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

ADAM, THOMAS (1701–1784), divine, was born at Leeds in the West Riding of Yorkshire on 25 Feb. 1701. His father was a solicitor and town-clerk of the corporation; his mother Elizabeth, daughter of Jasper Blythman—locally distinguished and allied to an ancient and noble house. They had six children, of whom Thomas was the third. He received his first education at the grammar school of his native town, then under an eminent master, Thomas Barnard; later he was transferred to Wakefield, where Queen Elizabeth's school holds its own still. Then he proceeded to the university of Cambridge, entering Christ's College. He was speedily removed to Hart Hall (now Hertford College), Oxford, by the influence of its founder, Dr. Newton. He took the degree of B.A., but took no further degree on account of certain scruples imbibed from his friend Dr. Newton's book on ‘Pluralities.’ In 1724 he was presented, through the interest of an uncle, to the living of Wintringham, Lincolnshire. Being then under age ecclesiastically, it was ‘held’ for a year for him. Here he remained over the long term of fifty-eight years, never wishing to change and repeatedly resisting pressure put upon him to look higher. His income rarely exceeded 200l. per annum. He married Susan, daughter of the neighbouring vicar of Roxby. She died in 1760. They had one daughter only, who died young. He died on 31 March 1784, in his 84th year.

He is of the historical ‘Evangelical’ school, but his works are, with one exception, very common-place examples of the productions of his school. He published ‘Practical Lectures on the Church Catechism’—which ran to nine or ten editions—and ‘Evangelical Sermons;’ also ‘Paraphrase and Annotations on the First Eleven Chapters of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans.’ His ‘Posthumous Works’ (3 vols. 8vo, 1786), and ‘Paraphrase and Annotations on the Four Gospels’ (2 vols., 8vo, 1837), were printed and reprinted. The work by which his memory is preserved is a selection from the ‘Posthumous Works,’ entitled ‘Private Thoughts on Religion.’ These entries from his private diary, which were meant for no eyes but his own, bring before us a man of no common power of analytic and speculative thought. With an intrepidity and integrity of self-scrutiny perhaps unexampled, he writes down problems started, and questionings raised, and conflicts gone through; whilst his ordinarily flaccid style grows pungent and strong. Ever since their publication these ‘Private Thoughts’ have exercised a strange fascination over intellects at opposite poles. Coleridge's copy of the little volume (1795)—fortunately preserved in the British Museum (c 43 a 8)—remains to attest, by its abounding markings, the spell it laid upon him, while such men as Bishop Heber, Dr. Thomas Chalmers, and John Stuart Mill, and others, have paid tribute to the searching power of the ‘thoughts.’ These ‘Private Thoughts’ have never been allowed to go out of print since their original publication. They are well known in the United States, and have been translated into Welsh, Gaelic, and several European and Eastern languages.

[Life by J. Stillingfleet, prefixed to posthumous works, 1785; Life by A. Westoby, prefixed to Exposition of Gospels, 1837, with some additional matter.]

A. B. G.