the laws of nature on the general agreement of civilized nations, but Cumberland sought a more secure philosophical foundation than this doctrine of “common consent.” In contrast to Hobbes, he set out to show that there are firmly established laws of nature that make it desirable for men to pursue the common good rather than their own particular advantage. The basic doctrine on which his theory depends is that the whole is exactly the same as all of its parts taken together, from which it follows that whatever preserves the whole preserves the parts. Thus Cumberland's reply to Hobbes's egoism is that in fact the happiness of the individual is ensured only if he works for the common good.

      Since he defines moral action in terms of ends and puts great stress on happiness, Cumberland has sometimes been called the father of English Utilitarianism. Essential to his thought is his belief in the applicability of mathematical qualities of moral philosophy. The pursuit of the common good, he wrote, is “naturally fitting for a rational being.” As one of the first philosophers to develop a quasi-mathematical morality, or “moral calculus,” Cumberland greatly influenced subsequent ethicists such as Jeremy Bentham, Francis Hutcheson, Samuel Clarke, Benedict de Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz.

▪ British dramatist
born Feb. 19, 1732, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.
died May 7, 1811, London
 English dramatist whose plays were in tune with the sentimental spirit that became an important literary force during the latter half of the 18th century. He was a master of stagecraft, a good observer of men and manners, but today perhaps is chiefly famous as the model for the character of Sir Fretful Plagiary in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Critic; or a Tragedy Rehearsed.

      After leaving Trinity College, Cambridge, Cumberland in 1761 became private secretary to the Earl of Halifax in the Duke of Newcastle's ministry and later held other government positions. His first success as a dramatist came with The Brothers (1769), a sentimental comedy whose plot is reminiscent of Henry Fielding's novel Tom Jones, and he continued to write prolifically. The West Indian (1771) was first produced by the great actor-manager David Garrick and held the stage throughout the 18th century. Despite its fantastic plot and crude psychology, a great deal of feeling is extracted from the situations. The Fashionable Lover, another sentimental comedy, achieved success in 1772.

      Cumberland, however, hankered after the grand style. He regarded an early tragedy, Tiberius in Capreae, as his masterpiece but could persuade no management to produce it. His serious works (which included an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens) were not successful, with the exception of The Jew (1794) and The Wheel of Fortune (1795). Cumberland was querulous in the face of criticism and quarreled with many famous contemporaries, notably Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith, both of whom were opposed to sentimentalism in the drama.

      The Memoirs of Richard Cumberland Written by Himself (1806–07) is notable for Cumberland's reminiscences of Garrick and of the theatrical manager Samuel Foote.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • CUMBERLAND, RICHARD° — (1732–1811), English playwright and novelist who tried to reverse the image of the Jew created by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice. Educated at Cambridge, Cumberland began writing plays around 1759. His first stage Jew was Naphtali in The… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Cumberland, Richard — (1631–1718) A Cambridge figure and staunch Protestant, who is reported to have fallen into a dangerous fever when James II attempted to reintroduce Roman Catholicism into England. Cumberland s philosophical reputation, however, rests upon De… …   Philosophy dictionary

  • CUMBERLAND, RICHARD —    dramatist, great grandson of the preceding; was a prolific writer for the stage; the play The West Indian, which established his reputation, was his best (1732 1811) …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Cumberland, Richard — (1732 1811)    English dramatist.    Index: Hd Asked to select books for the Quebec library, 191.    Bib.: Dict. Nat. Biog …   The makers of Canada

  • Cumberland, Richard — (1732 1811)    Novelist and dramatist, ed. at Westminster and Camb., entered the diplomatic service, and filled several government appointments. His best play is The West Indian. His novels do not rise much above mediocrity. Along with Sir J.B.… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • Richard Cumberland (dramatist) — Richard Cumberland Born 19 February 1732(1732 02 19) Master s lodge, Trinity College, Cambridge, England Died 7 May 1811(1811 05 07) (aged 79) L …   Wikipedia

  • Richard Cumberland (philosopher) — Richard Cumberland, engraving by John Smith after Thomas Murray. Richard Cumberland (July 15, 1631 – October 9, 1718) was an English philosopher, and bishop of Peterborough from 1691. In 1672, he published his major work, De legibus naturae (On… …   Wikipedia

  • Richard cumberland (auteur dramatique) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Richard Cumberland. Richard Cumberland …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Richard cumberland (philosophe) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Richard Cumberland. Richard Cumberland Richard Cumberland (1631– …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Cumberland, Rhode Island —   Town   Cumberland Town Hall Motto: Great History. Bright Future …   Wikipedia