A charming lunatic

Today’s snippet comes from the life and times of Mr Alexander Cruden, a British eccentric, and, some might say, raving lunatic. What fascinates me about Cruden is his tenacity. A man who was incarcerated three times, declared war on a woman he’d never met, and patrolled the streets of London armed with a damp sponge deserves both our interest and our respect.

Alexander was born in 1699 in Aberdeen, son to a prominent merchant, and second of eleven children. He was educated in Aberdeen and took a master’s degree, in addition to which he attended lectures on divinity to support his intention of joining the church. Unfortunately, it was at this time that Alexander fell in love with a minster’s daughter. She spurned his affections and instead fell preganant with her own brother’s child. As a result Cruden became slightly unhinged and was confined to the tolbooth for a fortnight, there being no asylum at that time which could suitably hold him. Once released, he made immediately for london and lived as a private tutor there until 1726 when he began work as a proof-reader.

 

In 1732, Cruden was working as a bookseller and proof-reader at the Royal Exchange. In 1733 he began work on his celebrated Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures, and in 1735 he received a royal warrant and began to style himself as The Queen’s Bookseller. He presented a copy of his book to Queen Caroline in November 1737, only days before her death. The death of the queen hit Cruden hard; he had lost both royal patron and a source of income, and once more a crisis exerted a toll on his mental health. He started paying unwelcome attention to a Mrs Pain, widow, and was subsequently confined to Mr Wright’s private madhouse in Bethnal Green in March 1738. Cruden lodged at Mr Wright’s for nine weeks, chained to his bed, until he was able to finally make his escape. Once free, he attempted to take action against those whom he held responsible and published a pamphlet entitled The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured. His attempts to bring his gaolers to justice came to nothing, no doubt in part because he took steps to conduct the court case himself.

In 1753, Cruden became involved in a public street brawl. It was often his habit to intervene in situations such as these in order to maintain the public calm, but on this occasion he was actively engaged in a fight for over an hour with a young man and a shovel. The youngster had ‘so greatly offended him that, contrary to his usual custom, he took the shovel and corrected him with some severity’. As a consequence, Cruden’s sister had Alexander confined to Inskip’s Asylum in Chelsea for seventeen days. When he was released, Cruden tried to bring a suit against her and three others to the tune of £10,000, but his efforts were unsuccessful. As was his request that his sister commit herself to Newgate Gaol for several days in penance.

Appalled by his treatment in Chelsea, Cruden wrote an account of it entitled The Adventures of Alexander the Corrector (1754). By this point Cruden was convinced he had been divinely appointed by God to act as a protector of public morals. He also felt a knighthood, and a spell as a parliamentary candidate might assist his endeavours in this regard. Perhaps unsurprisingly nothing came of these ambitions. Around the same time, Alexander also fell in love with a woman he did not know; Elizabeth Adney, daughter of the lord mayor of London, became the object of his passion. Cruden, convinced Miss Adney was his predestined partner, bombarded her with correspondence, but her reluctance to respond to his flood of letters, or indeed, to entertain him in any capacity whatsoever, resulted in him reconfiguring himself as Alexander the Conqueror, and delivering a formal declaration of war against the unfortunate woman in July 1754. He waged a fanatical and single-minded campaign against her, but, as with so many of his ventures, achieved little in the way of success.

For months he pestered her with calls, and persecuted her with letters, memorials, and remonstrances. When she left home, he caused ‘praying-bills’ to be distributed in various places of worship, requesting the prayers of the minister and congregation for her preservation and safe return; and when this took place, he issued further bills to the same congregations to return thanks.

In 1763, Cruden campaigned against the death sentence of a young seaman he had befriended, and managed to get the sentence reduced to transportation abroad. It was during this period that he spent much time carrying a sponge around the streets of London to efface any offensive scribblings which caught his eye:

he carried in his pockets a large piece of sponge. He subsequently attempted to obliterate all the obscene inscriptions with which idle persons were permitted at that time to disgrace blank walls in the metropolis. This occupation made his walks very tedious.

Cruden returned to Aberdeen in 1769, and a year later returned to London, lodging in Camden Street, Islington. He was found dead on the morning of 1st November 1770. During his lifetime he had expressed a preference to be buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas’s, Aberdeen, but he was interred instead in the dissenters’ burial-ground at Deadman’s Place, Southwark.

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3 Comments

  • January 25, 2010 - 12:17 pm | Permalink

    The account of Cruden’s life comes largely from the DNB, the most reliable, respected, and trustworthy source available in the UK. All biographical entries are written by experts in their field.

  • January 25, 2010 - 5:39 am | Permalink

    Please read Alexander Cruden’s “CRUDEN’S UNABRIDGED CONCORDANCE To the OLD and NEW TESTAMENTS and THE APOCRYPHA published by BAKER BOOK HOUSE, GRAND RAPIS6, MICHIGAN in 1956. With true facts, events and dates about his life in the Interface of this book called by the publishers ‘SKETCH of THE LIFE AND CHARACTER of ALEXANDER CRUDEN’, before characterizing him as a deranged lunatic without a reason. He was to me, a God-fearing, Spirited genius to arrange and create such a CONCORDANCE.

  • November 4, 2009 - 11:40 am | Permalink

    Lunacy has quite a history, apparently.

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