Alexander the Corrector (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Part One

Though he regarded himself primarily as a Biblical scholar, Alexander Cruden decided that, above all else, the United Kingdom needed a Corrector to deal with the misspellings and grammatical errors that he felt were pervading society.   And his self-appointed mandate didn't end there.  He would also serve as a moral censor to deal with the frequent use of obscenity and the sad tendency of his fellow Brits to ignore the Sabbath.   He regarded himself as being divinely appointed to his new mission and even approached Parliament for a formal appointment (he was ignored).  

He primarily did his correcting in London, but Cruden also made frequent visits to his native Aberdeen where he also found frequent "incorrectness".  Not only did he carry a sponge to wipe away whatever graffiti he found (whether he regarded the content as immoral or simply misspelled) but he verbally chastized anyone he caught using profanity or working on the Sabbath day.   In his book, The Adventures of Alexander the Corrector, which he published in 1754, he described his Corrector duties in some detail.   That this involved personal danger on his part seemed fairly obvious considering he showed little fear of the people he was challenging.   As he described in his book, he was often offended by the salty language used by the King's soldiers and frequently told them that "King George did not pay them for swearing but for fighting."    That none of the soldiers chose to "correct" the Corrector says more about their discipline than any respect for his high office.  

Usually limiting himself to verbal correction, Cruden was known to become physical as well.   As he later described:  "A young man appeared in time of battle with a shovel or spade in his hand and was guilty of swearing in the presence of Alexander, which so greatly offended him that, contrary to his usual custom, he took his shovel and corrected him with some severity."     He concluded his account by adding, "How it began is somewhat mysterious;  the Corrector however gave and received several blows."  

Largely as a result of his street-brawlinf, he was confined, yet again, to an asylum in Chelsea for seventeen days.  This time, it was his own sister who had him committed but the irrepressible Cruden was never down for long.  After his release,  he dedicated himself to telling his side of the story in his book, which he tried to present to the King in person.    His efforts, along with his hope of receiving a knighthood, never got very far.  He also began pursuing another women of his acquaintance, who happened to be the daughter of a former Lord Mayor of London.   Suffice it to say that the lady wasn't interested in becoming the Corrector's wife. 

In 1755, Alexander the Corrector also visited Cambridge and Oxford to preach the virtues of clean language and behaviour to the staff and students there.   While the faculty members were respectful enough, the students reacted pretty much as you'd expect students to react.  Some of the students even carried out a mock knighting while he was at Cambridge.   Despite the pranks played on him, Cruden was able to recruit several young men as deputy Correctors to watch over their fellow students after he left.   He did the same on visiting Eton, Windsor, Tonbridge, and Westminster schools.   

When he wasn't traveling and lecturing, Cruden alsowrote  numerous letters and pamphlets to relay his thoughts to the British public (the 18th century equivalent of blogging).    After the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Cruden wrote The Corrector's Earnest Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain.   In this book, he interpreted the earthquake as a divine warning of the need for a "thorow reformation"  and for the people of the United Kingdom to change their way and to urge Parliament to pass an act allowing the Corrector to act to protect society from the dangers posed by "incorrectness".    He later managed to save an unjustly accused seaman from being hanged and published a pamphlet in 1763 describing the case.

In the meantime, there was still Cruden's Concordance which he continued to revise.   When his second edition came out in 1761, Cruden managed to present it to King George III in person.   He alsor came out with a third edition in 1769.  While never big moneymakers  (Cruden only managed to get about 800 British pounds for both editions), Alexander the Corrector made enough to live on and to continue his Corrector duties.  Along with giving lectures in his native Aberdeen on various  religous topics , he still traveled to London and worked as a proofreader.   Eccentric to the end, Alexander Cruden died suddenly on November 1, 1770, just a year after publishing his third edition of the Concordance.   He was buried in Southwark in the cemetery known as Deadman's Place (now a car park).

Despite his frequent stays in mental institutions, Alexander Cruden was likely never mentally ill as we would define it today.    While certainly eccentric, Alexander the Corrector established a reputation for academic learning and moral integrity that earned him respect even when his other, well, odd ways of behaving tended to make him an embarassment to his friends and family.   Cruden's Concordance is regarded as a masterpiece of Bible scholarship even today while the unique life of the man who wrote it has been largely overlooked.

Which is a pity.   True eccentrics deserve to be remembered.


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