Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Clarke, Samuel (1675-1729)

CLARKE, SAMUEL (1675–1729), divine, was born at Norwich on 11 Oct. 1675. His father, Edward Clarke, was an alderman of Norwich, and represented the town in William III's last parliament. Clarke was educated at the Norwich free school, and entered Caius College, Cambridge, in 1691. His abilities won for him the name of 'the lad of Caius.' He became familiar with Newton's discoveries, and gained credit by defending one of the Newtonian principles in the act for his B.A. degree (1695). His tutor, Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Ellis, set him to make a fresh Latin translation of Rohault's 'Physics' to replace that already in use (by Théophile Bonnet, 1674). Rohault was a follower of Descartes, and Newton's 'Principia' (1st ed. 1687) had not yet been accepted at Cambridge. Clarke, though a disciple of Newton, thought that he could best propagate the new doctrine by publishing Rohault, with notes suggestive of the necessity of modifying Descartes' theories. His translation became the Cambridge text-book; it reached a fourth edition in 1718; Clarke's brother John, dean of Salisbury (1682–1757) [q. v.], published an English translation in 1723, and Rohault was still, according to Hoadly, the Cambridge textbook in 1730, the date of his life of Clarke.

In 1697 Clarke accidentally met William Whiston (1667–1752), then chaplain to Bishop Moore of Norwich, at a Norwich coffee-house. They discussed Newton, to whose professorship Whiston succeeded in 1702, and Whiston, greatly impressed by Clarke's ability, introduced him to Moore. In 1698 Clarke succeeded to Whiston's chaplaincy. He held this post for nearly twelve years, and was greatly valued by the bishop, who afterwards made him his executor. He now took to studying divinity, for which Moore's famous library gave him great opportunities. In 1699 he published 'Three practical Essays on Baptism, Confirmation, and Repentance,' which Whiston considered to be the most serious of his treatises. He also published anonymously an answer to Toland's 'Amyntor,' defending the authenticity of some of the early christian writings. In 1701-2 he published paraphrases of the Gospels. Bishop Moore gave him the rectory of Drayton, near Norwich, and a small living in the city. In 1704 and 1705 Clarke delivered the Boyle lectures. They at once gave him a conspicuous position. Locke died in 1704, and for the next quarter of a century Clarke was generally regarded as the first of English metaphysicians. His à priori philosophy was entirely opposed to the spirit of Locke's teaching, and he rejected the sceptical conclusions of Locke's disciples. The substance of Clarke's argument for the existence of a God is, of course, not original. It has been suggested that he owes something to Howe's 'Living Temple,' where (chap, ii.) it is stated in a similar form. The peculiarities, however, of Clarke's mode of reasoning are sufficiently explicable from the general characteristics of the philosophical teaching of Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, and their schools. His work is the principal literary result of the speculative movement of which the contemporary English deism was one result. Rationalists, both within and without the limits of orthodoxy, were his followers. The ethical theory expounded in the same sermons is of great importance. He was the founder of the so-called 'intellectual' school, of which Wollaston and Price were the chief English followers, which deduced the moral law from a logical necessity. It is, according to him, as absurd to deny that I should do to my neighbour as he should do to me as to assert that, though two and three are equal to five, five is not equal to two and three. The best modern exposition of this theory as compared with the congenial theory of Kant may be found in Professor Sidgwick's 'Methods of Ethics.'

Clarke's theological doctrine gave offence on both sides. Orthodox divines condemned him for preaching a disguised deism, while the deists condemned him for retaining orthodox phraseology and an historical element of belief. He thus became involved in controversies with many thinkers of opposite schools.

In 1706 he attacked Henry Dodwell, the nonjuror, who had argued that the soul was naturally mortal, and received immortality through the efficacy of legitimate baptism. Clarke's reply, setting forth the à priori arguments for immortality, brought him into collision with Anthony Collins [q. v.] Clarke showed a dialectical superiority, whatever the merits of the argument itself. In the same year Bishop Moore procured for Clarke the rectory of St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf, and introduced him to Queen Anne. The queen appointed him one of her chaplains in ordinary, and in 1709 presented him to the rectory of St. James's, Westminster. He now took his D.D. degree at Cambridge, and performed an act, in defence of the thesis that no article of the christian faith was opposed to right reason, which was long famous in Cambridge tradition. His official opponent, H. James, the regius professor of divinity, changed his accustomed formula of dismissal, probe te exercui, into probe me exercuisti. An old Dr. Yarborough, rector of Tewin, Hertfordshire, who heard the dispute, said long afterwards that he would ride to Cambridge, though he was seventy-seven years old, to hear such another act.

In 1712 Clarke published his 'Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity,' in spite, says Whiston, of remonstrances from some of Queen Anne's ministers. The book consists of a collection of texts bearing upon the doctrine, a statement of the doctrine itself, and a consideration of passages in the Anglican liturgy. Clarke was accused of Arianism, the general tendency of the book being clearly in that direction. Whiston, who lost his Cambridge professorship in 1710 on account of similar heretical views, thought that Clarke really shared his own opinions, though too cautious to avow them explicitly. Clarke was attacked by Nelson, Waterland, and others. Nelson appeared in defence of Bishop Bull, whose life he had written. Waterland's first considerable work was 'A Vindication of Christ's Divinity' (1719). It led to a prolonged controversy with Clarke, who wrote various tracts himself (printed in his works), and helped his friends Jackson and Sykes in the controversy. Waterland further attacked Clarke in the 'Case of Arian Subscription' considered (1721); in a second 'Vindication' (1723); in a 'Dissertation on the Argument à priori (attacking the 'Boyle Lectures'); and in remarks on Clarke's posthumous 'Exposition of the Catechism' (1730). In spite of this, they are said to have been on good terms personally. A full account of the whole controversy will be found in Bishop van Mildert's life of Waterland (prefixed to Waterland's 'Works'). On 2 June 1714 the lower house of convocation complained of the book to the upper house, and on 3 June sent up extracts to prove their case. Clarke sent m a reply on 2 July, with a further explanation on 5 July. Without retracting, he made a declaration of his belief in orthodox terms, which were considered to cover something like an evasion of the point. He promised not to preach any more, and stated that he did not intend to write any more, upon the question. He also denied a report that the Athanasian Creed had been intentionally omitted in the services at his church (according to Whiston (p. 9) he never read this creed at Norwich). On 5 July the upper house resolved to proceed no further, after ordering that Clarke's papers should be entered in their minutes. On 7 July the lower house voted that Clarke had not recanted, and that the inquiry should not have been dropped. No furtner steps were taken. Whiston was rather scandalised by what he regarded as Clarke's weakness. He states that Clarke refused during the rest of his life to accept any preferment involving subscription to the articles, and that he would not encourage others to subscribe. The only other preferment which he accepted was the mastership of Wigston's Hospital, Leicester, which was given to him by Lechmere, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, about 1718 (see Whiston, p. 13). A controversy afterwards arose as to whether Clarke ever repented of his utterance. Hoadly says positively that all his friends were aware that he never changed his views. A statement that he had expressed remorse to his son upon his deathbed was positively contradicted oy his son in the 'London Evening Post,' 7 Dec. 1771. The Chevalier Ramsay declared in a letter, (quoted by Warton (Essay on Pope, 5th edit. ii. 117), that he had seen Clarke in his last years and heard him express penitence. Theophilus Lindsay, in his 'Historical View ' (pp. xiv-xx), replies to Ramsay. Whether Ramsay, as is probable, misunderstood Clarke, or, as Lindsay argues, was guilty of a 'pious fraud,' his statement can hardly be accepted. Clarke had more reason to repent of reticence than of over-frankness. In 1718 he gave some offence by altering the form of doxology in the psalms sung in his church. The Bishop of London (John Robinson) published a letter to his clergy, condemning the new phrase, and Clarke had to submit. He prepared some emendations in the liturgy, which were adopted by Lindsey and other unitarians(Lindsey, Historical View, p. 335 ). A copy of the prayer-book, with Clarke's alterations in his own handwriting, was presented in 1768 by his son, Samuel Clarke, F.R.S., to the British Museum, where it is still preserved. After the death of Queen Anne, Clarke became intimate with the Princess of Wales, afterwards Queen Caroline, and had weekly interviews with her, at which other men of philosophical reputation attended to discuss serious questions. At her request he had a famous controversy with Leibnitz. The correspondence which passed between them was published in 1717. It turns principally upon the nature of time and space, which Leibnitz asserts to have only an 'imaginary' existence; while Clarke attributes to them a 'real' existence, which is, he says, the necessary consequence of the existence of God. Whiston says that it had occurred to Clarke even in his childhood that an annihilation of time and space was beyond the power even of omnipo- tence, and the same point is touched in his correspondence with Butler. The controversy was continued by E. Law. The discussion with Leibnitz also turned upon the question of freewill, Clarke holding that Leibnitz's solution of the difficulty was an evasion, and really amounted to admitting necessity. He argued the same question in a criticism of Anthony Collins published in the same book. The letters to Leibnitz are interesting as illustrating Leibnitz's opinions, and show that Clarke was a powerful antagonist. His reputation induced many young men of promise to consult him. Bishop Berkeley sent him the first edition of his 'Principles;' but Clarke, though pressed by Whiston to answer, declined the work. An interview afterwards appears to have been arranged by Addison, and when Berkeley was in London (1724-8) preparing for his voyage to America, Clarke, with Hoadly and Sherlock, met him twice a week at Queen Caroline's court [see Berkeley, George, 1685-1753]. Arthur Collier [q. v.], who independently held Berkeley's theory, also addressed Clarke, but Clarke's letters are lost. His own doctrine was radically opposed to Berkeley's. Bishop Butler, then a student, addressed to him in 1713-14 remarkable letters appended to later editions of Clarke's 'Boyle Lectures' and of the 'Analogy.' Francis Hutcheson and Henry Home (Lord Kames) were other philosophical correspondents. He had many friends and eager disciples among the latitudinarian party, especially Bishop Hoadiy, a Cambridge contemporary, and such minor lights as John Balguy [q. v.], John Jackson (1686-1763) [q. v.], who succeeded him in Wigston's Hospital, and Arthur Ashley Sykes [q. v.], who was his assistant preacher at St. James's. The last three were eager supporters in his various controversies. Hoadly was intimate with him, and declares that he wishes to be known to posterity as 'the friend of Dr. Clarke' (Life of Clarke). The high church party were of course hostile. Pope sneers at Clarke's court favour in the line, 'Nor in a hermitage set Dr. Clarke' (Moral Essays, iv. 77), and attacks his 'high priori road' in the 'Dunciad' (iv. 455, &c.) Pope's prejudices may be easily explained by his general antipathy to Clarke's whiggish connections, and by his alliance with Bolingbroke, who, in his philosophical writings, makes frequent attacks upon Clarke, showing more animosity than comprehension. (For a curious Story of a conversation at Queen Caroline's court, when Clarke was perplexed by a dilemma put to him by a Roman catholic (whether the First Person of the Trinity could annihilate the Second and Third), see Charles Butler's 'Confessions of Faith,' ch. x. sect. 2). Clarke was also on friendly terms with Whiston, and revised some of his writings, though he declined to attend the meetings of the society started by Whiston in 1715 for 'promoting primitive Christianity,' that is, for propagating Arianism. He was intimate in later years with the Arian Emlyn [q. v.] He had a discussion with Smalridge at the house of one of Whiston's friends, Thomas Cartwright of Aynho, Northamptonshire, in which, according to Whiston, Clarke had the best of the argument (Whiston, 5). Emlyn tells us that Clarke discussed with him the propriety of accepting a bishopric, and had apparently no insurmountable scruples. Newton died in 1727. Clarke had been on terms of close intimacy with him (Nichols, Illustr. iv. 33). He had translated Newton's 'Optics ' (published 1704) in 1706, and Newton had then given him 500l.—100l. for each of his five children then alive—in token of satisfaction. It is said, however, and with doubtful authority, that Newton once called Clarke a 'jesuit' (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 362). On Newton's death the mastership of the mint, worth from 1,200/. to 1,500l. a year, was offered to Clarke, who declined it as too secular. He accepted, however, a sum of 1,000l. for his son, to obtain a place among the 'king's writers,' which was paid by Newton's successor, Conduitt. Clarke's last scientific performance was a letter to Mr. Benjamin Hoadiy 'On the Proportion of Force to Velocity in Bodies in Motion' (1728, published in 'Philosophical Transactions,' No. 401). His versatility is proved by his publication of editions of Cæsar and Homer. The first, dedicated to the Duke of Marlborough, appeared in 1712. It is praised by Addison inthe 'Spectator' (No. 367), and said to be especially correct in the punctuation, and one of the most beautiful books ever published in England. The notes are chiefiy collected from other authors. Clarke acknowledges collations of manuscripts from Bentley and Bishop Moore. In 1729 he published 'by royal command' the first twelve books of the 'Iliad,' dedicated to the Duke of Cumberland, with a Latin version (chiefly new) and a selection of annotations. The remaining twelve books were published by his son Samuel in 1732, the first three books having been prepared by the father.

Clarke died after a very short illness on 17 May 1729. He had married Katherine, daughter of the Rev. Mr. Lockwood of Little Massingham, Norfolk, and had by her seven children, two of whom died before and one shortly after his own death. Almost the only personal anecdotes to be found were printed in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for 1783 from notes by the Rev. Mr. Jones of Welwyn. They seem to show that Clarke was generally courtier-like and cautious in his conversation, but that he became playful in the intimacy of a few friends. He remonstrated impressively with his children for killing flies. Thomas Bott (1688-1754) [q. v.], once found him 'swimming on a table', and on the approach of a solemn coxcomb on some such occasion heard him say, 'Boys, be wise, here comes a fool!' Warton, in his 'Essay on Pope,' says that Clarke would amuse himself by jumping over tables and chairs, and he appears to have been fond of cards. He was remarkable for his careful economy of time. He always had a book in his pocket, and is said never to have forgotten anything he had once learned. At Norwich he preached extempore, but afterwards took great pains in the composition of his sermons. Voltaire, who saw him in England in 1726, mentions the impression made by Clarke's reverent mode or uttering the name of God, a habit which he professed to have learned from Newton (Phil, de Newton, ch. i.) In the 'Lettres sur les Anglais' (letter vii.) Voltaire says that Bishop Gibson prevented Clarke's preferment to the see of Canterbury by telling the queen that Clarke was the most learned and honest man in her dominions, but had one defect—he was not a christian. An engraving from a portrait by T. Gibson is given in his works.

His works are as follows:

  1. 'Jacobi Rohaulti Physica; Latine vertit, recensuit et uberioribus jam annotationibus, ex illustrissimi Isaaci Newtoni philosophia maximam partem haustis, amplificavit et ornavit S. Clarke,' 4th edit. 1718 (1st edit, in 1697).
  2. 'Three Practical Essays upon Baptism, Confirmation, and Repentance,' 1699.
  3. 'Reflections on part of a Book called "Amyntor"' (anonymous, afterwards added to the Letter to Dodwell), 1699.
  4. 'Paraphrases on the Four Gospels,' 1701-2.
  5. 'Boyle Lectures in 1704 and 1705; 'these were published in two separate volumes in 1705 and 1706. They were afterwards published together as 'A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation, in answer to Mr. Hobbes, Spinoza, the author of the "Oracles of Reason" [C. Blount], and other deniers of Natural and Revealed Religion.' In the fourth edition (1716) was added the correspondence with Butler, and in the sixth a 'Discourse concerning the Connection of Prophecies,' &c., also published separately (1725), and 'An Answer to a Seventh Letter concerning the Argument à priori. 'A French translation appeared in 1717.
  6. 'Letter to Mr. Dodwell,' 1706.
  7. 'Is. Newtoni Optice; Latine reddidit S. C.' 1706.
  8. 'C. Julii Cæsaris quæ extant, accuratissime cum libris editis et MSS. optimis collata, recognita et correcta,' &c., 1712.
  9. 'The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity,' 1712. Several pamphlets in defence of this against Nelson, Waterland, &c., are included in his works.
  10. 'A Collection of Papers which passed between Dr. Clarke and Mr. Leibnitz,' to which are added a correspondence on free-will with a gentleman of the university of Cambridge [R. Bulkley], and remarks upon [Anthony Collins's] 'Philosophical Enquiry concerning Human Liberty,' 1717. 11. Seventeen Sermons, 1724. 12. Letter to B. Hoadly on Velocity and Force. 13. 'Homeri Ilias Græce et Latine,' 1729.
  11. 'Exposition of the Church Catechism,' 1729 (from his manuscript lectures delivered every Thursday at St. James's Church, edited by his brother, John Clarke, dean of Salisbury, 1729).
  12. Ten volumes of 'Sermons' (also edited by John Clarke, 1730-1); to this is prefixed the life by Hoadly.

A collective edition of Clarke's works in four vols. folio appeared in 1738, with life by Hoadly. Vol. i. contains 114 sermons. Vol. ii. 59 sermons in continuation of the last; 18 sermons published by Clarke himself; and the Boyle Lectures with the Butler correspondence. Vol. iii.; The Paraphrases on the Gospels; three Practical Essays; Exposition of the Catechism; Letter to Dodwell with controversy with Collins; and Reflections on 'Amyntor.' Vol. iv.; Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, with various pamphlets in defence of it, and the Proceedings in Convocation; Controversy with Leibnitz; and Remarks upon Collins's 'Human Liberty.'

[Whiston's Historical Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Clarke, 3rd edit. 1741, to which is added The Elogium of … Samuel Clarke, by A. A. Sykes (originally in the Present State of the Republic of Letters for July 1729), and Memoirs of the Life and Sentiments of Dr. S. Clarke, by Thomas Emlyn; Disney's Memoirs of Jackson; Life by Hoadly, prefixed to Works, 1738; Biog. Brit.; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iv. 717; Gent. Mag. March 1783.]

L. S.