Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Jon Ingram, Marc D'Hooghe and the Online Distributed
[Illustration: JOHN CLARE.
_Engraved by E. Scriven, from a Painting by W. Hilton, R.A._]
POEMS CHIEFLY FROM MANUSCRIPT by JOHN CLARE
* * * * *
For the present volume over two thousand poems by Clare have been
considered and compared; of which over two-thirds have not been
published. Of those here given ninety are now first printed, and are
distinguished with asterisks in the contents: one or two are gleaned
from periodicals: and many of the others have been brought into line
with manuscript versions. While poetic value has been the general
ground of selection, the development of the poet has seemed of
sufficient interest for representation; and some of Clare's juvenilia
are accordingly included. The arrangement is chronological, though
in many cases the date of a poem can only be conjectured from the
handwriting and the style; and it is almost impossible to affix dates
to such Asylum Poems as bear none.
Punctuation and orthography have been attempted; Clare left such
matters to his editor in his lifetime, conceiving them to be an
"awkward squad." In some poems stanzas have been omitted, particularly
in the case of first drafts which demand revision; but in others
stanzas dropped by previous editors have been restored. Titles have
been given to many poems which, doubtless, in copies not available to
us were better christened by Clare himself. So regularly does Clare
use such forms as "oer," "eer," and the like that he seems to have
regarded them not as abbreviations but as originals, and they are
given without apostrophe. The text of the Asylum Poems which has been
used is a transcript, and one or two difficult passages are probably
the fault of the copyist.
For permission to examine and copy many of the poems preserved in the
Peterborough Museum, and to have photographs taken, we are indebted
to J. W. Bodger, Esq., the President for 1919-1920; without whose
co-operation and interest the volume would have been a very different
matter. Valuable help, too, has been given by Mr. Samuel Loveman of
Cleveland, Ohio, who has placed at our disposal his collection of
Clare MSS. To G. C. Druce, Esq., of Oxford, whose pamphlet on Clare's
knowledge of flowers cannot but delight the lover of Clare: to the
Rev. S. G. Short of Maxey, and formerly of Northborough: to J.
Middleton Murry, Esq., the Editor of the _Athenaeum_: to Edward
Liveing, Esq., and E. G. Clayton, Esq.: and to Norman Gale, Esq., who
has not wavered from his early faith in Clare, our gratitude is gladly
given for assistance and sympathy.
And to Mr. Samuel Sefton of Derby, the grandson of Clare and one of
his closest investigators, who has patiently and carefully responded
to all our queries in a long correspondence, and who, besides
informing us of the Clare tradition as it exists in the family, has
supplied many materials of importance in writing the poet's life,
special thanks are due. It was a fortunate chance that put us in
communication with him.
And he repulsed, (a short tale to make),
Fell into a sadness; then into a fast;
Thence to a watch; thence into a weakness;
Thence to a lightness; and by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves.
The life of John Clare, offering as it does so much opportunity for
sensational contrast and unbridled distortion, became at one time
(like the tragedy of Chatterton) a favourite with the quillmen. Even
his serious biographers have made excessive use of light and darkness,
poetry and poverty, genius and stupidity: that there should be some
uncertainty about dates and incidents is no great matter, but that
misrepresentations of character or of habit should be made is the
fault of shallow research or worse. We have been informed, for
instance, that drink was a main factor in Clare's mental collapse;
that Clare "pottered in the fields feebly"; that on his income of
"L45 a year ... Clare thought he could live without working"; and all
biographers have tallied in the melodramatic legend; "Neither wife
nor children ever came to see him, except the youngest son, who came
once," during his Asylum days. To these attractive exaggerations there
are the best of grounds for giving the lie.
John Clare was born on the 13th of July, 1793, in a small cottage
degraded in popular tradition to a mud hut of the parish of Helpston,
between Peterborough and Stamford. This cottage is standing to-day,
almost as it was when Clare lived there; so that those who care to do
so may examine Martin's description of "a narrow wretched hut, more
like a prison than a human dwelling," in face of the facts. Clare's
father, a labourer named Parker Clare, was a man with his wits about
him, whether educated or not; and Ann his wife is recorded to have
been a woman of much natural ability and precise habits, who thought
the world of her son John. Of the other children, little is known but
that there were two who died young and one girl who was alive in 1824.
Clare himself wrote a sonnet in the _London Magazine_ for June, 1821,
"To a Twin Sister, Who Died in Infancy."
Parker Clare, a man with some reputation as a wrestler and chosen for
thrashing corn on account of his strength, sometimes shared the fate
of almost all farm labourers of his day and was compelled to accept
parish relief: at no time can he have been many shillings to the good:
but it was his determination to have John educated to the best of his
power. John Clare therefore attended a dame-school until he was seven;
thence, he is believed to have gone to a day-school, where he
made progress enough to receive on leaving the warm praise of the
schoolmaster, and the advice to continue at a nightschool--which he
did. His aim, he notes later on, was to write copperplate: but there
are evidences that he learned much more than penmanship. Out of school
he appears to have been a happy, imaginative child: as alert for mild
mischief as the rest of the village boys, but with something solitary
and romantic in his disposition. One day indeed at a very early age he
went off to find the horizon; and a little later while he tended sheep
and cows in his holiday-time on Helpston Common, he made friends with
a curious old lady called Granny Bains, who taught him old songs and
ballads. Such poems as "Childhood" and "Remembrances" prove that
Clare's early life was not mere drudgery and despair. "I never had
much relish for the pastimes of youth. Instead of going out on the
green at the town end on winter Sundays to play football I stuck to
my corner stool poring over a book; in fact, I grew so fond of being
alone at last that my mother was fain to force me into company, for
the neighbours had assured her mind ... that I was no better than
crazy.... I used to be very fond of fishing, and of a Sunday morning
I have been out before the sun delving for worms in some old
weed-blanketed dunghill and steering off across the wet grain ... till
I came to the flood-washed meadow stream.... And then the year used
to be crowned with its holidays as thick as the boughs on a harvest
home." It is probable that the heavy work which he is said to have
done as a child was during the long holiday at harvesttime. When he
was twelve or thirteen he certainly became team-leader, and in this
employment he saw a farm labourer fall from the top of his loaded
wagon and break his neck. For a time his reason seemed affected by the
At evening-school, Clare struck up a friendship with an excise-man's
son, to the benefit of both. In 1835, one of many sonnets was addressed
to this excellent soul:
Turnill, we toiled together all the day,
And lived like hermits from the boys at play;
We read and walked together round the fields,
Not for the beauty that the journey yields--
But muddied fish, and bragged oer what we caught,
And talked about the few old books we bought.
Though low in price you knew their value well,
And I thought nothing could their worth excel;
And then we talked of what we wished to buy,
And knowledge always kept our pockets dry.
We went the nearest ways, and hummed a song,
And snatched the pea pods as we went along,
And often stooped for hunger on the way
To eat the sour grass in the meadow hay.
One of these "few old books" was Thomson's "Seasons", which gave
a direction to the poetic instincts of Clare, already manifesting
themselves in scribbled verses in his exercise-books.
Read, mark, learn as Clare might, no opportunity came for him to enter
a profession. "After I had done with going to school it was proposed
that I should be bound apprentice to a shoemaker, but I rather
disliked this bondage. I whimpered and turned a sullen eye on every
persuasion, till they gave me my will. A neighbour then offered to
learn me his trade--to be a stone mason,--but I disliked this too....
I was then sent for to drive the plough at Woodcroft Castle of Oliver
Cromwell memory; though Mrs. Bellairs the mistress was a kind-hearted
woman, and though the place was a very good one for living, my mind
was set against it from the first;... one of the disagreeable things
was getting up so early in the morning ... and another was getting
wetshod ... every morning and night--for in wet weather the moat used
to overflow the cause-way that led to the porch, and as there was but
one way to the house we were obliged to wade up to the knees to get
in and out.... I staid here one month, and then on coming home to my
parents they could not persuade me to return. They now gave up all
hopes of doing any good with me and fancied that I should make nothing
but a soldier; but luckily in this dilemma a next-door neighbour at
the Blue Bell, Francis Gregory, wanted me to drive plough, and as I
suited him, he made proposals to hire me for a year--which as it had
my consent my parents readily agreed to." There he spent a year in
light work with plenty of leisure for his books and his long reveries
in lonely favourite places. His imagination grew intensely, and in his
weekly errand to a flour-mill at Maxey ghosts rose out of a swamp and
harried him till he dropped. This stage was hardly ended when one
day on his road he saw a young girl named Mary Joyce, with whom he
instantly fell in love. This crisis occurred when Clare was almost
sixteen: the fate of John Clare hung in the balance for six months.
Then Mary's father, disturbed principally by the chance that his
daughter might be seen talking to this erratic youngster, put an end
to their meetings. From this time, with intervals of tranquillity,
Clare was to suffer the slow torture of remorse, until at length
deliberately yielding himself up to his amazing imagination he held
conversation with Mary, John Clare's Mary, his first wife Mary--as
though she had not lived unwed, and had not been in her grave for
But this was not yet; and we must return to the boy Clare, now
terminating his year's hiring at the Blue Bell. It was time for him
to take up some trade in good earnest; accordingly, in an evil hour
disguised as a fortunate one, he was apprenticed to the head gardener
at Burghley Park. The head gardener was in practice a sot and a
slave-driver. After much drunken wild bravado, not remarkable in the
lad Clare considering his companions and traditions, there came the
impulse to escape; with the result that Clare and a companion were
shortly afterwards working in a nursery garden at Newark-upon-Trent.
Both the nursery garden and "the silver Trent" are met again in the
poems composed in his asylum days; but for the time being they meant
little to him, and he suddenly departed through the snow. Arrived home
at Helpston, he lost some time in finding farm work and in writing
verses: sharing a loft at night with a fellow-labourer, he would rise
at all hours to note down new ideas. It was not unnatural in the
fellow-labourer to request him to "go and do his poeting elsewhere."
Clare was already producing work of value, none the less. Nothing
could be kept from his neighbours, who looked askance on his ways of
thinking, and writing: while a candid friend to whom he showed his
manuscripts directed his notice to the study of grammar. Troubled
by these ill omens, he comforted himself in the often intoxicated
friendship of the bad men of the village, who under the mellowing
influences of old ale roared applause as he recited his ballads. This
life was soon interrupted.
"When the country was chin-deep," Clare tells us, "in the fears of
invasion, and every mouth was filled with the terror which Buonaparte
had spread in other countries, a national scheme was set on foot to
raise a raw army of volunteers: and to make the matter plausible a
letter was circulated said to be written by the Prince Regent. I
forget how many were demanded from our parish, but remember the panic
which it created was very great. No great name rises in the world
without creating a crowd of little mimics that glitter in borrowed
rays; and no great lie was ever yet put in circulation without a herd
of little lies multiplying by instinct, as it were and crowding under
its wings. The papers that were circulated assured the people of
England that the French were on the eve of invading it and that it
was deemed necessary by the Regent that an army from eighteen to
forty-five should be raised immediately. This was the great lie, and
then the little lies were soon at its heels; which assured the people
of Helpston that the French had invaded and got to London. And some of
these little lies had the impudence to swear that the French had even
reached Northampton. The people were at their doors in the evening to
talk over the rebellion of '45 when the rebels reached Derby, and
even listened at intervals to fancy they heard the French rebels at
Northampton, knocking it down with their cannon. I never gave much
credit to popular stories of any sort, so I felt no concern at these
stories; though I could not say much for my valour if the tale had
proved true. We had a crossgrained sort of choice left us, which was
to be found, to be drawn, and go for nothing--or take on as volunteers
for the bounty of two guineas. I accepted the latter and went with
a neighbour's son, W. Clarke, to Peterborough to be sworn on and
prepared to join the regiment at Oundle. The morning we left home our
mothers parted with us as if we were going to Botany Bay, and people
got at their doors to bid us farewell and greet us with a Job's
comfort 'that they doubted we should see Helpston no more.' I confess
I wished myself out of the matter. When we got to Oundle, the place
of quartering, we were drawn out into the field, and a more motley
multitude of lawless fellows was never seen in Oundle before--and
hardly out of it. There were 1,300 of us. We were drawn up into a line
and sorted out into companies. I was one of the shortest and therefore
my station is evident. I was in that mixed multitude called the
battalion, which they nicknamed 'bum-tools' for what reason I cannot
tell; the light company was called 'light-bobs,' and the grenadiers
'bacon-bolters' ... who felt as great an enmity against each other as
ever they all felt against the French."
In 1813 he read among other things the "Eikon Basilike," and turned
his hand to odd jobs as they presented themselves. His life appears to
have been comfortable and a little dull for a year or two; flirtation,
verse-making, ambitions and his violin took their turns amiably
enough! At length he went to work in a lime-kiln several miles from
Helpston, and wrote only less poems than he read: one day in the
autumn of 1817, he was dreaming yet new verses when he first saw
"Patty," his wife-to-be. She was then eighteen years old, and modestly
beautiful; for a moment Clare forgot Mary Joyce, and though "the
courtship ultimately took a more prosaic turn," there is no denying
the fact that he was in love with "Patty" Turner, the daughter of the
small farmer who held Walkherd Lodge. In the case of Clare, poetry was
more than ever as time went on autobiography; and it is noteworthy
that among the many love lyrics addressed to Mary Joyce there are not
wanting affectionate tributes to his faithful wife Patty.
Maid of Walkherd, meet again,
By the wilding in the glen....
And I would go to Patty's cot
And Patty came to me;
Each knew the other's very thought
Under the hawthorn tree....
And I'll be true for Patty's sake
And she'll be true for mine;
And I this little ballad make,
To be her valentine.
Not long after seeing Patty, Clare was informed by the owner of the
lime-kiln that his wages would now be seven shillings a week, instead
of nine. He therefore left this master and found similar work in the
village of Pickworth, where being presented with a shoemaker's bill
for L3, he entered into negotiations with a Market Deeping bookseller
regarding "Proposals for publishing by subscription a Collection of
Original Trifles on Miscellaneous Subjects, Religious and Moral, in
verse, by John Clare, of Helpstone." Three hundred proposals were
printed, with a specimen sonnet well chosen to intrigue the religious
and moral; and yet the tale of intending subscribers stood adamantly
at seven. On the face of it, then, Clare had lost one pound; had worn
himself out with distributing his prospectuses; and further had been
discharged from the lime-kiln for doing so in working hours. His
ambitions, indeed, set all employers and acquaintances against him;
and he found himself at the age of twenty-five compelled to ask for
parish relief. In this extremity, even the idea of enlisting once
more crossed his brain; then, that of travelling to Yorkshire for
employment: and at last, the prospectus which had done him so much
damage turned benefactor. With a few friends Clare was drinking
success to his goose-chase when there appeared two "real gentlemen"
from Stamford. One of these, a bookseller named Drury, had chanced
on the prospectus, and wished to see more of Clare's poetry. Soon
afterwards, he promised to publish a selection, with corrections; and
communicated with his relative, John Taylor, who with his partner
Hessey managed the well-known publishing business in Fleet Street.
While this new prospect was opening upon Clare, he succeeded in
obtaining work once more, near the home of Patty; their love-making
proceeded, despite the usual thunderstorms, and the dangerous rivalry
of a certain dark lady named Betty Sell. The bookseller Drury, though
his appearance was in such critical days timely for Clare, was not a
paragon of virtue. Without Clare's knowing it, he acquired the legal
copyright of the poems, probably by the expedient of dispensing money
at convenient times--a specious philanthropy, as will be shown. At the
same time he allowed Clare to open a book account, which proved
at length to be no special advantage. And further, with striking
astuteness, he found constant difficulty in returning originals. In a
note written some ten years later, Clare regrets that "Ned Drury has
got my early vol. of MSS. I lent it him at first, but like all my
other MSS. elsewhere I could never get it again.... He has copies
of all my MSS. except those written for the 'Shepherd's Calendar.'"
Nevertheless, through Drury, Clare was enabled to meet his publisher
Taylor and his influential friend of the _Quarterly_, Octavius
Gilchrist, before the end of 1819.
By 1818, there is no doubt, Clare had read very deeply, and even had
some idea of the classical authors through translations. It is certain
that he knew the great English writers, probable that he possessed
their works. What appears to be a list of books which he was anxious
to sell in his hardest times includes some curious titles, with some
familiar ones. There are Cobb's Poems, Fawke's Poems, Broom's, Mrs.
Hoole's, and so on; there are also Cowley's Works--Folio, Warton's
"Milton," Waller, and a Life of Chatterton; nor can he have been
devoid of miscellaneous learning after the perusal of Watson's
"Electricity," Aristotle's Works, Gasse's "Voyages," "Nature
Display'd," and the _European Magazine_ ("fine heads and plates"). His
handwriting at this time was bold and hasty; his opinions, to judge
from his uncompromising notes to Drury respecting the text of the
poems, almost cynical and decidedly his own. Tact was essential if you
would patronize Clare: you might broaden his opinions, but you dared
not assail them. Thus the friendly Gilchrist, a high churchman, hardly
set eyes on Clare before condemning Clare's esteem for a dissenting
minister, a Mr. Holland, who understood the poet and the poetry: it
was some time before Gilchrist set eyes on Clare again.
The year 1820 found Clare unemployed once more, but the said Mr.
Holland arrived before long with great news. "In the beginning of
January," Clare briefly puts it, "my poems were published after a long
anxiety of nearly two years and all the Reviews, except Phillips'
waste paper magazine, spoke in my favour." Most assuredly they did.
The literary world, gaping for drouth, had seen an announcement, then
an account of "John Clare, an agricultural labourer and poet," during
the previous autumn; the little cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, in
a little while seemed to usurp the whole sky--or in other terms, three
editions of "Poems Descriptiveof Rural Life and Scenery" were sold
between January 16 and the last of March. While this fever was raging
among the London coteries, critical, fashionable, intellectual, even
the country folk round Helpston came to the conclusion that Clare was
something of a phenomenon. "In the course of the publication," says
Clare, "I had ventured to write to Lord Milton to request leave that
the volume might be dedicated to him; but his Lordship was starting
into Italy and forgot to answer it. So it was dedicated to nobody,
which perhaps might be as well. As soon as it was out, my mother took
one to Milton; when his Lordship sent a note to tell me to bring ten
more copies. On the following Sunday I went, and after sitting
awhile in the servants' hall (where I could eat or drink nothing
for thought), his Lordship sent for me, and instantly explained the
reasons why he did not answer my letter, in a quiet unaffected manner
which set me at rest. He told me he had heard of my poems by Parson
Mossop (of Helpston), who I have since heard took hold of every
opportunity to speak against my success or poetical abilities before
the book was published, and then, when it came out and others praised
it, instantly turned round to my side. Lady Milton also asked
me several questions, and wished me to name any book that was a
favourite; expressing at the same time a desire to give me one. But I
was confounded and could think of nothing. So I lost the present.
In fact, I did not like to pick out a book for fear of seeming
over-reaching on her kindness, or else Shakespeare was at my tongue's
end. Lord Fitzwilliam, and Lady Fitzwilliam too, talked to me and
noticed me kindly, and his Lordship gave me some advice which I had
done well perhaps to have noticed better than I have. He bade me
beware of booksellers and warned me not to be fed with promises. On my
departure they gave me a handful of money--the most that I had ever
possessed in my life together. I almost felt I should be poor no
more--there was L17." Such is Clare's description of an incident which
has been rendered in terms of insult. Other invitations followed, the
chief practical result being an annuity of fifteen pounds promised by
the Marquis of Exeter. Men of rank and talent wrote letters to Clare,
or sent him books: some found their way to Helpston, and others sent
tracts to show him the way to heaven. And now at last Clare was well
enough off to marry Patty, before the birth of their first child, Anna
Before his marriage, probably, Clare was desired to spend a few days
with his publisher Taylor in London. In smock and gaiters he felt most
uncertain of himself and borrowed a large overcoat from Taylor to
disguise his dress: over and above this question of externals, he
instinctively revolted against being exhibited. Meeting Lord Radstock,
sometime admiral in the Royal Navy, at dinner in Taylor's house, Clare
gained a generous if somewhat religiose friend, with the instant
result that he found himself "trotting from one drawing-room to the
other." He endured this with patience, thinking possibly of the cat
killed by kindness; and incidentally Radstock introduced him to the
strangely superficial-genuine lady Mrs. Emmerson, who was to be a
faithful, thoughtful friend to his family for many years to come. In
another direction, soon after Clare's return to Helpston, the retired
admiral did him a great service, opening a private subscription list
for his benefit: it was found possible to purchase "L250 Navy 5 Per
Cents" on the 28th April and a further "L125 Navy 5 Per Cents" a month
or so later. This stock, held by trustees, yielded Clare a dividend of
L18 15s. at first, but in 1823 this income dwindled to L15 15s.; and
by 1832 appears to have fallen to L13 10s. To the varying amount thus
derived, and to the L15 given yearly by the Marquis of Exeter,
a Stamford doctor named Bell--one of Clare's most energetic
admirers--succeeded in adding another annuity of L10 settled upon the
poet by Lord Spencer. But in the consideration of these bounties, it
is just to examine the actual financial effect of Clare's first book.
The publishers' own account, furnished only through Clare's repeated
demands in 1829 or thereabouts, has a sobering tale to tell: but so
far no biographer has condescended to examine it.
On the first edition Clare got nothing. Against him is entered the
item "Cash paid Mr. Clare for copyright p. Mr. Drury ... L20"; but
this money if actually paid had been paid in 1819. Against him also is
charged a curious "Commission 5 p. Cent... L8 12s.," while Drury and
Taylor acknowledge sharing profits of L26 odd.
On the second and third editions Clare got nothing; but to his account
is charged the L100 which Taylor and Hessey "subscribed" to his fund.
"Commission," "Advertising," "Sundries," and "Deductions allowed to
Agents," account for a further L51 of the receipts: and Drury and
Taylor ostensibly take over L30 apiece.
The fourth edition not being exhausted, the account is not closed: but
"Advertising" has already swollen to L30, and there is no sign that
Clare benefits a penny piece. Small wonder that at the foot of these
figures he has written, "How can this be? I never sold the poems
for any price--what money I had of Drury was given me on account of
profits to be received--but here it seems I have got nothing and
am brought in minus twenty pounds of which I never received a
sixpence--or it seems that by the sale of these four thousand copies
I have lost that much--and Drury told me that 5,000 copies had been
printed tho' 4,000 only are accounted for." Had Clare noticed further
an arithmetical discrepancy which apparently shortened his credit
balance by some L27, he might have been still more sceptical.
Not being overweighted, therefore, with instant wealth, Clare returned
to Helpston determined to continue his work in the fields. But fame
opposed him: all sorts and conditions of Lydia Whites, Leo Hunters,
Stigginses, and Jingles crowded to the cottage, demanding to see the
Northamptonshire Peasant, and often wasting hours of his time. One
day, for example, "the inmates of a whole boarding-school, located at
Stamford, visited the unhappy poet"; and even more congenial visitors
who cheerfully hurried him off to the tavern parlour were the ruin of
his work. Yet he persevered, writing his poems only in his leisure,
until the harvest of 1820 was done; then in order to keep his word
with Taylor, who had agreed to produce a new volume in the spring
of 1821, he spent six months in the most energetic literary labour.
Writing several poems a day as he roamed the field or sat in Lea
Close Oak, he would sit till late in the night sifting, recasting and
transcribing. His library, by his own enterprise and by presents from
many friends, was greatly enlarged, and he already knew not only the
literature of the past, but also that of the present. In his letters
to Taylor are mentioned his appreciations of Keats, "Poor Keats, you
know how I reverence him," Shelley, Hunt, Lamb--and almost every
other contemporary classic. Nor was he afraid to criticize Scott with
freedom in a letter to Scott's friend Sherwell: remarking also that
Wordworth's Sonnet on Westminster Bridge had no equal in the language,
but disagreeing with "his affected godliness."
Taylor and Hessey for their part did not seem over-anxious to produce
the new volume of poems, perhaps because Clare would not allow any
change except in the jots and tittles of his work, perhaps thinking
that the public had had a surfeit of sensation. At length in the
autumn of 1821 the "Village Minstrel" made its appearance, in
two volumes costing twelve shillings; with the bait of steel
engravings,--the first, an unusually fine likeness of Clare from
the painting by Hilton; the second, an imaginative study of Clare's
cottage, not without representation of the Blue Bell, the village
cross and the church. The book was reviewed less noisily, and a sale
of a mere 800 copies in two months was regarded as "a very modified
success." Meanwhile, Clare was writing for the _London Magazine_, and
Cherry tells us that "as he contributed almost regularly for some
time, a substantial addition was made to his income." Clare tells us,
in a note on a cash account dated 1827, "In this cash account there
is nothing allowed me for my three years' writing for the _London
Magazine_. I was to have L12 a year."
To insist in the financial affairs of Clare may seem blatant, or
otiose: actually, the treatment which he underwent was a leading
influence in his career. He was grateful enough to Radstock for
raising a subscription fund; he may have been grateful to Taylor
and Hessey for subscribing L100 of his own money; but what hurt and
embittered him was to see this sum and the others invested for him
under trustees. Indeed, what man would not, if possessed of any
independence of mind, strongly oppose such namby-pamby methods? It is
possible to take a more sinister view of Taylor and Hessey and their
reluctance ever to provide Clare with a statement of account; but in
the matter of Clare's funded property folly alone need be considered.
In October 1821, notably, Clare saw an excellent opportunity for the
future of his family. A small freehold of six or seven acres with a
pleasant cottage named Bachelor's Hall, where Clare had spent many an
evening in comfort and even in revelry, was mortgaged to a Jew for
two hundred pounds; the tenants offered Clare the whole property on
condition that he paid off the mortgage. Small holdings were rare in
that district of great landowners, and this to Clare was the chance
of a lifetime. He applied therefore to Lord Radstock for two hundred
pounds from his funded property; Radstock replied that "the funded
property was vested in trustees who were restricted to paying the
interest to him." It would have been, thought Clare, no difficult
matter for Radstock to have advanced me that small amount; and he
rightly concluded that his own strength of character and common sense
were distrusted by his patrons. Not overwhelmed by this, he now
applied to his publisher Taylor, offering to sell his whole literary
output for five years at the price of two hundred pounds. Taylor was
not enthusiastic. These writings, he urged, might be worth more, or
might be worth less; in the first case Clare, in the second himself
would lose on the affair; besides, there were money-lenders and legal
niceties to beware of; let not Clare "be ambitious but remain in the
state in which God had placed him." Thus the miserable officiousness
went on, and if Clare for a time found some comfort in the glass who
can blame him? In his own words, "for enemies he cared nothing, from
his friends he had much to fear." He was "thrown back among all the
cold apathy of killing kindness that had numbed him ... for years."
In May, 1822, Clare spent a brief holiday in London, meeting there the
strong men of the _London Magazine_, Lamb, Hood, and therest. From
his clothes, the _London_ group called him The Green Man; Lamb took a
singular interest in him, and was wont to address him as "Clarissimus"
and "Princely Clare." Another most enthusiastic acquaintance was a
painter named Rippingille, who had begun life as the son of a farmer
at King's Lynn, and who was now thoroughly capable of taking Clare
into the most Bohemian corners of London. Suddenly, however, news came
from Helpston recalling the poet from these perambulations, and he
returned in haste, to find his second daughter born, Eliza Louisa,
god-child of Mrs. Emmerson and Lord Radstock.
At this time, Clare appears to have been writing ballads of a truly
rustic sort, perhaps in the light of his universal title, The
Northamptonshire Peasant Poet. He would now, moreover, collect such
old ballads and songs as his father and mother or those who worked
with him might chance to sing; but was often disappointed to find that
"those who knew fragments seemed ashamed to acknowledge it ... and
those who were proud of their knowledge in such things knew nothing
but the senseless balderdash that is brawled over and sung at country
feasts, statutes, and fairs, where the most senseless jargon passes
for the greatest excellence, and rudest indecency for the finest wit."
None the less he recovered sufficient material to train himself into
the manner of these "old and beautiful recollections." But whatever
he might write or edit, he was unlikely to find publishers willing
to bring out. The "Village Minstrel" had barely passed the first
thousand, and the "second edition" was not melting away. Literature
after all was not money, and to increase Clare's anxiety and dilemma
came illness. In the early months of 1823, he made a journey to
Stamford to ask the help of his old friend Gilchrist.
Gilchrist was already in the throes of his last sickness, and Clare
took his leave without a word of his own difficulties. Arriving home,
he fell into a worse illness than before; but as the spring came on he
rallied, and occasionally walked to Stamford to call on his friend,
who likewise seemed beginning to mend. On the 30th of June, Clare was
received with the news "Mr. Gilchrist is dead." Clare relapsed into a
curious condition which appeared likely to overthrow his life or his
reason when Taylor most fortunately came to see him, and procured him
the best doctor in Peterborough. This doctor not only baffled
Clare's disease, but, rousing attention wherever he could in the
neighbourhood, was able to provide him with good food and even some
old port from the cellar of the Bishop of Peterborough.
At last on the advice of the good doctor and the renewed invitation of
Taylor, Clare made a third pilgrimage to London, and this time stayed
from the beginning of May till the middle of July, 1824. Passing the
first three weeks in peaceful contemplation of London crowds, he
was well enough then to attend a _London Magazine_ dinner, where De
Quincey swam into his ken, and the next week a similar gathering where
Coleridge talked for three hours. Clare sat next to Charles Elton and
gained a staunch friend, who shortly afterwards sent him a letter
in verse with a request that he should sit to Rippingille for his
His touch will, hue by hue, combine
Thy thoughtful eyes, that steady shine,
The temples of Shakesperian line,
The quiet smile.
To J. H. Reynolds he seemed "a very quiet and worthy yet enthusiastic
man." George Darley, too, was impressed by Clare the man, and for some
time was to be one of the few serious critics of Clare the poet. Allan
Cunningham showed a like sympathy and a still more active interest.
A less familiar character, the journalist Henry Van Dyk, perhaps did
Clare more practical good than either.
With these good effects of Clare's third visit to town, another may be
noted. A certain Dr. Darling attended him throughout, and persuaded
him to give up drink; this he did. The real trouble at Helpston was to
discover employment, for already Clare was supporting his wife, his
father and mother, and three young children. Farmers were unwilling
to employ Clare, indeed insulted him if he applied to them: and his
reticence perhaps lost him situations in the gardens of the Marquis of
Exeter, and then of the Earl Fitzwilliam.
In spite of disappointments, he wrote almost without pause, sometimes
making poems in the manner of elder poets (with the intention of mild
literary forgery), sometimes writing in his normal vein for the lately
announced "New Shepherd's Calendar"; and almost daily preparing two
series of articles, on natural history and on British birds. A curious
proof of the facility with which he wrote verse is afforded by the
great number of rhymed descriptions of birds, their nests and eggs
which this period produced: as though he sat down resolved to write
prose notes and found his facts running into metre even against his
will. As if not yet embroiled in schemes enough, Clare planned and
began a burlesque novel, an autobiography, and other prose papers:
while he kept a diary which should have been published. Clare had
been forced into a literary career, and no one ever worked more
conscientiously or more bravely. Those who had at first urged him to
write can scarcely be acquitted of desertion now: but the more and the
better Clare wrote, the less grew the actual prospect of production,
success and independence.
On the 9th of March, 1825, Clare wrote in his diary: "I had a very odd
dream last night, and take it as an ill omen ... I thought I had one
of the proofs of the new poems from London, and after looking at it
awhile it shrank through my hands like sand, and crumbled into dust."
Three days afterwards, the proof of the "Shepherd's Calendar" arrived
at Helpston. The ill omen was to be proved true, but not yet. Clare
continued to write and to botanize, and being already half-forgotten
by his earlier friends was contented with the company of two notable
local men, Edward Artis the archaeologist who discovered ancient
Durobrivae, and Henderson who assisted Clare in his nature-work. These
two pleasant companions were in the service of Earl Fitzwilliam. It
was perhaps through their interest that Clare weathered the hardships
of 1825 so well; and equally, although the "Shepherd's Calendar"
seemed suspended, did Clare's old patron Radstock endeavour to keep
his spirits up, writing repeatedly to the publisher in regard to
Clare's account. The hope of a business agreement was destroyed by the
sudden death of Radstock, "the best friend," says Clare, "I have met
Not long after this misfortune, Clare returned to field work for the
period of harvest, then through the winter concentrated his energy on
his poetry. Nor was poetry his only production, for through his friend
Van Dyk he was enabled to contribute prose pieces to the London press.
In June, 1826, his fourth child was born, and Clare entreated Taylor
to bring out the "Shepherd's Calendar," feeling that he might at least
receive money enough for the comfort of his wife and his baby; but
Taylor felt otherwise, recommending Clare to write for the annuals
which now began to flourish. This Clare at last persuaded himself to
do. Payment was tardy, and in some cases imaginary; and for the time
being the annuals were not the solution of his perplexities. He
therefore went back to the land; and borrowing the small means
required rented at length a few acres, with but poor results.
The publication of Clare's first book had been managed with excellent
strategy; Taylor had left nothing to chance, and the public responded
as he had planned. The independence of Clare may have displeased
the publisher; at any rate, his enthusiasm dwindled, and further to
jeopardize Clare's chances it occurred that in 1825 Taylor and Hessey
came to an end, the partners separating. Omens were indeed bad for
the "Shepherd's Calendar" which, two years after its announcement,
in June, 1827, made its unobtrusive appearance. There were very few
reviews, and the book sold hardly at all. Yet this was conspicuously
finer work than Clare had done before. Even "that beautiful
frontispiece of De Wint's," as Taylor wrote, did not attract
attention. The forgotten poet, slaving at his small-holding, found
that his dream had come true. Meanwhile Allan Cunningham had been
inquiring into this non-success, and early in 1828 wrote to Clare
urging him to come to London and interview the publisher. An
invitation from Mrs. Emmerson made thevisit possible. Once more then
did Clare present himself at 20, Stratford Place, and find his "sky
chamber" ready to receive him. Nor did he allow long time to elapse
before finding out Allan Cunningham, who heartily approved of his plan
to call on Taylor, telling him to request a full statement of account.
The next day, when Clare was on the point of making the demand, Taylor
led across the trail with an unexpected offer; recommending Clare to
buy the remaining copies of his "Shepherd's Calendar" from him at
half-a-crown each, that he might sell them in his own district.
Clare asked time to reflect. A week later, against the wish of Allan
Cunningham, he accepted the scheme.
Clare had had another object in coming to town. Dr. Darling had done
him so much good on a previous occasion that he wished to consult him
anew. On the 25th of February, 1828, Clare wrote to his wife: "Mr.
Emmerson's doctor, a Mr. Ward, told me last night that there was
little or nothing the matter with me--and yet I got no sleep the
whole of last night." Already, it appears, had coldness and dilemma
unsettled him. That they had not subdued him, and that his home life
was in the main happy and affectionate, and of as great an importance
to him as any of his aspirations, is to be judged from his poems
and his letters of 1828 and thereabouts. They show him as the very
opposite of the feeble neurotic who has so often been beworded under
20, STRATFORD PLACE, _March 21st, 1828._
MY DEAR PATTY,
I have been so long silent that I feel ashamed of it, but I have been
so much engaged that I really have not had time to write; and the
occasion of my writing now is only to tell you that I shall be at home
next week for certain.--I am anxious to see you and the children
and I sincerely hope you are all well. I have bought the dear little
creatures four books, and Henry Behnes has promised to send Frederick
a wagon and horses as a box of music is not to be had. The books I
have bought them are "Puss-in-Boots," "Cinderella," "Little Rhymes,"
and "The Old Woman and Pig"; tell them that the pictures are all
coloured, and they must make up their minds to chuse which they like
best ere I come home.--Mrs. Emmerson desires to be kindly remembered
to you, and intends sending the children some toys. I hope next
Wednesday night at furthest will see me in my old corner once again
amongst you. I have made up my mind to buy Baxter "The History of
Greece," which I hope will suit him. I have been poorly, having caught
cold, and have been to Dr. Darling. I would have sent you some money
which I know you want, but as I am coming home so soon I thought it
much safer to bring it home myself than send it; and as this is only
to let you know that I am coming home, I shall not write further than
hoping you are all well--kiss the dear children for me all round--give
my remembrances to all--and believe me, my dear Patty,
Yours most affectionately,
During this stay in London, Clare had had proofs that his poems
were not completely overlooked. Strangers, recognizing him from the
portrait in the "Village Minstrel," often addressed him in the street.
In this way he first met Alaric A. Watts, and Henry Behnes, the
sculptor, who induced Clare to sit to him. The result was a strong,
intensely faithful bust (preserved now in the Northampton Free
Library). Hilton, who had painted Clare in water-colours and in oils,
celebrated with Behnes and Clare the modelling of this bust, all three
avoiding a dinner of lions arranged by Mrs. Emmerson. On another
occasion, Clare found a congenial spirit in William Hone.
But now Clare is home at Helpston, ready with a sack of poetry to
tramp from house to house and try his luck. Sometimes he dragged
himself thirty miles a day, meeting rectors who "held it unbecoming
to see poems hawked about": one day, having walked seven milesinto
Peterborough, and having sold no books anywhere, he trudged home
to find Patty in the pains of labour; and now had to go back to
Peterborough as fast as he might for a doctor. Now there were nine
living beings dependent on Clare. At length he altered his plan of
campaign, and advertised that his poems could be had at his cottage,
with some success. About this time Clare was invited to write for "The
Spirit of the Age," and still he supplied brief pieces to the hated
but unavoidable annuals. Letters too from several towns in East
Anglia, summoning John Clare with his bag of books, at least promised
him some slight revenue; actually he only went to one of these places,
namely Boston, where the mayor gave a banquet in his honour, and
enabled him to sell several volumes--autographed. Among the younger
men, a similar feast was proposed; but Clare declined, afterwards
reproaching himself bitterly on discovering that they had hidden ten
pounds in his wallet. On his return home not only himself but the rest
of the family in turn fell ill with fever, so that the spring of 1829
found Clare out of work and faced with heavy doctor's-bills.
Intellectually, John Clare was in 1828 and 1829 probably at his
zenith. He had ceased long since to play the poetic ploughman; he had
gained in his verses something more ardent and stirring than he had
shown in the "Shepherd's Calendar"; and the long fight (for it was
nothing less) against leading-strings and obstruction now began to
manifest itself in poems of regret and of soliloquy. Having long
written for others' pleasure, he now wrote for his own nature.
I would not wish the burning blaze
Of fame around a restless world,
The thunder and the storm of praise
In crowded tumults heard and hurled.
There had been few periods of mental repose since 1820. His brain and
his poetic genius, by this long discipline and fashioning, were now
triumphant together. The declension from this high estate might have
been more abrupt but for the change in his fortunes. He had again
with gentleness demanded his accounts from his publisher, and when in
August, 1829, these accounts actually arrived, disputed several points
and gained certain concessions: payment was made from the editors of
annuals; and with these reliefs came the chance for him to rent a
small farm and to work on the land of Earl Fitzwilliam. His working
hours were long, and his mind was forced to be idle. This salutary
state of affairs lasted through 1830, until happiness seemed the only
possibility before him. What poems he wrote occurred suddenly and
simply to him. His children--now six in number--were growing up in
more comfort and in more prospect than he had ever enjoyed. But he
reckoned not with illness.
In short, illness reduced Clare almost to skin-and-bone. Farming not
only added nothing but made encroachment on his small stipend. In
despair he flung himself into field labour again, and was carried home
nearly dead with fever. Friends there were not wanting to send food
and medicine; Parson Mossop, having long ago been converted to Clare,
did much for him. Even so the landlord distrained for rent, and Clare
applied to his old friend Henderson the botanist at Milton Park. Lord
Milton came by and Clare was encouraged to tell him his trouble;
his intense phrases and bearing were such that the nobleman at once
promised him a new cottage and a plot of ground. At the same time, he
expressed his hope that there would soon be another volume of poems
by John Clare. This hope was the spark which fired a dangerous train,
perhaps; for Clare once again fell into his exhausting habit of poetry
all the day and every day. He decided to publish a new volume by
The new cottage was in the well-orcharded village of Northborough,
three miles from Helpston. It was indeed luxurious in comparison with
the old stooping house where Clare had spent nearly forty years, but
there was more in that old house than mere stone and timber. Clare
began to look on the coming change with terror; delayed the move day
after day, to the distress of poor Patty; and when at last news came
from Milton Park that the Earl was not content with such strange
hesitation, and when Patty had her household on the line of march, he
"followed in the rear, walking mechanically, with eyes half shut, as
if in a dream." There was no delay in his self-expression.
I've left mine own old home of homes,
Green fields and every pleasant place;
The summer like a stranger comes;
I pause and hardly know her face.
I miss the hazel's happy green,
The bluebell's quiet hanging blooms,
Where envy's sneer was never seen,
Where staring malice never comes.
This and many other verses, not the least pathetic in our language,
were written by John Clare on June 20th, 1832, on the occasion of his
moving out of a small and crowded cottage in a village street to
a roomy, romantic farmhouse standing in its own grounds. Was this
ingratitude? ask rather, is the dyer's hand subdued to what it works
Clare rapidly proceeded with his new collection of poems, destined
never to appear in his lifetime. In a thick oblong blank-book, divided
into four sections to receive Tales in Verse, Poems, Ballads and
Songs, and Sonnets, he copied his best work in a hand small but
clear, and with a rare freedom from slips of the pen. His proposals,
reprinted with a warm-hearted comment in the _Athenaeum_ of 1832, were
in these terms:
The proposals for publishing these fugitives being addressed to
friends no further apology is necessary than the plain statement of
facts. Necessity is said to be the mother of invention, but there
is very little need of invention for truth; and the truth is, that
difficulty has grown up like a tree of the forest, and being no longer
able to conceal it, I meet it in the best way possible by attempting
to publish them for my own benefit and that of a numerous and
increasing family. It were false delicacy to make an idle parade
of independence in my situation, and it would be unmanly to make
a troublesome appeal to favours, public or private, like a public
petitioner. Friends neither expect this from me, or wish me to do it
to others, though it is partly owing to such advice that I was induced
to come forward with these proposals, and if they are successful
they will render me a benefit, and if not they will not cancel any
obligations that I may have received from friends, public and
private, to whom my best wishes are due, and having said this much in
furtherance of my intentions, I will conclude by explaining them.
Proposals for publishing in 1 volume, F.c. 8vo, The Midsummer Cushion,
or Cottage Poems, by John Clare.
1st. The Book will be printed on fine paper, and published as soon as
a sufficient number of subscribers are procured to defray the expense
2nd. It will consist of a number of fugitive trifles, some of which
have appeared in different periodicals, and of others that have never
3rd. No money is requested until the volume shall be delivered, free
of expense, to every subscriber.
4th. The price will not exceed seven shillings and sixpence, and it
may not be so much, as the number of pages and the expense of the book
will be regulated by the Publisher.
In his new home Clare was for a time troubled with visitors; to most
he was aloof, but sometimes he spoke freely of his affairs. One
visitor who found him in the communicative mood chanced to be the
editor of a magazine, _The Alfred._ The denials of Clare, frankly
given to rumours of his new benefits (variously estimated between two
hundred and a thousand a year), were to this gentleman as meat and
drink; and _The Alfred_ for October the 5th, 1832, contained a violent
manifesto condemning publishers and patrons in the most fiery fashion
and apparently inspired by the poet himself. This did his cause much
damage, and Clare wrote to the perpetrator in anger: "There never
was a more scandalous insult to my feelings than this officious
misstatement.... I am no beggar; for my income is L36, and though
I have had no final settlement with Taylor, I expect to have
one directly." Clare ended by demanding a recantation. None was
forthcoming, and the effect on patrons and poet was unfortunate
indeed. Yet still he could write of himself in this uncoloured style:
"I am ready to laugh with you at my own vanity. For I sit sometimes
and wonder over the little noise I have made in the world, until I
think I have written nothing yet to deserve any praise at all. So
the spirit of fame, of living a little after life like a noise on a
conspicuous place, urges my blood upward into unconscious melodies;
and striding down my orchard and homestead I hum and sing inwardly
these little madrigals, and then go in and pen them down, thinking
them much better things than they are--until I look over them again.
And then the charm vanishes into the vanity that I shall do something
better ere I die; and so, in spite of myself, I rhyme on and write
nothing but little things at last."
With the gear that Mrs. Emmerson's kindness and activity had provided,
Clare kept his garden and ground in order; yet the winter of 1832 was
a time of great hardship and foreboding. His youngest son Charles was
born on the 4th of January, 1833; the event shook Clare's nerve more
terribly perhaps than anything before had done and he went out
into the fields. Late in the day his daughter Anna found him lying
unconscious, and for a month he had to keep his bed. As if to prove
the proverb "It never rains but it pours," subscribers to his new
volume hung back, and when spring had come they numbered in all
forty-nine. Clare submitted the work to the publishers, great and
small, but the best offer that he got depended on his providing in
advance L100 for the necessary steel engravings. And now Clare lost
all his delight in lonely walks, but sitting in his study wrote
curious paraphrases of "the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the Book of
Job." His manner towards those round him became apathetic and silent.
Even the news brought by his doctor--who prescribed Clare to his other
patients--that subscribers now were more than two hundred, seemed to
sound meaningless in his ears. But even these danger-signs seemed
discounted by the self-command and cheerfulness which Clare soon
afterwards regained; and ashamed of his misjudgment, Dr. Smith came to
the conclusion that he need visit Clare no more. An attack of insanity
immediately followed, during which Clare did not know his wife, his
children or himself.
From this heavy trance he awoke, bitterly aware of his peril. He wrote
at once to Taylor, again and again. "You must excuse my writing; but I
feel that if I do not write now I shall not be able. What I wish is to
get under Dr. Darling's advice, or to have his advice to go somewhere;
for I have not been from home this twelve-month, and cannot get
anywhere." ... "If I could but go to London, I think I should get
better. How would you advise me to come? I dare not come up by myself.
Do you think one of my children might go with me?... Thank God my wife
and children are all well." Taylor wrote once in mildly sympathetic
words, but probably thought that Clare was making much ado about
nothing. And here at least was the opportunity for a patron to save a
poet from death-in-life for five pounds. Nothing was done, and Clare
sat in his study, writing more and more paraphrases of the Old
Testament, together with series of sonnets of a grotesque, rustic
sort, not resembling any other poems in our language.
The "Midsummer Cushion" had been set aside, but Clare had submitted
many of the poems together with hundreds more to Messrs. Whittaker.
Largely through the recommendations of Mr. Emmerson, the publishers
decided to print a volume from these, picking principally those poems
which had already shown themselves respectable by appearing in the
annuals. One even written in 1820, "The Autumn Robin," was somehow
chosen, to the exclusion of such later poems as "Remembrances"
and "The Fallen Elm." With faults like these, the selection was
nevertheless a distinctly beautiful book of verse. In March, 1834,
Clare definitely received forty pounds for the copyright, and finally
in July, 1835, appeared this his last book, "The Rural Muse." Its
success was half-hearted, in spite of a magnificent eulogy by
Christopher North in _Blackwood's_, and of downright welcome by the
_Athenaeum_, the _New Monthly_ and other good judges. There was a slow
sale for several months, but for Clare there was little chance of new
remuneration. This he could regard calmly, for while the book was in
the press he had received from the Literary Fund a present of fifty
Clare's malady slowly increased. The exact history of this decline is
almost lost, yet we may well believe that the death of his mother on
the 18th of December, 1835, was a day of double blackness for him.
The winter over, Patty made a great fight for his reason, and at last
persuaded him to go out for walks, which checked the decline. Now he
became so passionately fond of being out-of-doors that "he could not
be made to stop a single day at home." In one of these roving walks he
met his old friend Mrs. Marsh, the wife of the Bishop of Peterborough.
A few nights later as her guest he sat in the Peterborough theatre
watching the "Merchant of Venice." So vivid was his imagination--for
doubtless the strolling players were not in themselves convincing--that
he at last began to shout at Shylock and try to attack him on the stage.
When Clare returned to Helpston, the change in him terrified his wife.
And yet, he rallied and walked the fields, and sitting on the window-seat
taught his sons to trim the two yew-trees in his garden into old-fashioned
circles and cones. The positive signs of derangement which he had given so
far were not after all conclusive. He had seen Mary Joyce pass by, he had
spoken to her, occasionally he as a third person had watched and discussed
the doings of John Clare and this lost sweetheart. He had surprised one or
two people by calling mole-hills mountains. One day, too, at Parson
Mossop's house he had suddenly pointed to figures moving up and down.
Under these circumstances, a Market Deeping doctor named Skrimshaw
certified him mad; and on similar grounds almost any one in the world
might be clapped into an asylum.
Hallucinations ceased for a few months, but Mrs. Clare had difficulty
in keeping outside interference at bay. Earl Fitzwilliam, in his
position of landlord, proposed to send the man who called mole-hills
mountains at once to the Northampton Asylum. When the summer came,
unfortunately, Clare's mind seemed suddenly to give way, and
preparations were being made for his admission to the county Asylum
when letters came from Taylor and other old friends in London,
proposing to place him in private hands. Clare was taken accordingly
on the 16th of July, 1837, to Fair Mead House, Highbeach, in Epping
Dr. Allen, the mild broad-minded founder of this excellent asylum, had
few doubts as to the condition of Clare's mind, and assured him an
eventual recovery. As with the fifty other patients, so he dealt with
Clare: keeping him away from books, and making him work in the garden
and the fields. Poetry, it is said, was made impossible for him, paper
being taken away from him; but it is not conceivable that Clare could
live apart from this kindest of companions for many months together.
Soon he was allowed to go out into the forest at his will, often
taking his new acquaintance Thomas Campbell, the son of the poet,
on these wood-rambles. His hallucinations do not appear to have
diminished, although they changed. He was now convinced that Mary
Joyce was his true wife--Patty was his "second wife." He had known
William Shakespeare, and many other great ones in person. Why such men
as Wordsworth, Campbell and Byron were allowed to steal John Clare's
best poems and to publish them as their own, he could not imagine.
John Clare was not only noble by nature but by blood also.--On such
rumoured eccentricities did the popular notion of his madness rest. It
would seem that anything he said was taken down in evidence against
him. How dared he be figurative?
On the other hand, Miss Mitford records figurative conversations not
so easily explained; his eye-witness's account of the execution of
Charles the First, "the most graphic and minute, with an accuracy as
to costume and manners far exceeding what would probably have been at
his command if sane," and his seaman's narrative of the battle of
the Nile and the death of Nelson in exact nautical detail. These
imaginations she compares to clairvoyance. Cyrus Redding, who left
three accounts of his visit, found him "no longer, as he was formerly,
attenuated and pale of complexion ... a little man, of muscular frame
and firmly set, his complexion fresh and forehead high, a nose
somewhat aquiline, and long full chin." "His manner was perfectly
unembarrassed, his language correct and fluent; he appeared to possess
great candour and openness of mind, and much of the temperament of
genius. There was about his manner no tincture of rusticity." Once
only during the conversation did Clare betray any aberration, abruptly
introducing and abandoning the topic of Prize-fighting, as though "a
note had got into a piece of music which had no business there."
Clare told Redding that he missed his wife and his home, the society
of women, and books. At last, having been in the private asylum four
years, he "returned home out of Essex" on foot, leaving Epping Forest
early on July 20, 1841, and dragging himself along almost without
pause until July 23. Of this amazing journey he himself wrote an
account for "Mary Clare," which is printed in full in Martin's "Life":
it is both in style and in subject an extraordinary document. The
first night, he says, "I lay down with my head towards the north, to
show myself the steering-point in the morning." On "the third day I
satisfied my hunger by eating the grass on the roadside which seemed
to taste something like bread. I was hungry and eat heartily till I
was satisfied; in fact, the meal seemed to do me good." And "there was
little to notice, for the road very often looked as stupid as myself."
At last between Peterborough and Helpston "a cart met me, with a man,
a woman and a boy in it. When nearing me the woman jumped out, and
caught fast hold of my hands, and wished me to get into the cart. But
I refused; I thought her either drunk or mad. But when I was told it
was my second wife, Patty, I got in, and was soon at Northborough."
Rest and home somewhat restored Clare's mind, and it was Patty's hope
and aim to keep him in his cottage. Though she attempted to keep paper
from him he contrived to write verse paraphrases of the prophetical
books, sometimes putting in between a song to Mary or a stanza of
nature poetry. At the end of August, round the edges of a local
newspaper he wrote the draft of a letter to Dr. Allen, of Highbeach,
which in the almost complete absence of documents for this period is
an important expression:
MY DEAR SIR,
Having left the Forest in a hurry I had not time to take my leave of
you and your family, but I intended to write, and that before now. But
dullness and disappointment prevented me, for I found your words true
on my return here, having neither friends nor home left. But as it is
called the "Poet's Cottage" I claimed a lodging in it where I now am.
One of my fancies I found here with her family and all well. They met
me on this side Werrington with a horse and cart, and found me all but
knocked up, for I had travelled from Essex to Northamptonshire without
ever eating or drinking all the way--save one pennyworth of beer which
was given me by a farm servant near an odd house called "The Plough."
One day I eat grass to keep on my [feet], but on the last day I chewed
tobacco and never felt hungry afterwards.
Where my poetical fancy is I cannot say, for the people in the
neighbourhood tell me that the one called "Mary" has been dead these
eight years: but I can be miserably happy in any situation and any
place and could have staid in yours on the Forest if any of my friends
had noticed me or come to see me. But the greatest annoyance in such
places as yours are those servants styled keepers, who often assumed
as much authority over me as if I had been their prisoner; and not
liking to quarrel I put up with it till I was weary of the place
altogether. So I heard the voice of freedom, and started, and could
have travelled to York with a penny loaf and a pint of beer; for I
should not have been fagged in body, only one of my old shoes had
nearly lost the sole before I started, and let in the water and silt
the first day, and made me crippled and lame to the end of my journey.
I had eleven books sent me from How & Parsons, Booksellers--some lent
and some given me; out of the eleven I only brought 5 vols. here, and
as I don't want any part of Essex in Northamptonshire agen I wish you
would have the kindness to send a servant to get them for me. I should
be very thankful--not that I care about the books altogether, only it
may be an excuse to see me and get me into company that I do not want
to be acquainted with--one of your labourers', Pratt's, wife borrowed
[ ] of Lord Byron's--and Mrs. Fish's daughter has two or three more,
all Lord Byron's poems; and Mrs. King late of The Owl Public House
Leppit Hill, and now of Endfield Highway, has two or three--all Lord
Byron's, and one is the "Hours of Idleness."
You told me something before haytime about the Queen allowing me
a yearly salary of L100, and that the first quarter had then
commenced--or else I dreamed so. If I have the mistake is not of much
consequence to any one save myself, and if true I wish you would get
the quarter for me (if due), as I want to be independent and pay
for board and lodging while I remain here. I look upon myself as a
widow[er] or bachelor, I don't know which. I care nothing about the
women now, for they are faithless and deceitful; and the first woman,
when there was no man but her husband, found out means to cuckold him
by the aid and assistance of the devil--but women being more righteous
now, and men more plentiful, they have found out a more godly way to
do it without the devil's assistance. And the man who possesses a
woman possesses losses without gain. The worst is the road to ruin,
and the best is nothing like a good Cow. Man I never did like--and
woman has long sickened me. I should like to be to myself a few years
and lead the life of a hermit: but even there I should wish for her
whom I am always thinking of--and almost every song I write has some
sighs and wishes in ink about Mary. If I have not made your head weary
by reading thus far I have tired my own by writing it; so I will bid
you goodbye, and am
My dear doctor
Yours very sincerely
Give my best respects to Mrs. Allen and Miss Allen, and to Dr.
Stedman; also to Campbell, and Hayward, and Howard at Leopard's Hill,
or in fact to any one who may think it worth while to enquire about
Patty worked her hardest to keep Clare out of future asylums, but
it seems that her wishes were overridden. Dr. Allen let it be known
through the _Gentleman's Magazine_ and other publications that Clare
would in the ordinary way almost certainly recover: but the local
doctors knew better. On the authority of an anonymous "patron" the
doctor Skrimshaw who had previously found Clare insane now paid
him another visit, and with a certain William Page, also of Market
Deeping, condemned him to be shut up "After years addicted to poetical
Then one day keepers came, and a vain struggle, and the Northborough
cottage saw John Clare no more. He was now in the asylum at
Northampton, and the minds of Northamptonshire noblemen need no longer
be troubled that a poet was wandering in miserable happiness under
their park walls.
So far, the madness of Clare had been rather an exaltation of mind
than a collapse. Forsaken mainly by his friends--even Mrs. Emmerson's
letters ceased in 1837,--unrecognized by the new generation of writers
and of readers, hated by his neighbours, wasted with hopeless love,
he had encouraged a life of imagination and ideals. Imagination
overpowered him, until his perception of realities failed him.
He could see Mary Joyce or talk with her, he had a family of
dream-children by her: but if this was madness, there was method in
it. But now the blow fell, imprisonment for life: down went John Clare
into idiocy, "the ludicrous with the terrible." And even from this
desperate abyss he rose.
Earl Fitzwilliam paid for Clare's maintenance in the Northampton
Asylum, but at the ordinary rate for poor people. The asylum
authorities at least seemed to have recognized Clare as a man out
of the common, treating him as a "gentleman patient," and allowing
him--for the first twelve years--to go when he wished into
Northampton, where he would sit under the portico of All Saints'
Church in meditation. What dreams were these! "sometimes his face
would brighten up as if illuminated by an inward sun, overwhelming
in its glory and beauty." Sane intervals came, in which he wrote his
poems; and these poems were of a serenity and richness not surpassed
in his earlier work, including for instance "Graves of Infants" (May,
1844), "The Sleep of Spring" (1844), "Invitation to Eternity" (1848)
and "Clock-a-Clay" (before 1854). But little news of him went farther
afield than the town of Northampton, and the poems remained in
manuscript. A glimpse of Clare in these years is left us by a Mr.
Jesse Hall, who as an admirer of his poems called on him in May, 1848.
"As it was a very fine day, he said we could go and have a walk in the
grounds of the institution. We discussed many subjects and I found him
very rational, there being very little evidence of derangement.... I
asked permission for him to come to my hotel the next day. We spent
a few hours together. I was very sorry to find a great change in him
from the previous day, and I had ample evidence of his reason being
dethroned, his conversation being disconnected and many of his remarks
displaying imbecility: but at times he spoke rationally and to the
point." To Hall as to almost every other casual visitor Clare gave
several manuscript poems.
A letter to his wife, dated July 19th, 1848, gives fresh insight into
MY DEAR WIFE,
I have not written to you a long while, but here I am in the land of
Sodom where all the people's brains are turned the wrong way. I was
glad to see John yesterday, and should like to have gone back with
him, for I am very weary of being here. You might come and fetch me
away, for I think I have been here long enough.
I write this in a green meadow by the side of the river agen Stokes
Mill, and I see three of their daughters and a son now and then. The
confusion and roar of mill dams and locks is sounding very pleasant
while I write it, and it's a very beautiful evening; the meadows are
greener than usual after the shower and the rivers are brimful. I
think it is about two years since I was first sent up in this Hell
and French Bastille of English liberty. Keep yourselves happy and
comfortable and love one another. By and bye I shall be with you,
perhaps before you expect me. There has been a great storm here
with thunder and hail that did much damage to the glass in the
neighbourhood. Hailstones the size of hens' eggs fell in some places.
Did your brother John come to Northborough or go to Barnack? His uncle
John Riddle came the next morning but did not stay. I thought I was
coming home but I got cheated. I see many of your little brothers and
sisters at Northampton, weary and dirty with hard work; some of them
with red hands, but all in ruddy good health: some of them are along
with your sister Ruth Dakken who went from Helpston a little girl.
Give my love to your Mother, Grandfather and Sisters, and believe me,
my dear children, hers and yours,
Life went on with little incident for Clare in the asylum. To amuse
himself he read and wrote continually; in 1850 his portrait was
painted, and his death reported. In 1854 he assisted Miss Baker in her
"Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases," providing her with
all his asylum manuscripts and specially contributing some verses on
May-day customs. At this time an edition of his poems was projected,
and the idea met with much interest among those who yet remembered
Clare: but it faded and was gone. The "harmless lunatic" was at length
confined to the asylum grounds, and to the distresses of his mind
began to be added those of the ageing body. Hope even now was not
dead, and a poor versifier but good Samaritan who saw him in 1857
printed some lines in the _London Journal_ for November 2lst asking
the aid of Heaven to restore Clare to his home and his poetry (for he
seems to have written little at that time); a gentleman who was in a
position to judge wrote also that in the spring of 1860 his mind was
calmer than it had been for years, and that he was induced to write
verses once more. But Clare was sixty-seven years old; it was perhaps
too late to release him, and perhaps he had grown past the desire of
liberty. On the 7th of March he wrote to Patty, asking after all his
children and some of his friends, and sending his love to his father
and mother (so long since dead); signing himself "Your loving husband
till death, John Clare." On the 8th he wrote a note to Mr. Hopkins:
"Why I am shut up I don't know." And on the 9th he answered his "dear
Daughter Sophia's letter," saying that he was "not quite so well to
write" as he had been, and (presumably in reply to some offer of books
or comforts) "I want nothing from Home to come here. I shall be glad
to see you when you come." In the course of 1860 he was photographed,
and that the Northampton folk still took an interest in their poet is
proved by the sale of these likenesses; copies could be seen in the
shops until recent years. But that Clare might have been set at large
seems not to have occurred to those who in curiosity purchased his
portrait. A visitor named John Plummer went to the asylum in 1861, and
found Clare reading in the window recess of a very comfortable room.
"Time had dealt kindly with him," he wrote. "It was in vain that we
strove to arrest his attention: he merely looked at us with a vacant
gaze for a moment, and then went on reading his book." This was
possibly rather the action of sanity than of insanity. Yet Plummer did
his best, in _Once a Week_ and elsewhere, to call attention to
the forgotten poet, who was visited soon afterwards by the worthy
Nonconformist Paxton Hood, and presently by Joseph Whitaker, the
publisher of the "Almanack."
Clare became patriarchal in appearance; and his powers failed more
rapidly, until he could walk no longer. A wheel-chair was procured for
him, that he might still enjoy the garden and the open air. On Good
Friday in 1864 he was taken out for the last time; afterwards he could
not be moved, yet he would still manage to reach his window-seat; then
came paralysis, and on the afternoon of May the 20th, 1864,
His soul seemed with the free,
He died so quietly.
His last years had been spent in some degree of happiness, and
from officials and fellow-patients he had received gentleness, and
sympathy, and even homage. It has been said, not once nor twice but
many times, that in the asylum he was never visited by his wife, nor
by any of his children except the youngest son, Charles, who came
once. That any one should condemn Patty for her absence is surely
presumptuous in the extreme: she was now keeping her home together
with the greatest difficulty, nor can it be known what deeper motives
influenced relationships between wife and husband, even if the name of
Mary Joyce meant nothing. That the children came to see their father
whenever they could, the letters given above signify: but, if the
opportunities were not many, there were the strongest of reasons.
Frederick died in 1843, just after Clare's incarceration: Anna in the
year following: Charles the youngest, a boy of great promise, in 1852:
and Sophia in 1863. William, and John who went to Wales, went when
occasion came and when they could afford the expense of the journey:
Eliza, who survived last of Clare's children and who most of all
understood him and his poetry, was unable through illness to leave her
home for many years, yet she went once to see him. The isolation which
found its expression in "I Am" was another matter: it was the sense of
futility, of not having fulfilled his mission, of total eclipse
that spoke there. N. P. Willis, perhaps the Howitts, and a few more
worthies came for brief hours to see Clare, rather as a phenomenon
than as a poet; but Clare, who had sat with Elia and his assembled
host, who had held his own with the finest brains of his time and had
written such a cornucopia of genuine poetry now lying useless in his
cottage at Northborough, cannot but have regarded the Northampton
Asylum as "the shipwreck of his own esteems."
Clare was buried on May 25th, 1864, where he had wished to be, in the
churchyard at Helpston. The letter informing Mrs. Clare of his death
was delivered at the wrong address, and did not eventually reach her
at Northborough before Clare's coffin arrived at Helpston; scarcely
giving her time to attend the funeral the next day. Indeed, had the
sexton at Helpston been at home, the bearers would have urged him to
arrange for the funeral at once; in his absence, they left the coffin
in an inn parlour for the night, and a scandal was barely prevented.
A curious superstition grew up locally that it was not Clare's body
which was buried in that coffin: and among those who attended the last
rite, not one but found it almost impossible to connect this episode
with those days forty years before, when so many a notable man
was seen making through Helpston village for the cottage of the
eager-eyed, brilliant, unwearying young poet who was the talk of
London. After such a long silence and oblivion, even the mention
of John Clare's name in his native village awoke odd feelings of
The poetry of John Clare, originally simple description of the country
and countrymen, or ungainly imitation of the poetic tradition as he
knew it through Allan Ramsay, Burns, and the popular writers of the
eighteenth century, developed into a capacity for exact and complete
nature-poetry and for self-expression. Thoroughly awake to all the
finest influences in life and in literature, he devoted himself to
poetry in every way. Imagination, colour, melody and affection were
his by nature; where he lacked was in dramatic impulse and in passion,
and sometimes his incredible facility in verse, which enabled him to
complete poem after poem without pause or verbal difficulty, was not
his best friend. He possesses a technique of his own; his rhymes are
based on pronunciation, the Northamptonshire pronunciation to which
his ear had been trained, and thus he accurately joins "stoop" and
"up," or "horse" and "cross"--while his sonnets are free and often
unique in form. In spite of his individual manner, there is no poet
who in his nature-poetry so completely subdues self and mood and deals
with the topic for its own sake. That he is by no means enslaved to
nature-poetry, the variety of the poems in this selection must show.
His Asylum Poems are distinct from most of the earlier work. They are
often the expressions of his love tragedy, yet strange to say they
are not often sad or bitter: imagination conquers, and the tragedy
vanishes. They are rhythmically new, the movement having changed from
that of quiet reflection to one of lyrical enthusiasm: even nature
is now seen in brighter colours and sung in subtler music. Old age
bringing ever intenser recollection and childlike vision found Clare
writing the light lovely songs which bear no slightest sign of the
cruel years. So near in these later poems are sorrow and joy that they
awaken deeper feelings and instincts than almost any other lyrics
can--emotions such as he shares with us in his "Adieu!":
I left the little birds
And sweet lowing of the herds,
And couldn't find out words,
Do you see,
To say to them good-bye,
Where the yellowcups do lie;
So heaving a deep sigh,
Took to sea....
In this sort of pathos, so indefinable and intimate, William Blake and
only he can be said to resemble him.
What is Life
*The Maid of Ocram, or Lord Gregory
The Gipsy's Camp
The Wood-cutter's Night Song
Rural Morning Song
The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story
*To Anna Three Years Old
*From "The Parish: A Satire"
Nobody Cometh to Woo
MIDDLE PERIOD, 1824-1836--
*The Old Cottagers
*Letter in Verse
Farewell and Defiance to Love
To John Milton
The Vanities of Life
*The Fallen Elm
*Sport in the Meadows
A World for Love
Nature's Hymn to the Deity
*The Cellar Door
The Shepherd's Tree
The Firetail's Nest
The Fear of Flowers
Emmonsail's Heath in Winter
Pleasures of Fancy
The Thrush's Nest
November Earth's Eternity
*Signs of Winter
*Birds in Alarm
The Beautiful Stranger
*"The Lass with the Delicate Air"
*Love and Solitude
*The Frightened Ploughman
*Farewell The Old Year
*The Winter's Come
Bonnie Lassie O!
*Meet Me in the Green Glen
*Love Cannot Die
*The Crow Sat on the Willow
*Now is Past
*The Maid of Jerusalem
*Thou Flower of Summer
The Sleep of Spring
Bonny Mary O!
Where She Told Her Love
*Invitation to Eternity
*The Maple Tree
*House or Window Flies
*From "A Rhapsody"
*Peggy's the Lady of the Hall
*I Dreamt of Robin
*The Peasant Poet
*To John Clare
Graves of Infants
The Dying Child
Love Lives Beyond the Tomb
*Fragment: A Specimen of Clare's rough drafts A Bibliographical
Poems with asterisks are now first printed, or in one or two cases now
A faithless shepherd courted me,
He stole away my liberty.
When my poor heart was strange to men,
He came and smiled and stole it then.
When my apron would hang low,
Me he sought through frost and snow.
When it puckered up with shame,
And I sought him, he never came.
When summer brought no fears to fright,
He came to guard me every night.
When winter nights did darkly prove,
None came to guard me or to love.
I wish, I wish, but all in vain,
I wish I was a maid again.
A maid again I cannot be,
O when will green grass cover me?
Mary, leave thy lowly cot
When thy thickest jobs are done;
When thy friends will miss thee not,
Mary, to the pastures run.
Where we met the other night
Neath the bush upon the plain,
Be it dark or be it light,
Ye may guess we'll meet again.
Should ye go or should ye not,
Never shilly-shally, dear.
Leave your work and leave your cot,
Nothing need ye doubt or fear:
Fools may tell ye lies in spite,
Calling me a roving swain;
Think what passed the other night--
I'll be bound ye'll meet again.
The sinking sun is taking leave,
And sweetly gilds the edge of Eve,
While huddling clouds of purple dye
Gloomy hang the western sky.
Crows crowd croaking over head,
Hastening to the woods to bed.
Cooing sits the lonely dove,
Calling home her absent love.
With "Kirchup! Kirchup!" mong the wheats
Partridge distant partridge greets;
Beckoning hints to those that roam,
That guide the squandered covey home.
Swallows check their winding flight,
And twittering on the chimney light.
Round the pond the martins flirt,
Their snowy breasts bedaubed with dirt,
While the mason, neath the slates,
Each mortar-bearing bird awaits:
By art untaught, each labouring spouse
Curious daubs his hanging house.
Bats flit by in hood and cowl;
Through the barn-hole pops the owl;
From the hedge, in drowsy hum,
Heedless buzzing beetles bum,
Haunting every bushy place,
Flopping in the labourer's face.
Now the snail hath made its ring;
And the moth with snowy wing
Circles round in winding whirls,
Through sweet evening's sprinkled pearls,
On each nodding rush besprent;
Dancing on from bent to bent;
Now to downy grasses clung,
Resting for a while he's hung;
Then, to ferry oer the stream,
Vanishing as flies a dream;
Playful still his hours to keep,
Till his time has come to sleep;
In tall grass, by fountain head,
Weary then he drops to bed.
From the hay-cock's moistened heaps,
Startled frogs take vaunting leaps;
And along the shaven mead,
Jumping travellers, they proceed:
Quick the dewy grass divides,
Moistening sweet their speckled sides;
From the grass or flowret's cup,
Quick the dew-drop bounces up.
Now the blue fog creeps along,
And the bird's forgot his song:
Flowers now sleep within their hoods;
Daisies button into buds;
From soiling dew the butter-cup
Shuts his golden jewels up;
And the rose and woodbine they
Wait again the smiles of day.
Neath the willow's wavy boughs,
Dolly, singing, milks her cows;
While the brook, as bubbling by,
Joins in murmuring melody.
Dick and Dob, with jostling joll,
Homeward drag the rumbling roll;
Whilom Ralph, for Doll to wait,
Lolls him o'er the pasture gate.
Swains to fold their sheep begin;
Dogs loud barking drive them in.
Hedgers now along the road
Homeward bend beneath their load;
And from the long furrowed seams,
Ploughmen loose their weary teams:
Ball, with urging lashes wealed,
Still so slow to drive a-field,
Eager blundering from the plough,
Wants no whip to drive him now;
At the stable-door he stands,
Looking round for friendly hands
To loose the door its fastening pin,
And let him with his corn begin.
Round the yard, a thousand ways,
Beasts in expectation gaze,
Catching at the loads of hay
Passing fodderers tug away.
Hogs with grumbling, deafening noise,
Bother round the server boys;
And, far and near, the motley group
Anxious claim their suppering-up.
From the rest, a blest release,
Gabbling home, the quarreling geese
Seek their warm straw-littered shed,
And, waddling, prate away to bed.
Nighted by unseen delay,
Poking hens, that lose their way,
On the hovel's rafters rise,
Slumbering there, the fox's prize.
Now the cat has ta'en her seat,
With her tail curled round her feet;
Patiently she sits to watch
Sparrows fighting on the thatch.
Now Doll brings the expected pails,
And dogs begin to wag their tails;
With strokes and pats they're welcomed in,
And they with looking wants begin;
Slove in the milk-pail brimming o'er,
She pops their dish behind the door.
Prone to mischief boys are met,
Neath the eaves the ladder's set,
Sly they climb in softest tread,
To catch the sparrow on his bed;
Massacred, O cruel pride!
Dashed against the ladder's side.
Curst barbarians! pass me by;
Come not, Turks, my cottage nigh;
Sure my sparrows are my own,
Let ye then my birds alone.
Come, poor birds, from foes severe
Fearless come, you're welcome here;
My heart yearns at fate like yours,
A sparrow's life's as sweet as ours.
Hardy clowns! grudge not the wheat
Which hunger forces birds to eat:
Your blinded eyes, worst foes to you,
Can't see the good which sparrows do.
Did not poor birds with watching rounds
Pick up the insects from your grounds,
Did they not tend your rising grain,
You then might sow to reap in vain.
Thus Providence, right understood,
Whose end and aim is doing good,
Sends nothing here without its use;
Though ignorance loads it with abuse,
And fools despise the blessing sent,
And mock the Giver's good intent.--
O God, let me what's good pursue,
Let me the same to others do
As I'd have others do to me,
And learn at least humanity.
Dark and darker glooms the sky;
Sleep gins close the labourer's eye:
Dobson leaves his greensward seat,
Neighbours where they neighbours meet
Crops to praise, and work in hand,
And battles tell from foreign land.
While his pipe is puffing out,
Sue he's putting to the rout,
Gossiping, who takes delight
To shool her knitting out at night,
And back-bite neighbours bout the town--
Who's got new caps, and who a gown,
And many a thing, her evil eye
Can see they don't come honest by.
Chattering at a neighbour's house,
She hears call out her frowning spouse;
Prepared to start, she soodles home,
Her knitting twisting oer her thumb,
As, both to leave, afraid to stay,
She bawls her story all the way;
The tale so fraught with 'ticing charms,
Her apron folded oer her arms.
She leaves the unfinished tale, in pain,
To end as evening comes again:
And in the cottage gangs with dread,
To meet old Dobson's timely frown,
Who grumbling sits, prepared for bed,
While she stands chelping bout the town.
The night-wind now, with sooty wings,
In the cotter's chimney sings;
Now, as stretching oer the bed,
Soft I raise my drowsy head,
Listening to the ushering charms,
That shake the elm tree's mossy arms:
Till sweet slumbers stronger creep,
Deeper darkness stealing round,
Then, as rocked, I sink to sleep,
Mid the wild wind's lulling sound.
_What is Life?_
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 floweret of its gem,--and dies;
A cobweb hiding disappointment's thorn,
Which stings more keenly through the thin disguise.
And thou, O Trouble?--Nothing can suppose,
(And sure the power of wisdom only knows,)
What need requireth thee:
So free and liberal as thy bounty flows,
Some necessary cause must surely be;
But disappointments, pains, and every woe
Devoted wretches feel,
The universal plagues of life below,
Are mysteries still neath Fate's unbroken seal.
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 stripped of its disguise,
A thing to be desired it cannot be;
Since every thing that meets our foolish eyes
Gives proof sufficient of its vanity.
Tis 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 Maid Of Ocram or, Lord Gregory_
Gay was the Maid of Ocram
As lady eer might be
Ere she did venture past a maid
To love Lord Gregory.
Fair was the Maid of Ocram
And shining like the sun
Ere her bower key was turned on two
Where bride bed lay for none.
And late at night she sought her love--
The snow slept on her skin--
Get up, she cried, thou false young man,
And let thy true love in.
And fain would he have loosed the key
All for his true love's sake,
But Lord Gregory then was fast asleep,
His mother wide awake.
And up she threw the window sash,
And out her head put she:
And who is that which knocks so late
And taunts so loud to me?
It is the Maid of Ocram,
Your own heart's next akin;
For so you've sworn, Lord Gregory,
To come and let me in.
O pause not thus, you know me well,
Haste down my way to win.
The wind disturbs my yellow locks,
The snow sleeps on my skin.--
If you be the Maid of Ocram,
As much I doubt you be,
Then tell me of three tokens
That passed with you and me.--
O talk not now of tokens
Which you do wish to break;
Chilled are those lips you've kissed so warm,
And all too numbed to speak.
You know when in my father's bower
You left your cloak for mine,
Though yours was nought but silver twist
And mine the golden twine.--
If you're the lass of Ocram,
As I take you not to be,
The second token you must tell
Which past with you and me.--
O know you not, O know you not
Twas in my father's park,
You led me out a mile too far
And courted in the dark?
When you did change your ring for mine
My yielding heart to win,
Though mine was of the beaten gold
Yours but of burnished tin,
Though mine was all true love without,
Yours but false love within?
O ask me no more tokens
For fast the snow doth fall.
Tis sad to strive and speak in vain,
You mean to break them all.--
If you are the Maid of Ocram,
As I take you not to be,
You must mention the third token
That passed with you and me.--
Twas when you stole my maidenhead;
That grieves me worst of all.--
Begone, you lying creature, then
This instant from my hall,
Or you and your vile baby
Shall in the deep sea fall;
For I have none on earth as yet
That may me father call.--
O must none close my dying feet,
And must none close my hands,
And may none bind my yellow locks
As death for all demands?
You need not use no force at all,
Your hard heart breaks the vow;
You've had your wish against my will
And you shall have it now.
And must none close my dying feet,
And must none close my hands,
And will none do the last kind deeds
That death for all demands?--
Your sister, she may close your feet,
Your brother close your hands,
Your mother, she may wrap your waist
In death's fit wedding bands;
Your father, he may tie your locks
And lay you in the sands.--
My sister, she will weep in vain,
My brother ride and run,
My mother, she will break her heart;
And ere the rising sun
My father will be looking out--
But find me they will none.
I go to lay my woes to rest,
None shall know where I'm gone.
God must be friend and father both,
Lord Gregory will be none.--
Lord Gregory started up from sleep
And thought he heard a voice
That screamed full dreadful in his ear,
And once and twice and thrice.
Lord Gregory to his mother called:
O mother dear, said he,
I've dreamt the Maid of Ocram
Was floating on the sea.
Lie still, my son, the mother said,
Tis but a little space
And half an hour has scarcely passed
Since she did pass this place.--
O cruel, cruel mother,
When she did pass so nigh
How could you let me sleep so sound
Or let her wander bye?
Now if she's lost my heart must break--
I'll seek her till I die.
He sought her east, he sought her west,
He sought through park and plain;
He sought her where she might have been
But found her not again.
I cannot curse thee, mother,
Though thine's the blame, said he
I cannot curse thee, mother,
Though thou'st done worse to me.
Yet do I curse thy pride that aye
So tauntingly aspires;
For my love was a gay knight's heir,
And my father was a squire's.
And I will sell my park and hall;
And if ye wed again
Ye shall not wed for titles twice
That made ye once so vain.
So if ye will wed, wed for love,
As I was fain to do;