Collection No. 31: The West Indian, by Richard Cumberland

Publication Details | Synopsis | Secondary Commentary |Varieties & Dialects | Other

Publication details

Author: Cumberland, Richard
Author dates: 1732-1811
Title: The West Indian

First played: 1771
First published: 1771, for W. Griffin [etc.] 112 p.
C18th availability: Available from ECCO (1771)

Modern availability: Available from LION (1996)

Genre: Comedy

Trend(s): Nationality; Popularity

Character types: Nautical; Irish; Military; West Indian

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Stockwell is reunited with his long-lost West Indian son Belcour, who mistakes Louisa Dudley for a prostitute, but manages to win her hand anyway. Charlotte Rusport marries her poor cousin Charles Dudley. The Fulmers attempt to rob the protagonists of their diamonds, but are apprehended.

Act I.
Stockwell, a merchant, confides to his assistant Stukely that Belcour, the heir to a Jamaican fortune, is really his son; he “engaged the affections” of Belcour’s mother, secretly married her, and had a child with her, but she delivered it in secrecy and contrived to have it arrive as a foundling outside her door, relying on her father Belcour’s goodwill to raise him as his own. Stockwell has been unable to tell young Belcour of his true history because of his mother’s dying wish. Before revealing himself to be Belcour’s father, Stockwell wants to test the young man’s morals. A sailor enters with Belcour’s baggage, including many exotic animals. Belcour arrives after a brief delay in which he changes his clothes. Belcour tells Stockwell that he caused a street fight as he proceeded through London because he was not used to large crowds and pushed people roughly out of his way. Stockwell is impressed by his son, but does not reveal his true relationship to him. Lady Rusport tells her stepdaughter Charlotte that she is under no legal obligation to support her poor relatives, the Dudleys; Charlotte informs her that Christianity dictates that she do so. Lady Rusport accuses Charlotte of being in love with Charles Dudley, Captain Dudley’s son, while Charlotte teases her for being a favourite of Major O’Flaherty’s. Charles arrives to ask Lady Rusport for financial generosity towards his family. Sir Oliver, Lady Rusport’s father, has recently died and has left all his money to Lady Rusport while denying any to the Dudley family. Charles pleads that his father prepares to go to fight on full pay, but that he requires a small sum for supplies. O’Flaherty interrupts their conversation and goes off with Lady Rusport. Charles prepares to leave, but Charlotte first asks him for the address at which his family is staying.

Act II.
Mr. and Mrs. Fulmer (who are unmarried) discuss Fulmer’s repeatedly failed business endeavours. Captain Dudley, their tenant, enters. The Fulmers are baffled by the Dudleys’ continued poverty; Miss Dudley is extremely beautiful and would likely bring a fortune into the family were she to be “leased”. Dudley is appalled by this suggestion. Charles returns from his unsuccessful visit to Lady Rusport. Louisa Dudley enters to say that a young man treated her very improperly in the street but she gave him the slip. Belcour, the gentleman in question, arrives at the house and speaks with Mrs. Fulmer. The latter realizes that Belcour has fallen in love with Miss Dudley, but refuses to give him any information about her. An angry Fulmer enters to report that Captain Dudley assaulted him. Fulmer tells Belcour that Dudley is a soldier who wants to go on full-pay but no one will give him the funds to return to service. Sympathetic, Belcour asks to meet with Dudley. Belcour offers him £200. Major O’Flaherty arrives with a note from Lady Rusport ordering Dudley to leave London, which he says he will do within a few days. O’Flaherty offers to share part of his fortune with Dudley when he marries Lady Rusport, an event he expects to arrange shortly.  At Charlotte’s request, Lucy, a maidservant, arranges to have Lady Rusport leave the house so that Charlotte can visit with Charles Dudley. Charlotte worries that she has shown her affection for Charles too overtly. She looks at herself in the mirror and says she’s a “compleat fright”, which Charles, who has stolen into the room unobserved, denies. Charles loves Charlotte but cannot court her because of their differences in fortune. She instructs him to take her earrings to Mr. Stockwell in exchange for £200. Lucy announces that Lady Rusport has returned, so Charles bids Charlotte a quick farewell. O’Flaherty and Lady Rusport arrive; the carriage broke down, giving Lady Rusport an excuse to indulge in a “golden elixir” only for ladies. When O’Flaherty learns that Lady Rusport has given Dudley nothing, he leaves furiously with the intention of giving Dudley the money himself. O’Flaherty calls Lady Rusport a hyena.

Act III.
Stockwell asks Belcour to return Charlotte’s jewels, and recommends Charlotte as a possible candidate for matrimony. Belcour is uninterested in her because he is in love with the unknown woman (Miss Dudley). Mrs. Fulmer sends him a note saying that she has found her. Stockwell gives Belcour fatherly counsel against letting a cheap townswoman seduce him (however, he has still not admitted he is Belcour’s father). The Fulmers discuss their plot, each claiming the upper hand in its conception. Mrs. Fulmer tells Belcour that Miss Dudley only pretends to be Charles’ sister, and that she is in fact his mistress. Mrs. Fulmer tries to get Belcour to part with Charlotte’s diamonds as a means of seducing ‘Miss Dudley’ away from Charles. Louisa Dudley enters and Belcour throws himself at her feet. She refuses to accept his “dross” and leaves. Stockwell visits Charlotte to say that she need not leave her jewels as security as he will loan her the money anyway. Mrs. Fulmer has kept the jewels; a guilty Belcour arrives at Charlotte’s to apologize and to present her with much more expensive diamonds than the ones she gave up. After Belcour explains himself, Charlotte forgives him, telling him that she will refuse any jewels exceeding the value of those she owned before. A note arrives from Charles detailing Belcour’s generosity towards his father and explaining that Charlotte’s money is no longer needed. After Charlotte announces that she intends to marry Charles, Belcour offers her his hand (intending to deliver her from the lusts of a man who pretends his mistress is his sister…). Louisa Dudley arrives; both she and Belcour are tongue-tied. Charlotte dismisses Belcour and speaks privately to Louisa; she finds out that Louisa has not received the diamonds. Charles arrives and Charlotte sends him to clear up the diamond matter with Belcour.

Act IV.
The Fulmers prepare to flee to Boulogne with their spoils. Charles tells his sister that the best reward for Charlotte’s generosity would be to refrain from ever seeing her again. Louisa realizes she is falling in love with Belcour. He arrives; she urges him to return Charlotte’s jewels to her. Belcour asks for her hand; she calls for Charles’ help. Charles and Belcour fight. O’Flaherty enters and Louisa breaks up the fight. Belcour departs, saying that Charles knows where he is to be found should they wish to resume the duel. O’Flaherty says he will act as Charles’ second. Varland, the late Sir Oliver’s solicitor, arrives to discuss financial matters with Lady Rusport. Varland produces a will signed by Sir Oliver that leaves his entire estate to Charles Dudley. Charlotte, Charles and O’Flaherty arrive; Charlotte instructs O’Flaherty to spy on Lady Rusport and Varland while Charles makes a quick exit. Charlotte asks Charles if he would make her his wife were he in possession of his grandfather’s estate. Charlotte asks Charles to run away with her; she can stay at Belcour’s in the meantime. Charles is not enthusiastic about her proposition to stay with Belcour. O’Flaherty enters to warn Charles that he must leave immediately.  O’Flaherty realizes that something is amiss between Lady Rusport and her lawyer, and decides to continue to eavesdrop. Lady Rusport offers Varland five thousand pounds if he burns the will. He agrees to this plan. Lady Rusport leaves, and O’Flaherty enters, threatening to beat Varland if he does not give up the will. Varland loses the possibility of five thousand pounds, but his “conscience is acquitted”. Belcour returns to Stockwell’s and laments that he has gotten into many scrapes because of his hot blood. O’Flaherty enters and tells Belcour that the duel will take place at nine o’clock; Stockwell offers to be Belcour’s second. O’Flaherty tells Belcour that he has gotten what he deserves for attempting to seduce an honourable woman. Stockwell is furious with his son (who is still unaware of his true parentage!). Belcour explains the train of events and says that he believed Louisa Dudley to be Charles’ mistress, not his sister. Stockwell summons Stukely, who reveals that the Fulmers have been apprehended for trying to sell stolen diamonds. Belcour must still fight Charles. Stockwell says that he will reveal a secret to Belcour.

Act V.
At the duel, Charles asks Stockwell why he is fighting with Belcour. Stockwell says that they have the means to clear Louisa’s name without fighting. The Fulmers are brought in and questioned. Fulmer admits the scheme was of his wife’s devising, and asks that he be excluded from the punishment and that disgrace not be brought upon his profession (he is a printer). Stockwell replies that it is Fulmer who has brought the disgrace onto his own profession. Charles agrees not to fight. O’Flaherty tells Charles that his aunt intends to cheat him of his inheritance. Stukely finds Dudley and Louisa and informs them of the Fulmers’ plot. Stockwell encourages Louisa to forgive Belcour for his treatment of her, as he has not yet adjusted to the climate and customs of England. Belcour apologizes to Louisa; she forgives him, and the others withdraw to another room to let them talk privately. O’Flaherty goes to get the incriminating piece of paper. Belcour tries to persuade Louisa into loving him, but she cannot admit reciprocity to his affections because she is too poor. Charles and O’Flaherty enter triumphantly to announce that Louisa has been left fifteen thousand pounds from her grandfather’s will, and that Charles has inherited the rest of the fortune. The family agrees to finance O’Flaherty if Varland launches a lawsuit of assault and battery against him. Louisa loves Belcour and the joyful Stockwell admits that Belcour is his son. Belcour’s servant brings Charlotte ready to elope to Scotland with Charles. Charles and Charlotte are reconciled. Lady Rusport enters; O’Flaherty acquaints her with the news of Charles’ inheritance. She leaves in a fury. Belcour and Louisa confess their love for one another. Stockwell tells Belcour that he is his father. Belcour urges Louisa to remind him of this occasion if he ever deviates from good behaviour.

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Secondary commentary

A) Sherbo, Arthur.  ‘Cumberland, Richard (1732–1811)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 26 May 2008.

"His next play, The West Indian, produced at Drury Lane under the direction of David Garrick on 19 January 1771, was phenomenally successful, with a run of twenty-eight nights. Cumberland sold the copyright for £150 and claimed that 12,000 copies were sold…Possibly because of the success of The West Indian, in that same year Cumberland received the honorary degree of doctor of civil law from the University of Dublin."

B) Joseph J. Keenan Jr., ‘Richard Cumberland: February 19, 1732-May 7, 1811’. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. LiteratureResourceCenter. 26 May 2008.
"The West Indian in 1771 ran twenty-seven nights at Drury Lane and was transferred to the Haymarket for a summer performance. Moreover, contemporary reviewers, well aware of the tension between the moralistic, preachy comedy called sentimental and the satiric, laughing comedy--well before Goldsmith's famous essay on the subject--heaped praise upon the piece as a comedy as comedy should be… The play has a serious moral purpose: to dispel the prejudice that existed against those British who lived in the West Indies and the long-standing prejudice against the Irish. Belcour is the most engaging of West Indians; although impetuous and improvident, he is never cruel. His blood may run too warm form the island sun, but his heart is open and sensitive to human virtue and suffering. Not only is he a man of feeling, but he is a laughable one. His fight with the customs officials over his menagerie proves funny because it illustrates Belcour's naiveté as well as the oversophistication of Londoners; his impetuousness and gullibility in mistaking the most virtuous Louisa for a whore produce comic incidents and laughable cross-purpose dialogue.
O'Flaherty takes up where Paddy of The Summer's tale left off. A robust example of the noble-hearted Irishman, O'Flaherty's zest for life, marriage, fighting, and drinking makes him a comic, but wholly sympathetic character. He sees the values of life in their true light, and he pursues them despite conventions, ranks, and titles. O'Flaherty and Belcour are naive proponents of the goodness of heart; their clumsiness is amusing; their triumph is satisfying. Before them fall the affectations of society-from the hypocrisy of the puritanical Lady Rusport to the false delicacy of Louisa and Charles Dudley. Cumberland steers clear of the sentimental and the melodramatic not only through laughter, but by maintaining a light-hearted tone throughout.
Primarily, he creates no false suspense. From page one, the audience knows that Stockwell is Belcour's father, and this knowledge creates delightful opportunities for dramatic irony. Belcour's being duped of jewels and being misled as to Louisa's character pose no serious threat, for Belcour has plenty of money, and Charlotte Rusport could dispel the misunderstanding in an instant, but she (and the audience) are rather enjoying the folly. Without serious suspense, the audience is free to laugh-especially since there are no serious villains.
The Fulmers have wicked intentions, but they bicker and complain of their long history of failures in business and in evil. One cannot take them seriously. Nor can one take Lady Rusport seriously; she may intend to deprive the Dudleys of their just inheritance, but she is vain, cheap, and petty. Putty in the hands of O'Flaherty, Lady Rusport poses no genuine threat.
Free from serious suspense and effective villains, The West Indian satirizes human folly and weakness, extols the human heart, brings all of its characters to a recognition of the value of benevolence, and sends the audience home pleased, amused, and contented-just as does She stoops to Conquer (1773) or The Rivals (1775). Delighted with The West Indian, Garrick wrote to Dr. John Hoadly in May of 1771 that Cumberland's prospects as a comic writer were limitless."

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Varieties & Dialects

Overview of varieties / dialects

Some non-standard grammar (often “you was”, especially by Charlotte and Lady Rusport). O’Flaherty, the Irish military character, uses stereotypically Irish expressions. A sailor and a maidservant speak with grammatical errors. Belcour’s language of courtship is archaic and poetic (possibly some Shakespearean intertextuality?).

Varieties / dialects

Variety: Sailor
a. Sample of dialect
[page 4]
Part of my master Belcour's baggage an't please you; there's another cargo not far a stern of us; and the cockswain has got charge of the dumb creatures.

Pr'ythee, friend, what dumb creatures do you speak of; has Mr. Belcour brought over a collection of wild beasts?

No, Lord love him; no, not he: let me see; there's two green monkies, a pair of grey parrots, a Jamaica sow and pigs, and a Mangrove dog; that's all.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “there’s two green monkies…”; “a Jamaica sow” (vs. adj. “Jamaican”)
b.3 Vocabulary: Nautical: “not far a stern” (astern); “Lord love him”
c. Nationality: West Indian or English
d. Character profile: a sailor
e. Consistency of representation: consistent (he is only in this scene)

Variety: Lady Rusport
a. Sample of dialect
[page 10]
You're strangely pert; but 'tis no wonder: your mother, I'm told, was a fine lady; and according to the modern stile of education you was brought up. It was not so in my young days; there was then some decorum in the world, some subordination, as the great Locke expresses it. Oh! 'twas an edifying sight, to see the regular deportment observed in our family: no gigling, no gossiping was going on there; my good father, Sir Oliver Roundhead, never was seen to laugh himself, nor ever allowed it in his children.
[page 37]
Broke, child? I don't know what might have been broke, if, by great good fortune, this obliging gentleman had not been at hand to assist me.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “you was”; “what might have been broke” (broken)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: the widowed second wife of a nobleman; likely from a middle class background (her sister married a military man)
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: O’Flaherty
a. Sample of dialect
[page 32]
Faith and troth, Master Dudley, you may say that; 'tis thirty years, come the time, that I have followed the trade, and in a pretty many countries---Let me see---In the war before last I serv'd in the Irish Brigade, d'ye see; there after bringing off the French monarch, I left his service, with a British bullet in my body, and this ribband in my button-hole. Last war I followed the fortunes of the German eagle, in the corps of grenadiers; there I had my belly-full of fighting, and a plentiful scarcity of every thing else. After six and twenty engagements, great and small, I went off with this gash on my scull, and a kiss of the empress queen's sweet hand, (Heaven bless it) for my pains: since the peace, my dear, I took a little turn with the Confederates there in Poland---but such another set of madcaps!---by the Lord Harry, I never knew what it was they were scuffling about.
b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar
b.3 Vocabulary: “Faith and troth”; “d’ye see”; elsewhere, “honey”, “at all, at all”, “St Patrick” and “my dear” used unreservedly
c. Nationality: Irish
d. Character profile: an Irish soldier
e. Consistency of representation: consistent

Variety: Charlotte
a. Sample of dialect
[page 32]
Well, Lucy, you've dislodged the old lady at last; but me thought you was a tedious time about it.
[page 33]
Yes, and to hang the false tails on the miserable stumps of the old crawling cattle. Well, well, pray Heaven the crazy affair don't break down again with her! at least till she gets to her journey's end.---but where's Charles Dudley? Run down, dear girl, and be ready to let him in; I think he's as long in coming, as she was in going.

[page 74]
Your looks and actions have been so distant, and at this moment are so deterring, that, was it not for the hope that delicacy, and not disgust, inspires this conduct in you, I should sink with shame and apprehension; but time presses; and I must speak; and plainly too---Was you now in possession

[page 75 ]

of your grandfather's estate, as justly you ought to be, and was you inclined to seek a companion for life, should you, or should you not, in that case, honour your unworthy Charlotte with your choice?

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “me thought you was”; “affair don’t break down”; “was it not” (were it not); “Was you in possession”; “was you inclined”
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: a noble heiress
e. Consistency of representation: use of “you was” consistent – a sign of gentility?

Variety: Lucy (maidservant)
a. Sample of dialect
[page 37]
Bless me, is the old chariot broke down with you again?

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “is the old chariot broke down…?” (vs “has...broken down” or “is…broken”)
b.3 Vocabulary
c. Nationality: English
d. Character profile: maidservant
e. Consistency of representation: this statement only

Variety: Belcourt
a. Sample of dialect:
[page 45]
O, thou dear minister to my happiness, let me embrace thee! Why thou art my polar star, my propitious constellation, by which I navigate my impatient bark into the port of pleasure and delight.

b.1 Orthography
b.2 Grammar: “thou”, “thee”
b.3 Vocabulary: recalls Shakespeare’s sonnet “Let not to the marriage of true minds…”
c. Nationality: West Indian
d. Character profile: the West Indian (titular) character; however, his origins seem to have had little effect on his speech
e. Consistency of representation: inconsistent; Belcour mostly uses StE (this is the language of his wooing, although the target is misdirected in this speech)

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Narrative comments on varieties and dialects

Commentary on "hyena":

A hyena, truly! Where did the fellow blunder upon that word? Now the deuce take him for using it, and the Macaronies for inventing it.

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Other points of interest


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©2008 Arden Hegele