Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Crossley, James

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CROSSLEY, JAMES (1800–1883), author, was born at Halifax on 31 March 1800, being the son of James Crossley, a merchant of that town, and Anne, his wife, daughter of William Greenup of Skircoat. He was educated at the grammar schools of Hipperholme and Heath, where he was well grounded in the classics. When he left school in 1816 he went to Manchester, and in the following year was articled to Thomas Ainsworth, solicitor, father of the novelist, W. Harrison Ainsworth [q. v.], whose literary mentor he became. Crossley's father possessed a fair library, and the youth, having a free run of the books, acquired a decided taste for literature, especially for the Latin poets and the old English writers, a predilection which was fostered by Thomas Edwards, the bookseller and binder of Halifax, and further developed by frequent recourse to the Chetham Library at Manchester. Before he was out of his teens he began writing for ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ his first article appearing in January 1820. It was an able essay on Sir Thomas Browne. Other disquisitions soon followed, viz. on ‘Sir Thomas Urquhart's “Jewell”’ (March 1820) on the ‘Literary Characters of Bishop Warburton and Dr. Johnson’ (December 1820); on ‘Beard's Theatre of God's Judgments;’ on ‘Manchester Poetry;’ ‘Manchester versus Manchester Poetry;’ a charming essay on Chetham's Library (June 1821); on ‘Sir Thomas Browne's Letter to a Friend;’ on the ‘Comedy of Eastward Hoe;’ and on Jasper Mayne's ‘City Match.’

When the ‘Retrospective Review’ was started in 1820 he rendered great assistance to the editors, and, among other papers, contributed the following: on ‘Sir Thomas Browne's Urn-Burial,’ ‘Jerome Carden,’ ‘Sir Philip Sidney,’ and ‘The Arcadia’ (reprinted in separate form in 1853); on Fuller's ‘Holy and Profane State;’ and on ‘Quarles's Enchiridion.’ Some years later, it is said, he assisted Lockhart in the ‘Quarterly Review,’ but whether he is answerable for any of the articles in that work is not known.

In 1822 he edited a small duodecimo volume of ‘Tracts by Sir Thomas Browne, Knight, M.D.,’ of which five hundred copies were printed. He intended to bring out a complete edition of Browne's works, but was forestalled by Mr. Simon Wilkin. When Crossley heard of that admirable editor's projected work, he offered some valuable suggestions. One of the pieces which he sent as being copied from a manuscript in the British Museum was, however, undoubtedly written by Crossley himself. This was the clever ‘Fragment on Mummies,’ which Wilkin printed in good faith (Browne, Works, 1835, iv. 273).

Proceeding with his legal training, he went to London in 1822, and entered as a pupil in the office of Jacob Phillips, who was a noted conveyancer in King's Bench Walk, and who wrote a book of advice to articled clerks, entitled ‘A Letter from a Grandfather to a Grandson, &c.’ (1818). In 1823 Crossley was admitted a partner with Mr. Ainsworth, and he continued in practice until 1860. In the earlier part of his professional career he was engaged in important negotiations in connection with extensive street improvements in Manchester; and when the town acquired the right to parliamentary representation he figured as worker and speaker on behalf of the tory candidates at the borough elections, notably at the contest in 1837 when Mr. Gladstone was, without his consent, put forward as conservative candidate.

In 1840 there was published a new edition of Dr. John Wallis's ‘Eight Letters concerning the Blessed Trinity,’ which was produced at the expense of Mr. Thomas Flintoff, and bore his name as editor, but Crossley was solely responsible for the introduction and learned notes which it contains.

His abilities and attainments were often placed at the service of his fellow-citizens. In 1840 and again in 1857 he acted as president of the Incorporated Law Association of Manchester. He was president of the Manchester Athenæum from 1847 to 1850, and his acquaintance with leading men of letters enabled him to be of much use in connection with the great literary soirées which were held at that institution. He assisted in the catalogue of the Portico Library, and when the Manchester Free Library was in course of formation (1851–2) he joined the committee, and helped to select the eighteen thousand volumes which formed the nucleus of the collection. In 1857 his portrait, painted by C. Mercier, was placed in the Free Library by a number of his admirers.

He was a member of the Abbotsford Club, the Society of Antiquaries, the Philobiblon, Surtees, and other societies, but the association in whose affairs he took the most pride was the Chetham Society, which was formed at his house in 1843, and of which he was elected president in 1848. He retained the post until his death, and his connection with the society formed the central fact of his life. The proof sheets of more than a hundred volumes of the publications of the society passed through his hands, and many were enriched with his notes. He edited the following volumes of the series: Potts's ‘Discovery of Witches,’ 1845; Dr. John Worthington's ‘Diary,’ 1848–52, this being regarded as Crossley's magnum opus; Dee's ‘Autobiog. Tracts,’ 1851; Heywood's ‘Observations in Verse,’ 1869. He was also president of the Spenser Society, formed in 1866, and of the Record Society, formed in 1878.

In 1855 he was elected a feoffee of the Chetham Hospital and Library. In recognition of his services to the institution his co-trustees and other friends subscribed for his portrait, which was painted by J. H. Walker, and publicly presented to the library in 1875. On the death of Thomas Jones, the librarian, Crossley assumed the control of the Chetham Library, and in 1877 was appointed honorary librarian.

He was himself the owner of an enormous library, which he began to form as early as 1816. Its ultimate extent was estimated at one hundred thousand volumes. Most of these books were disposed about his house in great stacks, piled up from the floors, but the more valuable books and manuscripts were placed in tin boxes. It was a very miscellaneous agglomeration of literature, yet the owner had a marvellous knowledge of the contents of the volumes, evidence of which is seen in the notes to the works he edited, and in his numerous contributions to ‘Notes and Queries’ and the ‘ Gentleman's Magazine.’ A few of the main features of the library are noticed in a paper by J. H. Nodal in the ‘Transactions of the Library Association,’ 1879. Part of the collection was sold by auction at Manchester in May 1884, and the remainder at Sotheby's in London in July 1884 and June 1885. A large portion of his literary correspondence is preserved at the Manchester Free Library.

Crossley, whose personal appearance was remarkable from his extreme corpulence and his fresh ruddy complexion, was highly esteemed for his social qualities. There was not in Manchester a more graceful after-dinner speaker, nor a table-talker with such a wealth of personal reminiscences of authors as well as acquaintance with their works as he possessed. He was an accomplished writer of epigrams and verses. One of these jeux d'esprit was his ‘Vade-Mecum to Hatton,’ privately printed in 1867 (12mo, pp. 10). Some of his early stanzas are produced in ‘Blackwood’ for April 1820.

He died at his residence, Stocks House, Cheetham, Manchester, on 1 Aug. 1883, his end having been hastened by a fall at the Euston Square Station, London, a few months previously. He was buried at Kersal Church, Manchester. He never married.

[Palatine Note-book, iii. 221 (with portrait), iv. 97, 245; Manchester Guardian, 2 Aug. 1883; Manchester Courier and Manchester Examiner, same date; Evans's Lanc. Authors and Orators, 1850; Smith's Old Yorkshire, iii. 49 (photo. portrait); caricature portrait in Momus, 11 March 1880.]

C. W. S.