Page images
PDF
EPUB

Samuel Clarke.

BORN A. D. 1675.- DIED A. D. 1729.

This learned divine of the episcopal church of England, was born at Norwich, October 11th, 1675. His father, Edward Clarke, was an alderman at Norwich, and represented that city in several successive parliaments. The mother of Dr Clarke was the daughter of Mr Samuel Parmenter, merchant in the same city. The subject of this memoir received his early education at the grammar-school of Norwich, a seminary which has sent forth some of our ablest scholars. He is said to have given early promise of his subsequent intellectual greatness ; and, in particular, to have been distinguished by his youthful proficiency in the study of the classics. At the age of sixteen he was sent to the university of Cambridge, and became a member of Caius college. Here he was placed under the tuition of Mr, afterwards Sir, John Ellis. At the age of twenty, he engaged in a great and somewhat hazardous undertaking ; in which, however, his ingenious audacity was crowned with complete success. The physics of Des Cartes were then the orthodox philosophy of Cambridge ; although they had been powerfully assailed by Barrow in one of his college-exercises, and had received a still ruder shock by the publication of the · Principia' of Newton, in 1687. The university was slow to adopt the demonstrated discoveries of the greatest of her sons; and, some years after, we find Whiston complaining that when Gregory had already introduced the Newtonian physics at Oxford, we at Cambridge, poor wretches, were ignominiously studying the fictitious hypotheses of the Cartesians." The Cambridge textbook in natural philosophy was at that time the physics of Rohault, work,” says Professor Playfair, “entirely Cartesian." " A new and more elegant translation of the same book," continues the Professor,

was published by Dr (Mr) Samuel Clarke, with the addition of notes, in which that profound and ingenious writer explained the views of Newton on the principal subjects of discussion, so that the notes contained virtually a refutation of the text: they did so, however, only virtually, all appearance of argument and controversy being carefully avoided. Whether this escaped the notice of the learned Doctors or not is uncertain ; but the new translation, from its better Latinity, and the name of the editor,' was readily admitted to all the academical honours which the old one had enjoyed. Thus the stratagem of Dr Clarke completely succeeded; the tutor might prelect from the text, but the pupil would sometimes look into the notes ; and error is never so sure of being exposed, as when the truth is placed close to it, side by side, without any thing to alarm prejudice, or awaken from its lethargy the dread of innovation.” Having fixed upon divinity as his profession, Mr Clarke applied very closely to the study of the scriptures

a

| The learned Professor here commits an error. “ The name of the editor” could have been no recommendation to the book when first published; for Clarke was then a young and undistinguished man. This error probably arose out of Mr Playfair's mistake respecting the date of this publication. It was noi 1718, as he states, but 1697, See Hoadly's Life of Clarke. Brewster's Life of Sir Isaac Newton.

in the original tongues, and of the early Christian fathers. Soon after his ordination, he was appointed domestic chaplain to Dr John Moore, bishop of Norwich. This situation he retained twelve years ; during which period, and, indeed up to the death of Dr Moore, the warmest friendship subsisted between the bishop and his clerical subaltern. At his death, Dr Moore left all the affairs of his family to be arranged and settled by Mr Clarke,—a striking mark of respect and affection.

In 1699 appeared the first theological works of Mr Clarke; one of them entitled “Three Practical Essays on Baptism, Confirmation, and Repentance ;' the other, which was anonymous, “Some Reflections on a Book called Amyntor.' These publications gave little promise of Clarke's subsequent performances. They are destitute of originality and acuteness ; nor is there any thing in the style to compensate for mediocrity of thought and illustration. In 1701, he published his paraphrase upon the Gospel of Matthew; which was speedily followed by paraphrases upon those of the other evangelists. Of this work, his biographer Hoadly speaks in terms of high commendation; and it may, without exaggeration, be described as a well-reasoned and luminous exposition of the gospels. It has little, however, that is original, and little that might not have been produced by an understanding greatly inferior to Clarke's. It is certainly by no means free from the besetting sins of all paraphrases, prolixity and repetition. About this time he received from his patron, Bishop Moore, the rectory of Drayton, together with the parish in the city of Norwich ; but the aggregate value of both these preferments was small. In 1704, Mr Clarke was appointed to the lecturship then recently instituted by Mr Boyle. Aca cordingly he delivered a series of lectures on the Being and Attributes of God, which were afterwards published in the form of a continuous dissertation, bearing the following title: 'A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God; more particularly in answer to Mr Hobbes, Spinoza, and their followers. Of this celebrated demonstration very different opinions have been entertained. By some it has been extolled as a miracle of metaphysical acumen ; by others it has been condemned as a mere mass of verbal subtleties. Bishop Hoadly declares that “all is one regular building, erected upon an unmoveable foundation, and rising up from one stage to another, with equal strength and dignity.” “These," says Dr Reid, “ are the speculations of men of superior genius ; but whether they be as solid as they are sublime, or whether they be the wanderings of imagination in a region beyond the limits of human understanding, I am unable to determine." Mr Dugald Stewart, after acknowledging that “the argument, à priori, has been enforced with singular ingenuity by Dr Clarke," confesses that it “ does not carry complete conviction to his mind." By Dr Thomas Brown, on the cona trary, the subtile speculations of Clarke are treated with the utmost contempt. “ The abstract arguments,” says he, “which have been adduced to show, that it is impossible for matter to have existed from eternity, by reasonings on what has been termed necessary existence, and the incompatibility of this necessary existence with the qualities of matter, I conceive to be relics of the mere verbal logic of the schools, as little capable of producing conviction, as any of the wildest and most absurd of the technical scholastic reasonings on the properties, or supposed properties, of entity and non-entity.” On a subject so profound,

2 I

IV.

and where so many “doctors disagree,” it would be safest for us, perhaps, to say,

“ Non nostrum inter vos tantas componere lites." We may observe, however, that there is much less originality in this work of Dr Clarke than has generally been supposed. To say nothing of Cudworth and of Henry More, the great non-conformist divine, John Howe, has given in the first part of his Living Temple,' the radical principles of nearly all that Clarke has advanced on this subject. He has nothing, indeed, of Dr Clarke's perplexed and self-contradicting argument against the doctrine of moral necessity; the absence of which is, in our opinion, any thing rather than a defect to be lamented. But nearly all the propositions relating to the eternity, the self-existence, the infinity, the independence, &c. of God, are to be found, though in a less expanded form, in the treatise to which we have referred.

Our own opinion, as to the value of the a priori argument, leans, we acknowledge, much more to that of Dr Brown, than to those of the encomiasts of Dr Clarke. That something must have existed for ever is, indeed, abundantly clear ; nor is it less evident that whatever existed prior to all other beings must be perfectly independent. But, because we perceive that the existence of such a being is necessary in order to account for the existence of other beings, to represent this necessity as the “ground" or“ reason” of the being of the Great Original is, in our opinion, altogether unintelligible and absurd. In what sense are the words “ground" and reason” to be understood, if they are not synonymous with cause ? And if they are, what greater absurdity can be conceived than the as. signing of an abstract necessity as the cause of what is acknowledged to be uncaused ? That these words are used in some such signification is evident; for our author proposes to deduce the omnipresence of God from the certainty that this necessity cannot be limited to any particular portion of space. We cannot enter further, however, upon a subject which has furnished matter for volumes. For an account of the correspondence between Clarke and Butler, on certain parts of the Demonstration, see the article Butler.—The following year Dr Clarke was reappointed to the same office, and delivered a course of lectures on the • Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. These, like the former, were re-cast, and published as a continuous treatise. If the first course of Dr Clarke's Boyle Lectures has been over-rated, the second has not, in our judgment, received in general the commendation which it merits. It is a master-piece of clear and cogent reasoning which could have been produced by none but a logician of the highest order, who had surveyed the whole subject in all its bearings. It is not, perhaps, so level to humbler capacities as Leslie's 'Short and Easy Method with Deists.' It has not the point and vivacity of style which distinguish the · Evidences' of Dr Paley. But we know of no work upon the subject which we should so unhesitatingly recommend to a serious and thoughtful inquirer, whose mind had been oppressed by speculative difficulties of religion. The theory of virtue, which he developes in this treatise, is confessedly defective ; for it embraces only the intellectual principles of morals

, without giving any account of the moral emotions. But so far as it

6

? For a full and clear discussion of this subject, see Mackintosh's Dissertation on the

goes it is invulnerable ; and the objections which have been raised against it have originated either in a perverse misunderstanding of figurative terms, as “ fitness” and the like, or in an utter ignorance of the wbole subject.

In 1706, Mr Clarke, through the interest of his patron, obtained the rectory of St Bennett's, Paul's Wharf, London. About the same time arose a controversy in which Dr Clarke was one of the chief combatants, and in which he is generally conceived to have gained the victory. In 1706, appeared an • Epistolary Discourse' from the pen of Henry Dodwell, a nonjuring layman of immense erudition, but signally deficient in judgment. The object of this Epistolary Discourse was to prove “that the soul" (we quote from Dodwell's title-page) “ is a principle naturally mortal, but immortalized actually by the pleasure of God, to punishment, or to reward, by its union with the Divine Baptismal Spirit ; wherein is proved that none have the power of giving the Divine Immortalizing Spirit, since the Apostles, but only the BISHOPS.” To this Dr Clarke replied with great ability. His arguments in favour of the immateriality and consequent immortality of the soul, called out, however, a far more formidable antagonist than Dodwell, in the person of Anth ny Collins, an English gentleman of singular intellectual acuteness, , unhappily, of infidel principles. The controversy between Clarke and Collins was continued through several short treatises. On the whole, though Clarke in some instances laid himself open to the keen and searching dialectics of his gifted antagonist, the victory certainly remained with the divine ; and his pamphlets in this controversy will ever rank among the ablest defences of the immateriality of the human soul. In the same year Mr Clarke gave to the world a Latin translation of Sir Isaac Newton's Optics ; with which the great philosopher was so much satisfied, that he presented Clarke with the sum of one hundred pounds for each of his five children. About this time Mr Clarke was made one of Queen Anne's chaplains in ordinary, and, soon after, presented with the rectory of St James's. Soon after the receipt of this last preferment he went to Cambridge, to take the degree of Doctor in Divinity. On this occasion he is said to have enacted wonders in delivering and maintaining an elaborate thesis on the following proposition : Nullum Fidei Christianæ Dogma, in S. Scripturis traditum est rectæ Rationum dissentaneum.' 'No Article of the Christian Faith, propounded in the Holy Scriptures, is repugnant to right Reason. The disputation which he held, on this occasion, with Dr James the public examiner and regius professor of divinity, is said to have afforded a wonderful display of his logical acuteness, his readiness of thought, and command of classical and nervous diction.

In 1712, Dr Clarke published an elegant and useful edition of Cesar's Commentaries, which was very favourably noticed in the Spectator. “ It is no wonder,” says Addison, “ that an edition should be very correct, which has passed through the hands of one of the most accurate, learned, and judicious writers this age has produced.” (Spect. No. 367.) In the same year commenced a long, and, in some respects, unhappy controversy between Dr Clarke on the one hand, and a multitude of opponents on the other, on the subject of the Trinity. The sentiments History of Ethical Science, in the new edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, more especially the section devoted to Dr Clarke.

of Clarke upon this point were undoubtedly Arian ; but it was an Arianism which approached as closely as possible to the doctrine of the Trinity. He regarded the Son and the Holy Spirit as emanations from the Father, endowed by him with every attribute of Deity, self-existence alone excepted. His collection and arrangement of scripture-texts upon the subject are so admirable as to be recommended by Bishop Horsley himself, and that too in his work against Priestly. His reasonings and illustrations are replete with ingenuity, and unquestionably exhibit the full strength of his system. His principal antagonist was Dr Waterland, a clear-headed and close reasoning divine, who, in our judgment, completely overthrew the scheme of Clarke, and placed the catholic doctrine of the Trinity upon an indestructible foundation. Many other writers, however, engaged in the controversy, among whom, Mr Nelson, the biographer of Bishop Bull, merits honourable mention as

a powerful defender of the faith. In 1714, the lower house of convocation preferred to the bench of bishops a complaint of the heretical and pernicious principles contained in Dr Clarke's work on the Trinity. After some delay, Dr Clarke was induced to sign a declaration that he believed the doctrine of the Trinity as it was commonly held ;-a great and lamentable inconsistency, beyond a doubt, which he afterwards endeavoured to explain away. In connection with this part of the life of Dr Clarke, may be mentioned a striking anecdote preserved in the first volume of the Reminiscences of Charles Butler. By the desire of Queen Caroline a conference was held in her presence, between Dr Clarke and Dr Hawarden, an eminent Roman catholic theologian, for the purpose of discussing the doctrine of the Trinity. Dr Clarke, with great clearness and caution, explained his own system. Dr Hawarden, in reply, said that he should confine himself to a single question ; in which if there were any ambiguity, he wished it to be cleared away in limine ; but to which he desired a categorical answer, yes or no.

To this, Dr Clarke consented. “I ask, then,” said Dr Hawarden, God the Father annihilate the Son and the Holy Ghost ?” Dr Clarke, after an interval apparently employed in deep meditation, replied that he had never considered the question. Here the interview terminated.

In the years 1715 and 1716, Dr Clarke was engaged in a controversy with Leibnitz, in which the principal points of discussion were the question of liberty and necessity, and the manner in which the Deity sustains and actuates the universe. Our limits prevent us from entering mto a review of this interesting correspondence, in which both disputants displayed both the strength and the weaknesses by which each was respectively distinguished. The victory, in our opinion, was gained by Leibnitz, to whom, in all the higher qualities of a metaphysical genius, Dr Clarke was unquestionably and greatly inferior. In 1718, a new controversy was raised by certain alterations introduced by Dr Clarke into the doxologies which were sung in his church. The bishop of London, on this occasion, published a pastoral letter to his clergy, in which he warned them against these (undoubtedly Arian) innovations. About this time, Dr Clarke was presented by Lord Lechmere to the master-ship of the Wigston hospital, in Leicester. On the death of Sir Isaac Newton, the situation of master of the mint was offered to Dr Clarke, but he declined it. In the year 1729 he published a new edition of the first twelve books of the Iliad, with a new Latin version,

[ocr errors]

can

« PreviousContinue »