Croly, George (DNB00)

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CROLY, GEORGE (1780–1860), author and divine, born at Dublin 17 Aug. 1780, received the greater part of his education at Trinity College, which he entered at the age of fifteen. He distinguished himself as a classical scholar and an extempore speaker, and after taking the usual degrees was ordained in 1804, and licensed to a curacy in the north of Ireland. The obscurity of his situation was distasteful to him, and about 1810, accompanied by his widowed mother and his sisters, he settled in London, and devoted himself chiefly to literary pursuits. He became dramatic critic to the ‘New Times,’ and was a leading contributor to the ‘Literary Gazette’ and ‘Blackwood's Magazine’ from their commencement. Among his numerous contributions to the latter periodical was ‘The Traditions of the Rabbins,’ a portion of which has been erroneously attributed to De Quincey, and still appears among his collected works. Croly's connection with the ‘Literary Gazette’ brought about his marriage in 1819 to Margaret Helen Begbie, with whom he had become acquainted as a fellow-contributor to the journal. Jerdan, the editor of the ‘Gazette,’ endeavoured to procure Croly church preferment, but his efforts failed, according to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ from Croly being confounded with a converted Roman catholic priest of nearly the same name. Croly accordingly continued to devote himself vigorously to literature, producing his principal poem, ‘Paris in 1815,’ in 1817; ‘The Angel of the World’ and ‘May Fair’ in 1820; his tragedy ‘Catiline’ in 1822; ‘Tales of the Saint Bernard,’ and his chief romance, ‘Salathiel,’ in 1829. His poetical works were collected in 1830. Nor did he neglect professional pursuits, publishing a commentary on the Apocalypse in 1827, and ‘Divine Providence, or the Three Cycles of Revelation,’ in 1834. His ‘Life and Times of George the Fourth’ (1830) is a work of no historical value, but creditable to his independence of spirit. In 1834 he at length received an offer of preferment from Lord Brougham, a distant connection of his wife's; but the living proposed for his acceptance, Bondleigh, on the borders of Dartmoor, was so wild and solitary that he declined it. Brougham recommended him to his successor, Lyndhurst, who in 1835 gave him the rectory of St. Stephen's, Walbrook. He soon acquired a reputation for eloquence, and attracted an intellectual congregation to the church he had found ‘a stately solitude.’ In 1843 and for several years following his incumbency was disturbed by parochial squabbles with the churchwarden, Alderman Michael Gibbs, who caused the accounts of nineteen years and a half to be passed at a meeting of the select vestry, from which the general body of parishioners was excluded. A tedious litigation ensued, which resulted in the substitution of an open vestry for the select, and the placing of the parish funds in the hands of trustees, as desired by Croly. His income had suffered considerably, and in 1847 he accepted the appointment of afternoon lecturer at the Foundling; but his ornate style of preaching proved unsuitable to a congregation chiefly consisting of children and servants, and he speedily withdrew, publishing the sermons he had delivered with an angry and contemptuous preface. His novel, ‘Marston,’ had been published in 1846, and his poem, ‘The Modern Orlando,’ in the same year. He also performed much work for the booksellers, and contributed largely to periodical literature, being principal leader writer to the ‘Britannia’ newspaper for seven years. In 1851 he lost his wife, to whom he was greatly attached. In 1857 his parishioners presented him with his bust, which was placed in the church after his decease. He died very suddenly on 24 Nov. 1860.

Croly is a characteristic example of the dominant literary school of his youth, that of Byron and Moore. The defects of this school are unreality and meretriciousness; its redeeming qualities are a certain warmth of colouring and largeness of handling, both of which Croly possessed in ample measure. His chief work, ‘Salathiel,’ is boldly conceived, and may still be read with pleasure for the power of the situations and the vigour of the language, although some passages are palpable imitations of De Quincey. He was less at home in modern life, yet ‘Marston’ is interesting as a romance, and remarkable for its sketches of public men. In all his works, whether in prose or verse, Croly displays a lively and gorgeous fancy, with a total deficiency of creative imagination, humour, and pathos. His principal poem, ‘Paris in 1815,’ is a successful imitation of ‘Childe Harold;’ ‘The Modern Orlando’ is a very inferior ‘Don Juan;’ ‘Catiline’ is poetical, but undramatic. Some of his minor poems, especially ‘Sebastian,’ are penned with an energy which almost conceals the essential commonplace of the thought. As a preacher he was rather impressive than persuasive. ‘He had,’ says S. C. Hall, ‘a sort of rude and indeed angry eloquence that would have stood him in better stead at the bar than in the pulpit.’ James Grant says that his appearance in the pulpit was commanding, his delivery earnest and animated, his voice stentorian, yet not unpleasant. He usually preached extempore. His contributions to biblical literature were unimportant. He possessed considerable learning, but so little of the critical faculty that he identified Prometheus with Cain. As a man he seems to have been contentious and supercilious, yet by no meands devoid of geniality. Though illiberal on many points, he was no bigot, and the firmness of his public conduct and the independence of his private judgment do him much honour.

[Memoir by Frederick Croly, prefixed to Croly's Book of Job, 1863; Richard Herring's Personal Recollections of George Croly, 1861; Gent. Mag. 3rd ser. x. 104–7; S. C. Hall's Book of Memories, pp. 232, 233; James Grant's Metropolitan Pulpit, i. 239–56.]

R. G.