1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Croft, Sir Herbert
CROFT, SIR HERBERT, Bart. (1751–1816), English author, was born at Dunster Park, Berkshire, on the 1st of November 1751, son of Herbert Croft (see below) of Stifford, Essex. He matriculated at University College, Oxford, in March 1771, and was subsequently entered at Lincoln’s Inn. He was called to the bar, but in 1782 returned to Oxford with a view to preparing for holy orders. In 1786 he received the vicarage of Prittlewell, Essex, but he remained at Oxford for some years accumulating materials for a proposed English dictionary. He was twice married, and on the day after his second wedding day he was imprisoned at Exeter for debt. He then retired to Hamburg, and two years later his library was sold. He had succeeded in 1797 to the title, but not to the estates, of a distant cousin, Sir John Croft, the fourth baronet. He returned to England in 1800, but went abroad once more in 1802. He lived near Amiens at a house owned by Lady Mary Hamilton, said to have been a daughter of the earl of Leven and Melville. Later he removed to Paris, where he died on the 26th of April 1816. In some of his numerous literary enterprises he had the help of Charles Nodier. Croft wrote the Life of Edward Young inserted in Johnson’s Lives of the Poets. In 1780 he published Love and Madness, a Story too true, in a series of letters between Parties whose names could perhaps be mentioned were they less known or less lamented. This book, which passed through seven editions, narrates the passion of a clergyman named James Hackman for Martha Ray, mistress of the earl of Sandwich, who was shot by her lover as she was leaving Covent Garden in 1779 (see the Case and Memoirs of the late Rev. Mr James Hackman, 1779). Love and Madness has permanent interest because Croft inserted, among other miscellaneous matter, information about Thomas Chatterton gained from letters which he obtained from the poet’s sister, Mrs Newton, under false pretences, and used without payment. Robert Southey, when about to publish an edition of Chatterton’s works for the benefit of his family, published (November 1799) details of Croft’s proceedings in the Monthly Review. To this attack Croft wrote a reply addressed to John Nichols in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and afterwards printed separately as Chatterton and Love and Madness ... (1800). This tract evades the main accusation, and contains much abuse of Southey. Croft, however, supplied the material for the exhaustive account of Chatterton in A. Kippis’s Biographia Britannica (vol. iv., 1789). In 1788 he addressed a letter to William Pitt on the subject of a new dictionary. He criticized Samuel Johnson’s efforts, and in 1790 he claimed to have collected 11,000 words used by excellent authorities but omitted by Johnson. Two years later he issued proposals for a revised edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, but subscribers were lacking and his 200 vols. of MS. remained unused. Croft was a good scholar and linguist, and the author of some curious books in French.
The Love Letters of Mr H. and Miss R. 1775–1779 were edited from Croft’s book by Mr Gilbert Burgess (1895). See also John Nichols’s Illustrations ... (1828), v. 202–218.