Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cambridge, Richard Owen

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CAMBRIDGE, RICHARD OWEN (1717–1802), poet, was born in London on 14 Feb. 1717. His family came originally from Gloucestershire. His father, who had been a Turkey merchant, died soon after his birth, and he was left to the care of his mother and his maternal uncle, Thomas Owen. He was educated at Eton, where he seems to have distinguished himself rather by facility than application. In 1734 he entered as a gentleman-commoner of St. John's College, Oxford, and one of his first poetical efforts was a poem on the marriage of Frederick, prince of Wales, which was published in 1736 among the ‘Oxford Congratulatory Verses.’ In the following year, having left the university without taking a degree, he became a member of Lincoln's Inn. His legal studies were but languid, and in 1741 he married Miss Trenchard, daughter of George Trenchard of Woolverton in Dorsetshire, and granddaughter of the Sir John Trenchard who had been secretary of state to William III. After this he removed to his family seat at Whitminster in Gloucestershire, on the banks of the Severn, where he led the life of a country gentleman whose tastes lay rather in letters and landscape-gardening than farming and field sports. At the death of his uncle in 1748, he received a large addition to his income, and quitted Whitminster. For a short time he resided in London, but in 1751 he removed to Twickenham, where he purchased a villa, standing, says Lysons, ‘in the meadows opposite Richmond Hill.’ At Twickenham he lived during the remainder of his long life, which closed 17 Sept. 1802. His widow survived him four years, dying 5 Sept. 1806.

Cambridge was a man of considerable wit, great conversational powers, and much literary taste, and his pleasant house at Twickenham, which he delighted in decorating and beautifying, was the resort of many contemporary notabilities. Gray, Lyttelton, Soame Jenyns, Pitt, Fox, Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, James Harris, Lord Hardwicke, Admiral Boscawen, Lord Anson, and a host of others were among his acquaintances or intimates. There are traces of him in Boswell's ‘Johnson,’ in the letters of Walpole, and the journals of Miss Berry. His character was drawn by another friend, Lord Chesterfield: ‘Cantabrigius drinks nothing but water, and rides more miles in a year than the keenest sportsman, and with almost equal velocity. The former keeps his head clear, the latter his body in health. It is not from himself that he runs, but to his acquaintance, a synonymous term for his friends. Internally safe, he seeks no sanctuary from himself, no intoxication for his mind. His penetration makes him discover and divert himself with the follies of mankind, which his wit enables him to expose with the truest ridicule, though always without personal offence. Cheerful abroad, because happy at home; and thus happy because virtuous’ (World, No. xcii.)

While residing in his Gloucester home he had written the work most generally associated with his name, ‘The Scribleriad,’ a mock-heroic poem in six books, and in the Pope couplet. It was not published until 1751, when it appeared with frontispieces to each book, chiefly by P. L. Boitard. Its hero is the Scriblerus of Swift and the rest, and its object is the ridicule of false science and false taste. The versification is still elegant and finished, but the interest of the satire has evaporated. Even in its author's day a long preface was needed to explain its intention. This was prefixed to the second edition. In 1752 Cambridge published ‘A Dialogue between a Member of Parliament and his Servant,’ in imitation of Horace, Sat. ii. 7. This was followed in 1754 by ‘The Intruder,’ another imitation of Sat. i. 9; and the ‘Fable of Jotham.’ In 1756 came ‘The Fakeer,’ and ‘An Elegy written in an empty Bath Assembly Room.' The last three of these are printed in the sixth volume of Dodsley's 'Collection of Poems.' There are others in the 4to edition of the author's works published by his son, the Rev. G. O. Cambridge, in 1803. His prose writings consisted of a 'History of the War upon the Coast of Coromandel,' 1761, a contribution to the chronicles of India only superseded by the more important work of Orme. He was also the author of twenty-one papers in Edward Moore's 'World,' 1753-6. They are among the best in that collection. It is with respect to this periodical that one of the few recorded witticisms of this once famous conversationalist is related. 'A note from Mr. Moore requesting an essay,' says his son, 'was put into my father's hands on a Sunday morning as he was going to church; my mother, observing him rather inattentive during the sermon, whispered, "What are you thinking of?" He replied, "Of the next World, my dear."'

[Works of R. O. Cambridge, by his son, G. O. Cambridge, M.A., Prebendary of Ely; a sumptuous 4to, with several fine portraits, published in 1803.]

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