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  • THE LIFE OF THE REV. ADAM CLARKE:
    BOOK 3, CH. 9,
    THE STUDENT — CONTINUED

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    CHAPTER 9

    THE STUDENT — CONTINUED

    With a mind devoutly intent on attaining the knowledge of the good, Mr. Clarke sought it out, not only in the fading pages of human literature, but in the enduring registries traced by the Creator Himself on the immeasurable universe. For science, truly so called, he cherished an instinctive and ever-growing love. He believed with St. Paul, that “the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and divinity:” their immenseness showing His omnipotence; their vast variety and fitnesses, His omniscience and love; and their preservation, the reign of His everlasting providence. So that, as he expresses it in his notes on the first chapter to the Romans, “Creation and Providence form a twofold demonstration of God.” In those, too, on the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, he enters more largely on this subject, and condenses the rich results of broad and deep investigation.

    From a child he had been moved by that “desire” which the inspired moralist speaks of as impelling one who feels it to “separate himself”’ that he may “intermeddle with all knowledge.” “I was always,” said he, “a curious lad, and extremely inquisitive. If a stone was thrown up into the air, I wished to know why it came down with a greater force than it ascended; why some bodies were hard, and others soft; and what it was that united various bodies. I was intent in gazing at the stars, and in singling out one from another. I obtained the loan of an old spyglass; and with it, often without hat, and bare-legged, I sallied out on a clear frosty night to make observations on the moon and stars. Since that period I have been constantly learning, and still know but little either of heaven or earth.”

    In those boyish days, in common with many who have to do with rural work, the atmosphere claimed a good deal of his attention; and, from incessant observation, he became a practical meteorologist. In a paper in the “Wesleyan Magazine” for 1824, entitled “A Fair and Foul Weather Prognosticator,” he takes occasion to revert to those juvenile lessons received in the school of nature: — “I do not remember the time in which I was unconcerned about the changes of the weather. From my childhood I was bred up on a little farm, which I was taught to care for ever since I was able to spring the rattle, use the whip, manage the sickle, or handle the spade: and, as I found that much of success depended on a proper knowledge of the weather, I was led to study it from eight years of age.

    Meteorology is a natural science, and one of the first to be studied. Every child in the country makes, untaught, some progress in it. I had learned by silent observation to form good conjectures about the coming weather, and on this head to teach wisdom among them that were perfect, but who had not been obliged, like me, to watch earnestly that what was so necessary to the family-support should not be spoiled by the weather before it was housed. Many a time, even in tender youth, have I watched the heavens with anxiety, examined the different appearances of the morning and evening sun, the phases of the moon, the scintillation of the stars, the course and color of the clouds, the flight of the crow and the swallow, the gambols of the colt, the fluttering of the ducks, and the loud screams of the sea-mews; not forgetting even the hue and croaking of the frog. From the little knowledge derived from close observation, I often ventured to direct our agricultural operations in reference to the coming days, and was seldom much mistaken in the reckoning.”

    This weather-wise philosopher of the fields — who is so restless to know the great secret of nature that he must needs sally forth bare-headed, with naked feet, into the silent night, to send his questions to the moon and stars — grew up into adolescence in the same mind, and may next be seen bending a face which religion had now lit with a solemn intelligence over the pages of Derham and Ray. “As he was told by the highest authority that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God,’ and as mere inspection filled him with wonder without giving him the information he wanted, he wished to gain some acquaintance with astronomy About this time a friend lent him that incomparable work of Dr. Derham, the ‘Astro-Theology,’ which he read in union with the Bible at all spare times of day and night. Ray’s ‘ Wisdom of God in the Creation’ gave him still more knowledge, and directed him to the study of natural philosophy. All these things were the means of establishing his soul in the thorough belief of the truth; so that his faith stood not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God.” In his novitiate in the ministry, he read whatever he could get, in the department of natural science, with a never-flagging relish. Down in Cornwall, in addition to some chemical works, he had the use of a medical gentleman’s laboratory; and at Plymouth he obtained from a naval friend a copy of Chambers’s Encyclopedia, with which, “a library in itself”’ he spent almost every spare half-hour. Here his philosophical taste was gratified, and knowledge gained apace. Of Chambers he never spoke without commendation.

    But these were only beginnings of wisdom, first steps in a pathway which became more sunlit as he advanced, led up from nature to nature’s God. In the Channel Islands he read many scientific books; and at Trinity College, Dublin, had the opportunity of attending the courses on Chemistry and Anatomy. At the Surrey Institution he found immense delight as well as profit in the lectures and experiments of the professors, who were among the most able men of the day; and with what fruit those advantages were improved appears in his enriched edition of Sturm’s “Reflections on the Works of God,” and the innumerable illustrations of the nature-science of the Bible in his expository writings. Among his own collections in natural history, there was one of minerals, which has been seldom excelled by private persons, including not only the metallic productions, but also some very choice specimens of the precious stones.

    We have before intimated that Dr. Clarke had always a yearning for the recondite [abstruse; out of the way; little known] in nature; a disposition which led him to diverge sometimes from the orthodox chemical science of modern times into the now almost forgotten by-paths of the old alchemists. We have seen how, when a mere boy, he tried to master the “Occult Philosophy “ of Cornelius Agrippa. In his earlier itinerant years he tells us that “ he read several alchemistic authors, the perusal of which was recommended to him by a friend who was much devoted to such studies; and he also went through several of the initiatory operations recommended by professed adepts in that science. This study was the means of greatly enlarging his views on the operations of nature, as he saw many wonders performed by chemical agency.” It may surprise the reader that he took pains to wade through Basil Valentine, George Ripley, Philalethes, Nicholas Flammel, Artephius, Geber, Paracelsus, the Hermetical Triumph, all the writers in Ashmole’s Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum, &c.; not with the hope of finding the philosopher’s stone, but rerum cognoscere causas, to see nature in her own laboratory.

    Among the few men who have followed such pursuits in modern times, Mr. Clarke became acquainted with one in Dublin, of whom he has left some memoranda too curious not to be transcribed. One Sabbath morning, preaching in Whitefriars’-street chapel on Isaiah 1:25,26, “And I will turn My hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin,” &c., he mentioned, by way of explaining the metaphor, the method by which the dross is separated from the silver in the process of refining, and made some observations on the nature and properties of metals, tending to throw light on the subject he was discussing. A gentleman eminent as a man of science was present on that occasion, whose name was Hand; who had for some time been a resolute and unwearied experimentist in the problems of alchemy, — in fact, a serious expectant of finding the grand secret itself. The sermon arrested his attention; and, from the turn of phraseology employed by the preacher, he was sure that in Mr. Clarke he could know a man like-minded with himself’ and one who had traveled on the same track as that which, he believed, might conduct them both to wealth and immortality. He sought an introduction and if, on becoming acquainted with the learned preacher, he did not find a devotee to the mysterious art as thorough as himself’ he nevertheless found one who, as an inquirer into the arcana [mystery] of nature, was glad to spend an hour occasionally with him in his laboratory.

    The memorandums to which I have referred are two letters from this gentleman to Mr. Clarke, after the latter had removed from Dublin to Manchester. In the first he makes the following remarkable recital: — “The second of November last, came to my house two men: one I thought to be a priest, and yet believe so; the other, a plain, sedatelooking man. They asked for me. As soon as I went to them, the last-mentioned person said he had ‘called to see some of my stained glass, and hoped, as he was curious, I would permit him to call and see me now and then.’ Of course I said, I should be happy.

    After much conversation he began to speak of metals and alchemy, asking me if I had ever read any books of that kind (but I believe he well knew I had). After some compliments on my ingenious art, they went away. At twelve o’clock the next day he came himself, without the priest, and told me he had a little matter that would stain glass the very color I wanted, and which I could never get; i. e., a deep blood-red. Said he, ‘If you have a furnace hot, we will do it; for the common fire will not do well.’ I replied, ‘Sir, I have not one hot; but, if you will please to come with me, I will show you my little laboratory, and w ill get one lighted.’ When we came out, he looked about him and said, ‘Sir, do not deceive me: you are an alchemist.’ ‘ Why do you think that, sir?’ ‘Because you have as many foolish vessels as I have seen with many others engaged in that study.’ ‘ I have,’ I answered, ‘worked a long time at it without gain, and should be glad to be better instructed.’ ‘Do you believe the art?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘ Why?’ ‘Because I give credit to many good and pious men.’ He smiled. ‘Will you have this air-furnace lighted?’

    I did so: he then asked for a bit of glass, opened a box, and turned aside, laid a little red powder on the glass with a penknife, put the glass with the powder on it into the fire, and when hot took it out, and the glass was like blood! ‘ Have you scales?’ I got them for him, and some lead: he weighed two ounces: he then put four grains of a very white powder in a bit of wax, and, when the lead was melted, put this into it, and then raised the fire for a little while, took it out, and cast it into water: ‘never was finer silver in the world!’ I exclaimed, [uttering also the sacred name,] ‘Sir, you amaze me.’ ‘ Why,’ he replied, ‘do you call upon God? Do you think He has any hand in these things?’ ‘ In all good things, sir,’ I said. ‘Ah, friend, God will never reveal those things to man. Did you ever learn any magic?’ ‘No, sir.’ Get you then -: he will instruct you. But I will lend you a book, and will get you acquainted with a friend that will help you to knowledge. Did you ever see the devil?’ ‘No, sir; and trust I never shall.’ ‘ Would you be afraid? ‘ ‘Yes.’ ‘ Then you need not: he harms no one; he is every ingenious man’s friend. Shall I show you something? ‘Not if it is anything of that kind.’ It is not, sir. Please to get me a glass of clean water.’ I did so. He pulled out a bottle, and dropped a red liquor into it, and said something I did not understand. The water was all in a blaze of fire, and a multitude of little live things like lizards moving about in it. I was in great fear. This he perceived, took the glass, and flung it into the ashes, and all was over. ‘Now, sir,’ said he, ‘if you will enter into a vow with me, as I see you are an ingenious man, I will let you know more than you will ever find out.’ This I declined, being fully convinced it was of the devil; and it is now I know the meaning of ‘coming improperly by the secret.’

    After some little time he said he must go, and would call again, when I should think better of his offer. He left me the two ounces of lana.”

    From the second letter: “I have not seen the individual. I have used a quarter of an ounce of the silver in my own work, and have sold the remainder for pure silver. The metal was in fusion; and when the powder was put in, which was in size not larger than the head of a lady’s hat-pin, the lead in a moment became like some dried powder or calx: the fire was then raised to melt it again, which was of a heat to melt any silver. In about a quarter of an hour he said, ‘It is in perfect flux.’ He took it out, and cast it into the water, and you never saw finer silver in your life. I have heard too much of the tricks of alchemists, and was too attentive to all that passed, for any man or devil to deceive me in this. [?] “When I mentioned the name of God, he smiled with a kind of contempt. The glass of water was a common tumbler, and he said something as he was putting it in, and looked very sternly at me.

    The blaze did not take place the moment he put the red liquid in, but little flashes in the; water, and a strong smell of sulfur, — so much so, that I thought some had fallen into the furnace; but that was not the case. The glass soon became all on fire, like spirits of wine burning; and a number of little creatures became visible, exactly like lizards. Some of, them moved their heads almost to the top of the glass, and I saw them as distinctly as I ever saw anything. He observed me tremble; and I exclaimed, ‘Christ save me!’ On his flinging the water with the lizards under the grate, I looked to see if I could observe them there. He said, ‘They are gone.’ ‘ Where?’ ‘From whence they came.’ ‘Where is that?’ O, you must not know all things at once.’ ‘ Why, sir, I believe this is magic. You could, I have no doubt, raise t he devil, if you liked.’ ‘ Would you be afraid?’ ‘Yes, sir: I hope to be saved from having anything to do with him.’ He replied, ‘You are a very ingenious man, Mr. Hand; and I wish you to be better acquainted with nature, and the things in this curious world, through which I have almost been, and have more knowledge than most I have met with: and yet I know many wonderful men.’ ‘Do you know any person, sir, who has the red stone?’ ‘I do; multitudes.’ ‘I wish I knew some.’ ‘You shall, and the whole secret.’ ‘Sir, you are very good.’ ‘But you must know that we are all linked, like a chain; and you must go under a particular ceremony, and a vow.’ ‘I will vow to God, sir,’ I replied, ‘that I will never divulge ‘ — Here he stopped me, and said, I was ‘going beyond the question,’ and appeared vexed. He said the vow must be made before another, and [added] with an angry tone, ‘It is no matter to you whether it be before God or the devil, if you get the art.’ “Then, indeed, my dear friend, I saw almost into his inmost soul. I grew all on fire, and said, ‘I will never receive anything, not even the riches of the world, but from God alone.’ ‘O, sir,’ he replied, ‘you seem to be angry with me: my intention was to serve you.

    You are not acquainted with me, or you would rather embrace than offend me.’ “Much more conversation passed. He spoke of _____, and many other such books, and said he would lend me one. After some time he added, he would leave me to reflect on the subject, and he would call again. He had told me that there was but one way on earth of knowing the transmutation of metals; and of that, he said, I knew nothing. “You did not tell me if Mr. _____ is still in Manchester. I wonder he would not acknowledge to you that he had the art, and how. If he is still in Manchester, tell him of a distressed brother, and perhaps he will give me light.”

    From the third letter: “Since I wrote to you last, I have seen the mail. I said, ‘How do you do, sir?’ He replied, ‘Sir, I have not the honor of knowing you.’ ‘Do you not remember,’ said I, ‘the person who stains glass, and to whom you were so kind as to show some experiments?’ ‘No, sir; you are mistaken,’and he turned red in the face. ‘Sir,’ I answered, ‘if I am mistaken, I beg your pardon for telling you that I was never right in anything in my life, and never shall be.’ ‘Sir, you are mistaken, and I wish you good morning.’ he several times turned round to look after me; but, be assured, I never saw a man if that one was not the one who was with me. I intend to inquire and find him, or who he is: of this I am determined. “I am at work again, and building a digesting-furnace, exactly after Philalethes, with a tower to contain charcoal sufficient to last twenty-four hours. I will have it to give any degree of heat I please.

    So, you see, I cannot have done; nor will I, while I have even a little to enable me to proceed. I spend nothing in any other amusement, so that I may do something at this; that, if God pleases, I may have a little to spare to do good with.”

    Mr. Clarke, in his correspondence with this honest enthusiast, did not forget to urge upon him the necessity of obtaining the true riches, “than gold and pearls more precious far,” and of seeking that wondrous transmutation of mind and heart which no power can effect but the grace of the Eternal Spirit. He warned him against the inordinate desire of wealth; and exhorted him, in a diligent attendance on the house of God, the reading of His word, and the communion of His people in class-meeting, to work out his salvation. Mr. Hand died in peace, somewhat suddenly.

    There was good reason to believe that his acquaintance with Mr. Clarke had led him to that “secret of the Lord,” that “knowledge of the Holy,” which is the true elixir of immortal life, the key to treasures incorruptible.

    These aerial excursions into the cloud-land of alchemy only gave Mr. Clarke a greater value for a standing on the solid ground of true science. He was disposed to look with a suspicious eye upon whatever was wanting in demonstrative evidence; and, on that account, he never heartily concurred with the doctrines of what was then the new school of the geologists. It should be remembered, however, that geology was then, as a science, only in an inchoate [rudimentary] (not to say, a chaotic) state; and, moreover, that infidelity, though foiled in the attempt, had endeavored to make an instrument of it for the promotion of its own injurious ends. Dr. Clarke was only one of many good and learned men who, on those grounds, set their faces against what they considered a newfangled, fantastic, and mischievous delusion. But we are bold to affirm, that, and he lived to our days, (in which the true science of geology has emerged from its inceptive confusion, has shaken itself free from these skeptical tendencies, and, instead of becoming the adversary of the Bible, has proved itself rather a confirming witness of its truth, and an interpreter of its words,) he would have regarded it with very different sentiments.

    It was an axiom with him, that “speculative TRUTH can never be alien from practical wisdom.” He held that all knowledge is valuable, and that a minister of the Gospel may find a use for every species of information.

    Thus, when a young preacher once asked him whether he would advise him to study mineralogy, he promptly replied, “By all means: a Methodist preacher should know everything. Partial knowledge, on any branch of science or business, is better than total ignorance. To have a variety of subjects of study will, instead of exhausting the mind, minister to its invigoration; for, when wearied with one, the surest means of refreshment is to have recourse to another.” “The old adage of ‘ Too many irons in the fire,’ “ said he, “contains an abominable lie. You cannot have too many — poker, tongs, and all, keep them all going!”

    Dr. Clarke’s learning was subservient to one design, — to know God, and to make Him known. He carried the spirit of the theologian into all his inquiries, and it was as a divine that he reached his highest glory. In the direct study of theology, his main book was the Bible. That with him was the fons et origo of all religious truth. All his reading had a bearing upon the elucidation of the Scriptures. His immense library, amounting at last to about ten thousand volumes, and a large collection of ancient and Oriental manuscripts, formed (as we may say) one vast commentary on the sacred book. In this large collection of works, it is remarkable that the writings of the Puritans, English sermon-writers, and English divines in general, formed a comparatively inconsiderable part. In fact, he did not read much in that line. He felt that to understand, believe, and live the Bible, insured him an endless supply of reflection and sentiment which made him independent of them all. He liked Baxter and Howe, and a few more, but never leaned upon them. As to Dr. Owen, sometimes called “the prince of English theologians,” he estimated him in some respects very cheaply. In one of his letters to Hugh Stuart Boyd he gives his opinion of Owen, which some readers may wish to see: — “Now about Owen. — 1. He was a good SCHOLAR. 2. A rigid Calvinist. 3. A very good man. 4. A voluminous writer. 5. A very indifferent critic.

    But in this he was excusable, because the ars critica was in his time in its cradle. The morality of the Gospel was sacred with him. He saw and bewailed the antinomianism that was spreading in his day, and wrote strongly against it. As a writer, I know him chiefly from the Considerations on the Polyglot, and his voluminous comment on the Hebrews. To some I should seem a heretic, were I to pronounce these writings clumsy, inelegant, obscure, and overwhelmed with verbiage. He sometimes spends forty pages to explain what even in his own way might be dispatched in as many lines. His sense and meaning he drowns in a world of words. To me he is one of the most unsatisfactory writers. As to his book on the Hebrews, I would rather a hundred times do my work myself’ than watch him going a hundred miles about, in order to come back to the next door. I should think it is impossible for such a man to write clearly on any subject. He cannot condense his meaning, and never comes to the point, but by the most intolerable circumlocution I have heard a good character of his work on the Holy Spirit; but I am so completely sick with wading through his Hebrews, that I shall never have courage to encounter him again. He attempted to answer John Goodwin’s ‘Redemption Redeemed;’ but, from what I have seen of this, he is like a mouse under the paws of a lion. Goodwin was a thorough logician, and there were no odds and ends about his mind. I do not, however, search any of their works for information on the great doctrines of the Gospel.

    Where we agree, I find they can add nothing to me; and I have defended and proved the same truths by modes of reasoning of which they appear to have never thought I do not find in the whole universe of writing, from the earliest fathers down to the lowest Puritans, so clear, consistent, and comprehensive a view of the great doctrines of salvation as that held and taught by the Methodists.”

    On the other hand, in patristic theology Dr. Clarke had read widely. The preparation of that useful work of his, “A concise Account of Sacred Literature,” required a personal examination of the works of the Fathers, which resulted in an acquaintance with them sufficiently familiar to enable him to refer at any time to them for an evidence, an argument, or an illustration. With such of the great theologians of the Continent as wrote in Latin and French, he had, also, an extensive intercourse. But the books he loved the most were those which bore most intimately upon the one Book.

    Like Martin Luther, he was “a doctor of the Holy Scriptures;” in the most eminent sense of the term, a biblical divine.

    To attain, while pursuing the toilsome avocation of a Methodist preacher’s life, such stores of erudition, and to dispense them in his numerous works for the promotion of knowledge and religion in his own and future generations, demanded on intensity of zeal, and a heroism of perseverance, which excite our reverence and admiration, Such a man reminds us of a sublime passage in Ezekiel, where the prophet, describing the characteristics of the intellectual agents employed in effecting the great revolutions of Providence, tells us that each of them had the fourfold visage of the eagle, the ox, the lion, and the man; as symbolical of elevation of purpose, patience in labor, courage which dominates over all opposition, and love which sanctifies all.

    One secret by which he achieved so much was the careful redemption of time. With him the night was for repose, but the day was for labor; and his day began at the beginning. Like Milton, he was up “in summer with the bird that first rises, and in the winter before the sound of any bell;” but, unlike the Penseroso of the same great poet, he would not say, — “Let my lamp at midnight hour Be seen in some high lonely tower; Where I may oft outwatch the Bear, With thrice great Hermes, or unsphere The spirit of Plato, to unfold What worlds or what vast regions hold The immortal mind that hath forsook Her mansion in this fleshly nook; And of those demons that are found In fire, air, flood, or under ground Whose power hath a true consent With planet, or with element.”

    However he might have desired with the poet to know these mysteries, Adam Clarke would certainly have objected to watch all the night in learning them. He was ever of opinion that late studies, when early ones are given up for them, are disadvantageous as to the comparative amount of work done, as well as destructive of the health and life of the agent. He called this night-toil “burning out the candle of life at both ends.” But the hours of the day he was most assiduous [most carefully persevering] in improving; and though he could not say with Budaeus, that “the only day he lost in his life was that on which he was married, for on that day he could only read six hours,” — yet very few men have lost fewer days than Dr. Clarke. For, even when obliged to leave home on a journey, he would carry with him the materials for reading and writing, and still work, by the way, on the coach, or at the inn. For long journeys he had what he termed his “portable library,” packed into a convenient case, divided into compartments, for a small copy of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, Greek Testament, English Bible, Common Prayer-Book, Virgil, and Horace. He carried his ink-bottle suspended from his neck by a riband, and lodged in his waistcoat-pocket.

    Diligence like this, actuated and sustained for more than half a century by love to the God of truth, and zeal for the salvation of souls, led to results which have lifted up his name among those of the true benefactors of mankind. We see in his exemplary life how a large amassment of good may accrue from small beginnings. Like the river, which, rising, a feeble streamlet, in some lonely waste, deepens and widens by the accession of stream after stream, as it rolls onward in its fertilizing course, till it vanishes in the grandeur of the ocean; the intellectual and religious career of this faithful and wise servant, who learned that he might teach, and who taught that men might be saved and God glorified, was a progress in which strength was added to strength, and blessing to blessing. “I said, I will water my garden, I will abundantly water my gardenbed; And, in, my brook became a river, And my river, a sea:

    Therefore will I make Doctrine to shine like the morning, And will reveal it to those who are afar; I will pour forth Instruction as prophecy, And will leave it for generations to come For, behold, I have not labored for myself alone, But for all who inquire after Truth.”

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