Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clerke, Gilbert

CLERKE, GILBERT (1626–1697?), mathematician and theological writer, born at Uppingham, Rutlandshire, in 1626, was a son of John Clerke, master of the school there. In 1641 he was admitted into Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and there he proceeded M.A., being elected a fellow in 1648. In 1651 an increase to his allowance was granted, and he received presbyterian ordination; he became proctor also in the next year, 1652; but in 1655 he resigned his fellowship and quitted the university, because the statutes required him to take the degree of bachelor of divinity, and his conscientious scruples made this impossible. His great acquirements brought him into communication with Dr. Cumberland, his contemporary at Cambridge, with Whiston, and others; but, inheriting a small property, yielding 40l. a year, at Luffingham, Northamptonshire, he contented himself with quietly pursuing his mathematical studies in that county to the end of his life. Thence in 1660 he issued his first work, 'De Plenitudine Mundi,' &c. In this he reviewed Descartes and attacked Bacon, Hobbes, and Seth Ward. In the ensuing year he was engaged in following the lines of Torricelli and Boyle; and, dedicating the resulting work to Sir Justinian Isham, he brought it out in 1662 as 'Tractatus de Restitutione Corporum' &c. Another work of his was 'Finalis Concordia,' alluded to by him in some correspondence with Baxter on church divisions. In 1682 he published his thoughts on Oughtred's 'Clavis Mathematica' with the title 'Oughtredus explicatus,' part i. dedicated to his original patron, Isham, part ii. to Sir Walter Chetwynd. In this work Clerke spoke of his invention of the spot-dial, and to meet the general demand for such an instrument, he published his 'Description' of it in 1687, this being the only work he wrote in English. In 1695 appeared 'Tractatus Tres,' in answer to Dr. Bull's Nicene writings, the first two of these being by Clerke and the third anonymous, though he is accredited with the whole three by some writers, while others take from him the two to which he put his name and attribute them all to Samuel Crellis (Anti-Trin. Biog. p. 485). Clerke's position as an original theologian is also questioned; it is thought he merely reproduced Zwicker's arguments. Even the county in which he lived has been disputed, because Whiston knew him as a noted mathematician at Stamford, and Nelson, in ' Life of Bull,' says his home was in Northamptonshire. The two statements agree in reality, for one part of the Lincolnshire city, the hamlet called Stamford Baron, is in Northamptonshire (Magna Brit. iii. 475), and Clerke no doubt resided there, since all his directions to find the meridian, &c, relate to observations taken at Stamford. The manner and the time of his death are not recorded. He is supposed to have died about 1697.

[Wallace's Anti-Trinitarian Biog. iii. 261, 362-6, 485; De Plenitudine Mundi, Praefatio; The Spot-Dial, To Courteous Reader, n. p., and ib. 22.]

J. H.