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Key People

Herbert Croft  (1751 - 1816)

Chatterton in Croft's Love & Madness

Herbert Croft portrait Chatterton Love and Madness author
Herbert Croft Love and Madness 1780 Chatterton letter

Herbert Croft's Love and Madness, when it comes to Chatterton, is a hugely important book. It is a source of much of what we know about Chatterton.  

I have read five of the seven known editions and can say that they all include transcripts of some of Chatterton's private letters, along with references to his life and works; I believe this applies to all editions.  To read the various editions and my breakdown of the 5th edition : View

Herbert Croft  : Biography

(From 1797 he became The Rev. Sir H. C. Bart.)

I have no wish to write a bio of Herbert Croft, or to use AI to 'assist' me, so, direct from Wiki via the 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, is my slightly adapted version of the life of Herbert Croft;  I have not amended any of the 'facts' in my adapted version below, but have removed sections not relevant to our story,  and added a few rather enjoyable links throughout this page.  

'Croft was born at Dunster Park, Berkshire, son of the son of Herbert Croft and Elizabeth Young [coincidentally, Young was the maiden name of Chatterton's mother]. He matriculated at University College, Oxford, in March 1771, and was subsequently entered at Lincoln's Inn. He was called to the bar, but in 1782 returned to Oxford with a view to preparing for holy orders.

In 1786 he received the vicarage of Prittlewell, Essex, but he remained at Oxford for some years accumulating materials for a proposed English dictionary. Croft spent years on this project and he also took on preparation work made by Joseph Priestley.  However, despite compiling thousands of entries not found in other dictionaries, the project was finally abandoned because of a failure to find sufficient subscribers. 

He was twice married, and on the day after his second wedding day he was imprisoned at Exeter for debt.

He then retired to Hamburg, and two years later his library was sold. He had succeeded in 1797 to the baronetcy, but not to the estates, of a distant cousin, Sir John Croft, 4th Baronet. He returned to England in 1800, but went abroad once more in 1802. He lived near Amiens at a house owned by Lady Mary Hamilton, the daughter of Alexander Leslie, 5th Earl of Leven.  Later he removed to Paris, where he died on 26 April 1816.

In some of his numerous literary enterprises he had the help of Charles Nodier. Croft wrote the Life of Edward Young inserted in Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets.'

To read the untroubled Wiki version  : View 

To read the Encyclopædia Britannica version  : View

See also Nichols's Illustrations of the Literary History..., 1828, for another bio of Herbert Croft :  View. '

Love & Madness - The Book

Martha Reay lover of James Hackman Chatterton letter
James Hackman besotted with Martha Reay Chatterton letter

Love and Madness, a Story too true, in a series of letters between Parties whose names could perhaps be mentioned were they less known or less lamented; was published in 1780.

The portraits above are of Martha Ray (1746 – 7 April 1779)  and James Hackman (1752, hanged 19 April 1779).  The one thing to note from the above dates, is that they didn't hang about in those days - 12 days from the fatal shooting and Hackman was hanged.  I am guessing here, but the black circle on Hackman's temple must represent a dressing, which was applied to hide the injury caused when he attempted to kill himself murdering Martha. Do note that Love & Madness does not include portraits or other engravings. 


The book, which passed through at least  seven editions, narrates the passion of the soldier-turned-clergyman James Hackman for Martha Ray, mistress of the Earl of Sandwich (the Earl is also, possibly, the father of William Henry Ireland).  Martha was shot and killed by Hackman, her lover, as she was leaving Covent Garden in 1779. 


You might also like to read the following volume for a different slant on the case, but be warned, the last few pages blame Martha for bringing her murder upon herself - now, that's what I call madness! :    'The case and memoirs of the late Rev. Mr. James Hackman, and of his acquaintance with the late Miss Martha Ray: with a commentary on his conviction, ... And also, some thoughts on lunacy and suicide, ...' 1779   :  View

Love & Madness - The Chatterton Connection

Love and Madness is important because it contains a wealth of information about Chatterton, along with transcripts of some of Chatterton's private letters, which Croft had obtained under false pretences from Chatterton's mother and sister. He persuaded Sarah and Mary to lend him the letters, with a promise to return them within the hour, instead he left Bristol taking the letters with him. The next they knew of it was in 1780, when they discovered that the letters had been published in Love and Madness.

Give Croft his due, for he did eventually return most of the letters and also paid £10 to be shared between mother and daughter.  All in all, it was a dastardly deed by a man of his standing, a man destined to become The Reverend Sir Herbert Croft, Bart., but he wasn't going to get off lightly - Robert Southey would make sure of that, and in the most public way possible - read on:

Robert Southey v Herbert Croft

The Monthly Magazine & A Letter from Denmark

When Robert Southey learned how badly Herbert Croft had treated Chatterton's Mother, Sarah, and his sister, Mary, he was driven to rush into print and publish a detailed report of Croft's underhand behaviour. The report, complete with copies of the correspondence between Croft and Mary, appeared in The Monthly Magazine, which was  published in 1780.  Read it in full below, or read it online in The Monthly Magazine :  View. 


It is also worth noting that Southey indicates, at the start of his statement, that the idea for the three volumes of Chatterton's works, which were published in 1803, had come about as a direct response and desire to balance the injustice of Croft's treatment of the Chatterton family. 

Robert Southey on Herbert Croft

'Statement of Facts relative to Chatterton'

The Monthly Magazine

Southey letter Croft Monthly Magazine part 2 1799
Southey letter Croft Monthly Magazine part 3 1799
Southey letter Croft Monthly Magazine part 1 1799

Herbert Croft to Robert Southey

A Letter from Denmark

Croft had no real choice, he couldn't let it lie, and so he went on the attack. He wrote a reply via the Gentleman's Magazine, it was spread over three monthly issues. View :  February Issue  ; March Issue  ; April Issue


He afterwards printed it separately as Chatterton and "Love and Madness," - A Letter from Denmark, 1800.  Apparently 'This tract evades the main accusation, and contains much abuse of Southey.'  Read it online :  View

Herbert Croft letter from Denmark bad treatment of Chatterton

A big Thank You to  The Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries for sharing so many Chatterton editions, including Herbert Croft’s A Letter from Denmark : Click title page to view the book.

Croft & Biographia Britannica


The Missing Biography of Chatterton

It seems that Herbert Croft had agreed to write an account of Chatterton for Biographia Britannica, vol. iii, 1784, and also for the 1789 edition.  He had already gathered more information than anyone else, and so he made a start to gather even more information with a letter to the Gentleman's Magazine, which appeared in the Supplement for 1782, p. 601, see image below, which is signed An Impartial Biographer. 

Croft or Kippis's letter to Gentleman's magazine 1782 Chatterton Biography

However, Croft missed whatever deadline he was working to and, as a result, Kippis finally lost patience and gave the job to George Gregory.   Or, is it possible he was put off by a somewhat disparaging reply to his enquiry, which appeared in the 1783, February edition of the magazine, on p.144 : View below or  online

Part 1 of reply to Croft's Biographia enquiry p.144 Chatterton
Part 2 of reply to Croft's Biographia enquiry p.144 Chatterton

The Preface to Biographia Britannica, vol 3, 1784, where Chatterton had to be given a special mention due to Croft failing to meet his deadline.  Surely time is running out for Herbert Croft!

biographia preface chatterton croft 3
biographia preface chatterton croft 5
biographia preface chatterton croft 4
Biographia Britannica Chatterton note p.450 vol iii

Chatterton, thanks to Croft's failure, lost his illustrious and fortunate position next to Chaucer in the 1784 edition, (see above), and had to wait five years before he achieved the ultimate claim to fame of being recorded for all time in the 1789, 4th volume, of Biographia Britannica; and this was not Croft's version of Chatterton's Life and Works but, instead, George Gregory stepped in to complete the task :  View

The same year as Chatterton finally appeared in Biographia, 1789, George Gregory also published his book 'The Life of Thomas Chatterton'  :  View

Herbert Croft

Other Works & Sundry Items

An Unfinished Letter to William Pitt

New English Language Dictionary

Herbert Croft letter to Pitt dictionary
Herbert Croft letter to Pitt dictionary 2

'In 1788 Croft addressed a letter to William Pitt on the subject of a new dictionary. He criticized Samuel Johnson's efforts, and in 1790 he claimed to have collected 11,000 words used by excellent authorities but omitted by Johnson. Two years later he issued proposals for a revised edition of Johnson's Dictionary, but subscribers were lacking and his 200 vols. of manuscript remained unused. Croft was a good scholar and linguist, and the author of some curious books in French.'

The above book is currently for sale on Biblio : View

The Love LetterS of Mr H. and Miss R. 


Gilbert Burgess The Love Letters of Hackman and Reay

Ah, Gilbert Burgess, the man who insisted that love letters in Love and Madness were real and then went into print in 1895 to prove it : 

The Love Letters of Mr H. and Miss R., edited by Burgess from Croft's book.  : View.

Editions and Links

Love & Madness

The Seven Editions

(Six English and One Irish Editions)

1st English Edition  - 1780

Published London  :  No View 

Title page 1780 first edition Love and Madness Chatterton Letter

1st  English Edition  - 1780

Published London  :  No View   

Love and Madness Chatterton Letter 1st edition with code
Love and Madness  page showing sample of coded writing

This is an interesting copy of the first edition. It is included because it has "pencil markings and annotations in code to much of the work, with some blank leaves bound in at the end and a manuscript note in ink concerning the author, also a note at the end in code and latin on the rear pastedown. It also has an ink signature 'Glynne' and an engraved bookplate of Munden House, Herts, to the front pastedown. ... Intriguingly, it is the passages concerning Chatterton which are marked and annotated in code."


It sold at a Forum auction in 2017.  Hopefully, the new owner will be in touch and we can include a full report on this volume.   

1st Irish Edition  - 1780

Published Dublin  :     View

Love and Madness Chatterton letter Dublin edition 1780

1st Irish edition.

​​Includes 'Memoirs of Miss Ray,' not in the London editions.

Prelims & titles [13]

[Memoirs Miss Ray xiii-xxiv] [1]-226 [1]

2nd English Edition  - 1780

A New Edition

Published London  :     View

Love and Madness new edition English  2nd

[2] viii [2] [1]-298

3rd English Edition  - 1780

Published London  :  No View

Love and Madness  Chatterton letter English 3rd edition title page

12mo in Sixes. Third edition. [2], viii, [2], [1]-300, (A-2C6.). No online copy.

4th English Edition  - 1780

Published London  :     View

Herbert Croft Love & Madness 1780 4th English Chatterton letter

 [2] [viii] [2] [1]-299 [300]  [page 300 is numbered 200, and has a verse from Night Thoughts].

Includes a cutting tipped in at the back, from The Herts Advertiser, detailing the funeral of William Weare, mentions that the body of Miss Ray lies within the church under a brick pavement. 

[QE!  I understand that her body was removed to the graveyard and that a descendant has erected a gravestone over her grave].

[QE! Copy]

5th English Edition  - 1786

A New Edition Corrected

Published London  :     View

Herbert Croft Love and Madness 1786 new edition Chatterton letter

The fifth English edition.

The fact that this is the 5th edition, is only mentioned in the postscript, p.333. 

The 5th edition is prefered as our working document and so is used to create a detailed list of the Chattertonian contents within it : View.

[2] [1, 2, 3]-344  [QE! Copy]

6th English Edition  - 1809

Published Ipswich  :   No View

Herbert Croft Chatterton Letter Love and Madness 7th edition 1809  Ipswich

[1. frontispiece engraving of Martha Ray]  [4] [1]-177 [178]. Missing engraving of Hackman.

[QE! Copy]

And finally, Jean C. Rowles lists an edition printed in 1822. I have never since this edition listed anywhere and have never seen a copy for sale.

Love and Madness

1786, 5th English edition.

Analysis of pages related to Chatterton:

This section is offered to those of you who do not have the time, you poor souls, to read Love and Madness in its book form.  It is a very basic analysis, which is yet to be completed - so please make of it what you will.

Letter XLVI  : Pages 124-128  :  View

  • The first mention of 'Chatterton' in this volume. Four lines only from The Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin (nothing else), on page 126.

Letter LI  :  Pages 140 - 154  :  View

  • 140 : Start of letter LI, (nothing Chatterton)

  • 141 -142  :  Croft has no doubts that Chatterton wrote the whole.

  • 143 -144  :  Chatterton (mini-biography).

  • 144  :  Croft states that Chatterton's father was a schoolmaster and Sexton & that he died 'very soon after, if not before, the birth of his son.'  Chatterton 'who indisputably received no other education than what he picked up at a charity-school at a place called St Augustine's Back in Bristol.  [Croft is wrong on a few points, which you will know having read the other biographies, for example, Chatterton's father was not a Sexton].

  • 144/145  :  Chatterton's letter to the newspaper re the 'Bridge Narrative'

  • 146  :  Croft is sure Chatterton knew Latin: Dunhelmus Bristoliensis.  First mention of Barrett and Catcott 'To these gentlemen he produced, between Oct. 1768, and April 1770...all Rowley's poems, except the "ballad of Charitie.'  Chatterton only produced two 'originals' the rest were all 'transcripts.'

  • 147  :  Barrett and Catcott were not generous to Chatterton or his family.  Mrs Chatterton received £5, Mary had her whitlowed finger cured by Barrett.

  • 148  :  Antiquarian at Cambridge states Chatterton, had he lived, could not have escaped hanging.

  • 149 - 150  :  Chatterton was 'addicted to women, like all youths of strong imaginations'

  • 150/1  :  Chatterton wrote on both sides of the question. Croft quotes from Memoirs of a Sad Dog, "As I know the art of Curlism pretty well,..." signed Harry Wildfire; this is a long piece spread over two monthly sections in the Town and Country magazine: July & August. 

  • 154  :  A few lines from The Story of Canynge.

View  :   Pages 155 - 161

  • 155  :   Croft: "..preserve the false spellings and stops. Let Chatterton's sister tell her own story in her own way." "...forgery. For Chatterton's sake, the English language should add another word to its dictionary."  Croft also mentions song to Aella, & the chorus to Godwin. 


  • 156  :   Macpherson & Ossian. Lady Anne Lindsay & Auld Robin Gray. Quotes son of Sirach ‘When a rich man speaketh, every man holdeth his tongue: and lo! What he says is extolled to the clouds: but if a poor man speak, they say, What fellow is this? Chatterton. Rowley. Catcott. 'Chatterton's father was a bit of a poet.'  Sarah and Mary might have believed ‘that injured Justice demanded their lives at Tyburn, for being the mother and sister of him who was suspected to have forged the poems of Rowley.


  • 157  :  Croft: ‘With regard to the fact, the mother and sister either believe, or pretend to believe, with the pewterer, that all of Rowley’s poems came out of the old chest in the church. The case is, none of the three knows any thing of the matter.’ 

  • 158  :   Junius.                            

  • 159  :   'Psalmanaazar and D’eon are not to be compared with Chatterton.' John the Painter (Aka. James Aitken), hanged for arson in 1777, some observations on Rowley's poems among his papers (according to Croft)?

  • 160/1  :   Mary sent Chatterton a catalogue of the books he had read, to the amount of many hundreds. Astrea Brokage. Town and Country mag Jan 1770.

View  :  Pages 161 - 164

  • [.QE!.]  Mary’s letter to Croft, starts: “Concious, of my own inabilitys to write to a man of letters…” [.QE!.]  E.H.W.Meyerstein states 'I don't know if Croft altered Mrs. Newton's spelling, but in no autograph letter of her's that I have seen is it so illiterate as in this piece justicative of September 22, 1778. The others were supervised, perhaps.'

View  :  Pages 165 - 169

  • 165  :  Croft: " will next read the earliest production of Chatterton [Apostate Will is on page 168]. which I have been able to find [Apostate Will : see p.168 below]. It is transcribed from an old pocketbook in his mother’s possession. It appears to be his first, perhaps his only, copy of it; and is evidently his handwriting. By the date he was eleven years and almost five months old." 

  • [.QE!.] Croft goes on to talk about apologies made by or for two other poets when ‘young.’ He compares Addison’s early work, when he was 27, and Chaulieu, a french, fucking poet at forty. (Yes I know it should be ‘sucking’ and not ‘fucking, but I am convinced it was a play on words by Croft, using the long ‘s’ to his advantage).

  • 166  :  Compares Pope at twelve, Cowley at thirteen.

  • [.QE!.] The idea that Chatterton had no tutor/mentor and that his family had no abilities, runs through various editors/biographers. Basil Cottle calls Sarah a ‘nonentity,’ which is too unfair for words!  Although, it is possible that Basil was using the word ‘nonentity’ to mean ‘not known.’  However, Croft has no excuse with the following: When we read the ode which Pope wrote at twelve and another by Cowley at thirteen, we are apt to suspect a parent, friend, or tutor, of an amiable dishonesty....Suspicions of this nature touch not Chatterton. He knew no tutor, no friend, no parent  at least no parent who could correct or assist him.’  Really? It's time we put the record straight and instead of thinking the worst of Sarah, we look at what she achieved: firstly, she was foremost in Chatterton’s development, having taught him to read and, judging by the letters home, was loved dearly by him! She got him enrolled into Colston's School, which came complete with an apprenticeship; furthermore, according to Mary, he was never two nights together without visiting his family. It is clear to me that Sarah never stopped doting on her son, otherwise why would he continue to visit the family home so regularly.

  • '[Croft] : Chatterton was the Sexton’s son'  [which we know is incorrect]  ...Satire was his fort, if anything can be called his fort, who excelled in every thing he undertook....  And ‘...Catcott has another later poem of Chatterton’s, called, I think, ‘The Exhibition.’ The church here also supplied his indignation with a subject. But, as the satire is rather severe, and the characters are living, Catcott does not permit it to be copied.'

  • 167  :  [.QE!.]  Croft compares Chatterton to Milton because they both had that rare ability of being musical. Mentions The Exhibition.

  • 168/9  :  Apostate Will includes pronunciation tip: ‘The e in key is, I believe, in the Somersetshire pronunciation, a.

View  :  Pages 170 - 179

  • 170  :  Happiness


  • [Croft] Though it may not be next in order of composition, for I shall send you nothing which is already printed.

  • [.QE!.] According to Taylor, the poem misses the last two lines: The Saint and Sinner Fool and Wise attain, An equal Share of Easiness and Pain. Finis.  Catcott in B5315, has curst instead of first (Croft) in line 36, Taylor also has curst p.404.   Catcott also misses out two lines (65 and 66 in T, P.405): Then what avails the anxious spitting Pain, Thy Laugh-provoking Labours all are vain.  [.QE!.]    You can see why Catcott chose to ignore these two lines. 


View  :  Pages (179 - 180)

  •  ​The Resignation


View  :  Pages 181 - 185 

  • (Linked to online edition). Sarah and Mary say that Chatterton's Sunday's were generally spent in walking alone, into the country round Bristol, as far as the day would allow him time to return before night. He never failed to bring home drawings of churches or something which had struck him. That he had a turn for drawing, you will see by the figure of a warrior (perhaps Aella) presenting a church on his knee...[??]. Chatterton's sketch of Beckford's statue [??]...of which an engraving is prefixed to his Miscellanies, and the Town and Country Magazine.  Chatterton had acquired skills in heraldry, architecture, music; astronomy, surgery, &c.  Burgum (I think), taught himself Latin and Greek.

View  :  Pages 186 - 191

  • Catcott’s role in the Rowley / Chatterton story.  Catcott is the man least to be believed. Chatterton believed that genius was no less common to a man and woman, than a pair of eyes or a nose, and asked his sister to improve herself in copying music, drawing, and everything which requires genius.  Chatterton left Bristol for the first time in April 1770, never to return.  Walpole.

View  :   Pages 191 - 193

  • Chatterton’s 1st letter to his Mother, April 26th, 1770 : 'Here I am, safe, and in high spirits’.  TP1064

  • page 193: Walpole.​


View  :  Pages 194 - 197

  • Chatterton’s 2nd letter to his Mother, May 6th, 1770 : ‘I am surprised that no letter has been sent to my last.'

  • TP1083

View  :  Pages 197 - 201

  • Chatterton’s 3rd letter to his Mother, May 14th, 1770 : ‘Don't be surprised at the name of the place. I am not here as a prisoner.'

  • The 'King's Bench' Letter. TP1087

View  :  Pages 202 - 205

  • Chatterton’s Letter to his Sister, May 30th, 1770 

View  :  Pages 205 - 207

  • Chatterton’s Letter to his Sister, June 19th & 29th, 1770 

View  :   Pages 207 - 209

  • Chatterton’s Letter to his Mother, July 8th, 1770 

View  :  Pages 209 - 210

  • Chatterton’s Letter to his Sister, July 11th, 1770 

View  :  Pages 210 - 211

  • Chatterton’s Letter to his Sister, July 20th, 1770 : I am now about an Oratorio...'

No View yet :  Pages 212

  • Memoirs of a Sad Dog - Harry Wildfire "But, alas ! happiness is of short duration;...

  • Published Town and Country Magazine, July, 1770. p.375

  • [Croft] : 'All the originals of his letters here printed, except the original of this last [20th July, which Croft was allowed to keep], are in the possession of his mother, or sister, who, I believe, are still living in Bristol, and keep little day-schools.'  

  • [Croft] : quotes Duff who 'admits but three original geniuses in poetry, Homer, Ossian, and Shakespeare.'--- [Croft] : 'Would not Chatterton complete the triumvirate better than Ossian?

  • [.QE!.] Surely Croft  should either replace Chatterton with Rowley, or Ossian with Macpherson. After all he knows that Macpherson is Ossian.

No View yet  :   Pages 213 - 2

  • 213/4:  By his letters you see he lodged first in Shoreditch; afterwards (when his employment made it necessary for him to frequent public places, I suppose) in Brook Street, Holborn. The man and woman where he first lodges are still living in the same house. He [Walmsley] is a plaisterer. They, and their nephew and a niece (the latter about as old as Chatterton would be now, the former three years younger), and Mrs. Ballance, who lodged in the house, and desired them to let Chatterton (her relation) lodge there also, have been seen. Mrs. Ballance says he was as proud as Lucifer. He very soon quarrelled with her for calling him "Cousin Tommy," ...He would often look steadfastly in a persons face, without speaking, or seeming to see the person, for quarter of an hour or more, till it was quite frightful...When Beckford died, he was perfectly frantic, and out of his mind; and said that he was ruined.

  • Page 215  :   Mr Walmsley observed little in him, but that there was something manly and pleasing about him, and that he did not dislike the wenches.

  • 215  :  Mrs Walmsley...she never saw any harm of him - he never mislisted her; but was always very civil


  • 218  :  Quotes nine lines from The Minstrel by James Beattie: And yet poor Edwin was no vulgar boy.

  • 220  :   another nine lines from The Minstrel.

  • 221  :   [Croft] : ...suicide is always holden up to shame.  Chatterton...swallowed arsenick, in water, on the 24th August, 1770; and died in consequence thereof, the next day. He was buried in a shell, in the burying-ground of Shoe-lane workhouse. 

  • 221  :  That he should have been driven to it by absolute want, though I don't say it was not so, is not very possible; since he never indulged himself in meat, and drank nothing but water,

  •   Still another 70 pages to analyse and list.  Have a go yourself from pages 222 onwards  :  View

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