Cunningham, Alexander (1655?-1730) (DNB00)

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CUNNINGHAM, ALEXANDER (1655?–1730), critic and opponent of Bentley, son of the Rev. John Cunningham, minister of Cumnock in Ayrshire, and proprietor of the small estate of Block in that county, was born there between 1655 and 1660. He was probably educated both in Holland and at Edinburgh, and was selected by the first Duke of Queensberry to be tutor to his youngest son, Lord George Douglas. Through the Queensberry influence he was appointed by the crown to be professor of civil law in the university of Edinburgh about 1698, but in 1710, when the Duke of Queensberry was out of favour with the other whig leaders, the magistrates of Edinburgh asserted their ancient right and ousted Cunningham from the professorship to make way for their own nominee. He then left Scotland, and established himself at the Hague, where he lived on a handsome pension granted him by the Duke of Queensberry, devoting himself to chess and the study of the classical authors and of civil law. He soon became conspicuous in the literary circles at the Hague, and was a particular friend of Burmann, who speaks of him in his edition of ‘Ovid’ as ‘doctissimus et mihi longâ amicitiâ conjunctissimus Alexander Cuninghamius’ (see review of Southey's ‘Life and Correspondence’ in Gent. Mag. January 1851). In 1711 he discovered from Thomas Johnson, the well-known Scotch bookseller and publisher there, that Bentley was the author of the severe castigation inflicted on his friend Leclerc for his edition of the fragments of Menander (Monk, Life of Bentley, p. 215). For ten years he bore in mind this punishment of Leclerc, and in 1721 he tried to avenge his friend by publishing his ‘Alexandri Cuninghamii Animadversiones in Richardi Bentleii Notas et Emendationes ad Q. Horatium Flaccum,’ an able piece of criticism, in which, however, a certain spirit of obvious malevolence rather destroys the real value of his criticisms. In the same year he published his own critical edition of Horace under the title of ‘Q. Horatii Flacci Poemata. Ex antiquis codicibus et certis animadversionibus emendavit, variasque scriptorum et impressorum lectiones adjecit Alexander Cuninghamius.’ He also worked at his editions of Virgil and Phædrus, published at Edinburgh after his death, and projected books on the Pandects and the evidences of christianity. He is probably the Alexander Cuninghamius who took his degree at Leyden University on 4 Sept. 1724 (Peacock, Index of English-speaking Students who have graduated at Leyden University). But it was rather as a chess-player than as a scholar that he was famous at the Hague; in this quality he was visited by great chess-players from all parts of Europe, and was intimate with all the English ambassadors at the Hague, especially with Lord Sunderland, about whom and his chess-playing with Cunningham some curious anecdotes are told in Dr. Thomson's introduction to his edition of the history written by Alexander Cunningham (1654–1737) [q. v.] The curious controversy as to his identity with this other Alexander Cunningham is noticed under the life of his contemporary; and ‘Crito's’ letter, published in the ‘Scots Magazine’ in 1804, proves that Cunningham the critic died at the Hague in December 1730, and that his library was brought to Scotland, where it was dispersed. A ‘Friend to Accuracy’ in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1818 asserts erroneously that Cunningham the critic was a pensioner of the Duke of Argyll instead of the Duke of Queensberry, and that he left the Hague during his last illness and died in Scotland. Beloe, in his ‘Anecdotes of Choice Books’ (ii. 400–2), however, confuses the two Cunninghams, and speaks of a copy of Horace in his possession with manuscript notes by Cunningham which he had received from the Earl of Buchan. His posthumous works, published in Edinburgh, bear the titles, ‘P. Virgilii Maronis Bucolica, Georgica et Æneis, ex recensione Alexandri Cuninghamii Scoti, cujus emendationes subjiciuntur,’ 1743, and ‘Phædri Augusti, liberti, Fabularum Æsopiarum libri quinque, ex emendatione Alexandri Cuninghamii Scoti, accedunt Publii Syri et aliorum veterum Sententiæ,’ 1757.

[Scots Mag. October 1804; Gent. Mag. August 1818 and January 1851; Monk's Life of Bentley.]

H. M. S.