On Popular Lectures

Bernard Cracroft

General Description

Date: 1856
Genre: Prose essay


◦ Gordon, “Oxford and Cambridge Magazine”.

◦ Houghton, The Wellesley Index, pp. 723-731.

Scholarly Commentary

Guest Editor: PC Fleming


This two-part essay is by Bernard Cracroft (1828-1888). Cracroft graduated from Cambridge in 1853, later becoming a stock broker with Austenfriar’s (Gordon 48).

The Wellesley Index entry on this essay is misleading. The entry lists the possibility of Fulford as the author, and claims that the style favors Fulford over Cracroft. The justification for this statement is the academic and moralistic tone, and the outline of the subject given at the beginning of the essay. But these are the only features this essay has in common with Fulford’s writings, and the very next entry cites Cracroft’s use of italics as evidence for his authorship of the essay on Thackeray and Currer Bell. The same use of italics is prevalent here.

Stylistically, Fulford favors long, complex sentences, often linking multiple clauses together with semicolons. The writing in this essay is straight-forward, and the syntax is more similar to Cracroft’s than to Fulford’s. Furthermore, nearly all of Fulford’s essays in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine are on literature, not social issues. The only exception is his essay on women’s education, and even in this essay he responds to specific works, one of which is Tennyson’s “The Princess.” There is no mention of literature at all in this essay on popular lectures.

Probably the strongest evidence that this essay is by Cracroft, not Fulford, is that “education” here refers primarily to scientific and economic education: the given examples of subjects for lectures are levers, tea, and bread. Fulford almost certainly would have favored more literary examples.

This essay is addressed to young men just out of college. Cracroft argues that much of what one learns is quickly forgotten, because not used in daily life, and claims that one way to prevent oneself from losing this knowledge is to deliver elementary lectures. He focuses primarily on the social benefits of such lectures, linking this essay to the other social articles in the Magazine, such as “Unhealthy Employments” and “The Work of Young Men in the Present Age.”

Printing History

First printed in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine , 1856. The essay was printed in two parts: the first part in May and the second part in August. The second part is not listed in the global table of contents, printed in the December issue.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
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