The Shallow end / Robert Shallow I HAVE had a soft spot for the Biblio- during the eighteenth and nineteenth requesting the ministers and congre theca Britannica ever since Ronald centuries, though it must be said that, gations to pray for the preservation of Benge recounted to us, his students of in reviewing the lives of the compilers, Mistress Abney and her attendants. On historical bibliography at the North one gets more glimpses of toil than of her return, he organised prayers of western Polytechnic, the tribulations joy. thanksgiving in London churches. He of the compiler, Dr Robert Watt, was devastated to learn that this broad At about the time we were being during the final stages of that great casting of his Christian concern for introduced to the Bibliotheca work. Britannica via a death bed, I bought a Elizabeth Abney was repaid by furious His account inspired one student— copy of Cruden's Complete concord and final rejection of his suit. Mary Pearce, if I remember correctly ance to the Bible, minus the publisher's As a student at Mareschal College, —to do a lightning sketch. Her draw casing, for a couple of shillings. I Cruden 'made considerable proficiency ing showed the emaciated biblio grew so fond of it that I had it rebound in the learned languages and the degree and it remains among my most useful grapher (ex ploughboy, labourer, of Master of Arts was conferred upon schoolmaster, medical practitioner) books, a sturdy royal octavo in good him' . After some time as a tutor, he set abed in nightshirt and nightcap, blue cloth, which will survive me by up as a bookseller in the Royal supervising his daughters in their duties generations. Exchange. He was also employed as of placing slips into bags hanging from 'corrector of the press' and, under his The edition, produced in 1823, was the corner knobs of the iron bedstead. inspection, 'several editions of the edited by Samuel Blackburn and con Greek and Roman classics were pub Only recently, I decided to read the tains his memoir of Alexander Cruden, lished with great accuracy'. Dictionary of national biography entry the compiler. Blackburn wrote that for Robert Watt and found the picture Cruden showed 'some symptoms of The Concordance was first pub partly confirmed. It says that the con aberration 'of mind before he deter lished at Cruden's expense, which tinuous labour of preparing the Biblio- mined to begin that great work, A compelled him to sell his bookshop theca impaired his health and he retired complete concordance to the Holy stock. That first edition was dedicated from medical practice. The compila Scriptures of the Old and New to Queen Caroline, to whom he had the tion of it, 'he directed from a sick bed, Testaments'. But, whereas the strains honour of presenting a copy shortly assisted by his sons John and James... ' of compiling the Bibliotheca impaired before publication. He gained nothing These sons died young, 'both, like their Watt's health—and that of his family from that because the Queen died father, victims to their devotion to —the solitary labours and anxieties suddenly sixteen days after the pre bibliography'. over the Concordance exacerbated sentation. Blackburn's sanguine com Cruden's natural eccentricity and ment on that cruel blow was that it Ther e is no mention of his occasioned bouts of insanity. 'strikingly manifested the uncertain daughters' humble yet essential nature of all earthly dependencies'. assistance. But they must have been Cruden was not a bachelor by there, of course, just as depicted in choice; he was spectacularly unfor Cruden's eccentricities have been Mary Pearce's drawing: quiet, dutiful, tunate in his pursuit of the ladies. In given much more currency than his plainly-dressed, with their hair the first of two serious affairs of the diligence and decency. He assumed the uniformly in buns. There is no doubt heart recounted in this memoir, title of 'Alexander the Corrector' and whatsoever about the slips which they Cruden, not yet twenty-one years old, proposed that, by an Order in Council conscientiously placed into bags. They paid court to an Aberdeen clergyman's or an Act of Parliament, he should be finished up, after publication, in two daughter. His addresses were appointed 'Corrector of the People' large sacks 'which were discovered brusquely rejected; the more he and he also applied directly to the King after the death of Watt's last surviving pressed, the more rudely he was told to for a knighthood. Some of his publica daughter in 1864'. The slips 'are now go away. After he had left Aberdeen tions were equally dotty and his two preserved', the DNB entry says, 'in the for London, one very good reason for lawsuits were ludicrously hopeless. free library at Paisley, arranged in the vehemence of the young lady's But, as Blackburn wrote, Alexander sixty-nine volumes'. There is one other refusal of him became public know Cruden was in private life 'courteous reference to the last surviving ledge: she was having an affair with her and affable'. To the poor 'he was as daughter. It reads: 'She is said to have brother, by whom she was pregnant. liberal of his money as of his advice . . . died in the workhouse at Glasgow.' The second courtship described by and often gave away more than he Blackburn was just as one-sided. retained for his own use'. By his efforts In the introduction to his Who's who Cruden, in his early fifties, set his heart alone, Richard Potter, who to be in the Middle Ages (reprinted Muller, on the daughter of Sir Thomas Abney, 1980) John Fines wrote: 'The study of hanged for forgery, was spared and the a former Lord Mayor of London. sentence commuted to transportation. biography is the motivation that makes Elizabeth Abney refused to see him possible the study of the larger field of Cruden was engaged for almost and returned his letters, so Cruden history . . . ' The effort to understand forty years on the three editions of his then determined on a public courtship. the wider field, he continued, 'is made Concordance and made no profit. I He published some of the innumerable only when our humanity is touched by was told recently that he once walked 'letters, memorials and remonstrances' that sudden mirror-glimpse of another about with a burning brazier on his to her, including a lengthy piece human being in the toils and joys of hat. That story is obviously untrue entitled Declaration of war. life'. because he, like Dr Watt, had no need to do such a thing. Bibliography had That theory can hold good for the When she went for a stay in the West rewarded both of them by heaping study of historical bibliography, par country, he arranged for 'prayer bills' coals of fire on their heads. ticularly the reference books produced to be posted in several churches there,
New Library World – Emerald Publishing
Published: Nov 1, 1981
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