1861 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Croly

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 210 (January 1861) 104-07.



Nov. 24, Suddenly, aged 80, the Rev. George Croly, LL.D., Rector of St. Stephen's, Walbrook.

The deceased was a native of Ireland, the son of a physician in Dublin, and was born there in August, 1780. Being destined for the Church, he received his education at Trinity College, and took the degrees of B.A. and M.A., with distinction as a steady and able scholar, not only well grounded in the solid branches of academic study, but accomplished in lighter literature.

Having been ordained, he was appointed to an Irish curacy, but little prospect was offered of rising to higher station, and the performance of duties more comprehensive and better suited to a mind and frame equally capacious and energetic. Nearly fifty years ago the family settled in London, and consisted of his widowed mother, two maiden sisters, and occasionally a younger brother, Captain Henry Croly, every one of whom was distinguished by cultivated intellect and superior talent. They resided for a while in Dean-street, Soho, and George, disappointed with regard to Church preferment, turned his attention altogether to secular literary pursuits. He became connected with the newspaper and periodical press, and especially contributed admirable (if somewhat severe) dramatic criticism to The New Times. In 1817 two new publications, Blackwood's Magazine and The Literary Gazette, started, both of which (especially the latter) enjoyed a large share of his powerful and popular writings. In Blackwood's, his Colonna the Painter created a strong sensation, and was followed by a number of miscellaneous productions from which the anonyme has not yet been removed. With The Literary Gazette his correspondence was far more intimate and continuous. Poetry, criticisms, essays of every description from his pen, abound from the very first year, through many in succession, as that novel experiment on weekly issues dedicated to the fine arts, sciences, and literature, established itself in public estimation. To so favourable a result the aid of such a writer as Dr. (then Mr.) Croly was well calculated to load; and the friendship between him and the editor of the journal alluded to, conducted, remarkably enough, to events which proved the truth of the adage that fact is often more strange than fiction, and mingled a genuine dash of romance in the actual cup of life which was finally drained by the aged and serious divine. Aware of his extraordinary ability and of the bent of his political opinions, the friend alluded to had found means to have them brought under the notice of Lord Eldon with the view to confirming his services on the side of the Pitt party, by presenting him with a living of the Church in England. The recommendation was passed over without effect; and it was not till several years after that it was discovered the neglect arose from an erroneous return to the Chancellor's inquiry, and the application being misunderstood to be for a priest of the name of "Croley," who was a convert from the Roman Catholic religion, and was not deemed eligible by the patron for the sacred office solicited. By this accident Dr. Croly was, probably, kept from Church preferment for twenty years. The other circumstance referred to as curiously affecting the realities of life, was that simply out of the appearance of some verses by a young lady (signing Helen) in The Literary Gazette, and a reply by Croly, that acquaintance began which, within twelve months, ended in an affectionate union, and a happy married state that lasted more than thirty years. In the poetic garland woven upon this occasion Barry Cornwall twined some of his earliest effusions, and Mr. Davies, then a rising artist, and other friends, joined the chorus which might be said to chime in harmoniously with the marriage bells. In 1819, Mr. Croly, in Kensington Church, married Margaret Helen Begbie, the daughter of a much-respected Scottish gentleman who had been in the East Indian trade, but died the holder of an office under the Board of Trade which had some supervision of ship assurances. A family of six children, five sons and a daughter, were the fruit of this union. The eldest son was unfortunately killed in 1845, in one of the battles with the Sikhs. The rest survive their mother, who died in 1851, and their father, whose death, as we have stated, took place suddenly in the street on the 24th of November last, he having walked out for a little exercise before dinner from his residence in Bloomsbury-square.

On his return in 1820 from a continental excursion with his bride, Dr. Croly renewed his relations with the press, and his contributions, as editor, coadjutor, or voluntary ally, during the forty years that have since elapsed, would occupy a space to astonish even the most laborious of his literary contemporaries. The Standard, The Morning Herald, The Universal Review, and many other periodicals were the recipients of these valuable compositions; and yet he published a large amount of separate works, and for the last quarter of a century devoted himself with untiring energy to the diligent discharge of his clerical functions as Rector of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, to which he was presented, through the interest of Lord Brougham, (who was distantly related to his wife through the Auckland family,) in 1835.

In 1847 Dr. Croly was appointed Afternoon Preacher at the Foundling Hospital, but soon relinquished the office in disgust at some of the proceedings of the managers of that useful, but as he thought ill-conducted, charity. He was also involved in the violent disputes in his own parish, of which the public heard more than enough, and in which Alderman Gibbs and the Rector were unhappily the most prominent combatants. In the pulpit the eloquence of Dr. Croly was of the highest order, and his just popularity attracted crowds from every part to his beautiful church, where his impressive discourses, his massive form, grave and inflexible countenance, and sonorous voice produced striking effects; and pathos and persuasion, when needed, hung upon his lips in the fine delivery of touching descriptions of Christian experiences and Gospel exhortation.

Dr. Croly was a powerful advocate of the Conservative cause, but this was rather evidenced by his desultory performances in the fitting channels, than by any separate publication. His theological works belong to an important order. Interpretations of the Prophets and the Apocalypse applicable to the great concerns of mankind, and an earnest enforcement of religious truths, in union with the purest morality, mark every volume he has dedicated to these subjects. His Paris in 1815 is a poem replete with beauties, and justly heads his innumerable poetic compositions, of minor extent, though nothing inferior in the noblest elements of poetry. Thirty years ago a collection in two volumes was published; but since then the increase has been manifold, and a complete edition now would be a most welcome boon to the lovers of lofty intellectual culture, genuine inspiration, and skilful expression. Dr. Croly, seeking fame in every direction, like the author of Douglas, deemed it no discredit to the Church to exercise his talents on the drama; and Catiline, and Pride shall have a Fall bear witness to his success. For works of fiction also he shone with pre-eminent lustre. His picture of the Wandering Jew in Salathiel is one of the most striking efforts ever seen in that class of literature.

Thus hastily noticed, it will appear that the lamented Rector of Walbrook, independently of his ministerial devotion, gratefully acknowledged by his charge and admired by the world at large, — and of his valuable works in Divinity, spent a long life in the anonymous inculcation of virtuous morals, the promotion of useful purposes, and the dissemination of improvement throughout the mass of the community, by means of an ever-ready and ever-efficient periodical press. And farther, that he has earned a prominent place and lasting renown in the great distinct provinces of divinity, poetry, history, romance, and the drama. "Nullum quod non ornavit tetegit" is a tribute richly deserved by the very extensive and miscellaneous creations of Dr. Croly; and his private life was worthy of his public position. In society his conversation was instructive and pleasant, and full of pertinent anecdote and general information.

Too tardily advanced into the Church of England and, the living of Walbrook through the influence of a political opponent, we may remark it were well that Party never biassed such selections, but looked, as in this instance, to personal worth and sufficient capacity for the great trust. Dr. Croly was emphatically a good man. His piety grew with his age; and sincerity, fervour, and a constant and zealous exercise of every Christian virtue have shed a holier halo over his later (not declining) years — for blessed health and apparent firmness and strength were granted him to the last.

Many will mourn his loss: — family and friends, and among the latter, perhaps in rhyme, Barry Cornwall, who thus hailed his marriage to a sweet poetess:—

This verse to thee I consecrate,
May thy days be fair and long,
And may it be thy after fate
To stand immortalized in song....

The wish has been as fairly fulfilled as the trials common to humanity permit, and now it is only to be inscribed to his memory that he was an honourable, right-minded, and honest-hearted man, and a practical and pious Christian.

According to his own desire, his remains were laid under the church where his best works have been performed: a marble bust bequeathed by him for that purpose will mark the spot to future pastors we hope not less eligible, and future congregations equally sincere in their following and attachment.

It is not necessary here to enumerate in detail, beyond those already mentioned, the literary proofs of the variety and vigour which inspired Dr. Croly's genius, and led to the productions in almost every class of literature which entitle his name to be ranked with those of the few who will go down to posterity as memorable ornaments of the period in which they flourished. We will therefore merely mention in theology, The Three Cycles of Revelation, and treatise On Divine Providence; in history and biography, Life of George IV., — Life of Burke, Biographical Sketch of Curran, (preparing the way for his friend Mr. Curran's Life of his father,) and Essays on the Characters of William Pitt and Napoleon I.; in fiction, Tales of St. Bernard, and Marston; in the drama, Catiline; and in poetry, after the admirable Paris in 1815, a host of minor pieces which would fill many a delightful volume.