I remember dining with him [Horace Smith], and a set of wits, among whom I felt like a fish out of water. Theodore Hook, James Smith, Charles Matthews, Horace Twiss, John Wilson Croker, and myself were invited. Croker was prevented, by some accident, from making his appearance. I never passed a duller evening among men of distinguished wit. Horace Twiss seemed as little inclined to be forced to laugh as myself. Even Hook was dull. James Smith, whose after-dinner sayings were generally effective, cut the best figure of the party. When men sit down to force wit, "knock as you may there is often nobody at home," and by intending to look like something, we look like nothing. Even Matthews, so entertaining in general, seemed under an incubus, and Hook strained himself so much to exhibit that he fairly dislocated his wit. There are times when humour gets rusty, do what its owner will. It is the spontaneity of the thing that gives it the real value.
I remember hearing the cause of Croker's absence a day or two afterwards, as stated by himself. Being down at the Pavilion, at Brighton, the Sunday before, the company in the drawing-room after dinner, there was a group at the end of the room in conversation, including the Duke of Clarence and others. The duke was having a sly blow at the Admiralty, as well as at Croker, whom some of the naval men used to call, "The whole board of Admiralty." The duke in reply to some remark of the secretary, said:
"When I am king, I'll be my own First Lord of the Admiralty."
"Does your royal highness recollect what English king was his own First Lord, the last time?"
The duke replied in the negative.
"It was James II."
There was a general laugh among the party. The king walking up and down the room at the time, hearing the laugh, approached the group—
"What — one of your good things, Croker, I suppose — what was it?"
"Nothing and please your majesty, but your royal brother is saying what he will do in the navy, when he is king."
George IV. turned on his heel and walked off to the other end of the room. The next morning Croker, on the point of going up to town, received the king's command to attend him in his bedroom.
"I was annoyed at your exposing my brother's nonsense, under my roof, last evening; and in the next place, in stating what should happen when I am no longer king. Let me request there may be no repetition of similar remarks. Do not believe I am offended, but it is distasteful to my feelings." He then gave the honourable secretary his hand to kiss, and he departed to ruminate on the hint he thus received of the sensitiveness of royalty....
Croker has followed Jerrold, I hear, one much longer before the world. Bitterness of feeling, and audacity were leading features in his character. He began to write in the early days of the "Quarterly Review," and under the anonymous of the publication, aided in making political feeling the standard of literary merit. Youth, age, genius, if of the wrong political colour, were objects of his unsparing vituperation. Without depth, he possessed a species of cleverness which served his purpose better. If he failed in argument, he never failed to wound, which was more congenial to his temperament. It is true he was not so vulgar as Gifford, but he was as good a hater. He catered for number one with indefatigable perseverance in early life. He spared nobody, and I should imagine never had a real friend. With Hook, for example, he affected friendship, and I presume, but do not know it, was the author of the paper in the "Quarterly" upon him. Croker affected distaste of Hook's unmarried state as immoral. The mode of life of the late Marquis of Hertford was well known; Croker pretended that an apology was necessary for riding in the carriage with the Marquis and a certain lady. Perhaps he remembered how small Mrs. Clarke had made him look at the outset of his career, when examined before a committee of the House of Commons, and had an antipathy to ladies not outrageously virtuous in consequence. Perhaps, it was a real sense of religion, a feeling of scrupulous morality, and therefore not to be blamed.
It was true Croker wrote papers full of zeal for religion, and as far as they went, his faith was unimpeachable, he being then, the most devotional of Christians. Now, there is a species of hypocrisy too prevalent exhibited in writing one thing for the public, and saying the reverse in company. Croker was one of complexion. A friend of mine said to me, "Does not Croker's mockings of religion at table annoy you?" I replied, "they are in bad taste." He said, "I am greatly annoyed by it. Croker is a high church writer. No man of capacity can think and not have some feeling of religion. My ideas are my own. I believe in God, in his wisdom and goodness; I act to the best of my reason. I go at times to church, my wife and family go regularly. If hereafter, they see it necessary to change their faith, that is not my affair; they have had the institutes of religion as their parents had before them; I attempt not make them converts to my ideas — I have some peculiar ones on religion. When Croker dines with me, I am pained at the levity of his conversation with such professions, before young people too. I cannot away with it. My feelings will not let me jest, even with the religious creeds I do not believe; he jests with those he upholds with his pen."
The inconsistency of such a line of conduct had long fixed my opinion of the man. His splenetic attacks upon many deserving authors were of less moment, because, as I have already stated, politics ruled the "Quarterly Review" on one side, and the "Edinburgh" on the other. For my own part, I believe that put Croker behind a screen, he was equal to anything in the foregoing way. As to his political life, the less said about it the better. Poor Sir Robert Peel had he lived, could have written the political character of Croker with a fidelity that, perhaps, no one now living could do so well, particularly in illustrating the art of playing double to the best advantage. Well might Sir Robert have exclaimed, "Et tu Brute!"
Croker has left nothing literary behind him that will endure, unless it be one or two works he edited; his painstaking was not great. He was one of the most authoritative and inaccurate of writers as to facts and dates, even in the face of his own articles. He alone ruled the "Quarterly;" Gifford he kept under his thumb. Of this Southey has left an evidence in his own case, and the laureate vindicated himself with a right spirit, Croker having taken one of Southey's papers to be cut up agreeably to the views of the Duke of Wellington. What right had Croker doing Gifford's duty? The truth was, that Murray feared him. I speak on the authority of Lockhart when I say that while he was editor, Croker would threaten Murray with a new "Quarterly" when he wished to carry some point in the review in regard to his articles, and Lockhart was at times placed between two fires.