Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Croker, Thomas Crofton

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CROKER, THOMAS CROFTON (1798–1854), Irish antiquary, was born at Cork 15 Jan. 1798. His father, Thomas Croker, was a major in the army; his mother was widow of a Mr. Fitton and daughter of Croker Dillon of Baltidaniel, co. Cork. At sixteen Croker, who had little school education, was apprenticed to Lecky & Marchant, a Cork firm of quaker merchants. He early developed a taste for literature and antiquities, and between 1812 and 1815 rambled about the south of Ireland, collecting the songs and legends of the peasantry. A prose translation by him of an Irish ‘coronach,’ which he heard at Gouganebarra in 1813, appeared in the ‘Morning Post’ during 1815. A friend in Cork (Richard Sainthill) called Crabbe's attention to it two years later. About 1818 Croker forwarded to Moore, then engaged on his Irish melodies, ‘nearly forty ancient airs,’ ‘many curious fragments of ancient poetry, and some ancient traditions current’ in Cork. Moore soon afterwards invited Croker to pay a first visit to England. Croker showed capacity as an artist; sent Moore sketches of Cork scenery; exhibited pen-and-ink drawings at a Cork exhibition in 1817, and etched several plates in 1820. After his father's death (22 March 1818) Croker obtained a clerkship at the admiralty in London, through the influence of John Wilson Croker [q. v.], who took an interest in his family, although he was no relation. Croker remained at the admiralty till February 1850. He introduced lithography into the office.

Croker rapidly made his way as an author. He helped Sidney Taylor to edit a short-lived weekly paper, ‘The Talisman, or Literary Observer’ (June to December 1820); in 1824 he issued his ‘Researches in the South of Ireland,’ a sumptuous quarto, describing an Irish tour of 1821, and partly illustrated by Miss Marianne Nicholson, whom Croker married in 1830. In 1825 appeared Croker's best-known book, ‘The Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland,’ illustrated by W. H. Brooke. No author's name was on the title-page; for Croker, who was responsible for the bulk of it, had lost his original manuscript, and Dr. Maginn and other friends, to whom the legends were already familiar, helped to rewrite it. Sir Walter Scott was delighted with it, and praised it highly in a letter to the author, and in the notes to the 1830 edition of the Waverley novels, as well as in his ‘Demonology and Witchcraft.’ Both Scott and Croker have described a breakfast party at J. G. Lockhart's at which they were present (20 Oct. 1826). Maclise, Croker's fellow-townsman, illustrated the second edition of the ‘Legends’ in 1826. A second series, under Croker's name, appeared in 1827, and a third edition of the whole, from which Croker excluded all his friends' work, was issued in 1834; reprints are dated 1859, 1862, and 1882. The original edition was translated into German by the brothers Grimm (1826), and into French by P. A. Dufour (1828). Croker constructed a pantomime for Terry at the Adelphi out of his story of Daniel O'Rourke, which was performed at Christmas 1826 and twice printed (1826 and 1828). In 1822 R. Adolphus Lynch, an old schoolfellow, sold him some additional legends, which Croker published, with additions of his own, as ‘Legends of the Lakes,’ 1829. Maclise illustrated the book, an abbreviated version of which was issued as ‘A Guide to the Lakes’ in 1831, and as ‘Killarney Legends’ in 1876. In 1852 Croker wrote two stories, ‘The Adventures of Barney Mahoney,’ a humorous book, which soon became popular, and ‘My Village versus Our Village.’ His edition of the ‘Popular Songs of Ireland’ appeared in 1839, and was re-edited by Professor Henry Morley in 1885.

Croker was an active member of the Society of Antiquaries from 1827, and helped to found the Camden Society (1839), the Percy Society (1840), and the British Archæological Association (1843). He also established a convivial club, the Noviomagians, still in existence, out of members of the Society of Antiquaries, and was its permanent president. He was fellow of the Royal Antiquarian Society of Copenhagen (1833), and of the Swedish Archæological Society (1845). From 1837 to 1854 he was a registrar of the Royal Literary Fund, besides being member of many other of the learned societies of Great Britain. He was a collector of antiquities, especially of those concerning Ireland; and while living at Rosamond's Bower, Fulham, entertained most of the literary celebrities. Among his most intimate friends were Maclise, whom he helped to bring into notice, Dr. Maginn, ‘Father Prout,’ Thomas Wright, and Albert Denison, first Lord Londesborough. Croker died at Old Brompton 8 Aug. 1854. Lord Londesborough placed a memorial tablet in Grimston Church, West Riding of Yorkshire.

Croker's wife, Marianne, daughter of Francis Nicholson, a painter, was herself an artist of some note, and largely helped her husband in his literary work. She died 6 Oct. 1854, leaving an only son, T. F. Dillon Croker.

According to Scott, Croker was ‘little as a dwarf, keen-eyed as a hawk, and of easy, prepossessing manners.’ Maclise introduced him into his picture of ‘Hallow Eve,’ and into his ‘Group of F.S.As.’ A separate portrait by Maclise of Croker in early life belonged to Richard Sainthill of Cork, and another was engraved in ‘Fraser's Magazine’ for 1833, and in the ‘Dublin University Magazine’ for 1849. W. Wyon, R.A., executed a profile in wax.

Croker contributed to the magazines, and edited for Harrison Ainsworth a miscellany entitled ‘The Christmas Box’ in 1827, to which Scott, Lamb, Hook, and Maria Edgeworth contributed. Besides the works already enumerated, Croker wrote ‘The Queen's Question Queried,’ 1820; ‘Historical Illustrations of Kilmallock,’ 1840; a description of his residence, 1842, privately printed; catalogue of Lady Londesborough's collection of mediæval rings and ornaments, 1853; ‘A Walk from London to Fulham,’ 1860, originally contributed to ‘Fraser's Magazine’ in 1845. Croker edited ‘Journal of a Tour through Ireland in 1644,’ from the French of De la Boulaye de Gouz (1837); ‘A Memoir of Joseph Holt’ (1837); ‘Narratives of the Irish Rebellions of 1641 and 1690’ for the Camden Society; and for the Percy Society ‘Historical Songs of Ireland temp. 1688,’ ‘A Kerry Pastoral,’ ‘The Keen of the South of Ireland’ (containing the coronach originally contributed to the ‘Morning Post’), ‘Popular Songs illustrating the French Invasions of Ireland,’ ‘Autobiography of Mary, Countess of Warwick,’ ‘Believe as you List,’ a tragedy by Massinger, and a third book of ‘Britannia's Pastorals.’ John Payne Collier commented severely on Croker's edition of Massinger's play in the ‘Shakespeare Society Papers,’ iv. Croker announced the publication of several other historical works, which never appeared.

[Dublin University Mag., August 1849, xxxiv. 203–16 (a long article, for which material was supplied by Croker himself); Memoir by his son, T. F. Dillon Croker, in Fairy Legends (1859), and with letters from literary friends in the 1862 edition of the same book; Gent. Mag. 1854, ii. 397, 452, 525; a few unimportant notices appear in Moore's Diaries and in Father Prout's Reliques.]

S. L. L.