1871 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. George Croly

S. C. Hall, "The Rev. George Croly" in A Book of Memories: Great Men and Women of the Age, from personal Acquaintance (1871) 231-32.



CROLY excelled in many ways-poet, dramatist, biographer, novelist, historian, commentator, public speaker, preacher, and political writer. He wrote a successful play, Pride shall have a Fall; he was the author of two popular novels, "Salathiel" and "Marston;" and he produced several works on abstruse matters of theology — among the rest a new interpretation of the Apocalypse of St. John.

Jerdan says that Croly's two sisters, his wife (a Miss Begbie), and his eldest daughter were "poetesses" of no mean order.

Croly was a large and heavy man, ponderous in appearance and in manner; his head was much beyond the usual size; the forehead broad, but receding; the organ of benevolence was not there, and there was very little of that of veneration. It was essentially a Celtic head. His voice was loud and solemn, but not impressive; there was nothing of conciliation in it; nothing of the gentle and persuasive elements so valuable to the Christian teacher. I did not often hear him preach: he had a sort of rude and, indeed, angry eloquence, that would have stood him in better stead at the bar than in the pulpit. His voice, aspect, and manner altogether, would have "told" well on the Bench, where he would certainly have been "a terror to evil-doers." It will be seen that Croly did not impress me favourably; yet at one period I was thrown much in his way: we were associated to promote the purpose of a private charity, and he wrote weekly, from 1839 to 1846, the leading articles for the Britannia newspaper, of which I was some years the directing editor. He was a fierce politician, and hated political opponents.

In 1838 I applied to him for some aid to a biography; he indignantly refused it, writing, "I must request that nothing whatever shall be said about me or my career in any work of yours, or where you have any influence. I should regard it as the last personal offence. There is, therefore, an end of the matter."

He changed his mind, and some time afterwards supplied me with a long memoir, in which, however, he was by no means communicative concerning himself; indeed, I had afterwards reason to know that the subject might have been distasteful to him.

One of the latest incidents of his life was very gratifying to him. During the mayoralty of his friend Sir Francis Graham Moon, his admirers and parishioners subscribed to present to him a testimonial. Strange to say, the testimonial was his own bust.

Croly was eloquent in the brief speech he delivered on the occasion: although aged then, he seemed vivacious in body and in mind.

He was born in 1780, and died suddenly, near his residence in Bloomsbury Square, on the 24th of November, 1860. In England he was first a curate on the skirts of bleak and barren Dartmoor; and it was not until 1835 that church preferment came to him. There was a huge gap between, and if Croly were a "disappointed clergyman," it is no wonder. To himself, no doubt, he refers in these lines:—

Hast then, Man of Intellect!
Seen thy soaring spirit checked;
Struggling in the righteous cause,
Champion of God's slighted laws;
Seen the slave or the supine
Win the prize that should be thine?"

For some time he had the chaplaincy of the Foundling Hospital, but resigned it because some of the managers of the charity thought his sermons to be above the comprehension of his hearers. Croly protested that his auditors were not merely the children and servants of the institution, but dwellers in the neighbourhood — a neighbourhood which, he said, "contained perhaps the most intelligent population in England," and who had become indifferent or disdainful of Christianity because of "the verbiage of which they heard so much."

"Their alienation," he wrote, "is not from religion, but from the senseless argument and the shallow appeal, from the tiresome reiteration of obsolete trivialities and dreary truisms, from pathos without feeling, and all that dull pantomime of oratory in which a white handkerchief is a figure of speech."