C. E. Vullamy, ‘Macaulay on Croker’, in Ursa Major: A Study of Dr. Johnson and His Friends (London: Michael Joseph 1946) [Chapter XVI].

See also Lord Macaulay’s review of Croker's Boswell [Life of Johnson] (1831) - attached.

In 1831 an edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson, including the “Tour to the Hebrides” and various odds and ends was published by John Wilson Croker. It was by no means a despicable edition (indeed, it had many merits and a number of extremely valuable notes from various hands), but it was not in Mr. Croker’s nature to be scrupulously attentive to dates, quotations and other matters of equal importance. This edition was attacked with extraordinary vigour by Macaulay in the Edinburgh Review . His review is one of the most incisive and effective of all his writings and it has had a very considerable influence upon the attitude of literary people towards Boswell and Johnson.

Macaulay hated Croker, he hated Boswell, and he had only a moderately tolerant opinion of Johnson. It is not enough to throw aside his review as an effusion of mere prejudice. We shall behave more reasonably if we examnie his allegations, particularly with a view to establishing or disproving their relevance, and endeavour to understand his motives. First of all we have to glance at Croker himself.

John Wilson Croker, though born in Ireland, was descended from a Devonshire family. He was a politician and a miscellaneous writer, precise, unimaginative, assertive and industrious; a man more likely to he respected than admired, and less likely to arouse feelings of ardent loyalty than the colder sentiment of esteem. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he was a pedant and a toady. He entered Parliament as the Member for Downpatrick in 1806, when he was twenty-six years old. His powers were displayed in the sordid affair of [293] the Duke of York and Mrs. Clarke: he was, of course, on the side of royalty. He became Chief Secretary for Ireland, and later Secretary to the Admiralty; a post which he held for twenty-two years. Of his writings there is little to be said, for none of thein had any importance and all are now forgotten. He composed inferior poems, wrote on Ireland and the French Revolution and edited various papers and letters. He was one of the supports of the Quarterly Review . He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society.

When Macaulay entered Parliament in 1830 he found himself in collision with Croker, a man twenty years older than himself. It was a collision as much due to personal discrepancy as to difference in politics. To a zealous and sardonic young man, the cool mediocrity of Croker was insupportable; and in these collisions Macaulay was not always victorious.

The rancour between these two two men was maintained without intermission or truce; nor could it well have been otherwise, when Macaulay spoke of Croker in the most compromising terms as ’a scandal to literature and to politics’. Thus, when Croker’s Boswell came into Macaulay’s hands from the office of the Edinburgh Review, it provided him with an opportunity that was irresistible.

The book was meanly presented, and the editor’s notes were full of extraordinary blunders and of ridiculous comments. The text was fissured repeatedly by violent intrusions from other sources, and was mutilated with offensive zeal by the dirty fingers of prudery. The notes of Mr. Croker himself were often silly, irrelevant and or (what is worse) coy, smug and undiscerning. In the matter of dates Mr. Croker’s wildness almost exceeds that of Mrs. Piozzi. (He was anxious to point out the errors of Boswell; but I may observe that he overlooked one of the most obvious of Boswell’s mistakes, when, in the Tour to the Hebrides, he says that he met Johnson in 1762.) “Mr. Croker has committed an error of five [283] years with respect to the publication of Goldsmith’s novel, an error of twelve years with respect to the publication of part & Gibbon’s History, an error of twenty-one years with respect to an event in Johnson’s life so important as the taking of a doctoral degree”. And so on. Nor was the learning of Mr. Croker more commendable than his accuracy, for he seems to have been scarcely aware of the difference between Greek and Latin. It is not easy to understand how, or why, Sir Theodore Martin should have spoken of this book as ’a monument of editorial industry and editorial skill’. The printers were anxious to make their own contribution to the hash and were more devilish than usual. We have to infer that Mr. Croker was unable to bestow much time or much care upon the revision of his proofs; or else he was defeated by the mishandlings of base mechanics.

Thus Macaulay had good reason as a man of letters to give, Mr. Croker the heartiest of maulings, but he set about his work with the less defensible impulse of personal hatred. And now, having demolished the ineffable Croker, he turned even more fiercely to the demolition of Boswell. In this case the impulse of hatred is less easy to explain. […; note]’ ( pp.282-85.)



Note: The remainder of the chapter deals with Macaulay’s characterisation of Boswell, as in the review, attached.

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