Thursday, May 10, 2012

John Clerk of Eldin

‘John Clerk of Eldin, the author of the work on naval
tactics, died in May, 1812. An interesting and delightful
old man; full of the peculiarities that distinguished the
whole family — talent, caprice, obstinacy, worth, kindness,
and oddity. His claim to the merit of having first sug-
gested the idea of breaking the enemy's line in naval war,
is now disputed on grounds which are at least plausible
and formidable. It is possible that the same thought may
have occurred to different men at the same time; and my
conviction of the honesty of Clerk is so complete, that I
am certain he would have disdained to claim a discovery
which he had not made. That conception however forms
just a small part of his scientific merit; for though it
the matter with which his name happens to be chiefly con-
nected in public talk, he was looked up to with defer-
ence by all the philosophers of his day, who were in
the habit of constantly receiving hints and views from
him, which they deemed of great value. He was a
striking looking old gentleman with his grizzly hair, vig-
orous features, and Scotch speech. It would be difficult
to say whether jokes or disputation pleased him most. I
know no better account of the progress of a father and a
son than what I once heard him give of himself and of
his son John, in nearly these very words — "I remember
the time when people, seeing John limping on the street,
need to ask, what lame lad that was? and the answer
would be, that's the son of Clerk of Eldin. But now,
when I myself am passing, I hear them saying what,
auld gray-headed man is that? And the answer is, that's
the father of John Clerk." He was much prouder of the
last mark than of the first. ‘

The description of John Clerk of Eldin above was written by Henry Cockburn, and is found in his “Memorials of his Time”.  John Clerk was the brother of Walter Scott’s friend Will Clerk.  Today marks the 200th anniversary of John Clerk of Eldin’s death; May 10, 1812. 

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