Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Alexander the Corrector, by Julia Keay

Second paragraph of third chapter:
He arrived at Halnaker in early June 1729. Although Lord Derby was apparently at home, he did not immediately send for his new French reader, so Cruden had time to settle in and find his way about. Set amidst gracious acres of parkland complete with obligatory herd of deer, Halnaker* was more a venerable mansion than a truly stately home, but it boasted a medieval great hall with ornate panelling and stained glass windows, a long picture gallery, a sizeable chapel, a wonderful library and quite enough space and splendour to live up to his expectations. It also boasted a large household ruled by the lofty Mr Clayton, the Earl's chamberlain, and the not quite so lofty Mr Frederick, his steward. Cruden was given to understand that as French reader to the Earl, his position in the domestic hierarchy would be below Mr Clayton, more or less on a level with Mr Frederick and the Earl's chaplain Mr Ball, and comfortably above the butlers, footmen, valets, housekeepers, cooks and their assorted underlings. Since this corresponded almost exactly with his position as tutor in previous households, he was quite content. But when he dis-covered that, in addition to his own room, he would have the use of a book-lined sitting-room where meals would be served to him by the younger servants, he knew that his prayers had indeed been answered. As soon as he had unpacked his belongings, been introduced to such members of the house-hold as were deemed worthy of his acquaintance, and been taken on a tour of the grounds by the amiable Mr Ball, he sat down to spread the news.
Cruden's Concordance is an amazing work. For those who are not familiar with it, it's a listing of every word (apart from the most common) used in the Bible, in the context where it is used, working from the Authorised Version. It has never been out of print since it was first published in 1737. Alexander Cruden, who compiled it, wrote a great deal else, about the need to improve the nation's morals through correct spelling and grammar, and about several of his spells of incarceration for mental illness. Julia Keay argues that he was perfectly sane, and was a victim of local politics in Aberdeen and of his romantic rivals in London. I have to say that her case is not made out thoroughly convincingly. What is missing is a wider consideration of insanity in 18th century Britain (Cruden grew up in Aberdeen but spent most of his working life in London), and indeed a contextualisation of Cruden's work with his peers more generally would have been helpful - was he unusual in his obsession with the line-by-line approach to Scripture, or in the mainstream? did others agree with his notion of correcting the nation's morals by correcting its grammar? Overall the book leans too heavily on Cruden's own writing, though there is some interesting detective work about his youth in Aberdeen.

This was the non-fiction book that had lingered longest on my unread shelf. Next on that pile is Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, by Jane Hirshfield.
Tags: bookblog 2017

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