Clarke, George (1660-1736) (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CLARKE, GEORGE (1660–1736), politician and virtuoso, was the son of Sir William Clarke [q. v.], secretary at war during the Commonwealth and to Charles II, who died of wounds sustained in the sea fight off Harwich 4 June 1600, and of Dorothy, daughter and heiress of Thomas Hyliard, of Hampshire, who, after her first husband's death, married Samuel Barrow, physician in ordinary to Charles II. On her death in August 1696, she was buried in Fulham church, whereupon her only son, George, erected a monument to her in its south aisle. Clarke took the degree of B.A. at Oxford on 27 June 1679, being then a member of Brasenose College; but in November of the following year he was elected to a fellowship at All Souls, when he 'showed brisk parts in the examination.' He retained this prize for the whole of his after life, a period of fifty-six years; probably for the same reason that Matthew Prior kept his fellowship at St. John's College, Cambridge, in order that whatever happened in politics he might have a secure retreat from adversity. Clarke's other degrees were M.A. on 18 April 1683, B.C.L. on 28 April 1686, and D.C.L. on 12 July 1708. He plunged into politics in 1685, taking the side of toryism, but with sufficient moderation to retain the friendship of his opponents and to attract the animosity of the fiercer spirits on his own side who allied themselves with Jacobitism. He was famed for the courtliness of his manners, and was respected for his architectural taste as well as for his zeal in enriching the university in which the greater part of his life was passed. His first election as member for the university of Oxford was on 23 Nov. 1686, but he never sat in that parliament, as the house was prorogued until it was dissolved. After remaining out of parliament for many years, he was returned at the general election in May 1705 for the Cornish borough of East Looe, probably through the influence of the family of Godolphin. On the meeting of the house there ensued a fierce contest between the whigs and the tories for the office of speaker, and as Clarke voted for the tory candidate, he was immediately ejected from all his places by the whig ministry, 'and this,' says Tom Hearne, 'is what all must expect that vote honestly and conscientiously.' After this parliament he again remained in private life for some years, but at a bye election he was returned for the university of Oxford (4 Dec. 1717), and he continued to represent it until his death. The Jacobite section of the constituency were not satisfied with his conduct, and at the general election in 1722 they put forward Dr. King, the principal of St. Mary Hall, as their champion. The voting showed Bromley 337, Clarke 278, and King (who was defeated) 159, whereupon Hearne entered in his diary the savage note: 'I heartily wish Dr. King had succeeded, he being an honest man and very zealous for King James, whereas Clarke is a pitiful, proud sneaker, and an enemy to true loyalty, and was one of those that threw out the bill against occasional conformity in Queen Anne's time, and not only 80, but canvassed the court to lay the bill aside ... for which reason he was afterwards put by for that borough' of East Looe. This extract displays the depth of the animosity of the Jacobites against Clarke, but the reason given for his rejection from his Cornish seat could not have been correct, as the struggle over occasional conformity took place in the previous parliament. Clarke acted as judge advocate-general from 1684 to 1705, and as secretary at war from 1692 to 1704. For several years he was secretary to Prince George of Denmark, the husband of Queen Anne, and from May 1702 to October 1705 he held the post of joint secretary to the admiralty, but in the last-mentioned year he was deprived, as already stated, of all his preferments. On the return of his party to power he obtained the position of lord of the admiralty, and held it until the death of Queen Anne, when he retired from official life and devoted himself to his parliamentary duties and the improvement of his university. He died on 22 Oct. 1736 in his seventy-sixth year, and was buried in the chapel of All Souls College. His epitaph was placed on the south wall of that edifice; his bust is in the college library, with the busts of twenty-three other fellows. Clarke was universally recognised by his contemporaries as a virtuoso and man of taste. Pope, in a letter to Jervas (29 Nov. 1716), speaks of his good fortune at Oxford in being 'often in the conversation of Dr. Clarke,' and Horace Walpole preserves the fact that through the sale to Clarke of some small copies of Raphael's cartoons Jervas obtained the means of visiting Paris and Italy. At Oxford the influence of Clarke's energy and taste was felt in all directions. He gave to Brasenose College in 1727 a statue-group of Cain and Abel, a leaden replica of an Italian group, which he purchased in London, and it remained in the centre of the Quadrangle until about 1880. He assisted Dr. Charlett in placing statues of Queens Mary and Anne in front of University College, and over the gateway next the second court of the last college his arms may still be seen. To Queen's he gave portraits of six English queens, for Christ Church he designed their new library, and in 1732 he erected in the cathedral a memorial of Dean Aldrich. A gift of books was made by him to the Bodleian Library in 1721, and between 1721 and 1730 he presented numerous pictures to the picture gallery, including portraits of Montaigne, Grotius Dryden, and Ben Jonson. But the foundations of All Souls and Worcester were those which he chiefly aided. He took a leading part in the restoration of the chapel of the former college, enriching it with a 'costly marble entablature,' and he built at his own cost new lodgings for its warden, on condition that he might occupy them himself until his death, when it turned out that he had left the furniture and pictures in the rooms for the use of the warden for the time being. The hall of the same college was built under his direction from a plan which he had approved, and he gave the wainscot and the chimneypiece. The arched roof of stone in the buttery of All Souls was erected from his designs. In consequence of the intestine quarrels in this college he left a large share of his wealth to Worcester College. With Clarke's gifts to that institution nine sets of rooms were constructed, six fellowships and three scholarships were founded, and its new library and chapel were completed. He also enriched it with a choice collection of books and manuscripts, including the original designs of Inigo Jones for the erection of Whitehall. Of the sixty manuscripts belonging to Worcester College which are described in H. O. Coxe's 'Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Oxford Colleges,' ii. 17, nearly all belonged to Clarke. Many of them relate to the civil war, and were collected by his father while secretary to Monck and his council. To All Souls he also left the sum of 1,000l. for the restoration of the college front, and to Stone's Hospital, an institution which has recently been demolished, he gave a similar amount. Several of his letters are included in the Ballard MSS. and among the manuscripts of the Marquis of Ormonde (Hist. MSS, Com. 7th Rep.), and for further particulars of him ' A true copy of the last will and testament of George Clarke,' 1737, should be consulted.

[Burrows's All Souls, pp. 267-394; Wood's Antiquities of Oxford (Gutch), ii. pt. ii. 946-69; Wood's College« and Halls (Gutch), 157-639, and appendix, 195-9; Hearne's Collections (ed. Doble), i. 60; Pope's Letters (ed. 1872) viii. 23; Rel. Hearnianæ (1857), ii. 481-3, 770; Luttrell's State Affairs (1857). v. 176. 605, vi. 633, 666; Faulkner's Fulham. pp. 82-5. 156; Historical Reg. for 1736, diary, p. 66.]

W. P. C.