Lives of the fellows

Andrew Clench

b.? d.January 1691/2
MD Cantab(1671) FRCP(1680) FRS(1680)

Andrew Clench, MD, was created doctor of medicine at Cambridge, by royal mandate, 29th March, 1671; and was admitted a Candidate of the College of Physicians 22nd December, 1677; and a Fellow 23rd December, 1680. Of his professional career I am unable to recover any particulars. Dr Clench was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society 22nd April, 1680. He was, as we learn from Evelyn (Diary), barbarously murdered, under circumstances of great atrocity, in the month of January, 1691-2. “This week,” writes he, “a most execrable murder was committed on Dr Clench, father of that extraordinary learned child whom I have before mentioned. Under pretence of carrying him in a coach to see a patient, they strangled him in it; and, sending away the coachman under some pretence, they left his dead body in the coach, and escaped in the dark of the evening.” A man of the name of Harrison was convicted of the murder and executed.

The account given by Evelyn of Dr Clench’s extraordinary son is so interesting that I make no apology for extracting it:-
“27th January, 1688-9. I dined at the Admiralty, where was brought in a child not twelve years old, the son of one Dr Clench, of the most prodigious maturity of knowledge, for I cannot call it altogether memory, but something more extraordinary. Mr Pepys and myself examined him, not in any method, but promiscuously, with questions which required judgment and discernment to answer so readily and pertinently. There was not anything in chronology, history, geography, the several systems of astronomy, courses of the stars, longitude, latitude, doctrine of the spheres, courses and sources of rivers, creeks, harbours, eminent cities, boundaries and bearings of countries, not only in Europe, but in any other part of the earth; which he did not readily resolve and demonstrate his knowledge of, readily drawing out with a pen anything he would describe. He was able to repeat not only the most famous things which are left us in any of the Greek and Roman histories, monarchies, republics, wars, colonies, exploits by sea and land, but all the sacred stories of the New and Old Testament, the succession of all the monarchies - Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman; with all the lower emperors, popes, heresiarchs, and councils, what they were called about, what they determined on in the controversy about Easter; the tenets of the Gnostics, Sabellians, Arians, Nestorians; the difference between St Cyprian and Stephen about rebaptization; the schisms, &c. We leaped from that to other things totally different - to Olympic years and synchronisms; we asked him questions which could not be resolved without considerable meditation and judgment; nay, of some particulars of the civil laws, of the digest, and code. He gave a stupendous account of both natural and moral philosophy, and even in metaphysics.

“Having thus exhausted ourselves rather than this wondrous child, or angel rather, for he was as beautiful and lovely in countenance as in knowledge, we concluded with asking him if, in all he had read or heard of, he had ever met with anything which was like this expedition of the Prince of Orange, with so small a force to obtain three great kingdoms without any contest. After a little thought he told us that he knew of nothing which did more resemble it than the coming of Constantine the Great out of Britain, through France and Italy, so tedious a march, to meet Maxentius, whom he overthrew at Pons Milvius with very little conflict, and at the very gates of Rome, which he entered, and was received with triumph, and obtained the empire not of three kingdoms only, but of all the known world. He was perfect in Latin authors, spake French naturally, and gave us a description of France, Italy, Savoy, Spain anciently and modernly divided, as also of ancient Greece, Scythia, and northern countries and tracts. We left questioning farther.

“He did this without any set or formal repetitions, as one who had learned things without book, and as if he minded other things, going about the room and toying with a parrot there, and, as he was at dinner (tanquam aliud agens, as it were), seeming to be full of play, of a lively, sprightly temper, always smiling and exceeding pleasant, without the least levity, rudeness, or childishness.

“His father assured us he never imposed anything to charge his memory by causing him to get things by heart, not even the rules of grammar; but his tutor (who was a Frenchman) read to him first in French, then in Latin; that he usually played amongst other boys four or five hours every day, and that he was as earnest at his play as at his study. He was perfect in arithmetic, and now newly entered into Greek. In sum, horresco referens, I had read of divers forward and precocious youths, and some I have known; but I never either did hear or read of anything like to this sweet child, if it be right to call him child who has more knowledge than most men in the world. I counselled his father not to set his heart too much on this jewel. Immodicis brevis est ætas et rara senectus.

William Munk

(Volume I, page 419)

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