Other Literary Forms
Richard Cumberland is remarkable for the volume and variety of his literary output. Experimenting in several different genres, he earned a reputation in his day as a distinguished man of letters. Most of his works, however, have not survived.
Cumberland had early ambitions as a poet, his first publication being an imitation of Thomas Gray, An Elegy Written on St. Mark’s Eve (1754). He was to publish Odes in 1776, and a volume entitled Miscellaneous Poems two years later. A religious epic, Calvary: Or, The Death of Christ (1792) sold well, which encouraged him to collaborate with Sir James Bland Burgess in The Exodiad (1807). Cumberland rendered some fifty psalms into English meter in A Poetical Version of Certain Psalms of David (1801) and reflected on his life in verse in Retrospection (1811).
Cumberland also won renown as an essayist for his multivolume work The Observer, which first appeared in 1785, with editions following in 1788 and in 1798. It featured a discussion of the early Greek drama with some original translations (notably Aristophanes’ Nephelai (423 b.c.e.; The Clouds, 1708). Cumberland wrote pamphlets—defending his grandfather’s reputation, among other causes—and a religious tract. He entered the realm of art history with his Anecdotes of Eminent Painters in Spain During the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1782) and published the first catalog of the paintings housed in the royal palace at Madrid.
The pathetic scenes that mark Cumberland’s drama are also found in his fiction: Arundel (1789), an epistolary novel of the form popularized by Samuel Richardson, and Henry (1795), a conscious imitation of Henry Fielding. Cumberland’s active involvement in the theater resulted in numerous prologues and epilogues as well as an edition of The British Drama with biographical and critical comments, published posthumously in 1817. In 1809, Cumberland also founded The London Review, which invited signed articles from contributors; it appeared only twice. His Memoirs of Richard Cumberland, Written by Himself (1806-1807), perhaps the most lasting of his nondramatic productions, preserved for posterity the record of his long and productive career.