Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adam, Alexander

ADAM, ALEXANDER, LL.D. (1741–1809), writer on Roman antiquities, was born on 24 June 1741, at a small farm near Forres, in Morayshire, of which his father was tenant. He learned what Latin the parish schoolmaster could teach him, and had read the whole of Livy before he was sixteen, chiefly in the early morning by the light of splinters of bogwood. In 1757 he competed unsuccessfully for a ‘bursary’ at Aberdeen University, and soon afterwards, on the invitation of a relation of his mother who was a clergyman in Edinburgh, he removed to that city, where he had free admission to the college lectures, and in the course of a year and a half he gained the head-mastership of Watson's Hospital. This for a boy of nineteen, who had struggled through his university career on four guineas a year, was comparative wealth. After about three years, however, he resigned the appointment, and became private tutor in the family of Mr. Kincaid, afterwards lord provost of Edinburgh. Through his influence Adam subsequently obtained in 1768 the rectorship of the High School, after having been for three years assistant to the retiring head master. Lord Cockburn says of him: ‘He was born to teach Latin, some Greek, and all virtue. … He had most of the usual peculiarities of a schoolmaster, but was so amiable and so artless that no sensible friend would have wished one of them to be even softened. His private industry was appalling. If one moment late at school, he would hurry in and explain that he had been detained “verifying a quotation;” and many a one did he verify at four in the morning’ (Cockburn, Memorials of his Time). He improved the school, and in the year of his death had 167 pupils in his class, a number equal to the whole attendance at the school when he first joined it. His introduction of the teaching of Greek was opposed by the university authorities as an infraction of the privileges of the professor of Greek. Much controversy was also excited by the publication, in 1772, of his ‘Latin Rudiments and Grammar,’ written in English instead of Latin, as in the old text-books. The town council in 1786 decided that the old grammar (Ruddiman's) was still to be used, and prohibited all others. But Adam's method was generally adopted before his death. In 1780 the degree of LL.D. was conferred on him by the university of Edinburgh, and in 1791 he published his best known work on ‘Roman Antiquities,’ for which he received 600l., and which has since gone through several editions. A ‘Summary of Geography and History’ appeared in 1794, expanded from a small text-book which he had printed for the use of his pupils ten years previously; a fifth edition appeared in 1816. His last work, published in 1805, was a ‘Latin Dictionary’ for the use of schools.

On 13 Dec. 1809, Dr. Adam was seized with a fit of apoplexy while teaching his class, and he died after an illness of five days. His last words were: ‘But it grows dark, boys—you may go; we must put off the rest till to-morrow.’

Dr. Adam married first, in 1775, Miss Munro, whose father was minister of Kinloss; and second, in 1780, Miss Cosser, a daughter of the controller of excise in Edinburgh.

Dr. Adam's other works are: ‘Geographical Index,’ Edinburgh, 1795; ‘Classical Biography,’ Edinburgh, 1800.

[Life by A. Henderson, Edinburgh, 1810; Notice in Encyclopædia Britannica, by Professor Pillans, his successor in the High School.]

J. B. P.