Are you a Christian?
BOOK 2, CH. 1,
HIS PARENTAGE AND CHILDHOOD
PREVIOUS CHAPTER - NEXT CHAPTER >> - HELP - FACEBOOK
HIS PARENTAGE AND CHILDHOOD
To retrace the footsteps of Adam Clarke’s early youth, we should visit some obscure hamlets in Ireland, lying on the borders of the North Channel, in a champaign country abounding in landscapes where a Ruysdael or a Paul Potter would have found many a congenial subject for his pencil. The ancestors of Adam Clarke, though of English origin, had been settled in that part of Ireland for some generations, and were possessed of good landed property in the counties of Antrim and Derry.
The family came into Ireland some time in the seventeenth century, and obtained a portion of what were called the “Debenture Lands.” The property thus acquired was afterwards increased by intermarriages with the families of Strawbridge, Courtenay, Higgison, and Boyd. Dr. Clarke’s great-great-grandfather, William Clarke, held the estates of Grange, in the county of Antrim, and was regarded with such consideration in the county, as to be appointed to receive the Prince of Orange, when, in 1690, he came to Carrickfergus. An anecdote of this interview is preserved, to the effect that Mr. Clarke, though at that time a disciple of the rigid doctrines of George Fox, mindful neither to compromise his principles as a Quaker, nor his behavior as a gentleman, left his hat behind him, and so approached the prince bareheaded. He addressed his future monarch in a few words of dignified simplicity, with which the prince seemed well content, and entered upon a conversation, at the close of which he was pleased to say, that Mr. Clarke was one of the best-bred men he had ever met with. This William Clarke had a son named John, who married a daughter of Mr. Horseman, mayor of Carrickfergus. They had eighteen sons and one daughter. The ninth of these sons was William Clarke, the grandfather of our Adam. He formed a matrimonial connection with the Boyds, a family of Scotch extraction, who appear to have settled in Ireland about the same time with the Clarkes. Archibald Boyd was a Presbyterian clergyman, and the first Protestant who preached at Maghera aft er the Revolution. The fruit of the marriage of William Clarke with Miss Boyd were four sons, of whom the eldest, John, was the father of Adam.
These few details are sufficient to show that the family of the Clarkes held rank formerly with the most substantial and respectable in that part of the kingdom. But, like those of many other houses, their fortunes had, toward the end of the last century, undergone a disastrous change. Their lands in the neighborhoods of Larne and Glenarm, and on the pleasant banks of Lough Neagh, fell, by one loss after another, into the hands of strangers. A lawsuit deprived them of an excellent estate called “the Grange;” and, while Adam was yet a child, the last acre of their property was gone. “I well remember,” he once said, “the time when the last farm went out of the family, and our ancient boast was lost for ever. The weeping and wailing that morning upon which we were made acquainted with the fact, still live in my remembrance, though I was then scarcely seven years of age. Yet, who knows but that there was mercy in this stroke? Had that little estate remained, men would perhaps, never have heard of Adam Clarke. The Supreme Disposer often takes away one blessing, to make way for a greater.
John, the father of Adam Clarke, has been described by the latter, as “a man standing about five feet seven, with good shoulders, an excellent leg, a fine hand, and every way well proportioned, and extremely active.”
Intended by his parents for the Church, he had received a good classical education at school, which was followed up by studies for the clerical profession, at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Among his college testimonials was the name of the eminent Hebraist, Hutchinson. At Edinburgh he gained a prize of some distinction, and at Glasgow took his degree of Master of Arts. He then, with the more immediate view of qualifying for episcopal orders, entered Trinity College, Dublin, successfully competing for a sizarship, at a time when classical merit was the only passport to that privilege. Thus far all was propitious; but a severe fever prostrated his health, and, after his return to Dublin, a premature marriage with one who became the deservedly-loved partner of the joys and adversities of after-life, dissolved his connection with the university, and gave a new direction to his career. By the stress of circumstances now unknown, Mr. Clarke was induced to turn his views from the clerical to the scholastic profession. His first idea was to obtain a professorship in one of the new collegiate establishments in America; and for this adventure he turned his patrimony into money, and took a passage in a vessel bound for that continent. On the very eve of embarkation, his father, who earnestly deprecated the undertaking, succeeded in dissuading him from attempting it. With some still lingering hopes of obtaining church-preferment, the young scholar now passed an anxious interval, during which his means of support were rapidly melting away; and at length, as a kind of last resource, he applied for the customary license to act as a teacher of youth, and gave up the pulpit of the clergyman for the desk of the schoolmaster. His lot was now confirmed, and the steady, earnest, and laborious endeavors which gave a character to his remaining life, manifest an unswerving resolution to acquit himself of its responsibilities. The school appears to have been generally well attended, and by the children of all ranks in the neighborhood. The young people bent their steps in a morning to the common place of learning, alike from the cottage, the rectory, and the hall. Dr. Barnard, afterwards bishop of Killaloe, and of Limerick, was at that time rector of the parish, and confided his own son to the care of Mr. Clarke; among whose scholars there were not a few who in after-years filled the situations of clergymen, (whether Episcopal, Popish, or Presbyterian,) medical men, lawyers, and schoolmasters. Dr. Clarke used to say, that there were few priests, clergymen, surgeons, or lawyers, of those resident in the north of Ireland, who had not been educated by his father. And yet, from the extremely low charges then customary for education, the diligent labors of this able and conscientious teacher yielded but a poor return for the support of his family. The highest charge for a range of instruction which comprehended the mathematics, and the classics, both Latin and Greek, was seven shillings per quarter; while the primary elements of school-knowledge were rendered at the lowly price of fourpence, twopence, and even three halfpence per week. It may be conjectured, therefore, that the temporal concerns of the family were the reverse of affluent. The worthy schoolmaster knew all about the res angusta domi. The mind both of father and mother seems to have been shadowed by almost habitual care; and the children, as Adam once expressed it, “neither fared sumptuously every day, nor was their clothing purple and fine linen.”
Mrs. Clarke was of Scotch origin, a descendant of the M’Leans of Mull, in the Hebrides, — a hardy race, remarkable for muscular strength. A brother of Mrs. Clarke, the Rev. I. M’Lean, “could bend iron bars with a stroke of his arm; roll up large pewter dishes like a scroll with his fingers ; and, when traveling through Bovagh-wood, (a place through which his walks frequently lay,) he has been known to pull down the top of an oak-sapling, twist it into a withe by the mere strength of his arms and fingers, and, thus working it down in a spiral form to the earth, leave it with its root in the ground for the astonishment of all that might pass by.”
One day, dining at an inn with two officers, who wished to be witty at the parson’s expense, he said something which had a tendency to check their self-confidence. One of them, considering his honor affected, said, “Sir, were it not for your cloth, I would oblige you to eat the words you have spoken.” Mr. M’Lean rose up a moment, took off his coat, rolled it up, and threw it under the table with — “Divinity, lie there: and, M’Lean, do for thyself.” Saying it, he seized the foremost of the heroes by the cuff of the neck and the waistband, and threw him out of the window.
The great-grandfather of Mrs. Clarke, Laughlin M’Lean, was chief of his clan, and laird of Dowart. Dr. Clarke ever cherished a tender veneration for his mother. According to his description, she was not a beauty, but a sensible woman; something above the average height, graceful in moving, and remarkably erect even in old age. What was better, she was as upright in principle; a woman who feared God, and whom His Holy Spirit failed not, as we shall see, to lead at length into the liberty of His children. Mrs. Clarke, at the time of her marriage, was a decided Presbyterian; her husband, with equal strength of principle, an Episcopalian. It redounds not a little to their honor, that these differences never interfered with the charm of that holy love which tempered and sanctified the hardships of their selfdenying life. Their eldest son, named Tracy, after his relative, the Rev. John Tracy, rector of Kileronaghan, was bred to the medical profession.
Some passages in his remarkable history will be noticed further on. Of their daughters, the eldest married the Rev. W. M. Johnson, LL.D., rector of St. Perrans Uthnoe, in Cornwall; and another became the wife of Thomas Exley, Esq., M.A., of Bristol.
Adam Clarke, the subject of our memoir, was born at Moybeg, in the parish of Kileronaghan, county Londonderry. The year of his birth was either 1760 or 1762. He was always uncertain upon this point, but inclined to the first date. Though he was baptized by his uncle Tracy, no register of the baptism was preserved; and Mrs. Clarke herself could give him no decisive information, her own recollection on the matter being somewhat confused. This is not an unexampled instance of maternal forgetfulness.
The mother of Dr. Martin Luther could not certify the year of his birth.
Melancthon, who questioned her about it, records that she recollected the day and the hour perfectly, but had forgotten the year. Mrs. Clarke’s prevailing sentiment was, that her son was born in 1760. He received the Christian name of Adam at the request of his grandparents, in memory of a beloved son of their own whom they had lost in early life. The old people wished to adopt him as their own child, and his first years were passed under their charge. Adam was a remarkably hardy child; at eight months on his feet, and a month later walking about alone; at three years old sitting in the snow in winter, and in the summer wandering among the lanes and fields, and often taking his stand by a draw-well, peering curiously into its depths, as if searching to know the mysteries beneath. When, at five years, he took the smallpox, the child disdained the then customary regimen of covering up the patient in a closely-shut room, left his bed on every opportunity, and ran away naked in the open air. He had, also, uncommon strength for his age, which his father seemed proud of showing, setting the child to roll large stones when visitors came to the house.
He appears to have returned to his father’s care on the removal of the family from Moybeg to Maghera, a village in the county of Derry, sixteen miles south of Coleraine. This was when Adam was six years old. Two years later we find another removal to Garva, or Grove, a hamlet some ten miles distant. Here they resided till about his twelfth year; when their unsettled domestic history shows another exodus, to a place called Ballyaherton, in the parish of Agherton, some little space from Coleraine.
It was in the first of these transient resting-places that the future commentator on the Bible became, though with sore trials to the flesh and spirit, acquainted with the contents of the primer. Unlike his bodily powers, the mental faculties of the child were but slowly developed. He has told us that “he found it very difficult to acquire even the knowledge of the alphabet;” and that his father, who had set his heart upon his becoming a scholar, strove to awaken his intellect with harsh words and unseasonable chastisement. “But this,” says the doctor, “so far from eliciting genius, rather produced an increase of habitude; so that himself began to despair of ever being able to acquire any knowledge by means of letters. When, however, he was about eight years of age, he was led to entertain hopes of future improvement from the following circumstance: — A neighboring schoolmaster, calling at the school where Adam was then endeavoring to put vowels and consonants together, was desired by the teacher to assist in hearing a few of the lads their lessons. Adam was the last that went up, not a little ashamed of his deficiency: he, however, hobbled through his lesson, though in a very indifferent manner; and the teacher apologized to the stranger, and remarked, that that lad was a grievous dunce. The assistant, clapping young Clarke on the head, said, ‘Never fear, sir; this lad will make a good scholar yet.’ This was the first thing that checked his own despair of learning, and gave him hope. I give this in his own words, for the sake of the useful reflection which follows them: “How injudicious is the general mode of dealing with those who are called dull boys! To every child learning must be a task; and as no young person is able to comprehend the maxim, that the acquisition of learning will compensate the toil, encouragement and kind words from the teacher are indispensably necessary to induce the learner to undergo the toil of those gymnastic exercises. Willful idleness and neglect should be reprehended and punished; but where genius has not yet been unfolded, nor reason acquired its proper seat, the mildest methods are the most likely to be efficient, and the smallest progress should be watched and commended, that it may excite to further attention and diligence. With those who are called dull boys this method rarely fails. But there are few teachers who possess the happy art of developing genius. They have not sufficient penetration to find out the bent or characteristic propensity of their pupils’ minds, to give them the requisite excitement or direction. In consequence, there have been innumerable native diamonds which have never shone, because they have fallen into such hands as could not distinguish them from common pebbles; and to them neither the hand nor the art of the lapidary has ever been applied. Many children, not naturally dull, have become so under the influence of the schoolmaster.” The elder Mr. Clarke was a man of right honest purpose, and of resolute determination. He reigned in the school as an absolute monarch in his kingdom. His juvenile subjects knew the man and his communications, and worked with the assurance that nothing short of actual improvement would keep them right with him. He was their friend, though a severe one.
It was their welfare he had at heart. Coldsmith’s description of a similar potentate applies to him in this as in other respects — “Beside you straggling fence that skirts the way, With blossom’d furze unprofitably gay, There, in his noisy mansion, skill’d to rule, The village master taught his little school. A man severe he was, and stern to view: I knew him well, and every truant knew. Well had the boding tremblers learn’d to trace The day’s disasters in his morning face Full well they laugh’d, with counterfeited glee, At all his jokes, for many a joke had he; Full well the busy whisper, circling round, Convey’d the dismal tidings when he frown’d. Yet he was kind; or, if severe in aught, The love he bore to learning was in fault.”
The progress of Adam Clarke’s intellectual history will have our attention more fully hereafter. The only other incident I shall mention here relates to the manner in which he made his first free outset in the path of learning.
And this, as also two or three other critical passages in his experience, we will recount in his own words: — “As soon as Adam got through the ‘Reading made easy,’ had learned to spell pretty correctly, and could read with tolerable ease in the New Testament, his father, who wished if possible to make him a scholar, put him into Lily’s Latin Grammar. This was new and painful work to little Clarke, and he was stumbled by almost the first sentence which he was ordered to get by heart, not because he could not commit it to memory, but because he could not comprehend: — ‘ In speech be these eight parts following: noun, pronoun, verb, participle, declined; adverb, conjunction, preposition, interjection, undeclined.’ He,” however, “committed this to memory, and repeated it, and many of its fellows, without understanding one tittle of the matter; and, as the understanding was not instructed, the memory was uselessly burdened.
The declensions of nouns were painful, but he overcame them; and the conjugations of verbs he got more easily through. ‘Propria quae maribus’ he got through with difficulty, at two lines each lesson. With the ‘As in praesenti’ of the same ponderous Grammar he was puzzled beyond measure: he could not understand the ‘Bo fit psi; do fit di; mo fit ui,’ &c., and could by no means proceed. Of the reason or probable utility of such things he could form no judgment ; and at last it became so intolerable, that he employed two whole days, and part of a third, in fruitless endeavors to commit to memory two lines, with their construction, of what appeared to him useless and incomprehensible jargon. His distress was indescribable, and he watered his book with his tears. At last he laid it by with a broken heart, and in utter despair of ever being able to make any progress. He took up an English Testament, sneaked into an English class, and rose with them to say a lesson. The master perceiving it said, in a terrific tone, ‘Sir, what brought you here? Where is your Latin Grammar?’ He burst into tears, and said, with a piteous voice, ‘I cannot learn it.’ He had now reason to expect all the severity of the rod: but the master, getting a little moderate, perhaps moved by his tears, contented himself with saying, ‘ Go, Sir, and take up your Grammar. If you do not speedily get that lesson, I shall pull your ears as long as Jowler’s,’ (a great dog belonging to the premises,) ‘and you shall be a beggar till the day of your death! ‘ These were terrible words, and seemed to express the sentence of a ruthless and unavoidable destiny. He retired, and sat down by the side of a young gentleman with whom he had been in class; but who, unable to lag behind with his dullness, requested to be separated, that he might advance by himself. He was received with the most bitter taunts: ‘ What, have you not learned that lesson yet? O, what a stupid ass! You and I began together; you are now only in As in praesenti, and I am in syntax;’ and then, with cruel mockery, he began to repeat the last lesson he had learned. The effect of this was astonishing. Adam was roused as from a lethargy: he felt, as he expressed himself, as if something had broken within him; his mind in a moment was all light. Though he felt indescribably mortified, he did not feel indignant. ‘What!’ said he to himself, ‘shall I ever be a dunce, and the butt of these fellows’ insults?’ He snatched up his book, in a few minutes committed the lesson to memory; got the construction speedily; went up, and said it without missing a word; took up another lesson, acquired it almost immediately, said this also without a blemish, and in the course of that day wearied the master with his so often repeated returns to say lessons, and committed to memory all the Latin verses, with their English construction, in which heavy and tedious Lily has described the four conjugations, with their exceptions, and so forth. Nothing like this had appeared in the school before. The boys were astonished; admiration took the place of mockery; and from that hour — it may be said, from that moment — he found his memory at least capable of embracing every subject that was brought before it, and his own long sorrow was turned into joy.” At Agherton a new church had been built, and the old one, which is now a ruin, was appropriated as the school for the parishioners’ children. Within those venerable walls Adam pursued his juvenile studies, and now made rapid progress in classical and mathematical learning. Waiving, however, all further references for the present to his intellectual culture, we will note a few circumstances in his physical education, which seem to have been intended by Providence to form his constitution for the toils which were destined to fill the history of his future years. The mode of living to which the family were compelled by their penurious income was severely economical. The hungry boy was made thankful for a supply of the plainest food, and learned, poor youth, to become patient under the bodily trials of hunger and thirst. In the matter of raiment also, he was but thinly clad, and, after the habits of the rustic folk in Ireland, went frequently without a covering for the head or feet. The intervals of school-lessons were filled up by such sports as boys become familiar within the country, or were spent more frequently in hard work in the garden or the fields. To eke out the scanty revenue of the school, his father rented a small farm in the neighborhood, which took up much of his spare time, and called into exercise the growing strength of his two sons. It was a pleasant reminiscence of Dr. Clarke’s, that his father, more in the spirit of a classical scholar than of a plodding matter-of-fact farmer, wished to cultivate his grounds upon the principles laid down in the Georgics of Virgil. In recording this recollection, the Doctor remarks that his father did not appear to have calculated “that the agricultural rules of that elegant work were in many respects applicable only to the soil and climate of Italy;” and that “to apply them to a widely different climate, and to a soil extremely dissimilar, lat. 55 N., was not likely to bring about the most beneficial results.” We should think not; and the worthy scholar might have gathered such a conclusion from the first lessons of his favorite pastoral: — At prius ignotum ferro quam scindimus aequor, Ventos et varium caeli praediscere morem, Cura sit, ae patrios cultusque habitusque locorum; Et quid quaeque ferat regio, et quid queque recuset. Hic segetes, illic veniunt felicius uvae: Arborei faetus alibi, atque injussa virescunt Cramina. Noune vides, croceos ut Tmolus odores, India mittit ebur, molles sua thura Sabaei?” “But ere we stir the yet unbroken ground, The various course of seasons must be found: The weather, and the setting of the winds, The culture suiting to the various kinds Of seeds and plants, and what will thrive and rise, And what the genius of the soil denies: This ground with Bacchus, that with Ceres suits; That other loads the trees with happy fruits; A fourth with grass unbidden decks the ground. Thus Tmolus is with yellow saffron crown’d, India black ebon and white ivory bears, And soft Idume weeps her odorous tears. This is the’ original contract; these the laws Imposed by nature, and by nature’s Cause.”
In these labors of the mind and body all the lad’s natural powers were called into full exercise, and grew with his growth. In summer the household were all astir at four in the morning, and in winter long before daylight. Each season had its appropriate toil, each hour its duty, and the hour-glass in the cottage was turned twelve times every day before any one in the family was permitted to go to rest. Little Adam, if at seven years of age he could do no harder work, was able to take care of the cows, and bring them home at milking-time. When big enough, he took his part in sheep-shearing; and at twelve he essayed the plow, and was thrown among the horses’ feet, by the share coming into contact with a hidden rock. He was great at peat-cutting, and could keep two persons employed in piling and carrying the fuel as fast as he digged it. Nor was he a little proud of the strength of hand with which he sent the wheat-seed broadcast over the furrowed soil. I wonder whether the child had any dawning corruption a t the time, that these employments were symbolical of the labors of distant years, in which, having put his hand to another plow, he would be able, with power given from on high, to break up the fallow ground of men’s hearts, go forth to sow the seed which bears its harvests to eternal life, and, as an under shepherd, tend the flock of the Lord’s redeemed.
Here is an incident which discovers some shrewdness in a boy of ten years old: — He had been sent by his mother, near nightfall, on an errand which required him to cross a waste piece of country lying toward the sea, a great part of which was a soft marsh. Darkness came on apace, and along with it a thick fog. In the depths of this mist the boy found himself bewildered; and, to increase his uncertainty, an ignis fatuus rose up before him, and filled him with no small dismay. He retreated, but it followed him. It would not be evaded, whether he turned to the right hand or to the left.
Meanwhile, by these attempts to escape from this strange phantom, of which he had heard many an ill-omened story, he had entirely lost the bearing of the place he was so anxious to arrive at; and the bog abounded with dangerous depths, into some one of which he knew he might sink the very next step. Thus haunted without, by the fairy flame, and within, by growing terror, he suddenly heard a strong whirring sound near him in t he air. He had roused a flock of wild ducks. He could not see them, but the noise of their invisible wings supplied him with the guide he wanted. He knew their haunts by the sea; and, conjecturing that they would now make for these, resolved to follow in the direction they had flown. He was so correct in this judgment as to emerge at length from the bog, within a few yards of the house where his errand was to be done.
Among the exercises to which he was addicted, horsemanship also afforded him a vast delight. He would sometimes ride down to the shore, and, plunging with the animal through the surf, breast the waves with a long swim outward. Once swimming alone, a considerable distance from the shore, he found that he had unintentionally gone out too far, and that the tide, which swells there with great force, was opposed to his return. He recruited his exhausted strength by lying on his back, though at the expense of being carried further away to sea, and then, with the most resolute effort, was enabled by the mercy of Providence once more to touch the land.
The neighborhood of the sea afforded him also, and his father as well, the profitable pursuits of the fisherman. His father was a great lover of the sport, and Adam, whether with him or alone, fished in the Moyola and the creeks of the Bann; so that often, and especially in the salmon season, the table at home smoked with the produce of their healthy and legitimate recreations.
These hardy exercises were not, however, without their dangers. On one occasion he was thrown with such violence from a horse, as to be taken up for dead; and on another, his life was more nearly lost by drowning. In this latter case, it was always his own opinion that life had really become extinct, and that he experienced a renewal of earthly existence by a return of the soul from the world of spirits. It was one morning, when he rode a mare of his father’s into the sea, to bathe her. The sea was not rough, and the morning very fine; and he thought he might ride beyond the breakers, as the shore in that place was smooth and flat. The mare went with great reluctance, and plunged several times. He urged her forward, and at last got beyond the breakers, into the swells: one of these coming with terrible force, when it was too late to retreat, overwhelmed both rider and horse.
There was no person in sight, and no help at hand. He said afterward, that he seemed to go to the bottom with his eyes open, and then , with neither apprehension nor pain, entered on the consciousness of perfect tranquillity and happiness, — not derived, indeed, from anything around him, but from the inward state of his own mind. (An account of this singular experience was given by Dr. Clarke, long years after, in a sermon preached in aid of the Royal Humane Society; and with more minute particulars in a conversation with the late Dr. Letsom. The whole is, probably, too well known to need transcription here.) A ground-swell bore his apparently lifeless body to the shore. The first sensation, when he came to life, was as if a spear had been run through his heart. He felt this in getting the first draught of fresh air, when the lungs were merely inflated by the pressure of the atmosphere. He found himself sitting in the water, and it was by a very swelling wave that he had been put out of the way of being overwhelmed by any of the succeeding ones. The intense pain at his heart, however, still continued; but he had felt no pain from the moment he was submerged till the time when his head was brought above water, and the air once more entered into his lungs. He saw the mare at a considerable distance, walking quite leisurely along the shore. How long he was submerged, cannot be precisely affirmed; but sufficiently long, in his own ever retained opinion, to have been completely dead, never more to breathe in this world, had it not been for that Providence which, as it were, once more breathed into him the breath of life, and caused him to become once more a living soul. If Wesley in his childhood was rescued from the flame, that, as “a brand plucked from the burning,” he might glorify God in a life devoted to His service, Clarke in a yet more striking manner was delivered from the flood, that he too might in his kindred sphere magnify the same great Protector, who has said, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; n either shall the flame kindle upon thee: for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.”
These short recitals will suffice to indicate the manner of Adam Clarke’s outward life in the season of his youth; and how Providence was fitting him, by its discipline, for a career which demanded patience in suffering, and perseverance in toil. When far on his way, in the retrospect of this early stage of his pilgrimage he acknowledged this, and gave thanks to God for the hardy manner in which he had been brought up: “My Heavenly Father saw that I was likely to meet with many rude blasts in journeying through life, and He prepared me in infancy for the lot He destined for me; so that, through His mercy, I have been brought from childhood up to hoary hairs. He knew that I must walk alone through life, and therefore set me on my feet right early, that I might be qualified by practice for the work I was appointed to perform.”