A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen/Adam, Robert

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ADAM, Robert, an eminent architect, was born at Edinburgh in the year 1728. His father, William Adam, of Maryburgh, in the county of Fife, also distinguished himself as an architect ; Hopetoun House, and the Royal Infirmary at Edinburgh, are specimens of his abilities. Robert, the second son, inherited his father's taste, and lived in a time more favourable to its development. He was educated in the university of Edinburgh, where he enjoyed the kind attentions of Robertson, Smith, and Ferguson; all of whom were his father's friends. As he advanced in life, he was on friendly and intimate terms with Archibald Duke of Argyle, Sir Charles Townshend, and the Earl of Mansfield. About the year 1754, with a view to improve his knowledge of architecture, he travelled on the continent, and resided three years in Italy, where he surveyed the magnificent specimens of Roman architecture ; the buildings of the ancients, in his opinion, being the proper school of the architectural student. But while he beheld with much pleasure the remains of the public buildings of the Romans, he regretted to perceive that hardly a vestige of their private houses or villas was anywhere to be found. In tracing the progress of Roman architecture, he had remarked that it had declined previous to the age of Dioclesian; but he was also convinced that the liberality and munificence of that emperor had revived, during his reign, a better taste, and had formed artists who were capable of imitating the more elegant styles of the preceding ages. He had seen this remarkably exemplified in the public baths at Rome, which were erected by Dioclesian. The interest which he felt in this particular branch of Roman remains, and his anxiety to behold a good specimen of the private buildings of this wonderful people, induced him to undertake a voyage to Spalatro in Dalmatia, to visit and examine the palace of Dioclesian, where, after his resignation of the empire, in 305, that emperor spent the last nine years of his life. He sailed from Venice in 1754, accompanied by two experienced draughtsmen, and M. Clerisseau, a French antiquary and artist. On their arrival at Spalatro, they found that the palace had not suffered less from dilapidations by the inhabitants, to procure materials for building, than from the injuries of time; and that, in many places, the very foundations of the ancient structures were covered with modern houses. When they began their labours, the vigilant jealousy of the government was alarmed, and they were soon interrupted ; for suspecting their object was to view and make plans of the fortifications, the governor issued a peremptory order, commanding them to desist. It was only through the influence and mediation of General Graeme, the commander-in-chief of the Venetian forces (probably a Scotsman), that they were at length permitted to resume their labours; and in five weeks they finished plans and views of the remaining fragments, from which they afterwards executed perfect designs of the whole building. Mr Adam soon after returned to England, and speedily rose to professional eminence. In 1762, he was appointed architect to their majesties, and in the year following he published, in one volume large folio, "Ruins of the Palace of the emperor Dioclesian at Spalatro, in Dalmatia." This splendid work contains seventy-one plates, besides letter-press descriptions. He had at this time been elected a member of the Royal and Antiquarian Societies, and in 1768 he was elected to represent Kinross-shire in Parliament ; which, was probably owing to the local influence of his family. A seat in the House of Commons being incompatible with employment under the crown, he now resigned his office as architect to their majesties ; but continued to prosecute his professional career with increasing reputation, being much employed by the English nobility and gentry in constructing new and embellishing ancient mansions. In the year 1773, in conjunction with his brother, James Adam, who also rose to considerable reputation as an architect, he commenced "The Works in Architecture of R. and J. Adam," which before 1776 had reached a fourth number, and was a work of equal splendour with the one above referred to. The four numbers contain, among other productions, Sion House, Caen Wood, Luton Park House, the Gateway of the Admiralty, and the General Register House at Edinburgh ; all of which have been admired for elegant design and correct taste ; though the present age, in its rage for a severe simplicity, might desire the absence of certain minute ornaments, with which the Adams were accustomed to fill up vacant spaces. Before this period, the two brothers had reared in London that splendid monument of their taste, the Adelphi ; which, however, was too extensive a speculation to be profitable. They were obliged, in 1774, to obtain an act of parliament to dispose of the houses by way of lottery. The chief Scottish designs of Adam, besides the Register Office, were the new additions to the University of Edinburgh, and the Infirmary of Glasgow. "We have also seen and admired," says a biographer, "elegant designs executed by Mr Adam, which were intended for the South Bridge and South Bridge Street of Edinburgh; and which, if they had been adopted, would have added much to the decoration of that part of the town. But they were considered unsuitable to the taste or economy of the times, and were therefore rejected. Strange incongruities," continues the same writer, "appear in some buildings which have been erected from designs by Mr Adam. But of these it must be observed, that they have been altered or mutilated in execution, according to the convenience or taste of the owner ; and it is well known that a slight deviation changes the character and mars the effect of the general design. A lady of rank was furnished by Mr Adam with the design of a house; but on examining the building after it was erected, he was astonished to find it out of all proportion. On inquiring the cause, he was informed that the pediment he had designed was too small to admit a piece of new sculpture which represented the arms of the family, and, by the date which it bore, incontestably proved its antiquity. It was therefore absolutely necessary to enlarge the dimensions of the pediment to receive this ancient badge of family honour, and sacrifice the beauty and proportion of the whole building. We have seen a large public building which was also designed by Mr Adam; but when it was erected, the length was curtailed of the space of two windows, while the other parts remained according to the original plan. It now appears a heavy unsightly pile, instead of exhibiting that elegance of proportion and correctness of style which the faithful execution of Mr Adam's design would have probably given it. To the last period of his life, Mr Adam displayed the same vigour of genius and refinement of taste; for in the space of one year immediately preceding his death, he designed eight great public works, besides twenty-five private buildings, so various in style, and beautiful in composition, that they have been allowed by the best judges to be sufficient of themselves to establish his fame as an unrivalled artist." Mr Adam died on the 3d of March, 1792, by the bursting of a blood-vessel, in the sixty-fourth year of his age, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. It remains only to be said that, while his works commanded the admiration of the public, his natural suavity of manners, joined to his excellent moral character, had made a deep impression upon the circle of his own private friends. His brother James, who has been referred to as associated with him in many of his works, died October 20, 1794.