The Times/1910/Obituary/John Willis Clark

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Obituary: Mr. John Willis Clark  (1910) 

Source: The Times, Tuesday, Oct 11, 1910; pg. 11; Issue 39400 — Obituary: Mr. John Willis Clark


Mr. John Willis Clark

We regret to announce that Mr. J. W. Clark who resigned the post of Registrary of Cambridge University on the last day of September, owing to failing health, died at Cambridge yesterday afternoon at the age of 77.

John Willis Clark was born on June 24, 1833, we believe in the pleasant house with a Georgian portico, lying just to the south of the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Cambridge, and at present occupied by the Cambridge Girls' Friendly Society. He was the only child of the Rev. W. Clark, Fellow of Trinity, who occupied the chair of anatomy from 1817 till his death in 1866, when he was succeeded by Dr. (afterwards Sir) G. M. Humphry.

For more than three-quarters of a century Mr. J. W. Clark lived in Cambridge, From his earliest years he was not only in the University but of it. His retentive memory, aided by his dramatic instinct, his keen and insatiable interest in all that went on around him, and his intense lover for his Alma Mater—much as he at times chided her—gave him a very prominent place among the University personalities of the last 75 years. Whilst he was yet a boy his parents moved to Scroope House, which stands in a spacious garden to the east of the fen that skirts the western side of Peterhouse and the Leys School. These grounds in later life he delighted to cultivate, and for many years his chief exercise and pastime was gardening. He was as his Cambridge friends can testify, particularly successful with roses, and these and his other favourite flowers he tended with his own hands.

Mr. Clark was educated at Eton, and, like all Etonians, he retained an abiding affection for his school. the history of whose buildings he fittingly included in his "[[Architectural History of the University and Colleges of Cambridge." He was always and deeply interested in his old school, welcomed the Etonians who came up to Cambridge, never lost an opportunity of revisiting Eton, and served upon many a committee connected with it.

After leaving Eton Mr. Clark entered at Trinity College, of which he was a scholar and was placed in the 1st Class of the Classical Tripos in 1856, Calverley's year. Two years later he was elected to a Fellowship at Trinity. After taking his degree Mr. Clark travelled extensively on the Continent, and both abroad and at home antiquarian tastes early showed themselves. In the five years that followed his graduation he published articles on tours in Norway and Sweden, the Faroe Islands and Iceland on the Churches of Gottland, and on the Annals of St. Mary the Less, Cambridge. Of this church in his latter days he was for some years churchwarden. Throughout his life he was a constant visitor to France, and had a wide knowledge of French ecclesiastical architecture and modern French literature. In Paris he owned many friends, and as suited his taste, man of the most intimate were officials at the Bibliotèque Nationale or actors at the Comédie Française.

His father, Professor Clark, whose duty was not only to discourse on human anatomy but to expound the structure of what are sometimes termed the lower animals, had long advocated the establishment of a Professorship in Zoology. After holding his professorship for 49 years, he died in 1866, and the new professorship of zoology was then established, the first professor being Alfred Newton. At the same time the zoological collections, which until this date had formed part of the Museum of Anatomy, were picked out and formed, together with certain specimens belonging to the Cambridge Philosophical Society, the nucleus of the existing Museum of Zoology. Of this museum Mr. Clark was appointed superintendent, and he held that office for 25 years. At the same time he was appointed secretary to the newly-established Museums and Lecture Rooms Syndicate, a post he also vacated in 1891 upon elected Registrary.

Study of the Natural Sciences

It was difficult to exaggerate what John Willis Clark did for promotion of the study of the natural sciences in Cambridge during these five-and-twenty years, and indeed, during the rest of his life. He raised the Museum of Zoology to the first rank amongst the provincial museums of this country. Aided and helped by professor Newton, he made the collections not only of use to the specialist but essential to the teacher. In 1874 the University appointed a Strickland Curator for the ornithological collections, and three years later a curator in zoology. Among those who held one or other of the posts under Mr. Clark we may mention the entomologists Mr. F. J. H. Jenkinson, now University Librarian, and Mr. David Sharp, and the zoologists, Dr. A. C. Haddon, the Rev. A. C. Cooke, Mr. Osbert Salvin, and Dr. Hans Gadow. He initiated with the late professor Bridge of Briningham the teaching of "practical work" in zoology, the first "lass for the dissection of vertebrates and invertebrates by the students themselves" being held in the Michaelmas term of 1871. He was further more a warm friend of the "new learning" which Michael Foster, Frank Balfour of Trinity and Vines of Christ's were introducing into the University in the late seventies. As secretary of the Museums and Lecture Rooms Syndicate he was ever helpful and during the time he held that office he saw with pleasure and aided with wise counsel and a real knowledge of detail the erection of building which multiplied by many times the accommodation for teaching and for research which the University possessed at the date he was first appointed.

His own contributions to zoology were not inconsiderable. His special interest lay in marine mammals, and he published several scientific papers on the anatomy and habits of the narwhal, on the eared seals, on dolphins, on the extinct Rhytina, &c. and he vastly increased the University collections of Cetacea, Sirenia, and Pinnepedia. But during all these years, whilst the work at the museums would have amply filled the time of any ordinary man, Mr. Clark was doing innumerable other things. he was writing essays and books on a great variety of subjects—topographical, biographical, bibliographical and antiquarian. A complete bibliography of his writings has been published in the "Fasciculus Joanni Willis Clark dicatus" by two of his younger friends. Chief amongst the books of this period are—"Cambridge," 1880 (new edition, 1889); "[[Architectural History of the University and Colleges of Cambridge,"1886—this, undoubtedly his magnum opus, he edited from the manuscript, which he greatly enlarged of his article. Professor Willis; and "[[Libraries in the Mediæval and Renaissance Periods," 1894. Amongst his later published works the "Augustinian Priory Observances," 1897. "Old Friends at Cambridge and Elsewhere," 1900; "The Care of Books," 1901 (second edition, 1902); and the "Liber Memorandoram Ecclesiæ de Bernwelle," 1907, deserve especial mention.

His extraordinary knowledge and interest in what Matthew Arnold once called "the material installation" of a library, the bookcases, shelves, cataloguing devices, must not pass unnoticed.

Mr. Clark was for many years auditor of his College, in whose business as well as in the business of the University he usually took a very vigorous part. His services to his College were recognized to his great pleasure, a short time ago by the presentation of a handsome piece of plate.

The "A.D.C." Theatre.

In the year 1861m whilst a Junior Fellow of Trinity, Mr. Clark was elected an honorary member of the well-known dramatic society the "A.D.C.," and till his death he took the liveliest interest in all its doings. It was, in fact, almost entirely owing to his interest in the "legitimate drama" that in the sixties "the undergraduate actors gave up one-act low-comedy farces, and so successfully ventured on three-act drama and high comedies." His portrait, a successful likeness, hangs on the walls of the "A.D.C." Theatre. In 1882, after careful though and preparation, members of the University presented in the old theatre the Ajax, the first of those Greek plays which, for the last 27 years, have triennially attracted scholars to Cambridge in the Michaelmas Term. Mr. Clark was from the first secretary and treasurer to the committee under whose auspices these plays were produced, and again here as in so many other directions, his amazing activity, his knowledge of stage-craft, his financial insight, and his untiring capacity for hard work, made for success.

In 1873 Mr. Clark married the second daughter of Sir Andrew Buchanan, G.C.B., who had held the highest diplomatic posts in several European capitals. At first they lived at No. 1, Scroope-terrace, but some time in the 80's moved across the garden to reside with Mrs. Clark, sen. at Scroope House. Their son, Mr. William Henry Clark, who was Principal Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was recently appointed member for commerce on the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India. Owing to many opportunities he had of meeting undergraduates, at the Museum, at the A.D.C., at the Greek play, at his own College, Mr. Clark had an unusually large circle of friends amongst the junior members of the University, and his home was the centre of a continuous and of a charming hospitality. Known to everyone one in the University as "J. W." and to his friends as "J."—over which single initial his portrait appeared in Vanity Fair—he and his wife had a deep influence on the life of many a Cambridge student. Numbers of those who read these lines will look back with thankfulness that during their University career they became the friends of Mr. and Mrs. "J."

In the year 1891 Mr. Clark succeeded the Rev. H. R. Luard as Registrary of the University, a post which he had held ever since. A post unattractive to many, to him it was a delight. He took pleasure in the orderly arrangement of the documents in his core, his dramatic instinct made him love the arrangement—"the stage-management" he called it—of a University function, he even seemed to enjoy editing the Ordinances. his antiquarian leanings delighted in the ceremonials of the place, but his keen liberalism led him to suggest the abolition of such as seemed to him obsolete and in the way of the forward progress of the University. For both in University and in State politics he was a Liberal in the real sense of the word. He was also a sincere and strong Churchman.

Within any reasonable limit it is impossible top sketch as many-sided activities. During later years, apart from the duties of his office, he took—as he always had taken—much interest in the museums and in the numerous new buildings which have arisen on both sides of Downing-street. He also gave much of his time to Fitzwilliam Museum, but perhaps he devoted himself most fully of all to the university Library. For this central keystone of the University he collected within the last few years, practically unaided a sum of over £20,000, and he took unwearied pains in the administration of that institution.

It is difficult to select the salient features of so many-sided a character. If the present writer were to attempt this he would say first of all, kindness. In sprite of a certain freedom of speech—perhaps it was a relic of early Victorian times, perhaps it was the result of being an only and possibly a slightly spoiled child which led a modern poet to describe him, though the description remained unpublished, as "petulantly gay"—"J." was the kindest of men, and not perhaps so much in words as in deeds; kind to all who needed kindness, especially kind in his actions to all servants and dependants. Other traits he had, a humour all his own; an activity which seldom tired; a versatility which placed him in several walks of life at an eminence many another man would be pleased to have reached in one; a careless power of work; a wonderful freshness of insight which stayed his mind from ever growing old. To quote from a book of Essays compiled by "J.'s" friends at home and abroad, who dedication and presentation to him the summer before last gave him intense pleasure:—

What most admire of all your varied parts?
The lore so surely won, so gaily worn,
Your classic mastery of modern arts,
Your toil so lightly borne?
Scribe of our earliest records, and our last,
Foremost, the academic fray to wage,
Master of all our legendary past,
Lord of our mimic stage!
Swift to forgive, of courage ne'er bereft,
Serenely active, resolutely gay,
Whatever cares have vexed you, they have left
Few shadows ion your way.
Not less akin to nature than to art,
Life has no rest, no halting-place for you;
Gracious and apt to win the youngest heart
Yet keep the oldest true!
Largely you give of all that most endears,
Good fellowship, and mirth, and wholesome joy;
They keep you still, for all your strenuous years,
High-hearted as a boy!

This work was published before January 1, 1926 and it is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 100 years or less since publication.