Croft, Herbert, 5th Baronet (1751–1816)

Writer and lexicographer. Born at Dunster Park, Berkshire, the son of Richard Croft. He inherited the Croft baronetcy from a relative in 1797, but no money or lands to accompany the title. He practised as a barrister in London in the late 1770s, and gained some reputation as a miscellaneous writer. Perennially short of money, Croft changed direction and graduated from University College, Oxford in 1785 and was appointed Vicar of Prittlewell in Essex and chaplain of the British garrison in Quebec. Most of his time in the late 1780s and early 1790s was devoted to compiling a new dictionary, but, despite amassing 11,000 entries, he could not find enough subscribers to publish the book and the project was abandoned in 1793. In 1795 Croft was arrested for debt and fled to Hamburg, only returning to England in 1800–1802, after which he lived in France, dying in Paris. In 1780 Croft had published Love and Madness, the story of James Hackman (c. 1752–1779; DNB), who had shot Martha Ray (1742?–1779; DNB), the lover of the Earl of Sandwich (1718–1792; DNB). The book contained a lengthy digression into the life of the Bristol poet Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770; DNB). Southey published a letter in the Monthly Magazine for November 1799, accusing Croft of obtaining some of Chatterton’s letters by deception from the poet’s mother and sister, and refusing to pay them any share of his profits from Love and Madness. Croft’s defence, to say the least, was evasive. In 1803 Southey and Joseph Cottle published a new version of Chatterton’s works for the benefit of his sister and niece.

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