Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Adam, James
ADAM, JAMES (1860–1907), classical scholar and Platonist, born on 7 April 1860 at Kinmuck in the parish of Keithhall near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, was second child and only son of James Adam and Barbara Anderson. The father owned the general store and tailor's shop which served the neighbouring countryside; he died of typhoid fever when his son was only eight. His mother (still living) by her own energy carried on the business, and brought up her six children. After varied scholastic experiences Adam made rapid progress at the parish school of Keithhall under George Kemp, M. A., and having spent some months at the grammar school of Old Aberdeen won the third bursary at Aberdeen University in Oct. 1876. Though chiefly interested in Greek, Adam took a good place in most of the classes of the arts course. His devotion to Greek was fostered by the professor, (Sir) William Geddes [q. v. Suppl. I]. In 1880 he graduated with first-class honours in classics and carried off the chief classical prizes and the Ferguson scholarship. Meanwhile in the spring of 1880 he had been elected classical scholar at Caius College, Cambridge. In the summer of 1882 he was placed in division i. of the first class in the classical tripos, part i. In 1883 he just missed the Craven scholarship, but in 1884 was awarded the first chancellor's medal and obtained a specially brilliant first class (only once equalled) in part ii. of the classical tripos with distinction in classics, ancient philosophy, and comparative philology. In Dec. 1884 he was elected a junior fellow and was soon appointed classical lecturer of Emmanuel College, where he settled down at once to his life's work as a teacher. During his undergraduate career at Cambridge Adam had devoted himself with increasing ardour to the study of Plato, and this author for the rest of his life generally furnished a subject (most frequently the 'Phaedo' or some books of the 'Republic') for one of the two courses of intercollegiate lectures which it was part of his college duty to deliver annually. Aristotle's 'Ethics,' Lucretius, Cicero's 'de Finibus,' and above all the Greek lyric poets were also frequent subjects. His lectures were full of wit as well as learning, and however mystical some might consider his philosophical views, there was no lack of precision in his scholarship. Throughout his teaching career Adam took classes with rare intermissions at Girton College, and was an ardent supporter of the claims of women to degrees, when the question came before the senate of the university in 1897. A knowledge of Greek he regarded as an essential part of university education, and he was a resolute opponent of all attempts to make Greek an optional subject of study. At Easter 1890 he visited Greece. In the same year he was appointed joint tutor of his college with Mr. W. N. Shaw (now director of the Meteorological Office), and in 1900, the number of tutors having been meantime increased, he succeeded Mr. Shaw as senior tutor. His relations with pupils and colleagues were kindly and affectionate, while his efficiency as a lecturer proved of great benefit to the college. The changes in the classical tripos, which came into force in 1903, emphasised the importance of ancient philosophy, and the college hall was barely able to hold the numbers that flocked to Adam's lectures on Plato and Aristotle. In 1887, inspired probably by his closest friend, Robert Alexander Neil [q. v. Suppl. II], he published his first edition of a Platonic dialogue, the 'Apology.' This was followed by the 'Crito' in 1888, the 'Euthyphro' in 1890, and (in conjunction with his wife) the 'Protagoras' in 1893. In 1890 he had announced an intention of preparing an edition of the 'Republic.' In 1897 he published a revised text. This, however, differs in many passages from the large edition in two volumes which appeared after many years of labour in 1902, and immediately took its place as the standard edition. Adam's notes and excursuses, which are very concise considering the difficulty of the subject, represent a judgement based upon a thorough knowledge of the vast work of his many predecessors. In textual matters as years went on he became steadily more conservative, believing that the tradition of the Platonic text was in the main quite sound. An investigation preliminary to his edition of the 'Republic' was a discussion of the 'Platonic Number' (Cambridge University Press, 1891). Adam's interpretation has been confirmed by Professor Hilprecht's discovery of the Babylonian perfect number. At Christmas 1902 he was nominated Gifford lecturer at Aberdeen. He chose for his subject 'The Religious Teachers of Greece,' and the lectures delivered in 1904 and 1905 were very successful.
In the spring of 1907, Adam, who, amid his unceasing work, retained his youthful appearance in middle age, was attacked by illness. He died in Aberdeen after an operation on 30 August 1907, and was buried at Woking. Adam married, on 22 July 1890, a former pupil, Adela Marion, youngest daughter of Arthur Kensington, formerly fellow and tutor of Trinity College, Oxford. His wife survives him with two sons and a daughter. An enlarged photograph hangs in the parlour of Emmanuel College.
The Gifford lectures, which were left complete, but not finally revised for publicapublication, were edited with a short memoir by his widow and published in 1908 (2nd edit. 1909). A collection of his essays and lectures was edited by Mrs. Adam in 1911 under the title of 'The Vitality of Platonism, and other Essays.' These collected papers best illustrate the bent of Adam's mind in later life. For many years he had been deeply interested in the relationship between Greek philosophy and the New Testament. Though he would not have said with Westcott that 'the final cause of Greek was the New Testament,' he certainly tended to regard Greek philosophy pre-eminently as a 'Praeparatio Evangelica,' and his occasional lectures on such semi-religious topics at summer meetings in Cambridge found large and appreciative audiences. Witty and paradoxical in conversation, though with a vein of melancholy in his nature, Adam found fullest scope for his abilities as a teacher, and to education in the highest sense all his work as lecturer and writer was devoted.
[Information from the family; the Memoir by his wife quoted above; intimate personal knowledge for over twenty-five years.]