1876 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Wilson Croker

Robert Carruthers, in Chambers's Cyclopaedia of English Literature, 3rd ed. (1876; 1879) 8:196-98.



The last and most indefatigable of the original corps of the "Quarterly Review" was MR. JOHN WILSON CROKER (1780-1857). He was a native of Galway, his father being surveyor-general of customs and excise in Ireland, and he was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. His first literary attempts were satirical — "Familiar Epistles on the Irish Stage," 1804; and an "Intercepted Letter from Canton," or a satire on certain politicians and magnates in the city of Dublin, 1805. These local productions were followed by "Songs of Trafalgar," 1806, and pamphlet, entitled "A Sketch of Ireland; Past and Present," 1807. Sir Walter Scott in his Life of Swift has copied one passage from this "Sketch," which appears to be an imitation of the style of Grattan;

CHARACTER OF SWIFT.

"On this gloom one luminary rose, and Ireland worshipped it with Persian idolatry; her true patriot — her first — almost her last. Sagacious and intrepid, he saw — he dared; above suspicion, he was trusted; above envy, he was beloved; above rivalry, he was obeyed. His wisdom was practical and prophetic — remedial for the present, warning for the future. He first taught Ireland that she might become a nation, and England that she must cease to be a despot. But he was a churchman; his gown impeded his course, and entangled his efforts. Guiding a senate, or heading an army, he had been more than Cromwell, and Ireland not less than England. As it was, he saved her by his courage, improved her by his authority, adorned her by his talents, and exalted her by his fame. His mission was but of ten years, and for ten years only did his personal power mitigate the government; but though no longer feared by the great, he was not forgotten by the wise; his influence, like his writings, has survived a century; and the foundations of whatever prosperity we have since erected are laid in the disinterested and magnanimous patriotism of Swift."

Mr. Croker studied law at Lincoln's Inn, but getting into parliament for the borough of Down-patrick (1807) he struck into that path of public life which he was fitted to turn to the best advantage. In 1809 he took a prominent part in defending the Duke of York during the parliamentary investigation into the conduct of His Royal Highness, and shortly afterwards he was made Secretary to the Admiralty, an office which he held for nearly twenty-two years, until 1830, when he retired with a pension of £1500 per annum. In 1808 he published anonymously "The Battles of Talavera," a poem in the style of Scott, and which Sir Walter reviewed in the second volume of the "Quarterly Review." In the same style Mr. Croker commemorated the "Battle of Albuera," 1811. This seems to have been the last of his poetical efforts. He was now busy with the "Quarterly Review." Criticism, properly so called, he never attempted. His articles were all personal or historical, confined to attacks on Whigs and Jacobins, or to the rectification of dates and facts regarding public characters and events. He was the reviewer of Keats's "Endymion" in 1818, to which Byron playfully alluded:

Who killed John Keats?
I says the "Quarterly,"
So savage and Tartarly,
'Twas one of my feats.

But this deadly article is only a piece of abuse of three pages, in which Keats is styled a copyist of Leigh Hunt, "more unintelligible, almost as rugged, twice as diffuse, and ten times more tiresome and absurd than his prototype." Lady Morgan's "Italy" is despatched in the same trenchant style. But one of Mr. Croker's greatest "feats" in this way was mortifying the vanity of Fanny Burney or Madame D'Arblay, who wished to have it believed that she was only seventeen when her novel of "Evelina" was published. She is said to have kept up the delusion without exactly giving the date; but the reviewer, knowing that she was born at Lynn, in Norfolk, had the parish-register examined, and found that the fair novelist was baptised in June 1752, and consequently was between twenty-five and twenty-six years of age when "Evelina" appeared, instead of being a prodigy of seventeen. Mr. Croker's success in this species of literary statistics led him afterwards to apply it to the case of the Empress Josephine and Napoleon; he had the French registers examined, and from them proved that both Josephine and Napoleon had falsified their ages. This fact, with other disparaging details, the reviewer brought out in a paper which appeared on the occasion of the late emperor's visit to England — no doubt to mortify the new Napoleon dynasty. In the same spirit he assailed Soult when he visited this country — recounting all his military errors and defeats, and reminding him that the Duke of Wellington had deprived him of his dinner at Oporto in 1809 and at Waterloo in 1815. The duke is said to have been seriously displeased with the reviewer on account of this mistimed article. Two of the later contributions to the "Review" by Mr. Croker made considerable noise. We refer to those on Macaulay's History and Moore's Memoirs. In the case of the former, Mr. Rogers said Croker "attempted murder, but only committed suicide." With Moore the reviewer had been on friendly terms. They were countrymen and college acquaintances; and when Lord John Russell published the poet's journals for the benefit of his widow, a generous man, who had known the deceased, would have abstained from harsh comments. Croker applied the scalpel without mercy; Lord John ventured a remark on the critic's "safe malignity;" and Croker retaliated by shewing that Moore had been recording unfavourable notices of him in his journal at the very time that he was cultivating his acquaintance by letters, and soliciting favours at his hands. Lord John's faults as an editor were also unsparingly exposed; and on the whole, in all but good feeling, Croker was triumphant in this passage-at-arms. No man with any heart would have acted as Croker did, but he was blinded by his keen partisanship and pride. He was a political gladiator bound to do battle against all Whigs and innovators in literature. Mr. Disraeli has satirised him under the name of "Rigby" in his novel of "Coningsby." Mr. Croker, however, did service to literature by his annotated edition of Boswell's "Life of Johnson," and his publication of the Suffolk Papers, — the Letters of Lady Hervey, and Lord Hervey's "Memoirs of the Court of George II." He wrote "Stories, from the History of England for Children," which had the merit of serving as a model for Sir Walter Scott's "Tales of a Grandfather" and he collected some of his contributions to the "Review," and published them under the title of "Essays on the Early Period of the French Revolution." At the time of his death he was engaged in preparing an edition of Pope's works, which has since passed into the abler hands of the Rev. Whitworth Elwin.