Shaw, Cuthbert (DNB00)

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SHAW, CUTHBERT (1739–1771), poet, the son of a shoemaker of the same names, was born at Ravensworth, near Richmond in Yorkshire, early in 1739. A younger brother, John, was baptised at the parish church of Kirby Hill on 6 Sept. 1741. After schooling at Kirby Hill and Scorton, both near Richmond, he proceeded usher, first at Scorton and then at Darlington grammar school. There he published his first poem, ‘Liberty,’ inscribed to the Earl of Darlington (1756, 4to). Meeting with scant appreciation in Yorkshire, he joined a company of comedians in the eastern counties, and was in 1760 at Bury St. Edmunds, where he published, under the pseudonym of W. Seymour, ‘Odes on the Four Seasons.’ In 1760, under the name of Smith, he appeared in Foote's comedy of ‘The Minor,’ but he had nothing to recommend him as an actor save his good looks, which were prematurely dulled by his excesses. On 19 Oct. 1761 he was Osman in ‘Zara’ at Covent Garden, and on 14 May 1762 Pierre in ‘Venice Preserved,’ for his own benefit. This seems to have been his last appearance on the stage. He was attracted to satire by the success of Churchill, whom he assaulted with vigour, along with Lloyd, Colman, and Shirley, in ‘The Four Farthing Candles’ (London, 1762, 4to); this was followed by his more ambitious ‘The Race. By Mercurius Spur, esq.’ (1766, 4to), in which the living poets are made to contend for pre-eminence in fame by running. The portrait of Johnson in this poem is the best thing that Shaw wrote (republished in ‘The Repository,’ 1790, ii. 227; and quoted in Boswell's ‘Johnson,’ ed. Hill, ii. 31). Shaw now descended to puff a quack medicine, the ‘Beaume de Vie,’ in the proprietorship of which he was made a partner. On this he married, and was next, for a short time, tutor to the young Philip Stanhope (afterwards fifth earl of Chesterfield) in succession to the notorious Dr. William Dodd [q. v.] His young wife died in 1768, and he published a ‘Monody to the Memory of a Young Lady who died in Childbed, with a poetical dedication to Lord Lyttelton,’ which caught the taste of the day, and of which a fourth edition appeared (London, 1779, 4to). Next year he found utterance in ‘Corruption, a Satire,’ inscribed to Richard Grenville, earl Temple, and subsequently (1770) in ‘An Elegy on the Death of Charles Yorke, the Lord Chancellor,’ which was generally suspected to have been suppressed on the family paying a sum of money to the author. ‘It is to be feared,’ says his biographer, ‘that the morals of the author would not discountenance the opinion.’ During the last years of his life he contributed much to ‘The Freeholder's Magazine’ and other periodicals, showing some gift for caustic annotation upon contemporary personalities and events. He died, ‘overwhelmed with complicated distress,’ at his house in Titchfield Street, Oxford Market, on 1 Sept. 1771. A selection of his work was printed in Anderson's ‘British Poets’ (1794, xi. 557), and also in Park's ‘British Poets’ (1808, xxxiii.), Whittingham's ‘British Poets’ (1822, lxiv. 47, with memoir by R. A. Davenport), and Sandford's ‘British Poets’ (1822, xxxi. 233).

[All that seems known of Shaw was communicated by an anonymous writer to the European Magazine, 1786, i. 14; cf. Gent. Mag. 1771, 456; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Hill, iii. 140 n.; Pearch's Collection of Poems, ii. 219; Allibone's Dict.; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.