Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Adamson, John (1787-1855)

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ADAMSON, JOHN (1787–1855), antiquary and Portuguese scholar, was the last surviving son of Lieutenant Cuthbert Adamson, R.N., by his second wife Mary Huthwaite. He was born on 13 Sept. 1787 at his father's house in Gateshead, and, having been educated at the Newcastle Grammar School, entered, in 1803, the counting-house of his elder brother Blythman, a merchant in Lisbon. The anticipation of the French invasion of 1807 caused him to leave the country, but he was already full of that devotion to Portgual which was to fashion his literary career. While at Lisbon he studied the language and collected a few books, among them being the tragedy of Dona Ignez de Castro, translated and printed by him in 1808 as his first attempt in authorship. On his return to England he became articled to Thomas Davidson, a Newcastle solicitor and clerk of the peace for Northumberland, to whom the ‘Memoirs of Camoens’ were afterwards dedicated by him ‘as a token of respect and esteem.’ In 1810 he printed a small collection of sonnets, chiefly translations from the minor works of Camoens. The year following he was appointed under-sheriff of Newcastle, and retained the office until the passing of the Municipal Corporation Act in 1835. He became a member of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle about this time, and was from 1825 to his death one of its secretaries. On 3 Dec. 1812 he married his cousin, Elizabeth Huthwaite, who subsequently bore him four sons and three daughters. He was one of the founders of the Antiquarian Society of Newcastle in 1813, and was then appointed secretary with the Rev. J. Hodgson. That he held the office with useful effect is shown by the issue of a printed catalogue of the library three years after, followed by supplements.

Newcastle during the early part of this century numbered many notable antiquaries and book collectors among its townsmen. Specially eminent were John Fenwick, J. Trotter Brockett, and the Rev. J. Hodgson, who with Adamson were the chief founders of the Typographical Society of Newcastle, which was to consist of only thirty members. The books brought out under the auspices of this body are well and uniformly printed in crown octavo, and are illustrated with vignettes of the arms and devices of the respective editors, cut in wood by Bewick and his pupils. The edition was usually a limited one, and in most instances for private circulation only. The first in the series was ‘Cheviot,’ edited in 1817 by Adamson, under whose care ten other trifles in verse were issued between 1817 and 1831. His more considerable productions, with the exception of the ‘Memoirs of Camoens,’ published by Longman, also rank among the publications of the society. All of these possess his device by Bewick on the title-page, a ruined Gothic arch embowered in trees. In 1820 appeared the work by which his name is best remembered, and which still retains its value as a storehouse of well-arranged facts—‘The Memoirs of Camoens.’ It was well received, Robert Southey (Quar. Review, 1822, April) speaking warmly in its favour. The two volumes comprehend a life of the poet, notices concerning the rimas or smaller poems, a translation of an essay by Dom Joze Maria de Souza, an account of the translations and translators of the ‘Lusiad,’ a view of the editions of Camoens, and notices of his commentators and apologists. Portuguese literature was not, however, Adamson's sole pursuit. He was attentive to his professional duties, and interested himself in local affairs. He was also a skilled numismatist, and devoted much attention to conchology. His ‘Conchological Tables’ (1823) is a useful guide for amateurs; his private cabinet comprehended 3,000 different species. He also collected fossils and minerals; the former were presented by him to the museum at Newcastle, and the latter to the university of Durham. In 1836 he printed a catalogue of his Portuguese library under the name of ‘Bibliotheca Lusitana.’ The books are carefully described, and the notes contain much bibliographical information. It was a remarkable collection, brought together by the labour of twenty-five years and the expenditure of much money. Unfortunately, with the exception of the volumes relating to Camoens and a few others, the library was destroyed by a fire on 16 April 1849. His love for the sonnet prompted him to bring out, in 1842, the first part of a collection entitled ‘Lusitania Illustrata,’ consisting of translations from Portuguese sonnetteers and biographical notices. This was followed, in 1846, by a second part devoted to ballads. As regards his merit as a translator, it is enough to observe that a somewhat austere rendering of the original is his chief characteristic. In 1845 he printed another small volume of original and translated sonnets, and in 1853 appeared his last work, being an edition of the first five cantos of the ‘Lusiad,’ translated by his deceased friend, Quillanan, with preface, lists of editions and translations, and a few notes by the editor. As a reward for his services in connection with the literature of her country, the Queen of Portugal had conferred upon him the knighthoods of Christ and of the Tower and Sword. He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and a member of many English and continental philosophical and antiquarian bodies. In spite of failing health he continued his ordinary occupations to within three days of his death, which took place on 27 Sept. 1855. He lies buried at Jesmond cemetery, near Newcastle.

His writings are: 1. ‘Dona Ignez de Castro, a tragedy from the Portuguese of Nicola Luiz, with remarks on the history of that unfortunate lady.’ Newcastle, 1808, 12mo, pp. 124. 2. ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese of Luis de Camoens, &c. [translated by J. A.],’ [Newcastle, 1810]. 3. ‘Catalogue of the Library of the Antiquarian Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by J. A., secretary.’ Newcastle, 1816, 4to; and Supplement, 1822. 4. ‘Cheviot, a Poetical Fragment, by R. W[harton], [ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1817 (Newcastle Typographical Soc.). 5. ‘The Marriage of the Coquet and the Alwine [ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1817 (N. Typ. Soc.). 6. ‘Lines addressed to Lady Byron [written by Mrs. Cockle, ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1817; 20 copies privately printed (N. Typ. Soc.). 7. ‘Reply to Lord Byron's “Fare thee well” [written by Mrs. Cockle, ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1817 (N. Typ. Soc.). 8. ‘Elegy to the Memory of H.R.H. the Princess Charlotte of Wales, by Mrs. Cockle [ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, S. Hodgson, 1817 (N. Typ. Soc.). 9. ‘Elegy on the Death of his late Majesty George III, by Mrs. Cockle’ [ed. by J. A.]. Newcastle, S. Hodgson, 1817, cr. 8vo, pp. 8 (N. Typ. Soc.). 10. ‘Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Luis de Camoens.’ London, Longman, 1820, 2 vols. cr. 8vo, portraits and plates. 11. ‘Conchological Tables, compiled principally for the use of shell collectors [by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1823 (N. Typ. Soc.). 12. ‘Verses written at the house of Mr. Henderson, at Longleeford, near Cheviot, during the winter of 1817 [by his son, ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1823 (N. Typ. Soc.). 13. ‘Lines to a Boy pursuing a Butterfly, by a Lady [Mrs. Septimus Hodgson, ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1826 (N. Typ. Soc.). 14. ‘Epistle to Prospero, by Jose Maria de Pando, translated into English by H[ugh] S[alvin], [chaplain] of H.M.S. Cambridge [ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1828 (N. Typ. Soc.). 15. ‘The Tynemouth Nun, a Poem, by Robert White [ed. by J. A.].’ Newcastle, 1829 (N. Typ. Soc.). 16. ‘Imperii caput et rerum pulcherrima Roma, Carmen latinum apud scholam Novocastrensem aureo numismate donatum, auctore E. H. Adamson, annos xiv. nato [ed. J. A.].’ Novis Castris, 1831 (N. Typ. Soc.). 17. ‘An Account of the Discovery at Hexham, in Northumberland, of a Brass Vessel containing a number of the Anglo-Saxon Coins called Stycas, with 25 plates’ (in Archæologia, xxv. 1834, pp. 279–310). ‘Further Account … with 7 plates’ (ib. xxvi. 1836, pp. 346–8). 18. ‘Bibliotheca Lusitana, or Catalogue of Books and Tracts relating to the History, Literature, and Poetry of Portugal, forming part of the library of J. A.’ Newcastle, 1836 (N. Typ. Soc.). 19. ‘Lusitania Illustrata, Notices of the History, Antiquities, Literature, &c. of Portugal: Literary Department, part i. Selection of Sonnets, with Biographical Sketches of the Authors.’ Newcastle, 1842. ‘The same: Literary Department, part ii. Minstrelsy.’ Newcastle, 1846 (N. Typ. Soc.). 20. ‘Reply of Camoens.’ Newcastle, 1845. 21. ‘Sonnets.’ Newcastle, 1845. 22. ‘The Lusiad of Luis de Camoens, books i. to v.; translated by Edward Quillanan, with notes by J. A.’ London, 1853.

[Notes and Queries, 1st series, i. 178, viii. 104, 257; Martin's Cat. of Books Priv. Printed, 1834, p. 419, &c.; Dibdin's Northern Tour, 1838, i. 332, &c.; Gent. Mag. 1855 (Dec.), 657.]

H. R. T.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.3
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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111 ii 22 Adamson, John: for Quillanan read Quillinan