The academical honors which had been conferred upon Dr. Clarke, were as nothing, compared with those which, without his knowledge, awaited him in the commencement of the year 1808. In February of that year, he learned that he had been recommended to the Commissioners of Public Records, by Mr. Charles Abbot, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and one of the Commissioners, to whom he was known by his Bibliographical writings only, as a fit person to undertake the office of collecting and arranging those State Papers which might serve to complete and continue Rymer's Foedera. This department had lain unoccupied from the date of the Commission, a period of seven years, none being found willing, or, if willing, qualified, to fill it; and yet the completion and continuation of that work was one of the principal objects for which the Commission had issued. Mr. John Caley, the Secretary to the Commission, was appointed to negotiate with Dr. Clarke; and they met at Mr. Butterworth's. Mr. Caley disclosed the object for which he sought the interview; but, as he was not then at liberty to specify what it was in which, to use the words of Dr. Clarke, his Majesty's Government could employ so obscure an individual as himself," he was obliged to be content with a conditional answer, in which he was informed, that, if there was any way in which, in addition to his present sacred duties, he (Dr. Clarke) could serve his king and his country, it must be his duty to embrace it. This, however, was of course received as a favorable answer; and, in a few days, Mr. Caley personally communicated to him the precise nature of the duties which were expected from him, adding that the Commissioners desired him to begin by drawing up an Essay on the work, Dr. Clarke, surprised at the nature of the labor marked out for him, endeavored to excuse himself, by alleging, that, however willing, he was not qualified to perform it. At this the well-instructed Secretary smiled incredulously, and, by promises of all the assistance in his power, encouraged him to begin the task. The reluctance of the Doctor was at length so far overcome, that he began the Essay required, fully determined, however, to proceed no further than to its completion. This document, when completed, received the unqualified approbation of the Commissioners, who, regardless of the author's wishes to retire from a labor to which he felt himself unequal, immediately made him a Sub-commissioner, assigning him the department of collating the required State Papers, with power to engage assistants.
Before matters had proceeded thus far, Dr. Clarke consulted his ministerial brethren on the subject. The following is his account of their different opinions:-- Some said, "It will prevent your going on in the work of the ministry." Others, "It is a trick of the Devil to prevent your usefulness." Others, "It may rather be a call of Divine Providence to greater usefulness than formerly; and, seeing you compromise nothing by it, and may still preach, &c., as usual, accept it, in God's name." Others, "If Mr. Wesley were alive, he would consider it a call of God to you; and so close in with it without hesitation."
Though the majority were in favor of his accepting the onerous, though honorable post, assigned him; yet, as some entertained an opinion that it was a trick of Satan, Dr. Clarke's indisposition to the work was increased rather than otherwise. But the persuasions of the Commissioners prevailed; and, on the understanding that he should be allowed to withdraw whenever a substitute could be procured, he consented to proceed; but no such person appeared during the long course of ten years. Of his labors under Government, Dr. Clarke has given the following brief general account:-- "The department of the Fæedera was not the Only work to which I was obliged to attend, during the time I acted under this Commission. I had to methodize and arrange the collections of persons who were employed in other departments; and the state of the transcripts, which were sometimes on bad paper, and generally in a careless hand, afforded me great perplexity and trouble. When such were sent in to the Commissioners, out of which they could make nothing, without such a consumption of time as would ill Comport with their office; the recommendation of Lords Colchester and Glenbervie used to conclude the business:-- "Let them be sent to Dr. Clarke: he will arrange and describe them." I was also employed to make general searches through all the Records of the nation, relative to the Licentia Regis, necessary for the currency of papal bulls, especially such as affected the King's prerogative, or the privileges or safety of the nation. This was a laborious search; but the fruits of it produced a mass of evidence relative to the continual exertions of the Papal See to seize on all the power, secular as well as ecclesiastical, of the British empire, and to make the Parliament its tool, and the King its deputy."
In another place he says, "The work was to collect from all the archives of the United Kingdom, all authentic state papers, from the Conquest to the accession of George III.; to arrange and illustrate them in frequent reports to the Right Hon. His Majesty's Commissioners on the Public Records of the Kingdom, for the purpose of completing and continuing that collection of state papers called " Rymer's Fæedera,"' of which I have carried nearly four volumes folio through the press. Many endeavored to carp at the work; but their teeth were broken in their attempt to gnaw the file."
In a letter to Mr. Thomas Roberts, of Bath, dated March 26th, 1808, we find a sportive account of some of the difficulties of his novel situation. The required essay on " the best mode of carrying into effect a compilation from unedited and latent records, to form a supplement and continuation to Rymer's Fæedera," was to be produced in fourteen days. "These records," writes the Doctor' to his old friend, " were to be found in, -- l. The British Museum. 2. The Tower.
3. The Chapter House, Westminster. 4. The Rolls' Chapel. 5. The State Paper Office. 6. The Privy Council Office. 7. The Signet Office. It was in vain my saying I did not know the contents of these repositories, and could not describe, and had not now time to examine them: write I must. The Commissioners have desired you to prepare this essay. Well, I thought, for the honor of my God, and for the credit of my people, I will put my shoulder to a wheel deeply stuck in the mud, and raise it if I can. To do anything to effect, I must examine sixty folio volumes, with numerous collateral evidence, and write on a subject (Diplomatics) on which I had never tried my pen, and in circumstances, too, the most unfriendly, as I was employed in the Quarterly Visitation of the Classes during the whole time! I thought, I prayed, I read; and, like John Bunyan, 'I pulled, and, as I pulled, it came.' To be short, my essay was completed, and sent into the Commissioners, this day se'nnight [sic]. At the same time, I sent them word, that I was an "Itinerant Preacher among the people called Methodists, lately under the direction of the Rev. J. Wesley, deceased." Mr. Butterworth, and Mr. Creighton, thought it was one of the completest things of the kind ever drawn up. As soon as the Speaker, who is the soul of the Record Commission, heard that the Essay was done, he sent for it from the Secretary. What impression it made on him I cannot justly say, and cannot yet fully know, as the Annual Meeting of the Commissioners was yesterday. But the Secretary called on Mr. Butterworth on Tuesday, and said, ' Mr. Butterworth, I can give you no official information concerning Dr. Clarke's Essay, as the Commissioners have not yet sat; but I can say to you sub silentio, that it will be received favorably; yes, Mr. Butterworth, I can say in confidence 'that it will be received very favorably.'"
To give such an account of Dr. Clarke's labors as a Sub-commissioner of Public Records, as might afford an adequate idea of their importance and extent, would require many times the space which we can afford to this part of his history. We shall, therefore, confine ourselves 'to such points chiefly as may serve to show how well qualified, after all, he proved himself, and with what deference his various suggestions were received. At his recommendation, the period of time to be comprised in the work was considerably enlarged; and it was resolved, that, instead of beginning with the reign of the first Henry, and closing with the Revolution, it should extend from the Norman conquest to the accession of the third George, the period embraced by the Foedera being that comprised between Henry I. and the first six years of Charles H. during the Usurpation..
The Board of Commissioners approved of the plan of proceeding suggested by Dr. Clarke in his Essay, from which it appears that more than twice as many repositories as he enumerated in his letter to Mr. Roberts, had been searched, for documents not included by Rymer, or which might be necessary for the continuation of his work; and that all of them afforded materials for the supplement, or the continuation, or for both, the old English annalists and historians being among the number of the sources; for, though Rymer had derived considerable aid from them, yet there remained behind many valuable instruments, the originals of which had disappeared. A synopsis, subjoined to the Essay, was returned to Dr. Clarke, to be filled up as by him proposed, for the purpose of completing the specimen, from the Conquest to the end of the reign of John; and the Secretary of the Commission was directed to procure him admission to the several public offices and libraries which it might be necessary for him to consult. The Commissioners further ordered, that" Dr. Adam Clarke should prepare a scheme for the first volume of the Supplement to Rymer, and for the first volume of the continuation; specifying, in his synopsis, all the articles which he may propose to insert."
On receiving these orders, Dr. Clarke again expressed to Mr. Caley his doubts of being able to accomplish the task imposed upon him; but he proceeded. He had not long been engaged in making researches in the British Museum, when he found that neither would the hours during which the reading-rooms in that institution were open, comport with his ministerial and other official engagements; nor could he and his assistants prosecute their labors in the presence of other students frequenting the Museum, without disturbing the quiet necessary to profound study. A private room was consequently assigned him.
In communicating to the Speaker his desire to examine the ancient Irish records, because he believed that the historians of that country had dealt much in idle legends, to the probable exclusion of instruments of great diplomatic importance, Dr. Clarke repeated his doubts of his ability to fulfill the desires of the Commissioners. I wish," he said, " to exert myself to the utmost, to provide materials to supply all deficiencies in the Foedera, from the Norman conquest to the death of King John: farther than this, I dare not at present engage, lest both my health and abilities should be found inadequate to the task. I deeply feel the responsibility of my situation: I am to labor, not only for my own credit (that is a feather in the business), but for the honor of the Record Commission, and for that of the nation. By long studies, disadvantageously circumstanced, &c., and by the very severe duties of my office, which I have unremittedly filled up for twenty-eight years; I am, at the age of forty-six, considerably worn down; and cannot bear, without present injury, even one half of that fatigue which I formerly passed through without feeling the burden. It is on this ground alone, that I beg leave, Sir, to say, that, though I shall pursue my present task with as much zeal and diligence as possible; yet, if any proper person offer himself, for this important work, on whose fitness and strength dependence may be reasonably placed, I hope the Right Hon. the Commissioners will forget me in the business, and readily employ that adequate person."
But no such person made his appearance; and, notwithstanding his misgivings, his injured health, and a variety of impediments, Dr. Clarke proceeded with the work. Much delay was occasioned by the resignation of Mr. Jannion, the Doctor's assistant. This able and well-informed young man, possessing a fine classical taste and a great thirst for learning, became disgusted with the barbarous and unentertaining documents which it was his business to copy; and some time elapsed before a fit successor to him could be found. 'At length, Dr. Steinhauer was engaged, a man whose learning and diligence well qualified him for the work; but he had undermined his constitution by the closeness of his early application to study; and, being overtaken by misfortunes, was carried off by dropsy in the chest, a short time after his association with Dr. Clarke. To him immediately succeeded Mr. F. H. Holbrooke, who continued as Dr. Clarke's assistant as long as he himself remained under the Commission, and has since greatly assisted in carrying on the work.
The result of Dr. Clarke's laborious and rigid inquiries was to convince him of the necessity for deviating considerably from the original plan; and, instead of furnishing a supplement to Rymer, for printing an entirely new edition of his work, It became evident that his labors were imperfect in several respects; but particularly in so far as he had included some documents of doubtful authority, to the exclusion of others, the authenticity of which was as clear as their importance was great. The Doctor communicated his new plan to the Commissioners, from whom he received immediate orders to prepare the first volume of a new edition of Rymer accordingly; and he was also desired to propose a plan for carrying on the continuation concurrently.
One of those documents which, though they had passed current with Rymer, were repudiated by Dr. Clarke as unworthy of credit, was, the Letter of Vetus de Monte, or the Old Man of the Mountain, to Leopold, Duke of Austria, exculpating Richard I. from the murder of the Marquis of Montferrat. This occurred, in 'Rymer, under the year 1192. The story was, that the Marquis was murdered by two of the desperate followers of that chief of the Hassanian dynasty, who had disguised themselves like Christian monks, and stabbed him in the streets of Tyre, when returning from dining with the Bishop of Beauvais; that they were immediately seized and put to the most excruciating torture, but that they suffered death without making any confession; and that, as our Richard I. was then at open variance with the Marquis, the suspicion of many of the princes of the Crusade fell heavily upon him; which reaching the ears of the Old Man of the Mountain, he addressed the letter to Leopold, Duke of Austria.
But the result of Dr. Clarke's researches and reasonings was to throw considerable doubt upon this mode of establishing the authenticity of the document. In the first place, he found it totally devoid of any internal evidence to prove that it originated with the Arab chief. Brompton, from whom Rymer appears to have copied it, gravely informs us, that it was obtained from Vetus de Monte by means of a legation from Richard; but, as he makes it conclude with the Papal benediction, "Benevalcte," we must either suppose that he has corrupted it, ' or that it is a forgery. The fact is, that a crafty Churchman was the real writer. Dr. Clarke discovered it in the Imagines Historiarum of Ralph de Diceto, who, in 1181, was Dean of St. Paul's, and who declares that he received it from William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, with the desire that he would insert it among his Chronicles. " This letter," says Dr. Clarke, " now rests with the Bishop of Ely; and I believe it will be impossible to trace it from him to Mount Lebanon. He was a Norman of mean extraction, who had address sufficient to enable him to gain the confidence of King Richard; so that we find him consecrated Bishop of Ely, made Chancellor, and Papal Legate, all in one year (1189), the first year of Richard's accession; who, when he went to the Holy Land, left him Regent of the kingdom, in conjunction with the Bishop of Durham and five others. Behaving himself insolently in this office, he was deprived of the Regency in 1191; but was afterwards, in 1193, restored by the King, whom he visited while prisoner at Vienna, and by whom he was invariably supported against all his adversaries. He sent the Sheik's letter to Ralph de Diceto, probably in the year 1193, after he had returned from his visit to the King at Vienna; it being highly necessary to vindicate the character of his sovereign and friend, from being accessory to the murder of the Marquis of Montferrat, with which he was loudly charged in every court of Europe; and the more necessary at this time, when an immense sum of money (100,000 marks) must be raised for the King's ransom, from his already impoverished subjects."
Besides those instruments which were deficient 'in authority, Dr. Clarke recommended the omission of others, which, on various accounts, he deemed inadmissible. Among these were the royal acts of oblivion.
"To publish such pardons," he observes, "with the names of the persons at full length, where the families still remain, is a prosecution much more dreadful than that which the royal clemency had disarmed: it is a visiting the crimes of the parents upon their children, not only to the third and fourth, but in many cases to the twentieth generation, and can be of no use to the state." Whatever degree of justness there may be in these animadversions, it cannot be denied that the Doctor's objections may be turned against himself, in relation to his exposure of the conduct observed towards him when at Kingswood. But, it may be remarked in brief, that, if all faults were suppressed the publication of which might give pain to the descendants or surviving friends of those concerned in them, the details of history would be exceedingly imperfect, and many valuable lessons of warning and instruction be lost to mankind.
Among those documents which, having been omitted by Rymer, were incorporated by Dr. Clarke in his new edition of the Fæedera, were many curious letters of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Magna Charta, and Charta de Foresta, and the modifications, explanations, and enlargements, which they underwent in various reigns, with all the series of state instruments to which they gave rise.
In the execution of his Herculean task, Dr. Clarke encountered much labor and many difficulties. He was not always seconded efficiently, many instruments and state papers being copied with such reprehensible carelessness, as greatly to impair their authenticity; and some so corrupted, that even conjectural criticism could not restore them to common sense and consistency. After laboring much at several of such, which, had they been correct, would have been of great importance, not being able to discover the originals, the Doctor was obliged to throw them aside.
In 1811, Dr. Clarke went to Dublin in quest of diplomatic and other state papers. He examined all the depositories of the public records, and considered it fortunate that a commission had been established for that country. Dispersion and destruction had already made rapid progress; but, through the talents and industry of the commissioners, order was beginning to arise out of confusion. Some of those state papers which he brought to England, were found in the libraries of private gentlemen, owing, probably, to the long-disturbed state of the country,
While engaged in the labors which we have thus imperfectly described, Dr. Clarke's health was so much injured that he found it necessary to retire from London into the country. They alone were quite sufficient to overwhelm any man; but they formed only one part of the various avocations in which Dr. Clarke was engaged. He was simultaneously occupied with his Commentary, with ministerial duties, with attendance in the committee meetings of the Bible Society, and, in short, with numerous concerns, that drew upon his time, and conspired to exhaust his strength. Such was the value set upon his talents and his industry, that, though the distance of his residence from the press, and the seat of his Government employment, actuated him on three different occasions to send in his resignation to the Commissioners, these were severally refused. But, when at length they found, that, owing to his removal from London, he could not carry on the work without many interruptions, his desire to retire was accepted; and accordingly, at a Board of the Commission, bearing date the 24th of March, 1819, the duties which he had been performing were transferred to their Secretary. We find, from a note by Dr. Clarke, that almost all the operations under that Commission were closed at the date just mentioned, and that he had acted under it, from March, 1808, till that time.
Three days before he was released from his arduous task, he received a letter from Lord Colchester (the then late Speaker), in which the writer observes, "You have and ever have had, through your long and successful labors under the Record Commission, my entire confidence and approbation."
The following extract from a document, dated March 30, 1819, will show what were his own feelings on this occasion:-- "Here I register my thanks to God, the fountain of wisdom and goodness, who has enabled me to conduct this most difficult and delicate work for ten years, with credit to myself and satisfaction to his Majesty's Government. During that time, I have been required to solve, many difficult questions, and illustrate many obscurities; in none of which have I ever failed, though the subjects were such as were by no means familiar to me, having had little of an antiquarian, and nothing of a forensic, education. I began the work with extreme reluctance, and did every thing I could to avoid the employment; but was obliged to yield to the wishes of some persons high in power, who had in vain, for seven years, endeavored to 'find some person to undertake the task."
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