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  • ADAM CLARKE PORTRAYED
    Volume I, SECTION III.,
    1774, Thirst of Knowledge


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    SECTION III.

    1774.

    Adam's thirst for knowledge appears to have been insatiable; nor was he ever satisfied till he could comprehend the subject brought beneath his notice. He was in the habit, as far as he had light to guide him, of philosophizing upon everything. "I was always," he observed, "a curious lad, and extremely inquisitive: if a stone was thrown up into the air, I wished to know why it came down with greater force than it ascended; why some bodies were hard, and others soft; -- and what it was that united various bodies. I was equally curious in gazing at the stars, and in singling out one from another. I obtained the loan of an old spy-glass -- with this, -- often without hat, and bare-legged, I sallied out on a clear frosty night, to make observations on the moon and stars. I was then extremely hardy, and good discipline has enabled me to pass through much toil, both mental and physical. Since that period, I have been constantly learning, and still know but little either of heaven or earth." What would have been the feelings of Newton or Herschel, if, in their nocturnal observations, they had unexpectedly dropped upon a boy in a state of comparative nudity, lost to everything terrestrial, and gazing through a short tube, a mere apology for one of their own instruments, as if intensely laboring to penetrate beyond every object of actual vision, into the heavens! and there too, in solitude, as though all around, in the neighborhood were indifferent to knowledge but himself! He would have been more than "patted on the head:" he would have become the subject of prophecy, with some of those astronomical seers, and would have had his heart warmed in the midst of the frost from without, by some substantial token of their approbation. He made considerable proficiency in the science of astronomy at subsequent periods of his life, as opportunities were afforded of cultivating this early taste.

    The state of the atmosphere was also a subject of constant observation; and like many old people, who, on the first peep of the morning, begin to prognosticate, from the appearance of the heavens, the probable state of the weather through the day, Adam selected a distant mountain, [32] south of his father's residence, for his barometer: upon this his eye, on first passing the threshold in the morning, was bent. "It was," said he, when directing the attention of the writer to it, "my principal weather-piece: if the summit was enveloped in mist, the day was to be distinguished for rain; if clear, it was to be fair and open." This, to a person, who had to attend to the duties of the field, was of importance; and might be of some consequence to little Adam, who, though not an idler, would be enabled to see his way, through the cloud on the hill, to his books, which, to him, were becoming increasingly valuable, and with which, during a day of rain, he was more than ordinarily indulged. This early attention to the state of the atmosphere, grew up with him; and, in the course of time, he published," A Fair and Foul Weather Prognosticator," [33] which excited considerable interest, and was the subject of varied remark. In offering some observations on the subject, his statement is, "I do not remember the time in which I was unconcerned about the changes of the weather. From my earliest childhood I was bred up on a little farm, which I was taught to care for, and cultivate, 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 and management of the weather, I was led to study it ever since I was eight years of age. I believe meteorology is a natural science, and one of the first that is studied; and that every child in the country makes, untaught, some progress in it. I had actually learned, by silent observation, to form good conjectures concerning the coming weather, and, on this head, to teach wisdom among them that were perfect, especially among such as 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 I had 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. When I thought I had a pretty good stock of knowledge and experience in this way, I ventured to give counsel to my neighbors. For my kindness, or perhaps officiousness, on this head, I met one day with a mortifying rebuff. I was about ten years of age, it was harvest-time, and 'what sort of a day tomorrow would be,' was the subject of conversation. To a very intelligent gentleman, who was present, I stated in opposition to his opinion,' Mr. P., tomorrow will be a foul day.' To which he answered, 'ADAM, how can you tell?' I answered, without giving the rule on which my prognostication was founded,' O, Sir, I know it will be so.' You know! how should you know?' 'Why, Sir, ' I pleasantly replied, because I am weather-wise.' 'Yes,' said he, 'or otherwise." The next day, however, proved that my augury was well drawn."

    [34] This desire of knowledge inspired him with a singular wish, which led to the no less singular request preferred to his parents, that he might be permitted to visit some gipsies [sic, s-pelling i-s c-orrect];" his object was, to perfect himself in the occult sciences. Among these wanderers, he met with a copy of the three books of "Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy," from which, though but ill qualified to write, he made several extracts for private use. He took up the works of our great dramatist one day, comprised in a thick, closely-printed, octavo volume; and on reading "Coriolanus," in presence of the writer, he paused, and said," Here is a curse, very like an Irish curse, which I heard when a boy, and among the gipsies:' A curse begin at the root of his heart, that is not glad to see thee!' [35] The man's wife," continued he, "had gone into the neighborhood one day, and returned in the evening before I left to go home: she was not the most prudent woman in the world: the man looked at her, and asked, 'Where is the smelting pot?' she stood silent: he demanded again, 'Where is the smelting pot?' there was still no answer. He inquired a third time, with increased energy, 'Have you drunk it?' the same silence was maintained. He then brought out this dreadful execration, 'God be a curse about the fat of your heart!'" This was not a school in which Adam was likely to acquire much useful knowledge; and it is remarkable, when we consider the creed and professions of his "godly puritanic mother," and the knowledge which she must have had of the general character of such people, that she ever permitted the association.

    Though Shakespeare, just noticed, is not known to have been an author with whom he was familiar in early life, he appears to have had some knowledge of dramatic writers, and some little insight also into the proprieties of scenic exhibitions. On going to see Mrs. O'Hara, mentioned in a preceding page, he remarked, "There was a tragedy to be acted by her brothers, and some other young people, one night; and the children in the neighborhood were invited to attend: I was one of the spectators. It was in the house of Counsellor O'Neill: and it was certainly," continued he, laughing, "one of the most tragical of all tragedies, that a tragedian, versed in tragedy, could perform. There was one part, the representation of which did not please me; and supposing that I could do it much better, I foolishly expressed a wish, that I might be permitted to go behind the scenes, and come forward to personate the character." Such a wish would never have been expressed, had he not paid some attention to the sentiments to be uttered by the character personified; and although a little indicative of self-sufficiency, it was not a feeling at all cherished by him, as may be fairly inferred from the rarity of its manifestation. It may be remarked in passing, that these domestic pastimes have not infrequently generated a love of the drama; and we are not certain whether Miss H. More's "Sacred Dramas," have not had the same tendency.

    Distinguished, however, as Adam was, for the constant acquisition of knowledge, he is not to be viewed in the light of a sedate student, whose face was scarcely ever disturbed by a smile. He possessed amazing buoyancy of spirit, partook of the sports, indulged in the raillery, and excited the occasional laugh at a school-fellow's expense. A friend having slept long and soundly one morning, in consequence of a cold, and being with difficulty awakened, was sportively numbered among the "seven sleepers," by a traveling companion. The subject of the memoir recalling early times, observed, "There was a heavy, yet clever lad at school, when I was there, whom we called 'Sleepy Davie.' We had a small book among us, entitled, 'The Seven Sleepers, who slept a hundred years.' We compelled Davie to read out of this, for in that way we used to punish each other. He boggled at the title-page a short time; at length he read, 'The Seven Steppers who stepped a hundred yards.' This turned the laugh upon his tormentors. Another boy was a Roman Catholic: we put into his hands a Dictionary published by a person of the name of Browne, which was used in the school, and insisted upon his reading a definition of Purgatory. We had nick-names for each other. There were two brothers, one of whom we called Goat, and the other Turkey. It fell to the lot of the two brothers to insist upon the Roman Catholic lad reading the definition just named. But instead of following the author, he read, 'Purgatory; a place in which to roast Goats and Turkeys.' This again turned the laugh upon his catechisers." In this, Adam often engaged; and there were occasional sallies of juvenile wit and retort, which afforded both pain and amusement. Browne's definition is worth recording, if it were but for two or three forms of expression employed, which show the acuteness of the little fellows on the Protestant side of the question, in selecting materials capable of being converted into ridicule, in order to render those the more ridiculous, who should be simple enough to submit to their repetition. The lexicographer says, -- "Purgatory. A place of purging. An imaginary place which Papists suppose to be in the middle betwixt heaven and hell, wherein men may seem to have a taste of both: of hell, in respect of their grievous torments; of heaven, in respect of the hope of their felicity at the last, which makes them suffer quietly the pains inflicted on them: They say that such as are therein may be eased of, and redeemed from those pains, by the works and prayers of the living." [36]

    Amusements like these, puerile [trivial, childish] though many of them be, are still in their proper place, associated with youth; and it is the holiday of boyhood, which here engages attention, that period in which each exclaims, "When I am a man!" which Montgomery, in his Lectures, styles "the poetry of childhood," and towards which stage of being, each is putting forth the character he will probably have to sustain through the whole period of his earthly pilgrimage. There is an alliance too, in such amusements, with something intellectual and though they have occasionally embodied in them "the ingenious art of tormenting," still there is the exercise of mind, and each may commence master in his turn.

    It may be further observed, in reference to the amusement above described, that there was always an appropriateness in the passages selected, to some peculiarity about the boy, in his figure, habits, connections, &c.; so Adam, together with his companions, was induced to search for such passages as were most suitable for those upon whom this kind of mental punishment was to be inflicted; and hence an enlarged acquaintance with the books immediately within reach.

    There was another amusement calculated to exercise the intellectual faculties, of which he had some delightful remembrances. "It leads the mind back," said he, "many hundred years, to the days of Homer and Virgil. A tune was proposed by one of the boys, familiar to each of the group, to which corresponding words were to be sung. Each boy was obliged to contribute a verse, and he who commenced, gave out a line, the meaning of which no one knew, till the voice was about to be raised: a second was obliged to find another line, suitable in sense and length, while the first was in the course of singing; and so on with the third and fourth, till the verse was completed, and the notes finished." The song of Deborah was evidently formed on this plan, concerning which Millman [37] has furnished the following just and spirit-stirring description." Deborah's hymn of triumph, was worthy of the victory: the solemn religious commencement -- the picturesque description of the state of the country -- the mustering of the troops from all quarters -- the sudden transition to the most contemptuous sarcasm against the tribes that stood aloof -- the life, fire, and energy of the battle -- the bitter pathos of the close. Lyric poetry has nothing in any language, which can surpass the boldness and animation of this striking production. But this hymn has great historic, as well as poetic value: it is the only description of the relation of the tribes to each other, and of the state of society during the period of the Judges. The northern tribes -- Zebulon, Issachar, and Napthali, appear in a state of insurrection against their oppressors: they receive some assistance from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin: the pastoral tribes beyond Jordan remain in unpatriotic inactivity: Dan and Asher are engaged in their mercantile concerns; -- a curious fact, for we have no other intimation of any mercantile transactions of the Hebrews, as these expressions seem to imply, earlier than the reign of Solomon. Of Judah and Simeon, there is no notice whatever, as if they had seceded from the confederacy, or were occupied by enemies of their own."

    Another striking example of it occurs in the song of triumph recorded in 1 Sam. xviii., celebrating the return of the victorious David from the slaughter of the Philistine champion. And we have also an exquisitely beautiful instance of it, in the dedication of Solomon's Temple, upon the removal of the ark, when the installation of the God of Israel into his appropriate dwelling, took place. "It can scarcely be doubted," observes Millman, "that the 24th Psalm was adopted and used on this occasion: the singers, as they drew near the gate, broke out in these words, 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in:' It was answered from the other part of the choir, 'Who is the king of glory?' The whole choir responded, 'The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory!" The service used in our cathedrals, although somewhat modified, still retains this ancient form of chanting in solemn strains, in strophe and antistrophe, or as they are now called, antiphones, or anthems: one part of the choir answering to the other. D'Israeli, in his "Curiosities of Literature," furnishes a striking example of a similar custom among the Venetian gondoliers: "They chant," he observes, "long passages from Ariosto and Tasso, sometimes with peculiar melody: there are always two concerned who alternately sing the strophes: it has properly no melodious movement, and is a sort of medium between the canto fermo, and the canto figurato; it approaches the former by recitativical declamation, and to the latter, by passages by which one syllable is detained and embellished. One begins the song, and when he ends his strophe, the other takes up the lay; and so they continue the song alternately throughout the whole of it: the same notes are invariably returned; but according to the subject matter of the strophe, they lay a greater or smaller stress, sometimes on one, and sometimes on another note, and indeed change the enunciation of the whole strophe, as the object of the poem alters."

    Amidst other juvenile amusements in which he indulged, there was one which was a deviation from his general regularity of conduct, and over which he seriously mourned, because of its pernicious effect upon his mind: it was a love of dancing. This, however, when he saw its tendency, he severely reprobated; and failed not to employ the influence of his pen in the discouragement of its practice. [38] A love of music was its precursor. "Some of our singers," he remarked, "affect to despise me, because of my aversion to their singing pieces, and to instrumental music in a place of worship: they take it for granted, that I do not like it, because I do not understand it; but I know the whole theory of music, and could play the violin before many of them were born. I invariably raised my own tunes, till we got singers introduced among us, though now, I can scarcely bear to hear my own voice."

    Though the circumstances of the family were far from affluent, the common necessaries of life were cheap, and a family could be supported at a trifling expense. Various items turned up in the course of different conversations, when particular circumstances or remarks led to them, showing the prices of particular articles, which, when contrasted with the present prices, become matters of curiosity. Pointing to a house in the neighborhood of his father's residence, "I have bought there," said he, "seven quarts of buttermilk for a penny; and that, with twopennyworth of potatoes, would have served some poor families a whole day. We could then have purchased salmon for a penny farthing per pound, as good as that which is now sold for eighteen-pence; and rabbits were only sixpence per pair."

    Speaking of food, he said, "Cold tea was very much used, when I was a boy; and it was taken without sugar. I was very partial to it; but it often made me poorly; my hand trembled; and yet I was not aware at first, that it was occasioned by the tea." This extract from the page of his own experience, gave, no doubt, in after life, an edge to the arguments of Mr. Wesley against tea drinking, in his "Letter" on that subject, and had a share of influence in the abandonment of it, by the subject of the memoir, in 1792, continuing steadfast in his resolution never more to taste it, to the close of life. Among other articles of food in which Adam delighted, was a thing called by the natives, sloke. This is a kind of sea-weed, which grows upon the rocks at Portstuart, and which he was in the habit of collecting. To the writer, even in its prepared state, it was neither pleasant to the eye, nor agreeable to the taste, though considered by some persons a delicacy.

    There were two or three enjoyments connected with the gathering of the sloke, in the more boyish days of Adam's residence near Portstuart. (Port as it was, it was with difficulty fishing boats could land, till sometime about 1830, when J. Cromie, Esq., occasioned a kind of basin to be hewn out of the rocks, large enough to admit a small sloop at high water.) To watch the fishermen coming in, when the tide was up, and had covered the weed, was one of his gratifications. This was not unaccompanied with difficulty; "For they had to drag the boats up from the water," said he; "and such was the constant wear attendant upon this, that the rocks over which they were drawn, were fluted in long lines, being completely worn down by the friction." As the tide was often at its height, on these occasions, there was another object which he was accustomed to sit and watch, and which he used to go on purpose to witness, during a storm. It was called the clunk; and its destruction by Mr. Cromie, when he formed his miniature harbor, was a source of regret to the subject of the memoir, in old age. A high cluster of large broken rocks, forming a tolerably sized mound, and apparently thrown together in a state of confusion, by some violent convulsion of nature, was presented to the eye. At the base, and towards the sea, was an opening into a kind of cavern, leading up to the center, and closed at the end, except an aperture, like the rugged shaft of a pit, which terminated at the summit. When the sea was violently agitated, the heaving billows rushed into the entrance of the cavern, with tremendous violence; and carried by the impetus given, to the end, without the possibility of receding, in consequence of rapidly succeeding waves, the foremost were naturally forced upward through the central opening, which being very jagged, the column of water became beautifully divided, as it continued to play and shoot upward, feathering, curving, and falling in graceful showers and streams, round the main body of the current, till the strength of the last drop was expended in the air. Column succeeded column; and, accompanying each rush of water, was a deafening roar, but perfectly dissimilar from the loud and dissonant dash of kindred surges along the rocky coast. Here Adam had often gazed on Nature's water-works; but scrambling up the cliffs, in company with the writer, in 1830, to look for the clunk, as if to invite back some of his early joys, he found that it had disappeared, in order to make way for the work of art which had been formed at its base.

    Let the reader pause a moment, and bend the mind's eye upon the ground over which he has been brought, and let him select a few particulars from what has been advanced. He will soon perceive, that when concentrated in "little Adam Clarke," they will form so many scattered rays of light brought into a focus, all contributing, less or more, to point him out as a luminary emerging from obscurity, and ordained to shine beautifully bright with other stars; either singly, or amid the galaxy, contributing to the splendor of the midnight heavens. There is scarcely anything ordinary in his movements, even in ordinary cases and circumstances. His parents, though dignified in ancestry, and respectably connected with the living, are in a comparatively humble station in life, in consequence of which he labors under many disadvantages. They, nevertheless, direct their attention to the cultivation of his mind and of his morals -- the father severely intent upon the improvement of the former, and the mother sedulously engaged in grounding and perfecting the latter. But however well qualified for their separate tasks, they find, that while their tyro [beginner, novice, recruit] manifests good moral feeling, and amazing precocity for other things, he evinces, till some time after other children have made considerable progress in letters and figures, an utter inaptitude to take in the commonest elementary principles of education. Suddenly, a change takes place, -- a change somewhat analogous in letters to that which is styled a "new creation" in religion; after which he strides along the path of knowledge, like Asahel, over the plains and mountains of Judea, who "was light of foot as a wild roe." Continuing to fix our eye upon him, we trace him through the several gradations of childhood, boyhood, and youth, and frequently find unobtrusive intimations of something extraordinary in character: he is inured to hardness, so as to be almost impervious to cold; -- industry and early rising are settled down into the form of a habit; -- amusement is indulged, only so far as it connects itself with the harmless in juvenile pastimes, and the useful in fishing; he has a nature possessed of exquisite sensibility and tenderness, and though liberal in the extreme, is so much of the economist as to mourn over needless indulgence; -blessed with regularity of conduct, and respect for religion, he preserves the most rigid attention to moral [truth], while ignorant of evangelical truth; -- favored with a buoyancy of spirit which might have proved fatal to others, he is preserved in the midst of it, from intoxication at the fountain of human delight; -- an insatiable thirst after knowledge is perceived, often seeking to gratify itself in the profound and mysterious, being especially inquisitive about everything that seemed to connect itself with the invisible world and the soul of man, subjecting himself to pain, and fear; and inconvenience, in its acquisition; -- a taste for the classics is acquired; -- judgment commences its decisions, in passing sentence upon, and in attempting to improve the literary defects of others; -improvements are grafted on experience with the wisdom of age; -- a memory is discernible, which stoops and picks up the smallest particles of an incident, conversation, or passing event, bearing about the whole, through every changing scene of life; -- early prejudices are seen to strike their roots, which will afterwards be found to be not only serviceable to him, but to constitute some of the excellences and peculiarities of his manhood; -- a partiality for the antique is visible, at a period when a love of novelty is the predominant passion; -- books are prized above rubies; -not satisfied with philosophizing on natural objects beneath his feet, he elevates his eye to heaven, and is enamored with the pure azure and host of stars above his head. Here we have stirring, some of the elements, the peculiarities, the characteristics of genius; and there is scarcely anything allied to the useful, the excellent, and the good, in the great man, in which he did not excel. As the sapling oak virtually possesses the trunk, the foliage, and the acorn-fruit of the mature tree, towards which it is perpetually growing and putting forth its strength, and at which, if its vegetable life is spared, it will eventually arrive; so Adam the younger, bids fair to be all that was actually beheld and admired in Adam the elder, -- being the subject of a special providence, as if spared for important public purposes, in the accomplishment of which, he was to flourish, and tower above his fellows!

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