Clarke, Adam (DNB00)

CLARKE, ADAM, LL.D. (1762?–1832), Wesleyan preacher, commentator, and theological writer, was born about 1762 at Moybeg, in the parish of Kilcronaghan, co. Londonderry, of a family which at one time had held extensive estates in the north of Ireland. He was educated in the school of the neighbourhood, but gave no promise of the remarkable love of learning which he afterwards displayed. Through the influence of John Wesley he completed his education at Kingswood School, near Bristol. Having been profoundly impressed with the gospel, he became a methodist in 1778; at an early age he began to exhort, and passed through the stages of local preacher and regular preacher without much formal education. He was appointed to his first circuit, that of Bradford, Wiltshire, in 1782. A profound admirer of John Wesley, he shared his spirit, prosecuted his aims, and followed his methods, making conversion and sanctification of men's souls the great objects of his preaching. While a conscientious methodist, he had very friendly feelings towards the church of England. As a preacher, he soon became remarkably popular. He rose to high rank in the Wesleyan body, and thrice filled the presidential chair (1806, 1814, and 1822). At first he was moved from place to place, according to the Wesleyan arrangement, being engaged at various times in Ireland, Scotland, the Channel Islands, and the Shetlands (1826). In the last-named place a methodist mission had been established at his suggestion in 1822. After 1805 he chiefly lived in London and the neighbourhood.

It was remarkable that while second to none in the labours of the ministry, Clarke was a most assiduous scholar. The habit of early rising, great activity, and systematic working enabled him to acquire a large and varied learning. First the classics engaged his especial attention, then the early christian fathers, and then oriental writers; Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, and other Eastern tongues, with the literature which they represented, being among the subjects of his study. Natural science was a favourite subject, and he had an interest in what are called the occult sciences. He contributed to the 'Eclectic Review' from the date of its establishment in 1804, and rendered much literary assistance to the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1807 he received the diploma of M.A. from the university and King's College, Aberdeen, and in 1808 that of LL.D. In the course of time he became a fellow of the Antiquarian Society, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, an associate of the Geological Society of London, a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, and a member of the American Historical Institute. Such honours were so rare in the ranks of the Wesleyan ministry that Clarke acquired a unique position among his brethren. Instead of gendering the jealousy which scholarly eminence is apt to breed in a democratic church, his honours seem to have been looked on by them with pride.

The literary power and capacity of investigation evinced by Clarke bore fruit in two ways. As a theological writer he produced many works of ability, including English translations and new editions of other men's books, such as Sturm's 'Reflexions' (1804), and Fleury's 'Manners of the Israelites' (1805); a bibliographical dictionary in six volumes, in which he gives a chronological account of the most remarkable books in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Chaldee, Ethiopic, Arabic, Persian, and Armenian from the infancy of printing to the beginning of the nineteenth century, with a reprint of Harwood's 'View of the Classics,' and an account of the best English translations from the classics (1803–4); a supplement in two volumes (1806) deals with the English translations in greater fulness; a concise view of the succession of sacred literature, in a chronological arrangement of authors and their works to A.D. 345 (1807) (a second volume, from A.D. 345 to the invention of printing, was published by his son. Rev. J. B. B. Clarke in 1831); 'Memoirs of the Wesley Family,' and many other works on subjects of biblical or general interest ('The Use and Abuse of Tobacco,' 1797; Baxter's 'Christian Directory Abridged,' 1804; 'The Eucharist,' 1808; 'Illness and Death of Richard Porson;' 'Clavis Biblica,' 1820; and new editions of Shuckford's 'Connexion,' 1803; and Harmor's 'Observations,' 1816). But by far the most important of his works was his commentary on the whole books of Scripture (1810-26, 8 vols., reprinted in 6 vols. 1851). This was a work of extraordinary labour and research. Its design was to combine the critical or scientific with the popular and practical. Clarke succeeded as well as any single man could hope to do. The 'Commentary' had a very wide circulation in its day, but it is little consulted now. Its theological stand-point was the orthodox evangelical, but the author on some points took positions of his own. He maintained that the serpent that tempted Eve was a baboon; he held that Judas Iscariot was saved; in regard to predestination, he threw Calvin overboard and followed Dr. John Taylor; and on the person of Jesus Christ, while maintaining his divinity, he denied his eternal sonship. On this last point he was ably replied to by a writer of his own body, Richard Treffry, jun. ('Inquiry into the Doctrine of the Eternal Son-ship of our Lord Jesus Christ').

Clarke was also employed in re-editing Rymer's 'Fœdera,' from the original compiler's massive collection of state papers. A Royal commission was appointed to take steps for this purpose, and the post of editor was offered to Clarke, and accepted in 1808. He first made an elaborate report on the whole records (which were to be found in seven different places), and then proceeded with the work of editing. The first volume, and the first part of the second volume, issued in 1818, bear his name. At last, through sheer exhaustion, he was compelled to resign. His commission accepted his resignation with great reluctance.

Clarke was the personal friend of many dignitaries of the church and of other distinguished persons. The Duke of Sussex hid a high esteem for him, and they exchanged hospitalities. Clarke died from an attack of cholera, 26 Aug. 1832. In 1836 Samuel Dunn published Clarke's 'The Gospels Harmonized,' and an edition of his miscellaneous works in thirteen volumes appeared in the same year.

[An Account of the Infancy, Religious and Literary Life of Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.A.S.. &c. &c., by a member of his family, with an appendix by J. 15. B. Clarke. M.A., 3 vols. 8vo. (1833). The first volume is autobiographical, and is limited to the history of Clarke's religious life; the other volumes were written by his daughter, and the appendix is by his son. See also Everett's Adam Clarke portrayed; Etheridge's Life of Adam Clarke; Rev. Samuel Dunn's Life of Adam Clarke; Remains of Rev. Samuel Drew.]

W. G. B.