Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Clark, John Willis
CLARK, JOHN WILLIS (1833–1910), man of science and archæologist, born at Cambridge on 24 June 1833, was only child of Dr. William Clark [q. v.], professor of anatomy at Cambridge, and of Mary Willis, sister of Robert Willis [q. v.], Jacksonian professor.
In 1847 he entered Eton as an oppidan. His tutor was William Johnson (afterwards Cory) [q. v. Suppl. I]. In 1852 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he became a scholar in April 1855, and a fellow in October 1858, having graduated B.A. in 1856 as thirteenth in the first class of the classical tripos. During parts of the years 1860–1 he acted as tutor to Viscount Milton, eldest son of Earl Fitzwilliam, at Wentworth; but a considerable portion of his leisure in these and in the following years was spent in foreign travel. Thus, the Faroe Islands and Iceland were visited in 1860, Italy and Germany in 1861 and 1864 respectively, Norway and Denmark in 1866. Accounts of some of these expeditions were among Clark's earliest publications. While residing at Cambridge he assisted his father in the work of his professorship. Dr. Clark resigned that post in 1865, and in 1866 his son was appointed superintendent of the museum of zoology and secretary to the museums and lecture rooms syndicate. These posts he retained until his election as registrary in 1891. His energy and exceptional talent for methodical arrangement and organisation enabled him to effect great improvements in the classification and exhibition of the specimens in the museum, as well as to increase the collections. He contributed a good many papers to scientific journals, principally on the marine mammalia, and it seemed likely at this time that natural science would become the main subject of his studies. This, however, was not to be the case. In 1875 Professor Willis died, and bequeathed to Clark the unfinished manuscript of his ‘Architectural History of the University and Colleges of Cambridge.’ The completion of this monumental work entailed a vast amount of research among college records and a close study of existing buildings. A very large proportion of the book was rewritten, and all Willis's conclusions verified. The book finally appeared in four volumes in 1886, and must rank as Clark's most considerable achievement. In addition to the history of the Cambridge buildings, it includes an architectural history of Eton College, and also a number of essays on the constituent parts of a college—chapel, hall, library, &c., and an admirable series of plans, showing the development of each collegiate site.
A part of 1874 was spent in an expedition to Algiers. In 1877–80 Clark acted as deputy for Dr. H. R. Luard, registrary of the university; in 1887 he was a candidate for the Disney professorship of archæology, and in 1889 for the post of university librarian. He was elected F.S.A. on 26 May 1887. In 1891, at the death of Luard, he was chosen registrary, and continued in the office until a few days before his death. The work of this post was in many ways congenial; it brought Clark into contact with the whole personnel of the university, and it gave him a voice in the arrangement of ceremonies and ‘functions,’ which appealed to his instinct for stage-management. Much was also required of him in the way of codifying university regulations and investigation of records. Of the numerous publications issued by Clark as registrary the most important is probably an edition of the ‘University Endowments,’ which appeared in 1904.
During these years Clark was one of the best-known personalities in Cambridge, alike in his private and in his public capacity. In university politics he was a liberal, and a fiery supporter of every cause which he took up. His quickness of temper and freedom of expression involved him in many somewhat acute personal controversies; but the geniality which was his leading characteristic seldom allowed a quarrel to develop into an enmity. No university institution benefited more largely by his efforts than the library. For many years he was an active member of the syndicate which governed it; in 1905 he initiated a movement for procuring further endowment for it; and the appeal which he then first issued has resulted in contributions to the value of over 20,000l.
Clark's relations with the younger members of the university were always of the happiest. He wholly ignored, and did much to break down, any barriers established by university convention between dons and undergraduates, and he had a genius for making friends of his juniors. In one branch of undergraduate activities the dramatic he was specially helpful. In 1861 he became an honorary member of the Amateur Dramatic Club (A.D.C.); for many years he acted as its treasurer, and was finally elected perpetual vice-president of it. He also took a large part in the production of Greek plays at Cambridge from their inception in 1882. Always an enthusiastic student of English and French drama, he hardly allowed a year to pass without paying a visit to the Paris theatres. He was the author of some dramatic adaptations, and in earlier years of a considerable mass of theatrical critiques.
The bulk of his published work, however, naturally centred round Cambridge, where his whole life was passed. Besides the 'Architectural History' (cited above) and 'Cambridge: Brief Historical and Descriptive Notes' (illustrated, 1880; re-issues, 1890 and 1908), he produced a very large number of less considerable books and papers dealing with all sides of Cambridge life. Many of these will be found in the 'Transactions' of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. Of his contributions to Cambridge biography this Dictionary includes many; others were collected from various journals and republished in 1900; but the most important is the 'Life of Professor Sedgwick,' written in collaboration with Professor T. McKenny Hughes (2 vols. 1890).
Closely connected with Cambridge history were the two volumes of Barnwell Priory documents which Clark issued in 1897 and 1907 under the titles respectively of 'The Observances in use at the Augustinian Priory of S. Giles and S. Andrew' and 'Liber Memorandorum Ecclesie de Bernwelle.' His excellent monograph on the externals of ancient libraries ('The Care of Books'), which first appeared in 1901 (2nd edit. 1902), grew directly out of the essay on college libraries which is appended to the 'Architectural History.' A 'Concise Guide to Cambridge' (1898; 4th edit. 1910), an edition of Loggan's seventeenth-century engravings of the colleges ('Cantabrigia Illustrate,' 1905), and ' Old Friends at Cambridge and Elsewhere' (1900), an unfinished series of reminiscences of social life at Cambridge, were among the more noteworthy writings of his later years. The variety of his interests is strikingly exemplified in a 'Festschrift' ('Fasciculus Joanni Willis Clark dicatus ') presented to him by a number of friends on his seventy-sixth birthday (June 1909). To this volume a bibliography of his published work is appended.
In 1873 Clark married Frances Matilda, daughter of Sir Andrew Buchanan, G.C.B. [q. v.], by whom he had two sons. The death of his wife in December 1908 inflicted a shock from which he never recovered; during considerable portions of the years 1909 and 1910 he was away from Cambridge, or prostrated by illness. In 1909 he resigned the auditorship of Trinity College, which he had held for twenty-seven years; on 1 Oct. 1910 he gave up the post of registrary, and on 10 Oct. he died at his home, Scroope House, in Cambridge. He was buried in the Mill Road cemetery.
He bequeathed his valuable collections of Cambridge books and pamphlets to the university library.
A portrait by C. M. Newton is in possession of the Amateur Dramatic Club.
[Personal knowledge; information derived from his mother's diaries; bibliography appended to 'Fasciculus Joanni Willis Clark dicatus,' 1909.]