Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cumberland, Richard (1631-1718)

CUMBERLAND, RICHARD (1631–1718), bishop of Peterborough, was born on 15 July 1631, in the parish of St. Bride's, London, or, according to Willis, at St. Anne's, Aldersgate, in 1632. His father was a citizen of Fleet Street. He was educated at St. Paul's School, and in 1648 admitted to Magdalene College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. 1653, M.A. 1656, and was elected fellow of his college. He was incorporated M.A. at Oxford on 14 July 1657, and became B.D. at Cambridge in 1663. He was distinguished at college, where he became the friend of Pepys, Hezekiah Burton [q. v.], Orlando Bridgeman [q. v.], and other members of his college. After studying physic for a year or two he took orders, and was presented in 1658 to the rectory of Brampton, Northamptonshire. He was legally instituted in 1661, and made one of the twelve preachers at Cambridge. In 1667 Bridgeman, then lord keeper, gave to his old friend a living in Stamford. On 18 March 1667 Pepys mentions that his ‘old good friend’ Cumberland has come to town in a ‘plain parson's dress.’ Pepys would have given 100l. more with his sister ‘Pall’ to Cumberland than to any one else who could settle four times as much upon her. Pall was ultimately given to one Jackson, though Pepys could have ‘no pleasure nor content in him, as if he had been a man of reading and parts like Cumberland.’ Cumberland held the weekly lecture, and thus preached three times a week. In 1672 he published his most remarkable book, ‘De Legibus Naturæ Disquisitio philosophica,’ &c. dedicated to Bridgeman. An ‘alloquium ad lectorem,’ by Hezekiah Burton, is prefixed. In 1680 he was respondent at the public commencement. The office was regarded as unusual for a country clergyman. Cumberland's defence of two theses directed against Roman catholic tenets was long remembered. He was so much alarmed by the attempts of James II to introduce catholicism as to fall into a dangerous fever. His protestantism and reputation for learning induced William III to confer upon him the bishopric of Peterborough. Going to a coffee-house on a fast day, according to his custom, he was astonished to read the first news of his preferment in a newspaper. He was consecrated on 5 July 1691, his predecessor, Thomas White, having been deprived for not taking the oaths. After his first book Cumberland devoted himself to the investigation of Jewish antiquities. In 1686 he published his ‘Essay on Jewish Weights and Measures,’ dedicated to his old friend Pepys as president of the Royal Society. He had begun to study the fragments of ‘Sanchoniatho,’ expecting to find in them a proof that all the heathen gods had been mortal men. He finished his first design about the time of the revolution, when his bookseller thought that readers would care even less than usual for Sanchoniatho. He thereupon gave up thoughts of publishing, but pursued his antiquarian investigations. The results of his prolonged labours appeared after his death, when his son-in-law and chaplain, Squier Payne, published ‘Sanchoniatho's Phœnician History, translated from the first book of Eusebius de Præparatione Evangelica, &c.’ with a preface giving a brief account of the life, &c. (1720), and ‘Origines Gentium Antiquissimæ; or attempts for discovering the times of the first planting of nations,’ 1724.

Cumberland died on 9 Oct. 1718, and was buried in his cathedral. A portrait is given in Cumberland's ‘Memoirs.’ From Payne's account he appears to have been a man of great simplicity and entire absence of vanity. He was slow and phlegmatic, and preferred the accumulation to the diffusion of knowledge. He received a copy of Wilkins's Coptic Testament at the age of eighty-three, and learned the language in order to examine the book. At the same age he was forced to give up the visitation of his diocese. He had previously discharged his duties conscientiously, saying often that ‘a man had better wear out than rust out.’ He was liberal, and at the end of every year gave all surplus revenue to the poor, reserving only 25l. to pay for his funeral. His book on the laws of nature was one of the innumerable treatises called out by opposition to Hobbes. It is rather cumbrous and discursive, but is ably written, and remarkable as laying down distinctly a utilitarian criterion of morality. The public good is the end of morality, and ‘universal benevolence’ the source of all virtues. Cumberland occupies an important place in English ethical speculation, and his influence seems to be traceable in the writings of Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. ‘A Brief Disquisition of the Law of Nature’ was published in 1692 by J. Tyrrell (a grandson of Archbishop Ussher), based upon Cumberland's treatise, translated, abridged, and rearranged with the approval of the author. The first edition of the book was very incorrectly printed, owing to the author's absence, and errors were subsequently multiplied. A translation by Meacock appeared in 1727, and another by John Towers, with the the and other documents, was published at Dublin in 1750.

Cumberland had an only son, Richard, archdeacon of Northampton and rector of Peakirk, who died on 24 Dec. 1737, aged 63. By his wife, Elizabeth Denison, the archdeacon had two sons, Richard (died unmarried) and Denison, bishop of Clonfert [see under CUMBERLAND, RICHARD, (1732–1811)], and one daughter, married to Waring Ashby.

[Life by Payne, as above; Cumberland's Memoirs (1807), i. 3–6; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 193, 287, 704, vi. 80; Pepys's Diary; Le Neve's Fasti, ii. 536; Willis's Survey of Cathedrals, iii. 510; Wood's Fasti (Bliss), ii. 205.]

L. S.