The man with the sponge lifted it and dabbed at the wall, wiping off the "No. 45" chalked there. Wherever he saw this popular slogan, he repeated his action.
It was Alexander Cruden's odd way of showing his loyalty to King George III and cleaning up morals. George had given the poor, half-mad scholar £100 for dedicating the second edition of his Bible Concordance to him. But the king's government was not popular. When John Wilkes published a vicious and dirty-minded attack against the king in issue number 45 of the North Briton, "No. 45" became the rallying cry of the opposition. Cruden was doing his bit to clean up culture.
Born on this day, May 31, 1700, he seemed likely to be highly successful, completing his masters degree at a young age. However, when a girl rejected him, his mind snapped and he spent time in mad houses. In spite of this, he did well in business. He became the official bookseller to the queen and corrected proofs for fifty years, giving more than half his income to charity.
For the most part he was more annoying than dangerous. He fell in love and pestered women to marry him. His one act of violence was to whack a blasphemer with a shovel. He petitioned Parliament to name him the official corrector of public morals and even wrote a book titled The Adventures of Alexander the Corrector. He bugged the king to make him a knight so that he would have the influence he needed to improve everyone. He even stood for a seat in Parliament, expecting that God would intervene to put him in office.
Cruden actually did bring about one bit of reform. He wrote an account of his mistreatment in mental wards. Sympathetic readers were able to use its evidence to improve conditions.
On another occasion, convinced that a weak-minded sailor named Potter had been unjustly condemned to die, Cruden rushed from government office to office for two days, pleading for the man's life. Every chance he got, he fell to his knees in prayer for Potter's soul. A rare reprieve came just hours before Potter was to hang. Cruden then nursed the man back to health and wrote an indignant, eye-witness appeal for prison reform. He was a century ahead of his time. Although Cruden corrected people, he genuinely cared about them. Once he rebuked a street woman for plying her trade. She said she had no other way to earn a living. Cruden asked everyone he knew to hire her as a maid. When no one would, he employed her himself. She worked for him faithfully for several years and sobbed pitifully when he died alone in his room.
But Cruden's place in Church history is owing to his contribution to Bible scholarship. A Bible concordance is a dictionary that lists the words that appear in the Bible and shows in what verses they can be found. When you consider how long the Bible is, you can easily see how useful such a dictionary must be. The best concordance of Cruden's day listed the words with the verse numbers under them. As many as five hundred men had worked at preparing it. Cruden saw that he could make a much more useful version. Working all alone with scarcely a break for eighteen months, he wrote a new concordance. His great innovation was to quote a bit of verse around each word.
The first edition did not sell well. Cruden became depressed. Later editions of the concordance did much better. The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said that the concordance was as necessary to a preacher "as a plane to the carpenter, or a plough to the husbandman."
Cruden died at 71. He was found kneeling by his bed with a Bible open in front of him.
- "Alexander Cruden." Significant Scots. http://www.electricscotland.com/history/other/ cruden_alexander.htm)
- "Cruden, Alexander." Britannica.
- Olivier, Edith. Alexander the Corrector; the eccentric life of Alexander Cruden. New York, The Viking Press, 1934.