WILLIAM CLARKE, a learned divine and antiquary, was born at Haghmon abbey, in Shropshire, in the year 1696, and was educated at Shrewsbury school, under the care of Mr. Lloyd, for whom he always entertained the greatest regard. From Shrewsbury he was removed to St. John's college, in the university of Cambridge, where he became a fellow, Jan. 22, 1716-17. His election at so early a period of life was owing to a number of vacancies, occasioned by the removal of several non-juring fellows, in consequence of an act of parliament. He commenced B.A. 1715; in 1719 became M.A., and the reputation which he acquired when young was such, that he was chosen to be chaplain to Dr. Adam Ottley, bishop of St. David's: but this prelate dying in 1723, he does not appear to have received any advantage from the appointment. He was afterwards domestic chaplain to Thomas Holles, duke of Newcastle; in which situation he did not continue long, as in 1724, he was presented by archbishop Wake to the rectory of Buxted, in Sussex, without any solicitation of his own, partly on account of his extraordinary merit, and partly from a regard to the special recommendation of the learned Dr. William Wotton, whose daughter he married. In 1738, he was made prebendary and residentiary of the prebend of Hova Villa in the cathedral church of Chichester. Some years before this he had given to the public a specimen of his literary abilities, in a preface to his father-in-law Dr. Wotton's Leges Walliae Ecclesiasticae, 1730; and it is thought that an excellent Discourse on the Commerce of the Romans, which was highly extolled by Dr. Taylor, in his Elements of the Civil Law, came either from his hand or from that of his, friend Mr. Bowyer. It is reprinted in that gentleman's Miscellaneous Tracts, and in The Progress of Maritime Discovery, by Mr. Clarke's grandson. But Mr. Clarke's chief work was The Connexion of the Roman, Saxon, and English Coins; deducing the antiquities, customs, and manners of each people to modern times; particularly the origin of feudal tenures, and of parliaments: illustrated throughout with critical and historical remarks on various authors, both sacred and profane, 1767, 4to, dedicated to the duke of Newcastle. It had been perused in manuscript by Arthur Onslow, esq. speaker of the house of commons, who honoured him with some useful hints and observations: but he was chiefly indebted to Mr. Bowyer, who superintended the publication, drew up several of the notes, wrote part of the dissertation on the Roman sesterce, and formed an admirable index to the whole. By this work our author acquired great reputation. Mr. Pinkerton, in his Essay on Medals, says that a student cannot begin with a better book in this science.
In 1768 Mr. Clarke obtained from archbishop Cornwallis permission to resign the rectory of Buxted (after having held it more than thirty-four years) to his son Edward, through the unsolicited interest of the late marquis Cornwallis, who recollected on this occasion the intimacy that had subsisted between himself and the rev. Edward Clarke in the island of Minorca. In June 1770, he was installed chancellor of the church of Chichester, to which office the rectories of Chittingley and Pevensey are annexed; and in August that year was presented to the vicarage of Amport. These preferments he did not long enjoy, as he died Oct. 21, 1771. In the Anecdotes of Bowyer are many letters and extracts of letters, written to that learned printer and other persons, by Mr. Clarke, which exhibit him to great advantage as a man of piety, a friend, and a scholar. Besides the writings already mentioned, Mr. Clarke joined with Mr. Bowyer in the translation of Trapp's Lectures on poetry, and in annotations on the Greek Testament; and was the author of several of the notes subjoined to the English version of Bleterie's Life of the Emperor Julian. He left behind him a considerable number of manuscripts, among which are some volumes of excellent sermons, the best of which were given to the late Ashburnham, bishop of Chichester, and at his death were inadvertently burnt with some other papers. Bishop Bagot had strongly recommended the publication of a selection of Mr. Clarke's sermons.
Although antiquities were the favourite study of Mr. Clarke, he was a secret, and by no means an unsuccessful votary of the muses. He wrote English verse with ease, elegance, and spirit. Perhaps there are few better epigrams in our language than that which he composed on seeing the words "Domus ultima" inscribed on the vault belonging to the dukes of Richmond in the cathedral of Chichester. Among the happier little pieces of his sportive poetry, there are in the Life of Bowyer some animated stanzas, describing the character of the twelve English poets, whose portraits, engraved by Vertue, were the favourite ornament of his parlour; but he set so modest and humble a value on his poetical compositions, that they were seldom committed to paper, and are therefore very imperfectly preserved in the memory of those, to whom he sometimes recited them. His taste and judgment in poetry appears, indeed, very striking in many parts of his learned and elaborate Connexion of Coins. His illustration of Nestor's cup, in particular, may be esteemed as one of the happiest examples of that light and beauty, which the learning and spirit of an elegant antiquary may throw on a cloudy and mistaken passage of an ancient poet. He gave a very beneficial proof of his zeal for literature, by the trouble he took in regulating the library of the cathedral to which he belonged. He persuaded bishop Mawson to bestow a considerable sum towards repairing the room appropriated to this purpose. He obtained the donation of many valuable volumes from different persons; and by his constant and liberal attention to this favourite object, raised an inconsiderable and neglected collection of books, into a very useful and respectable public library.
By his only wife, Anne, daughter of Dr. Wotton, Mr. Clarke had three children, two of whom survived him; Edward, of whom in the next article, and a daughter, who inherited not only the virtues of her parents, but their taste for literature. She died at Chichester, and was buried in a cemetery adjoining the cathedral. His widow died July 11, 1783.