William Oram‘s posthumous book, Precepts and Observations on the Art of Colouring in Landscape Painting, was published in 1810 by Charles Clarke. Who was he, and why did he wait so long to publish Oram’s Precepts and Observations?
Clarke’s background is obscure, not least because his family was (mostly) Catholic and so do not figure well in eighteenth-century English parish records. His DNB profile suggests he was “probably born in Rochester, Kent” on the strength of some antiquarian articles he published in the Gentleman’s Magazine under the pseudonym of Indagator Roffensis (native of Rochester). However, we have no certain details. He first appears in the records when he was appointed Clerk of the Ordnance office at Chatham in 1783. He was then posted to Gravesend in 1790, and to Guernsey in 1800. Rather unusually, he retired in 1807 at the age of about 47, on a nice pension of £200 p.a. He then lived on until 1840, when he was about 80.
His series of antiquarian articles, mostly on churches, span the early period from 1783 to 1794. His antiquarian papers brought him to the attention, and friendship, of Rev. Samuel Denne, himself a keen antiquarian. A number of Denne’s letters were published by Nichols in Illustrations of Literature, and in one of these letters, Denne says of Clarke that “he is, I know, a valetudinarian, and not very willing to pass an hour or two in a cold damp place, and such is a country church in a winter month” (vol. 6, 622) and later, “at times I have discovered a degree of backwardness in him that may be, however, partly owing to occasional bodily infirmities, he being, as I suspect, of what is termed the nervous class” (662). Perhaps his early retirement from the Ordnance Office was due to ill-health. Continue reading