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Peter Cunningham

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Published : 13 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : N/A
Death : N/A
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Cunningham, Peter I Peter Cunningham, Cunningham, P. Cunningham l, 1816-1869, author and scholar. Educated at Christ's Hospital. Held position in Audit Office, 1834-60. Member of Shakespeare Society. F.S.A. During later years became victim of what Vizetelly called "convivial indulgence" (Glances Back through Seventy Years, I, 259), i.e., chronic alcoholism; one of boon companions of the convivial years was Frederick Dickens. Contributed to Ladies' Companion, Gent. Mag., Builder, Athenaeum, Illus. London News, and other periodicals. His Extracts from the Accounts of the Revels at Court printed for the Shakespeare Society, 1842; later denounced as forgery (see Tannenbaum, Shakspere Forgeries in the Revels Accounts). Wrote life of Inigo Jones and of NelI Gwyn. In 1849 published A Handbook for London (1850 edition: Hand-Book of London). Edited Works of Goldsmith, Johnson's Lives of the poets, Letters of Horace Walpole, and other works.

      Dickens had "a hearty regard" for Cunningham, wrote Forster (Life, Book VII, sect. ii), and the two men were for some years good friends. They corresponded and saw each other socially. Dickens at times consulted Cunningharn concerning theatrical and other matters. Cunningham accompanied Dickens's amateur theatrical tour of 1848; later he played a role in Dickens's presentation of Not So Bad As We Seem. In the 1850 edition of his Hand-Book of London, Cunningham printed the first of Dickens's two letters to the Times concerning public executions. He presented a copy of the book to Dickens, who wrote to thank him for the "valuable book in its new form" (May 12, 1850). Cunningham had the year before presented Dickens with a copy of the first edition. Later he presented a copy of his edition of Johnson's Lives and of Walpole's Letters to Dickens (Stonehouse, Catalogue).
      Dickens was angered by the comment in Cunningham's "Town and Table-Talk," Illus. London News, March 4, 1854, that his inquiry into the Preston strike was said to have suggested the title of Hard Times and in some respects "the turn of the story." The comment, he wrote to Cunningham, March 11, was "altogether wrong"; in the future Cunningham should ascertain from Dickens what the facts were before making statements concerning him. In a later letter to Cunningham, Feb. 11, 1859, Dickens expressed annoyance at Cunningham's having made some remarks about him in the matter of the Garrick Club affair.
      Dickens's first reference to Cunningham in connection with H.W. appears in his letter of May 12, 1850. Cunningham had obviously suggested various materials that he thought appropriate for the periodical and had made some suggestions concerning the Household Narrative. Certain "documents" that Cunningham had mentioned, wrote Dickens, "I am afraid we shall not have room for." But, he continued, "I am delighted with the Christ's Hospital subject. And I think I see my way to a long perspective of good papers on divers subjects, if you should be inclined to walk along it." The Office Book assigns to Cunningham no paper on Christ's Hospital, nor is there an unassigned paper dealing with the subject. Cunningham's first H.W. contribution ["Chip: Superstitious Murder" IV, 92. Oct. 18, 1851] Dickens referred to in a letter to Wills, Sept. 27, 1851, as "a curious chip from Peter Cunningham." Later letters mention as by Cunningham two other of his contributions: "A Bowl of Punch" [VII, 346-49. June 11, 1853] and "Peter the Great in England" [XII, 223-28. Oct 6., 1855] (to Cunningham, June 24, 1853 [undated in Nonesuch Letters]; to Wills, Sept. 16, 1855). From Dickens's letter concerning "A Bowl of Punch," it is clear that the article had contained an indirect allusion to Dickens, which Wills had deleted. Dickens was "quite pained," he wrote, at Wills's alteration of Cunningham's "excellent" article.
      Among H.W. articles that referred to Cunningham as author of the Handbook for London or as authority on London were Sala's "A Cup of Coffee," "Curiosities of London," and "Houseless and Hungry"; Wills's "Street-Cab Reform" and Miller's 'The Old Boar's Head." Blanchard, in "Printed Forgeries," devoted a paragraph to a discussion of the material contained in Cunningham's "interesting introduction" to his father's Poems and Songs. Wills, in "The Manchester School of Art," praised Cunningham's work in connection with the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition (1857). Cunningham himself, in "Last Moments of an English King" [IX, 277-80. May 6, 1854], stated that an incident concerning Nell Gwyn related in a newly discovered MS account of the death of Charles II was "unknown to Mr. Cunningham" [i.e., not mentioned in Cunningham's life of Nell Gwyn).

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 

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