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If you've ever seriously studied the Bible, you have likely heard of Alexander Cruden. Though his Concordance of the Bible has never been out of print since it was first published in 1737, it was the, er, unusual circumstances of his life that I will be focusing on here. While mental illness is difficult to understand even today, the various episodes of mental illness (assuming it was mental illness) in Cruden's life also provide a look at the often bizarre system of private mental hospitals used to "discreetly" deal with the mentally ill in 18th-century Great Britain.
Born in 17oo into a prosperous Aberdeen family, Alexander Cruden had an excellent education and entered the University of Aberdeen's Marischal College to study theology. Intending to become a clergyman, Cruden distinguished himself by becoming a Biblical scholar as well as being fluent in Latin and Greek. Shortly after he earned a Master of Arts degree however, he developed an overwhelming romantic fixation on the daughter of an Aberdeen clergyman. Though it is hard to tell whether he suffered from erotomania, his unwelcome advances were enough to drive the unfortunate woman away from Aberdeen and he was hospitalized for a time. Whether this was due to genuine mental illness or simply a way of disposing of someone who was making a nuisance of himself can't be determined centuries after the fact. Still, he entered the hospital as a "curable patient" and was released at the age of 22.
Due to the stigma involved in Cruden's hospitalization, he left Scotland after his release and moved to England where he supported himself as a tutor for years. He also served as a personal secretary to the Earl of Derby but was replaced in 1729 because he didn't know French. By 1732, he had moved to London and established himself as a bookseller and as an proofreader for a prominent printer. He was so successful in his new job that the Lord Mayor and city aldermen appointed him as bookseller to Queen Caroline. It was also around this time that Cruden began working on the Concordance that would make him famous. It was an emotionally draining project for Cruden, especially considering that it took twelve years to complete.
Not only was the Concordance nearly four times as long as the Bible itself, but it included a 2.5 million-word index and an extensive dictionary as well. Cruden worked completely alone, writing millions of words by hand in his modest apartment. He was obliged to study the Bible word for word to ensure total accuracy. With no financial backers, Cruden's labour of love was completely funded by his other jobs Longer than any other book of its kind ever written, Cruden's Concordance is still a standard reference for theologians today. Sadly, even after he managed to finish the book and dedicated it to the Queen, Cruden's problems were hardly over.
Not only did he have to pay to publish his Concordance himself (his patron, the Queen, had died before she could agree to fund the book's publication), but his bookselling business had been badly neglected by the years of work that went into writing his masterpiece. Whether due to the strain of trying to save his business, the emotional drain of his years of work, or realizing that his Concordance was not a financial success, Alexander Cruden's mental health deteriorated rapidly. Exact details f what led to his friends placing him in a private mental hospital are still not clear. At least one account suggests that Cruden's old problems with erotomania had resurfaced and he had been hospitalized due to an overly enthusiastic courtship of a widow.
Regardless of the exact reasons, Cruden's account of the nine weeks he spent in the East London hospital are still available courtesy of a book he eventually published in 1740. Although he first attempted to take his "persecutors" to court, this ultimately failed and he decided to write the book instead. Titled: Mr. Cruden Greatly Injured: An account of a trial between Mr. Alexander Cruden Bookseller to the Late Queen and Dr. Munro, Matthew Wright, John Oswald, and John Davis, Defendants in the Court of the Common-Pleas in Westminster Hall, July 17, 1739 on an Action of Trespass, Assault, and Imprisonment: The said Mr. Cruden, though in his right senses, having been unjustly conffined and barbarously used in the said Matthew Wright's Private Madhouse at Bethnal Green for nine weeks and six days till he made his Wonderful Escape May 31, 1738. Cruden would also include a later section: A surprising account of several other persons most unjutly confined in Private Madhouses.
In the book, Cruden largely ignored the circumstances that led to his being placed in Wright's hospital but instead focused on the abuse he received there. He wrote that he spent much of his stay chained to a bedstead, that he was often physically assaulted, and that he was kept from writing to friends or family members who might have helped him get released. Cruden claimed that his captors had threatened to send him to "Bethlehem" (Bedlam) if he didn't settle down and accept his confinement. His book also described his previous imprisonment in Aberdeen (which had been used to suggest that he had a history of mental illness). In the same way that he blamed his friends for his imprisonment at Bethnal Green, he blamed his previous imprisonment on his "criminal" relatives who had sent him to prison. He even suggested that his various persecutors should be hospitalized to undergo the same abuse that he experienced. Since a letter that he had written to the widow he had been pursuing had been presented in court as proof of his insanity, Cruden argued that his persecutors had broken the law by intercepting what had been meant to be a private message.
Though he was able to prove his sanity, Cruden was bitterly disappointed that the judge refused to award him damages. Arguing that his friends weren't acting out of malice by sending him to a private mental hospital, the juddge dismissed the case against them. As Cruden wrote in talking about this decision: "Alas, what shall the injured plaintiff say! Is Judgement turned away backward? Does Justice stand afar off? Is Truth fallen in the street?... Is it Justice that the Plaintiff should have no Damages from the Guilty Defendants? Is it Justice that he should pay his own and his Adversaries Costs?" Still the judge was adamant and Alexander Cruden was forced to move on with his life.
If the book was intended to change the law allowing private mental hospitals, Cruden would be disappointed in that as well. Never subdued for long however, he decided to move on to other challenges. Once again getting a job as proofreader, he also became active in politics and even received a nomination for City Alderman though he decided to withdraw to prepare himself for a new role in life.
And so, Alexander the Corrector was born...
To be continued.
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