The Cumberland-Ricardo Affair.
The Cumberland family has a place in history owing to the unique collection of their private papers, which now rest in the British Museum. These consist largely of the correspondence of George Cumberland with his two sons, George and Sydney, and with his brother Richard, Vicar of Driffield in Gloucestershire. The correspondence concerning them given below, however, belongs to the Ricardo Papers. The circumstances from which this correspondence arose are as follows. Mrs Ricardo had dismissed a young maidservant, Catherine Harrison, who early in January 1816 started on the return journey from Gatcomb Park to her home in Burford. But on the stage-coach by which she was travelling she met a young gentleman, Sydney Cumberland, and proceeded with him to London. On arrival he took her to the house of a Mrs Whiting, which seems to have been a place of ill repute. When some weeks later Ricardo first heard of the matter, he asked one of his brothers in London to make enquiries; and at the same time, on 21 January, wrote to Sydney Cumberland (this letter has not been preserved; the reply to it, however, opens the series of letters below).
After hearing from his brother, Ricardo wrote again on the 25th to Sydney Cumberland, this time evidently in strong terms,and also wrote to his own neighbour, the Vicar of Driffield. These letters of Ricardo (neither of which is extant) evoked the angry retort of Sydney Cumberland (letter 2 below) and a mild reply from the Vicar’s brother, George Cumberland, who was also the father of Sydney (letter 3 below), and whom Ricardo may have known as a fellow-member of the Geological Society. The rest of the story is contained in letters which have survived and which are given in full below. All the MSS are in R.P. (Ricardo’s letters being in draft.)
1. Sydney Cumberland to Ricardo
Army Pay office 22d Jany 1816
Sir I have had the honor to receive your Letter of 21st. Inst. this morning, and according to your request I have lost no time in making myself acquainted with every circumstance I could respecting the young woman you mention. I learnt from her while on the Journey that she had been engaged to a Milliner of the name of Card, in Pall Mall, and on our arrival I pointed out to her the way to-day I made inquiry and find she had not been ever heard of there, but I found on further inquiry she was residing at No. 56. Whitcomb St. in the situation of House maid and your brother calling on me I have given him her direction.
I am Sir Your obt. Servt.
2. Sydney Cumberland to Ricardo
Sir, The Language you have presumed to make use of in your Letter to me of 25th. Inst. is of that ungentlemanly and impertinant nature, that I cannot find words sufficiently strong to express the contempt it has taught me to hold you in. I could, did I not consider your character unworthy of it, enter into an explanation of the circumstances of this affair which would I conceive shew it in such a light as to prove your brother to be a man capable of the Grossest falsehoods, and that what I did for the Girl, so far from reflecting dishonor on me, ought to be considered by those who have any friendship for her, as an act of Generosity.
I despair of any kind of satisfaction from your brother, who yesterday proved himself both to me and my friends, a person as void of manly courage, as he is of common principles of honor.
27th. Jany 1816.
3. George Cumberland to Ricardo
Culver Street. 28 Jany. 1816.
Sir, I have this instant received a Letter. from my sister in Law enclosing yours of the 25th. Inst to my Brother containing a narrative that has inflicted on me the greatest pain, as it charges a young man hitherto of irreproachable character with a very base and cruel act.I wish you had written to me instead of his uncle, who cannot at present be told of anything unpleasant as you might have been sure of my strictly searching into the affair, and punishing my Son for his conduct I have no apology to make for him as I cannot doubt the truth of your narrative and shall instantly set about a close enquiry but It appears to me to be very extraordinary that a Girl of good character intending to go only to Letchlade should in so short a Journey as Six Miles be persuaded to go to London with a perfect stranger leaving her parents when so near her home and that with a view to prostitution for I know when my Son (who is not yet 20 years of age) left Can-Court my Brother’s farm 4 Miles beyond Cirencester he was riding outside, as James the servant told me when he returned to Driffielde and, as I think, he told me the coach was then empty. This girl then must have been at that time outside and Can-Court is Just 8 Miles from Letchlade you will see therefore that this Girl must have been of a very debauched character on so short an acquaintance as little more than one hour to go on to London with so very young a man and no doubt he must have taken her for such a character but this is no excuse for him for forming such a connection, and still less for abandoning her instead of trying to send her back to her relations when cool reflection must have told him how bad a part he had acted. I suppose she had shared his last shilling, and he dreaded to disclose to his Brother or me his situation.
I shall write instantly to him very severely on the subject and desire his Brother to procure all the circumstances and state them to me fairly so that Justice may be done on all sides in the mean time I must request you not to write to his uncle on the subject, or to state any thing to Mr Haultain his superior in his office as it can do no good any way.
I am Sir Your very obedt hume Servt
You do not state the young woman’s age.
4. Ricardo to George Cumberland
Widcomb House Bath 30 Jany 1816
I received your letter dated from Culver Street, which I conclude is Culver Street Bristol, this day, it having been sent after me from Gatcomb Park. Had I known of your near connection with Mr. Sidney Cumberland, or of your brother’s illness I should certainly not have addressed my last letter to him my complaint would naturally have been made to you. The age of the young woman, after which you enquire, is not known to me, I should guess it to be about 20. She lived with us but a few months she came to our place from Burford where I believe she was born, and in the neighbourhood of which she had been n service. Mrs. Ricardo had a good character with her, which she never forfeited while with us, and her father when he came over to Gatcomb,spoke of her behaviour as being so correct as to diminish his apprehensions from her mysterious absence. The conduct which she has lately pursued convinces me that we must have formed too favorable an estimate of her character, or notwithstanding her known credulity she would not have been prevailed upon to do as she has done by a perfect stranger.
With respect to her being so easily persuaded to go to London I have to observe that Mrs. Ricardo gave her warning because her abilities were not equal to the situation she filled, and to suit Mrs. Ricardo’s convenience, and to which she did not object, she was paid her months wages and sent away about a week after receiving warning.Her father was not aware of this and did not therefore expect her home. She felt some reluctance against returning to Burford as the loss of her place might have been considered, being so sudden, as the evidence of some fault. She often expressed a strong desire to get a place in London and said she would go there if she had one friend or acquaintance. This information I have had from my servants. She left our house however with the declared intention of going to Burford and had engaged to go with the coach no further than to Lechlade. I also understand that both she and your son rode outside the coach till they arrived at Lechlade, when she expressed her determination to go on to London and then they got inside.
The worst feature in the conduct of your son appears to be his not sending her back to her relations, or providing her with a more reputable residence after they arrived together in London. What justification can he offer for answering my letter of enquiry, when I had obtained his direction, by telling me that the girl was living as housemaid in Whitcomb Street,which he found out he said by making further enquiries after ascertaining that she was not at Mrs. Card,s in Pall Mall where she told him in the coach she was going. Under strong feelings of indignation for such conduct I wrote to your son, and used language which under other circumstances might be improper. On receiving my letter he addressed himself to my brother, a most respectable man, and presumed to call him out for writing information to me which had called forth the expressions at which he took offence. He added that I should be called upon to retract and apologize for those expressions or I too should be called upon to give him the satisfaction of a gentleman. My brother with a forbearance very ill served wrote to him and told him that if he had any complaint to make of me it was to me he must apply that he was not a party concerned and was no way accountable to him for what passed in a private correspondence with his brother. He nevertheless communicated to him the information he had received in consequence of enquiries instituted at my request. Your son instead of applying to the respectable ladies who had given him that information, instead of attempting to disprove to my brother, who had given him no offence the testimony which was so injurious to his fame, then wrote to me, not sending me indeed the challenge with which I had been threatened but to tell me that he could not find words sufficiently strong to express the contempt he held me in and if he did not consider my character unworthy of it he could enter into explanations which would prove my brother to be a man capable of the grossest falsehoods, and that what he did for the girl so far from reflecting dishonor on him ought to be considered by those who have any friendship for her as an act of generosity, and he concludes by calling my brother: a person as void of manly courage as he is of common principles of honor.Instead of attempting to depreciate the characters of those who are invulnerable to his or any other persons assaults he would have been better employ’d in defending his own. Why did he withhold this explanation which he says he could. give of his conduct? If he thought my brr.calumniated him and that I had used the strong language I did in consequence of believing his information, he might be sure that I would offer any reparation for the injustice I had been guilty of toward him if it had been proved such. On the other hand if I without any grounds had insulted him that could be no reason why he should not justify his fame to my brother who in that case could have given him no offence.Happily Sir, my character is too well established to need the favorable testimony of Mr. Sydney Cumberland; and he may possibly find that that character is sufficiently respectable to procure me an introduction to those whose reproofs may have some influence on his future prospects.
From the tenour of yr. letter I am pleased to observe that he will have no encouragement from you for his very incorrect conduct, as the judgement you have passed upon it supposing the facts to be true perfectly coincides with the opinion I have formed.
I leave Bath for Gatcomb tomorrow and on Monday next I quit the country for some months which I shall pass in London. My direction in Town, if you should have occasion to write to me is No.56. Upper Brook St. Grosvenor Square.
Yr. Obedt. Servant
5. George Cumberland to Ricardo
Sir, I thank god I can now answer your Letter of the 30th Jany last from Widcombe house, so as not only to clear my injured Son from blame but to convince you and all his Relations also that he has acted in the most humane and honourable manner in the whole affair. I say convince your for it is by the precipitate manner in which you have taken up this worthless girl’s cause [that it has] now become necessary that you also, who brought such heavy charges against him to his nearest and dearest relations, on no other grounds as it now appears than the suggestions of a heated imagination or the reports of a stage Coachman and your menial servants, that you likewise should be convinced that the whole was totally groundless.
With no small trouble I have made rigid enquiry, and can now therefore state all the facts as correctly as If I had been present.
This bad Girl rode outside to Lechlade between my son and the Guard, during which ride she suffered freedoms from the Guard not very usual even in such a situation. She then got inside and my son was persuaded she had taken her place to Town from Cirencester by her manner of talking, at any rate she was not persuaded by his advice (as you will see presently by her own confession) a gentleman rode with them the next stage, and a female part of the next afterwards they were alone, and he paid for her Supper, as well as that of the Coachman.
His idea then was, that she was a girl of the Town going from Cheltenham at that time, but on going on she represented herself as never having been in London before, but that she was going, by engagement, to a Millener in Pall Mall pretending further not to recollect the name; and on his naming a well known house in that Street, Mrs Cards, she said That was the name This, and her manner, made him then suspect that she was imposing on him. On approaching Town she, of her own accord, proposed that he should take her to some house where she might repose till the afternoon and recover her fatigue of travelling; requesting him, as a favour, to call in the afternoon and shew her the way to Mrs Cards which he did still suspecting her of falshood; and not withstanding he saw her go in he sent the next day to know if she really was there, and then found they knew of no such person nor had ever engaged such an one Previous to his taking leave, she requested him to give her a second meeting at the same house where she first stopped but now being convinced she was training him he called at the house, and desired them to say he had discovered her character and would keep no appointment with her but by way of satisfying himself if she really came, he called next day and there found the following Letter, left for him, which I copy verbatim from the original laying before me and which fortunately has been preserved, perhaps providentially.
After the trouble you have taken, and the kind interest you have evinced towards me, I think it my Duty to lay before you my real situation, at the same time humbly begging your pardon for the deception I practiced in informing you of my coming to London to live with Mrs Card, whose name I am ashamed to confess I never heard of till you mentioned it to me in the coach I am indeed an unfortunate Girl friendless Girl without Parents or friends, who brought me up in a respectable manner, and as I learned the Dress Making business and could not get sufficient employment for the maintenance of myself and my two little Brothers at home, I thought if I came to London I could get a situation, but that to my great disappointment I find quite impossible.I was ashamed to own my distressed situation to you being an intire stranger, and if I have deceived you in that instance I have not in any other, and am grieved to think you should harbour such a bad opinion of me.if after this acknowledgemt you will condescend to see me, I will repeat to you, who I esteem as my friend, my real distressed friendless and unhappy situation without disguise being unfortunately your most wretched Catherine Harrison.
To this cunning, lying epistle, the young man gave not the least credit of course, until he got your first Lettr from Gatcome Park when he was first informed what she really was on the receit of it he instantly went with a friend to her Lodgings, and read in her presence that Letter making her promise to return to her parents the next morng. and that she might not deceive them took the Lettr (of which I here give a correct copy) and put it into the Post himself at the same time generously offering her any Money she might want which she refused saying, she had quite sufficient to pay her fare down, (another falsehood it seems if as you say she wrote for money)
Dear Father and Mother,
I am sorry you should have taken the trouble of sending after me to Gatcombe I could not give satisfaction and therefore I was determined to go to London and seek for a situation which I now find quite impossible; and therefore shall return tomorrow by the Coach without hesitation, and I hope to receive a kind reception from you who I reverence this is the reason I could not come as I engaged, and am now in a respectable house as a house maid and shall if I continue your ever undutiful daughter Catherine.
To Mr Harrison Hair Dresser
On returning to his office he found your Brother and gave him readily the girls address, telling him he had just left her and there no doubt your brother ascertained that she had come with my son left it to go to Pall Mall in his company, and that she returned the same day and told the people she had been disappointed in not getting the situation she expected as Mrs. Card had engaged another person because she was a day after her time and begged to have a Bed there till she could return to the Country some female who was present, as she says, offered her a Lodging at her house which she accepted and thus she came to Widcome Street: This woman is a Dress Maker and she says the girl promised day after day to return but did not seem to intend to keep her word.
Thus just when my son was congratulating himself with having contributed to restoring her to her parents and home your second Lettr came in which (I doubt not from warmth of virtue and misinformation) you treated him in a manner that your relative situations could by no means warrant, owing to the mistaken view your brother had taken of the case and written to you taking it as he did from outward appearance for I think my Son was generous in not giving him such evidences of her deceit as would have ruined the Girl in his opinion, and perhaps caused him to abandon her to her own crooked ways from this unfortunate misunderstanding arose his just resentment in which I find by your Lettr. he used language also rather intemperate in his reply and for which I should councel him to apologise if I did not know his just way of thinking when cool and that his own sense of propriety will urge him so to do What followed you all know and when you reflect that this youth was free from blame under all this ill usage, and very properly felt himself yours or any mans equal in point to a right to respectful and honourable treatment, you will, if you have a Son, rather applaud than blame him.
If my fortune is small and my Brothers large we are equally gentlemen, and this very young man has only a great fortune I trust in the principles of honour and probity which I believe I have planted deeply in his heart all who know him love him as well as I do and I know he has so firm a friend in my oldest friend the Paymaster of the forces, that if he had committed a fault of youth that would not have served to ruin all his prospects in Life, which, from his correct attention to all his Duties, I trust are very good. A threat therefore of this sort twice repeated might well irritate a person who knew (tho you did not,) his innocence of all the charges you made add to this that he must have felt that you had callumniated him (not intentionally) with my sister, his uncle, and his Parents, creating a scene of real distress through the whole family which is only now removing by these lights and doubtless some part will be long removing from the breath of those, who love it, or are strangers to him and whom it will reach in Ecchos.
In one instance, I know no amends can be made.You alone, therefore, who have, through misrepresentations of others, and too hasty a belief, mixed with a little too much contempt of his rank in Life, (for he has, in his office, followed all the campaigns of Wellington, which is no small honour for one so young) you who have caused all this trouble I doubt not will, with the feelings of a gentleman, have the courage to heal all these open wounds by an observation that you have been imposed on, and that due apology we all owe to each other when, with the best intentions, we have been wrong and I engage myself that we shall all meet you with cordial goodwill, an esteem for your virtuous motives, and then this indignant youth will be the better all his Life for the Lesson this bad girl has given him not to make stage coach acquaintances.
I am Sir Yours very truly
Culver Street. Bristol 2 Feby 1816.
When I receive your reply I shall write to my Son immediately.
Ricardo to George Cumberland
Gatcomb Park 4 Feb. 1816
Sir As a father and the father of a son older than Mr. Sidney Cumberland, I can readily enter into your feelings when you first saw my letter to your brother, containing a very serious charge against the moral character of your son; and sincerely do I hope that if ever I should be placed in circumstances any way similar I may be enabled to act with the same temper and propriety which you have manifested.
After reading the details which you have given, and the copies of the letters which accompanied them, I should be of opinion that your son was rather entitled to praise than to blame, in the transactions which took place concerning C. Harrison, if he had not taken her to Mrs. Whiting’s house, for though she might propose that he should take her to some house where she might repose till the afternoon and recover the fatigue of travelling unless he knew her to be, (which he does not say he did), an abandoned girl, he should not have taken her to Mrs. W’s house. I can now however have no hesitation in saying that my second letter to your son would not have been written by me if the facts which I now know had then been before me. The expressions which have given offence were used under the influence of resentment for the supposed wrongs your son had committed against a young woman whom I considered as being in some measure under my protection. To you Sir I most willingly declare my regret for having used those expressions, and I should have been ready and desirous of now saying the same to your son, if he had not by his intemperate conduct forfeited all claim to any apology from me, The letter he wrote to me was as insulting as could well be written by a young man of 20 to a man more than double his age. On the scrupulous veracity of my brother I would stake every thing dear to me,he is incapable of any thing mean and paltry, yet your son has accused him of being capable of the grossest falsehoods, and of being void of the common principles of honour without offering the shadow of a proof to justify his accusation. By such behaviour his cause has been no wise mended. If on the contrary he had been candid and open, and had not suffered what I cannot but call false delicacy towards the young woman to induce him to conceal her conduct in this business I should not have been misled as I have been.3 If you had been firmly persuaded as I was of the girls innocence and virtue; if after receiving the following letter of explanation you had heard that the writer had conveyed her to such a house as Mrs. Whiting’s; If you had known that Mrs. Card and every other person in London were unknown to this girl; and if you further found that she wanted money to enable her to get home and to pay for a portion of her board and lodging,4 would not your conclusions have been very similar to those which I formed? and would not your indignation have broken out in language as severe as mine?
Extract from Mr. S. Cumberland”s letter: [ ] I learnt from her while on the journey that she had been engaged to a milliner of the name of Card in Pall Mall and on our arrival I pointed out to her the way, to-day I made enquiry and find she had not been ever heard of there but I found on further enquiry she was residing at No. 56 Whitcomb Street in the situation of housemaid.
I cannot help remarking that in this letter Mr S. Cumberland states his enquiries at Mrs. Cards to have been made on the day the letter was written namely the 22d. Jany. but it appears by the accounts which he has subsequently given you that they were really made on the 3d or 4th.
The copy of the letter from Harrison to your son has indeed surprised me. I am not less surprised at the manner than the matter of that letter, it being so far superior to what I thought could be dictated by such a mind as hers has been represented to me to be. That letter has convinced me of the falsehood and duplicity of her character and with the rest of her behaviour affords a satisfactory solution for the opinion which your son formed of her virtue and innocence. Knowing however what I do I cannot help being of opinion that notwithstanding her levity duplicity and falsehood, too severe a judgement has been passed upon her. If she were an abandoned girl would her mother have felt so acutely anxious about her,would her father have taken the trouble he did in going such a distance from home to make enquiries after her, and would she have lived in so large a family as mine for months without exciting suspicions to her disadvantage?
It is but justice to say too that I find she has two little brothers, but whether she ever contributed to their support I cannot learn. She appears to be a compound of inconsistencies for at the very time that she stated to your son that she did not want money, she told my brother that she had written to her father to send her some, and he actually gave her 2 to pay the expences of her journey, and asked me in his letter whether he should pay the balance of 1. 15 which Mrs. Fiske claimed for board and lodging, which to avoid all disputes with such a woman I requested he would do if she applied to him for that purpose.
I have further to observe that you do me injustice in supposing that in any part of this unpleasant business I have considered your son’s rank in life in any way inferior to my own. Towards you Sir I hope I have in no instance departed from that respect to which I think you so much entitled and which would be in no degree increased if your fortune were as large as I hope it soon may be.
I very much regret that a combination of circumstances should have led me to entertain an opinion which has been productive of so much uneasiness to yourself, your brother, and your sister in law, and I hope that the explanation which I have now given will have the effect of removing every uncomfortable feeling from your minds.
I am Sir Your obedt. Servant
I leave Gatcomb Park to-morrow for London.
G.. Cumberland Esqr
For more on Cumberland’s life see H. B. Woodward, History of the Geological Society of London, p. 273. The Cumberland Papers in the British Museum are uninformative on this affair, although allusions to it are to be found in Add. MSS 36,505, fols. 220-241.