The Maclise Portrait-Gallery/Crofton Croker

Author of The Irish Fairy Legends.png

Author of "The Irish Fairy Legends."


It has been suggested that "Crofty" was an "original nursling of the Fairies"; but whether Cluricaune, Phooka, or Lepricaune is left to conjecture. This from his exiguity of bulk,—Maginn gives him 4 feet o inches of height, and 7¾ stone of weight,—but what matters bulk or stature? Dr. Watts, too, was a little man; and when taunted with the smallness of his person, is said to have exclaimed:—

"Were I so tall to reach the Pole,
Or grasp the ocean with my span,
 I would be measured by my soul,
The mind's the standard of the man!"

The story may be true, or not; it is at least ben trovato. Croker might well submit to the same test; for if he has not left the shade of a great name upon the earth, he attained a respectable place in the republic of letters, and has left behind him the sweet savour of an honourable and useful career.

Thomas Crofton Croker,—to give him his whole name,—was, like Maginn, a Corcagian, born in the "beautiful city," on the lovely banks of

"The spreading Lee, that, like an island fair,
Encloseth Corke with his divided flood,"

on the 15th January, 1798. In a paper on " Irish Minstrelsy," which he contributed to Fraser in the second month of its existence (March, 1830), he, with pardonable, yet characteristic, egotism, translates, from the original Irish, as "a specimen of the improvisatory power of the professional Keener," a long string of impromptu verses on his departure from his native city:—

"I liked your dark eyebrows,
And eyes bright and merry,
And your cheeks that resemble
The hawthorn berry.
Master Crofton, your country
You leave but for dangers —
To meet with false Saxons,
And cold-hearted strangers,"

—and then the old objurgation against perfide Albion:

"The country of Saxons
Takes all of our quality,
And, I've heard it from many,
Has small hospitality.
That little's the welcome
For the Irish among them;
But their only delight is
To cheat and to wrong them,"[1]

— and so on, interminably. Well, the beldame was Irish, and I do not suppose for a moment that she ever thought that her favourite had met with his deserts; but I think that a glance at his career will result in the belief that it was a reasonably successful one. Upon his arrival in England, his first visit was paid to his countryman, Tom Moore, at Sloperton Cottage, Wiltshire; he shortly proceeded to London, where it was not long before he received from John Wilson Croker (a namesake, but in no way related), the appointment at the Admiralty, which he held for nearly thirty years, retiring in 1850, as senior clerk of the first class. In literature he is perhaps best known by his Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, which first appeared in 1825. This was translated the same year into German by the brothers Grimm, with an elaborate introduction; and in 1828 into French, by P. A, Dufau. The second English edition was illustrated with etchings by Maclise;[2] and the work,—which was held to constitute its author "the honourable member for Fairyland,"—was afterwards condensed by Murray for his "Family Library," in which form,—the tales diminished in number by one-fifth, and all superfluous annotations left out,—with the exquisite little wood-cuts after W. H. Brooke, we generally see it. Although Croker has somehow managed to get all the credit of the book, it was undoubtedly a composite production, of which it is probably impossible, now that Thomas Keightley is not here to help us,[3] to apportion the shares correctly to their different authors. The son of Mr. Croker, in the memoir of his father, prefixed to the Walk from London to Fulham, gives no hint that others were concerned in the fabrication of the work; but a more immediate contemporary, A. A. Watts, is severe upon the subject:—

"——————See Crofton Croker,
That dull, inveterate, would-be joker ;
I wish he'd take a friendly hint,
And when he next appears in print.
Would tell us how he came to claim,
And to the book prefix his name —
Those Fairy Legends, terse and smart.
Of which he penn'd so small a part ;
Wherefore he owned them all himself.
And gave his friends nor fame, nor pelf?"[4]

My friend, the Rev. Charles Arthur Maginn, M.A., Rector of Killanally, Cork, informs me that he has in his possession a copy of the Fairy Legends, in which he noted down from the direct statement of his brother, the "Doctor," the tales contributed by him to the work. These were four in number,—"The Legend of Knocksheogowna," "The Legend of Bottle Hill," "Fairies or no Fairies," and "Daniel O'Rourke,"— the last named certainly one of the best in the collection. The remaining "Legends" have to be distributed among Croker, Keightley, Humphries, Lynch and others.

Crofton Croker was author also of Researches in the South of Ireland, 1824; Legends of the Lakes, 1829; and numerous contributions to the Gentleman's and Fraser's Magazine,— besides, as Maginn puts it, "various pretty antiquarian papers in a thousand unheard-of vehicles." In 1837, he translated and published (F. and W. Boone, New Bond Street, small 8vo, pp. 139) The Tour of the French Traveller, M. de la Boullaye le Gouz, in Ireland, A.D. 1644, with Notes and Illustrative Extracts contributed by James Roche, Esq., of Cork, the Rev. Francis Mahony, Thomas Wright, Esq., B.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the editor; and in 1839, he collected and edited, with Introduction, the Popular Songs of Ireland, published by Henry Colbourn, small 8vo, pp. 340.

Another, and certainly not the least interesting of his publications, is his [5], 8vo, Tegg, 1860. This is a posthumous republication of a series of papers which had previously appeared in Fraser's Magazine. They were subsequently collected, after the author's death, by J. F. Dillon Croker, F.S.A., etc., who has prefaced the volume by a memoir of his father, and are illustrated by the late Mr. Fairholt. They constitute a literary and antiquarian itinerary of the route between the extremities of which the author had for so many years travelled backwards and forwards like a pendulum,—to take a simile from the symbolical initial letter at the beginning of the book,— and contain descriptions of many localities changed or forgotten, and individual celebrities now long since passed away.

Croker married Marianne, daughter of Francis Nicholson, the eminent landscape aquarellist, who died March 6th, 1844, aged 91 years. This lady survived her husband by two months only, dying October 6th, 1854. All three slumber in the same grave.

Between the years 1837 and 1846, Croker inhabited a charming cottage at Fulham, which bore, as a legend on the gate-piers informed the passers-by, the romantic appellation of " Rosamond's Bower." Of this residence, with its garden, and its store of curiosities, pictures and books, a privately printed description, of which but a very few copies were distributed to his friends, was prepared by its inmate—

"Parva domus! nemorosa quies"

Here Croker was visited by Lucy Aikin, daughter of the once famous Dr. Aikin, whom Lamb, or some wicked wag, styled "an aching void,"—and a host of other celebrities. Here, when Major-General Sir Charles O'Donnell was seated at lunch, Moore himself dropped in, and partook of the repast. This event was commemorated by the proud and happy host by an Inscription on the back of the chair which the poet had occupied, which produced a careless little epigram from "Father Prout":—

"This is to tell o' days
When on this Cathedia,
 He of the 'Melodies'
Solemnly sat, agrah!"

Among the curiosities collected by Croker was what he considered to be the betrothal ring of Shakespeare, the "Gimmal Ring," which had been placed by the bard's own hand upon the finger of his betrothed bride, Anne Hathaway. This relic is fully described in Mr. Fairholt's little book, The Home of Shakespeare; and also in a letter from Croker himself to Mrs. Balmanno, preserved in that lady's interesting volume. Pen and Pencil (New York, 1858, small 4to), p. 163, where an engraving of the ring is given. At the sale of Croker's effects in December, 1854, this ring became the property of Mr. James Orchard Halliwell, who already possessed a rival ring, of, it is said, inferior workmanship, of which a representation is given in his Life of Shakespeare.

I am reminded, as I write, that the last letter written by Croker (July 21, 1854), was written to his friend Balmanno, and may be read in the book I have mentioned (p. 170). In it he speaks of an approaching "powerful operation," and hints that it may be the last letter he may have it in his power to write to any one.

The literary pilgrim will seek in vain for "Rosamond's Bower," — unless, indeed, he is aware of the fact that the successor to Croker in its tenancy,—Mr. Thomas James Bell,—altered the fantastic appellation to "Audley Cottage."

  1. The particular Keen, of which these verses form part, is appended to the volume
    Keens of the South of Ireland, Collected, Edited, and chiefly Translated by T. Crofton Croker. Printed for the Percy Society, No. xlvi., June, 1844.
  2. "The etchings which have been added to this edition are from sketches by Mr. McClise, a young Irish artist of considerable promise, who I trust will receive that patronage which he so justly merits."— Vol. i. 2nd ed. 1826, p. iv.
  3. Thomas Keightley, author of Fairy Mythology, the History of Rome, Greece, and England, and many other books, died Nov. 4, 1872, in the 84th year of his age.
  4. Literary Souvenir, 1832, p. 236.
  5. Walk front London to Fulham