John Wilson Croker

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Croker, John Wilson, LL.D. F.R.S., statesman and author, was born at Galway, 20th December 1780. [His father was Surveyor-General of Customs and Excise in Ireland; according to Edmund Burke, "a man of great abilities, and most amiable manners, an able and upright public steward, and universally respected and beloved in private life."] He received his preliminary education at Portarlington, where he displayed extraordinary talent — rapidly learning Pope's Homer by heart and writing political squibs before he was nine years of age.

In 1796 he passed on to Trinity College. The minutes of the Historical Society make honourable mention of him. In 1800 he proceeded to London, and entered at Lincoln's Inn. While pursuing his legal studies he found time to contribute to the periodical literature of the day, and was soon on terms of intimacy with Horace and James Smith, Locker, Colonel Greville, and others. His success, after being called to the Bar in 1802, and joining the Munster Circuit, was marked. In 1806 he married, and in 1807 he entered Parliament for Downpatrick, prepared to support the Duke of Portland's administration, although in favour of a measure of Catholic relief. He afterwards represented Athlone, Bodmin, Yarmouth, Aldborough, and later on the University of Dublin. When Sir Arthur Wellesley was appointed to the command in Spain, Mr. Croker was selected to discharge the official duties hitherto confided to him. In 1809 he took part in the defence of the Duke of York.

Mr. Croker was early enlisted in the service of the Quarterly Review, which had been started by John Murray, with the assistance of Scott and others, in February 1809. In the third number appeared an article from his pen on Miss Edgeworth's Tales, and he continued a constant contributor. In the reconstruction of the Cabinet the same year, consequent on the duel between Castlereagh and Canning, he became Secretary to the Admiralty. Within a month of receiving this appointment, he was constrained to resign, being unable to gloss over a series of defalcations discovered in his department in the accounts of one of the King's personal friends. This resignation, however, was not accepted, and the reasons for his intention being inquired into, none more highly appreciated his rectitude and zeal in the public service than George III. himself.

He continued Secretary of the Admiralty for nearly twenty-two years — from 1809, till the accession of the Whigs to power in 1830, serving under three successive First Lords. "Indeed," says the Quarterly Review, "during these twenty-two years, he may be said to have had almost the supreme direction of the affairs of the Admiralty." Not the least important amongst the many services he rendered to men of letters and lovers of art were the establishment of the Athenaeum Club and the acquisition of the Elgin Marbles for the British Museum. In 1820 he was struck down by a calamity that darkened all his future prospects — the death of his only son and child. "It gave a colour to the whole of his later life. He continued to discharge his duties in Parliament and at the Admiralty, because he feared to be idle and unemployed; he also continued to prosecute his literary labours, but the chief incentive to exertion was gone. All his hopes were buried in his boy's grave in the quiet churchyard at Wimbledon."

For an adopted daughter he afterwards wrote Stories for Children selected from the History of England. Of this book nearly 50,000 copies were sold. It suggested to Scott his Tales of a Grandfather. Macaulay and Croker had more than one encounter in Parliament, and in 1831 when Croker brought out his edition of Boswell's Johnson, a scathingly severe critique by Macaulay appeared in the Edinburgh Review. In 1848 Croker reviewed Macaulay's History of England in the Quarterly, pointing out very many defects and shortcomings, but avoiding the personalities that are said to disgrace Macaulay's review of his work. Croker bitterly opposed the Reform Bill, and after it became law refused to take further direct share in government, regarding it as a revolutionary measure, carried against the will of the Lords and the King, — a resolution to which he adhered, though on more than one occasion urged by Wellington and Peel to accept office. He resided chiefly at West Moseley, in Surrey, or at his marine villa at Alverstoke, near Gosport, the latter part of his life was devoted almost entirely to literature and to friendly intercourse with old political friends.

He died at Hampton, near London, 10th of August 185 7, aged 76, and was buried at West Moseley. His wife lived on past 1876, to read the strictures upon him in Mr. Trevelyan's Life of Macaulay — strictures from which the Quarterly Review defended him, in an article from which this notice is written. "His sarcastic sallies and pungent wit, made him many enemies. . . He was, however, himself aware that he was frequently betrayed into too great severity towards literary and political opponents. . . If inferior to Macaulay in brilliancy, he was, as a debater in Parliament and the administrator of a public office, decidedly his superior. It is not to be endured that malevolence should run into dogmatism, and that the authority of Lord Macaulay should be evoked, in order to support false and railing accusations against the private life of a writer, who for fifty years rendered important services to letters and literary men." This praise must be qualified by the admission that at times he used opportunities as a reviewer to cast base and unfounded imputations on the characters of noble and pure-minded persons, who held opinions differing from his own. He even gloried in his efforts to "tomahawk," as he termed it, Miss Martineau and her works in the Quarterly Review.

Sources

88a. Croker, John Wilson, Memoir in Quarterly Review, July 1876. (Pamphlet.)

233. Manuscript and Special Information, and Current Periodicals.

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