The Life of John Clare
Frederick Martin

Part 2 out of 5

a fee for taking in the late letter. John Clare fumbled in his pockets,
and found that he had not so much as a farthing in his possession. In a
rueful voice he asked the man at the wicket to take the letter without
the penny. The clerk glanced at the singular piece of paper handed to
him, the pencilled, ill-spelt address, the coarse pitch, instead of
sealing-wax, at the back, and with a contemptuous smile, threw the letter
into a box at his side. Without uttering another word, he then shut the
door in Clare's face. And the poor poet hurried home, burying his face in
his hands.


In about a week after the despatch of the pitch-sealed letter, there came
a reply from Mr. Henson, of Market Deeping. It intimated that the
prospectuses, with appended specimen poem, were nearly ready, and would
be handed over to John Clare, on a given day, at the Dolphin inn,
Stamford. Accordingly, on the day named, Clare went over to Stamford, his
heart fluttering high with expectations. When Mr. Henson handed him the
'Address to the Public,' with the 'Sonnet to the Setting Sun' on the
other side, both neatly corrected and printed in large type, he was
beside himself for joy. In its new dress, his poetry looked so charmingly
beautiful, that he scarcely knew it again. His hopes rose to the highest
pitch when he found that the admiration of his printed verses was shared
by others. While they were sitting in the parlour of the Dolphin inn,
drinking and talking, there came in a clerical-looking gentleman, who,
after having listened a while to the conversation about the forthcoming
volume of poetry, politely inquired for the title of the book. Mr.
Henson, with business-like anxiety, at once came forward, explaining all
the circumstances of the case, not forgetting to praise the verses and
the writer to the skies. The gentleman, evidently touched by the recital,
at once told Mr. Henson to put his name down as a subscriber, giving his
address as the Rev. Mr. Mounsey, Master of the Stamford Grammar-school.
John Clare was ready to fall on the neck of the kind subscriber, first
admirer of his poetry; but prudently restraining himself, he only mumbled
his thanks, with an ill-suppressed tear in his eye. After having made
arrangements for the circulation of the prospectuses, boldly undertaking
to distribute a hundred himself, John Clare then went back to his
lodgings at Pickworth, dancing more than walking.

The first bright vision of fame and happiness thus engendered was as
short as it was intense. It was followed, for a time, by a long array of
troubles and misfortune, making the poor poet more wretched than he had
ever been before. Soon after his meeting with Mr. Henson at the Dolphin
inn, he had a quarrel with his mistress, and a more serious disagreement
with her parents, followed by a harsh interdict to set his foot again
within the confines of Walkherd Lodge. A few weeks subsequently, his
master discharged him, under the probably well-justified accusation that
he was neglecting his work, scribbling verses all day long, and running
about to distribute his prospectuses. This discharge came in the autumn
of 1818, and put Clare to the severest distress. The expenses connected
with his poetical speculation had swallowed up all his hoardings, and
left him absolutely without a penny in the world. After several
ineffectual efforts to find work as a lime-burner either at Pickworth or
Casterton, he bethought himself to seek again employment as a
farm-labourer, and for this purpose went back to Helpston. His parents,
now quite reduced to the mercies of the workhouse, and subsisting
entirely upon parish relief, received him with joy; but nearly all other
doors were shut against him. The wide-spread rumour that he was going to
publish a book, had created a great sensation in the village, but, so far
from gaining him any friends, had raised up a host of jealous detractors
and enemies. Among the most ignorant of the villagers, the cry prevailed
that he was a schemer and impostor; while the better-informed people,
including the small farmers of the neighbourhood, set him down as a man
who had taken up pursuits incompatible with his position. Perhaps the
latter view was not an altogether unjust one; at any rate, the farmers,
all of them people of small means, acted upon good precedent in refusing
John Clare work, after he had been discharged, by his last employer, for
gross neglect of duty. It was in vain that Clare offered to do 'jobs,' or
work by contract; his very anxiety to get into employment, of whatever
kind it might be, was held to be presumptuous, and all his offers and
promises met with nothing but distrust. In this frightful state of
things, there was only one resource remaining to John Clare, to escape
starvation--to do as his parents, and beg a dry loaf of bread from the
tender mercies of the parish. His name, accordingly, was enrolled in the
list of paupers.

But as if the cup of his distress was not yet full enough, John Clare,
while reduced to this lowest state of misery, got a note from Mr. Henson,
of Market-Deeping, informing him that the distributed prospectuses had
only brought seven subscribers, and that the scheme of printing the poems
would have to be dropped entirely, unless he could advance fifteen pounds
to meet the necessary expenses. To Clare, this information sounded like
mockery. To ask him, while in absolute want of food, to raise fifteen
pounds, appeared to him an insult--which probably it was not meant to be.
Mr. Henson, the printer and bookseller, had very little knowledge of the
actual state of his correspondent, and looking upon the whole scheme of
publishing poetry as the driest matter of business, addressed Clare as he
would have any other customer. This, however, was not the way in which
the deeply-distressed poet viewed the proceedings. He gave way to his
feelings in a very angry letter, after despatching which he sank into
deep despondency. It seemed to him as if he had now made shipwreck of his
life and all his hopes.

Recovering from this sudden access of grief, he made a fresh resolve. At
twenty-five, men seldom die of despondency--not even poets. John Clare,
too, decided not to give up the battle of life at once, but prolong it a
short while by becoming a soldier. However, he was afraid to add to the
distress of his father and mother by informing them of this plan, and,
therefore, left home under the pretence that he was going to seek work.
It was a fine spring morning--year 1819--when he took once more the road
to Stamford. Passing by Burghley Park, he was strongly reminded of that
other sunny day in spring when he came the same way with Thomson's
'Seasons' in hand; when he was seized with the sudden passion for poetry,
and when he wrote his first verses under the hedge of the gardens, fall
of joy and happiness. And he pondered upon the sad change which had taken
place in these ten years. He had written many more verses--far better
verses, he fully believed; and yet was poorer than ever, and more
wretched and miserable than he had imagined he could possibly be. Thus
ran the flow of his thoughts: sad and gloomy, though not without an
undercurrent of more hopeful nature. There was a deep-rooted belief in
his heart that the poems he had written were not entirely worthless, and
that notwithstanding the coldness and antipathy of the world,
notwithstanding his own poverty and wretchedness, the day would come when
their value would be appreciated. The new sanguine spirit took more and
more hold of him while looking over the hedge into the park, and around
on the fields, smiling in their first green of new-born loveliness, and
enlivened with the melodious song of birds. Once more, his heart was
warmed as of old, and he sat down under a tree, to compose another song.
It was a poem in praise of nature, gradually changing into a love-song;
and while writing down the lines, his heart grew melancholy in thoughts
of his absent mistress, his sweet 'Patty of the Vale,' separated from
him, perhaps, for ever. To see her once more, before enlisting as a
soldier, now came to be the most ardent desire of his heart.

The shades of evening were sinking fast, when John Clare reached Bridge
Casterton, on his way to Walkherd Cottage. He was just in view of the
smiling little garden in front of the house, when a figure, but too well
known, crossed has path. It was Patty. She wanted to speak, and she
wanted to fly; her lips moved, but she did not utter a word. Clare, too,
was lost, for a minute, in mute embarrassment; but, recovering himself,
he rushed towards her, and with fervent passion pressed her to his heart.
Patty was too much a child of nature not to respond to this burst of
affection, and for some minutes the lovers held each other in sweet
embrace. They might have prolonged their embrace for hours, but were
disturbed by calls from the neighbouring lodge. The anxious parent within
heard words, and sounds, and stifled kisses, and doubting whether they
came from the shoemaker, sent forth shrill cries for Martha to come in
without delay. But darkness made Patty bold; she assured her mother that
there was 'nobody,' accompanying the word by another kiss. Then, with
loving caress, she tore herself from Clare's arms, flying up the narrow
path to the cottage. John Clare was transfixed to the spot for a few
minutes, and, having gazed again and again at the rose-embowered
dwelling, made his way back to Stamford, joyful, yet sad at heart. On the
road, close to Casterton, he met some old acquaintances of the lime-kiln,
going to the same destination, intent on an evening's drinking bout. John
was asked to join, and after some reluctance, consented. The lime-burners
had their pockets well-filled for the night, and the jug of ale went
round with much rapidity. When gaiety was at the culminating point, a
tall gentleman, in the uniform of the Royal Artillery, joined the merry
company. The jug passed to him, and he returned the compliment by
ordering a fresh supply of good old ale. Now the talk grew fast and loud,
opening the sluices of mutual confidence. John Clare loudly proclaimed
his intention of becoming a soldier, ready to fight his way up to

'Do you mean it?' inquired the tall gentleman in uniform.

'Of course I do,' retorted John, somewhat nettled at the incredulity of
his neighbour.

'Well, if you really mean it,' resumed the artilleryman, 'take that

John, without hesitation, took the shilling. After which, he fell fast

When he awoke, the next morning, he found that he was lying on a bench,
behind a long table, strewn with jugs, bottles, and glasses. The room was
filled with fumes of tobacco and stale beer, through which the sun shone
with a dull uncertain light. Rubbing his eyes, Clare jumped from his hard
couch, and in a moment was out of doors. The first person he met in the
passage was the military gentleman of the previous evening. John Clare
was astonished; and so was the man in uniform. John was surprised to find
the gentleman so very tall, and the gentleman was surprised to find John
so very small--two facts observed by neither of them at the convivial
table the evening before. The man in uniform was the first to recover his
astonishment, and, approaching Clare with a cordial shake of the hand,
expressed his regret that, in the excitement of the previous night,
things should have happened which would not have occurred otherwise. But
it was not likely that one of his Majesty's officers in the artillery
would take an advantage of such an accident, keeping as a recruit a
friend who, he was sure, meant the whole only a joke. A burden fell from
John's heavily-oppressed heart when he heard these words. Of course, it
was only a joke, he muttered forth; and the proof of it was that he kept
the shilling intact, just as it had been given to him. With which he
handed the potent coin back to the tall gentleman. It was the identical
shilling he had received; there could he no mistake, inasmuch as it was
the only shilling he had had in his possession for many a day. The man in
uniform smiled; smiled still more when John Clare searched in his
pockets, withdrawing a much-creased, dirty-looking piece of paper.
'Original Trifles,' exclaimed the tall gentleman; reading the paper; 'Ah,
I thank you, thank you very much. Not in my line.' Which saying, he
vanished behind the counter of the tap-room. John Clare was lost, as to
many other things, so to the Royal Artillery.

In a very uncertain mood, his head still somewhat heavy, John Clare took
his way back to Helpston. He congratulated himself of having had a very
lucky escape from a kind of servitude for which, of all others, he was
most unfit; and yet, notwithstanding this piece of good fortune, he felt
by no means easy in his mind. What to do next? was the great question he
was unable to solve, and which got more intricate the more he thought of
it. While giving the spur to his reflections for the hundredth time, he
ran against an old fellow-labourer from Helpston, a man named Coblee. The
latter was exactly in the same position as John Clare. He had no work,
and wanted very much to get a living; but did not know how to get it.
Talking the matter over, the two agreed temporarily to join their
efforts, under the supposition that such a partnership might possibly be
useful to both--as, indeed, it could not make their position worse. This
matter settled, plans came to be proposed on both sides. To leave
Helpston, and leave it immediately, was a point at once agreed upon; but
next came the more difficult matter, as to subsequent proceedings. John
Clare was in favour of going northward, into Yorkshire, which county he
had heard spoken of as one of milk and honey; while friend Coblee was
anxious to seek work in an easterly direction, in the fen-country, where
he had some friends and acquaintances. There was great waste of good
arguments on both sides, until friend Coblee's experience suggested to
decide the matter by a toss. Being the fortunate possessor of a
halfpenny, he produced it forthwith, and chance was called upon for an
answer. It declared in favour of John, whereupon Coblee--a man seemingly
born to be a lawyer--raised various minor questions. He argued that as
the subject was one of high importance, it ought not to be left to the
decision of a single toss; and, moreover, chance itself, and not the
winner, ought to declare in which direction they ought to go. After
protracted discussion, the final settlement of the question was postponed
to the following day, a Sunday--a very important Sunday in the life of
John Clare.

Early on the Sunday morning, the two friends met, as agreed upon, at
Bachelors' Hall, the general club and meeting place of the young men of
Helpston. The news that Clare and Coblee were on the point of leaving the
village together, to seek fortune in distant places, had spread rapidly,
and attracted a large number of old friends and acquaintances. Clare was
not a popular man, but Coblee was; and to honour the latter, various
bottles were brought in from the neighbouring public-house. Due justice
having been done to the contents of these flasks, the discussion
respecting the final consultation of Dame Fortune was renewed, and
happily brought to an end. It was proposed by the brothers Billing,
tenants of the Hall, and adopted by a majority of votes, that a stick
should be put firmly in the ground, in the middle of the room, and that
they should dance around it in a ring till it fell from its erect
position. The way in which it fell was to indicate the direction in which
the two emigrants were to go. John Clare and Coblee both promised to
abide by this award, the latter specially agreeing not to raise any minor
questions afterwards. All this having been duly arranged, the stick was
put into the clay, the circle was formed, and the visitors at Bachelors'
Hall began their dance. They danced fast and furiously; danced like men
with a great object before them, and empty bottles behind. Suddenly a
loud knocking was heard at the gate. The stick stood still upright, and
there was a moment's pause in the dance. 'John Clare must come home at
once,' said a shrill little voice outside; 'there are two gentlemen
waiting for him: two real gentlemen.' 'Shall I go?' inquired John. 'Go,
by all means,' dictated the elder of the Bachelor Brothers, 'we will wait
for you.' They waited long, but John did not return.


The two 'real gentlemen,' who were waiting at the little cottage, wishing
to see John Clare, were Mr. Edward Drury, bookseller, of Stamford, and
Mr. R. Newcomb, a friend of the latter, proprietor of the _Stamford
Mercury_. Mr. Drury, who had not been long established in business,
having but a short time before bought the 'New Public Library' in the
High Street, from a Mr. Thompson, had heard of John Clare in a rather
singular manner. One day, while still in treaty about the business, there
came into the 'New Public Library,' a gaunt, awkward-looking man, in the
garb of a labourer, yet with somewhat of the bearing of a country squire.
Addressing Mr. Thompson, he told him, in a haughty manner, that there
would be 'no debts paid at present,' and 'not until the poems are out.'
The man who said this was Mr. Thomas Porter, of Ashton, the friend of
John Clare, and propounder of the awful question concerning grammar and
the spelling-book. Though severe upon his young poetical friend, he
nevertheless remained attached to him with true devotion, and latterly
had assisted him in the distribution of prospectuses and other errands
relating thereto. It was on one of these excursions that he came to the
'New Public Library,' in Stamford High Street. John Clare had been so
extravagant, while burning lime at Pickworth, as to take in a number of
periodical publications, among them the _Boston Inquirer_, and getting
into debt on this account, to the amount of fifteen shillings, which he
was unable to pay after his dismissal from the lime-kiln, Mr. Thompson
had written several urgent letters demanding payment. In reply to one of
these, Clare despatched his friend Thomas Porter to Stamford, instructing
him to pacify his angry creditor, and to deliver to him some prospectuses
of the 'Original Trifles.' It was in order to be the more effective that
Thomas Porter adopted a haughty tone, quite in keeping with his tall
gaunt figure; and, talking in a lofty manner of his friend the poet,
almost repudiated the right of the bookseller to ask for payment of his
little debt. The proprietor of the 'New Public Library,' a quick-tempered
man, got exceedingly irritated on hearing this language. Speaking of John
Clare in the most offensive terms, he took the prospectuses and threw
them on the floor, at the same time ordering Thomas Porter out of his
shop. The long wiry arms of John Clare's tall friend were about reaching
across the counter and pulling the little shopkeeper from his seat, when
Mr. Drury interfered. He had listened to the dialogue with intense
astonishment, being quite bewildered as to the meaning of the terms poet,
lime-burner, and swindler, all applied to one person, of whom it was
clear only that he was a friend of the gaunt man. When the latter had
taken his leave, pacified by much politeness and many kind words from Mr.
Drury, an explanation was sought and obtained. Mr. Thompson, still
trembling with rage, informed his successor in the business, that the
lime-burning rogue had pretensions to be a poet, and wanted to swindle
people out of their money under pretext of publishing a volume of verses.
Picking up one of the prospectuses, Mr. Drury saw that this, in a sense,
was the case. But examining the 'Address to the Public,' he could not
help thinking that it was a prospectus singularly free from all
indications of puffing, and less still of roguery. Indeed, he thought
that he had never seen a more modest invitation to subscribe to a book;
or one which, in his own opinion, was more unfit to attain the object
with which it was written. The writer evidently depreciated his work
throughout, and took the lowliest and humblest view of his own doings.
That such a very unbusiness-like address could not possibly secure a
dozen subscribers, Mr. Drury knew but too well; but this made him the
more anxious to get some further knowledge of the modest author. He
accordingly paid the debt of fifteen shillings to the delighted Mr.
Thompson, and put Clare's prospectus in his pocket-book; and, having got
somewhat at home in his new business, settling the most urgent matters
connected with the transferment, started on a visit to Helpston, in
company with a friend.

Entering the little cottage, the two visitors, though they expected to
see poverty, were greatly surprised at the look of extreme destitution
visible everywhere. Old Parker Clare, now a cripple scarcely able to
move, was crouched in a corner, on what appeared to be a log of wood,
covered with rags; while his wife, pale and haggard in the extreme, was
warming her thin hands before a little fire of dry sticks. It was Sunday;
but there was no Sunday meal on the table, nor preparations for any
visible in the low, narrow room, the whole furniture of which consisted
of but a rickety table and a few broken-down chairs. The astonishment of
Mr. Drury and his friend rose when John Clare appeared on the threshold
of his humble dwelling. A man of short stature, with keen, eager eyes,
high forehead, long hair, falling down in wild and almost grotesque
fashion over his shoulders, and garments tattered and torn, altogether
little removed from rags--the figure thus presented to view was
strikingly unlike the picture of the rural poet which the Stamford
bookseller had formed in his own mind. John Clare, shy and awkward as
ever, remained standing in the doorway, without uttering a word; while
Mr. Drury, on his part, did not know how to address this singular being.
The oppressive silence was broken at last by the remark of Drury's
friend, that they had come to subscribe to the 'Original Trifles,' a few
manuscript specimens of which, he said, they would be glad to see. John
Clare did not like the remark, nor the patronizing tone in which it was
uttered, and bluntly informed the inquirer that nearly all his verses
were in the possession of Mr. Henson, of Market-Deeping, who had agreed
to print them. The further question as to how many subscribers he had for
his poems, irritated Clare still more, eliciting the answer that this was
a matter between him and Mr. Henson. Mr. Drury, with superior tact, now
saw that it was high time to change the conversation, which he did by
asking leave to sit down, and exchange a few words with 'Mr. Clare' and
his parents. Addressing old Parker Clare and his wife in a friendly
manner, stroking the cat on the hearth, and sending a little boy,
lounging about the door, for a bottle of ale, he at last succeeded in
breaking the ice.

To win confidence, Mr. Drury began giving an account of himself. He told
John Clare that he had taken the shop of Mr. Thompson, at Stamford, and
having found among the papers some prospectuses of a book of poetry, with
a specimen sonnet, he had felt anxious to pay a visit to the author.
After awarding some high praise to the sonnet of the 'Setting Sun,' he
next asked Clare whether the publication of the poems had been definitely
agreed upon between him and Mr. Henson, of Market-Deeping.

'No,' answered John Clare, beginning to be won over by the frankness of
his visitor. To further questions, carefully worded, he replied, that as
yet he had only seven subscribers--nominally seven; in reality only one,
the Rev. Mr. Mounsey, of the Stamford Grammar-school--and that Mr. Henson
refused to commence printing the poems, unless the sum of fifteen pounds
was advanced to him.

There now was a moment's pause, broken by Mr. Drury, who said, addressing
Clare, 'Well, if you have made no agreement with Mr. Henson, and will
entrust me with your poems, I will undertake to print them without any
advance of money, and leave you the profits, after deducting my

John Clare's heart rose within him when he heard these words, and but for
the pompous man at Mr. Drury's side, he would have run up and pressed the
good bookseller to his heart. 'Yes, you shall have all my papers,' he
eagerly exclaimed; 'shall have them as soon as I get them back from
Market-Deeping. And I can show you a few verses at once.' Which saying,
he left the room, returning in a few minutes with a queer bundle of
odd-sized scraps of paper, tied round with a thick rope, and scribbled
over, in an almost illegible manner, in all directions. At the top of the
bundle was a poem, beginning, 'My love, thou art a nosegay sweet,' which
Mr. Drury had no sooner deciphered, than he shook Clare warmly by the

'I think that will do,' he exclaimed, with some enthusiasm, looking at
his companion.

The latter fancied he ought to say something. 'Mr. Clare, I shall be
happy to see you to dinner, any of these days,' he exclaimed, with a
dignified nod and gracious smile. Thereupon, both Mr. Drury and Mr.
Newcomb took their farewell, Clare once more promising that he would take
his papers to the 'New Public Library,' as soon as obtained from

On the threshold, Mr. Newcomb was seized with a new idea. 'If you get the
manuscripts from Deeping, Mr. Clare, we shall be glad to see you,' he
exclaimed; 'if not, we can say nothing further about the matter.' Thus
the friendly visitor got rid of the overwhelming fear of giving a dinner
to a poor man for nothing. However, John Clare never in his life troubled
Mr. Newcomb of Stamford for a dinner.

Disagreeable, and almost offensive, as the conversation of one of his
visitors had been to John Clare, he was very much pleased with that of
the other. For Mr. Edward Drury he felt a real liking, and deeming the
proposition which the latter had made exceedingly liberal, he at once set
to work carrying the proposal into execution. Fearing that Mr. Henson
might, possibly, put obstacles in his way, John persuaded his mother to
go to Market-Deeping and fetch his poems. The good old dame gladly
fulfilled her son's wish, and the next morning trudged over to the
neighbouring town. Clever diplomatist, like all ladies, young or old, she
managed to get, with some difficulty, her son's bundle of many-coloured
papers, in the midst of which stuck, like the hard kernel in a soft plum,
a stout, linen-bound book. John, over-anxious now to possess his verses,
awaited the result of the journey half-way between Deeping and Helpston,
near the village of Maxey. Here both mother and son sat down in a field,
the latter examining his paper bundle with great care. It was all right;
nothing was missing, not even the pitch-sealed document containing the
prospectus of the 'Original Trifles.' Joyful at heart, the two went back
to the little cottage, already expanded, in John's imagination, into a
large comfortable house. The first difficulty of getting them printed
overcome, the success of his poems was to John Clare a matter of no doubt
whatever. His fancy painted to him, in glowing colours, what honour they
would bring him, what friends, and what, worldly reward. He would be
enabled to get a nice dwelling for his old parents, abundance of good
cheer for them, and abundance of good books for himself. And then--his
heart swelled at the thought--he would be able to carry home his beloved
mistress, his 'Patty of the Vale.' The idea made him dance along the
road; and he kissed his mother, and the good old dame began dancing, too,
all through the green fields, in which the birds wore singing, and the
flowers bending their faces in the wind.

On the following morning, John Clare walked to Stamford with his papers,
handing them over to Mr. Drury. The latter presented him with a guinea,
as a sort of purchase-money 'on hand,' encouraging him, at the same time,
to write more verses, and to complete all the remaining manuscript poetry
in his possession, John went home elated with joy, promising to return to
Stamford at the end of a week. To John Clare it was a week of joy, while
Mr. Edward Drury, on his part, felt somewhat uneasy in his mind. He was a
man of good education, a relative of Mr. John Taylor--head of the
formerly eminent publishing firm of Taylor and Hessey, Fleet Street,
London--but, though with fair natural gifts, and a lover of poetry, was
not exactly a judge of literary productions. John Clare's sonnet 'To the
Setting Sun,' which had first attracted his attention, looked well in its
printed and corrected form; but the rest of the manuscript poems, when he
came to look over them, appeared to him to possess little or no value.
Written on dirty bits of coarse paper, ill-spelt, full of grammatical
blunders, and without any punctuation whatever, it required, indeed, a
judge of more than ordinary capacity to pronounce on the intrinsic
poetical value of these productions. Mr. Drury, having spent a day in
scanning over the uncouth papers, began to feel very uneasy, doubting
whether he had not promised too much in agreeing that he would print
them, and also whether he had not paid too dear for them already in
giving John Clare a guinea. Full of these doubts, yet not wishing to make
a mistake in the matter, he resolved to submit the question to a higher
tribunal. One of his customers, the Rev. Mr Twopenny, incumbent of Little
Casterton, had the reputation of a most learned critic, having published
various theological and other treatises; and he being the only literary
man known to Mr. Drury in or near Stamford, the owner of the 'New Public
Library' resolved to make his appeal to him. Clare's rough bundle of
verses accordingly found its way to Little Casterton parsonage, to the
great surprise of the learned minister, who, though deep in theology,
Hebrew, and Greek, knew, probably, much less of the value of English
verse than even Mr. Drury. This, however, did not prevent the learned man
from giving an opinion, for having examined the blurred and somewhat
unclean MSS. submitted to him, and finding them full of many blunders in
grammar and spelling, he expressed himself in a decisive manner to the
effect that the so-called poetry was a mere mass of useless rubbish. Mr.
Edward Drury felt much downcast when he received this oracular note,
which happened to come in on the very morning of the day arranged for the
second visit of the poet of Helpston.

When John Clare came into the shop in High Street, joyful and excited,
with another large bundle of rope-tied poetry under his arm, Mr. Drury
received him with a somewhat elongated face. Instead of expressing a wish
to see the new manuscripts, he told his visitor, after some hesitation,
that unexpected circumstances prevented him from carrying out the
promised publication of the poems at the moment, and that he would have
to postpone it for some time. John Clare was ready to burst out crying;
the blow came so unexpectedly that he did not know what to think of it.
Although with little experience of the world, he saw perfectly well, from
Mr. Drury's manner, that something unfavourable had occurred to produce a
change respecting the poems. After a short pause, summoning up courage,
he pressed his patron to explain the matter. Thereupon the letter of the
Rev. Mr. Twopenny was handed to Clare. He read it over; read it once,
twice; and then grasped the counter to prevent himself from falling to
the ground. It was the first harsh literary criticism the poor poet had
to submit to in his life. The blood rushed to his face; his hands
clinched the fatal letter, as if to annihilate its existence. After a
while, he could not contain himself any longer, but bursting into tears,
ran out of the shop. Good-natured Mr. Drury saw that he had made a
mistake--perhaps a great, and certainly a cruel mistake. He rushed after
his humble friend, and brought him back to the shop, and into the parlour
behind, there soothing him as best he could. It was easy to persuade John
Clare that the Rev. Mr. Twopenny's opinion was, after all, but the
opinion of one man; that men differed much in almost everything, and in
nothing less than the value they set upon poetry. The remarks were so
evidently true, that the much-humbled poet brightened up visibly;
brightened up still more when Mr. Drury got a bottle of old ale from the
cupboard and began filling two glasses. Viewed through this medium, the
future looked much more cheery to John Clare; the world, there seemed no
doubt, would appreciate good poetry, though the Rev. Mr. Twopenny did
not. Having got his poetical friend into this happy mood, Mr. Drury
talked to him seriously and sensibly. He advised John Clare to seek work
immediately, either as a farm-labourer or lime-burner, and to devote only
his spare time to the writing of verses. As to the verses already
written, he promised to lay them before other judges, and to publish
them, at any rate, more or less corrected and altered. This, too, sounded
hopeful, and when John Clare shook hands with the owner of the 'New
Public Library' in the High Street of Stamford, he thought he was a good
deal nearer his long cherished object than he had ever been before.


Acting upon Mr. Drury's advice, John Clare, at the end of a few days,
visited his former employer, Mr. Wilders, at Bridge Casterton, who, upon
his earnest application, set him to work at once, first as a gardener,
and, after a while, as labourer in one of his lime-kilns. Here John
stayed the whole of the spring and summer of 1819; in many respects one
of the most pleasing periods of his whole life. At the end of each day's
hard work, he visited his beloved mistress at Walkherd Lodge, with whom
he was becoming very intimate--too intimate, alas!--while the spare hours
of morning, noon, and evening were devoted to poetry, and the whole of
Sunday to reading and music. Mr. Drury, beginning to feel more and more
sympathy with his young friend, invited him to spend every Sunday at the
shop in the High Street, unrestrained by any forms and ceremonies
whatever, and acting entirely as his own master. John Clare accepted the
first invitation with some shyness; but before long felt himself fully at
home at his friend's house, examining the books, maps, and pictures
spread out before him with a blissful enjoyment never before known. The
Sunday visits to Stamford, after a while, became to him such an intense
delight that he could scarcely await the happy day, and even neglected
his love affairs in its expectation. There were no visits to Walkherd
Lodge on Saturday evenings, when John went early to bed, in order to rise
earlier the next morning. The Sunday found him awake hours before the
cock had sounded the alarm, and many a time he had got over the two miles
of road from Casterton to Stamford, and stood in front of the 'New Public
Library,' before even the sun had risen. Good-natured Mr. Drury now had
to get out of bed, let his friend into the shop, and compose himself as
best he could, to sleep again. John now read for an hour or two; but when
he thought his friend had slept long enough, he took up his fiddle,
safely kept among the books, and began playing a merry gypsy tune. This
had the invariable effect of bringing Mr. Edward Drury, passionately fond
of music, down to his books and his friend, and, coffee having been
prepared, the long day of talking, reading, and fiddling set in for both.

While these proceedings were going on, the fate of Clare's poems had been
decided; unknown, however, to the poet. Mr. Drury, after the very
unfavourable judgment of the Rev. Mr. Twopenny, resolved upon sending his
odd bundle of verses to London, to get the final opinion of his
experienced relative, Mr. John Taylor, the publisher of Fleet Street. Mr.
Taylor, a talented author as well as bookseller, at a glance perceived
the true poetic nature of John Clare. He saw that, under an uncouth garb,
there were nameless beauties in the verses submitted to him; a wealth of
feeling, and a depth of imagination seldom found in poetic descriptions
of the external aspects of nature. Mr. Taylor saw--perhaps somewhat
dimly, but still he saw--that Clare was one of the born poets of the
earth; a man who could no more help singing, than birds can keep from
pouring forth their own harmonious melodies. But he saw also that John
Clare's works were diamonds which wanted polishing, and this labour he
resolved to undertake. He informed Mr. Drury of his intention to bring
out the poems under his own editorship and supervision, telling him to
encourage John Clare to devote himself more and more to the study of
style and grammar, as well as to the improvement of his general
education. Mr. Drury, who, by this time, knew his young friend
intimately, hesitated to communicate Mr. Taylor's advice and directions.
Thoroughly acquainted with the excitable nature of the poet, he feared
that, in launching him again on a sea of expectations, which, after all,
might remain unfulfilled, he would do far more harm than good, and he
therefore resolved to keep his imagination in leading-strings. He told
John Clare that Messrs. Taylor and Hessey were willing to publish his
poems, Mr. Taylor himself making the necessary grammatical and other
corrections; but that the success of the publication, as of all other
books, being doubtful, he must not, for the present, indulge in too
sanguine hopes of gaining either fame or fortune through his book. John
was quite content with this information, and kept on steadily in his
course; reading and fiddling the first day, and making love and burning
lime the other six days of the week.

The love-making, after a while, took a turn not entirely creditable to
the interested parties. Having re-established his confidential
intercourse with Martha Turner, yet not won the good graces of her
parents, who more than ever favoured the suit of the rival shoemaker,
John induced his sweetheart to meet him at places where she should not
have gone, and made proposals to which she should not have listened. Poor
Patty, loving not wisely but too well, did go and did listen to her
lover, with the ordinary sad consequences. The sequel was as usual. She
got sad and he got cold; and her complaints becoming numerous and
frequent, he left her and began flirting with other girls, trying to
persuade himself that he was the injured party, inasmuch as Patty's
parents treated him with scorn and contempt. An accidental occurrence, in
the summer of 1819, contributed much to make him forgetful of his moral
obligations. At a convivial meeting of lime-burners, held at a Stamford
tavern, Martha Turner, who was present, frequently danced with another
man, which so irritated John Clare that he, in his turn, paid his
attentions to a young damsel of the neighbourhood, known as Betty Sell,
the daughter of a labourer at Southorp. Betty was a lass of sixteen,
pretty and unaffected, with dark hair and hazel eyes; and her prattle
about green fields, flowers, and sunshine, of which she seemed
passionately fond, so intoxicated John that he got enamoured of her on
the spot. It was a mere passing fancy; but to revenge himself upon Patty
for coquetting, as he thought, with others, he did not go near her, and,
at the end of the entertainment, accompanied Betty Sell to her home, some
three miles distant The quarrel, thus commenced, did not end soon. Patty
was angry with John; and John, in consequence, renewed his attentions to
Betty Sell. Not long, and his first liking increased to a feeling akin to
real love. Betty was so sweet and artless in her doings and sayings, and,
above all, hung with such evident fondness on every word of her admirer
about his life and his struggles, his intense admiration of nature, his
poetry, and his hopes of rising in the world through his poetry, that the
susceptible heart of John Clare soon got inflamed to ardent devotion of
his new mistress. His infatuation rose to such a height that he neglected
even his visits to Mr. Drury, preferring, for once in his life, glowing
eyes and lips to verses, music, and books. The Stamford bookseller was
somewhat surprised on missing his young friend and his fiddle on several
subsequent Sundays, and on inquiring the cause, was met by replies more
or less unsatisfactory. Taking a real interest in John's welfare, Mr.
Drury thereupon determined to get at the bottom of the affair, and
succeeded in discovering the secret one evening, after a merry supper.
Having taken an unusual quantity of drink, John Clare became
confidential, and his friend learnt all that was to be learnt respecting
Martha Turner and Betty Sell. Like an honourable man, Mr. Drury was not
slow in catechising John, telling him in a severe tone that unless he
returned to his old love and gave up all acquaintance with the new, he
would withdraw his friendship from him, as a creature unworthy of it.
This had a deep effect upon Clare, and though the immediate promise of
reform made by him, was not fulfilled to the letter, his life, for the
next seven or eight months, was a constant struggle between duty and
affection, in which duty at last got the upper hand.

After the severe admonition of his friend and patron, John renewed his
frequent visits to the 'New Public Library,' spending not only his
Sundays, but many evenings of the week at the shop in Stamford. It was on
one of these evenings that he was startled by the appearance of a
sedate-looking gentleman, in spectacles, who went up to him with much
ceremony, inquiring whether he had the pleasure to address Mr. John
Clare. John, very confused, scarcely knew what to answer, until Mr. Drury
came up, introducing the visitor as Mr. John Taylor, of London, the
editor and publisher of his poems. A lengthened conversation followed,
which, though it seemed to delight Mr. Taylor, was not by any means
pleasant to the shy and awkward poet. Deeply conscious, as always, of his
defective education, his rustic mode of expressing his thoughts, and,
most of all, his tattered and dirty garments, he had scarcely the courage
to look Mr. Taylor in the face, but kept hiding himself in a corner,
looking for an opportunity to escape from the room. The opportunity,
however, did not come, and worse afflictions remained behind. After Mr.
Taylor was gone, and John had settled down to his favourite books, a
servant appeared in the shop, inviting Clare to visit the house of Mr.
Octavius Gilchrist, a few doors from the 'New Public Library.' John was
fairly inclined to run away, as soon as he heard the message; but found
that escape was not so easy. Mr. Drury told him that it was a matter, not
of pleasure, but of duty; that Mr. Gilchrist was a very influential man
in the literary world; that at the house of Mr. Gilchrist he would meet
Mr. Taylor, and that the success of his first volume of poems depended,
to a certain extent, upon this interview. This ended all opposition on
the part of Clare. He allowed himself to be dragged, like a lamb, into
Mr. Gilchrist's house, which, though it was but a grocer's shop on the
ground-floor, seemed to him a most magnificent dwelling. The drawing-room
was lighted with wax candles, and was full of gilded paintings, carpets
and fine furniture, amidst which his dirty clothes, fresh from the
lime-kiln, appeared entirely out of place. Nevertheless, he was
graciously received by Mr. and Mrs. Gilchrist, and warmly welcomed by his
previous acquaintance, Mr. John Taylor.

Mr. Octavius Gilchrist, in whose house John Clare now found himself, and
who came to exercise a considerable influence over his future career, was
a literary man of some note in his day. He was born in 1779, the son of a
gentleman settled at Twickenham, who had served during the German war as
lieutenant and surgeon in the third regiment of Dragoon Guards. Octavius
was destined by his parents to be a clergyman, and went to Magdalene
College, Oxford; but before taking his degree, or entering holy orders,
his means began to fail, upon which he went to Stamford, to assist a
well-to-do uncle in the grocery business The change from the study of the
classics at Magdalene College to the weighing-out of halfpenny worths' of
soap and sugar to the rustics of Lincolnshire, amounted to a melancholy
fall in life; however, Octavius Gilchrist bore it gaily, softening the
drudgery by a continuation of his studies in spare hours, and frequent
attempts to contribute to the periodical literature of the day. The
Stamford Mercury having inserted several of his articles, he got bolder,
and sent essays to several London Magazines, which met with, a like
fortunate fate. In 1803, the Stamford uncle died, after willing all his
property, including the profitable grocery business, to his nephew. This
induced Mr. Gilchrist to devote himself more than ever to literature,
leaving the shop to his assistants, and taking to the scales only on Fair
days and other solemn occasions. Having married, in 1804, the daughter of
Mr. James Nowlan, of London, he was drawn still more into literary
society, got acquainted with William Gifford, and became a contributor to
the 'Quarterly Review.' He assisted Gifford in his edition of Ben
Jonson's works, and in 1808 published a book of his own, entitled
'Examination of the charges of Ben Jonson's enmity towards Shakspeare.'
This was followed, in the same year, by 'Poems of Richard Corbet, Bishop
of Norwich, with notes, and a life of the author;' and in 1811, by a
'Letter to William Gifford, Esq., on a late edition of Ford's plays.' On
one of his periodical visits to London, Mr. Gilchrist made the casual
acquaintance of Mr. John Taylor. The acquaintance soon ripened into
friendship, leading to much personal intercourse and a variety of
literary schemes. Mr. Gilchrist first started a proposal to publish a
'Select collection of Old Plays,' in fifteen volumes, and on the failure
of this scheme, owing to the sudden appearance of a flimsy kind of work
called 'Old Plays,' Mr. Taylor and he agreed to launch a new monthly
publication, under the revived title of 'The London Magazine.' The
negotiations for carrying out this work were pending between writer and
publisher, when the first instalment of Clare's manuscripts was sent by
Mr. Drury to his relative Mr. John Taylor. The latter read and liked the
verses, and being desirous to know something of the writer, requested
information from Mr. Gilchrist. 'I know nothing whatever of your poet,'
was the reply; 'never heard his name in my life.' This somewhat surprised
the cautious publisher; he thought that Stamford being so near to
Helpston, and poets being not quite as plentiful as blackberries in the
fen-country, John Clare and his prospectuses ought to be of at least
local fame. To clear the matter up, as well as to make some further
arrangements respecting the early issue of the 'London Magazine,' Mr.
Taylor went down to Stamford, called upon his relative at the 'New Public
Library,' where, as accident would have it, he met John Clare, and then
went to take up his quarters at the house of Mr. Gilchrist. The latter
saw John Clare for the first time when introduced to him in his
drawing-room over the grocery shop.

Clare was more than ever shy and awkward when ushered into this
drawing-room, and it took a considerable time to make him feel at his
ease. To do so, Mr. Gilchrist engaged him in conversation, and with the
aid of Mr. Taylor and sundry bottles of wine, succeeded in getting from
him a rough account of his life and struggles. Wine and spirits were
temptations which John Clare was totally unable to withstand, indulging,
on most occasions, far more freely in drink than was warranted by
propriety and good sense. Perhaps, at Mr. Gilchrist's house, the host was
as much to blame as the guest; the former encouraging Clare's weakness
for the purpose of overcoming his extreme shyness and getting at the
desired autobiographical information. By the time this was extracted, the
poet had taken decidedly too much wine, and when a young lady in the room
sat down to the piano and sang 'Auld Robin Gray,' he began crying. The
sight was somewhat ludicrous, and Mr. Gilchrist sought to annul it by
reading an antiquarian paper on Woodcroft Castle, which had the effect of
driving John Clare out of the room and back to his bookshop. Here he sat
down, and, still under the influence of the entertainment, wrote some
doggerel verses called 'The Invitation,' which Mr. Gilchrist had the
cruelty to print in number one of the 'London Magazine,' in which the
English public received the first information of the existence of 'John
Clare, an agricultural labourer and poet.'

It seems somewhat doubtful whether at this time either Mr. Gilchrist or
Mr. John Taylor thoroughly appreciated John Clare. Both, although
encouraging his poetical talent, never did justice to the noble and
manly, nay lofty heart that beat under the ragged lime-burner's dress.
Mr. Taylor, on his part, wanted a hero for his forthcoming monthly
magazine, and he seemed to think that John Clare was the best that could
be had. He therefore induced Mr. Gilchrist to limn the rustic novelty to
the greatest advantage, which was done accordingly in the first number of
the 'London Magazine.' A paper headed, 'Some account of John Clare, an
agricultural labourer and poet,' intended evidently as a preliminary puff
of the poems, and consisting of a rather pompous description of the visit
of Clare to Mr. Gilchrist's house, was, on the whole, in the tone in
which a _parvenu_ might speak of a pauper. The chief fact dwelt upon was
the extreme kindness of 'the person who has generously undertaken the
charge of giving a selection of Clare's poems to the press,' thus trying
to make the world believe that a London publisher should so far forget
himself as to neglect his own interest in favour of that of a poor
author. Though perhaps well-meant in the first instance, this patronizing
manner in speaking of Clare, and attracting public attention to him, less
as a poetical genius, but as happening to be a poor man, did infinite
mischief in the end. It did more than this--it killed John Clare.

After his first interview with Mr. Gilchrist, John continued to visit at
the house, and was openly taken under the great literary man's
protection. By his desire, William Hilton, R.A., happening to pass
through Stamford, consented to paint Clare's portrait for exhibition in
London. The poet was delighted; and all went on well, until one day when
Mr. Gilchrist, desirous of aiding to his utmost power the success of the
forthcoming volume, asked, or ordered, Clare to write to Viscount Milton,
eldest son of the Earl Fitzwilliam, humbly requesting permission to
dedicate the poems to his lordship. John Clare, remembering his former
visit to Milton Park, in company with the nimble parish clerk of
Helpston, refused the demand, to the great annoyance of Mr. Gilchrist. At
length, however, giving way to Mr. Drury's importunities, Clare sat down
and penned his humble epistle, which was duly despatched by Mr.
Gilchrist. But there never came an answer from Viscount Milton, who,
probably, at the time, held it to be a vile conspiracy to extract a
five-pound note from his pocket. Mr. Gilchrist was mortified; but John
Clare was rather pleased than otherwise. He was more pleased when, a few
weeks after, Mr. Drury showed him an advertisement in a London paper,
announcing, 'Poems descriptive of rural life and scenery, by John Clare,
a Northamptonshire peasant.' It was stated, in capital letters, that the
book was 'preparing for publication.'


In October, 1819, Clare left the lime-kiln at Bridge-Casterton, where he
had been working during the greater part of the year, and returned to
Helpston. He did so partly on account of a new reduction of wages, but
partly also because suffering from constant ill-health. His old enemy,
the fever of the fens, continued its attacks at intervals, and he found
that he was less able to withstand the foe in the lime-kiln than when
working in the open air. This time he was fortunate enough to find
regular work as a farm labourer in the neighbourhood of Helpston, and
having got somewhat better, he set with new energy to thrashing and
ploughing. His visits to Mr. Drury and Mr. Gilchrist henceforth became
somewhat more scarce. Though conscious of being deeply indebted to both
these friends, he could not bear being constantly reminded of this
indebtedness in the patronizing air which they assumed, and the high tone
of superiority which they arrogated to themselves in their intercourse
with him. With Mr. Gilchrist, especially, he found fault for attempting
to guide him in a manner which, he held, this gentleman had no right to
do. John Clare had become acquainted, in the spring of 1819, with the
Rev. Mr. Holland, minister of the congregational church at
Market-Deeping. Mr. Holland, a well-educated man, with a fine
appreciation of poetry, happened to see Clare's prospectus, with the
sonnet to the 'Setting Sun,' at a farm-house near Northborough, and being
struck with the verses, as well as with the account which the farmer, who
knew Clare, gave of the author, he at once went in search of the poet.
After some trouble, he discovered him in the lime-kiln at
Bridge-Casterton, just while Clare was resting from his work, and
scribbling poems upon the usual shreds of paper spread out on the crown
of his hat. Mr. Holland, much astonished at the sight, forthwith entered
into conversation, and being a simple man, with nothing of the patron
about him, at once won Clare's affection. The acquaintance thus begun
soon ripened into friendship, with, however, but scant personal
intercourse, owing to the many occupations of the active dissenting
minister, and the distance of his place of residence from Casterton. But
John Clare did not fail to lay most of the verses he was writing before
his clerical friend, and was delighted to meet always with hearty
encouragement. 'If this kind of poetry does not succeed,' Mr. Holland
said on one occasion, looking over Clare's shoulder, while the latter was
writing the 'Village Funeral;' 'if this kind of poetry does not succeed,
the world deserves a worse opinion than I am inclined to give it.' These
words made a deep impression upon Clare, and he kept on repeating them to
himself whenever his mind was fluttered with doubts of success and
apprehensions of failure. Very naturally, upon the man who had cheered
him with such hearty and well-timed approval, Clare looked as one of his
best friends, and lost no occasion to proclaim the fact.

He told the story of his acquaintance with the Rev. Mr. Holland, as at
many other times, so at the first interview with Mr. Gilchrist. The
latter seemed rather displeased when he heard that the young rustic,
presented to his patronage, was acquainted with a dissenting minister,
although professing to be a member of the Church of England. Mr.
Gilchrist took at once occasion of rebuking him for this conduct, and in
the account given of Clare in the 'London Magazine,' alluded to the
subject at some length, explaining that 'Mr. Holland, a Calvinistic
preacher in an adjoining hamlet, had paid him some attention, but his
means of aiding the needy youth was small, whatever might have been his
wish, and he has now quitted his charge.' The statement was untrue in
several respects; for Mr. Holland was neither a 'Calvinistic preacher,'
nor stationed in a 'hamlet,' nor had he 'quitted his charge,' that is,
given up his friendship with Clare. To make at least the ultimate
assertion true, Mr. Gilchrist, after having been acquainted for some time
with John, insisted that he should cease all communication with the
'Calvinistic preacher.' This Clare refused at once, looking upon his
intercourse with Mr. Holland as an entirely private matter, not in the
least connected with religious opinions. The refusal brought about a
great coldness on the part of Mr. Gilchrist, which Clare no sooner
perceived than he absented himself from his house. This was very
unfortunate; but could scarcely be helped for the moment. John Clare was
totally unable to understand the orthodox high-church principles of the
former student of Magdalene College, while Mr. Gilchrist, on his part,
was incapacitated from appreciating the lofty feeling of independence
that existed in the breast of the poor lime-burner and farm labourer. In
his account in the 'London Magazine,' Mr. Gilchrist's estimate of the
poet's character was expressed in the words:--'Nothing could exceed the
meekness, and simplicity, and diffidence with which he answered the
various inquiries concerning his life and habits;' and it was upon this
supposed 'meekness' that all subsequent treatment of Clare by him and
other friends and patrons was based. But it was an estimate of character
entirely false. Though meek and humble outwardly, the consequence of
early training and later habit, John Clare had all the towering pride of
genius--more than this, of genius misunderstood.

The year of 1820 broke dull and gloomy upon Clare. He had expected his
poems to be published in the month of November, or the beginning of
December previous; but was without any information whatever, either from
Stamford or London, and did not know when the long-expected book would
appear, or whether it would appear at all. The little money he had
received from Mr. Drury at various periods--some twenty pounds
altogether--had been spent by this time, and, being out of work, he was
once more face to face with grim poverty. Day after day passed, yet no
news, till, in the last week of January, the smiling face of a friend
suddenly lighted up the gloom. It was a rainy day, and Clare was unable
to take his usual ramble through the fields, when the clattering of hoofs
was heard outside the little cottage. A man on horseback alighted at the
door, and shaking off the dripping wet, rushed into the room, where Clare
and his father and mother were sitting round the little fire. It was the
Rev. Mr. Holland. 'Am I not a good prophet?' he cried, running towards
John, and shaking him warmly by the hand. John looked up in astonishment;
he had not the slightest notion of what his friend meant or alluded to.
But Mr. Holland kept on laughing and dancing, shaking himself like a wet
poodle. 'Am I not a good prophet?' he repeated, again and again. The long
face of his melancholy young friend at last brought him to a sense of the
actual state of affairs. 'You have had no letter from your publishers?'
he inquired. 'None whatever,' was the reply. 'Then let me be the first
herald of good news,' cried Mr. Holland; 'I can assure you that your
utmost expectations have been realized. I have had a letter from a friend
in London, this morning, telling me that your poems are talked of by
everybody; in fact, are a great success.' How the words cheered the heart
of John Clare! He fancied he had a slight touch of the ague in the
morning; but it seemed to fall like scales off his body, and he thought
he had never been so well all his life. Mr. Holland was about getting
into his wet saddle again. 'Oh, do stop a little longer,' said John,
imploringly; 'have something to eat and drink.' And he looked at his
father and mother; and father and mother looked at him. Alas! they all
knew too well that there was nothing in the house to eat; and no money
wherewith to purchase food. Good Mr. Holland, at a glance, perceived the
actual state of affairs. 'Well,' he exclaimed, 'I intended having some
dinner at the inn round the corner; but if you will allow me, I will have
it sent here, and take it in your company.' And in a twinkling of the
eye, he was out of doors, leading his horse, which had been tied to a
post, towards the 'Blue Bell.' He was back in ten minutes; and in another
ten minutes there appeared the potboy from the 'Blue Bell' carrying a
huge tray, smoking hot. Thrice the messenger from the 'Blue Bell' came
and returned, each time carrying something heavy in his fat, red hands,
and going away with empty trays. When he had turned his back for the
third and last time, they all sat down around the little ricketty table,
the Rev. Mr. Holland, John, his father and mother. 'Every good gift, and
every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of
lights,' said the minister. 'Amen!' fervently exclaimed John.

The good news of which the Rev. Mr. Holland had been the bearer was soon
confirmed on all sides. Early the next morning there came a messenger
from Stamford, asking Clare to visit Mr. Drury as well as Mr. Gilchrist.
He called first at the house of the latter, and was very graciously
received, being informed that his poems were published, and that Mr.
William Gifford, editor of the 'Quarterly Review' had taken a great
interest in him and his book. John Clare, who had never heard either of
Mr. Gifford, or the 'Quarterly,' listened to the news with much
indifference, to the evident surprise of his friend. Leaving Mr.
Gilchrist, he went next door, to Mr. Drury, and, entering the shop, fell
back with astonishment on hearing a tall aristocratic-looking elderly
gentleman inquire for 'John Clare's Poems.' It sounded like sweet music
to his ear, the cracked voice of the old gentleman. Mr. Drury, not
noticing the entrance of Clare, took a small octavo volume from the top
of a parcel of similar books lying on his counter, and handed it to the
gentleman, informing his customer at the same time that the poems were
'universally applauded both by the critics of London and the public.'
John kept firm in his corner near the door; he thought his friend Drury
the most eloquent speaker he had ever heard. 'And, pray, who is this John
Clare?' asked the tall aristocratic-looking gentleman. 'He is ...' began
Mr. Drury, but suddenly stopped short, seeing a whole row of his books
tumble to the ground. John Clare, in his terrible excitement, had pressed
too close towards an overhanging shelf of heavily-bound folios and
quartos, which came down with a tremendous crash. It seemed as if an
earthquake was overturning the 'New Public Library;' and the astonishment
of the owner did not subside when he saw his poetical friend creeping out
from under the ruins of five-score dictionaries, gazetteers, and
account-books. Having somewhat recovered his composure, Mr. Drury, with a
grave mien, turned towards the tall gentleman, exclaiming, 'I beg to
introduce to you Mr. Clare, the poet.' The gentleman burst out laughing
at the intensely ludicrous scene before him; yet checked himself
instantly, seeing the colour mount into Clare's face. 'I beg you a
thousand pardons, Mr. Clare,' he exclaimed; 'I hope you have not been
hurt.' And as if to compensate for his rude hilarity, the tall gentleman
entered into a conversation with Clare, ending by an invitation to visit
him at his residence on the following day: 'Mr. Drury will give you my
address; good morning.' John Clare made no reply, and only bowed; he did
not feel much liking for his new acquaintance. However, when Mr. Drury
told him that the stranger was General Birch Reynardson, a gentleman of
large property, residing near Stamford, on an estate called Holywell
Park, and that his acquaintance might be of the greatest benefit for the
success of his book, if not for himself, Clare consented to pay the
desired visit. The allusion to his published poems by Mr. Drury was
pleasant to his ears, and Clare eagerly sat down to examine _his_ book.
It was not by any means a handsome volume in outward appearance, being
bound in thick blue cardboard, with a small piece of coarse linen on the
back. But the coarseness of the material was relieved by the inscription,
'Clare's Poems,' printed on the back in large letters; and the plain
appearance of the book was forgotten over the title-page, 'Poems
descriptive of rural life and scenery, by John Clare, a Northamptonshire
peasant.' He eagerly ran his eye over the poems, and was more than ever
pleased with them in their new dress, with slightly altered spelling, and
all the signs of punctuation added. There was only one part of the book
with which he was not pleased, which was the part headed 'introduction.'
It gave an untrue account of his life, and, what was still more galling
to the pride of the poet, spoke of his poverty as the main point
deserving public attention. All this deeply hurt his feelings;
nevertheless the predominating sentiment of joy and satisfaction
prevented him saying anything on the subject to Mr. Drury. He stayed some
hours at the shop, and it was arranged that early on the next morning he
should call again to get ready for the important visit to General
Reynardson. When on the point of leaving, Mr. Drury put a letter in
Clare's hands. 'I had almost forgotten it,' he said; 'it has been lying
at the shop for several days. I suppose it is from your sweetheart.'

The letter was from the 'sweetheart;' but a very melancholy letter it was
nevertheless. Poor Martha Turner told her lover, what he knew long ago,
that she was about becoming a mother before being a wife; that her
situation was known to her parents; that her father and mother refused to
forgive her frailty; and that she was cruelly treated and on the point of
being expelled from under their roof. John Clare read the letter on the
roadside, between Stamford and Helpston; he read it over again and again,
and his burning tears fell upon the little sheet of paper. A fierce
conflict of passions and desires arose within his soul. He fancied that
he did not love Martha Turner half so well as the pretty little lass of
Southorp; he fancied that since his first overwhelming affection for
'Mary,' he had never been devoted, heart and soul, so much to any one as
to Betty Sell. Yet to Martha Turner, once his sweet 'Patty of the Vale,'
he knew he was bound by even stronger ties than those of affection and
love--he trembled thinking thus, yet held firm to the nobler element in
his breast. The secret struggle, short and intense, ended with a firm
resolve that duty should conquer passion.

Early on the day following, John Clare made his appearance at Mr. Drury's
shop. The busy tradesman had already provided an outfit for his friend,
whom he meant to patronize more than ever, now that his poems promised to
be successful. In the course of half an hour, John found himself clothed
in garments such as he had never before worn. He had a black coat,
waistcoat, and trousers, a silk necktie, and a noble, though very
uncomfortable, high hat; while his heavy shoes seemed changed by a
covering of brilliant polish. Surveying his figure, thus altered, in a
looking-glass, John was greatly satisfied with himself, and with a proud
step marched off towards Holywell Park. General Birch Reynardson received
him with great affability; at once took him by the hand, and led him into
the library. It was the finest collection of books Clare had ever seen,
and he warmly expressed his admiration of it. After a while, the General
took a small quarto, bound in red morocco, from the shelves, and showing
it to his guest, asked him what he thought of the contents. They were
poems written by the general's father; and Clare, seeing the fact stated
on the title-page, was polite enough to declare them to be very
beautiful. Another red-morocco volume thereupon came down from the
shelves, full of manuscript poetry of the General's own composition. John
Clare began to see that genius was hereditary in the family, and
expressing as much to his host, earned a grateful smile, and a warm
pressure of the hand. He was asked next to promenade in the gardens till
dinner was ready.

The gardens of Holywell Park were laid out with great taste, and John
Clare soon lost himself in admiration of the many beautiful views opened
before him. While wandering along the banks of an artificial lake, fed by
a cascade at the upper end, he was joined by a young lady of
extraordinary beauty. He believed it was the wife of the General; yet,
though showing the deepest respect to the lady who addressed him while
walking at his side, he could not help looking up into her face now and
then, in mute admiration of her exquisite loveliness. The General, after
a while, joined the promenaders, when John, somewhat to his surprise,
learnt that his fair companion was not the hostess of the establishment,
but the governess. Notwithstanding the presence of the master of the
house, the young lady continued speaking to Clare in the freest and most
unrestrained manner, bewitching him alike by the tones of her voice and
the soft words of flattering praise she poured into his ear. She told him
that she had read twice through the volume of poetry which the General
had brought home the preceding evening, having sat up for this purpose
the greater part of the night. Clare's face got scarlet when he heard
these bewitching words; never before had praise sounded so sweet to his
ear; never before had it come to him from such honeyed lips. He was
beside himself for joy, when, as a proof of her good memory, she began
reciting one of his poems: 'My love, thou art a nosegay sweet.' And when
she came to the last line, 'And everlasting love thee,' Clare's eyes and
those of the beautiful girl met, and he felt her glances burning into his
very soul. The general did not seem to take much notice of his
companions, being busy picking up stones in the footpath, and examining
the state of the grass on the borders of his flower beds. On returning
towards the house, he informed Clare that the servants were about sitting
down to their dinner, and told him to join them in the hall. The young
governess appeared intensely surprised at the words; she looked up, first
at the General and then at Clare. Probably it seemed to her a gross
insult that a poet should be sent to take his meal with the footmen and
scullery-maids. But Clare's face looked bright and serene; to him, as
much as to the master of the house, it appeared perfectly natural to be
returned to his proper social sphere, after a momentary dream-like rise
into higher social regions.

He walked into the hall, and humbly sat down at the lower end of the
servants' table. The big lackeys whispered among themselves, looking with
a haughty air upon the base intruder. John Clare heeded it not; his soul
was far away in a world of bliss. Before him, in his imagination still
hovered that sweet beautiful face which he had seen in the gardens; in
his ear still sounded the soft tones of her voice: 'And everlasting love
thee.' Thus he sat at the table, among the footmen and kitchen wenches,
tasting neither food nor drink--an object of utter contempt to his
neighbours. Before long, however, there came a message from the
housekeeper's room, inviting Clare to proceed to the select apartments of
this potent lady. He followed the servant mechanically, careless where he
was going; but was joyfully surprised on entering the room to see his
dream changed into reality. There, opposite the table, sat his beautiful
garden-companion, smiling more sweetly, and looking more exquisitely
enchanting than ever. She stretched out her little white hand, and Clare
sat down near her, utterly unmindful of the presence of the mistress of
the apartment, the lady housekeeper. The latter felt somewhat offended in
her dignity, yet overlooked it for the moment, being desirous to proffer
a request. Having succeeded in rousing Clare's attention, she informed
her visitor, with becoming condescension, that she was very fond of
poetry; also that she had a son who was very fond of poetry. But it so
happened that, though very fond of reading verses, neither she nor her
son was able to produce any. Now hearing, from her friend the governess,
that there was a poet in the house, she had taken the liberty to send for
him, to do some trifling work. What she wanted was an address of filial
love, as touching and affectionate as possible; this she would send to
her son, and her dear son would return it to her, signed by his own name.
She hoped it could be done at once, while she was getting the tea ready.
Could it be done at once? Clare started on hearing himself addressed a
second time by the high-toned lady--he did not remember a word of all
that had been said to him. But he bowed in silence, and the dignified
elderly person left the room to make the tea, firmly persuaded that her
poetry would be got ready in the meantime. When she was gone, Clare
looked up, and found a pair of burning eyes fixed upon him. He tried to
speak, but could not; the words, rising from his heart, seemed to perish
on his tongue. After a long pause, the young governess, flushed with
emotion, found courage to address her neighbour: 'I hope to see you
again, Mr. Clare; I hope you will write to me sometimes.' He had no time
to reply before the bell rang and a servant entered the room, reporting
that General Birch Reynardson wished to see John Clare before leaving.
The intimation was understood. John went up to the library, bowed before
his stately host, muttered a few words of thanks, he knew not exactly for
what, and left the house. When the gate closed after him, he felt as if
expelled from the garden of Eden.

Slowly he walked up the road, when suddenly a white figure started up on
his path. The young governess again stood before Clare. 'I could not hear
of your going,' cried the beautiful girl, her bright face suffused with
blushes, and her long auburn hair fluttering in the wind; 'I could not
hear of your going, without saying good-bye.' Clare again tried to speak,
and again the words died upon his lips. But she continued addressing him;
'Oh, do not forget to write to me,' she said earnestly, with a tinge of
melancholy in her soft voice. It thrilled through his soul, and opened
his lips at last. 'I will write,' he answered, 'and I will send you some
new poems.' Thus saying, he bent forward and took both her hands, and
their eyes met, full of unspeakable passion. But a sudden noise from the
distance startled Clare and his fair companion. There was a man on
horseback coming up with full speed, riding in the direction of Holywell
Park. The young governess softly loosened her hands, turned a last fond
look upon the poet, and fled away like a frightened hind into a
neighbouring wood.

John Clare hurried forward, his face flushed, his head trembling;
forgetful of all the things around him. At last, feeling exhausted, he
sat down on a stone, at the turning of two roads. The one of the roads
was leading to Stamford; the other to Bridge Casterton and Walkherd
Lodge. Clare felt like one entranced. Joy unutterable was struggling in
his bosom together with infinite sadness, and the wild pulsation of his
heart seemed to drive his blood, like living fire, to his very soul. And
he held his burning head in his hands, sitting at the corner of the two
roads. The image of the beautiful girl he had just left, an image more
perfect, more sweet and angelic than ever conceived by his imagination,
appeared standing in one of the roads, and the picture of a sad,
suffering woman, surrounded by angry parents, in the other. Lower sank
the sun on the horizon; it was beginning to get dark; but Clare still
kept sitting at the corner of the two roads, his throbbing head bent to
his knees. The clouds in the west glowed with a fierce purple, when he
started up at last. He started up and walked, swiftly and with firm step,
towards Walkherd Lodge. The clouds in the west seemed to glow with an
unearthly light.


The London book-season of 1820 was a dull one. The number of books
published was very small, and there were but few extraordinary good or
extraordinary bad ones amongst them. All the 'reviewers' were at their
wits' end; for wit, sharp as a razor, must get dull over books
undeserving of praise, yet incapable of being 'cut up' with due
brilliancy of style. Into this mournful critical desert, there fell like
manna the 'Poems descriptive of rural life and scenery.' Mr. John Taylor
and his literary coadjutors had taken great pains to spread the news far
and wide that a new Burns had been discovered on the margin of the
Lincolnshire fens, and was to be publicly exhibited before a most
discerning public. There were low rumours, besides, that William Gifford
intended to place the new Burns on the pedestal of the 'Quarterly,'
spreading the fame of the humble poet into the most distant regions.
Accordingly, when the first volume of Clare's poems was published, on the
16th of January, 1820, there was an immediate rush to the shop of Messrs.
Taylor and Hessey, in Fleet Street. Before many days were over, a first
edition was exhausted; and before many weeks were gone, all the critical
reviews began singing the praises of the book. The 'Gentleman's
Magazine,' leading the van, got, eloquent over 'the unmixed and
unadulterated impression of the loveliness of nature,' contrasting it
with 'the riches, rules, and prejudices of literature;' the latter being
in allusion to a quarrel which the learned editor had just had with some
learned fellow-editors. Next followed the 'New Monthly Magazine,' the
reviewer of which informed a discerning public that 'Clare is strictly a
descriptive poet, and his daily occupation in the fields has given him
manifest advantages.' This profound remark made great impression, and was
quoted by Messrs. Taylor and Hessey in all their prospectuses; not even
the deepest thinkers disputing the thesis that if Clare had been born and
lived all his life in a cellar in the Seven Dials, his rural poetry might
be less truthful. The 'London Magazine,' belonging to the publishers of
Clare's poems, came modestly behind in critical praise, contenting
itself, in a review of five pages, with giving plentiful extracts from
the book, putting forward, at the same time, a somewhat undignified
appeal to public charity. The demand for the pence and shillings of the
charitable was, as stated in the review, 'made by one who has counselled
and superintended this interesting publication,' and the same authority
piteously invoked the aid of the nobility and gentry for 'this poor young
man.' When Clare came to see this article, some months after its
publication, he burst into a fit of indignation, and wrote an angry
letter to Mr. Drury; but with the sole result of hearing, on his next
visit to the Stamford Public Library, that he was not only a very poor,
but a very ungrateful young man.

The 'Eclectic Review,' reviewed Clare in a very flattering article; and
the 'Antijacobin Review,' 'Baldwin's London Magazine,' and a host of
other periodicals, followed suit, all dwelling upon the luminous aspect
of the poems, with pauperism as dark background. Last in the list, but
greatest, came the 'Quarterly,' with William Gifford at the helm. The
'Quarterly Review' of May, 1820, actually devoted nine pages to a
description and praise of Clare's poems, speaking of them as the most
interesting literary production of the day. The review was supposed to be
written by Mr. Gilchrist; but it was generally understood that the editor
of the 'Quarterly' himself corrected and altered the article,
strengthening its praise, and putting in some hearty, honest words about
Clare as a man, as well as a poet. Perhaps of all living authors, William
Gifford best understood John Clare, and felt thorough, and entire
sympathy with the attempt of this noble soul to struggle into light,
through all the haze of printers, publishers, and reviewers. Very likely
he might have loved Clare as a brother--had the poet not been an author.
William Gifford, as Southey truly remarks, 'had a heart full of kindness
for all living creatures, except authors; _them_ he regarded as a
fishmonger regards eels, or as Izaak Walton did slugs, worms, and frogs.'
Nevertheless, the 'Quarterly Review' praised Clare in a way which quite
astonished the book-makers of the day. After comparing him with Burns and
Bloomfield, and dwelling upon the fact that his social position was far
lower than that of either these two poets, the writer in the
'Quarterly'--here Mr. Gifford himself--gave some sound advice to Clare.
'We entreat him,' the article ran, 'to continue something of his present
occupations; to attach himself to a few in the sincerity of whose
friendship he can confide, and to suffer no temptations of the idle and
the dissolute to seduce him from the quiet scenes of his youth to the
hollow and heartless society of cities; to the haunts of men who would
court and flatter him while his name was new, and who, when they had
contributed to distract his attention and impair his health, would cast
him off unceremoniously to seek some other novelty.' These words of true
advice proved almost prophetic in the life of the poet.

The article in the 'Quarterly Review' had the immediate effect of making
John Clare the lion of the day. Rossini set one of his songs to music;
Madame Vestris recited others before crowded audiences at Covent Garden,
and the chief talk of London for the season was about the verses of the
'Northamptonshire peasant.' His fame descended to Northamptonshire
itself, and far into the misty realm of the fen-bound regions. The Right
Honourable Charles William, Viscount Milton, was somewhat startled on the
waves of this fame reaching Milton Park. The idea that for one five-pound
note he might have secured part of this high renown to himself, figuring
in the 'Quarterly Review' as a noble patron of literature, and protector
of heaven-horn genius slumbering in obscurity, made him feel intensely
vexed with himself. Reflecting upon the subject, it struck his lordship
that it would be best to take Clare still under his protection, in view
of new editions open to dedication. Full of this idea, a messenger was
despatched at once to Helpston, with a gracious order that the poet
should present himself on the following morning before the noble
Viscount. John Clare, remembering but too keenly the past, was unwilling
to obey his lordship's command; but the tears of his father and mother
made him change his resolution. Consequently, on the morning appointed, a
Sunday, he went to Milton Park, and having had the honour of lunching
with the footmen in the kitchen, was ushered into the presence of his
lordship. Viscount Milton was exceedingly affable, took Clare by the
hand, sat him down on a stool, and at once explained to him why his
letter respecting the dedication of the poems had not been answered. His
lordship had been excessively busy at the time, making preparations for a
journey, and in the hurry of these labours had unfortunately forgotten to
send a reply. Now her ladyship entered the room, in turn addressing the
poet. After questioning him on all points, birth, parentage, weekly
income, religion, moral feelings, and state of health, Clare was finally
asked whether he had found already a patron. His vacant look expressed
that he did not know even the meaning of the word patron. To the plainer
question, whether some nobleman or gentleman of the neighbourhood had
promised him anything, Clare truthfully replied in the negative. There
was nobody who had made offers of assistance, except Mr. Edward Drury,
bookseller, of Stamford; and his promises, John was sorry to say, were
rather vague. Thereupon the noble viscount warned Clare to be on his
guard against all publishers and booksellers; not explaining, however,
how to protect himself, or how to do without them. Meanwhile the Earl
Fitzwilliam had entered the room, and added his voice to that of his son
in a warning against booksellers. After a little more conversation, Lord
Milton put his hand in his pocket, and withdrawing a quantity of gold,
threw it into Clare's lap. John was humbled and confused beyond measure.
His first impulse was to return the money instantaneously; but a moment's
thought convinced him that this would be excessively rude, and he
contented himself, therefore, with a feeble protest against his
lordship's kindness. He now left, making an awkward bow, his pockets
heavy under the weight of gold, and his brain heavier under a feeling of
deep humiliation, akin to shame. However, this feeling was dispelled in
the fresh outer air. He thought of his poor father and mother at home,
and the comfort all his gold would bring them; and getting almost joyful
at the thought, sat down at the roadside to count his golden sovereigns.
There were seventeen pieces, all bright and new, fresh from the Mint.
Clare had not had so much money in his possession in all his life, and he
got frightened almost in looking at the glittering treasure before him.
To secure it well, he took off his neck-tie, wrapped the sovereigns in
it, and ran home as fast as his legs would carry him. There were happy
faces that night in the little cottage at Helpston.

John Clare's invitation to Milton Park created much astonishment in the
village; but the wonder increased when, a few days after, another
liveried messenger inquired his way to Clare's dwelling. The new envoy
was of far more gorgeous aspect than the former one, being the
representative of the greatest lord in the county, the most noble the
Marquis of Exeter. His lordship had seen the 'Quarterly Review,' as well
as Viscount Milton; and his lordship had learnt, moreover, that Clare had
been called to Milton Park, for purposes easily imagined. The chief of
the elder line of the Cecils thereupon determined not to be outdone by
his petty Whig rivals, the Fitzwilliams, with which object in view he
summoned the poet in his turn. The gorgeous scarlet messenger who arrived
at Helpston, to the wonderment of the whole village, brought a letter
from the Hon. Mr. Pierrepont, brother-in-law of the marquis, desiring
Clare to make his appearance on the following morning, precisely at
eleven o'clock, at Burghley Hall. To this summons there was no opposition
on the part of Clare, for to resist the will of the Marquis of Exeter,
within twenty miles of Stamford, was deemed nothing less than treason by
any inhabitant of the district. John was ready to go to Burghley Hall the
next morning; but it rained heavily, and the cobbler had not returned the
shoes entrusted to him for mending. Could John present himself without
shoes on a rainy morning, before the most noble the Marquis of Exeter?
That was the question gravely debated between Parker Clare, his wife, and
his son. It was decided that John could not go without shoes; and the
village cobbler refusing to return his trust, because engaged in
threshing, the important visit to Burghley Hall had to be postponed till
the day after. John went quite early, trembling inwardly to show himself
before the great lord, whose very valet was looked upon in the country as
a man of high estate. His fears increased a thousandfold when arrived at
the gate of the palatial residence, and being told, on giving his name to
the porter, that he ought to have come the day before. On Clare making
his excuse on account of the state of the weather, the high functionary
got very angry. 'The weather?' he exclaimed, excitedly; 'you mean to say
that you have not obeyed his lordship's commands simply because it was a
wet day! I tell you, you ought to have come if it rained knives and
forks.' This frightened Clare beyond measure; he turned round upon his
heels and was about running away, when he was stopped by a footman. The
arrival of Clare had just been announced to the marquis, and there was an
order to admit him instantaneously to the presence of his lordship. So
the tall footman, without further ceremony, took Clare by the arm, and
hurried him up a marble staircase, through innumerable passages, and a
maze of halls and corridors which quite bewildered the poor poet. The
sound of his heavy hob-nailed shoes on the polished floor made him
tremble, no less than the sight of his mud-bespattered garments among all
the splendid upholstery, through which the gorgeous lackey was guiding
his steps. At last, after a transit through painted halls which seemed
endless, Clare stood before the noble marquis. His lordship received the
humble visitor in a quiet, unaffected manner; and the mind of the poet
was relieved of an immense burthen when he found the great lord to be a
decidedly amiable and cheerful young man of his own age, with manners
pleasantly contrasting with those of the aristocratic porter at the gate,
and the splendid footman who had shown him the way. The marquis, with
great tact, questioned Clare as to his antecedents; asked to see some of
his manuscript verses--which the Hon. Mr. Pierrepont, in his summons, had
ordered him to bring--and, having inspected these, informed the
astonished poet that he would grant him an annuity of fifteen guineas for
life. John Clare scarcely believed his own ears; the announcement of this
liberality came so unexpected, and appeared to him so extraordinary, that
he did not know what to say, or how to express his thanks. Quitting his
lordship in utter confusion, he felt almost giddy on finding himself in
the hall outside. There were immense passages stretching away to right
and left, leading into unknown realms of magnificence, into which the
poor poet was trembling to venture. The marquis, who, with great
politeness, had accompanied his visitor to the door, on seeing his
embarrassment undertook the part of guide, leading Clare to the outskirts
of the palatial labyrinth, and here handing him over to a valet, with
instructions to let his guest partake of the common dinner in the
servants' hall. It was the third dinner in the hall of noble patrons to
which Clare was ushered--clearly showing that, however much differing on
other subjects, the admirers of high literature in Northamptonshire held
that the true place of a rural poet was among the footmen and


The great liberality of the Marquis of Exeter enabled Clare to carry out,
without further delay, the wish of his heart, and to make 'Patty' his
wife. Her parents, under the circumstances, had given up all their old
opposition, and were not only willing, but most anxious, that Clare
should cement his unhappy connexion with their daughter by the sacred
ties of marriage. The due preparations were made accordingly, and on the
16th of March, 1820, John Clare and Martha Turner became man and wife.
The event stands registered as follows in the records of Great Casterton

'John Clare of the Parish of Helpston Bachelor and Martha Turner of this
Parish Spinster were married in this Church by banns this 16th day of
March in the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty by me Richard

And underneath:--

'This marriage was solemnized between us,





Little more than a month after the wedding, a child was born to Clare; a
little girl, baptized Anna Maria. Mrs. Clare for a while remained at her
father's house; but as soon as she was able to move, went to live with
her husband, at the humble dwelling of his parents at Helpston, which,
though scarcely large enough to contain the aged couple, had now to
accommodate two families. Yet Clare felt happy in this narrow cottage,
for, humble as it was, it presented to him a thousand cherished
associations, and now became dearer than ever to his heart, as sheltering
not only his beloved parents, but his dear wife and child. All his life
long the Helpston cottage was to Clare his 'home of homes.'

Before removing with his young wife to his native village, the poet had
to go through some exciting adventures in a journey to London. When one
day at the house of Mr. Gilchrist, at Stamford, there arrived a letter
from Mr. John Taylor, speaking in high terms of the success of the 'Poems
of Rural Life,' which brought about the question, addressed to Clare:
'Should you like to go with me on a short visit to London?' John Clare
was delighted at the idea, and eagerly expressed his wish to go;
whereupon it was arranged that he and Mr. Gilchrist should set out on the
journey at the end of a week. Patty cried when the news was brought to
her; and old Parker Clare and his wife cried still more. In a few hours,
the report spread like wildfire through Helpston that John Clare was
going to London. There was but one man in the village who had ever been
to the big town far away, and his account of it had filled the hearts of
all the Helpston people with terror. This man, an old farm-labourer
called James Burridge, as soon as he heard of Clare's intention to
undertake the dreaded journey, hurried up to entreat him to abandon the
plan. To enforce his advice, he gave a vivid description of the horrors
awaiting the unwary traveller in the great metropolis, and the fearful
dangers that beset his path on every side. One half the houses of London,
he said, were inhabited by swindlers, thieves, and murderers, and a good
part of the other half by their helpers and confederates, all on the
look-out for the good people from the country. To catch their victims
with the greater certainty, there were trap-doors in the pavement of the
most frequented streets, which, when touched, let the wayfarer down into
a deep cellar, and into a kettle of boiling water, surrounded by
cut-throats who made all escape from the kettle impossible. The
assassins, having killed the unhappy victim, and taken all his property,
to the very shirt on his back, finally--culmination of horrors!--sold the
body to the doctors. Such was the account which James Burridge gave of
London, with the effect of striking terror into the hearts of his
hearers. Parker Clare and his wife, with bitter tears, entreated their
son not to leave them; and John himself, though slightly incredulous
about some of the items in the tales of his friend Burridge, began to be
seriously alarmed. But he was ashamed to confess his fears to Mr.
Gilchrist; the more so, as a mere casual mentioning of the street-traps
and the kettles of boiling water produced immoderate laughter. He
therefore made his mind up to start on his dangerous journey like a hero.
After bidding solemn farewell to wife and parents, and dressing, by the
advice of James Burridge, in his worst clothes, to be the less a mark for
thieves and cut-throats, John Clare very early one morning in April,
1820, started for Stamford, and having met Mr. Gilchrist took his seat
precisely at seven o'clock in the 'Regent,' a famous four-horse coach,
warranted to take passengers in thirteen hours to London. There was
little talk on the road; John Clare had enough to do to look out of the
window, marvelling at all the new sights open to his eyes. Thus the
travellers passed through Stilton, Huntingdon, St. Neot's, Temsford, and
Biggleswade, until at last, soon after dusk, the fiery glow of the
horizon announced the neighbourhood of the big city. On being told that
they were about to enter London, Clare became much excited; but there was
time for the excitement to cool, for more than two hours elapsed before
the heavy coach rumbled from the soft high road up to the hard-paved
streets. At last, at nine o'clock in the evening, the 'Regent' stopped in
front of the 'George and Blue Boar,' in Holborn, and John Clare alighted,
utterly bewildered with all that he had seen during the day in the
greatest journey he had ever made in his life.

Mr. Gilchrist took his friend to the house of his brother-in-law, a
German named Burkhardt, proprietor of a jeweller's and watchmaker's shop
in the Strand. Herr Burkhardt, a well-to-do tradesman, with a rubicund
face and an inexhaustible stock of good humour, was excessively fond of
showing strangers the sights of London; and his guests had no sooner
arrived, than he wanted to take them to Covent Garden theatre. John Clare
was very anxious to go, on hearing that Madam Vestris was reciting one of
his poems at this place of entertainment; but finding that Octavius
Gilchrist was disinclined to rise from his comfortable armchair, and with
secret apprehension of the trap-doors and vessels of boiling water, he
declared himself likewise in favour of the arm-chair, with hot whiskey
and water. Worthy Herr Burkhardt had his full share of satisfaction the
next day, when he had the pleasure of taking his brother-in-law and
friend to Westminster Abbey, the Tower, Smithfield market, Newgate, and
Vauxhall Gardens. John Clare was not so much astonished as disappointed
with all that his eyes beheld in the great metropolis. Standing upon
Westminster Bridge, he compared the River Thames with Whittlesea Mere,
and found it wanting; the sight of the Tower, of Newgate, and of
Smithfield, engendered not the least admiration; and as for the Poet's
Corner in the Abbey, he loudly declared that he could see no poetry
whatever about it. But what hurt the feelings of Herr Burkhardt most of
all, was the utter contempt Clare showed for the delights of Vauxhall.
The tinsel and the oil-lamps, the wooden bowers and paper flowers, struck
Clare as perfectly absurd, and he expressed his astonishment that people
should go and stare at such childish things, with a world of wonder and
of beauty lying all around it in the green fields. The worthy jeweller of
the Strand was amazed, and privately confided to his brother-in-law that
he thought his companion, 'a very stupid man from the country.'

John Clare stayed a week in London, and during the whole of this time
felt painfully uncomfortable in his threadbare suit of labourer's
clothes, patched top and bottom, with leather baffles and gaiters to
match. He fancied, when walking along the streets, that everybody was
staring and laughing at his smock frock; and the sound of his heavy
hob-nailed shoes startled him whenever he entered a house. What made
things worse was, that Mr. Gilchrist wanted to draw him into many fine
places and among high and wealthy people, for whose company Clare felt an
instinctive dislike. He knew that they could not look upon him otherwise
than in the light of a rustic curiosity, and being unwilling to play the
part of a newly-discovered monkey or hippopotamus, he absolutely refused
to go to parties and meetings to which he had been invited. However, a
few of the visits were indispensable, such as presentation to Messrs.
Taylor and Hessey, and their friends. Mr. John Taylor, on meeting Clare,
perceived at once that one reason of his excessive reluctance to show
himself was his scant stock of clothing, and mentioning the matter with
great frankness, he offered him a suitable dress. But Clare refused to
take anything, except an ancient overcoat somewhat too large for him, but
useful as hiding his whole figure from the top of the head down to the
heels. In this brigand-like mantle he henceforth made all his visits,
unwilling to take it off even at dinner, and in rooms hot to suffocation.

It made a deep impression upon Clare that, with all his awkwardness,
homely speech, and ragged clothes, he was, for the first time in his
life, treated as an equal by Mr. Taylor's friends, and other gentlemen
whom he visited at London. The example of his patrons in the country,
who, after praising his talents in the drawing-room, sent him down to the
kitchen for his dinner, had already pauperized him to such an extent that
he was quite startled when Mr. Taylor, on his second visit to the shop in
Fleet Street, asked him to meet several men of rank and talent, among
them Lord Radstock, at dinner the same evening. He would gladly have
declined, but was not allowed to do so, being told that it would be a
thorough breach of good manners to refuse to see his friends, the
admirers of his poems. Clare went, with much fear and trembling; but came
to be at ease before long. He sat next to Lord Radstock, and this
gentleman, with an extreme tact and knowledge of character, at once
succeeded in gaining his whole confidence. It proved the beginning of a
friendship which lasted for years, and spread its influence over Clare's
whole life. William Waldegrave, Baron Radstock, Admiral of the Red, was a
gentleman much known at this period in the literary and artistic circles
of London. A younger son of the third Earl of Waldegrave, born in 1758,
he was bred to the naval profession, became a captain at the age of
eighteen, and commander of a fine frigate soon after, so that the way to
fame and distinction was marked out for him clearly and forcibly. But not
content to be lifted in the world solely by reason of birth, he, from an
early age, devoted himself to independent pursuits, and became a scholar
and a poet even before he was a captain in the Royal Navy. The scientific
and literary tastes of the young nobleman were greatly fostered by his
marriage, in 1785, with the second daughter of David Van Lennep, chief of
the Dutch factory at Smyrna, a lady of most genial disposition and an
education very superior to her age. William Waldegrave was appointed
admiral in 1794; distinguishing himself at the naval fight off Cape
Lagos, in 1797; and having been advanced, three years after, to the
dignity of Baron Radstock, of Castletown, Queen's County, quietly settled
with his family in London, to give himself entirely up to his favourite
studies and pursuits. On the appearance of Clare's poems, he at once felt
greatly interested in the author, and being acquainted with Mr. John
Taylor, heard of his arrival in London, and arranged to meet him at
dinner. So it came that John Clare, in his smock frock, leather gaiters,
and brigand mantle, found himself sitting at the right hand of the Right
Honourable Lord Radstock, son of an earl, and admiral in the Royal Navy.

Lord Radstock's simple, sailor-like speech, distant alike from
condescension and studious politeness, had the effect of at once opening
the pent-up affections of John Clare. For the first time since his
arrival in London, he found somebody to whom he could speak in full
confidence, and he did so to his heart's desire, prattling like a child
about trees and flowers, fields and meadows, birds and sunshine, and not
at all disguising his dislike to the big town in which he now found
himself. As the dinner went on, Clare became still more communicative,
tenderly encouraged by the sympathising friend at his side. He spoke of
his struggles, his aims, and aspirations; his burning desire to soar
upward on the wings of poetry, and his constant battling for the barest
necessities of life, the mere daily bread. Lord Radstock was deeply
touched; he had seen many authors, writers of prose and of verse, in the
course of his life, but never such a poet as this. Clare did not in the
least complain of his existence; he merely described it, in simple,
graphic utterance, the truth of which was stamped on every word and look.
The admiral, before meeting John Clare, had admired him as a poet; he now
began to feel far deeper admiration for him as a man. He told him in a
few kind and affectionate words, speaking as a father would to his son,
that he intended to be his friend, and Clare warmly shook the hand
offered to him. It was late at night when the party broke up at Mr.
Taylor's, and Lord Radstock and John Clare were the last to leave the
house together.

During the few days that Clare remained in London, he was almost
constantly in Lord Radstock's company. The latter, anxious to introduce
his young friend to persons who he thought might be useful to him in
life, led him to a great number of places, one more uncomfortable than
the other. Clare suffered much, but had not the courage to confess it to
his noble patron, whose good intentions he fully understood. So he kept
on trotting from one drawing-room to the other, with his heavy
mud-bespattered shoes, his immense coat, a world too large for his thin,
short body, and his long unkempt hair, hanging down in wild confusion
over the shoulders. His friends soon got accustomed to the sight, and
thought no more of it, and strangers willingly excused the garb as born
of the 'eccentricity of genius;' but Clare himself, with his extreme
sensibility, felt daily mortification on contrasting his own appearance
with that of the people he met, and suffered tortures in thinking himself
an object of general ridicule. The feeling was aggravated by the fact
that he met but few persons he liked, and in whose conversation he took
an interest. Among these few was Mrs. Emmerson, an authoress of some
talent, and contributor to the 'London Magazine,' to whom he was
introduced by Lord Radstock. John Clare at the first interview was not at
all favourably impressed by this lady; for she assumed what he fancied to
be a theatrical air; burst out in bitter laments about what she termed
the 'desolate appearance' of her visitor, and wept that 'so much genius
and so much poverty' should go together. All this was very unpleasant to
Clare; particularly the 'desolate appearance,' which he took to be an
unmerited allusion to his great coat. In return, the poet, stung to the
quick, replied in a few cold and sarcastic words, which irritated Lord
Radstock so much that, on leaving the place, he reproached his companion
for his apparent want of feeling. Subsequent interviews greatly modified
Clare's first impression, for he found Mrs. Emmerson not only a most
amiable, kind-hearted lady, but a true and faithful friend, whose advice
and assistance often proved of the greatest service to him.

Having stayed a week in London, in a continual round of visits to dinner
parties, soirees, and theatrical entertainments--which latter did not
impress him very much--John Clare again went, in the company of Mr.
Gilchrist, to the 'George and Blue Boar,' Holborn, and took seat for the
return journey to Stamford. He was heartily glad to get away from the big
town, yearning for his old haunts, the quiet woods, streams, and meadows,
and the little cottage among the fields with his wife and darling baby.
It seemed to him an immense time since he had left these everyday scenes
of his existence; it was as if his whole life had changed in the
interval. He felt like one in a dream when the coach went rolling
northward along the high road, through fields in which labourers were
busy with plough and spade. It was not so very long ago that he had been
just such a labourer: how strange that he should now loll upon soft
cushions, in a coach drawn by four horses, while others like him kept on
digging and ploughing in the sweat of their brow. And would he be ever
content to dig and plough again, after having tasted the sweets of a more
genial existence, treading upon carpeted floors and dining with lords?
Such were the thoughts and questions that arose tumultuously in his mind,
in the long ride from London to Stamford. He had not the courage to face
them and think them out, feeling his brain begin to ache, and his heart
to throb in wild excitement. Then there flickered before his eye the
vision of wife and babe in the little cottage at home, and the tumult of
his soul changed into bliss. He determined to be happy, as of yore, in
the green fields among his former friends, and to dismiss all thoughts of
changing his old course of life. It was late at night when the coach
rattled into Stamford; but John Clare would not hear of stopping at his
friend's house, even for a few minutes. The clouds were dark overhead,
and no lights visible anywhere; yet through night and darkness he groped
his way home, and bursting into his little hut, clasped wife and babe in
his arms.


The news that a poet had arisen on the borders of the Fens soon spread
far and wide, even into Northamptonshire. The 'Quarterly Review' and
'Gentleman's Magazine' carried the report into mansions, villas, and
vicarages, and the 'Stamford Mercury' and other local papers spread it
among the inmates of farmhouses and humbler dwellings. Much incredulity
was manifested at first; but the news being confirmed on all hands, there
arose a great and universal desire to behold the new poet. The reign of
fame commenced soon after Clare's return from London, when, true to his
resolution, he had taken to his old labours in the fields. About the
second or third morning after resuming work, there came a message from
his father, requesting him to return home in all haste, in order to see
some gentlemen waiting for him. Clare ran as fast as he could, and found
two elderly men in spectacles, who said they were schoolmasters, had come
from Peterborough, and wished to make his acquaintance. After questioning
him closely for two hours, upon all matters, and at the end subjecting
him to a rigid cross-examination, they went away, promising to call
again. Clare had lost part of a day's work; however, he did not mind it
much, for he was somewhat flattered by the visit. The day passed, and the
next morning; but on the following afternoon, he was again called away
from his labours. This time, there were three aged ladies from Market
Deeping, who said that they had bought a copy of his poems between them,
and could not rest till they had seen him face to face. One of the ladies
was somewhat deaf, and Clare had to answer all questions twice; first by
speaking to two of his visitors in the ordinary key, and then shouting it
into the ear of the third old dame. After detaining him for an hour, the
elderly individuals said they did not know their way back, and nothing
remained but to show them the road for a couple of miles. It was getting
late, and Clare, therefore, instead of going to his work again; went into
the public-house. Fame threatened to be dangerous.

The tide set in with full force before another week was over. Not a day
passed without Clare being called away from his work in the fields, to
speak to people he had never seen in his life; people of all ranks and
conditions, farmers, clergymen, horsedealers, dissenting ministers,
butchers, schoolmasters, commercial travellers, and half-pay officers.
One morning, the inmates of a whole boarding-school, located at Stamford,
visited the unhappy poet, and, a shower coming on, the fluttering damsels
with their grave monitors crowded every room in the little hut,
preventing the baby from sleeping, and Mrs. Clare from doing her weekly
washing. Most of the visitors were polite; some, however, were sarcastic,
and a few rude. After having inspected Clare, his person, house, wife and
child, father and mother, they wanted further information concerning his
daily habits, mode of eating and drinking, quantity of food consumed, and
other particulars, and not getting the wished-for replies to all their
questions, they told him to his face that he was an ill-bred clown. But
there was another class of visitors still more dangerous to the peace of
Clare and his little household. Young and middle-aged men came over from
Stamford, from Peterborough, and sometimes as far as from London,
inviting the poet to conversation and 'a glass' at the tavern, and
keeping him at their carousals for hours and whole days. Already too much
inclined by nature and early bad example to habits of intemperance, the
good resolutions of Clare fairly gave way under this new temptation. The
persons who invited him to the alehouse were among the most intelligent
of his visitors; they talked freely and pleasantly about subjects
interesting to the poet, and often made their conversation still more
attractive by music and song. To resist the incitement of flying the dull
labours of the fields in favour of such company, required more moral
strength than Clare possessed, or was able to command. Early training he
had none; and even now there was not a soul near to teach and warn him of
the danger. So the unhappy poet kept gliding down the fatal abyss.

Clare's visits to Stamford were not quite so frequent after his return
from London as before, although he made it a point to call upon Mr.
Gilchrist and Mr. Drury at least once a week. On one of these occasions
he made the acquaintance of a very eccentric elderly gentleman, who, cold
at first and almost offensive in speech, subsequently proved himself a
warm friend. This was Dr. Bell, a retired army surgeon, who had long
resided near Stamford, and was on good terms with many of the gentlemen
of the neighbourhood. While serving in His Majesty's forces abroad, Dr.
Bell became the intimate friend of a versatile colleague, Dr. Wolcot,
subsequently known as Peter Pindar, who inspired him with a taste for
literature, to which he devoted himself with a real passion after his
retirement from the army. Though not a writer himself, he brought out
several books, among them a very droll one, made up of quotations of the
most curious kind, and entitled, 'The Canister of the Blue Devils, by
Democritus, junior.' Dr. Bell possessed a very large library, and spent a
good part of his time in extracting, both from his books and the
newspapers and periodicals of the day, all available paragraphs
containing quaint sayings and doings, which he stuck upon large pieces of
pasteboard, for the inspection of his friends, and subsequent publication
in some 'canister' shape. John Clare met Peter Pindar's friend at the
house of Mr. Gilchrist; they did not seem to like each other at first
sight, but got on better terms at the second meeting, and after a while
became attached friends. Dr. Bell had an instinctive dislike to poets,
whom he held to be 'moonstruck.' He was not long, however, in discovering
that John Clare was a great deal more than a mere maker of verses and
apostrophiser of love-sick boys and girls. The high and manly spirit of
the poor labourer of Helpston; his yearning after truth, and his constant
endeavour to discover, beneath all the forms and symbols of outward
appearances, the godlike soul of the universe, struck him with something
like wonderment. He first began to look upon Clare as a sort of
phenomenon; but found that the more he studied him, the more
incomprehensible, yet also the more admirable, appeared this great and
lofty spirit, wrapped in the coarse garb of a ploughman and lime-burner.
The odd, tender-hearted doctor soon conceived a passionate affection for
Clare, and set him up as a hero at the shrine of his devotion. He thought
of nothing else but advancing his young friend's welfare, and worked with
great zeal to this effect; to such an extent that his endeavours
frequently overstepped the bounds of prudence. The first thing he did was
to write letters to all the wealthy inhabitants of the neighbouring
district, begging, nay, entreating them to set their name to a
subscription list for a fund, destined to make the poet independent for
the rest of his days. However, the appeal was but faintly responded to,
and most of the persons addressed either declined, or contented
themselves by forwarding small sums. But Dr. Bell was by no means
discouraged at this result. With consummate worldly experience, he
resolved upon attacking his 'patients' from the weakest side, and extract
from their vanity what he could not get from their munificence. He put
himself in communication with Mr. John Taylor, and, by dint of extreme
pressure, succeeded in enlisting him in his project. It was to make an
appeal in favour of John Clare on the part of the conductors of the
'London Magazine;' with delicate hint that any act of liberality would
not be condemned to blush unseen. But this scheme, too, did not realize
the expectations of Dr. Bell, chiefly because Mr. John Taylor, out of
feelings easily comprehended, did not join him in his endeavours with the
heartiness he expected. To make the appeal appear as much in favour of
poetry as of a single poet, Mr. Taylor, in his letters, asked assistance
for Keats as well as for Clare, wording his request in terms more
dignified than persuasive. There was only one response to this petition,
which came from Earl Fitzwilliam, who forwarded L100 to Clare and L50 to
Keats. The liberality of the kind nobleman was scarcely appreciated as it
deserved. One of the friends of Keats, in a loud article in the 'London
Magazine,' of December, 1820, disclaimed his intention to be beholden to
any lord. 'We really do not see,' ran the article, 'what noblemen have to
do with the support of poets, more than other people, while the poor
rates are in existence. In the present state of society, poetry, as well
as agricultural produce, should be left to find its own level.' All this
was very fine; though it looked somewhat inconsequential that the
conductors of the very periodical in which this was printed, should go
a-begging for poets, and that the poets themselves--Keats not
excepted--made no scruple in taking the money. As for poor Clare, he got
the news of Earl Fitzwilliam's noble gift together with the 'London
Magazine' of December, 1820, and felt utterly ashamed to accept the money
with the accompanying reminder of the poor rates being in existence.

John Clare for some time was unaware of all the exertions made by his
friends to secure him an independence, and when he heard the whole of it,
so far from being pleased, reproached them for what they had done. He
told them they were wrong in bringing him forward in the character of a
beggar without his consent, and with some energy declined to live upon
alms as long as he was able to subsist by the work of his hands. Mr.
Taylor was somewhat offended when he got this protest, which seemed to
him like ingratitude; but Dr. Bell remained undisturbed, and secretly
made up his mind to continue his efforts with more energy than ever for
his friend. 'A noble soul, yet altogether unfit for this ignoble world,'
he said to Mr. Gilchrist, issuing his circulars for another philanthropic
campaign. When Clare learnt that new appeals to assist him had been put
forward, he determined to interfere in the matter. Accordingly, he wrote
long letters--very pathetic, though ill-spelt--to Earl Fitzwilliam, Earl
Spencer, General Birch Reynardson, and other gentlemen, telling them that
he had nothing to do with these appeals in his favour, and that he
required no assistance whatever. Clare's innate nobility of character was
strikingly shown in these epistles; nevertheless, they were very
injudicious, and had an effect decidedly contrary to that imagined by the
author. The gentlemen to whom the letters were addressed naturally came
to the conclusion that Clare, scarcely risen from obscurity, was already
quarrelling with those who had helped him to rise, and showed himself
ungrateful as well as ill-bred. Besides, the wording of the letters was
of a kind not to inspire any admiration of the poet. Though verse flowed
as naturally from his pen as music from the throat of the nightingale,
Clare, all his life long, was unable to express his thoughts in prose
composition. There was not wanting in his letters a certain ruggedness
and picturesqueness of style, but it was marred nearly always by
ill-expressed and frequently incoherent eruptions, and disquisitions on
extraneous matters, marking the absence of a regular chain of thought. It
was here that Clare's want of education was most strongly visible.
High-soaring like the lark in his poetical flights, yet unable to trot
along, step by step, on the grammatical turnpike road of life, Clare's
mode of expressing his thoughts, orally or in writing, was not of the
ordinary kind, and required some sort of study to be duly appreciated.
But it could scarcely be expected that gentlemen like Earl Spencer, and
the other exalted personages to whom the poet addressed his pathetic
notes, should enter upon such a study. They saw before them nothing but
large sheets of paper, of coarse texture, full of ill-spelt and
ill-connected sentences, made more obscure by an utter absence of
punctuation; and the not unnatural judgment thereupon was that the man
who wrote such letters was a thoroughly vulgar and uneducated person.
There came doubts into the minds of many, who read these prose
compositions, as to whether the author was really the genius exalted by
the periodicals of the day. Was it not possible that the 'Quarterly
Review' which unduly depreciated poor Keats, had, equally unjustly,
raised John Clare upon an unmerited pedestal of fame? This was the
question asked by some of the former patrons of Clare, notably Earl
Spencer and General Birch Reynardson. The latter spoke to Dr. Bell about
it; but was astonished at the burst of indignation which broke from the
lips of Peter Pindar's friend. 'What! Clare not a poet?' exclaimed the
irate doctor; 'well, if he is not a poet, there never was one in the
world.' General Reynardson, having a great respect, somewhat mingled with
fear, for the author of the 'Canister,' humbly acquiesced in the
decision, promising to put his name down on the Stamford subscription
list. But Dr. Bell was ill at ease nevertheless, and rode over the same
day to Helpston. 'If you ever again write letters to our friends without
showing them to me first, I shall be very angry with you--I shall put you
among the Blue Devils.' So spoke the doctor; and John Clare, having heard
the whole story of the effect of his epistles, promised obedience. He
knew but too well, by this time, that the speech which God had given him
was poetry, not prose.

The stream of visitors which set in at Helpston during the spring of
1820, did not cease till late in the summer of the same year. After the
flood of schoolmasters, of farmers' wives, and of boarding-school misses,
there came a rush of rarer birds of travel, authors and authoresses,
writers of unpublished books, and unappreciated geniuses in general. The
first of the tribe was an individual of the name of Preston, a native of
Cambridge, and author of an immense quantity of poetic, artistic, and
scientific works--none of them printed, owing to ignorance of public and
publishers. He sent Clare formal notice that he would come on a certain
day, and, previous to coming, forwarded a large box full of manuscripts.
There was a full description of his life, with sketch of his rare talents
and accomplishments; also the greater part of his poetical writings,
comprising five epics, three hundred ballads, and countless acrostics,
madrigals, and sonnets. John Clare felt greatly flattered when he got the
large box, and the same evening, after coming home from his work in the
fields, sat down to inspect the manuscripts sent for his perusal.
However, he did not get far, but fell asleep over the first dozen pages
of the first epic. He honestly tried again the second evening, but with
the same result as before; and on the third day relinquished the attempt
in despair, accusing himself for his want of intelligence. Soon after,
Mr. Preston made his appearance. He was a tall, thin man, with red
whiskers and a red nose; dressed in a threadbare black coat, buttoned up
to the chin. Introducing himself with some dignity, he at once fell into
a familiar strain: 'How do you do, John?' and 'Hope you are glad to see a
brother poet.' John was glad, of course; very glad. The tall, thin man
then gave a glance at his large box, and John trembled. To allay the
coming storm, Clare confessed at once that he had not had time to read
through the manuscripts, having been hard at work in the fields. The
great man frowned; yet after a while relaxed his features, telling Clare
that he would give him two days more to read through his poems. At the
end of this term, he intended to ask for a kind of certificate containing
the brother poet's appreciation of his works, together with letters of
introduction to his patrons and publishers. It seemed cruel to refuse the
request of such a dear and determined brother. John Clare, weighing in
his mind how poor and friendless he had been himself but a short while
ago, felt stirred by compassion, and though he knew he could not read the
epics, indited a warm letter of praise and admiration for Mr. Preston.
The latter thereupon took his farewell, and went away, accompanied by his
large box. Some days after, Dr. Bell came down to Helpston, in greater
excitement than ever. 'What do you mean by sending me such a d----
fellow?' he broke forth in a burst of indignation. Poor Clare! he meant
nothing, thought of nothing, and knew nothing; and all that he could do
was in a few simple words to explain the whole story. The doctor quietly
listened to the account of Mr. Preston and his box, and when Clare had
finished, delivered another lecture upon practical wisdom, threatening
his friend, as penalty for disobedience, with the 'Canister of the Blue


Honours and good news came in fast upon Clare in the autumn of 1820. The
poet, at his humble home, was visited, first by Lady Fane, eldest
daughter of the Earl of Westmoreland; secondly, by Viscount Milton,
coming high on horseback, in the midst of red-coated huntsmen; and,
finally, greatest of honours, by the Marquis of Exeter. The villagers
were awe-struck when the mighty lord, in his emblazoned coach, with a
crowd of glittering lackeys around, came up to the cottage of Parker
Clare, the pauper. Mrs. Clare was utterly terrified, for she was standing
at the washing-tub, and the baby was crying. Her greatest pride consisted
in keeping the little cottage neat and tidy; but, as ill-luck would have
it, she was always washing whenever visitors dropped in. The marquis,
with aristocratic tact, saved poor Patty from a fresh humiliation.
Hearing the loud voice of the baby from afar, his lordship despatched one
of his footmen to inquire whether Clare was at home. The man in plush
carefully advanced to the cottage door, and holding a silk handkerchief
before his fine Roman nose, summoned John before him. Old Parker Clare
thereupon hobbled forward, trembling all over, and, in a faint voice,
told the great man that his son was mowing corn, in a field close to
Helpston Heath. Thither the glittering cavalcade proceeded, and John was
soon discovered, in the midst of the other labourers, busy with his
sickle. Though somewhat startled on being addressed by his lordship, he
was secretly pleased that the interview was taking place in the field
instead of in his narrow little hut. It seemed to him that here, among
the sheaves of corn, he himself was somewhat taller and the noble marquis
somewhat smaller than within the four walls of any cottage or palace; and
this feeling encouraged him to speak with less embarrassment to his
illustrious visitor. His lordship said he had heard rumours that a new
volume of poetry was forthcoming, and wanted to know whether it was true.
Clare replied that he was busy writing verses in his spare hours, and
that he intended writing still more after the harvest, and during the
next winter, which would, probably, result in another book with his name
on the title-page. The marquis expressed his satisfaction in hearing this
news, and, after a few kind words, and a hint that he would be glad to
see some specimens, in manuscript, of the new publication, took his
farewell. John Clare was not courtier enough to understand the hint about
the manuscripts in all its bearings. For a moment, the thought flashed
through his mind of asking his lordship to allow the new volume to be
dedicated to him; but the idea was as instantaneously crushed by a
remembrance of the fatal article in the 'London Magazine,' in which it
was said, 'We really do not see what noblemen have to do with the support
of poets more than other people.' The remark had left a deep impression
upon his mind, and he felt its truth more than ever while standing face
to face with a great lord, sickle in hand, among the yellow corn. He
therefore said nothing about the dedication, and the visit of his
lordship remained without result--which was not his lordship's fault.

A few days after this interview with the Marquis of Exeter, Clare went to
Stamford to see Mr. Drury and Mr. Gilchrist. The latter had important
news. He told his friend that he had just received a letter from Mr. John
Taylor, stating that the fund collected for his benefit through the
exertions of Lord Radstock, Dr. Bell, and others, had now reached the sum
of L420 12_s_. and that this capital had been invested, for his benefit,
under trustees, in the 'Navy five per cents.' Mr. Gilchrist, on
communicating this information, expected an outburst of gratitude; but
was surprised to see that Clare received it with a coldness which he
could not understand. Being pressed for an explanation, Clare frankly
stated that he was not pleased with the whole affair, both as being
personally unwilling to receive alms, and, still more, unwilling to
receive them in the aggravated form of helplessness, from 'under
trustees.' Clare's remark quite startled Mr. Gilchrist. He had hitherto
looked upon the poet as a man who, gifted with considerable talent, was
yet little removed from the ordinary hind of the fields; willing not
only, but anxious to live upon charity, and kneeling, in all humility of
heart, before rank and wealth. The high manliness of Clare now struck him
for the first time, and he deeply admired it, though giving no words to
his feelings. He even remonstrated about his friend's coldness in
receiving gifts offered by real lovers and admirers of his genius. The
chord thus struck reverberated freely, and Clare, after warmly shaking
Mr. Gilchrist by the hand, returned home to his wife and parents,
joyfully communicating the great news that he was now the owner of not
less than four hundred and twenty pounds. They fancied it an
inexhaustible store of wealth, and great, accordingly, was the joy within
the little cottage.

The four hundred and twenty pounds invested for the benefit of Clare,
were the gift of twenty donors. Nearly one-half the sum was contributed
by two benefactors, namely, the Earl Fitzwilliam, who gave L100, and
Clare's publishers, who bestowed the like amount upon him. The remaining
two hundred and twenty pounds--accurately, L220 12_s_.--were made up of
sums of five, ten, and twenty pounds, the principal contributors being
the Dukes of Bedford and of Devonshire, who gave twenty pounds each;
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg--subsequently King Leopold of Belgium--the
Duke of Northumberland, the Earl of Cardigan, Lord John Russell, Sir
Thomas Baring, and six other noblemen, who subscribed ten pounds; and a
few others who gave five pounds each. The sum thus collected was
certainly insignificant, taking into account the extraordinary efforts
made by Lord Radstock and other friends of Clare to procure him a
provision for life. After all the high praise bestowed upon the new poet
by the 'Quarterly Review,' and other critical journals, and the loud
appeals for aid and assistance, it was found that there were only two
patrons of literature in all England who thought him worth a hundred
pounds, and of these two, one was a bookselling firm in Fleet Street. It
really seemed as if the world at large engrossed the dictum of the
'London Magazine,' of the wealthy having no business to assist poets
while the poor rates are in existence. The two hundred and twenty pounds
collected for Clare from eighteen patrons of literature, together with
the two hundred from Earl Fitzwilliam and Messrs. Taylor and Hessey,
served, in the aggregate, to relieve the poet from absolute starvation.
Invested in the funds, the capital gave him nearly twenty pounds a year,
and, with the annuity already granted by the Marquis of Exeter, about
thirty-five. Dr. Bell, by dint of restless exertions, managed to add
another ten pounds to this yearly income. He wrote to Earl Spencer,
temporarily residing at Naples, and obtained the promise of his lordship
to grant Clare ten pounds per annum for life. So that altogether the poet
now was endowed with a regular income of forty-five pounds a year, or
rather more than seventeen shillings a week. It was far above the average


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