Among the Worthies of Dorset we may claim some right to number William CUMING MD who having settled here while still a young man, could never be tempted away from us by the brilliant prospects of a London practice, but spent the remaining portion of his seventy-four years in our county town.
Dr. Cuming's autobiography is contained in a letter (dated Dorchester, August, 1783), written by him to his friend, the celebrated physician, John Coakley Lettsom. From this source we learn that Cuming was born on September 19th (O.S.), 1714. His father (he tells us) was " Mr. James Cuming, an eminent merchant in Edinburgh."
William Cuming was educated in Edinburgh. Before he was eighteen he began " the study of physic . . . daily attending the lectures " on that science given in the University of Edinburgh. In 1735 he went to France, where he devoted nine months to visiting hospitals and dissecting. Leaving France he and his friends, Whytt and Kennedy, made a three weeks' tour through Flanders to Leyden. At Rheims, where they took medical degrees, a courteous professor, on being informed of their nationality, remarked " Qui se dicit Scotum, dicit doctum." At Leyden they attended the lectures of Dr. Boerhaave. The illness of his father re-called Cuming to Edinburgh in October, 1736. Two. months later James Cuming, senior, died (his wife had predeceased him), and his son, perceiving that Edinburgh had no lack of physicians, went to London, with a view of obtaining information about some provincial practice in England. From his friend, Dr. Fothergill, he heard of a vacancy at Dorchester.
Cuming settled at Dorchester early in 1739. The town was then the head-quarters of the North British Dragoons, several of whose officers were personally known to him. They were much liked by the Dorchester folk, and their introductions procured him a trial. His receipts during the first three years of his practice were (as he says) " very moderate," but the emoluments of the fourth year surpassed the sum of the preceding period, and thenceforth his business increased yearly. He tells us that, as time wore on, he was employed " in every family of distinction within the county, and made several excursions into the adjacent ones." Yet, according to our standard, his practice was not very lucrative, since it appears from his pocket book that his professional income for 1766 amounted to £312. 8s.
The autobiographical letter, already quoted, is the chief authority for Cuming's life. But, besides this source of information, there exists: (1) His printed correspondence with Dr. Lettsom on general subjects ; and (2) his unpublished letters to Richard Gough, written mainly in regard to the preparation for the press of " Hutchins' History of Dorset." Moreover, I have a quantity of printed and manuscript odds and ends collected by Cuming, some of which chronicle local events and topics in the Dorchester of his day, while others serve, in conjunction with his letters, to throw light upon his character and pursuits.
Many of us, perhaps, are aware that, on July 12th, 1775, Dorchester suffered greatly from fire. In a letter to Gough (dated July 24th, 1775), Cuming gives the following report of this casualty: — "We had indeed a very narrow escape in this plase (sic). The first Appearance of the Fire was very alarming, and it spread undequaque amongst the thatched houses in the Lower Parish, from One till Six in the Morning. At which time it was most providentially and unexpectedly mastered. We have made a Collection amongst (the) Parishes in the Town, and with the Assistance We have received and expect from the benevolent in the County, We hope to pay the poor Sufferers above half their Loss."
The postscript of a letter to Gough (dated September 9th, 1778) conveys similar tidings: — "About three Weeks ago we were greatly alarmed by a Cry of Fire at Midnight, but it was most providentially extinguished in about 2 hours after burning only an old house of small value opposite to the Antelope Inn."
Records of fire and pestilence may be fitly linked with a grim memorandum in a pocket book of Dr. Cuming for 1766. Under Tuesday, December 2nd, he notes: "This Day the Gallows removed fm Maumbury and a new One erected on Fordington Down at Expence of ye County Cost of £4. Speed's plan of Dorchester shows that, in 1610, the gallows stood upon or close to the Roman wall at the end of the South Walks. When Mrs. Channing was executed, in 1706, it had been shifted to Maumbury ; which, maugre its direful presence, was, according to Stukeley, who visited Dorchester in 1723, "a common walk for the inhabitants and the parapet or terras at top is a noted place of rendezvous, as affording a pleasant circular walk, whence you see the town and wide plain of cornfields all around, much boasted of by the inhabitants for most excellent grain."
From Cuming's correspondence we get a glimpse of Dorchester stirred by a wave of popular emotion. In February, 1779, there was widespread rejoicing over the acquittal of Admiral Keppel, who had been tried by court martial for misconduct and neglect of duty during the indecisive action with the French fleet off Ushant on July 27, 1778. His accuser and subordinate officer in the battle, Sir Hugh Palliser, Vice- Admiral of the Blue, was generally blamed for bringing these charges against Keppel. London illuminated after the declaration of the verdict ; and a mob, taking advantage of the absence of a guard appointed to protect Palliser, smashed his windows, broke into his house, and wrecked his furniture. On February 24th, 1779, Cuming was writing to Gough at the moment when Dorchester gave milder, but not the less peremptory, expression to public opinion : " This," says the doctor, " is our adjourned Fair day. I just now see from my Window the Figure of the unhappy Sir Hugh conducted on the Hangman's Cart, properly escorted, to a Gibbet erected in our Market place, where he is to be suspended till the Evening, when he will be consigned to the Flames, and to-night we must all illuminate our Windows or suffer the resentment of their High Mightiness the Mob, whose vassals we are."
I shall touch next upon borough politics, as illustrated by some documents among the miscellaneous collections formed by Cuming. In 1750 both seats at Dorchester were vacated by the death of John Browne, of Forston, and the retirement of Nathaniel Gundy, appointed puisne justice of the Common Pleas. The merits of three candidates who then took the field are set forth in as many stanzas composed by " Sappho," a pseudonym I cannot unveil. The poetess snubs " Martial Demar" (sic), who, no doubt, was George Darner, a lieutenant in the Foot Guards :
What has he spoke ? Why, not a Syllable.
And hail him Victor, for the Mother's sake.
An explanation of this mysterious epithet involves a glance at a shady side of political alliance which, as we shall presently see, was not peculiar to Dorchester.
In November, 1770, there was a contest at New Shoreham, Sussex, which led to a sham charitable association, composed of electors of that borough and called the " Christian Club," becoming the subject of Parliamentary enquiry. Its real purpose was, as a witness who had once belonged to it deposed, "To bring Members of Parliament into the borough without the assistance of other voters." The club offered its united vote to candidates' competition and shared the proceeds of the sale.
Among the Cuming papers are (i) a draft (written and corrected in his hand) of a resolution framed against the " Gallithumpian Club"; and (2) a printed list of the members composing the club, with his MS. additions. The terms of the resolution premise that "Sundry persons of the lowest of the people Voters in this Borough have within these few Years associated themselves together by the Name of the G. Club upon principles of opposition to ye (corporation) and many of ye principal Inhabitants, have avowedly let themselves out to hire at Elections to the highest bidder, and arrogate to themselves the power of determining ye Choice of Representatives." The resolution bound its subscribers not to "Countenance or Support deal with or employ any person or persons who now are, whose Names (in the printed list) are hereto subjoined, or hereafter shall be Members of the said G Society during ye time that he or they continue to be Members of ye Same." The subscribers would also engage not to vote for any candidate who used means to "bribe or promise to reward the said society for their Votes." The " List of the Gallithumpian Clubb Dorches" (Cuming's MS. heading) comprises the names of " Thomas Pitman, Captain-Commandant John Gale, Lieutenant," and thirty-three members. The names of five members were added in Dr. Cuming's hand. He drew his pen through eighteen names and wrote " dd " or " dead " against four and "resigned " against one. Among the members were a postmaster, three yeomen, two labourers, and a journeyman. The rest were tradesmen and artisans.
A scrap of paper (endorsed " Ale house Supper Bills on Mr. Foster's Account whilst a Candidate for Dorchester") suggests that in the Dorchester taverns of the last age such revellers were to be seen as Hogarth drew in his contemporary picture of "An Election Entertainment." Pencilled on the face of the paper are the words : " Expenses of Mr. Foster's Entertainments at the different Inns to his Voters."
The whole amount disbursed was £793. 15s. The inns benefited by the outlay were: "Feathers" (i.e., Plume of Feathers), Black Horse, Oak, Greyhound, Green Dragon, Antelope, Crown, King's Arms, Phoenix, Red Lion, and " 3 Tons" (sic). The largest sum £128. 15s. 3d.) was secured by the Phoenix; the smallest (£33), by the King's Arms. I have merely to add that Mr. Thomas Foster, of Egham, Surrey, was one of the members returned for Dorchester in the General Election of 1761.
Enough of such politics ! Another document in Dr. Cuming's hand concerns an innovation which perhaps roused little less warmth than did the plots of Gallithumpians. Four folio pages (nearly filled) are endorsed : " Copy Petition presented to Dr. Hume, Bp. of Bristol, 1757." The petitioners affirm " that the old solemn Tunes, adapted to the Translations of the Psalms in Metre," are " now-a-days in a manner quite laid aside, so that they are seldom or never sung in Churches, particularly those of this place (We would not be understood to mean that the Abuse here complain'd of is confin'd to this place, since it has spread itself over most of the Churches within your Lordship's Jurisdiction in this County), where a few persons who, from what Authority we know not, call themselves the Choir, have, instead of those devout solemn Compositions, introduced a Sett of light, flippant, Sing-Song Airs, which under the Name of Hymns and Anthems they constantly sing in spite of repeated Admonition to the contrary and which they execute very unskilfully and even indecently, to the great disturbance and Concern of many pious and well disposed persons, who are thereby excluded from their Share in this edifying & delightfull Act of Worship, as they seldom can hear and understand the Words, and are quite unacquainted with the Tunes. We beg Leave to refer your Lordship to the revd Mr. Hubbock rector of the Churches of St. Peter's and the Holy Trinity in this Town for the Truth of the Facts here alledgd, who has had ample Experience of the Many bad Consequences that follow the irregular & indecent practice which we are so sollicitous to have reformd." The petitioners then plead that, on his first visitation in 1724, Dr. Gibson, Bishop of London, urged the clergy of his diocese to bring their congregations " to sing five or six of the plainest & best known Tunes ;" but warned them not to invite " those idle Instructors, who of late years have gone about the several Countries to teach Tunes uncommon & out of the way." Finally, the petitioners request Dr. Hume " to direct that those pious devout Compositions the Psalms may henceforth be sung to the old solemn known Tunes." A luminous sidelight is thrown upon this petition by a facetious letter in The Connoisseur, from Mr. Village to Mr. Town, dated August 19th, 1756. The writer observes that " psalm-singing is, indeed, wonderfully improved in many country churches since the days of Sternhold and Hopkins ; and there is scarce a parish-clerk, who has so little taste as not to pick his staves out of the New Version." He adds: "The tunes themselves have also been new-set to jiggish measures ; and the sober drawl which used to accompany the two first staves of the Hundredth Psalm with the gloria patri is now split into as many quavers as an Italian air. For this purpose there is in every county an itinerant band of vocal musicians, who make it their business to go round all the churches in their turns and after a prelude with the pitch-pipe, astonish the audience with hymns set to the new Winchester measure and anthems of their own composing."
Let us turn to lighter aspects of Dorchester life. The (Cuming MSS. include numerous jeux d'esprit. Take, for example, a manifesto (headed "Read, Judge, and Try") from "a learned Ingenious artist," who "is lately come to this good towne of Dorchester " to teach " ye Art of making Love ; " and " is to be spoken with at any time from 9 in the morning till 3 or 4 ye next day at ye Crowne in this towne. If therefore any Young Gentleman has occasion for any rules in that noble art he may be very well Instructed." The advertiser held " a choice collection of Darts, flames, racks, tortures, inquietudes, daggers, poisons, fire, raptures, extacy, harmonious voices, angells, goddesses. Temporary death, imaginary Heavens, Empty Hells, and abundance of such like mighty nothings which he would willingly dispose of for y Benefitt of the Dull Youth of Dorchester." He " has allready Vended a good quantity of Aforesaid commoditys amongst Ladies, to their great satisfaction and happyness." And (bidding people " Beware of Counterfeits, for such are abroad"), he ends with "Jove bless King Cupid and Queen Venus. Amen."
Those scions of Dorchester that deserved to be called " dull " might have needed instruction which could make them presentable to the reigning toasts of the county town ; who are enumerated in an undated poem entitled, "The Carnival Concluded." Three of these fair dames were, perhaps, veiled under the designations of Sylvia, Cloe, and Belindo. The following lines, however, are more precise : —
Our Hearts engage, our Cares beguile ;
While Chappie's Air and Mien can tame
The roughest Peasant of the Plain.
The Lesser Stars are seen no more.
These ladies were (I conjecture) Henrietta and Mary Trenchard, children of Mary, daughter and heiress of Colonel Thomas Trenchard, of Wolverton, and George, son and heir of Sir John Trenchard, of Bloxworth. The opening lines of the poem recall the past :
Each Heart was gay and debonair ;
Gladness appear' d in every Face
And Beaux and Belles adorn'd the Place ;
All Nature smil'd upon our View,
Joy, Love, and Beauty came with you :
The Girls (for) Plays, Balls, Cloaths, & pinners.
Were glad to give up half their dinners ;
The Men (strange change you brought about)
Left their October and their Gout.
With Dryads sigh(s) in Wolverton Grove.
And to the Music of the Band
In justest Measure dance.
The Mounting of the Guard.
When jovial Horns, Bassoons, and Drums
With Clarinette most sweet
Did with the shrill ear-piercing Fifes
In joyful Concert meet.
The company so highly praised acted, as we learn from this magnanimous Londoner, in the Shire Hall. But I have a broadside proving that not long before Dr. Cuming's death Dorchester possessed a humble structure appropriated to dramatic performances. The broadside is headed " An Occasional Prologue, (Spoken at the New Theatre, Dorchester) by Mr. Hollocombe." It is endorsed by my grandfather, Edward Boswell : " 1786 An Occasional Prologue Supposed to be written by The Rev'' Mr. Russell." The latter was, no doubt, the Rev. Thomas Russell, of Beaminster, a scholar and a poet, who died in 1788 at the early age of twenty-six. The prologue opens thus :
When ev'n a Riding School is made a Stage ?
When Shakespeai'e's Scenes to Surcingles succeed
The strutting Actor to the prancing Steed.
This House will guard us from the Critic's Hoof.
A card-assembly was, as we might expect, another public provision for the entertainment of the townspeople. By means of a modest little card, dated " Antelope Inn, Dorchester, September 12, 1785, T. Carter returns his sincere thanks to the Ladies and Gentlemen, for the many Favors already received, and begs leave to Inform them, that the Card-Assembly will be continued as usual, notwithstanding Mr. Bailey s representing it otherwise." Mr. Bailey, irate, responds, literally and metaphorically, with a broadside (a small folio of fine paper printed in an elegant italic type), explaining to "the Ladies and Gentlemen frequenting the Card-Assembly .... that Mrs. Carter, in the presence of Captain Steel, did on Thursday last VERY CONTEMPTUOUSLY decline having the Card-Assembly at her house, unless there was a certain Subscription of Twenty Guineas. Knowing that several families . . . meant not to enter into any Subscription this Year," Mr. Bailey, anxious to " have the honor of being instrumental in promoting a social Amusement," sought for "another place of meeting ; " and he concludes with the announcement that the "Grand Jury Room has been engaged, and will be opened, for Coffee, Tea, and Cards, this Evening (September 13, 1785) and every Tuesday thro' the winter."
Resuming now the narrative of Cuming's life, an absolute dearth of records during the interval obliges me to proceed Avithout pause from 1739 (when he settled at Dorchester) to 1752. In the latter year he obtained from Edinburgh University, by his own request, a diploma, which was granted " Benevolentia et Honoris Causa," he having, as I mentioned, taken his degree at Rheims in 1736. Soon after an unsolicited distinction was bestowed upon him. The Edinburgh Evening Courant for August l0th, 1752, has the following paragraph : — "At the last Meeting of the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh) Dr. William Cuming, Physician at Dorchester in Dorsetshire, Son to the late Mr. James Cuming, an eminent Merchant in this City, was unanimously chosen Fellow of the said College." His pocket-book shows that on April 5th, 1766, he joined in a petition from " Gentlemen Clergy Freeholders & Inhabitants of the C. of Dorset" to the House of Commons against a proposed Bill " for amending, etc., several Roads leading from ye Town of Wareham ; " and subscribed £2. 2s. towards the expense of engaging counsel. About two years later his attachment to us was tested. On November 28th, 1768, died Alexander Russell, a notable London physician, and Cuming was then invited by Dr. Fothergill to take the practice vacated by Russell's death. The three were old friends, and in early days had been fellow- students. Fothergill was most anxious that " his Cuming" (as he called his surviving associate) should be near him, but neither friendship, ambition, nor the prospect of gain could vanquish our doctor's fidelity to us. The next recorded event of Cuming's life is his enrolment in 1769 among the Fellows of the London Society of Antiquaries. The succeeding year is memorable in the annals of this shire. At the summer assizes of 1770 a large meeting "of the first persons of the county" agreed to encourage the publication of Hutchins's "History of Dorset " (a work which stands in the front rank of its class), and Dr. Cuming was "unanimously requested to undertake the care of it, to receive subscriptions, etc." " Hutchins" (says Cuming) " was a reserved man, and but little known," whose proposals for publishing the result of thirty years' toil " met not with the reception they merited." During the next four years Cuming's leisure was devoted to the county history, and, when the book came out, Hutchins's preface to the edition of 1774 was found to contain this acknowledgment of the doctor's services : " With- out his friendly assistance my papers might yet have remained undelivered to the press ; or, if they had been communicated to the publick, would have wanted several advantages and embellishments with which they now appear."
The perusal of a thick folio correspondence between Cuming and Gough increases one's gratitude to them for the conscientious care which they bestowed upon Hutchins's great work. All honour is due to Gough, but he must " divide the crown " with Cuming, to whose erudition, zeal, and laboriousness were added a local knowledge and influence which made his services invaluable to a colleague living so far away.
The doctor's professional opportunities even were not neglected. Thus, on March 5th, 1771, he tells Gough that a patient — Mr. Bankes, of Kingston Hall — "ought properly" to give a plate of Corfe Castle. "I shall visit him to-morrow" (remarks Cuming), " & I will certainly mention it to him, & to his Brother the Commissioner who is now in the Country." To Cuming was entrusted the duty of furnishing accurate plans, drawings, and descriptions of antiquities. " The Letters between the Cerne Giants Leggs shall be carefully copied," he assures Gough in a letter dated December 8th, 1770. Writing on January 29th, 1772, he says: "As soon as the Weather becomes a little Milder, I shall have the Amphitheatre accurately measured and compared with Dr. Stukeleys Plans and Descriptions, after which the Drawing shall be sent to you." On April 5th, 1773, he reports some business done at Minterne Magna : " Last Friday (April 2) our friend Mr. J. Templeman my Amanuensis accompanied me to Grange or Middlemarsh Hall, and dictated from my Blazoning the Arms painted on the windows in that house." A passage in a letter to Gough (dated September 11th, 1773), relates to the font at Winterborne Whitchurch, which, as is mentioned in Hutchins's " History of Dorset" (Vol. I., page 68), was engraved from a drawing " made by William Shave, parish-clerk and a carpenter." The letter affords the further information that the Rev. Francis Kingston, Vicar of Whitchurch, doubting the accuracy of a drawing made by him of the font, applied for corrections to one of his parishioners; "and" (Cuming announces) " by this Mornings post received from his own parish Clerk William Shave a very elegant Drawing of it, which ecclipses that of the Vicar. If he understands Psalmody as Well as he does Drawing, I will endeavour to have him sent to the Metropolis ... I must desire as it will make the poor Man happy, that you will order the Engraver to insert at the Bottom William Shave delineavit, and send me a couple of dozen of the Impressions on paper the Size of the plate." Cuming's watchful supervision is shown in a criticism for Gough's guidance delivered on February 19th, 1774: "The Plan has been returned from Weymouth, and declared to be correct. I think I see two trifling Mistakes in the Orthography of the Names of Places, H. Governers Lane ought to be Governor''s Lane and Delamottis ought to be Delamottee's, when these Peccadillos are corrected, it may be worked off." Cuming had previously (December 27th, 1773), offered a suggestion regarding the same plan : "At that part of the Shore which I have marked in Squares with red Ink I wish to have two or three Bathing houses engraved, with a Single Horse in each." Among the illustrations was comprised the view of Dorchester, published by Samuel Gould in 1750. Perhaps those of us who know this engraving have looked with a more than indulgent eye upon the bygone townsfolk in the foreground, strolling about the meads or along the newly-opened road and fishing in the Frome. But since to the doctor (writing on January 29th, 1772), these people were modern, and therefore commonplace ; his artistic sensibility prompted him to words and deeds which may seem to us almost cruel : " As to those frightful human Figures" (he tells Gough) "I resign them entirely to your Mercy or your Judgment no Body here is at all interested in their Preservation. I made sad havoc among them in the Impression sent, you may if you please compleat their Destruction."
Early in 1774 the labours of Cuming and Gough drew to a close. Folding and stitching the sheets and the carriage of the published volumes from London to Dorchester had become matters for serious consideration. With regard to the latter point, Mr. Gould (a Dorchester bookseller) opines " that it will be safer to have the Books packed up in Boxes of rough Deal, than to send them in matting ; and " (was this Cuming's thrift ?) " Care shall be taken to sell these Boards for as much as can be got for them " (Cuming to Gough, February 4th, 1774). Anent the disposal of the component parts of each copy in their right order, Cuming found occasion (on July 4th, 1774) to rebuke urban arrogance : "The Book I have been told is difficult to arrange, but I cannot entertain an Idea of such superior Abilities in London Booksellers, beyond their rural brethren, as to think that they alone are equal to it. Both Blandford and Dorchester can boast of Booksellers that I think are just as capable of it as those that live in the Strand or Covent Garden."
In several letters to Gough, Cuming recommended that a single copy should be prepared before the spring assizes brought the county gentlemen to Dorchester; and it appears that by March 14th, 1774, this specimen of the completed work was on view at Gould's shop. " Our Squires" (wrote Cuming five days later) " were glad to hear the Book was near publication." On May 9th, 1774, the first edition of Hutchins's "History of Dorset" was ready for delivery to the subscribers. Ere that day dawned people had awakened to a sense of the book's value. "There was a time" (says Cuming to Gough on October 31st, 1772), "when we were obliged to solicit Subscriptions with great Earnestness, that time is over ... no fewer than four Sollicitations since I began this Letter." Cuming regarded it as "superior much to the History of any County yet published"; adding: "How much that is owing to the Abilities and Attention which you have exerted, we are all very sensible here" (Cuming to Gough, May 17th, 1774). So early as March 1st, 1777, a new edition was contemplated (Cuming to Gough) ; and in the following month Gould went to town to discuss the project with John Nichols, the London publisher (Cuming to Nichols). But on May 23rd, 1778, Cuming informed Gough that "Mr. Gould's Scheme of a new Edition of our History has vanished into Air." No time was lost in providing materials for the second edition, which appeared in 1796. On June 29th, 1774, Cuming asked Gough to notify errors observed that they might be amended in the doctor's "interleaved Copy For the Benefit of Posterity." On April 4th, 1777, and November 7th, 1778, he writes that he keeps his copy up to date in its list of sheriffs, &c., and has corrected and augmented Mr. Frampton's pedigree.
The latter year was marked by a temporary disturbance of Cuming's normal habits. "I have been employd " (he tells Gough on March 7th) "not in the most agreeable manner, in changing my Habitation. The Widow Browne of Frampton chuses to live in her own house in Dorchester, which has obliged me to find another. I am just now gott into that wch was the property of our friend Mr. Nath Templeman." The close of 1780 brought sorrow for the death of an old comrade, the learned and beneficent physician, John Fothergill. Forty-seven years had elapsed since an acquaintance, which ripened into affection, began at Edinburgh, where Fothergill went to study medicine. He settled in London about a year after Cuming's choice of Dorchester. In 1781 (the year of their establishment) the Scottish Society of Antiquaries made Cuming, without his previous knowledge, an honorary member of their fraternity.
I have now related all the known events of Cuming's tranquil life, but, happily, a clearer idea of the man than such scanty annals convey is to be derived from various particulars which have been preserved touching his friends, tastes, and opinions. In his autobiographical letter he writes : " The surviving companions of my youth are still the friends and correspondents of my advanced years ; those that remain, who consulted me professionally soon after my arrival in this place, still visit and consult me ; and retired from business as I am, and almost wholly confined within doors, when I can contribute but little to their benefit or amusement, I have the singular satisfaction not to be forgotten, but to be visited by gentlemen the most respectable in the county for probity, rank, and fortune." There was, no doubt, a spice of the canny Scot in his procedure when he began practice at Dorchester. Archer, as Cuming remarks, "was no formidable rival, to be sure, but I cultivated his friendship and gained it." He tells us also that during this critical time he lost no friend whom he had once made. A friendship, which might have been expected to result in a closer tie, subsisted between him and Miss Mary Oldfield (3). From their contemporaries my mother heard that " Dr. Cuming never married ; but he and Miss Polly Oldfield, a clever and attractive woman, were greatly attached to each other in a Platonic fashion, which amused their friends and neighbours. They almost always spent their evenings together, but, when they met at a party or at a friend's house, the doctor always saw her safe home, attending carefully to her wraps in cold weather and carrying a lantern on dark nights." In his will he bequeathed "the picture of the late Mary Oldfield" to the wife of William Templeman, a Dorchester lawyer, and to the wife of John Templeman, "Attorney in Dorchester" (youngest brother of William), he gave " the funeral inscription to the memory of the said Mary Oldfield with the gilt frame and glass in which it is enclosed."
Mention has been made of Fothergill and Russell, his fellow students at Edinburgh, Frampton, of Moreton, associated with the early days of Cuming's settlement in Dorchester, and Lettsom, whose cheerful letters must have brightened the elder doctor's later years. With these we may number Samuel Gould (2), the Dorchester bookseller. Writing about the Biographical and Literary Anecdotes of W. Bowyer, Cuming asks the author (John Nichols) for a print of Bowyer's portrait, prefixed to the book, partly because " it bears a strong resemblance to my old Friend Mr. Gould, of this place, whom you know." By his will Cuming left to John Templeman "the Model in wax of our late friend Samuel Gould." An obituary notice in Cuming's hand (perhaps drawn up by him for a local newspaper) describes Gould in the following terms:
The materials for Cuming's biography enable me to add a few more names to the list of those already noticed, with whom he held cordial relations. In his will he says : "I give to the Honourable Hester wife of Willm Clapcott Lisle Esqre if she survive me the picture of her father the late Lord Viscount Malpas my much valued friend." A letter to Nichols contains the information that Cuming " was intimately acquainted from the Year 1741 to the time of his Death" (1769) with Dr. Peter Templeman, a native of Dorchester distinguished in his day for his medical and literary ability. Writing to Gough, Cuming speaks of William Tytler, the champion of Mary Queen of Scots, as " my old Friend and School Fellow." John Templeman, the lawyer, was Cuming's sole executor.
From the correspondence with Gough we learn something of Cuming's taste as a collector. His instructions for the binding of his copy of Hutchins' must awaken a responsive throb in the heart of every true book-lover. The sheets are to be " carefully folded," and the work is to be " half bound — leaves uncutt, covered with marble paper, leather Back. The Cutts to be sent all together separate — not bound in the books." He was thrifty withal, for, when giving Gough commissions at a tempting auction, he could resolutely say that he would not buy any book " insano pretio." If Granger's Biographical History of England " is a neat clean well bound Copy, so much under the Shop price as will [? warrant) the Purchase," Gough " may buy it, otherwise not." " Prints of all kinds I am glad to be possessed of," he tells Gough on February 17th, 1781, and on March 31st in the same year he desires that Mr. Norris (Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries) will send him the print of " the great Harry, as you call it," enclosed for safety "in a Cylindrical Tin Case, similar to that in which he sent me the Print of the Champ du Drap d'Or." He bequeathed to his niece (Mrs. Selham Maitland) " one of my setts of the engravings taken from the Ceiling of Mr. Willett's Library at Merley." A letter to Gough (June i2th, 1773), conveys a list of Cuming's town-pieces. Pie had then specimens issued at Dorchester, Blandford, Lyme, Poole, Shaftesbury, Sherborne, Weymouth, and Wimborne ; and to Gough he left by will " all my Dorsetshire Tradesmen's Tokens about 76 in number." He collected English and Irish tokens and town-pieces generally, and his will shows that he possessed medals and coins, but no classification of them is given. Next to coins his will makes mention generally of shells — the fruit, no doubt, of a study of conchology pursued during his later years, which was engrossing his attention when he wrote to Gough on November 7th, 1778.
Meteorology was a subject of interest to Dr. Cuming. In his pocket-book for 1766 (the only one of a long series now remaining) he frequently records the weather and the temperature. One of his miscellaneous papers exhibits comparative scales of the degrees in the thermometers of De Lisle, Fahrenheit, and Reaumur. ' There is also a memorandum comparing the amount of rainfall in two gauges placed respectively above and below the chimnies at the top of the same house. On February 7th, 1784, he informs Gough of a recent great snowfall, blocking the road from Dorchester to Bridport. Between 1 1 p.m. and 7 a.m. the Fahrenheit thermometer stood at 19 degrees beneath freezing. We may infer that Cuming possessed an accomplishment most useful to' an archaeologist, for in a letter to Gough (dated May 23rd, 1778, Saturday), the doctor says that he intends next week to sketch the monument erected about a month ago by her husband to the memory of Lady Milton. This is an elaborate piece of Westmacott's work in the church of Milton Abbas, containing figures of Caroline Lady Milton and Joseph Damer, Baron Milton, afterwards (1792) Earl of Dorchester. Perhaps Cuming made sketches when, in the autumn of the same year, he saw some Roman remains at Chatham, discovered while the fortifications were being enlarged. But he seldom journeyed so far from home, and there in May, 1774, he read the newspapers' account of the opening of Edward I's tomb at Westminster Abbey — an important archaeological event. Philology naturally appealed to Cuming's antiquarian predilections. On May 22nd, 1776, he informs Gough that he has been urging Mr. G. Paton and " some others to compile a Dictionary of the ancient and vulgar Scottish Language, which by the more general Intercourse of the Inhabitants of the different Parts of the Island will become daily more difficult to execute. Could such a Work be effected by the joint Labours of a judiciously selected Society in Scotland, I think it would be a valuable Aquisition (sic), and would contribute more to elucidate our old English Poets than all the Glossaries and vague Conjectures of the whole Tribe of Editors and Commentators." Long afterwards (in 1808) this design was accomplished single-handed by John Jamieson, D.D.
I trust that Cuming was not hoaxed by a sham Latin inscription published anonymously in 1756, although a copy of it is among his miscellaneous papers. Tt seems at first sight to commemorate the Emperor Claudius, and presents the usual abbreviations of Consul, Imperator, and Senatus Consultu, but, when the letters are properly divided, turns out to be no more than an epitaph on one Claud Coster and his wife Jane. Antiquity had a predominant charm for Cuming, but he was not careless of the new and wider conceptions of the world which arose through the explorations of Captain Cook. The ships employed in the great navigator's last voyage returned about four months prior to February 17th, 1781, when Cuming, writing to Gough, observes : " Whatever you hear relating to the Discoveries in Geography and Natural History made by the Resolution and her partner (the Discovery), will prove acceptable Intelligence." He bequeathed to his niece his copy of " Cook's Voyage to the Northern Hemisphere " (containing the record of this exploration) and its additional volume of fine plates.
As Cuming's uneventful career has left no more to record, I must pass to the closing scenes of his earthly life. In March, 1783, his health was failing. For the last six months (he tells Lettsom) he has been abed at nine in the morning. About four months later he seldom went beyond his garden, where he walked "sedately " (as he phrases it) for a quarter of an hour at a time; and by December, 1784, his outdoor exercise was confined to that limit. 1784 brought with it the death of another old friend — James Frampton, of Moreton. Cuming's last extant letters to Lettsom and Gough are dated respectively on September 4th and November 28th, 1787 ; and on the following 5th of December he executed a codicil to his will in order to augment the legacies of his faithful servants. This was his latest recorded action. " Serenely placed in the Hour of Death " (as a friend who perhaps stood by reports). Dr. Cuming passed away during the afternoon of March 25th, 1788, in the 74th year of his age.
Genealogical Notes:- (Notes last updated July 2013)
(1) William CUMING MD was buried at Holy Trinity Church Dorchester on 31st March 1788. His Will is at The National Archives and was proved on 03 May 1788 PROB 11/1165
(2) Samuel GOULD the Bookseller mentioned above was buried at Holy Trinity Church Dorchester on 26 Feb 1783 His Will is at The National Archives and was proved on 22 May 1783 PROB 11/1103
(3) Miss Polly OLDFIELD a spinster was buried as Mary OLDFIELD at Holy Trinity Church Dorchester on 2nd Dec 1771 leaving a Will proved on 29th April 1772.(4) A further letter addressed to 'Dr Cuming at Dorchester' and dated June 1st 1783 was for sale on e-bay in 2012 which I purchased so that it might not be lost - images are shown below:-
© Michael Russell FIPD - OPC for Dorchester