1838 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Croly

S. C. Hall, in The Book of Gems. The Modern Poets and Artists of Great Britain (1838) 186.



GEORGE CROLY was born in Ireland, towards the close of the last century. Being intended for the Church, he entered the Irish University, Trinity College, Dublin, at an early age, — obtained a scholarship, and successively proceeded to the degrees of A.B. and A.M. He was ordained by O'Beirne, Bishop of Meath — the friend of Edmund Burke — and put in charge of a parish in his diocese. His residence was favourable to the study of his profession: the village church stood on the borders of an immense lake, imbedded in mountains; and the solitude amid which the Poet thought and wrote, strengthened his mind, and prepared it to contest for eminence in the great world he was to enter. After remaining some years in this retirement, he visited London; — it was at the animating period when England first embarked in the Spanish war. Sharing the general impulse of the time, and intending to see, in person, the land whose sudden achievements restored almost her old days of romance, he applied himself vigorously to acquire the Spanish language. On the first announcement that the Elbe was open, he went to Germany. No moment could have been more interesting to a British observer. The Continent had been a sealed book since the short peace of Amiens. During the interval the most singular changes had been wrought in every Continental state. The three great capitals of the Continent had been entered by the French armies. The population had been alternately broken down by military severity, and roused to resistance by foreign extortion. Men and manners had changed; half a generation had gone down into the grave; — all was now strange, and impressed with the character of the great convulsion. Dr. Croly has given some account of this aspect of things, in a lately published volume, entitled, The Year of Liberation, — formed from his recollections of the time. He resided chiefly in Hamburgh, — the return of the French troops preventing all intercourse with the interior of Germany. Napoleon had flooded the Continent again with his conscripts, and all was confusion. In 1815, Paris was opened to the world. The lost army of France capitulated behind the Loire, and the conqueror of Waterloo replaced the old family of the French kings on the throne. The curiosity of the English led them to Paris in multitudes; and Dr. Croly remained there for some time. But his chief interest seems to have been excited by the localities and monuments of the Revolution; while the generality of the visitors occupied themselves with the later memorials of the empire which abound in Paris, and which form some of the most striking ornaments of that capital, he was engrossed by the scenes which had been distinguished in the revolutionary period and reign of terror, — the Temple, the Carmes, the site of the Bastille, the prison of the Abbaye, &c. With those impressions on his mind, on his return to England, he produced his first poem, entitled, Paris in 1815. It was successful, and was followed at intervals by other poems, — The Angel of the World, a Tragedy on the subject of the Catilinarian Conspiracy, — Gems from the Antique, &c.

Dr. Croly is, thus, a writer of tragedy and comedy; — an almost universal Poet; a painter of rich and glowing romance; a daring interpreter of the darkest mystery of the Scriptures, — the Apocalypse of St. John; a skilful and searching critic; and an eloquent and accomplished preacher. His Poems have not obtained a popularity adequate to their merit — perhaps because he manifests but little sympathy with his kind. He is grand and gorgeous, but rarely tender and affectionate; he builds a lofty and magnificent temple, but it is too cold and stately to be a home for the heart. In several of his minor productions, he is exceedingly vigorous and animated, — and from his "Gems" may be selected some of the boldest and most striking compositions in the language.

A few years since he published his first work in prose, Salathiel, a story of the Past, the Present, and the Future, founded on the legend of the Wandering Jew.

But, as we have intimated, in subjects of this order, which are, indeed, analogous to his profession, Dr. Croly had not neglected the more direct studies of theology. He has produced several works on the chief matters of divinity; among the rest, a New Interpretation of the Apocalypse of St. John, — which has arrived at a third edition. In the year 1831, Lord Brougham, on taking the seals, gave him one of the livings in his gift as Chancellor. In 1835, Lord Lyndhurst, then Chancellor, gave him the rectory of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, which involved the surrender of his former living. A few years previously he had received from his own University, what he probably felt as scarcely a less gratifying mark of recollection, the unsolicited degree, of LL.D.