Croker was certainly unfortunate in his enemies, though they have given him immortality. The contemptible Rigby in Disraeli’s Coningsby (admittedly drawn from him) is scarcely more damaging to his reputation than the sound, if prejudiced, onslaught of Macaulay’s review, of which we find echoes, after twelve years, in the same essayist’s Madame D’Arblay. Dr. Hill tells us that he “added considerably to our knowledge of Johnson,” yet he was a thoroughly bad editor and had no real sympathy with either the subject or the author of that incomparable “Life”: through his essentially low mind. He was not a scholar, and he was inaccurate.
Croker was intimately associated with the Quarterly from its foundation until 1857, retaining his bitterness and spite to the year of his death. But he was a born fighter, and never happier than in the heat of controversy. That he secured the friendship of Scott, Peel, and Wellington must go to prove that his political, and literary prejudices, had not destroyed altogether his private character. He is credited with being the first writer to use the word “conservatives” in the Quarterly, January, 1830. He was a member of the Irish Bar, M.P. for Dublin, Acting Chief Secretary for Ireland, Secretary of the Admiralty (where his best work was accomplished), and a Privy Councillor.
* * * * *
The veiled sarcasm of his attack on Sydney Smith was only to be expected from a Tory reviewer, and was probably inflamed by that heated loyalty to the Church which characterised his paper.
Macaulay had certainly provoked his retaliation, and we may notice here the same eager partisanship of Church and State, pervading even his personal malice.
It is to be regretted that Lockhart, who is so honourably remembered by his great Life of Scott, his “fine and animated translation” of Spanish Ballads, and his neglected—but powerful—Adam Blair, should be so intimately associated with the black record of the Quarterly. He was also a contributor to Blackwood from October, 1817, succeeding Gifford in the editorial chair of Mr. Murray’s Review in 1825 until 1853.
But Lockhart was “more than a satirist and a snarler.” His polished jibes were more mischievous than brutal. “This reticent, sensitive, attractive, yet dangerous youth ... slew his victims mostly by the midnight oil, not by any blaze of gaiety, or in the accumulative fervour of social sarcasm. From him came most of those sharp things which the victims could not forget.... Lockhart put in his sting in a moment, inveterate, instantaneous, with the effect of a barbed dart, yet almost, as it seemed, with the mere intention of giving point to his sentences, and no particular feeling at all.”