The Crabtree Foundation - Australian Chapter

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Biographical Sketch

The following material is based on information recorded in the Wikipedia entry on Crabtree. (That entry was deleted in 2014 following a lengthy campaign by enemies of his memory.) Further biographical information can be found on the UCL WWW site.

Joseph Crabtree (born in 1754, at Chipping Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, and died in 1854, at Haworth, Yorkshire) has been described as a poet, polymath, lawyer, lexicographer, journalist and sometime banker and brewer. He is said to have met and influenced William Wordsworth, Samuel Johnson, William Blake, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, among others. Notionally well known before the twentieth century, his reputation was supposedly eclipsed until Professors Hugh Smith and James Sutherland brought him to the attention of University College London during the centenary of his death. As such, Crabtree's contributions to philosophy, science, art, mathematics, literature, publishing, criminology and brewing, among many others, would have placed him at a pivotal position in the history of the Age of Enlightenment.

Joseph Crabtree's story begins with his birth into a Methodist family by breech birth in 1754. His early life is marked by a number of interactions with key philosophical and luminary figures of the age, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who sent the eight-year-old Crabtree's mother a copy of his work on education, "Emile". Aged 14, in 1768, Crabtree, we are told, accompanied Captain James Cook on his first voyage in the "Endeavour" as a "flute boy". This was to be but the first of many journeys to the Antipodes. In 1770 he attended Eton College under the pseudonym of Burke, only to be expelled the following year for lampooning the headmaster. At the age of nineteen, it is said that he was sent down from Oxford University, after writing satirical verses aimed at his tutor, Jacob Jefferson, who subsequently expunged young Crabtree's name from the matriculation list.

Crabtree is recorded as being influenced a number of literary luminaries, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whom he met in Rome in 1785 while travelling under the name of "Tischbein". This meeting could well have, so the Orations tell us, led Crabtree into an affair with Emma Harte, about whom he wrote love poems which Goethe published in German in 1795 under the title of "Erotica Romana". With William Wordsworth, he appears to have had a rapport which saw him invited to stay at Porlock in 1798, where he also is said to have met Samuel Taylor Coleridge at the time of the latter's supposed composition of "Kubla Khan", a stay which ultimately led to his persuading Wordsworth to quantify certain lines in "Tintern Abbey" and "The Thorn".

As a polymath, Crabtree is credited with a great number of achievements in many fields, literary, scientific and artistic. Crabtree Orations by many eminent scholars have included assertions of Crabtree's importance to their own research. Sir James Lighthill, formerly Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, for instance, gave a lecture on Crabtree's Theorem as the solution of a quintic equation that cannot be expressed through a formula involving a finite number of additions, multiplications, divisions and extractions of roots. Professor Roy Jackson, the distinguished chemist from Monash University, revealed that Crabtree was a pioneer in the now-fashionable field of "Green Chemistry". The list is too long to include here, and the reader is exhorted to explore the gems of Crabtree's genius as revealed in the collections of orations.

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