Crab, Roger (DNB00)
|←Cozens, John Robert||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 12
CRAB, ROGER (1621?–1680), hermit, a native of Buckinghamshire, was probably born about 1621. He says his mother had 20l. a year, or his father would not have married her. About 1641 he began to restrict himself to a vegetarian diet, avoiding even butter and cheese. From roots he got to a regimen of broth thickened with bran, and pudding made of bran and turnip leaves chopped together, and finally resorted to dock-leaves and grass. He drank nothing but water, and could live on three farthings a week. For seven years (probably 1642–9) he served in the parliamentary army, and during this period he induced one Captain Norwood to follow his regimen, with fatal effects. He states that while fighting for the parliament his skull was cloven to the brain, an injury which may account for some of his later eccentricities. The ground of his abstention from animal food seems to have been the supposed moral effects of a flesh diet. ‘Butchers,’ he observes, ‘are excluded from juries; but the receiver is worse than the thief; so the buyer is worse than the butcher.’ His asceticism was connected with a rude kind of mystical revolt against established notions in religion. He was ‘above ordinances,’ though sympathising neither with ‘levellers nor quakers nor shakers nor ranters.’ His views came to him by illumination; digging in his garden with his face to the east, he ‘saw into the paradise of God.’ His account of the seven spirits in man is original and curious. He says he had discussed his opinions ‘with all sexes [sects?] and ministers in most counties of England.’ Latterly he appears to have had some relations with the Philadelphian Society. His notions often got him into trouble. Parliament, he says, imprisoned him for two years; and he ‘got sentence to death in the field from the Lord Protector.’ Leaving the army he became ‘a haberdasher of hats’ at Chesham, Buckinghamshire; but he shut up his shop in 1651, and ‘sold a considerable estate to give to the poor.’ Settling on ‘a small roode of ground’ at Ickenham, near Uxbridge, he dwelt as a hermit in ‘a mean cottage of his own building,’ where he practised his austere regimen, wearing ‘a sackcloth frock, and no band on his neck.’ He dabbled in astrology and physic, having from a hundred to a hundred and twenty patients at a time. Godbold (or Godbolt), the minister of Uxbridge, told the people of Chesham he was a witch. The country justices twice had him up for sabbath-breaking. At the end of 1654 he came to London, to print an account of himself, staying with one Carter, a glover, at the sign of the Golden Anchor in Whitecross Street. Here he again got into trouble, and was committed to Clerkenwell prison on 17 Jan. 1655; his keeper gave him nothing to eat, but a dog brought him a bit of bread. He was assisted in bringing out his book by an unknown hand, which supplied some additional particulars by way of introduction. He returned to Ickenham, but was in London again in September 1657, on another publishing errand. This time he was brought up at Hicks's Hall, as before, for Sabbath-breaking; he gives an account of his trial. Ultimately he transferred his hermitage to Bethnal Green. His publications are rather coarse, but shrewd, and with occasional lapses into rhyme.
When I was a digging parsnips for my meals,
Then I discovered these cheats
For which I sate six hours by the heels.
In his later days he does not seem to have been molested, and he acquired a reputation for sanctity and seership. He is said to have foretold the Restoration, and to have predicted that William of Orange would come to the throne. He died at Bethnal Green on 11 Sept. 1680, in his sixtieth year, and was buried on 14 Sept. in Stepney Church. His tomb is no longer to be seen, but the inscribed slab is let into the pavement.
Crab published: 1. ‘The English Hermite, or Wonder of this Age, being a relation of the life,’ &c., 1655, 4to (published 23 Jan.); reprinted in Harl. Miscell. iv. 478 (edit. of 1808). Prefixed to some copies is a full-length woodcut of Crab, with verse at foot. 2. ‘Dagons-Downfall, or the Great Idol digged up Root and Branch,’ &c., 1657, 4to. 3. A tract against quakerism (not seen; George Salter of Hedgerley-Dean, Buckinghamshire, published ‘An Answer to Roger Crab's Printed Paper to the Quakers, &c.,’ 1659, 4to; Salter's reply is temperately written, he gives the initials, but not the names of certain followers of Crab).
[Account of Stepney Parish in Lysons's Environs of London, 1792–6; Lempriere's Universal Biography, 1808; Granger's Biog. Hist. 1824, iv. 96; Smith's Cat. of Friends' Books, 1867, ii. 527; works cited above.]