Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Critical Introduction by A. I. Fitzroy
Samuel Clarke (16751729)
[Samuel Clarke was born at Norwich in 1675. His father was an Alderman of that city and represented it in Parliament. Samuel was educated at the Free School of his native town. In 1691 he went to Caius College, Cambridge. Here he became an ardent student of the Newtonian philosophy, and at the early age of twenty, immediately after taking his degree, brought out an improved translation of Rohaults Physics, a work based on the principles of Descartes, intending thereby to guide the feet of University students into safer philosophic paths. This he further amplified in 1697, in an edition with copious notes, in which the doctrines of Descartes were corrected by those of Newton. Soon after 1701 he was presented to the living of Drayton, Norfolk. Thence he was transferred to London, being Boyle lecturer in the years 1704 and 1705. He was appointed chaplain to Queen Anne, and Rector of St. James, Westminster, in 1706 or 1707. He died in 1729.]
SAMUEL CLARKE turned out a large amount of work in his comparatively short life. Besides his two more important contributions to philosophy, The Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, and The Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation, he carried on a lengthy and learned correspondence with Leibnitz upon the Principles of Natural Philosophy; another correspondence upon Liberty and Necessity; wrote a letter to a Mr. Dodwell on the Immortality of the Soul; another to Bishop Hoadly upon the Proportion of Velocity and Force in Bodies in Motion; corresponded with young Joseph Butler, afterwards the famous author of the Analogy of Religion; produced essays on Baptism, Confirmation, etc.; treatises on The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, and on The Primitive Fathers and the Canon of the New Testament; also Paraphrases of the Gospels, and some sermons.
Clarkes style is not particularly attractive. It is usually intelligible and fairly clear, but it inclines to be ponderous, and is marred by too plentiful sprinklings of Scripture texts. He has no humour, no imagination, and no great depth or originality of thought. In his philosophical writings he sought to introduce the truths of other men in plain and simple language, and succeeded fairly well.
His Paraphrases of the Gospels are very able. The language is vigorous and fairly natural. They are colloquial, without irreverence or undue familiarity. We doubtless lose in them some of the simplicity of the authorised version, their diction being a trifle pedantic at times. They are, however, distinctly effective. The free rendering of passages so familiar as to be in danger of being slighted, often brings out their meaning, or possible meaning, with distinct and quickening effect. These homely paraphrases are perhaps the most lasting and valuable legacy to English literature that has been made by Samuel Clarke.