Life and Remains of John Clare - "The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet"
by J. L. Cherry
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The "Northamptonshire Peasant Poet"






"And he sat him down in a lonely place, And chanted a melody loud and sweet." Tennyson.





Among the papers which John Clare, the "Peasant Poet" of our county, left behind him, was one in which he desired that the Editor of his "Remains" should dedicate them "to Earl Spencer, with the Author's last wishes."

That memorandum was written in the year 1825, when the poet was anticipating, to use his own words, a speedy entrance into "the dark porch of eternity, whence none returns to tell the tale of his reception."

These melancholy forebodings were not realized, for although in a few years Clare became dead to the world, he lived on in seclusion to a patriarchal age. Meanwhile the Earl Spencer to whom he desired that his "Remains" should be dedicated passed away, and the title descended first to your lordship's uncle, then to your lordship's father, and lastly to your lordship. But through all these years the Earls Spencer were the steadfast and generous friends of the unhappy Poet, nor did your lordship's bounty cease with his life, but was continued to his widow.

In dedicating this volume to your lordship, as I now do, I am complying with the spirit and almost with the very letter of poor Clare's injunction.

I am, with unfeigned respect,

Your lordship's most obedient servant,



The Editor begs the reader to believe that he under took the compilation of this volume with diffidence and trepidation, lest by any defect of judgment he might do aught to diminish the reputation which John Clare has always enjoyed with the lovers of pastoral poetry. He trusts that the shortcomings of an unskilful workman will be forgotten in admiration of the gems for which he has been required to find a setting.

Shortly after Clare's death his literary "Remains" came into the possession of Mr. Taylor, of Northampton. The MSS included several hundreds of hitherto unpublished poems, more than a thousand letters addressed to Clare by his friends and contemporaries, (among them Charles Lamb, James Montgomery, Bloomfield, Sir Chas. A. Elton, Hood, Cary, Allan Cunningham, Mrs. Emmerson, Lord Radstock, &c), diary, pocket books in which Clare had jotted down passing thoughts and fancies in prose and verse, a small collection of curious "Old Ballads" which he says he wrote down on hearing them sung by his father and mother, and numerous other valuable and interesting documents.

This volume has been compiled mainly from these manuscripts. The contents are divided into five sections, namely:—Life and Letters, Asylum Poems, Miscellaneous Poems, Prose Fragments, Old Ballads.

For much of the information relating to the Poet's earlier years the Editor is indebted to Mr. Martin's "Life of Clare," and the narratives of his youthful struggles and sufferings which appeared in the "Quarterly Review" and other periodicals at the time of the publication of his first volume. From that time the correspondence already mentioned became the basis of the biographical sketch, and was of the greatest value. In the few pages which relate to Clare's residence at Northampton, the Editor was enabled to write principally from personal knowledge.

It is almost incumbent upon him to add, that in several important particulars he dissents from Mr. Martin, but he will not engage in the ungracious task of criticizing a work to which he is under an obligation.

While an inmate of the Northampton County Lunatic Asylum, Clare wrote more than five hundred poems. These were carefully preserved by Mr. W. F. Knight, of Birmingham, a gentleman who for many years held a responsible office in that institution, and was a kind-hearted friend of the unhappy bard. From this pile of manuscripts the Editor has selected those which appear under the title of Asylum Poems. The selection was a pleasing, mournful task. Again and again it happened that a poem would open with a bright, musical stanza giving promise of a finished work not unworthy of Clare's genius at its best. This would be followed by others in which, to quote a line from the "Village Minstrel," were "Half-vacant thoughts and rhymes of careless form." Then came deeper obscurity, and at last incoherent nonsense. Of those which are printed, scarcely one was found in a state in which it could be submitted to the public without more or less of revision and correction.

The Miscellaneous Poems are chiefly fugitive pieces collected from magazines and annuals. One or two, referred to in the correspondence with James Montgomery, have been reprinted from the "Rural Muse," and there are a few which, like the Asylum Poems, have not been published before. "Maying; or, Love and Flowers," to which the Editor presumes specially to direct attention, is one of these.

The Prose Fragments are of minor literary importance, but they help to a knowledge and an understanding of the man. The Old Ballads have an interest of their own, apart from their association with Clare. The majority are no doubt what they purport to be, but in two or three instances Clare's hand is discernible.

J. L. C.

Havelock-place, Hanley,

December, 1872.




'T is Spring, My Love, 't is Spring Love of Nature The Invitation To the Lark Graves of Infants Bonny Lassie O! Phoebe of the Scottish Glen Maid of the Wilderness Mary Bateman When Shall We Meet Again? The Lover's Invitation Nature's Darling I'll Dream Upon the Days to Come To Isobel The Shepherd's Daughter Lassie, I Love Thee The Gipsy Lass At the Foot of Clifford Hill To My Wife—A Valentine My True Love is a Sailor The Sailor's Return Birds, Why Are Ye Silent? Meet Me Tonight Young Jenny Adieu My Bonny Alice and Her Pitcher The Maiden I Love To Jenny Lind Little Trotty Wagtail The Forest Maid Bonnny Mary O! Love's Emblem The Morning Walk To Miss C.... I Pluck Summer Blossoms The March Nosegay Left Alone To Mary The Nightingale The Dying Child Mary Clock-a Clay Spring Evening The Swallow Jockey and Jenny The Face I Love So Dearly The Beanfield Where She Told Her Love Milking O' the Kye A Lover's Vows The Fall of the Year Autumn Early Love Evening A Valentine To Liberty Approach of Winter Mary Dove Spring's Nosegay The Lost One The Tell-Tale Flowers The Skylark Poets Love Nature—A Fragment Home Yearnings My Schoolboy Days Love Lives Beyond the Tomb My Early Home Mary Appleby Among the Green Bushes To Jane The Old Year


Maying; or, A Love of Flowers Two Sonnets to Mary The Vanities of Life March The Old Man's Lament Spring Flowers Poem on Death The Wanton Chloe The Old Shepherd To a Rosebud in Humble Life The Triumphs of Time To John Milton The Birds and St. Valentine Farewell and Defiance to Love The Gipsy's Song Peggy Band To a Brook


A Confession of Faith Essay on Popularity Scraps for an Essay on Criticism and Fashion Scraps for an Essay on Criticism


Adieu to My False Love Forever O Silly Love! O Cunning Love! Nobody Cometh to Woo Fare Thee Well Mary Neele Love Scorned By Pride Betrayed The Maiden's Welcome The False Knight's Tragedy Love's Riddle The Banks of Ivory


Bedlam cowslip: the paigle, or larger kind of cowslip. Bents: tall, coarse, rushy stems of grass. Blea: high, exposed. Bleb: a bubble, a small drop. Clock-a-clay: the ladybird. Daffies: daffodils. Dithering: trembling, shivering. Hing: preterite of hang. Ladysmock: the cardamine pratensis. Pink: the chaffinch. Pooty: the girdled snail shell. Ramping: coarse and large. Rawky: misty, foggy. Rig: the ridge of a roof. Sueing: a murmuring, melancholy sound. Swaly: wasteful. Sweltered: over-heated by the sun. Twitchy: made of twitch grass. Water-Hob: the marsh marigold.



John Clare, son of Parker and Ann Clare, commonly called "the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet," was born at Helpstone, near Peterborough, on the 13th of July, 1793. The lowliness of his lot lends some countenance to the saying of "Melancholy" Burton, that "poverty is the Muses' patrimony." He was the elder of twins, and was so small an infant that his mother used to say of him that "John might have been put into a pint pot." Privation and toil disabled his father at a comparatively early age, and he became a pauper, receiving from the parish an allowance of five shillings a week. His mother was of feeble constitution and was afflicted with dropsy. Clare inherited the low vitality of his parents, and until he reached middle age was subject to depressing ailments which more than once threatened his life, but after that time the failure of his mental powers caused him to be placed in circumstances favourable to bodily health, and in his old age he presented the outward aspect of a sturdy yeoman.

Having endowed Clare with high poetic sensibility, Nature capriciously placed him amid scenes but little calculated to call forth rapturous praises of her charms. "Helpstone," wrote an old friend of the poet, lately deceased, "lies between six and seven miles NNW of Peterborough, on the Syston and Peterborough branch of the Midland Railway, the station being about half a mile from the town. A not unpicturesque country lies about it, though its beauty is somewhat of the Dutch character; far-stretching distances, level meadows, intersected with grey willows and sedgy dikes, frequent spires, substantial watermills, and farm houses of white stone, and cottages of white stone also. Southward, a belt of wood, with a gentle rise beyond, redeems it from absolute flatness. Entering the town by the road from the east you come to a cross, standing in the midst of four ways. Before you, and to the left, stretches the town, consisting of wide streets or roadways, with irregular buildings on either side, interspersed with gardens now lovely with profuse blooms of laburnum and lilac."

The cottage in which John Clare was born is in the main street running south. The views of it which illustrate his poems are not very accurate. They represent it as standing alone, when it is in fact, and evidently always has been, a cluster of two if not of three tenements. There are three occupations now. It is on the west side of the street, and is thatched. In the illustration to the second volume of "The Village Minstrel" (1821), an open stream runs before the door which is crossed by a plank. Modern sanitary regulations have done away with this, if it ever existed and was not a fancy of the artist.


Clare, whose local attachments were intense, bewails in indignant verse the demolition of the Green:—

Ye injur'd fields, ye once were gay, When Nature's hand displayed Long waving rows of willows grey And clumps of hawthorn shade; But now, alas! your hawthorn bowers All desolate we see! The spoiler's axe their shade devours, And cuts down every tree.

Not trees alone have owned their force, Whole woods beneath them bowed, They turned the winding rivulet's course, And all thy pastures plough'd.

Clare also wrote in the "Village Minstrel" in the following candid and artless strain, "a sort of defiant parody on the Highland poets", of the natural features of his native place:—

Swamps of wild rush-beds and sloughs' squashy traces, Grounds of rough fallows with thistle and weed. Flats and low valleys of kingcups and daisies, Sweetest of subjects are ye for my reed: Ye commons left free in the rude rags of nature, Ye brown heaths beclothed in furze as ye be, My wild eye in rapture adores every feature, Ye are dear as this heart in my bosom to me.

O native endearments! I would not forsake ye, I would not forsake ye for sweetest of scenes: For sweetest of gardens that Nature could make me I would not forsake ye, dear valleys and greens: Though Nature ne'er dropped ye a cloud-resting mountain, Nor waterfalls tumble their music so free, Had Nature denied ye a bush, tree, or fountain, Ye still had been loved as an Eden by me.

And long, my dear valleys, long, long may ye flourish, Though rush-beds and thistles make most of your pride! May showers never fail the green's daisies to nourish, Nor suns dry the fountain that rills by its side! Your skies may be gloomy, and misty your mornings, Your flat swampy valleys unwholesome may be, Still, refuse of Nature, without her adornings Ye are dear as this heart in my bosom to me.

That the poet's attachment to his native place was deeprooted and unaffected was proved by the difficulty which he found in tearing himself from it in after years, and it is more than probable that the violence which, for the sake of others, he then did to his sensitive nature aggravated his constitutional melancholy and contributed to the ultimate overthrow of his reason.


Clare's opportunities for learning the elements of knowledge were in keeping with his humble station. Parker Clare, out of his miserable and fluctuating earnings as a day labourer, paid for his child's schooling until he was seven years of age, when he was set to watch sheep and geese on the village heath. Here he made the acquaintance of "Granny Bains," of whom Mr. Martin, quoting, doubtless, from Clare's manuscript autobiography, says:—

"Having spent almost her whole life out of doors, in heat and cold, storm and rain, she had come to be intimately acquainted with all the signs of foreboding change of weather, and was looked upon by her acquaintances as a perfect oracle. She had also a most retentive memory, and being of a joyous nature, with a bodily frame that never knew illness, had learnt every verse or melody that was sung within her hearing, until her mind became a very storehouse of songs. To John, old Granny Bains soon took a great liking, he being a devout listener, ready to sit at her feet for hours and hours while she was warbling her little ditties, alternately merry and plaintive. But though often disturbed in the enjoyment of these delightful recitations, they nevertheless sank deep into John Clare's mind, until he found himself repeating all day long the songs he had heard, and even in his dreams kept humming:—

There sat two ravens upon a tree, Heigh down, derry O! There sat two ravens upon a tree, As deep in love as he and she.

It was thus that the admiration of poetry first awoke in Parker Clare's son, roused by the songs of Granny Bains, the cowherd of Helpstone."


From watching cows and geese, the boy was in due course promoted to the rank of team-leader, and was also set to assist his father in the threshing barn. "John," his father used to say, "was weak but willing," and the good man made his son a flail proportioned to his strength. Exposure in the ill-drained fields round Helpstone brought on an attack of tertiary ague, from which the boy had scarcely rallied when he was again sent into the fields. Favourable weather having set in, he recovered his health, and was able that summer to make occasionally a few pence by working overtime. These savings were religiously devoted to schooling, and in the following winter, he being then in his tenth year, he attended an evening school at the neighbouring village of Glinton. John soon became a favourite of the master, Mr. James Merrishaw, and was allowed the run of his little library. His passion for learning rapidly developed itself, and he eagerly devoured every book that came in his way, his reading ranging from "Robinson Crusoe" to "Bonnycastle's Arithmetic" and "Ward's Algebra." He refers to this in later life when he thus speaks of the "Village Minstrel":—

And oft, with books, spare hours he would beguile, And blunder oft with joy round Crusoe's lonely isle.

John pursued his studies for two or three winters under the guidance of the good-natured Merrishaw, and at the end of that time an unsuccessful effort was made to obtain for him a situation as clerk in the office of a solicitor at Wisbeach. After this failure he returned contentedly to the fields, and about this time found a new friend in the son of a small farmer named Turnill. The two youths read together, Turnill assisting Clare with books and writing materials. He now began to "snatch a fearful joy" by scribbling on scraps of paper his unpolished rhymes. "When he was fourteen or fifteen," to use his mother's own words, "he would show me a piece of paper, printed sometimes on one side and scrawled all over on the other, and he would say, 'Mother, this is worth silver and gold,' and I used to say to him, 'Ay, boy, it looks as if it wur,' but I thought he was only wasting his time." John deposited a bundle of these fragments in a chink in the cottage wall, whence "they were duly and daily subtracted by his mother to boil the morning's kettle," but we do not find that he was greatly disturbed by the loss, for being sympathetically asked on one occasion whether he had not kept copies of his earliest poems he replied that he had not, and that they were very likely good for nothing.

While he was yet in his early youth an important and, in some respects, a favourable change took place in the nature of his daily occupation. Among the few well-to-do inhabitants of Helpstone was a person named Francis Gregory, who owned a small public-house, under the sign of the Blue Bell, and rented besides a few acres of land. Francis Gregory, a most kind and amiable man, was unmarried, and kept house with his old mother, a female servant, and a lad, the latter half groom and half gardener. This situation, a yearly hiring, being vacant, it was offered to John, and eagerly accepted, on the understanding that he should have sufficient time of his own to continue his studies. It was a promise abundantly kept, for John Clare had never more leisure, and perhaps was never happier in his life than during the year that he stayed at the Blue Bell. Mr. Francis Gregory, suffering under constant illness, treated the pale little boy, who was always hanging over his books, more like a son than a servant, and this feeling was fully shared by Mr. Gregory's mother. John's chief labours were to attend to a horse and a couple of cows, and occasionally to do some light work in the garden or the potato field; and as these occupations seldom filled more than part of the day or the week, he had all the rest of the time to himself. A characteristic part of Clare's nature began to reveal itself now. While he had little leisure to himself, and much hard work, he was not averse to the society of friends and companions either, as in the case of Turnill, for study, or, as with others, for recreation; but as soon as he found himself to a certain extent his own master he forsook the company of his former acquaintances, and began to lead a sort of hermit's life. He took long strolls into the woods, along the meres, and to other lonely places, and got into the habit of remaining whole hours at some favourite spot, lying flat on the ground with his face towards the sky. "The flickering shadows of the sun, the rustling of the leaves on the trees, the sailing of the fitful clouds over the horizon, and the golden blaze of the sun at morn and eventide were to him spectacles of which his eye never tired, with which his heart never got satiated." (Martin.)


The age at which Clare's poetic fancies first wrought themselves into verse cannot be definitely fixed. We know from his steadfast friend and first editor, the late Mr. John Taylor, publisher to the London University, that his fondness for poetry found expression before even he had learnt to read. He was tired one day with looking at the pictures in a volume of poems, which he used to say he thought was Pomfret's, when his father read him one piece in the book to amuse him. This thrilled him with a delight of which he often afterwards spoke, but though he distinctly recollected the vivid pleasure which the recital gave him he could never recall either the incidents or the language. It may almost be taken for granted that so soon as Clare could write he began to rhyme. The Editor of this volume has before him the book in which the boy set down his arithmetical and geometrical exercises while a pupil of Mr. Merrishaw, and in this book are scribbled in pencil a few undecipherable lines commencing, "Good morning to ye, ballad-singing thrush." He was thirteen years old when an incident occurred which gave a powerful impulse to his dawning genius. A companion had shown him Thomson's "Seasons," and he was seized with an irrepressible desire to possess a copy. He ascertained that the book might be bought at Stamford for eighteenpence, and he entreated his father to give him the money. The poor man pleaded all too truthfully his poverty, but his mother, by great exertions, contrived to scrape together sevenpence, and the deficiency was made up by loans from friends in the village. Next Sunday, John rose long before the dawn and walked to Stamford, a distance of seven miles, to buy a copy of the "Seasons," ignorant or forgetful of the fact that business was suspended on that day. After waiting for three or four hours before the shop to which he had been directed, he learnt from a passer-by that it would not be re-opened until the following morning, and he returned to Helpstone with a heavy heart. Next day he repeated his journey and bore off the much-coveted volume in triumph. He read as he walked back to Helpstone, but meeting with many interruptions clambered over the wall surrounding Burghley Park, and throwing himself on the grass read the volume through twice over before rising. It was a fine spring morning, and under the influence of the poems, the singing of birds, and the bright sunshine, he composed "The Morning Walk." This was soon followed by "The Evening Walk," and some other minor pieces.

At the age of sixteen, if we may trust the account given by his early friend Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, in the "London Magazine" for January, 1820, Clare composed the following sonnet "To a Primrose":—

Welcome, pale primrose, starting up between Dead matted leaves of oak and ash, that strew The every lawn, the wood, and spinney through, 'Mid creeping moss and ivy's darker green! How much thy presence beautifies the ground! How sweet thy modest, unaffected pride Glows on the sunny bank and wood's warm side! And where thy fairy flowers in groups are found The schoolboy roams enchantedly along, Plucking the fairest with a rude delight, While the meek shepherd stops his simple song, To gaze a moment on the pleasing sight, O'erjoyed to see the flowers that truly bring The welcome news of sweet returning Spring.

As we have traced the poet's history down to his sixteenth year, the next incident of importance may be anticipated: of course he fell in love, and the object of his first and purest affection was Mary Joyce, daughter of a farmer at Glinton. Little is known of this episode excepting that the maiden was very beautiful, that after a few months of blissful intercourse their frequent meetings came to the knowledge of Mary's father, who sternly forbad their continuance, and that although "Patty," Clare's future wife, was the theme of some pretty verses, Mary Joyce was always Clare's ideal of love and beauty, and when thirty years afterwards, he lost his reason, among the first indications of the approaching calamity was his declaration that Mary, who had then long been in her grave, had passed his window. While under the influence of this delusion he wrote the poem entitled "First Love's Recollections," of which the following are the first two stanzas:—

First love will with the heart remain When all its hopes are bye, As frail rose-blossoms still retain Their fragrance when they die; And joy's first dreams will haunt the mind With shades from whence they sprung, As summer leaves the stems behind On which spring's blossoms hung.

Mary! I dare not call thee dear, I've lost that right so long; Yet once again I vex thine ear With memory's idle song. Had time and change not blotted out The love of former days, Thou wert the last that I should doubt Of pleasing with my praise.

Clare's engagement at the Blue Bell having terminated, a stone mason of Market Deeping offered to teach him his craft on payment of a premium which, though a very moderate sum, was far beyond the means of Parker Clare. A shoemaker in the village next offered to take him as an apprentice, on condition that Clare found his own tools, but the youth's aversion to the trade was too great to be overcome. After that his father applied to the head gardener at Burghley Park, who engaged Clare on the terms of a three years' apprenticeship, with eight shillings per week for the first year and an advance of one shilling per week in each succeeding year. The engagement was considered by Clare's father and mother to be a very fortunate and promising one, but it proved to be in a high degree prejudicial to his welfare. He was thrown into the society of a set of coarse- minded, intemperate fellows who insisted on his accompanying them in their frequent and forbidden visits to public houses in the neighbourhood. Mr. Martin informs us that it was the custom at Burghley to lock up at night all the workmen and apprentices employed under the head gardener, to prevent them from robbing the orchards, and that they regularly made their escape through a window. On several occasions Clare was overcome by drink and slept in the open air, with consequences to his delicate frame which may easily be imagined. It would appear that the head gardener set the example of habitual drunkenness to his subordinates, and that he was, moreover, of brutal disposition, which will account for the circumstance of the flight of Clare from Burghley Park, after he had been there nearly a year. Accompanied by a fellow-apprentice he walked to Grantham, a distance of twenty-two miles, and thence to Newark, where the youths obtained employment under a nurseryman. But Clare very shortly became homesick, and he returned to his parents in a state of complete destitution.

The most lamentable consequence of the roystering life which Clare led with the gardeners at Burghley was, that he acquired a fondness for strong drink with which he had to struggle, not always successfully, for years. That he did struggle manfully is evident from his correspondence, and at length, acting upon the advice of Dr. Darling, a London physician, who for a long time generously prescribed for him without fee or reward beyond the poet's grateful thanks, he abstained altogether. It will be seen hereafter that in all probability Dr. Darling's advice was given upon the supposition that Clare was able to procure a sufficient supply of nourishing food, when unhappily he was almost literally starving himself, in order that his family might not go hungry.

On returning from Nottinghamshire Clare took again to the work of a farm labourer, and the poetic fervour which had abated in the uncongenial society of Burghley once more manifested itself. After taking infinite pains to that end, he had the satisfaction of convincing his father and mother that his poetry was of somewhat greater merit than the half-penny ballads sold at the village feast; but his neighbours could not bring themselves to approve John's course of life, and they adopted various disagreeable modes of showing that they thought he was a mightily presumptuous fellow. His shy manners and his habit of talking to himself as he walked led some to set him down as a lunatic; others ridiculed his enthusiasm, or darkly whispered suspicions of unhallowed intercourse with evil spirits. This treatment, operating upon a sensitive mind and a body debilitated both by labour and scanty and unwholesome food, had the natural effect of robbing him of hope and buoyancy of spirits. In a fit of desperation he enlisted in the militia, and with other Helpstone youths was marched off to Oundle, a small town lying between Peterborough and Northampton. He remained at Oundle for a few weeks, at the end of which time the regiment was disbanded and Clare returned to Helpstone, carrying with him "Paradise Lost" and "The Tempest," which he had bought at a broker's shop in Oundle. This brings us down to 1812, when Clare was nineteen years old.

Little is known of Clare's manner of life for the next four or five years, excepting that he continued to work as a farm labourer whenever work could be found, that he tried camp life with some gipsies, and speedily had his romantic ideas of its attractiveness rudely dispelled, that he had a love passage or two with girls of the village and that he accumulated a large number of poems of varying degrees of excellence.

In 1817 he obtained employment as a lime burner at Bridge Casterton, in the neighbouring county of Rutland, where he earned about ten shillings per week. The labour was very severe, but Clare was contented, and during his stay at Bridge Casterton several of the best among his earlier poems were produced. It was probably this period of his life which he had in his mind when he said:—

I found the poems in the fields, And only wrote them down.

In the course of this year 1817 Clare fell in love with Martha Turner, the daughter of a cottage farmer living at a place called Walkherd Lodge, and this is the maiden who after the lapse of three or four years became his wife. "She was a fair girl of eighteen, slender, with regular features, and pretty blue eyes." Clare entered into this new engagement with passionate ardour, but the courtship ultimately took a more prosaic turn, and having once done so, there was little in the worthy but illiterate and matter-of-fact "Patty" to elevate the connection into the region of poetry. In his correspondence Clare more than once hints at want of sympathy on the part of those of his own household, and at one time domestic differences, for which there is reason to think he was mainly responsible, and which occurred when he was mentally in a very morbid condition, caused him to contemplate suicide. It is due, however, to the memory of "Patty" to say that Clare's latest volume of poems ("The Rural Muse," 1835) contains an address "To P * *" which is honourable to the constancy of both parties. It is as follows:—

Fair was thy bloom when first I met Thy summer's maiden-blossom; And thou art fair and lovely yet, And dearer to my bosom. O thou wert once a wilding flower, All garden flowers excelling, And still I bless the happy hour That led me to thy dwelling.

Though nursed by field, and brook, and wood, And wild in every feature, Spring ne'er unsealed a fairer bud, Nor found a blossom sweeter. Of all the flowers the spring hath met, And it has met with many, Thou art to me the fairest yet, And loveliest of any.

Though ripening summers round thee bring Buds to thy swelling bosom, That wait the cheering smiles of spring To ripen into blossom. These buds shall added blessings be, To make our loves sincerer, For as their flowers resemble thee They'll make thy memory dearer.

And though thy bloom shall pass away, By winter overtaken, Thoughts of the past will charms display, And many joys awaken. When time shall every sweet remove, And blight thee on my bosom, Let beauty fade!—to me, my love, Thou'lt ne'er be out of blossom!


Although Clare's engagement to Martha Turner added to his perplexities, it was really the immediate moving cause of his determination to be up and doing. He resolved at length to publish a collection of his poems, and consulted Mr. Henson, a printer, of Market Deeping, on the subject. Mr. Henson offered to print three hundred copies of a prospectus for a sovereign, but he firmly declined the invitation of the poet to draw up that document. Clare resolutely set to work to save the money for the printer, and soon succeeded; but then there was the difficulty with regard to the composition of the address to the public. He could write poetry; that he knew; he had done so already, and he felt plenty more within; but prose he had never yet attempted, and the task was a really grievous one. This is his own account of his trouble, given in the introduction to the "Village Minstrel:"—

"I have often dropped down five or six times, to plan an address. In one of these musings my poor thoughts lost themselves in rhyme. Taking a view, as I sat beneath the shelter of a woodland hedge, of my parents' distresses at home, of my labouring so hard and so vainly to get out of debt, and of my still added perplexities of ill-timed love, striving to remedy all to no purpose, I burst out into an exclamation of distress, 'What is life?' and instantly recollecting that such a subject would be a good one for a poem, I hastily scratted down the two first verses of it, as it stands, and continued my journey to work." When he got to the limekiln he could not work for thinking of the address which he had to write, "so I sat me down on a lime scuttle," he says, "and out with my pencil, and when I had finished I started off for Stamford with it." There he posted the address to Mr. Henson. It ran as follows:—

"Proposals for publishing by subscription a Collection of Original Trifles on Miscellaneous Subjects, Religious and Moral, in verse, by John Clare, of Helpstone. The public are requested to observe that the Trifles humbly offered for their candid perusal can lay no claim to eloquence of composition: whoever thinks so will be deceived, the greater part of them being juvenile productions, and those of later date offsprings of those leisure intervals which the short remittance from hard and manual labour sparingly afforded to compose them. It is to be hoped that the humble situation which distinguishes their author will be some excuse in their favour, and serve to make an atonement for the many inaccuracies and imperfections that will be found in them. The least touch from the iron hand of Criticism is able to crush them to nothing, and sink them at once to utter oblivion. May they be allowed to live their little day and give satisfaction to those who may choose to honour them with a perusal, they will gain the end for which they were designed and the author's wishes will be gratified. Meeting with this encouragement it will induce him to publish a similar collection of which this is offered as a specimen."

The specimen was the "Sonnet to the Setting Sun," in which a comparison is drawn between sunset and the death of a Christian. The address was too artless, too honest, and the people of the Fens, taking Clare at his word, subscribed for exactly seven copies! The state of excitement, caused by mingled hopes and fears, in which Clare was at this time may be seen from the following extract from a letter to Mr. Henson:—"Good God! How great are my expectations! What hopes do I cherish! As great as the unfortunate Chatterton's were, on his first entrance into London, which is now pictured in my mind. And, undoubtedly, like him I may be building castles in the air, but time will prove it. Please to do all in your power to procure subscribers, as your address will be looked upon better than that of a clown. When two are got you may print it, if you please; so do your best."


But now fresh troubles came upon Clare in rapid succession. He quarrelled with Patty and was forbidden the house by her parents. He was discharged by his master on the probably well-grounded plea that he was writing poetry and distributing his address when he ought to be at work, and he was soon without a penny in the world. He returned to Helpstone and tried to get employment as a day labourer, but failed; the farmers, who had heard of the publishing project, considering that "he did not know his place." In this extremity he was compelled to apply for and accept relief from the parish. This was in the autumn of 1818, and Clare was twenty-five years old. Henson declined to begin the printing of the book unless Clare advanced the sum of L15, and this being impossible the negotiation fell through. Clare shortly afterwards, with the two-fold object of finding employment and obtaining relief from mental distraction by change of scene, was on the point of setting out for Yorkshire, when a copy of his prospectus fell under the notice of Mr. Edward Drury, a bookseller, of Stamford. Mr. Drury called upon Clare at his own home, and with difficulty induced him to show him a few of his manuscript poems. Having read, among others, "My love, thou art a nosegay sweet," he was unable to conceal his gratification, and told Clare, to the poor poet's intense delight, that if he would procure the return of the poems in the possession of Mr. Henson he would publish a volume and give Clare the profits after deducting expenses.

On this footing the poet became intimate with Mr. Drury, who frequently entertained him at his house. His letters to Clare are cordial, and disclose an honest desire to be of service to him, on which account it is the more to be regretted that, owing to a dispute which afterwards took place between Mr. Drury and Mr. Taylor, Clare's London publisher, Clare rather ungraciously separated himself from his early friend. He was clearly indebted to Mr. Drury in the first instance for the opportunity of emerging from obscurity into public notice, and also for introductions to Mr. Taylor and Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, both men of influence in literary circles, and both of whom took an active and genuine interest in the young poet. Mr. Taylor, as has been already stated, became his editor and publisher, and remained his faithful friend until after Clare had been lost to public view within the walls of a lunatic asylum.

Towards the end of 1819 Clare met Mr. Taylor at the house of Mr. Gilchrist, in Stamford, and the latter gentleman gave the following account of the interview in a patronizing and not very judicious article which appeared in the "London Magazine" for January, 1820:—

"Mr. Taylor had seen Clare, for the first time, in the morning; and he doubted much if our invitation would be accepted by the rustic poet, who had now just returned from his daily labour, shy, and reserved, and disarrayed as he was. In a few minutes, however, Clare announced his arrival by a hesitating knock at the door—'between a single and a double rap'—and immediately upon his introduction he dropped into a chair. Nothing could exceed the meekness, simplicity, and diffidence with which he answered the various enquiries concerning his life and habits, which we mingled with subjects calculated or designed to put him much at his ease. Of music he expressed himself passionately fond, and had learnt to play a little on the violin, in the humble hope of obtaining a trifle at the annual feasts in the neighbourhood, and at Christmas. The tear stole silently down the cheek of the rustic poet as one of our little party sang 'Auld Robin Gray.'"

Mr. Martin gives a somewhat different account of this interview. He states that the poet took decidedly too much wine, and that while under its influence he wrote some doggerel verses which Mr. Gilchrist had the cruelty to print in the article intended formally to introduce Clare to the notice of the English public. Mr. Gilchrist was an accomplished and warm-hearted man, and it was by his desire that Hilton, the Royal Academical, painted Clare's portrait for exhibition in London, but he presumed too much upon his social superiority, and his judgment was at fault in supposing that the poet was all meekness and diffidence. On one occasion he took him sharply to task for associating with a Nonconformist minister, and Clare warmly resented this interference and for a time absented himself from Mr. Gilchrist's house. A conciliation, however, soon took place, and the poet and the learned grocer of Stamford were fast friends until the death of the latter in 1823.


Clare's first volume was brought out by Taylor and Hessey in January, 1820. It was entitled "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery," and contained an introduction from the pen of Mr. Taylor. In this preface the peculiarities of Clare's genius were described with force and propriety, his perseverance in the face of great discouragements was commended, and the sympathy and support of the public were invited in the following passage:—

"No poet of our country has shown greater ability under circumstances so hostile to its development. And all this is found here without any of those distressing and revolting alloys which too often debase the native worth of genius, and make him who was gifted with powers to command admiration live to be the object of contempt or pity. The lower the condition of its possessor the more unfavourable, generally, has been the effect of genius on his life. That this has not been the case with Clare may, perhaps, be imputed to the absolute depression of his fortune. When we hear the consciousness of possessing talent, and the natural irritability of the poetic temperament, pleaded in extenuation of the follies and vices of men in high life, let it be accounted no mean praise to such a man as Clare that with all the excitements of their sensibility to his station he has preserved a fair character amid dangers which presumption did not create and difficulties which discretion could not avoid. In the real troubles of life, when they are not brought on by the misconduct of the individual, a strong mind acquires the power of righting itself after each attack, and this philosophy, not to call it by a better name, Clare possesses. If the expectations of a 'better life,' which he cannot help indulging, should all be disappointed by the coldness with which this volume may be received, he can 'put up with distress, and be content.' In one of his letters he says, 'If my hopes don't succeed the hazard is not of much consequence: if I fall, I am advanced at no great distance from my low condition: if I sink for want of friends my old friend Necessity is ready to help me as before. It was never my fortune as yet to meet advancement from friendship: my fate has ever been hard labour among the most vulgar and lowest conditions of men, and very small is the pittance hard labour allows me, though I always toiled even beyond my strength to obtain it.' To see a man of talent struggling under great adversity with such a spirit must surely excite in every generous heart the wish to befriend him. But if it be otherwise, and he should be doomed to remediless misery,

Why, let the stricken deer go weep, The hart ungalled play, For some must watch, while some sleep,— Thus runs the world away."

Towards the end of January 1820, the Rev Mr. Holland of Northborough, the minister already referred to, called upon Clare with the joyful news that his poems had been published, and that the volume was a great success. Next day a messenger arrived from Stamford with an invitation to the poet to meet Mr. Drury and Mr. Gilchrist. They confirmed the favourable report made by Mr. Holland, and at length Clare had an opportunity of seeing the book which had caused him so many anxious days and sleepless nights. He made no attempt to conceal the honest pride he felt on receiving the congratulations of his friends, and acknowledged his obligation to Mr. Taylor for the editorial pains he had taken to prepare his manuscripts for the press, but he was deeply mortified at the tone of the "Introduction" in which Mr. Taylor dwelt, perhaps unconsciously, on Clare's poverty as constituting his chief claim to public notice.

The success of the "Poems" could scarcely be overstated. The eager curiosity of the public led to the first edition being exhausted in a few days, and a second was promptly announced. "The Gentleman's Magazine," the "New Monthly Magazine," the "Eclectic Review," the "Anti-Jacobin Review," the "London Magazine," and many other periodicals, welcomed the new poet with generous laudation. Following these came the "Quarterly Review," then under the editorship of the trenchant Gifford. To the astonishment of the reading public, the "Quarterly," which about this time "killed poor Keats," admitted a genial article on the rustic bard, and gave him the following excellent advice:—

"We counsel, we entreat him to continue something of his present occupations, to attach himself to a few in the sincerity of whose friendship he can confide, and to suffer no temptations of the idle and the dissolute to seduce him from the quiet scenes of his youth (scenes so congenial to his taste) to the hollow and heartless society of cities, to the haunts of men who would court and flatter him while his name was new, and who, when they had contributed to distract his attention and impair his health, would cast him off unceremoniously to seek some other novelty. Of his again encountering the difficulties and privations he lately experienced there is no danger. Report speaks of honourable and noble friends already secured: with the aid of these, the cultivation of his own excellent talents, and a meek but firm reliance on that good Power by whom these were bestowed, he may, without presumption, anticipate a rich reward in the future for the evils endured in the morning of his life."

The estimate formed by the writer of the liberality of Clare's patrons was exaggerated, and instead of there being no danger of his ever again having to encounter difficulties and privations he was scarcely ever free from them until the crowning privation had placed him beyond their influence.


The "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" were about seventy in number, including twenty-one sonnets. The volume opened with an apostrophe to Helpstone, in the manner of Goldsmith, and among the longer pieces were "The Fate of Amy," "Address to Plenty in Winter," "Summer Morning," "Summer Evening," and "Crazy Nell." The minor pieces included the sonnet "To the Primrose," already quoted, "My love, thou art a Nosegay sweet," and "What is Life?", a reflective poem produced under circumstances with which the reader has been made acquainted. The compositions last named are inserted here as examples of Clare's style at this early period of his career:—


My love, thou art a nosegay sweet, My sweetest flower I'll prove thee, And pleased I pin thee to my breast, And dearly do I love thee.

And when, my nosegay, thou shalt fade, As sweet a flower thou'lt prove thee; And as thou witherest on my breast For beauty past I'll love thee.

And when, my nosegay, thou shalt die, And heaven's flower shalt prove thee, My hopes shall follow to the sky, And everlasting love thee.


And what is Life? An hour-glass on the run, A mist retreating from the morning sun, A busy, bustling, still repeated dream; Its length?—A minute's pause, a moment's thought; And happiness?—a bubble on the stream, That in the act of seizing shrinks to nought.

What are vain hopes?—The puffing gale of morn, That of its charms divests the dewy lawn, And robs each flow'ret of its gem,—and dies; A cobweb hiding disappointment's thorn, Which stings more keenly through the thin disguise.

And what is Death? Is still the cause unfound? That dark, mysterious name of horrid sound?— A long and lingering sleep, the weary crave. And Peace? where can its happiness abound? No where at all, save heaven, and the grave. Then what is Life?—When stripp'd of its disguise, A thing to be desir'd it cannot be, Since everything that meets our foolish eyes Gives proof sufficient of its vanity. 'T is but a trial all must undergo, To teach unthankful mortals how to prize That happiness vain man's denied to know Until he's called to claim it in the skies.

The following lines in the "Address to Plenty" have always been admired for their Doric strength and simplicity, and the vivid realism of the scene which they depict:—

Toiling in the naked fields, Where no bush a shelter yields, Needy Labour dithering stands, Beats and blows his numbing hands, And upon the crumping snows Stamps, in vain, to warm his toes. Leaves are fled, that once had power To resist a summer shower; And the wind so piercing blows, Winnowing small the drifting snows;

Clare used at first, without hesitation, the provincialisms of his native county, but afterwards, as his mind matured, he saw the propriety of adopting the suggestions which Charles Lamb and other friends made to him on this subject, and his style gradually became more polished, until in the "Rural Muse" scarcely any provincialisms were employed, and the glossary of the earlier volumes was therefore unnecessary.

The article in the "Quarterly" was, with the exception, perhaps, of the concluding paragraph just quoted, from the pen of Clare's friend and neighbour, Mr. Gilchrist, who wrote to Clare on the subject in the following jocular strain:—

"What's to be done now, Maester? Here's a letter from William Gifford saying I promised him an article on one John Clare, for the 'Quarterly Review.' Did I do any such thing? Moreover, he says he has promised Lord Radstock, and if I know him, as he thinks I do, I know that the Lord will persecute him to the end. This does not move me much. But he adds, 'Do not fail me, dear Gil, for I count upon you. Tell your simple tale, and it may do the young bard good.' Think you so? Then it must be set about. But how to weave the old web anew—how to hoist the same rope again and again—how to continue the interest to a twice-told tale? Have you committed any arsons or murders that you have not yet revealed to me? If you have, out with 'em straight, that I may turn 'em to account before you are hanged; and as you will not come here to confess, I must hunt you up at Helpstone; so look to it, John Clare, for ere it be long, and before you expect me, I shall be about your eggs and bacon. I have had my critical cap on these two days, and the cat-o'-nine-tails in my hands, and soundly I'll flog you for your sundry sins, John Clare, John Clare!

Given under my hand the tenth of the fourth month, anno Domini 1820."


Following close upon the complimentary criticisms in the principal monthlies, the condescension of the "Quarterly" completed the little triumph, and Clare's verses became the fashion of the hour. One of his poems was set to music by Mr. Henry Corri, and sung by Madame Vestris at Covent Garden. Complimentary letters, frequently in rhyme, flowed in upon him, presents of books were brought by nearly every coach, [2] and influential friends set about devising plans (of which more presently) to rescue him from poverty and enable him to devote at all events a portion of his time to the Muses. On the other hand, visitors from idle curiosity were far more numerous than was agreeable, and he was pestered with applications for autographs and poems for ladies' albums, with patronage and advice from total strangers, with tracts from well-meaning clergymen, and with invitations to lionizing parties. One of these communications was in its way a unique production, and for the entertainment of the reader a portion of it is here introduced:—

"The darksome daughter of Chaos has now enveloped our hemisphere (which a short time since was enubilous of clouds) in the grossest blackness. The drowsy god reigns predominantly, and the obstreperous world is wrapped in profound silence. No sounds gliding through the ambient air salute my attentive auricles, save the frightful notes which at different intervals issue from that common marauder of nocturnal peace—the lonesome, ruin-dwelling owl. Wearied rustics, exhausted by the toils of the day, are enjoying a sweet and tranquil repose. No direful visions appal their happy souls, nor terrific ghosts of quondam hours stand arrayed before them. Every sense is lost in the oblivious stream. Even those who on the light, fantastic toe lately tripped through the tangled dance of mirth have sunk into the arms of Tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep. Meditation, avaunt! Respected (tho' unknown) Sir,—Out of the abundant store of your immutable condescension graciously deign to pardon the bold assurance and presumptuous liberty of an animated mass of undistinguished dust, whose fragile composition is most miraculously composed of congenial atoms so promiscuously concentred as to personify in an abstracted degree the beauteous form of man, to convey by proxy to your brilliant opthalmic organs the sincere thanks of a mild, gentle, and grateful heart for the delightful amusement I have experienced and the instruction I have reaped by reading your excellent poems, in (several of) which you have exquisitely given dame nature her natural form, and delineated her in colours so admirable that on the perusal of them I was led to exclaim with extacy Clare everywhere excels in the descriptive. But your literary prowess is too circuitously authenticated to admit of any punctilious commendation from my debilitated pen, and under its umbrageous recess, serenely segregated, from the malapert and hypochondriachal vapours of myopic critics (as I am no acromatic philosopher) I trust every solecism contained in this autographical epistle will find a salvable retirement. Tho' no Solitaire, I am irreversibly resolved to be on this occasion heteroclitical. I will not insult your good sense by lamenting the exigencies of the present times, as doubtless it always dictates to you to be (whilst travelling through the mazy labyrinth of joy and sorrow) humble in the lucent days of prosperity and omnific in the tenebricous moments of adversity."

Clare's claim to the title of poet having been established, his noble neighbours at Milton and Burghley invited him to visit them. At Milton Park he was graciously received by Earl Fitzwilliam and Lord and Lady Milton, after he had dined with the servants. A long conversation on his health, means, expectations, and principles was held, and he was dismissed with a very handsome present—an earnest of greater favours to come.

The visit to the Marquis of Exeter was equally gratifying. His lordship made himself acquainted with the state of the poet's affairs, and having read a number of unpublished effusions which Clare had taken with him, told him that it was his intention to allow him an annuity of fifteen pounds for life. The delight of the poor bard may be imagined without difficulty, for now he doubted not he could reconcile Patty's parents to the long hoped-for marriage, and deliver his mistress from anxieties which had for some time made life almost intolerable. He dined in the servants' hall. About the same time Clare also visited by invitation General Birch Reynardson, of Holywell Park—a visit full of romance, as narrated by Mr. Martin, a beautiful young lady, governess to the General's children, having to all appearances fallen desperately in love with the poet at first sight. The only unromantic incident of the day was the customary dinner at the servants' table. Clare's biographer, with excusable warmth, says that his local patrons, however much they might differ on other subjects, held that the true place of a poet was among footmen and kitchen maids. But it should not be forgotten that the noblemen named were life-long friends of Clare and his family, and it would be unjust to reflect upon their memory because the relations of "the hearty and generous Oxford," the Duke and Duchess of Queensbury, and Lord Bolingbroke with the polite and scholarly Prior, Gay, and Pope were not immediately established between the Marquis of Exeter or Earl Fitzwilliam and the gifted but unlettered rustic who had toiled in their fields.

Clare's proud spirit was almost always restive under the burden of patronage, especially if bestowed on account of his poverty, but we may feel sure that he did not expect to dine with these noblemen, that no indignity was intended in sending him to the common hall, and that it did not occur to him that he ought to feel insulted. Clare was married to Martha Turner at Great Casterton Church on the 16th of March, 1820, and for a time Mrs. Clare remained at her father's house. She afterwards joined her husband at the house of his parents in Helpstone, his "own old home of homes," as he fondly called the lowly cottage in one of his most pathetic poems, and there they all remained, with the offspring of the marriage, until the removal to Northborough in 1832. Flushed with his recent good fortune, Clare distributed bride cake among his friends, and received from all hearty good wishes for his future happiness.


Early in the same month, and before his marriage, Clare accepted the invitation of his publishers, Messrs. Taylor and Hessey, to pay them a visit in Town. He was accompanied by Mr. Gilchrist, and remained for a week, making his home at his publishers' house in Fleet Street. With great difficulty Mr. Taylor persuaded him to meet a party of friends and admirers at dinner. It was impossible for him to overcome with one effort his natural shyness, but the cordial manner in which he was welcomed by Mr. Taylor's guests put him comparatively at his ease, for he was made to feel that the labourer was forgotten in the poet and that he was regarded as an equal. The host placed him at dinner next to Admiral Lord Radstock, an intimate friend of Mrs. Emmerson, a lady whose name will frequently occur in the course of this memoir. His lordship had taken great interest in Clare from the first appearance of his poems, and had already made him several presents of books. By mingled tact and kindness he got from the poet an account of his life, his struggles, his hopes, his fears, and his prospects. Clare's share in the conversation made so deep an impression upon Lord Radstock that he conceived for him an attachment approaching to affection, and never ceased to exert all the influence of his position and high character in favour of his protege. The Editor has before him many letters addressed to Clare by his excellent friend, but is restrained, by a wish expressed in one of the number, from publishing any portion of them. The request does not, however, apply to the inscriptions in books which Lord Radstock presented to Clare, and as the intimacy had a very important influence on the poet's career, those who are sufficiently interested in the subject to read these pages will not look upon the following passages as a superfluity.

In a work by Thomas Erskine on the Christian Evidences his lordship wrote:—

"The kindest and most valuable present that Admiral Lord Radstock could possibly make to his dear & affectionate friend, John Clare. God grant that he may make the proper use of it!"

In a copy of Owen Feltham's "Resolves":—

"The Bible excepted, I consider Owen Feltham's 'Resolves' and Boyle's 'Occasional Reflections' to be two as good books as were ever usher'd into the world, with a view to direct the heart and keep it in its right place; consequently, to render us happy in this life and lay a reasonable foundation for the salvation of our souls through Jesus Christ our only Mediator and Redeemer. It was, therefore, under this conviction that I not long since presented you with both these truly valuable books, earnestly hoping, trusting, and, let me add, not doubting that you will make that use of them which is intended by your ever truly and affectionate friend, Radstock."

In a copy of Mason's "Self-Knowledge":—

"I give this little pocket companion to my friend John Clare, not with a view to improve his heart, for that, I believe, would be no easy task, but in order to enable him to acquire a more perfect knowledge of his own character, and likewise to give him a close peep into human nature."

In a copy of Hannah More's "Spirit of Prayer":—

"My very dear Clare,—If this excellent little book, and the others which accompany it, do not speak sufficiently for themselves, it would be in vain to think of offering you any further earthly inducement to study them and seek the truth. The grace of God can alone do this, and Heaven grant that this may not be wanting! So prays your truly sincere and affectionate Radstock."

Similar inscriptions accompanied a copy of Watson's "Apology for the Bible," Bishop Wilson's "Maxims of Piety and Christianity," and other works of a corresponding character.


Soon after his arrival in London Lord Radstock took Clare to see Mrs. Emmerson, who had already been in correspondence with him, and thus commenced a friendship the ardour and constancy of which knew no abatement until poor Clare was no longer able to hold rational intercourse with his fellow-creatures. Mrs. Emmerson was the wife of Mr. Thomas Emmerson, of Berners Street, Oxford Street, and afterwards of Stratford Place. She was a lady in easy circumstances, and occupied a good social position. [3] Being of refined and elegant tastes, and singularly generous disposition, she associated herself with young aspirants for fame in poetry, painting, and sculpture, and to the utmost of her power endeavoured to procure for them public notice and patronage. She was herself a frequent writer of graceful verses, and her letters disclose a sensitive, poetic mind, a habit of self-denial when the happiness of her friends was concerned, and a delicate physical organization liable to prostrating attacks of various nervous disorders. Clare preserved nearly three hundred of her letters, the dates ranging from February, 1820, to July, 1837, or an average of one letter in about every three weeks; and the Editor, having read the whole of them, feels constrained, a different version of the relationship having been given, to state his conviction that no poor struggling genius was ever blessed with a tenderer or a truer friend. No man of feeling could rise from the perusal of them without the deepest respect and admiration for the writer. The style is effusive, and the language in which the lady writes of Clare's poetry is occasionally eulogistic to the point of extravagance, and was to that extent injudicious; but all blemishes are forgotten in the presence of overwhelming evidences of pure and disinterested friendship.

Although by no means insensible to the reception given to her own verses, Clare's literary reputation lay much nearer to her heart. She firmly believed that he was a great genius, and she insisted upon all her friends believing so too, and buying his books. She very soon began to feel an interest in his domestic affairs, and to send him valuable presents. She was godmother to his second child, which was named after her, Eliza Louisa, and for years the coach brought regularly, a day or two before Christmas, two sovereigns "to pay for little Eliza's schooling," another sovereign for the Christmas dinner, and a waistcoat-piece and two India silk neckerchiefs "for my dear Clare" with many kind wishes "for all in his humble cot." At another time Patty's eyes were gladdened by the present of a dozen silver teaspoons and a pair of sugar tongs. These were followed by a silver seal, engraved for Clare in Paris and mounted in ivory, while under the pretext that he must find postage expensive she several times sent him a sovereign "under the wax." At one time she would appear to have given him sufficient clothing to equip the entire family, and when in 1832 Clare made his venture as a cottage farmer, his thoughtful friend gave him L10 with which to buy a cow, stipulating only (for the kind-hearted little woman must be sentimental) that it should be christened "May." After that, she strove hard to obtain for one of his boys admission to Christ's Hospital, and in conjunction with Mr. Taylor discharged a heavy account sent in by a local medical practitioner.

But in higher matters than these the genuineness of Mrs. Emmerson's friendship for Clare was demonstrated. The poet poured into her listening and patient ear the story of every trial and every annoyance which fell to his lot, not concealing from his friend those mental sufferings which were caused solely by his own indiscretion and folly. Under these latter circumstances she rebuked him with affectionate solicitude and fidelity. In perplexities arising out of matters of business she gave him the best advice in her power, and when her knowledge of affairs failed her appealed to her husband, who was always ready to do anything for "dear Johnny," as Clare came to be called in Stratford Place. When he complained of being distressed by wild fancies and haunted by gloomy forebodings, as he did many years before his reason gave way, she first rallied him, though often herself suffering acutely, and then entreated him to dispel his melancholy by communing afresh with Nature and by meditations on the Divine greatness and goodness.


Within a few weeks of the appearance of "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery," a private subscription was set on foot by Lord Radstock for the benefit of Clare and his family. Messrs. Taylor and Hessey headed the list with the handsome donation of L100. Earl Fitzwilliam followed with a corresponding amount; The Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Devonshire gave L20 each; Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg (afterwards King of the Belgians), the Duke of Northumberland, the Earl of Cardigan, Lord John Russell, Sir Thomas Baring, Lord Kenyon, and several other noblemen and gentlemen, L10 each, making with numerous smaller subscriptions a total of L420-12-0. This sum was invested, in the name of trustees, in Navy Five per Cents and yielded, until the conversion of that security to a lower denomination, about L20 a year.

About the same time the attention of Earl Spencer was called to Clare's circumstances by Mr. J. S. Bell, a Stamford surgeon, and his lordship signified to Mr. Bell his intention to settle upon the poet an annuity of L10 for life. These various benefactions, with the Marquis of Exeter's annuity of L15, put Clare in the possession of L45 a year, and his friends were profuse in their congratulations on his good fortune. As he had now a fixed income greater than that he had ever derived from labour, it was thought that by occasional farm work and by the profit resulting from the sale of his poems he would be relieved from anxiety about domestic affairs, and be enabled to devote at least one half of his time to the cultivation of his poetic faculties. The expectation appears to have been a reasonable one, but as will be seen hereafter it was only imperfectly realized.

The first volume of poems passed rapidly through three editions, and a fourth was printed. Several of Clare's influential friends took exception to a few passages in the first issue on the ground that they were rather too outspoken in their rusticity, and Lord Radstock strongly urged the omission in subsequent editions of several lines which he characterized as "Radical slang." Mr. Taylor contested both points for some time, but Lord Radstock threatened to disown Clare if he declined to oblige his patrons, and the poet at length made the desired concessions. The following were the passages over which his lordship exercised censorship:—

Accursed Wealth! o'erbounding human laws, Of every evil thou remain'st the cause.

Sweet rest and peace, ye dear, departed charms, Which industry once cherished in her arms, When ease and plenty, known but now to few, Were known to all, and labour had its due.

The rough, rude ploughman, off his fallow-grounds, (That necessary tool of wealth and pride)—

Being strongly urged thereto by Mr. Taylor, Clare sent to London a large bundle of manuscripts with permission to his editor to make a selection therefrom for a new work. The correspondence connected with this project extended over several months, and in the autumn of 1821 the "Village Minstrel and other Poems" made its appearance in two volumes, with a portrait after Hilton and a view of the poet's cottage.


In the course of the correspondence there occurs the following passage, which has an interest of its own, in a letter from Mr. Taylor:—

"Keats, you know, broke a blood-vessel, and has been very ill. He is now recovering, and it is necessary for his getting through the winter that he should go to Italy. Rome is the place recommended. You are now a richer man than poor K., and how much more fortunate! We have some trouble to get through 500 copies of his work, though it is highly spoken of in the periodical works, but what is most against him it has been thought necessary in the leading review, the 'Quarterly,' to damn his fame on account of his political opinions. D—n them, I say, who could act in so cruel a way to a young man of undoubted genius." And again (March 26, 1821):—

"The life of poor Keats is ended at last: he died at the age of twenty-five. He used to say he should effect nothing which he would rest his fame upon until he was thirty, and all hopes are over at twenty-five. But he has left enough, though he did not think so, and if his biographer cannot do him justice the advocate is in fault, and not the cause. Poor fellow! Perhaps your feeling will produce some lines to his memory. One of the very few poets of this day is gone. Let another beware of Stamford. I wish you may keep to your resolution of shunning that place, for it will do you immense injury if you do not. You know what I would say. Farewell."


There is little doubt that by the closing hint Mr. Taylor desired to put Clare on his guard against the indiscreet hospitality of well-to-do friends at Stamford. While the "Village Minstrel" was in course of preparation the "London Magazine" passed into the possession of Messrs. Taylor & Hessey, and they at once invited Clare to contribute, offering payment at the rate of one guinea per page, with the right to re-publish at any time on the original terms of half profits. Clare accepted the offer, and as he contributed almost regularly for some time, a substantial addition was made to his income. Among Clare's fellow-contributors in 1821 were Charles Lamb and De Quincey, the former with "Essays of Elia," and the latter with "Confessions of an English Opium-Eater." Two thousand copies of the "Village Minstrel" were printed, and by the beginning of December eight hundred had been sold. This was a very modified success, but a number of circumstances combined to make the season an unfavourable one for the publication of such a work. That the poetry of the "Village Minstrel" is far superior both in conception and execution to much contained in Clare's first book was undisputed, and indeed it may be said at once that every successive work which he published was an improvement upon its predecessor, until in the "Rural Muse" a vigour of conception and polish of diction are displayed which the most ardent admirers of Clare in his younger days—(Mrs. Emmerson always excepted, who believed him to be at least Shakespeare's equal)—would not have ventured to predict. The "Village Minstrel" was so named after the principal poem, which contains one hundred and nineteen Spenserian stanzas, and is to a considerable extent autobiographical. It was composed in 1819, at which time Clare was wretchedly poor, and this will no doubt account for the repining tone of a few of the verses. It abounds, however, in poetical beauties, of which the following stanzas may be taken as examples:—

O who can tell the sweets of May-day's morn, To waken rapture in a feeling mind, When the gilt East unveils her dappled dawn, And the gay wood-lark has its nest resigned, As slow the sun creeps up the hill behind; Moon reddening round, and daylight's spotless hue, As seemingly with rose and lily lined; While all the prospect round beams fair to view, Like a sweet Spring flower with its unsullied dew.

Ah, often, brushing through the dripping grass, Has he been seen to catch this early charm, List'ning to the "love song" of the healthy lass Passing with milk-pail on her well-turned arm, Or meeting objects from the rousing farm— The jingling plough-teams driving down the steep Waggon and cart, and shepherd dog's alarm, Raising the bleatings of unfolding sheep, As o'er the mountain top the red sun 'gins to peep.

The first volume contains also a poem entitled "William and Robin," of which Mr. Taylor says in his introduction:—

"The pastoral, 'William and Robin,' one of Clare's earliest efforts, exhibits a degree of refinement and elegant sensibility which many persons can hardly believe a poor uneducated clown could have possessed: the delicacy of one of the lover towards the object of his attachment is as perfectly inborn and unaffected as if he were a Philip Sidney."

Among the minor pieces of the "Village Minstrel" are the following, which are given as additional illustrations, the first of Clare's descriptive and the latter of his amatory manner:—


The sultry day it wears away, And o'er the distant leas The mist again, in purple stain, Falls moist on flower and trees: His home to find, the weary hind Glad leaves his carts and ploughs; While maidens fair, with bosoms bare, Go coolly to their cows.

The red round sun his work has done, And dropp'd into his bed; And sweetly shin'd the oaks behind His curtains fringed with red: And step by step the night has crept, And day, as loth, retires; But clouds, more dark, night's entrance mark. Till day's last spark expires.

Pride of the vales, the nightingales Now charm the oaken grove; And loud and long, with amorous tongue, They try to please their love: And where the rose reviving blows Upon the swelter'd bower, I'll take my seat, my love to meet, And wait th' appointed hour.

And like the bird, whose joy is heard Now he his love can join, Who hails so loud the even's shroud, I'll wait as glad for mine: As weary bees o'er parched leas Now meet reviving flowers, So on her breast I'll sink to rest, And bless the evening hours.


I love thee, sweet Mary, but love thee in fear; Were I but the morning breeze, healthful and airy, As thou goest a-walking I'd breathe in thine ear, And whisper and sigh, how I love thee, my Mary!

I wish but to touch thee, but wish it in vain; Wert thou but a streamlet, a-winding so clearly, And I little globules of soft dropping rain, How fond would I press thy white bosom, my Mary!

I would steal a kiss, but I dare not presume; Wert thou but a rose in thy garden, sweet fairy, And I a bold bee for to rifle its bloom, A whole Summer's day would I kiss thee, my Mary!

I long to be with thee, but cannot tell how; Wert thou but the elder that grows by thy dairy, And I the blest woodbine to twine on the bough, I'd embrace thee and cling to thee ever, my Mary!


Mr. Taylor called at Helpstone in October, 1821, on his way from Retford to London, and published, in the "London Magazine" for the following month, an interesting and genial account of his visit to Clare. While at Helpstone he urged Clare to accept an oft-repeated invitation to come to London and prolong his stay to a few weeks, but about this time the poet, always yearning after independence, became possessed with a longing to acquire a small freehold of about seven acres, which belonged to friends of his own who had mortgaged it to the amount of L200, and being unable to meet the interest thereupon were threatened with a foreclosure. The owners offered the property to Clare, who at once applied to his friends in London to sell out sufficient of the funded property to enable him to acquire it. His disappointment and mortification appear to have been very keen on learning that the funded property was vested in trustees who were restricted to paying the interest to him. This resource having failed him, he offered to sell his writings to his publishers for five years for L200. To this proposal Mr. Taylor replied on the 4th of February, 1822:—

"It will not be honourable in us to buy the interest in your poems for five years for L200. It may be worth more than that, which would be an injury to you, and a discredit to us; or less, which would be a loss to us. Besides, if the original mortgage was for L200, it is not that sum which would redeem it now. Many expenses have been created by these money-lenders, all which must be satisfied before the writings would be given up. It is meddling with a wasp's nest to interfere rashly. I am happy that Lord Milton has taken the writings, to look them over. He may be able to do some good, and to keep your friends the Billingses in their little estate, but I fear it is not possible for you to do it without incurring fresh risks, and encountering such dangers from the want of sufficient legal advice as would be more than you would get through."

Clare had set his heart upon accomplishing this little scheme; his failure to compass it weighed upon his mind, and for a time he sought an alleviation of his unhappiness in the society of the Blue Bell and among hilarious friends at Stamford.


Clare paid a second visit to London in May, 1822, and was again hospitably entertained by his publishers, at whose house he met several literary men of note, whose friendship he afterwards enjoyed for years. Among these were Charles Lamb, Thomas Hood, H. F. Gary, Allan Cunningham, George Barley, and others; but his most frequent companion in town would appear to have been Rippingille, the painter, to whom he was introduced at the house of Mrs. Emmerson. Clare was assured by that lady that he would find Mr. Rippingille an excellent and discreet young man, but there is reason to suspect that "friend Rip," as he was called by his intimates, had carefully concealed some of his foibles from Mrs. Emmerson, for he and Clare had several not very creditable drinking bouts, and were not particular in the class of entertainments which they patronized. After Clare had returned to Helpstone and Rippingille to Bristol, where he lived for several years, the latter repeatedly urged his poet-friend to visit him, and this is the way in which the amusing rattlepate wrote:—

"My dear Johnny Clare,—I am perfectly sure that I sha'nt be able to write one word of sense, or spin out one decent thought. If the old Devil and the most romping of his imps had been dancing, and jostling, and running stark mad amongst the delicate threads and fibres of my brain, it could not be in a worse condition, but I am resolved to write in spite of the Devil, my stars, and want of brains, for all of which I have most excellent precedents and examples, and sound orthodox authority, so here goes. Tonight; but what is tonight? 'T was last night, my dear Johnny. I was up till past five this morning, during which time I was stupid enough to imbibe certain potions of porter, punch, moselle, and madeira, that have been all day long uniting their forces in fermenting and fuming, and bubbling and humming. Are you coming, Clare, or are you going to remain until all the fine weather is gone, and then come and see nothing? Or do you mean to come at all? Now is your time, if you do. You will just be in time for the fair, which begins on the 1st of September and lasts ten days. And most glorious fun it is, I can tell you. Crowds, tribes, shoals, and natives of all sorts! I looked at the standings the other night, and thought of you. Will he come, said I? D—n the fellow! Nothing can move him. There he sticks, and there he will stick. Will none but a draggle-tailed muse suit him?

His evening devotions and matins Both addressed to a muse that wears pattens: A poet that kneels in the bogs, Where his muse can't go out without clogs, Or stir without crushing the frogs! —Old Play.

Where toads die of vapours and hip, And tadpoles of ague and pip. —Old Play.

Give 'em all, my dear Johnny, the slip, And at once take to Bristol a trip. By G—, you should come, and you must. Do you mean I should finish your bust? If you don't, stay away and be cussed!

My muse is taken a little qualmish, therefore pray excuse her. She is a well-meaning jade, and if it was not for the wild treatment she received last night would, I have no doubt, have given you a very polite invitation, but I fear, Johnny, nothing will move you. Your heart is as hard as an overseer's. I dined at Elton's two days ago. We talked about you, wondered if you would come, feared not, regretted it, and the loss of the fine weather, and the fine scenery, and the other fine things: in fine, we lamented finely. Come and cheer our hearts. Bring Patty and all the little bardettes, if you will. We will find room for them somewhere. I have read only my introductory lecture yet, so that you may hear 'em or read 'em all, if you like. Having thrown my bread upon the waters, where I hope it will be found after many days. I take my leave, my dear Clare, in the full hope I shall see you by the 1st of September. Write to me by return, saying what day you will be here.

Yours for ever and after, E. V. RIPPINGILLE."


Clare visited Charles Lamb, and received from him the following characteristic letter after his return to Helpstone:—

"India House, 1st Aug. 1822.

Dear Clare,—I thank you heartily for your present. I am an inveterate old Londoner, but while I am among your choice collections I seem to be native to them and free of the country. The quantity of your observation has astonished me. What have most pleased me have been 'Recollections after a Ramble,' and those 'Grongar Hill' kind of pieces in eight-syllable lines, my favourite measure, such as 'Cowper Hill' and 'Solitude.' In some of your story-telling ballads the provincial phrases sometimes startle me. I think you are too profuse with them. In poetry, slang of every kind is to be avoided. There is a rustick Cockneyism as little pleasing as ours of London. Transplant Arcadia to Helpstone. The true rustic style, the Arcadian English, I think is to be found in Shenstone. Would his 'Schoolmistress,' the prettiest of poems, have been better if he had used quite the Goody's own language? Now and then a home rusticism is fresh and startling, but where nothing is gained in expression it is out of tenor. It may make folks smile and stare, but the ungenial coalition of barbarous with refined phrases will prevent you in the end from being so generally tasted as you deserve to be. Excuse my freedom, and take the same liberty with my puns. I send you two little volumes of my spare hours. They are of all sorts. There's a Methodist hymn for Sundays, and a farce for Saturday night. Pray give them a place on your shelf, and accept a little volume of which I have duplicate, that I may return in equal number to your welcome present. I think I am indebted to you for a sonnet in the 'London' for August. Since I saw you I have been in France and have eaten frogs. The nicest little rabbity things you ever tasted. Do look about for them. Make Mrs. Clare pick off the hindquarters; boil them plain with parsley and butter. The fore quarters are not so good. She may let them hop off by themselves.

Yours sincerely,



During his second visit to London, Clare became for a few days the guest of Mr. Cary, at Chiswick. Here, it is said, he wrote several amorous sonnets in praise of Cary's wife, and presented them to the lady, who passed them on to her husband. The learned translator of Dante requested an explanation, which Clare at once gave. The circumstance that Cary corresponded with Clare for at least ten years afterwards will enable the reader to form his own estimate of the importance of the incident. Among Cary's letters were the following:—

"Chiswick, London,

Jany. 3rd, 1822.

Many happy years to you, dear Clare.

Do not think because I have not written to you sooner that I have forgot you. I often think of you in that walk we took here together, and which I take almost every day, generally alone, sometimes musing of absent friends and at others putting into English those old French verses which I dare say sometimes occasion you to cry 'Pish!'—(I hope you vent your displeasure in such innocent terms)—when turning over the pages of the magazine. I was much pleased with a native strain of yours, signed, I remember, 'Percy Green.' Mr. Taylor can tell you that I enquired with much earnestness after the author of it (it was the first with that signature), not knowing it to be yours, and what pleasure it gave me to find it was so. I am glad to find a new 'Shepherd's Calendar' advertised with your name. You will no doubt bring before us many objects in Nature that we have often seen in her but never before in books, and that in verse of a very musical construction. There are two things, I mean description of natural objects taken from the life, and a sweet melodious versification, that particularly please me in poetry; and these two you can command if you choose. Of sentiment I do not reck so much. Your admiration of poets I felt most strongly earlier in life, and have still a good deal of it left, but time deadens that as well as many of our other pleasantest feelings. Still, I had rather pass my time in such company than in any other, and the poetical part of my library is increasing above all proportion above the rest. This you may think a strange confession for me in my way of life to make, but whatever one feels strongly impelled to, provided it be not wrong in itself and can administer any benefit or pleasure to others, I am inclined to think is the task allotted to one, and thus I quiet my conscience about the matter. I did'nt intend to make you my father confessor when I set out, but now it is done I hope you will grant me absolution.

Believe me, dear Clare,

Ever sincerely yours,

H. F. CARY."

"Chiswick, April 12th, 1823.

Dear Clare,—

Have you visited the haunts of poor Cowper which you were invited to see? And if so, what accordance did you find between the places and his descriptions of them? What a glory it is for poetry that it can make any piece of trumpery an object of curiosity and interest! I had the pleasure of meeting last week with Mr. Wordsworth. He is no piece of trumpery, but has all the appearance of being that noblest work, an honest man. I think I scarcely ever met with any one eminent for genius who had not also something very amiable and engaging in his manners and character. In Mr. Wordsworth I found much frankness and fervour. The first impression his countenance gave me was one which I did not receive from Chantrey's bust of him—that of his being a very benevolent man. Have you seen Barry Cornwall's new volume? He is one of the best writers of blank verse we have, but I think blank verse is not much in favour with you. The rhyme that is now in fashion runs rather too wild to please me. It seems to want pruning and nailing up. A sonnet, like a rose tree may be allowed to grow straggling, but a long poem should be trained into some order. I hope you and your family have got well through this hard winter. Mrs. Cary, who has hitherto almost uniformly enjoyed good health, has suffered much from it. She and the rest of my family join in kind remembrances to you with, dear Clare, Yours sincerely,

H. F. CARY."


London, February 19th, 1825.

My dear Clare,

I have been reproaching myself some time for not answering your last letter sooner, and as I am telling my congregation this Lent that it is no use to reproach oneself for one's sins if one does not amend them, I will mend this. I will freely own I should not have felt the same compunction if you had been in health and spirits, but when I find you so grievously complaining of the want of both, I cannot leave you any longer without such poor comfort as a line for two from me can give. I wish I were a doctor, and a skilful one, for your sake. I mean a doctor of medicine. For though I were a doctor of divinity I doubt I could recommend to you no better prescription in that way than I can as plain Mister. Nay, it is one that any old woman in your parish could hit upon as readily as myself, and that is, patience and submission to a Will that is higher and wiser than our own. How often have I stood in need of it myself, and with what difficulty have I swallowed it, and how hard have I found it to keep on my stomach! May you, my friend, have better success! If you do not want it in one way you are sure to have occasion for it before long in some other. If you should be raised up from this sickness, as I trust you will, do not suppose but that you will have something else to try you. This, you will say, is not a very cheering prospect, but remember these lines in Crowe's poem, which you so justly admire:—

'Tis meet we jostle with the world, content, If by our Sovereign Master we be found At last not profitless.

What follows, I fear neither you nor I have philosophy enough to add with sincerity:—

For worldly meed, Given or withheld, I deem of it alike.

I will read the memoir of yourself which you purpose sending me, and not fail to tell you if I think you have spoken of others with more acrimony than you ought. There is no occasion for sending me with it your new publication. I shall get it as I have those before. I hope the last chapter of your memoir, if brought up to the present time, will record your children's having got safely over the small pox, of which you express apprehensions in your last letter. We have got well through the winter hitherto. For want of better employment I have been teaching my youngest boy Dicky to write. Perhaps you will think me not over well qualified for so important an office, but I assure you when I have two parallel lines ruled at proper distances I can produce something like a copy. To teach others is no bad way to learn one's self. In spite of the floggings which I had at school, I could never learn that grammar for which you have so great an aversion, thoroughly, till I began to instruct my own son in it, but then I made a wonderful progress. I should not succeed so well in collecting ferns. A physician once recommended to me the study of botany for the good of my health, but he had published an edition of Linnaeus. Another prescribed to me port wine, but, poor man, he soon fell a martyr to his own system. In such matters common sense and one's own inclination are the best guides. Mrs. C. and your other acquaintances here remember you kindly. I am dear Clare, with best wishes for yourself and family,

Your affectionate friend,

H. F. CARY."

"British Museum, April 13th, 1830,

Dear Clare,—

I have waited some time to answer your letter, in hopes of being able to give you the information you require; but the information does not come and I will wait no longer. I have not seen either Lamb or Wainwright since last summer, when the former spent one day with me here, and another day we all three met at the house of the latter, who now resides in a place he has inherited from a relative at Turnham Green. Lamb is settled at Endfield, about seven miles from London, with his sister, who I fear is in a very indifferent state of health; so his friends see very little of him. In this grand age of utility, I suppose it will soon be discovered that a piece of canvas is more advantageously employed as the door of a safe, where it will secure a joint of meat from the flies, than if it was covered with the finest hues that Titian or Rubens could lay upon it, and a piece of paper better disposed of in keeping the same meat from being burnt while it is roasting, than in preserving the idle fancies of a poet. No matter: if it is so we must swim with the stream. You can employ yourself in cultivating your cabbages and in handling the hay fork, and I not quite so pleasantly in making catalogues of books. We will not be out of fashion, but show ourselves as useful as the rest of the world. In the meantime we may smile at what is going forward, entertain ourselves with our own whims in private, and expect that the tide some day may turn. My family, whom you are so kind as to enquire about, are all well, and all following the order of the day, except one, who has set himself to perverting canvas from its proper use by smearing it over with certain colours, fair indeed to look upon, but quite void of utility. I ought indeed to have made another exception, which is, that they are multiplying much faster than Mr. Malthus would approve. Cowper says somewhere of those who make the world older than the Bible accounts of it, that they have found out that He who made it and revealed its age to Moses was mistaken in the date. May it not be said of the anti-populationers that they virtually accuse him of as great ignorance in the command to multiply and replenish the earth? Well, you and I, Clare, have kept to this text. May we observe all the rest as well! which is so good a conclusion for a parson that I will say no more than that I am ever

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