Adam Clarke (1762-1832), Irish Methodist minister

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 2, edited by Charles A. Read

This eminent divine and oriental scholar was born in the year 1760 or 1762, in the little village of Moybeg, county of Londonderry. His father belonged to a family which at one time possessed considerable property in Antrim, and his mother, who was of Scotch descent, is described as a woman of excellent character, who early taught her children the importance of religion. At the time of Adam's birth, however, the financial affairs of the family were far from prosperous. Mr. Clarke had received a good college education, but from various adverse causes he had been obliged to betake himself to the then poorly paid profession of a parish schoolmaster, and his income was only what could be derived from the petty fees of the school in the village in which he lived. It soon became impossible to exist upon this income, and farming in a small way was therefore added to teaching. Before and after school hours Mr. Clarke worked hard on his little farm, while the rest of the labour required was performed by his two sons. "This limited their education," we are told; "but the two brothers went day about to school, and he who had the advantage of the day's instruction gained and remembered all he could, and imparted on his return to him that continued in the farm all the knowledge that he had acquired in the day."

At the age of fourteen Adam was taken from farm and school and placed with Mr. Barnett, a linen manufacturer, to learn that business. Evidently the lad did not like it, for he returned home in a few months. Soon after some kind friend recommended him to the Rev. John Wesley, who invited him to become a pupil in the Methodist seminary lately established at Kingswood, Bristol. Here he diligently applied himself to study, and before long we find him buying out of his scanty pocket-money a Hebrew grammar, and beginning to lay the foundation of the high reputation which he afterwards acquired as an eastern scholar. When Mr. Wesley visited Kingswood he asked Clarke if he was willing to become an itinerant preacher. He readily consented, and was accordingly, within a few weeks, appointed to the circuit of Bradford, Wilts, though only nineteen years of age. From this time until 1805, a period of twenty-six years, he laboured assiduously in circuit after circuit. He afterwards resided chiefly in London, and devoted much of his time to literary research. In 1797 he had issued his first work, A Dissertation on the Use and Abuse of Tobacco. This was followed in 1802 by "A Bibliographical Dictionary, containing a Chronological Account of the most curious Books in all departments of Literature, from the infancy of Printing to the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, with an Essay on Bibliography and an Account of the best English Translations of each Greek and Latin Classic." This work, issued in six small volumes, to which two were afterwards added, is possessed of considerable merit, and established the literary reputation of its author. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1805 received the diploma of M.A., and the following year that of LL.D. from the University of St Andrews. He was also chosen a member of the Royal Irish Academy and of other literary societies in this country and in America. In 1804 he published Baxter's Christian Directory Abridged, and in 1805 a new edition of Claude Fleury's History of the Ancient Israelites. In 1807 appeared The Succession of Sacred Literature, in 1808 The Eucharist, and at different periods a new edition of Shuckford's Connection of Sacred and Profane History, Illness and Death of Richard Porson, and Sturm's Reflections on the Works of God and His Providence, translated from the German.

All these works had gained him a high reputation, when, in 1810, the first volume of his great work appeared, The Holy Bible, with a Commentary and Critical Notes, in eight volumes, the last of which was issued in 1826. Of this work we may say that it displayed the most profound erudition and perseverance, and is the work by which the name of the author will live. "It is assuredly a wonderful performance," says Archbishop Lowndes, "carried on as it was in the midst of journeying and privations, of weariness and painfulness, of care and distraction; and carried on too by an unaided and single-handed man, for he himself affirms that he had no mortal to afford him the smallest assistance." In 1815 Dr. Clarke had an estate at Millbrook in Lancashire purchased for him by some friends, and to this place he removed and resided for several years. In 1816 he edited Harmer's Observations with his Life, and in 1818, having received into his house two Buddhist priests, he wrote for their instruction in the Christian religion Clavis Biblica, or a Compendium of Biblical Knowledge, which appeared in 1820.

In 1823 Dr. Clarke removed to London, and afterwards to Haydon Hall, seventeen miles from London, where he resided until his death, which took place Aug. 26, 1832. In addition to the works already mentioned, he also produced Memoirs of the Wesley Family, and the Gospels Harmonized, which was arranged by Samuel Dunn, and published in 1836. In 1807 he was appointed one of the sub-commissioners for the arrangement of the public records, and besides publishing interesting Reports, assisted in preparing for the press the early portion of an enlarged edition of Rymer's Faedera. A memoir of Dr. Clarke, edited by J. B. B. Clarke, was published in 1833.