1902 Encyclopedia > Richard Cumberland

Richard Cumberland
English bishop and philosopher
(1632-1718)




RICHARD CUMBERLAND (1632-1718), bishop of Peterborough, was the son of a respectable citizen of London, and was born in the parish of St Ann, near Aldersgate. He was educated in St Paul's school, and at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where in due time he took his degrees in arts, and obtained a fellowship. He took the degree of B.A. in 1653 ; and, having proceeded M.A. in 1656, he was next year incorporated to the same degree in the university of Oxford. For some time he applied himself to the study of physic; and although he did not adhere to this profession, he retained his knowledge of anatomy and medicine. Payne informs us that " he dis-tinguished himself, whilst he was a fellow of ths college, by the performance of his academical exercises. He went out batchelor of divinity at a publick commencement; and tho' it was hardly known that the same person performed those great exercises twice, yet such was the expectation he had raised, that he was afterwards sollicited to keep the act at another publick commencement for his doctor's degree." He took the degree of B. D. in 1663, and that of D.D. in 1680. Among his contemporaries and intimate friends were Dr Hezekiah Burton, Sir Samuel Moreland, who was distinguished as a mathematician, Sir Orlando Bridgeman, who became keeper of the great seal, and Samuel Pepys.
To this academical connection he appears to have been in a great measure indebted for his subsequent advancement in the church. When Bridgeman was appointed lord keeper, he nominated Cumberland and Burton as his chaplains, nor did he afterwards neglect the interest of either. Cum-berland's first preferment was the rectory of Brampton, in Northamptonshire, which was bestowed upon him in 1658 by Sir John Norwich. He then quitted the university, and went to reside on his benefice, where he zealously devoted himself to the duties of his sacred office, and to the prosecution of those abstruse studies to which he had long been addicted. In 1661 he was appointed one of the twelve preachers of the university. His character was very remote from that of a preferment-hunter; and in this un-ambitious retirement he might have spent the remainder of his life, if the lord keeper, who obtained his office in 1667, had not invited him to London, and soon afterwards bestowed upon him the rectory of Allhallows at Stamford. In his new situation he acquired new credit by the fidelity with which he discharged his important functions. In addition to his ordinary duties, he undertook the weekly lecture, and thus was obliged to preach thrice every week in the same church. This labour he constantly and assiduously performed, and in the mean time found sufficient leisure, as well as inclination, to prosecute his scientific and philological studies.
At the mature age of forty he published his earliest work, entitled De Legibus Natures Disquisitio Philosophica, in qua earum Forma, summa Capita, Ordo, Promulgatio, et Obligatio e Rerum Natura investigantur; quin etiam Elementa Philosophies Hobbiancs, cum moralis turn civilis, eonsiderantur et refutantut; London, 1672, 4to. It is dedicated to Sir Orlando Bridgeman, and is prefaced by an ' Alloquium ad Lectorem," contributed by the authors' | friend Dr Burton. It appeared during the same year with Fuffendorf's De Jure Natures et Gentium. This work of the English divine was highly commended in a subsequent publication of the German lawyer, and his weighty suffrage must have had the effect of making it known on the Con-tinent. The book was reprinted at Liibeck in 1683, and again in 1694. It was likewise reprinted at Dublin. As the work was printed in Loudon while the author was residing at Stamford, the first edition contains many typo-graphical errors ; nor are they removed in the subsequent editions. Bentley afterwards undertook to revise the entire text, and, according to his grandson's account, he most effectually performed this task ; but Barbeyrac, who had the use of the corrected copy, and who was a more competent judge of its value, entertained a less favourable opinion. This copy is now in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. The author's family intended to publish a splendid edition of the work, but their laudable design was never executed.
Tyrrell, who was the grandson of Archbishop Ussher, and is himself well known as a writer on history and politics, digested Cumberland's doctrines into a new form, and published a considerable volume under the following title : A brief Disquisition of the Law of Nature, according to the Principles and Method laid down in the Reverend Dr Cumberland's (now Lord Bishop of Peterborough's) Latin Treatise on that subject; as also his Confutations of Mr Ilobbs's Principles put into another method: with the Right Reverend Author's approbation, Loudon, 1692, 8vo. Another edition appeared in 1701. A complete English version of the original work was published by John Maxwell, M.A., prebendary of Connor, under the title of A Treatise of the Laws of Nature, &c, London, 1727, 4to. A French translation was executed by Barbeyrac, and published at Amsterdam in 1744.
Having thus established a solid reputation, Dr Cumberland next prepared a work on a very different subject,—An Essay towards the Recovery of the Jewish Measures and Weights, comprehending their Monies ; by help of ancient standards, compared with ours of England: use-fid also to state many of those of the Greeks and Romans, and the Eastern Nations, London, 1686, 8vo. This work, which is dedicated to his friend Pepys, obtained a copious notice from Leclerc, and was translated into French.
About this period he was greatly depressed, like many other good men, by apprehensions respecting the growth of Popery; but his fears were at length dispelled by the Revolution, which likewise brought along with it another material change in his circumstances. In the course of the year 1691, he went, according to his custom on a post-day, to read the newspaper at a coffee-house in Stamford, and there, to his great surprise, he read that the king had nominated. Dr Cumberland to the bishopric of Peterborough. The face of the bishop elect was scarcely known at court, and he had resorted to none of the usual methods of advancing his temporal interest.
" Being then sixty years old," says his great-grandson, "he was with difficulty persuaded to accept the offer, when it ____ to hiiu from authority. The persuasion of his friends, particularly Sir Orlando Bridgeman, at length overcame his repugnance ; and to that see, though very moderately endowed, he for ever after devoted himself, and resisted every offer of translation, though repeatedly made and earnestly recommended. To such of his friends as pressed an exchange upon him he was accustomed to reply, that Peterborough was his first espoused, and should be his only one; and, in fact, according to his principles, no church revenue could enrich him ; for I have heard my father say that, at the end of every year, whatever overplus he found upon a minute inspection of his accounts was by him distributed to the poor, reserving only one small deposit of £25 in cash, found at his death in his bureau, with directions to employ it for the dis-charge of his funeral expenses,—a sum in his modest calculations fully sufficient, to commit his body to the earth."

To the duties of his new station he applied himself with great assiduity. His charges to the clergy are described as plain and unambitious, the earnest breathings of a pious mind. His old age was fresh and vigorous, nor did he dis-continue his episcopal visitations till after he attained his eightieth year. When Dr Wilkins published the New Testa-ment in Coptic, he presented a copy to the bishop, who began to study the language after he had completed the age of eighty-three. " At this age," says his chaplain, " he mastered the language, and went through great part of this version, and would often give me excellent hints and re-marks, as he proceeded in reading of it." He diedin 1718, in the eighty-seventh year of his age : he was found sitting in his library, in the attitude of one asleep, and with a book in his hand. The great-grandson of Bishop Cumber-land was Richard Cumberland, the dramatist, the subject of the following notice.
Bishop Cumberland was eminently distinguished by his gentleness and humility. He was of a temper so cool and sedate that it could not be roused to anger, and through the whole course of his life his soul is represented as having been in a constant state of calmness and serenity, hardly ever ruffled by any passion. The theory which he main-tains in his principal work is founded on benevolence, and it naturally flowed from the habitual temperament of the author's mind. He was a man of a sound understanding, improved by extensive learning, and has left behind him several monuments of his talents and industry.
The care of Cumberland's posthumous publications devolved upon his domestic chaplain Payne, who soon after the bishop's death edited " Sanchoniatho's Phoenician History, translated from the first book of Eusebius, De Prceparatione Evangclica: with a continuation of Sanchoniatho's history by Eratosthenes Cyreusus's Canon, which Dicsearehus connects with the first Olympiad. These authors are illustrated with many historical and chronological remarks, proving them to contain a series of Phoenician and Egyptian chronology, from the first man to the first Olympiad, agreeable to the Scripture accounts," Lond. 1720. The preface contains an account of the life, character, and writings of the author, which was likewise published in a separate form, and exhibits a pleasing picture of his happy old age. A German trans-lation appeared under the title of Cumberland''s PhoniziscJie Historic des Sanclwnialhons, ubersctzt von Joh. Phil. Cassel, Magdeburg, 1755, 8vo. The sequel to the work was likewise published by Payne,—Origines Gentium antiquissimai; or Attempts for discovering the Times of the first Planting of Nations: in several Tracts, Lond. 1724, 8vo. '
[The philosophy of Cumberland is expounded in the treatise De Legibus Naturae. The merits of the work are almost confined to the general character and substance of the speculation it contains, for its style is destitute of both strength and grace, and its reasoning is diffuse and immethodical to a trying degree. Its main design is to combat the principles which Hobbes had promulgated as to the constitution of man, the nature of morality, and the origin of society, and to prove, in opposition to what he had maintained, that self-advantage is not the chief end of man, that force is not the source of personal obligation to moral conduct nor the foundation of social rights, and that the state of nature is not a state of war. The views of Hobbes seem to Cumberland utterly subversive of religion, morality, and civil society, and he endeavours, as a rule, to establish directly antagonistic propositions, He refrains, however, from denunciation; he uses only calm and moderate language, and is a uniformly fair opponent up to the measure of his insight.
Laws of nature are defined by him as " immutably true propositions regulative of voluntary actions as to the choice of good and the avoidance of evil, and which carry with them an obligation to outward acts of obedience, even apart from civil laws and from any considerations of com-pacts constituting governments." This definition he says will be admitted by all parties. Som^ deny that there are any such laws, but they will grant as readily as their opponents that this is what ought to be understood by them. There is thus common ground for the two opposing schools of moralists to join issue. The question between them is, Do such laws exist or do they not 1 In reasoning thus Cumberland obviously forgot what the position main-tained by his principal antagonist really was. Hobbes must have refused to accept the definition proposed. He did not deny that there were laws of nature, laws antecedent to government, laws even in a sense eternal and immutable. The virtues as means to happiness seemed to him to be such laws. They precede civil constitution, which merely perfects the obligation to practise them. He expressly denied, however, that " they carry with them an obligation to outward acts of obedience, even apart from civil laws and from any consideration of compacts constituting govern-ments." And many besides Hobbes must have felt dis-satisfied with the definition. It is the reverse of unambigu-ous or luminous. In what sense is a law of nature a " proposition 2" Is it as the expression of a constant rela-tion among facts, or is it as the expression of a divine com-mandment 1 A proposition is never in itself an ultimate fact although it may be the statement of such a fact. And in what sense is a law of nature an "immutably true" proposition 1 Is it one which men always and everywhere accept and act on, or merely one which they always and everywhere ought to accept and act on ? The definition, in fact, raises various doubts and difficulties, and can scarcely be said to clear away any.
The existence of such laws as are defined may, according to Cumberland, be established in two ways. The inquirer may start either from effects or causes. The former method had been taken by Grotius, Sharrock, and Selden. They had sought to prove that there were universal truths, entitled to be called laws of nature, from the concurrence of the testimonies of many men, peoples, and ages regarding them, through collecting the opinions of persons widely removed in space and time from one another, and through generalizing the operations of certain active principles. Cumberland admits this method to be valid, but he prefers the other, that from causes to effects, as showing more con-vincingly that the laws of nature carry with them a divine obligation. It not only establishes laws of nature as uni-versal, but as having been meant to be ; it shows that man has been constituted as he is in order that they might be. In the prosecution of this method he expressly declines to have recourse to what he calls " the short and easy expedient of the Platonists," the assumption of innate ideas of the laws of nature. He has not, he says, been so happy as to learn the laws of nature by so simple a way. He thinks it ill-advised to build the doctrine of natural religion and morality on an hypothesis which many philosophers, both Gentile and Christian, had rejected, and which could not be proved against Epicureans, the principal impugners of the existence of laws of nature. He cannot assume, he says, without proof that such ideas existed from eternity in the divine mind, but must start from what sense and ex-perience furnish, and thence by search into the nature of things discover what their laws are. It is only through nature that we can rise to nature's God. His attributes are not to be known by direct intuition. He did not think, then, that the ground taken up by More, Cudworth, and the other members of the Cambridge Platonic school was such as they could hold against an adversary like Hobbes or from which they could successfully assail him., His sympathies, however, were all on their side. He wished success to their efforts, and he would do nothing to diminish their chances of success. He would not even oppose the doctrine of innate ideas, because it looked with a friendly eye upon piety and morality. He granted that


it might, perhaps, be the case that ideas were both born with us and afterwards impressed upon us from without.
All the laws of nature, Cumberland maintains, may be reduced to one,—the law of universal benevolence, of effort to promote the happiness of all rational agents. This, he thinks, is the root and source of the entire world of moral good. " No action can be called morally good which does not in its own nature contribute somewhat to the happiness of men." The theory of Cumberland implies as an antecedent the system of Hobbes. Had there not been a theory of selfishness, a doctrine which made self-love the universal principle of conduct, we should not have had the whole nature of virtue resolved into a principle of benevolence as it was by Cumberland. His opinion was evidently a reac-tion from the opposite. In his dislike of the selfish theory he was tempted to carry his refutation of it to the uttermost and maintain the negative in the directest terms of antithesis. There was no other so forcible mode of denying the obnoxious theory as by positively affirming and defending its contrary,.—that no virtuous action whatever is self-regarding, or-, in. other words, that the only principle of right conduct is benevolence. The principle, therefore, which he lays down as fundamental is that to pursue to the utmost of our power the general good of the whole system of rational beings is to contribute to the utmost of our power to the good of each of its parts, our own individual happiness inclusive, and that to pursue an opposite end is to entail opposite results, and among others our own individual misery. It is just the opposite of the central idea of Hobbes. The happiness of the whole community, according to Hobbes, will be best promoted if each man looks to himself and attends to his own interests. The happiness of each individual, according to Cumberland, will be best promoted if each man begins by endeavouring to promote the happiness of the whole society. Both were right and both were wrong. Man is to a great extent ruled by selfishness ; the uncivilized man almost wholly. In savages and in children selfishness is a decidedly stronger principle than benevolence. The human being is keenly susceptible to its own sensational pleasures and pains when almost incapable of entertaining any wide or elevated con-ceptions of general good. . Benevolence as a steady and vigorous principle of action does not manifest itself early in the history either of the individual or of the race. Then, there is a good deal of sense and truth in saying, Let the individual take care of himself and the common good will be thereby best secured. It is far from certain that if every man were setting the common good before him as his direct and immediate object the great majority of them would not do more harm than good. If the selfishness of the ignorant be bad, there is danger of their benevolence being worse. On the other hand, Hobbes was wrong in affirming that man is governed solely by self-interest, and Cumberland was right in maintaining that disinterested benevolence is a principle of human nature. It exists from the first in the human constitution, although only in germ, and moral progress is marked throughout by its growth in strength. History shows us the obstacles inter-posed by the narrowness and darkness of the human understanding, the coldness and selfishness of the human heart, the jealousies of classes, and the antipathies of nations continuously, if slowly, yielding in favour of universal benevolence, benevolence to all rational and even sentient beings. Thus far the truth is with Cumberland. His error is when he asserts that benevolence is the sole principle of virtue. This clearly is an error, although it is one in which he was followed by Hutcheson and some other philosophers. Benevolence cannot be legitimately made to include love to God and the exercises of piety nor what have been called the personal virtues. It is only itself virtuous when brought under conformity to the moral law.
In attempting to prove that all the virtues are forms or varieties of benevolence Cumberland never appeals to history, although he believed that the law of universal benevolence had been accepted by all nations and genera-tions ; and he carefully abstains from arguments founded on revelation, feeling that it was indispensable to establish the principles of moral right on nature as a basis. There was another line of reasoning open to him, viz., deduction of the propriety of certain actions from the consideration of the character and position of rational agents in the universe; and this is that which he follows. He argues that all that we see in nature is framed so as to avoid and reject what is dangerous to the integrity of its constitution ; that the human race would be an anomaly in the world had it not for end its conservation in its best estate; that benevolence of all to all is what in a rational view of the creation is alone accordant with its general plan; that various peculiarities of man's body indicate that he has been made to co-operate with his fellow men and to maintain society ; and that certain faculties of his mind explicitly and positively show the common good to be more essentially connected with his perfection than any pursuit of private advantage. The whole course of his reasoning proceeds on, and is pervaded by, the principle of final causes.
To the question, What is the foundation of rectitude 1 he replies, the greatest good of the universe of rational beings. He may be regarded as the founder of the utili-tarian school in England, which numbers a Hume, Bentham, the Mills, and Bain among its adherents. His utilitarian-1 ism is quite distinct from what is known as the selfish system; it errs by going to the contrary extreme, by almost absorbing individual good in universal good. Nor does it look merely to the lower pleasures, the pleasures of sense, for the constituents of good, but rises above them to include especially what tends to perfect, strengthen, and expand our true nature. Existence and the extension of our powers of body, thought, and feeling are held to be good for their own sakes without respect to enjoyment. Cum-berland's views on this point were long abandoned by utilitarians as destroying the homogeneity and self-consis-tency of their theory; but J. S. Mill and some recent writers have reproduced them, without recognition of their paternity, as necessary to its defence against charges not less serious then even inconsistency.
The answer which Cumberland gives to the question, Whence comes our obligation to observe the laws of nature ? is that happiness flows from obedience, and misery from disobedience to them, not as the mere results of a blind necessity, but as the expressions of the divine will—the reward attached by that will to obedience, and the punish-ment attached by it to disobedience. This reward and punishment, supplemented by future retribution, the happy immortality which awaits the good and the misery coming on the wicked, are, in his view, the sanctions of the laws of nature, the sources of our obligation to obey them. To the other great ethical question, How are moral distinctions apprehended 1 he replies that it is by means of reason, of right reason. But by right reason he means merely the power of rising to general laws of nature from particular facts of experience. It is no peculiar faculty or distinctive function of mind : it involves no original element of cogni-tion ; it begins with sense and experience ; it is gradually generated and wholly derivative. This doctrine lies only in germ in Cumberland, but will be found in full flower in Hartley, Mackintosh, and later associationists. (E. P.)]







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