Alexander Cruden, M.A., the noted Scottish Biblical scholar, was born in Aberdeen, on the 31st of May, 1700.
Alexander Cruden was the self-styled ‘Corrector of the People’ or ‘Alexander the Corrector’ who believed that he had been sent from heaven to transform the morals of his age. Some christian folks might accord him the title of 'Alexander the Great' for the contribution he made (or as that title is already taken, 'Alexander the second-Great'. Cruden achieved prominence as the author of ‘A Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures’, which he based on the King James VI version of ‘The Bible’. Unfortunately, throughout his life, Cruden suffered from bouts of mental illness. If he wasn’t mad in the first place to have even dreamt of embarking on such a monumental chore as writing the ‘Concordance’, the executing of it might well have driven anyone crazy. You can make up your own mind about ‘being sent from heaven’. Amusingly, one of the editors of the 1930 edition was a M. A. A. D. Adams.
Alexander (or Alexandar) Cruden was born in Aberdeen, on the 31st of May, in 1699, 1700 or 1701, depending on your Google search. Alexander was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and he also studied at Marischal College, intending to enter the ministry. Cruden took the Degree of Master Of Arts, but soon after began to show signs of oddity, which were to plague him for the rest of his life.
It seems Cruden was a complete contradiction in terms of his capabilities and character, which didn’t quite match up. There is no doubt that Cruden was a man of exceptional intellectual powers and he displayed an earnest and self-denying piety. However, his life was marred by a contrasting imbecility and his ridiculous egotism. In addition, his advances towards the fairer sex must have been somewhat over earnest as on several occasions his family and friends thought it necessary to get him confined to lunatic asylums or madhouses. As to what he did that was so bad, I shall leave it to your imagination.
Over the course of many years, perhaps from as early as 1735, when he obtained the title of ‘Bookseller to the Queen’, by recommendation of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London, Cruden worked on his ‘Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures’. This was finished in 1737 and presented to Queen Caroline, the consort of George II, on the 3rd of November, 1737. The poor Queen died a fortnight later, but there is no truth to the rumour that she died because of the cost of its publication. Cruden was indeed embarrassed by the associated expense and by his neglect of his business, to the extent that he abandoned his bookshop under the Royal Exchange and sank into a state of melancholy despondency.
A ‘concordance’ was an invaluable tool before computer searches and Bible software; just imagine listing every word of the Bible in the days before computers! The first concordance ever compiled is said to have given employment to five hundred monks, yet Cruden produced his own, completely unassisted. His exertions produced something infinitely more accurate, complete, and elaborate than any previous version, and his achievement is even more amazing as he didn’t start by copying. He simply spent ages and ages in careful study and examination of the Bible. Enough to drive anyone crazy.
For over 270 years, readers of all kinds have relied on ‘Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments’ as their guide to the ‘Bible’. Its simple alphabetical arrangement and compact design make it easy to navigate its over 225,000 entries. As well as listing verses that include each word treated, Cruden’s book quotes each passage briefly to provide an indication of context. When the sense is unclear, the word is defined and different meanings explained. Whatever you might think of the subject material, there can be no doubt that Cruden’s ‘Concordance’ was a truly monumental achievement.
Although the first edition was initially unsuccessful, it was eventually sold out and, in 1761, thirty years after its publication, a second edition was called for. Cruden dedicated this to George III, who rewarded him with a hundred pounds. His publishers gave Cruden five hundred pounds for the second edition and when the third was called for, in 1769, an additional three hundred pounds, besides twenty copies on fine paper.
An edition was published in 1810 and, by 1825, the work had reached the 10th edition. Indeed so valuable and useful is this work that it is now reckoned an indispensable part of every clerical library. Few comparable reference books can be as accurate and up-to-date. The ‘World Review’ reviewed Cruden’s book and pronounced, “There is no book, save the Bible itself, like it. It is a source of endless pleasure to any lover of words, a necessity to [both] students and writers.”
It was around 1750, when Cruden’s egotism came to the fore and he adopted the title of ‘Alexander the Corrector’ and assumed the office of correcting the morals of the nation, especially with regard to swearing and Sunday observance. He believed himself divinely commissioned for the unique post of ‘Corrector’, but he nevertheless petitioned Parliament for a formal appointment in this capacity and the King for a Knighthood. That, and all his other whimsies, had their source in a desire to increase his own importance and wealth, but only in order to render himself more powerful and effective in the execution of his imaginary mission.
This period of his life has been described as one of “inoffensive imbecility” and amongst his eccentricities was the publication of ‘The Adventures of Alexander the Corrector’, which has an air of “mingled insanity and reason”, four words which just might sum up Cruden. In order to impress the validity of his pretensions upon the public, he circulated small pieces of paper confirming his high calling, containing text such as “Cruden was to be a second Joseph, …and to perform great things for the spiritual Israel of Egypt.”
In 1769, he lectured back in Aberdeen as ‘Corrector’, before returning to London, where he died suddenly whilst praying in his lodgings, in Camden Passage, Islington, on the 1st of November, 1770. He was buried in the ground of a Protestant dissenting congregation in Dead Man’s Place, Southwark. From his modest savings, he bequeathed £100 to endow a bursary in Marischal College.