Speed, Adolphus (DNB00)
|←Speechly, William||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 53
SPEED, ADOLPHUS (fl. 1650), agricultural writer, generally known as Adam Speed, claims to have been of gentle birth. On the title-page of his only acknowledged work he signs his name Ad. Speed, but that this stands for Adolphus, and not Adam, is proved by the autograph at the end of his (anonymous) ‘Generall Accommodations by Addresse’ (Brit. Mus. E. 599 ). He is asserted to have begun to write in 1626, at which date the first edition of ‘Adam out of Eden’ is said to have appeared. But Walter Blith distinctly stated in 1652 that till a short time previously Speed had not published his works, but only privately conveyed them ‘into Noble and Gentlemen's hands,’ while the title of Speed's book is manifestly copied from that of William Coles's ‘Adam in Eden,’ first published in 1657. The printer, too, of the 1659 edition of ‘Adam out of Eden’ states that the work was then published for the first time, by the good nature of a Publick-spirited Gentleman (to whose industry in several other things our age is obliged) they have blest our eyes.’ This refers to Samuel Hartlib, the friend of Speed, as of Robert Child, Cressy Dymock, Gabriel Plattes, and other agricultural writers of the period.
One of Speed's earliest works is ‘Cornucopia. A Miscellanium of lucriferous and most fructiferous Experiments, Observations, and Discoveries, immethodically distributed’ (1652?), a pamphlet which has been attributed to Hartlib, and which has been placed under his name in the British Museum Catalogue. Walter Blith, however, refers to it at some length in 1652 as the work of Speed. The book consists of certain suggestions for the improvement of husbandry, coupled with the proposal to establish a general registry office. Another edition of this treatise was printed, probably at some period previous to 1648, with considerable alterations, under the title of ‘Generall Accommodations by Addresse.’ A copy of this edition, signed and dated in manuscript by Speed himself, ‘Aprill 26, 1650, att Mr. Ffishers House in King Streete wthin the Cowent Garden,’ is in the British Museum. In 1648 appeared anonymously ‘A further Discoverie of the office of publick Addresse for Accommodations,’ following up the same idea, and probably from the same hand. About 1650 Blith made the acquaintance of Speed: ‘I being once so weake as to come to an agreement with Mr. Speed, who writes such high things, as reason cannot fathom, to discover his particulars to me, which he gave me in writing … all which (except the Pompion) were as well knowne before to myselfe as to hym, but not, that from them to raise so great advantages, I never knew nor shall.’
In 1652 Blith, in the second edition of his ‘English Improver Improved,’ attacked Speed on the ground that his far-fetched schemes for improvement were likely to bring into disrepute practical writings on husbandry. The passage concludes, ‘And whosoever desires cordially to be informed of Mr. Speed, may from Mr. Samuel Hartlib, dwelling against Charing Cross, who can give fuller and larger description both of the man and his abilities, having expressed himself so far a Gentleman of such charity towards him, as he hath maintained him divers moneths together while he was inventing some of these his discoveries.’
In 1659 Speed, with the assistance of Hartlib, published his principal work, ‘Adam out of Eden.’ The author shows familiarity with the writings of Hartlib's friends, and also claims a personal acquaintance with Sir Richard Weston. The book, however, is open to the charges Blith makes against its author—lack of practicality and love of reckoning up theoretical schemes of profit. After the Restoration Hartlib sank into insignificance, and it becomes difficult to track Speed further. There is no reason to identify him with ‘A. S. Gent.,’ the author of ‘The Husbandman, Farmer, and Grasier's Compleat Instructor,’ 1697. The identification is chronologically improbable, and the book differs in character and style from Speed's known works.[The statement that ‘Adam’ Speed wrote two books, with an interval of seventy-one years between, was made by Watt in his Bibliotheca Britannica (ii. 871 d), whence it was copied into Donaldson's Agr. Biogr. 1854, p. 17, and by Allibone in his Dictionary (1870, vol. ii.). Another assertion, intrinsically probable, though there is no direct evidence to bear it out, is to the effect that Speed wrote the ‘Reformed Husbandman imparted unto Mr. Samuel Hartlib.’ This statement was made by Weston, in his ‘Catalogue of English Authors who have written on Husbandry,’ 1773, p. 27, and copied by Martyn in his edition of Miller's Gardeners' Dictionary, 1807, p. xxiii, and by G. W. Johnson in his History of English Gardening, 1829, p. 97. Correct information with regard to Speed can be gleaned from Blith's references in the English Improver Improved, 1652, pp. 173–6, 260–1, and from a bibliographical study of the works written by, and attributed to, Samuel Hartlib.]