George Cumberland (1754-1848): his life and letters in Somerset, 1800-1822
In the early 19th century George Cumberland was a prolific letter writer. Fortunately a large proportion of his letters written from north west Somerset have survived in the British Library. Former curator of Weston Museum, Jane Evans, has researched and edited this wonderful collection of letters written to George Cumberland’s brother.
George Cumberland was a remarkable eighteenth century gentleman – artist, poet, writer, musician, inventor, geologist, and much more. He was whimsical, kind, considerate, generous with his time and beloved by his friends. Yet he was eccentric, his idea of the Grand Tour being not merely to travel on the continent but to live there, the better to indulge his passion for collecting works of art, making contacts and friends in the process.
Born 27th November 1754, Cumberland is best known as a lifelong friend of William Blake and a member of the Bristol School of Artists. Volumes of his letters survive in the British Library revealing many facets of his character. Much of the correspondence is with his brother Richard Denison Cumberland. Their father died in 1771 and George, two years younger than Richard, looked to his elder brother for the support that might otherwise have come from his father, but all too frequently was disillusioned.
A series of letters covering the fourteen years from 1771 to 1784, when the brothers were young and at the start of their long lives as adults, were published by Clementina Black in 1912. There, the contrast is evident between the elder brother who went to college and then took on a rural vicarage in Gloucestershire, with the younger who worked in an office in London and attended art classes at the Royal Academy where he met Blake and other artists.
The selection of letters reproduced here from 1800 onwards takes up the story sixteen years after Black’s selection, when both brothers had family commitments. Richard had settled down, still lived in the same rectory and had become ambitious, wealthy and increasingly pompous. George, on the other hand, was still impetuous.
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