CLARKE, George (1661-1736), of All Souls, Oxford.
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Family and Education
b. 7 May 1661, o.s. of Sir William Clarke, sec.-at-war to Commonwealth and Charles II, by Dorothy, da. and h. of Thomas Hilliard of Hants. educ. B.N.C., Oxf. 1675. suc. fa. 1666.
Fellow of All Souls 1680-d.; judge adv. Mar. 1682-1705; sec.-at-war in Ireland 1690-2 and in England 1693-1704; jt. sec. to Admiralty 1702-5; sec. to Prince George of Denmark 1702-5; ld. of Admiralty 1710-14.
A connoisseur in art and architecture, a bibliophile, and a great benefactor to the university of Oxford,1 Clarke was a moderate Tory. Dismissed from the Admiralty on the accession of George I, he went to Paris for a few months in 1715, where he met Bolingbroke. Returning to Oxford to attend the installation of Ormonde’s brother, Lord Arran, as chancellor in September, he was given to understand by Colonel Pepper that he had been ‘advised by some persons here to have taken me up, but he said he would be hanged first or to that effect’. At this time he wrote
my intentions being to live quietly and out of public business, I stayed as much as I could at Oxford ... In the year 1717 some business carried me to London, and while I was there Sir William Whitlock died ... and I was chose in his place by the kindness of my friends who sent me word of it when it was done.2
In June 1720 James Craggs offered to let him have £4,000 in South Sea stock, telling him that this ‘will produce you at the current price about £10,000 profit’. Craggs went on to assure Clarke
that I have not more value and respect for your integrity, your resolution, and a hundred other good qualities, than I have an aversion to your politics, and yet if I could imagine that your private interest to a thousand times the value of this trifle could alter them, I should heartily despise you for it. Let me then have the satisfaction to receive this mark of your good opinion, nobody does nor can possibly know of it unless you have a mind to it, and you can’t tell how much you would suffer in my insignificant opinion if you refused so small and so reasonable a request.
Give me leave to assure you that I am highly sensible of the undeserved good opinion you are pleased to entertain of me, and that I shall ever remember this instance of your friendship with the utmost gratitude. But I hope I shall not suffer in your esteem when I remind you that my resolutions never to be concerned in the South Sea have been such as have made me refuse many great offers ... ’Tis indeed extremely kind of you to endeavour to laugh me out of a singularity which you conceive is only founded on a false notion of honour ... I observe too in your letter in how civil and friendly a manner you urge me not to neglect this opportunity of enlarging my circumstances, when it may be done without the least imputation or blemish. I know my circumstances make a very foolish figure in this age of plenty. But I have hitherto been perfectly easy with them, and as they are every day growing better (by some considerable improvements I am working) so I have still more reason to be satisfied and not to do anything which (however indifferent in itself) would give me the least uneasiness.
Despite further assurances by Craggs that acceptance would place him under no obligation as regards his conduct in the House, Clarke again refused the offer.3
Re-elected in 1722, when he was opposed by a Jacobite, and unopposed in 1727, Clarke in his correspondence often laments the powerlessness of his party. For instance, he wrote to Edward Nicholas on 27 Jan. 1726:
Yesterday was a long one in the House and ended in a division of 207 against 89. You will see the address which was resolved upon, in the votes ... Now as many men may be employed, as they have a mind to, and they may run into as great an expense. There seems to be little occasion for Parliament, for it is resolving all power into one hand, which is agreeable to Yonge’s notion, who opened the debate and commended absolute power, and the wisdom of the Romans, for vesting a dictator with it. It was pretty plainly insinuated that this money that’s wanted is to induce people to accede to the Hanover treaty, and it is as plain that none of the German princes will accede without money, when they know that the Parliament will pay what they require.
On the accession of George II he commented that the King was given
£100,000 per annum more than his father had, and settled a jointure upon the Queen of £100,000 a year, which is much more than ever was given to any Queen of England. It is to be hoped that as the King has a larger civil list than any of his predecessors and is said to be a good manager, he will not come for supplies to pay his debts, as his father did, but will keep within bounds. In thirteen years that his father reigned he had above £1,800,000 given him by Parliament besides his £700,000 a year, and it is said he has left a great debt, above £600,000. It is melancholy to consider how those vast sums have been disposed of, though too well known.
He continued to attend the House regularly, though he was absent from the division on the excise bill. A year later he wrote:
this Parliament was dissolved by proclamation on the 17th of April, 1734, and on the 27th I received a letter from Dr. Holmes, vice-chancellor, that the day before I was unanimously elected with Lord Cornbury to serve for the University. This was the fifth time I was chose to represent that learned body, and was an honour I was very unwilling to receive, my age and the misfortune of losing my left eye, which continues in a painful and very ill condition, making me unfit to attend my duty in Parliament so constantly as I should, and indeed the pain which this eye gives me and the weakness of the other, which prevents in a great measure the satisfaction and amusement I used to have in reading, makes life very uncomfortable.4
He died 22 Oct. 1736, leaving his papers and the bulk of his fortune to Worcester College.5