Cruden, Alexander (DNB00)

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CRUDEN, ALEXANDER (1701–1770), author of the ‘Biblical Concordance,’ was second son of William Cruden, a merchant in Aberdeen, one of the bailies of that city, and an elder in a presbyterian congregation. He was born 31 May 1701, and educated first at the grammar school in Aberdeen, and afterwards at Marischal College, where he took the degree of A.M., but owing to the loss of the college registers before 1737 the exact date is unknown. Very soon, however, he began to show signs of insanity, attributed by some to a disappointment in love, of a specially sad nature, and was for a short time under restraint. Upon release he left Aberdeen and removed to London in 1722, where he obtained employment as a private tutor. His first engagement was as tutor to the son of a country squire living at Elm Hall, Southgate; afterwards, it is said, he was engaged in a like capacity at Ware. In 1729 he was for a short time employed by the tenth Earl of Derby, on the recommendation of Mr. Maddox, chaplain to the bishop of Chichester (probably the clergyman of that name who was afterwards bishop of Worcester), apparently as a reader or amanuensis, but was discharged at Halnaker on 7 July on account of his ignorance of French pronunciation, with regard to which we have his own confession that he pronounced every letter as it is written. He then returned to London and took lodgings in the house of one Madame Boulanger in Crown Street, Soho (having previously lodged with Mr. Oswald, a bookseller, at the Rose and Crown, Little Britain), a house exclusively frequented by Frenchmen, and took lessons in the language, with the hope of a speedy return to the earl's service; but in this he was disappointed. In September of that year he went down to Knowsley, intending to claim a year's salary if not retained, but the earl would not see him, and he was peremptorily dismissed the day after his arrival. He attributed his dismissal to the unfriendly offices of one of the earl's chaplains, Mr. Clayton, on account, as he supposed, of his being a presbyterian; but it is evident from his own correspondence that he was unfitted for the work he had undertaken, and that he was in a half-crazed condition. However, as he is said by Chalmers to have spent some years as a tutor in the Isle of Man before 1732, it is probable that that employment was found for him by the earl. He returned to London in 1732 and opened a bookseller's shop in the Royal Exchange; in April 1735 he obtained the unremunerative title of bookseller to the queen (Caroline) as successor to a Mr. Matthews. For this (as we learn from a letter among the Addit. MSS., British Museum) he had been recommended by the lord mayor and most of the whig aldermen to Sir Robert Walpole in December 1734, and he asked Sir Hans Sloane's assistance in obtaining the appointment on the ground that he had had a learned education, and had been for some years corrector of the press in Wild Court; but he makes his learn- ing unfortunately appear questionable by adding the Greek sentence, ἀρχὴν ἀπαντων καὶ τελος ποίει Θεον. In 1736 he began his ‘Concordance,’ and must have laboured at it with great assiduity, as the next year saw its publication, with a dedication to the queen, to whom it was presented on 3 Nov.; but unfortunately for the author his patroness died on the 20th of the same month. On 7 Nov. he writes to Sir H. Sloane, telling him that the book will be published that week, and soliciting the purchase of a copy. The publication price was eighteen shillings. Disappointed, as it seems, in his expectation of profit from his great task, he gave up business, and his mind became so unhinged that, in consequence of his persistently paying unwelcome addresses to a widow, he was confined for ten weeks, from 23 March to 31 May, in a private madhouse in Bethnal Green, from which he escaped by cutting through the bedstead to which he was chained. Of this confinement he wrote an account in a curious pamphlet of sixty pages, entitled ‘The London Citizen exceedingly Injured, or a British Inquisition Display'd.’ The pamphlet was dedicated to Lord H——, apparently Lord Harrington, then secretary of state. He brought an action for damages on this account in the following year, in which, as was to be expected, he had no success. He published an account of the trial itself, dedicated to the king. In December 1740 he writes to Sir H. Sloane, saying that he had then been employed since July as Latin usher in a boarding-school kept by Mr. Blaides at Enfield, a place which he describes as being very fashionable, near fifty coaches being kept in the parish. His chief subsequent employment was as a corrector of the press for works of learning, and several editions of Greek and Latin classics are said to have owed their accuracy to his care. He also superintended the printing of one of the folio editions of Matthew Henry's ‘Commentary,’ and in 1750 printed a small ‘Compendium’ (or abstract of the contents of each chapter) ‘of the Holy Bible,’ which has been reprinted in the larger editions of his ‘Concordance.’ His employment in this capacity of corrector of the press suggested to him the adoption of the title ‘Alexander the Corrector,’ as significant of the office which he thenceforward assumed of correcting the morals of the nation, with especial regard to swearing and the neglect of Sunday observance; for this office he believed himself to be specially commissioned by heaven, and his success to be assured by prophecies. He petitioned parliament for a formal appointment as a corrector for the reformation of the people, and in April 1755 printed a ‘Letter to the Speaker and the other Members,’ and about the same time an ‘Address to the King and Parliament;’ but in 1756 he complains that he cannot get any M.P. to present another petition for assistance to his scheme. Having in September 1753 become involved (how, does not clearly appear) in some street brawl at his lodgings, he was, by means of his sister (married in the previous year to a Mr. Wild), confined in an asylum at Chelsea for seventeen days. After his release he brought an unsuccessful action against her and the other persons concerned, and made grave proposals to them to go into like confinement as an atonement. He published an account of this second restraint in ‘The Adventures of Alexander the Corrector’ (see Gent. Mag. xxiv. 50); he also wrote an account of his trial, dedicated to the king, and made vain attempts by attendance at court to present it in person, and to obtain the honour of knighthood, which, with other distinctions, he believed to have been foretold. In 1754, with a view to the furtherance of his self-assumed work, he procured nomination as a candidate for the representation of the city of London in parliament, but did not go to the poll, and in 1755 pertinaciously paid his unwelcome addresses to the daughter of Sir Thomas Abney of Newington (1640–1722) [q. v.], publishing his letters and the history of his repulse in a third part of his ‘Adventures.’ In the month of June 1755 he visited Oxford, and in July went to Cambridge. At Oxford he tells us that he was placed on the vice-chancellor's left hand in the theatre at the commemoration on 2 July, ‘received a loud clap,’ and dined twice with the librarian of the Bodleian (Owen). ‘A pious preacher of the gospel of great learning, a fellow of Magdalen College’ (perhaps George Horne, afterwards bishop of Norwich), told him that by the Bible and his ‘Concordance’ he had been taught to preach. At Cambridge he was also received with much respect, and of his visit some curious particulars are given in two letters from J. Neville of Emmanuel College to Dr. Cox Macro, preserved in the British Museum. Neville, writing on 18 July 1755, says: ‘We have here at present a very extraordinary man, Mr. Cruden, the author of a very excellent book of the kind, “The Concordance to the Bible.” The poor man (I pity him heartily) is supposed now not to be quite in his right mind.’ In a subsequent letter he mentions that Cruden was warmly entertained by Mr. Jacob Butler, an old and eccentric lawyer, who took him to Lord Godolphin's, and accompanied him when he went on missionary visits to Barnwell, and distributed handbills on sabbath observance on Sunday. One of these printed papers, headed ‘Admonition to Cambridge,’ is preserved with these letters; it is reprinted at p. 26 of the ‘Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain,’ mentioned below, as an ‘Admonition to Windsor.’ A practical joke was arranged at Cambridge, in which Cruden was knighted with mock ceremony by a Miss Vertue and others, and he took the frolic seriously; the fees he paid were kisses to all the ladies present. He appointed Mr. Impey, an undergraduate of Trinity College, Mr. Richardson of Emmanuel College, and a ‘celebrated beauty,’ Miss Taylor, to be his deputy-correctors for Cambridge; one of their duties was ‘to pray for support and deliverance to the French protestants.’ From Cambridge Cruden went to Eton, Windsor, and Tunbridge, and in December following visited Westminster School, where he appointed four boys to be his deputies. Of all these visits he gives accounts in a pamphlet (occasioned by the earthquake at Lisbon and the war with France), which he published at the beginning of 1756, and entitled ‘The Corrector's earnest Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain;’ it was dedicated to the Princess Dowager of Wales. Six years later, in 1762, he was the means of saving from the gallows an ignorant seaman named Richard Potter, who had been capitally convicted for uttering (although, as it seemed, without criminal intent) a forged will of a fellow-seaman. Cruden visited him in Newgate, prayed with him, instructed him with good effect, and then, by earnest and repeated importunity, obtained the commuted sentence of transportation. Another of his many pamphlets recorded (1763) the history of the case. For a short time afterwards he continued to visit daily the prisoners in Newgate, but without much result. Against Wilkes, whom he heartily abhorred, he wrote a small pamphlet, which is now very rare. In 1769 he paid a visit to the city of his birth, and there lectured in his character of corrector, and also largely distributed copies of the fourth commandment and various religious tracts. To a conceited young minister, whose appearance did not commend itself to the corrector, he is said to have gravely presented a small book for children, called ‘The Mother's Catechism, dedicated to the young and ignorant.’ A ‘Scripture Dictionary’ was compiled by him about this time, and was printed at Aberdeen in two octavo volumes shortly after his death. Many prefaces to books are said to have been also his work, but of these no record has been preserved. On the authority of Chalmers a verbal index to Milton, which accompanied Bishop Newton's edition in 1749, is also assigned to him. Of his ‘Bible Concordance’ he published a second edition in 1761, which he presented to the king in person on 21 Dec., and the third, which was the last issued by himself, appeared in 1769. Both of these contain his portrait, engraved from a drawing ‘ad vivum’ by T. Fry, which gives him a very winning countenance. He is said by these two editions to have gained 800l. He died suddenly, while praying, in his lodgings in Camden Passage, Islington, very shortly after his return to London from Aberdeen, 1 Nov. 1770. When found dead he was still upon his knees. He was buried in the burial-ground of a dissenting congregation, in Deadman's Place, Southwark, which now appears to be included in the brewery of Messrs. Barclay & Perkins. He bequeathed one portion of his savings to Marischal College, Aberdeen, to found a bursary of 5l. per annum, which still preserves his name in the list of the benefactors of his university. Another portion was left to the city of Aberdeen to provide for distribution of religious books to the poor; but as this bequest does not now appear in the list of existing charities belonging to the city the money was probably intended for immediate distribution and not for a ‘mortification.’ His biblical labours have justly made his name a household word among the English-speaking peoples; his earnest, gentle, and self-denying piety commanded in his later days, in spite of his eccentricities, the kindly and compassionate toleration, often the admiration, of his contemporaries. It is probable that his habits in later life improved his mental condition.

[Life by Alex. Chalmers (who in his boyhood heard Cruden lecture at Aberdeen), reprinted with additions from Kippis's Biog. Brit. of 1789, and prefixed to an edition of the Concordance published in 1824 (frequently reprinted in later editions). The various pamphlets published by Cruden himself; Nelson's Hist. of Islington, 1811, pp. 392–400; Rawlinson MS. C. 793, in the Bodleian Library, containing Cruden's Letters to the Earl of Derby; Addit. MS. 4041, Brit. Mus., Letters to Sir H. Sloane; and 32557, Correspondence of Dr. Cox Macro, bought in 1881 at Mr. Crossley's sale.]

W. D. M.