The Life of John Clare
Frederick Martin

Part 4 out of 5

liking for Clare, based on the fact that the poet was almost the only one
of all the people with whom he came into contact who did not torment him
with sneers and mocking speeches. Monsieur was endowed with a most
extraordinary visage, much like a full moon, put into a dripping-pan, and
baked before a slow fire; and the aspect of which was not improved by a
pair of ears of very unusual length, and a total absence of hair at the
top. To make matters worse, Monsieur Grill was very susceptible of
criticism concerning his face, having done his best to improve it, by
painting the nose white, the cheeks rosy, and the eyebrows dark. But,
whether he liked it or not, the members of the establishment at Milton
Park, together with their friends, would laugh at him, and, what was
almost as bad, would insist upon calling him 'Mounsear.' Clare alone
never laughed, and, after two lessons, pronounced the word 'Monsieur' to
Grill's entire satisfaction. At the end of three, he said 'Mon cher ami,'
in the best Parisian accent, to the delight of the head-cook, and the
astonishment of the whole company in the servants' hall. All this went
straight to the heart of Monsieur Grill. When he heard, therefore, that
Clare was unwell, he said nothing, but went quietly down into his
laboratory, put his saucepan on the fire, and began mixing together a
wonderful quantity of groceries, spices, and other ingredients. Being a
conscientious man withal, he next despatched the valet to Lady Milton,
asking permission to give some strengthening broth to John Clare of
Helpston. 'Give as much as you like,' was the immediate reply of her
ladyship. This was satisfactory, and after an hour's simmering of his
saucepans, Monsieur Grill put on his coat, poured his broth into a stone
bottle, took his stick, and went out at the back of the mansion, and
through the park towards Helpston. Not long, and he stood before Clare.
The latter was amazed on beholding Grill, with the jar in his hand;
having always held Monsieur to be the vainest of mortals, quite incapable
of carrying a stone bottle across the country. 'Ah, mon cher ami, voila
quelque chose pour vous!' exclaimed Monsieur, evidently delighted to see
Clare. And without further ado, he grasped some sticks, made a fire in an
instant, laid hold of an ancient earthen vessel, and in a few minutes
presented, with graceful bow, a basin of broth to his astonished friend.
Clare tasted it, and found it delicious. He fancied he had not partaken
of anything so nice for months; all the faintness and languor under which
he was suffering seemed to disappear as by enchantment. 'This is much
better than medicine,' he said, with a look of gratitude to the clever
head-cook. 'Medicine? parbleu!' exclaimed Grill; 'do not speak of
medicine, mon cher ami, or I leave alone my batterie de cuisine.'
Monsieur Grill felt deep contempt, approaching hatred, for all drugs and
doctors, labouring under the impression of having lost his beautiful head
of hair through some ill-applied medicines. Clare saw the passing cloud,
and, with much tact, renewed his praises of the delicious broth, asking
his friend to show him the making of it. There was no objection on the
part of Monsieur Grill; nevertheless, an hour's teaching was attended
with but little success. Though having the manipulation explained to him
in the most lucid manner, in terms half French and half English, Clare
got more confused the more he listened, till at last his friend told him,
with some severity, that his mind seemed incapable of comprehending
'l'art du cuisinier.' Which was true enough. Heaven certainly had not
gifted John Clare with a genius for cookery, any more than with the
higher faculty of money-making.


The visit of worthy Monsieur Grill to Helpston had the good result that
henceforth Clare's diet and mode of living became greatly improved. Lady
Milton, hearing of the illness of the poet, sent him her physician,
while, better still, the chef de cuisine at Milton Park continued to
supply him with good broth. The physician, a man of sense, soon perceived
that his patient required not medicine but food. He told Clare that it
was absolutely necessary that he should adopt a most nourishing diet, and
even advised him to take some ale, or stout, in moderate quantities.
However, Clare refused the latter part of the advice, urging the promise
he had given to Dr. Darling. As to his general mode of living, he
consented to do as requested, although too proud to state the reasons
which had prevented him, and would, probably, continue to prevent him
fully adopting the counsel. The physician, being asked by Lady Milton
whether Clare seemed in want, stated that there were no signs of poverty
in Clare's home. Though but a narrow hut, the many handsome hooks on the
shelves, with a few good paintings, gave it the appearance of comfort,
and thus the informant of the noble lady, like many of the other
acquaintances of Clare, acquired very erroneous notions concerning his
real means. This was the more the case, as Clare always managed to let
his wife and children, as well as his aged parents, want none of the
necessaries of life, and frequently contrived to procure them even a few
luxuries. Nobody knew that while Clare's family had a good dinner, he
himself was munching dry bread in some corner in the fields. The fact was
not discovered till long afterwards--when discovery came too late.

In the autumn of 1825, the sad news reached Clare that his best friend
and patron, Lord Radstock, had succumbed to a stroke of apoplexy. Admiral
Lord Radstock died on the 20th of August, at his town residence in
Portland Place, in a very sudden manner, after but a few days' illness.
The loss of his noble patron would have been a deep affliction to Clare
at any time, but it was particularly so at this moment. During the whole
of the summer, the admiral had been in correspondence with Mr. Taylor,
trying to induce him to come to some distinct arrangement with his
client, in regard to the payment for his books and poetical contributions
to the 'London Magazine.' Hitherto, Mr. Taylor had not treated his
'Northamptonshire Peasant' on the same footing as other authors, but
looked upon him more in the light of a child under tutelage than of an
independent man, desirous of gaining a living by the exercise of his
talents or industry. When, therefore, Lord Radstock urged him to enter
into a regular business agreement with Clare, he felt somewhat offended.
Replying to his lordship, he stated that he had given much more to the
poet than was due to him, without even charging for his own labours as
editor, and that he had hitherto acted, not as a mere business agent, but
as a real friend to Clare. Lord Radstock was not satisfied with this
answer, but rejoined that, admitting Clare had received more than was due
to him, it yet would be better to furnish regular accounts to him, and,
by paying what was due, and no more, to foster his self-reliance, instead
of keeping him in the position of a dependent, living upon alms or
friendly gifts. The correspondence continued through several more
letters, with a prospect of Mr. Taylor yielding his point, when the death
of Lord Radstock brought it to an end. It was a sad misfortune to Clare,
affecting his whole life. In Lord Radstock he lost the truest and noblest
friend he possessed--the only one of all his patrons who might have been
willing as well as able to remove the darkening clouds already visible in
the future.

In the autumn of 1825, Clare was fortunate enough to find some employment
in harvesting, which continued till the end of October, when he was once
more thrown out of work. He now devoted himself with increased ardour to
poetry anxious to excel in the new volume which. Mr. Taylor had agreed to
publish. The chief poem of the work was to be a pastoral, in twelve
cantos, descriptive of the aspects of the months and seasons, tinder the
title, 'The Shepherd's Calendar.' The work required lengthened exertion,
which, though he devoted himself with the greatest energy to the task, he
could not always muster. Again and again the all-absorbing feeling of
poverty broke upon and crushed the mind of the poet. Turn as he might,
dire want stared him in the face, and his spirit kept chafing and
fretting under the constant exertion of making his small income suffice
for the ever-growing wants of his family. Some regular work to perform,
or the consciousness of being seated on a few acres of his own ground,
with the pleasure of growing his corn and vegetables, would have been
sufficient to destroy all these petty cares; but the chance of entering
upon such happy existence seemed to grow less and less every year.
Liberty, the greatest boon which he desired, he was never able to obtain.
To spend half the day in hard out-door work, and the other half in
wanderings and poetical musings, would have made him completely happy, as
well as, in all likelihood, physically strong; yet this simple wish of
his heart not all his great and noble patrons were willing to grant him.
They gave him alms, sufficient to lift him from the sphere of labour, but
not enough for subsistence, and thus left him in a position as false as
hopelessly ruinous. Working at intervals, almost beyond his strength, as
a farm labourer, and then again remaining for a long time in forced
idleness, writing too much, thinking too much, and ever and ever with the
grim phantom of poverty before him, was a form of existence necessarily
fatal. It was a life too hard, too cold, too angular, too crystallized--a
life which would have broken the heart of any poet under the sun.

In the preparation of his new volume, Clare adopted the sensible plan of
correcting and revising his writings constantly, so as to reach the
greatest perfection in form. The uninterrupted study of the best poets
began to have effect upon his mind by more and more developing his taste,
and destroying his former notion that his verses came flowing by a sort
of inspiration, and, as such, were not liable to further artificial
improvement. Mr. Taylor was much pleased with the new verses which Clare
sent him, far more polished than most of the previous ones, and
encouraged him by many praises to persevere in the new course. Praise, as
to all poets, was sweet to Clare, and he kept on writing with great
eagerness during the whole of winter and the coming spring. He expected
that his new book would be published early in the summer of 1826, but was
disappointed in his expectation. There were poems enough in Mr. Taylor's
hands to make at least two volumes; but the careful publisher was not
over-anxious to print them. A shrewd man of business, he was fully aware
that the tide was running strong against pastorals, or, indeed, against
any form of good poetry, the fashion being all for jingling rhyme,
embodying the least possible amount of sense. It was the period when
annuals began to flourish, with all merit concentrated in 'toned' paper,
gilded leaves, and morocco bindings. Mr. Taylor liked John Clare, and
held his talent in fair estimation from the fact that the 'Poems
descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery' had gone through four editions.
But against this fact there was the terrible set-off that the 'Village
Minstrel' had only risen to the second edition, with the larger part of
the second issue still on the shelves in Fleet Street. Mr. Taylor,
therefore, like a sound man of business, resolved to manipulate his
'Northamptonshire Peasant' with great caution, for fear of accidents.

John Clare got into a very excited state when he learnt that his new
volume was not to be published in the summer of 1826, nor during the
remaining part of the same year. He felt the delay as a scorn of his
poetical fame; and he felt it, moreover, as a sad ruin of his financial
prospects. The money which he expected to receive was anxiously awaited
to pay off pressing debts, and its man-arrival involved not only scanty
clothing and short rations, but cares of a peculiarly tender nature.
'Patty' brought her husband a third child, a little boy, who was
christened John on the 18th of June, 1826; and though there arrived much
timely assistance from Milton Park, the baby, as well as his mother;
wanted many things not to be met with in the little hut at Helpston.
Always a tender and most affectionate father, Clare's heart was ready to
break when he found his poor little son suffering from the absence of
those comforts which a few pounds might have purchased. He wrote a
pathetic letter to Mr. Taylor, entreating him to send his poems to press;
but received a cold answer in return. The sound business man of Fleet
Street told his client that it was the wrong time for bringing out the
'Shepherds' Calendar.' He informed him, moreover, that the annuals had
got the upper hand, and advised him strongly to write for the annuals.
Clare answered that he preferred breaking stones at the workhouse.

But when Clare said so, he was in an angry mood. The baby continued
crying, in want of milk and a few yards of flannel, and the mother
commenced crying, too; and at length things came to such a pass that
Clare determined to write for the annuals. He heard that he should get
five shillings per poem, and from some publishers even as much as seven
and sixpence. In great haste, therefore, he penned as many verses as he
could, sitting up night after night, and on getting a bundle ready
despatched them to London. But here again there was terrible
disappointment. The annuals, it turned out, did not pay annually, but
remunerated their contributors at uncertain periods, varying from two
years to ten. When Clare found he could get no payment from the
proprietors of the splendid morocco-bound volumes, he complained to Mr.
Taylor. The busy publisher was vexed at this, as naturally he might be.
He answered that he did not, and could not, hold himself responsible for
the liabilities of others, and that it was unfair; after having tendered
some general advice, to burthen him with the consequences. Here the
matter ended, leaving both parties very dissatisfied. For some time to
come there was a great coldness between them, and their correspondence
almost entirely ceased.

The failure of his attempt to make money by contributing poems to the
gold-edged toy-books had the good result of inciting Clare to renewed
exertions to return to his old sphere of labour. He was after a while
fortunate enough to find employment at Upton, a village on the southern
border of Helpston Heath, where he continued at work during the autumn
and winter, and far into the spring of 1827. The labour had the most
beneficial effect upon his health, and brought on a fresh desire to leave
the allurements of writing, or at least of printing, poetry, and devote
himself more to out-door occupation. The great difficulty in carrying eat
this plan was to find regular employment of a nature suited to his bodily
strength, and his somewhat erratic habits. After much pondering on the
subject, Clare resolved to try a little farming on his own account, with
the help of his friends, and on a very limited scale. A visit to Milton
Park settled the matter. The two head servants of Earl Fitzwilliam, the
antiquarian and the botanist, were both ready and willing to assist the
poet to become a farmer, though they told him frankly that they had small
hopes of his success. Like in all agricultural districts, the owners of
land at Helpston and throughout the neighbourhood were opposed to small
tenants and 'spade husbandry,' and Clare's friends justly feared that
even if there were no other obstacles, this cause alone would prevent him
prospering. However, sanguine as he was, Clare held these fears to be
exaggerated, and having obtained a small loan from his friends, rented
several acres of barren soil at a rent four times as high as that paid by
the larger farmers for really good land. The result, not for a moment
doubtful from the commencement, did much to accelerate Clare's road to

During the whole spring and summer of 1827, Clare was so busy and excited
in attending to his farming operations as almost to forget his new volume
of poems. He scarcely expected to see it published, and was somewhat
startled on receiving a copy of the book by post, unaccompanied however
by a single line from Mr. Taylor. At any other time, he would have keenly
felt the neglect; but as it was, the potatoes and cabbages on his farm
attracted his attention more than even his printed verses, and the slight
put upon him by his publisher. It was only when, the harvest was over--a
harvest very poor and unsatisfactory--that he bethought himself again of
his poetical doings. Conscious that he had been in the wrong, to a great
extent, in his quarrel with Mr. Taylor, he determined to be the first to
hold out the hand of friendship. Having made his resolutions to this
effect, he sat down to pen a long letter, dated, 'Helpston, November 17,
1827.' It ran:--'My dear Taylor,--I expect you will be surprised when you
open this to' see from whence it comes, so scarce has our correspondence
made itself. Ere it withers into nothing, I will kindle up the expiring
spark that remains, and make up a letter by its light, if I can. When you
sent me the poems in summer, you never sent a letter with them; I felt
the omission, but murmured not. It was not wont to be thus in days gone
by. So I will shake off this ague-warm feeling, and this dead-living
lethargy, and ask you how you are, and where you are, and how our friends
are.' And much more to the same effect.

Mr. Taylor replied in a bland, dignified manner. The 'friends,' he
reported to be well; but said nothing about what the poet was most
desirous of knowing, the fate of his new volume. The truth was, the
'Shepherd's Calendar' did not sell; and the volume having come into the
world almost unnoticed, was lying in the publisher's shop neglected and
forgotten. A few periodicals mentioned the book in terms of faint praise,
and one solitary critic, visibly behind his age, spoke of the verses as
'exquisite, and by far the most beautiful that have appeared for a long
time'; but the great majority of the representatives of public opinion
utterly ignored John Clare's new work. It soon became clear that, though
infinitely superior to the 'Poems of Rural Life and Scenery,' which
passed through four editions; and far better even than the 'Village
Minstrel,' issued twice! the 'Shepherd's Calendar' was entirely
overlooked by the public and the press. And it could not well be
otherwise. The book, instead of in morocco, was bound, or rather
stitched, in coarse blue cardboard; the paper was not only not 'toned,'
but rough and inelegant in the extreme; and the edges, which, ought to
have been smooth and gilded, were rugged and uneven like a ploughed
field. It was hopeless to expect that a most discerning public should pay
six shillings for a book of pastorals of such clownish appearance, when
the sweetest rhymes, jingling like silver bells, and descriptive of
angels and cupids, and the whole heaven of Greek and Roman mythology,
were offered for a lesser sum, in settings resplendent with all the
colours of the rainbow. There was no room for the 'Shepherd's Calendar'
at the side of all the--gorgeously beautiful annuals of the day, of the
Souvenir, Keepsake, and Forget-me-not family.

If this was one reason why the 'Village Minstrel' passed entirely
unnoticed, another and still more important cause was the negligent
manner in which it was published. Books, like all other earthly objects
requiring to be bought and sold, must undergo certain preparations, and
run through prescribed channels of trade in their way from the producer
to the consumer, and it is well known that the regulation and management
of this process may either greatly retard or accelerate the sale of a
work. It often happened, that really valuable works have met with very
little success, owing to want of energy or want of thought on the part of
the publishers; while, on the other hand, not a few bad or paltry books,
utterly unworthy of public, patronage, have, through active commercial
management, met with a considerable demand, and brought both profit and
fame to the writers. The truth of this was once more proved in the sale
of Clare's works. In the first published volume, the 'Poems descriptive
of Rural Life and Scenery,' Mr. Taylor took a very great interest, and
devoted the whole of his energy to ensure its success with the public. He
looked upon Clare's book as a personal property; for it was he who
enjoyed the honour of having discovered the poetical genius of the
'Northamptonshire Peasant;' he who brought him out in society; and he who
was not merely the publisher but the 'editor' of his works, and who as
such could fairly; claim a share of the renown accruing to the writer.
Accordingly, Mr. Taylor took the greatest trouble in ensuring a
favourable reception to Clare's works, and being a literary man of some
standing, as well as a bookseller--with the additional advantage of
gathering, at stated periods, the chieftains in the republic of letters
around his bachelor's table, to enjoy the most excellent dinners--he
succeeded in doing what perhaps no other London publisher could have
accomplished at the time. Long before the 'Poems of Rural Life' were
issued from the press their merit was discussed at Mr. Taylor's
dinner-table, under the cheering influence of exquisite port and madeira,
and the persuasive eloquence of the most charming of hosts. Thus it
happened in the most natural manner that the poems at their appearance
were received with a perfect storm of applause, in which even such stern
critics as William Gifford--carefully guided by Octavius Gilchrist--could
not help joining. Mr. Taylor's own periodical, the 'London Magazine,'
marched ahead as chief drummer, and behind came a long train of daily,
weekly, and monthly 'organs,' with the great 'Quarterly Review' as
commander-in-chief. The result proclaimed itself in four editions of the
poems of the 'Northamptonshire Peasant.'

It was in the nature of things that Mr. Taylor should attach due
importance to his own efforts in raising the unknown poet upon a pedestal
of fame. That he did so, and even reminded Clare of his exertions at a
subsequent period, when the poet did not show himself sufficiently
grateful, could scarcely be blamed, although it had the consequence of
leading to a gradual estrangement between author and publisher. John
Clare was not a grateful man, in the ordinary sense of the word. He
deeply felt kindness, but had an equally deep abhorrence of servility, or
what he fancied to be such; and, therefore, while humble as a child
towards those whose real benevolence he appreciated, he showed himself
stiff and proud against all who approached him as condescending patrons.
Upon Mr. Taylor he looked, rightly or wrongly, as a mere patron. That his
publisher refused throughout to give him any accounts, but treated all
payments to him as voluntary presents, was a real grief; and that his
whole demeanour, though very affable and courteous, was marked by an air
of proud superiority, was a fancied distress, but which not the less
irritated the sensitive poet. Thus there was, from the first, a want of
real attachment between Clare and his influential friend and protector,
which was looked upon by Mr. Taylor as a kind of ingratitude. He
gradually slackened in his endeavours to spread the fame of the hero he
had raised, when he perceived the hero's repugnance to be properly
saddled and harnessed. While using prodigal exertions for the success of
the first volume, he fell back upon the ordinary bookseller's routine
when issuing his second work. In the publication of the third, the
'Shepherd's Calendar,' there was not even this ordinary attention, owing
to circumstances of a peculiar kind. Mr. Taylor, in the year 1825,
dissolved partnership with his active coadjutor, Mr. Hessey, and, while
the latter remained at the old establishment in Fleet Street, he went to
set up a new but smaller publishing house at Waterloo Place. It was here
he issued the 'Shepherd's Calendar,' under conditions more than usually
unfavourable. Expecting to be appointed publisher to the new London
University--which expectation was realized not long afterwards--Mr.
Taylor had to devote the greater part of his time to preparations for his
new position, so as almost to be unable to attend to his bookselling
business. Thus Clare's new volume kept lying very quietly on the shelves
of the new shop at Waterloo Place.

The 'Shepherd's Calendar' was dedicated to 'the most noble the Marquis of
Exeter.' To previous counsel of putting the name of some great patron to
his poems, Clare had always leant a deaf ear; but he was persuaded in
this instance by his old friend, Dr. Bell, to act contrary to his own
judgment. Perhaps there was not much harm in the dedication; but there
came from it not much good either. The most noble the marquis, as
acknowledgment of the honour, condescended to order ten copies of the
'Shepherd's Calendar,' for which he paid the sum of three pounds, being
at the ordinary retail price of six shillings the volume. Clare asked no
further favours from his lordship; and his lordship, as a rule, did not
grant any favour unasked. Probably, the noble marquis might have broken
through his rule on this occasion, but that he was not altogether
satisfied with the 'Shepherd's Calendar.' The humble dedication on the
title-page was well enough; yet, considering that the poet was enjoying a
stipend of fifteen guineas a year, payable quarterly, it was thought that
he might have done something more. But there being not a page, nor even a
line, in the whole book in praise of the elder branch of the Cecils,
showed a deplorable want of feeling proper to a farm labourer living on
his lordship's estate. It was clear that the Helpston poet was, on the
whole, a silly, foolish man. Dwelling under the very shadow of Burghley
Castle, he should have known that by trimming his poetic course in the
right direction, he might have landed at almost any haven of
comfort--might have become under-gardener in the park, or, if less
ambitious, been sent to the House of Commons as member for Stamford. But
there was a deplorable want of worldly wisdom in John Clare. That he was
a real poet the noble marquis was ready to believe, not distrusting the
authority of the 'Quarterly Review.' At the same time, his lordship could
not close his eyes to the fact that the man was, all things considered,
unworthy of high patronage.

The bad news that his 'Shepherd's Calendar' had met with no success
whatever reached Clare in the first days of 1828. He did not learn it
from Mr. Taylor, who, as usual, did not think it worth while to give a
business account of his transaction to his 'Peasant,' but contented
himself in sending, now and then, a few pounds as a present to Helpston;
but became aware of the fact through a communication of his kind friend
Allan Cunningham. Honest Allan's admiration of Clare increased, as that
of the world decreased; and having gone into raptures about some of the
poems in the 'Shepherd's Calendar,' yet seeing that few others shared his
delight, or were aware even of the existence of the book, he went to the
publishing office in Waterloo Place to investigate the matter, and was
informed there of what sounded to him utterly strange, that the work did
not sell. Exasperated at this communication, he sat down to pen a long
epistle to Clare, seasoned with strong epithets, and winding-up with an
invitation to his friend to come to London. While consoling Clare about
the neglect of the public, to which, he said, 'poets must get
accustomed,' he told him at the same time that he was sure that some of
his verses in the 'Shepherd's Calendar,' such as 'The Dream,' and 'Life,
Death, and Eternity,' were worth more than all the sing-song of the age
put together, and, if not at once, could not fail being appreciated in
course of time. But in the meanwhile, Allan thought, Clare could not do
better than connect himself with the periodical literature of the day,
especially the fashionable annuals. John Clare hated the annuals; but he
dearly loved his kind and honest friend, and thereupon promised once more
to write verses for the pretty toy books, payable by the cubic foot, or
yard, or in any other desirable form. But he made it a stipulation that
he should be allowed to send his best productions to 'The Anniversary,'
an annual edited by Allan Cunningham himself. The proposition was
accepted, and Allan thereupon put his friend into communication with
proprietors of annuals who actually paid their contributors. Clare, on
his part, promised to visit London, at the beginning of February, to
conclude some necessary business arrangements.

Soon after Allan's letter, there came another from Mrs. Emmerson. The
lady, though a very indifferent writer of verses, had a keen appreciation
of sterling poetry, and warmly congratulated Clare on his new volume.
Having induced some two or three of her friends to purchase copies of the
'Shepherd's Calendar,' she lived under the impression that the book was a
great success, and could not fail bringing wealth and fame to the author.
In connexion with this, Mrs. Emmerson had planned a neat little project
of her own. Her apartments had become somewhat deserted since the death
of Lord Radstock, the chief leader of her literary assemblies, and
dreading the idea of being forgotten among the rising generation of
female sonneteers, she bethought herself of calling her old lion, the
'Northamptonshire Peasant,' to the rescue. John Clare accordingly got a
sweet little letter, fall of bewitching flattery, ending with an
invitation to Stratford Place. He trembled when he opened the note,
addressed in the old familiar handwriting, and trembled still more when
he read it. There was a time when poor John had been making Platonic love
to Mrs. Emmerson; when he wrote to her scores of letters, very passionate
and very ill-spelt; when he called her his Laura, and made verses in
imitation of Petrarch; and in the end had the courage to ask for her
portrait. Mrs. Emmerson graciously smiled upon the poor lover at her
feet, and while employing him to correct her verses, even granted his
request for her likeness, and sent him a beautiful painting by Behnes,
the sculptor. John revelled in an elysium of bliss, and, hanging the
picture on the place of honour over the mantelpiece, to the great disgust
of Patty, got more and more embedded in tenderness, until his letters
became sheer unreadable for passionate love, unassisted by grammar. The
thing getting tiresome now, and there being no more verses to correct,
Mrs. Emmerson thought fit to drop her Northamptonshire poet, and
accordingly wrote him a quiet little note asking for a return of her
portrait. John Clare fell from the clouds; but fell on his feet,
fortunately. He took the beautiful picture down from over his
mantelpiece, wrapped it in straw and brown paper, and sent it to
Stratford Place, Oxford Street, by the next carrier. The consciousness
came dawning on his mind that he was not quite up to the art of making
Platonic love.

But Clare trembled when he read the new letter from Mrs. Emmerson. He had
not heard from her for a long time, and could not for a moment understand
what brought her to renew a correspondence, broken off in the most abrupt
manner. His first impulse was to decline the invitation, which he did on
the instant in a very long letter. And when he had written the long
letter, he threw it into the fire, and indicted another shorter note,
informing Mrs. Emmerson that he had already arranged with Mr. Allan
Cunningham to visit London, and would be most happy to accept her
hospitality at Stratford Place. Having despatched this note, Clare felt
much pleased with himself. It would have been very rude, he thought, and
almost offensive, to refuse the invitation of an old friend, given in all
kindliness of heart. Perhaps it was he, after all, who was in fault
respecting that unhappy affair of the portrait, which he took to be a
gift, though it was meant only as a loan. He owed an apology to Mrs.
Emmerson, that was quite clear; and for this reason alone, if for no
other, ought to become her guest during his stay in town. Thus reasoned
the poet, and the more he reasoned, the more impatient he got to set out
on his journey. At last he started, earlier than he intended, taking the
road by Peterborough, to pay his respects to the inmates of the episcopal


Lions were rare at Peterborough forty years ago. The wife of the Right
Reverend Dr. Herbert Marsh, an elderly lady of much energy, often felt
lonesome in her old mansion at the foot of the big cathedral, for which
suffering neither the sound doctrinal sermons of her husband nor the
saintly gossip of weekly tea-parties offered any remedy. There was a
little theatre at the episcopal city, at which performances were given
now and then; but the histrionic talent of the strolling players being of
the slightest, and the Right Reverend Dr. Marsh objecting, moreover, in a
subdued manner, to give his immediate patronage to the Punch and Judy of
the stage, the lady often felt time hanging heavy on her hands. In this
exigency, Mrs. Marsh heard of the Helpston poet, and lost no time in
making his acquaintance. Her kindly help and sympathy during his illness
was greatly appreciated by Clare, and left him full of gratitude ever
after. Nevertheless, though often invited to become a guest at the
episcopal palace, he could not summon resolution to do so. He was afraid,
not so much of the stiffness and ceremony which he would have to
encounter, as of the stern looks of the high dignitary of the Church,
who, when visiting him at home, had cross-questioned him in the most
awful manner on all subjects, in particular as to the state of his
religion. But pressed again and again to pay a short visit to
Peterborough, Clare at length consented, being told that Dr. Marsh would
be 'kept in his proper place,' and not be allowed to interfere with him.
It was on this understanding that Clare made his appearance at the
episcopal palace, at the commencement of February, 1828. Mrs. Marsh
rejoiced that her poet had come at last, and at once installed him in a
funereal little chamber overlooking the gardens, which she had long
selected as fittest for the habitation of genius. Before being led to
this room, Clare was informed by the lady that he would find several
reams of paper, with stores of pens and ink, for his poetic use, and
would be at liberty to write anything he liked, epics, madrigals,
pastorals, sonnets, and even tragedies. Strict orders were given to the
servants not to disturb the poet on any account, but to take whatever
food he might require--if requiring food at all--to an adjoining room.
The whole of these excellent measures having been executed with great
precision, Mrs. Marsh left the palace, to complete the further
arrangements in connexion with the exhibition of her new lion.

John Clare, being left alone in his little chamber, felt very dull. He
had no idea as to whether the way he was treated was a special honour, or
part of the general routine of episcopal existence. However, he concluded
that, special or general, his surroundings were of somewhat gloomy
aspect. There were certainly plenty of writing materials; but what he
wanted far more for the moment was a cup of tea, or coffee, with a slice
or two of bread and butter. After vainly trying to make himself heard, he
attempted to open the door of his chamber, and found that it was not
locked. But there was no soul in the next room, nor in the farther
passage, and the whole mansion appeared to be silent like the grave. Up
another passage, and down a pair of stairs did not lead him from the
regions of silence; a little maid-servant, visible far off, started away
like a frightened hind on beholding the poet. Mrs. Marsh evidently was
well obeyed in her own house. But Clare now began to feel rather
uncomfortable, and resolved to get somewhere, if not to human beings, at
least to bread and butter. So he marched down a final pair of stairs, and
through a small door out into the garden. There was a porter at the outer
garden gate; but he, too, bowed in silence, and in another minute Clare
found himself in the streets of Peterborough. The doors of the 'Red Lion'
stood hospitably open, and feeling nigh starved, he went in to get some
refreshments. No tea and coffee, however, were to be had at the 'Red
Lion;' only ale and porter, brandy and whiskey. Clare took some bread,
with a glass of ale, and felt very faint immediately after. Not having
tasted any alcoholic drink for a long time, the ale produced a sort of
stupefaction, from which he did not recover till late in the day. In the
meantime, Mrs. Marsh returned to the episcopal palace, and at once
inquired for her poet. He was not to be found anywhere, and it was
discovered at last that he had escaped into the city. Messengers were
despatched forthwith, and while they scoured the streets, John Clare ran
right against them, coming from the 'Red Lion,' and feeling still
somewhat drowsy. He was secured immediately, and taken in triumph before
Mrs. Marsh. The lady, against his expectation, received him most
graciously, ascribing his bewildered state to high poetic musings. She
was sorry only that he had not been able to make use of her paper and ink
in the chamber of genius; but trusted he would write all the more the
next day, which, as she hinted, would be a day of great importance.

Clare went to bed, with the 'day of great importance' tingling in his
ears. He could not go to sleep for reflections on the subject, and even
after shutting his eyes it hovered over him in ghastly dreams. There was
an immense table in an immense hall, with ten thousand parsons on the one
side, and ten thousand old maids on the other. At the head presided Mrs.
Marsh, with the bishop in waiting behind; while he himself was sitting in
an arm-chair, suspended by ropes from the ceiling. Then Mrs. Marsh called
upon him to make a speech, and while he was rising, down came the
arm-chair, ropes and all. It was a hard bump, and Clare felt aching all
over. Before he could rise, a man-servant rushed into the room. 'Good
heavens, Sir, you have fallen out of bed,' he cried; 'I hope you are not
hurt.' 'No, not much,' said Clare; 'but I should be glad to have a cup of
tea.' The tea was brought, and with it some useful information. They were
to have a grand party in the afternoon, said the man; he, that is, his
mistress, having invited all the notabilities of Peterborough, with the
dean, the archdeacon, and the canons. Clare shuddered. 'At what time will
the entertainment commence?' he inquired. 'At four,' was the reply.
Nothing more was said; Clare sipped his tea, and, the servant gone,
commenced making up his little bundle of clothes. Part of the contents he
was able to stuff into his pockets; the rest formed a parcel not much
larger than a couple of hooks. Once more he made his way down the broad
flight of stairs, passed the silent porter at the gate, and a minute
after stood in the High Street, opposite the Angel Inn. The coach for
London, he was told, would start in half an hour. Clare took his seat
inside, hiding his face, as best he could, under a handkerchief, and
drawing a long breath when the horses were whipped into a gallop and
sprang away southward. It was late at night when the Peterborough coach
discharged its passengers at the 'Bell and Crown,' Holborn. Clare hurried
up to Stratford Place, and was glad to find Mrs. Emmerson at home. The
lady shook hands with the greatest cordiality, called him her dearest
friend, and praised his verses in terms which made him blush. With all
his bitter experiences, he was once more ready to fall in love--Platonic
or otherwise.

One of Clare's first visits in London was to Allan Cunningham He was
received as a brother by the warm-hearted Scotchman, and encouraged to
unburthen his whole heart. Allan now heard for the first time that his
friend was in great pecuniary distress, and that his poetry, so far from
bringing him a competence, as he had been led to believe, met with but
the most trifling remuneration. Filled with compassion, Allan offered his
friend assistance; but this was proudly refused. He next advised Clare to
go to Mr. Taylor, and request, politely but firmly, a statement of the
whole of the transactions between them, including an account of the
profits made by the sale of the 'Shepherd's Calendar,' the 'Village
Minstrel,' and the 'Rural Poems.' Clare promised to do so, and the next
day went to Mr. Taylor's residence, Percy Street, near Rathbone Place.
The publisher received him in his ordinary friendly, though somewhat
stiff and formal manner. Clare was on the point of delivering his
preconcerted speech, when Mr. Taylor interrupted him with an unexpected
communication. He told him frankly that he had not been able hitherto to
give much attention to the sale of the 'Shepherd's Calendar,' and that
this, probably, was the reason why but few copies had been disposed of.
As a compensation, Mr. Taylor offered Clare to let him have as many
volumes of his new work as he liked at cost price, that he might sell
them in his own neighbourhood. The project of becoming a perambulating
bookseller, hawker of his own poetical ware, came upon Clare in a
startling manner. He did not know what to reply to the proposal made to
him, and asked time for reflection. Mr. Taylor had no objection to this,
and told his friend to come again in a few days. Thereupon Clare went
away, not saying a word on the financial subject which he had come to

There was much fluctuating advice among Clare's friends as to the
propriety of his turning poetical bagman. Mrs. Emmerson at first was
greatly opposed to the scheme, but afterwards changed her opinion, on the
ground that the exercise and change of air might prove beneficial to his
health. Allan Cunningham, however, would not hear of Mr. Taylor's scheme
for a moment. He said it was disgraceful that such a proposal should have
been made, and exhorted his friend not to think for a moment of accepting
it. 'God knows,' Allan exclaimed passionately, 'poetry has sunk low
enough already; but do not you haul it lower still by dragging the muse
along the muddy roads in a pedlar's bag.' Clare was much impressed by
these words, and promised further reflection, which, however, tended only
to lead him in an opposite direction to that proposed by his noble friend
Allan. The thought of being able to acquire a little capital; of getting
out of debt; of purchasing a small farm; and of giving his children a
good education, carried everything before it, and he finally resolved to
risk all else, even obloquy, to gain these ends. Talking the subject over
once more with. Mrs. Emmerson, as happily ignorant as himself in the
matter, the conclusion was arrived at that it would be easy to gain five
hundred a year by the sale of his books. It seemed not necessary,
therefore, that he should continue his new occupation longer than a few
years, when he would be enabled to retire from business and spend the
rest of his days in comfort and ease. Thus the poet kept on building his
castles in the air, until they reached to the very clouds. When meeting
Mr. Taylor at the appointed time, Clare told him that he accepted his
kind offer, and would do his best to carry out the scheme with all
possible energy. Thereupon the poet and his publisher parted-parted never
to meet again, although to each life had scarce run half its course.

Clare remained in London till towards the end of March, lionising a
little and making a few new acquaintances. Frequently, when walking along
the streets, he found himself addressed by strangers, who recognised him
at once from Hilton's exceedingly faithful picture, which hung in Mr.
Taylor's parlour, and was reproduced in the portrait prefixed to the
'Village Minstrel.' Thus he ran one day in Russell Square against Alaric
Watts, who, though never having met him before, addressed him without
hesitation as a brother poet, and insisted upon remaining in his company
for some time. In the same manner, too, he met Henry Behnes, the
sculptor, who showed himself so delighted with his acquaintance that he
would not let him go till he had promised to sit for his bust. Clare did
sit, and Behnes produced an admirable work of art, which, like Hilton's
picture, was paid for and kept by Mr. Taylor.[1] Mrs. Emmerson took
advantage of the modelling of the bust by celebrating it as a notable
event, and inviting to her house a distinguished party of artists and
patrons of art, to whom she wished to present her poet, together with
'his painter,' and 'his sculptor.' As always on such occasions, Clare
felt exceedingly uncomfortable, and had no sooner entered the brilliantly
lighted-up saloon when he resolved to run away. He communicated his
intention to the other two heroes of the evening, who at once expressed
their wish to be the companions of his flight. William Hilton, like
Clare, was averse to lionship, and glad enough to escape from any crowd,
whether in satin or rags; and as for Henry Behnes, he had become so fond
of his 'Northamptonshire Peasant,' that he declared himself ready to
travel with him to the ends of the world. The friends did not go quite as
far on this occasion, but only to a neighbouring tavern. Here the happy
trio, poet, painter, and sculptor, sat down to a supper of bread and
cheese, seasoned with pale ale, and the flow of unrestrained thought.
They talked of all the noblest subjects that stir the human breast; of
all the unutterable longings that fill the heart of genius. At last they
talked of each other, their hopes, aims, and aspirations, building golden
castles high up into the clouds. They saw fame before them with
outstretched arms; wealth following in its course; and of love and
happiness a bountiful reward. These were lofty dreams: too lofty, alas!
for the flight of helpless genius--genius not understanding the first of
all earthly arts, that of making money. William Hilton, though a famous
painter and Royal Academician, was left to die in poverty, the greater
part of his pictures remaining on his hands unsold. Henry Behnes, noblest
of sculptors, went to perish in an hospital; and John Clare.... The
reader may fill the blank.

[1] Both, the bust by Behnes, and Hilton's oil-painting of Clare,
remained in Mr. Taylor's hands during his lifetime, and after his
death (1864) were sold by public auction, at Messrs. Christie,
Manson, and Woods, March 17, 1865, when they came into the possession
of the author of this work.

Mrs. Emmerson was very angry with her guest when he came back to her
house a little after midnight, having been kept so long in the delightful
interchange of thoughts with his two artist friends. Clare took very
little notice of the remarks of his fair host about want of courtesy and
the disappointment of distinguished visitors, his mind being full of
reflections engendered by the evening's conversation. He inwardly
resolved to enjoy, if possible, many more such evenings; but changed his
determination the next day. It was a beautiful day of spring, the warm
sunlit air wafting in soft breezes from over the green fields with its
first blossoms, into the crowded streets of the town. Clare took a long
walk through Regent's Park and past Primrose Hill towards Hampstead, on
the slopes of which he discovered some early violets. The sight fairly
made him home-sick. He ran back to Stratford Place, and quite startled
Mrs. Emmerson by crying, 'I must go!' And go he did, twenty hours after;
in such a haste as not even to find time to bid farewell to Allan
Cunningham, warmest of friends. But he left a letter for Allan, 'a shake
of the hand on paper,' which, coming down to the present time, may be
found still interesting. The letter ran:--

'_Stratford Place, March 21, 1828_.

My Dear Cunningham--I wholly intended to see you, but now I fear I
cannot, as my stay is grown so short; so, if I cannot, here is a "good
bye," and God bless you, and as you are aware of my ignorance in
travelling about your great Babel, being insufficient to do so in most
cases without a guide, which is not always to be procured, you must allow
me to make up for the omission by a shake of the hand on paper, as hearty
as your imagination can feel it. If you had not been a poet I would not
have made such a bull, but it is an English one; it has not a cold
meaning. Therefore accept it in lieu of a better. Pray give my kind
remembrances to Mrs. Cunningham, and if I could utter compliments as well
as I feel gratification in the society of kind and warm-hearted people, I
should grow eloquent in her praise. But you well know I am not Ovid, and
I as well know I am no orator, so if I am unable to pay ladies deserving
compliments, if she will accept the plain respects of a plain fellow, and
allow them as nothing more, it will please me much better. Once again,
"good bye."

Now I am going to say last what would have been a compliment to have said
first, perhaps, and that is that Mrs. Emmerson feels much gratified at
your commendation of her poem ["The Return," in Allan Cunningham's
Annual, "The Anniversary"], and much more so, as that commendation came
from a poet. Now comes the cut to my vanity, a sad confession, but
perhaps better "in the breach than the performance." (Allow me to
misquote to suit my purpose.) You ask me for a prose tale, and you
imagine I have written one. Good faith, my dear Allan, I have not,
neither dare I, for I know not what to say; excuses I might have for
writing it badly, but whether I could find excuses for writing it at all
I cannot say. I should be somewhat in the case of the lady, who excused
her faulty book before the rude Dr. Johnson by saying that she had so
many irons in the fire that she had not time to write it better. You may
know his reply from my inability in the like. "Then I advise you, madam,"
said he, "to put your book where your irons are." Such I fear would be
the deserving meed of a prose composition of mine, though your
proposition goes a good way to urge me, if I dare.--Farewell, my dear
Allan, and believe me your sincere friend and highly gratified brother in
the muses,

John Clare.'

The day after writing this letter, Clare was on his way back to Helpston.
He rejoiced inwardly when passing the bill of Highgate, looking back over
the vast world of bricks and smoke behind, and beholding the sunny
fields, fragrant with the first blossoms of spring, in front. More than
ever he felt that he could not exist within the big metropolis, even its
large intellectual life offering no compensation for the bounteous joys
of nature. He almost shuddered when glancing at the huge black vault for
the last time, at the turn of the Highgate Road. But he did not know it
was the last time that his eyes rested upon London.


Returned to Helpston, Clare made immediate preparations for carrying out
Mr. Taylor's project to become a hawker. He sorted the little parcel of
books which he had brought from London, and having divided the volumes
into sets, each containing the 'Rural Poems,' 'Village Minstrel,' and
'Shepherd's Calendar,' he set out in regular pedlar fashion. By dint of
complex reasoning he had persuaded himself, to his own entire
satisfaction, that the profession of selling would be fully as honourable
as that of writing books; nay, that there was greater merit in being the
distributor than the author, and consequently, that the highest vocation
was that of being both together. He therefore resolved to devote himself
with the greatest energy to his new business, and to leave no stone
unturned to succeed in it. As to his attempt at farming, carried on
during the past year, in a very unprofitable manner, he had already come
to the conclusion to abandon it, by letting the land fall back to the
original tenant. Though in reality more attached to field labour than any
other kind of work, his love of it was for the moment all obscured by the
vision of the brilliant prospects open in the new career as bookseller.
His sufferings from poverty had been so fearful, that the one
all-absorbing aim to him now was that of amassing a small capital and
getting out of debt.

It was on one of the first days in April when Clare commenced his trade
as pedlar. With a dozen volumes of his poems in a canvas bag, slung by a
strap over his shoulders, he bravely issued forth from his little hut,
taking the road to Market Deeping. The people of the village, well
acquainted with all his doings, peeped at him from out of doors and
windows, shaking their heads in wonder at the strange sight. To his
Helpston countrymen, Clare's new calling did not seem at all degrading,
but, on the contrary, too ambitious. They looked upon a bagman as a
person of superior social rank--decidedly higher than a poet. Their
conclusions were fully justified from their own point of view, in a
material sense. The hawkers who passed through Helpston were mostly men
of substance, putting-up at the 'Blue Bell,' and ordering the best of
everything from kitchen and cellar; while the poet among them was a
starving wretch, over head and ears in debt, and with one foot in the
workhouse. When Clare set out as a pedlar, therefore, they all declared
that his ambition was carrying him too high. 'Pride comes before the
fall,' said the old ones, tottering to, the door, and stretching their
necks to get a sight of neighbour John. He took no heed of all the signs
of curiosity, but walked briskly up the road towards the north. The sun
shone bright when he started; but before long it began to rain heavily,
so that he was wet all through when arrived at Market Deeping. According
to his carefully-arranged plan, he first called upon the rector. The
reverend gentleman was at home, and condescended to see the poet. But his
brow darkened when learning the errand of his visitor. He told Clare
sharply that he did not intend buying his poems, and that, moreover, he
held it unbecoming to see them hawked about in this manner. Having said
this, he bowed his visitor out of the room, perceiving that his clothes
were dripping wet, and likely to spoil his carpet. The poor pedlar-poet
left the house with, an ill-suppressed tear in his eye.

It still rained heavily, and Clare took refuge in a covered yard attached
to an inn. There were some horse-dealers lolling about, talking of the
state of the weather and the forthcoming races. One of them, a
jolly-looking man with red hair and a red nose, after scanning Clare for
a while, engaged him in conversation. 'You have got something to sell
there: what is it?' The answer was, 'Books.'--'Whose books?'--'My
own.'--'Yes, I know they are your own; or at least I suppose so. But what
kind of books, and by what author?'--'Poems, written by myself.' The
horse-dealer stared. He looked fixedly at Clare, who was sitting on a
stone, utterly dejected, and scarcely noticing his interlocutor. The
latter seemed to feel stirred by sympathy, and in a more respectful tone
than before exclaimed, 'May I ask your name?'--'My name is John Clare,'
was the reply, pronounced in a faint voice. But the words were no sooner
uttered, when the jolly man with the red nose seized Clare by both hands.
'Well, I am really glad to meet you,' he cried; 'I often heard of you,
and many a time thought of calling at Helpston, but couldn't manage it.'
Then, shouting at the top of his voice to some friends at the farther end
of the yard, he ejaculated, 'Here's John Clare: I've got John Clare.' The
appeal brought a score of horse-jobbers up in a moment. They took hold of
the poet without ceremony, dragged him off his stone, and round the yard
into the back entrance of the inn. 'Brandy hot, or cold?' inquired the
eldest of Clare's friends. There was a refusal under both heads, coupled
with the remark that a cup of tea would be acceptable. An order for it
was given at once, and after a good breakfast, and a long conversation
with his new acquaintances, Clare left the inn, delighted with the
reception he had met with. He had sold all his books, and received for
them more than the full price, several of his customers refusing to take
change. It altogether seemed a good beginning of a good trade.

Nevertheless Clare was uneasy in his mind. Not all the kindness of his
friends at the inn could compensate him for the harsh words he had heard
at the rectory. Clare asked himself whether, supposing Market Deeping to
be a fair sample of the towns which he was going to visit, he would be
able to bear such treatment. And then the words of Allan Cunningham
recurred to his mind, and his noble scorn of the career in which he was
embarking. However, it seemed too late now to repent, having gone beyond
the starting point. The next day, therefore, Clare once more slung his
pack across his shoulders, and sallied forth towards Stamford. He did not
expect to sell any of his books within the town, the market having been
abundantly supplied by Mr. Drury; but he had hopes to meet with some
success among the residents in the neighbourhood, to many of whom he was
personally known. But his hopes were doomed to entire disappointment. He
went to numerous farmhouses, mansions, and parsonages, and everywhere
encountered refusal to purchase his ware. Some persons upon whom he
called treated him politely; others with marked rudeness; and the great
majority with indifference. Nearly all knew him by name, and had heard of
his poems; and nearly all, too, like the rector of Market Deeping,
expressed their surprise that an author should retail his own
productions. One irascible old gentleman, living close to the village of
Easton, told Clare, after some conversation, that he ought to be ashamed
to go through the country with a bundle on his back The poet mildly
suggested that to go with a bundle might be better than to go to the
workhouse--the possible other alternative. There was huge astonishment
depicted in the countenance of the old gentleman, and he furtively left
the room, evidently frightened at having talked with a man likely to go
to the workhouse.

It was late at night when Clare arrived home. He felt footsore, and
fainting almost from hunger and thirst, not one of all the persons whom
he had seen during sixteen hours having offered him as much as a crust of
bread or a glass of water. The next day and the day after he was too ill
to leave home, and remained on his couch, pondering on the subject
uppermost in his mind. A fresh resolve to make still greater efforts to
succeed was the result, come to after anxious consideration. As soon as
recovered, he started again, this time to Peterborough. Though somewhat
afraid of the inmates of the episcopal palace, he was in hopes of
discovering a few friends in the city, having met with several people who
knew his name and admired his writings during his previous short stay at
the 'Red Lion.' Clare, therefore, once more visited this hospitable
tavern, as well as the 'Angel,' but with no result whatever, as far as
the sale of his books was concerned. The people were quite willing to
talk with him for whole hours, and were willing even to pay for such
slight refreshments as he might require; but they would not buy his
books. They did not want poetry, they said; or they did not care for
poetry; or they were, not in the habit of reading poetry. Clare felt very
depressed and sad at heart when starting on his homeward journey, after a
day's ineffectual labour. He had left the 'Angel' inn, and was passing
near the western front of the cathedral, when all on a sudden he found
himself face to face with Mrs. Marsh. The active lady was bustling along
in great haste, but recognised her poet at once. Escape being utterly
impossible, he awaited his fate with resignation. But contrary to his
anticipation, the bishop's wife was not in the least angry or resentful;
she smiled upon him as benignly as if he had never escaped from her
custody at a most trying moment. Clare did not know it at the time, but
discovered afterwards, that Mrs. Marsh was pleased to allow him the
privilege of unlimited eccentricity. That a poet should be playing
fantastic tricks seemed to her the most natural thing in the world;
perhaps she would not have held a man to be a true poet unless invested
with this peculiar gift. Therefore, when Clare ran away in fear of her
grand party, she did not wonder much; only she blamed her servants for
permitting him to run away. That he had taken the coach to London she
knew an hour after he had started; but it was too late to follow him, and
too difficult to look for a single eccentric poet in the streets of the
metropolis. Great now was the joy of Mrs. Marsh that accident threw him
again into her way.

Being questioned as to his present movements, Clare was simple enough,
from a feeling of both diffidence and pride, to hide his actual
occupation. It was the greatest fault he committed in his whole career of
perambulating bookseller, and fatal, in a sense, to his future prospects.
With a better acquaintance of the world and the human heart, he might
have known that Mrs. Marsh would have assisted him in sailing ten times
as many books as he could ever hope to do in his whole life; that she
would have spread his 'Shepherd's Calendar,' like the Catechism, through
the whole diocese of Peterborough, and would have made every clerk in
holy orders, down to the lowest curate, buy the 'Village Minstrel.' But
Clare had no idea how active a friend he possessed in Mrs. Marsh, and
thereby lost the finest opportunity he ever had of succeeding in his
career as a bagman. He left the bishop's wife somewhat abruptly, on her
renewed invitation to pay a visit to the palace, and stay a week or two
in the chamber of genius. Hurrying home, very low in spirits, Clare found
the inmates of his little hut all in trouble and consternation. A doctor
was urgently needed to attend to Patty, she having been suddenly seized
with the pains of labour. Though fearfully tired with his day's march, he
trotted back to Peterborough to fetch the medical man. His assistance
proved to be superfluous, for when Clare returned he found that another
member had meanwhile been added to his household: a little son, who was
christened William Parker on the 4th of May, 1828. The poet's family was
increasing rapidly--too rapidly, alas, for his slender means. Little
William Parker was the third son and fifth child, and there were now nine
living beings within the narrow hut depending upon Clare for bread. His
head throbbed in terrible anxiety when thinking that he might not always
be able to give them bread.

There was not much progress made in the bookselling business during the
next six months. Clare tried all possible means to secure a sale of his
works, walking not unfrequently twenty and even thirty miles a day in all
directions, through Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, and Rutland; but
meeting with scarcely any success whatever. Sometimes, when most
fortunate, he sold two or three volumes a week, but oftener did not find
a single purchaser. Kindness, too, he met but little, most of the people
treating him as a pauper or a vagrant. Many advised him to try the sale
of trinkets and drapery, or of pills and 'patent medicines,' instead of
poetry; while others went so far as to recommend him to become an
itinerant musician. Having traversed the country in all directions,
suffering from want and fatigue, and, more still, from insults, and not
gaining enough, to purchase the coarsest food, he at last began to see
the utter uselessness of persevering further in his new occupation.
However, as a last attempt to succeed, he inserted a few advertisements
in the 'Stamford News,' informing the public that he was selling his own
poems at his cottage at Helpston. This step was taken by Mr. Taylor's
advice, Clare having informed his publisher of the failure of all his
former operations. The announcement in the 'Stamford News' did not remain
altogether without result, though its immediate effect was rather
unprofitable, the poet being visited by a number of strangers, chiefly
elderly ladies from the neighbouring towns, who were kind enough to take
his books upon credit, and never ceased being creditors.

However, in spite of these constant disappointments, Clare did not give
up all hope of ultimately prospering as a hawker of books. 'Though I have
not as yet opened any prospect of success respecting my becoming a
bookseller,' he wrote to Mr. Taylor, under date August 3d, 1828, 'yet I
still think there is some hopes of selling an odd set now and then, and
as you are so kind as to let me have them at a reduced rate, when I do
sell them I shall make something, if only a trifle. I thought of more in
my days of better dreams, but now even trifles are acceptable. For I do
assure you I have been in great difficulties, and though I remained
silent under them, I felt them oppress my spirits to such a degree that I
almost sunk under them. Those two fellows of Peterborough in the
character of doctors have annoyed and dunned me most horribly, and though
their claims are unjust, I cannot get over them by any other method than
paying.' The 'two fellows from Peterborough in the character of doctors'
were quacks into whose hands Clare, or rather his old father, had
unfortunately fallen. They promised to cure the poor invalid of his
lameness and all other ailings, and after nearly killing him with noxious
drugs, made an exorbitant demand for 'professional assistance.' The
demand was reduced ultimately, when they became aware of the utter
poverty of Clare, to less than a tenth, which they extracted in small
instalments, often taking the last penny from his pocket. For the
present, Clare had hopes to pay 'those two fellows' out of the income
from 'annuals' to which he was contributing. 'I am going to write for the
Spirit of the Age,' he informed Mr. Taylor, 'for which I am to have a
pound a page, and more when it becomes established. But promises, though
they produce a good seedtime, generally turn out a bad harvest. Yet be it
as it will, I am prepared for the worst. I have long felt a dislike to
these things, but necessity leaves no choice.' Considering what Clare got
for his other writings, the 'pound a page' from the 'Spirit of the Age'
was no bad pay. But the poet's unqualified disgust of 'these things,' the
annuals, was so great as often to counterbalance even his desire to gain
a living by his pen. He not unfrequently refused to write for the
'Souvenir' and 'Keepsake' family, and the only annual to which he
contributed with real pleasure was that under the editorship of Allan

The advertisement in the 'Stamford News' brought some curious letters to
Helpston at the beginning of the autumn. A few of the papers having been
wafted into the eastern parts of Lincolnshire, there came invitations
from several places for John Clare to show himself to the natives.
Feeling naturally dull in the Fens, they thought the sight of a live
poet, being a pedlar in the bargain, might be productive of a mild kind
of excitement, highly moral, and very cheap. The mayor of Boston was the
first to be struck with this idea, which he communicated to the more
distinguished of his townsmen, and finally embodied in a most polite note
of invitation. Clare felt exceedingly flattered by the compliments of the
mayor of Boston, and in reply stated that he would be happy to pay a
visit to the ancient borough. The answer had no sooner been sent when
there came summonses from other places within the counties of
Lincolnshire and Norfolk. At Grantham, too, they wanted to see John
Clare, as well as at Tattershall, at Spalding, and at Lynn Regis. There
seemed to be a slow poetic fever raging among the people of the Fens.
Clare sent polite replies to all the courteous invitations, and having
procured a small parcel of books from Mr. Taylor, started for Boston at
the end of September. He walked all the way, and arriving in the evening
of a beautiful day, ascended the steeple of the old church, just when the
sun was sending his last rays over the surging billows of the North Sea.
The view threw Clare into rapturous delight. He had never before seen the
ocean, and felt completely overwhelmed at the majestic view which met his
eyes. So deep was the impression left on his mind that it kept him awake
all night; and when he fell asleep, towards the morning, the
white-crested waves of the sea, stretching away into infinite space,
hovered in new images over his dreams.

The few days which he remained at Boston turned out a continual round of
excitement. The worthy mayor called upon him at the 'White Hart,' the
morning after his arrival, and insisted that he should be present at a
grand dinner-party the same day. Finding all resistance useless, Clare
submitted to his fate. The consequences he related to Mr. Taylor, in a
letter written some time after. 'The mayor of the town,' Clare informed
his publisher, 'was a very jolly companion, and made me so welcome, while
a lady at the table talked so sweetly of the poets, that I drank off my
glass very often, almost without knowing it, and he as quickly filled
it--but with no other intention than that of hospitality--that I felt
rather queer. It was strong wine, and I was not used to it.' After years
of almost total abstinence from intoxicating drink, the effect was
disastrous. For a whole day, the poet was confined to his little room at
the inn, feeling very ill, and wishing himself back at Helpston. But the
men of Boston had not yet done with him, and seemed determined to have as
much lionizing as the occasion allowed. The mayor was preparing another
dinner; and the lady who 'talked so sweetly of the poets' made strong
attempts to get up a poetical conversazione, with sandwiches and
lemonade; while some lively youths went so far as to order a supper at
Clare's inn, thinking to make sure of their lion in this way. But he was
not to be so easily caught, and, with some pride, let Mr. Taylor know how
he escaped the ordeal. 'Several young men,' he informed his patron, 'had
made it up among themselves to give me a supper, when I was to have made
a speech. But as soon as I heard of it, I declined it, telling them if
they expected a speech from me they need prepare no supper, for that
would serve me for everything. And so I got off.' To which the
pedlar-poet appended some moralizings, exclaiming, 'Really this
speechifying is a sore humbug, and the sooner it is out of fashion the
better.' It was strange how little John Clare understood the world in
which he lived.

The visit to Boston was to have been followed by a trip to other places
in the eastern counties, but Clare felt unequal to the task. A three
days' sojourn at the 'White Hart' gave him an insight into the nature of
the work required from a travelling provincial lion, and he became
conscious that he was not fitted for the calling. So he hurried home in
great haste, after having sold his little stock of books. The 'jolly
mayor' was kind enough to purchase two sets of the poetical works, on the
condition of getting the author's autograph, together with his own name
at full length, in every volume. But the lady who talked so sweetly of
the poets, refused to buy anything, pleading that her bookcase was quite
full already. The truly liberal among the people of Boston were the young
men whose supper Clare refused. They made a collection among themselves,
and, unknown to the poet, put ten pounds into his little wallet. He did
not find the gift of his unknown friends till he returned to Helpston,
and the discovery affected him to tears. For the first time in his life
he regretted not having made a speech, even at the risk of breaking down
in the middle of it.


The journey to Boston was followed by a three months' illness. A low
fever, of the typhoid kind, was part of the result of his trip into the
fen country, and of the sudden change of his diet, to which he had been
driven in the intercourse with the hospitable mayor and his friends. The
disease spread through his whole family, attacking each member in turn,
and for a moment threatening to be fatal to the youngest child. However,
all recovered in the end, though very gradually, it being not till
towards the spring of 1829 that the doctor's visits to the little hut
came to an end. The consequences of the illness did not end so soon.
Having been unable to do any work for months, and incurred, moreover,
great expenses for medical assistance and other items connected
therewith, Clare found himself now deeper than ever in debt, and with
scarcely any prospects of raising himself from his abject state of
poverty. Nevertheless, he struggled on bravely, once more trusting to his
pen and poetical inspiration. That book-hawking would not open the road
to success, but, if anything, lead him into an opposite direction, had
become clear to him by this time, and he resolved, therefore, to put
himself once more into communication with the editors of the annuals, so
as to earn a few shillings in writing poetry by the yard. In order to
extend the circle of his editorial acquaintances, he wrote letters to
several of his friends in London, notably to Mr. John Taylor and Allan
Cunningham. In the note to his publisher, the old grievance of Clare came
at length to be touched upon by him in an almost piteous manner. The poor
poet's inexperience of the world was strikingly shown in the tone as well
as contents of this letter, bearing date April 3d, 1829, and traced
apparently in a trembling hand.

After referring to his continued efforts to dispose of his books by means
of advertisements in the 'Stamford News,' with the appended doleful
remark: 'If I succeed in selling them, all well and good; if not, it will
not be the first disappointment I have met with,' Clare continues:--'And
now, my dear Taylor, I will, as a man of business, say what I have long
neglected to tell you. I never liked to refer to it; but it is a thing to
be done, and, be it as it may, it will never interfere in our friendship.
So I should like to know at your leisure how I stand with you in my
accounts, and my mind will be set at rest on that score at once. For if
there is anything owing to me it will be acceptable at any time, and if
there is nothing, I shall be content. The number printed of the first
three volumes I have known a long while by Drury's account; but whether I
have overrun the constable or not since then, I cannot tell, and that is
what I should like to know at the first opportunity. I hope you will not
feel offended at my mentioning the matter, as I do it with no other wish
than to make us greater and better friends, if possible.' Notwithstanding
this extreme humility of tone, Mr. John Taylor felt offended at the
letter of his 'Northamptonshire Peasant,'--and 'man of business' to boot.
He told the 'man of business' that he was asking indiscreet questions,
and recommended him once more to try success as a bagman, and to write
for the annuals in his spare hours. To assist him in the latter object,
Mr. Taylor was kind enough to recommend his poet to a Monsieur
Ventouillac, '14, Gumming Street, Pentonville;' an enterprising professor
of French, who was about entering upon the Souvenir and Keepsake
speculation. John Clare, all eagerness, wrote at once to Monsieur
Ventouillac, and was informed in return that the new annual, to be called
'The Iris,' would be published in the autumn, and that his 'offerings'
would be welcome. Thereupon he sat down to write at once a poem of
twenty-five verses, entitled, 'The Triumph of Time,' and sent it off in
great haste to 14, Gumming Street, Pentonville, with a request to forward
'the amount for the trifle inserted' at the earliest convenience. The
'Iris' made its appearance at the appointed time, as advertised, 'bound
in silk,' with numerous 'embellishments' got up regardless of expense.
But John Clare's 'Triumph of Time' was not in the 'Iris,' the able editor
having placed it among his waste papers, with a pencil note, 'to be
shortened one-half next year. 'The old MS. brown with age, has survived
the wreck of a thousand other manuscripts, and remains in the world,
melancholy to look at as a memorial of the fate of poetry and poets.

Clare's success with the annuals, now as formerly, was of a most
unsatisfactory nature. Acting upon Mr. Taylor's advice, he continued
sending verses to the wonderful periodicals, bound in silk, and got up
regardless of expense, but seldom received any money in return. Some took
his verses, and some did not; and nearly all forgot the fact of other
acknowledgment being due besides complimentary letters. Even Mr. Alaric
Watts, who had made Clare's personal acquaintance the year previous,
forgot his promise to insert one of his poems in the 'Literary Souvenir,'
preferring jingling rhyme manufactured to suit the 'embellishments.'
Almost the only one who took Clare's verses, as well as paid for them,
was brave Allan Cunningham, who stood fast to his friend amidst all the
deluge of silk-bound volumes. During the present summer, as in former
years, Clare continued his contributions, consisting, in this instance,
of several pastorals and sonnets, among them some verses dedicated to
Mrs. Emmerson. But, owing to Clare's rather illegible handwriting, Mr.
Cunningham misread the address of these lines, which so much affected the
poet that he wrote a long and curious note of explanation to Mrs.
Emmerson, 'My dear Eliza,' the note ran: 'I got a letter from friend
Cunningham yesterday, who tells me that my trifles suit him. Among them
are the verses to E. L. E. of which he makes a strange mistake by
fancying they are written to Miss Landon, and flatters me much by
praising them, and also by thinking them "worthy of the poetess." So I
wish that the first opportunity you have you would correct the mistake,
and if you feel the matter too delicate to write upon, you can tell the
Miss Frickers when they next call upon you. For he will most likely
change the E. L. E. to L. E. L. which I shall not be able to rectify if
he does not send me a proof sheet, and I would much rather that they
should stand as written. Proud as I am of brother Allan's commendation,
and proud as I should be of Miss Landon's commendation also, I feel much
prouder to know that they were deemed worthy the acceptance of yourself,
to whom they were dedicated. I will give you the quotation from Allan's
letter relating to the verses:--"I have placed your contributions in the
approved box, marked with my hearty approbation. Your verses to Miss
Landon are the very best you ever composed. After all, a flesh and blood
muse is best, and Miss Landon I must say is a very beautiful substitute
for these aerial mistresses. I shall show it to her." How Allan should
mistake E. L. E. for L. E. L., I cannot say; but in his hurry he must
have overlooked it, and I hope you will rectify the error. I did not tell
him to whom the verses were written, because I thought is was not
necessary, but I wish I had now power to prevent the mistake that may get
into the proofsheet, and remain there if not corrected--.' To judge by
the earnestness with which he dwells upon the subject, these little
troubles of authorship had nearly as deep an effect upon Clare's
sensitive mind as some of his real life-sorrows.

When Clare came to make up the account of his income derived from the
annuals, he found that his labours in this direction were less
remunerative than stone-breaking on the road would have been. He
thereupon determined to break his connexion with the silk-bound
periodicals, with the exception of two or three of the class, Allan
Cunningham's 'Anniversary' among the number. But with Allan, too, he had
occasion to find fault; not indeed for paying him too little, but too
highly. 'I do not,' he wrote to him, in 1829, 'expect pay by the foot or
page, but I like to give good measure and throw in an extra gratis. You
gave me too much for my last, and I hope you will keep that in mind next
year and not do so; for I never feel the loss of independence worse than
when I cannot serve a friend without knowing that I receive a recompense
in return far more than the labour is entitled to.' Allan Cunningham
responded nobly to this disinterested communication. He told his friend
that, though his poetry was of the highest excellence, he was a writer
altogether unfit for the annuals, and the great world of printers and
publishers. In half-playful and half-serious mood, he advised him to try
his hand again at farming, offering some assistance for the purpose.
Clare hesitated for a while; but having carefully considered the matter,
accepted the kindly help tendered by his friend. His chief hope was in
the expectation that he should be able to profit by past experience, and,
avoiding former errors, convert failure into success. So he took again a
small plot of land, for farming purposes, in the autumn of 1829.

There did not seem at first much prospect of good fortune in the new
speculation; nevertheless it turned out remarkably well in the end. Clare
had no sooner returned to his old labours in the field than his health
improved visibly; his mind became more cheerful, and everything around
him seemed to assume a bright and sunny look. His pecuniary
circumstances, too, improved considerably; small sums sufficient to pay
the most pressing of his debts, came in payment for his books; and even
the proprietor of a London annual had the extreme generosity to pay for
contributions sent to him three years previously. Best of all, he got
some regular employment on a farm belonging to Earl Fitzwilliam, which,
together with the cultivation of his own little plot of land, served to
fill up his whole time, leaving him no leisure for writing, but adding a
fair sum to his income. This enforced rest from his poetical labours
proved of the greatest benefit to Clare. The immense mass of verses which
he had produced within the last few years threatened to be highly
detrimental to his genius, in exhausting his mind, and destroying the
very sap of his poetical imagination. He required mental rest, more than
anything else; and this being not only given, but enforced in his new
occupation as both cottage-farmer and agricultural labourer, he found
himself almost suddenly a better, wiser, and more prosperous man. Clare
never spent a happier Christmas than that of 1829. With his little
baby-boy, now eighteen months old, on his knees, his Patty and four
eldest children around the table, and his aged parents seated comfortably
at the place of honour near the fireside, he thought himself truly
blessed, and on the very zenith of earthly joys. There was scarcely a
wish of his heart left for fulfilment, save, perhaps, the old dream to
possess a little strip of the surface of mother earth, and be a king on
his own land, instead of a serf labouring for others. It was the one
lasting dream of his life--a dream unfortunately never destined to be

The next twelve months of Clare's life were uneventful. He worked hard
and wrote little; and, with increasing bodily and mental health, got more
and more at ease in his worldly circumstances. Even his little attempt at
farming was not altogether unsuccessful, for though it did not bring much
direct gain, it secured to him the esteem of his neighbours, and a
feeling of self-dependence which he had never before known. When Patty
presented him with another baby--sixth in the list; baptized Sophia, on
the 3d of October, 1830--he felt by no means despondent as on a former
occasion, but joyful in the extreme. The dread vision of poverty, so long
before his eyes, had suddenly vanished, giving way to fancies of roseate
hue. He almost wondered why he had ever despaired--happiness, after all,
seemed so cheap and within such easy reach. There was wealth and health
sufficient springing from his daily labour, and abundant joy in the
constant sight of green fields, rippling brooks, and the smiling faces of
his little ones at home. And there was joy scarce ever known when sitting
down, at rare intervals, to the inspiration of the muse. Here was the
supreme bliss of existence. Clare knew that the poetry, offspring of
these happy hours, was far superior to anything that had ever flown from
his pen. He almost felt as if now, and now only, he was becoming a true

In truth, Clare never was a writer of perfect melodious verse till this
time. A poet he had always been--had been from the day when, a tottering
child, with senses scarce awakened, he thought to discover at the faint
outline of the distant horizon, the touch of heaven and earth. But
hitherto, and up to this period, the tumultuous inspiration of his soul
had never found vent in soft and even flow of language: the poet had
never been completely able to clothe noble thoughts into noble form. Want
of early training, with grief and care, and unceasing mental agitation,
had hemmed in on all sides the fair stream of his imagination, and the
bright flash of genius was hidden under more or less rugged form. It was
only now, that, having nursed his mind at the source of the great masters
of poetry, and enjoying harmonious peace and rest from cares in the calm
life of labour, that the outward form came to be mastered by the inward
spirit, as clay in the hands of the sculptor. The poet himself was
surprised at this momentous change, which came upon him with a suddenness
almost startling in its intensity. He had left off writing verses for
many months, devoting every moment of leisure to calm study, and happy
wanderings through, woods and fields, when one evening, with the setting
sun before his eyes, he felt a powerful longing to make one more attempt
in poetical composition. Full of this, feeling, he sat down at the
borders of Helpston Heath, lost in heavenly visions, and as he sat there
the verses came flowing from his pen:--

'Muse of the fields! Oft have I said farewell
To thee, my boon companion, loved so long,
And hung thy sweet harp in the bushy dell
For abler hands to wake an abler song--

* * * * *

Aye, I have heard thee in the summer wind,
As if commanding what I sung to thee;
Aye, I have seen thee on a cloud reclined,
Kindling my fancies into poesy;

I saw thee smile, and took the praise to me.
In beauties, past all beauty, thou wert drest:
I thought the very clouds around thee knelt,
I saw the sun did linger in the West
Paying thee worship; and as eve did melt
In dews, they seemed thy tears for sorrows I had felt.

Sweeter than flowers on beauty's bosom hung,
Sweeter than dreams of happiness above,
Sweeter than themes by lips of beauty, sung,
Are the young fancies of a poet's love.'

* * * * *

When Clare had written his song 'To the Rural Muse,' he went home and
kissed his children, and, it being full moon, kept working in his garden
for another couple of hours. And the next day, and for days after, he
kept on digging and planting, hoeing and ploughing, without ever touching
a pen. It was thus a great and noble poet grew out of the
'Northamptonshire Peasant.'


The short summer was followed by a long winter. Again Clare fell ill; and
with suffering and disease there came a train of misfortune completely
overwhelming the frail life of the poet. The year 1831 proved very
unfavourable to his farming operations, and, having no capital whatever
to fall back upon, he at once relapsed into his former state of
indigence. It was in vain that he attempted to make up for his losses by
increased exertions as a labourer. Working fifteen and sixteen hours a
day during harvest time, and not unfrequently standing up to his knees in
mud in the undrained fields, his health gave way before long, and then
there was an end of all work. He was confined to his bed for longer than
a month, and gaunt poverty now again made its appearance at the little
hut. There were ten persons to be clothed and fed, and no money incoming
save the small quarterly stipend settled upon the poet, which was scarce
sufficient to pay off the debts incurred by the unsuccessful farming of
the year. When Clare saw that his children were wanting bread, his heart
trembled in agony of despair. He rushed forth once more to labour in the
fields, but had to be carried home by his fellow workmen; a mere look at
his feverish ague-stricken frame being sufficient to show them that he
was utterly unfit to be out of doors. So he had to lay his head again on
his couch, happily unconscious for a time of what was passing around him.
There was deep sorrow and lamentation in the little hut of the poet.

When everything was at the worst, kind friends came to the rescue. The
Rev. Mr. Mossop, vicar of Helpston, and his kind-hearted sister, who had
often before assisted Clare and his family, gave once more active aid and
succour; and from Milton Park, too, there came valuable presents of food
and medicine. Thus when the poet was able again to leave his bed, he
found a much brighter outlook around him. Nevertheless, though there was
no more absolute want of the necessaries of life, grim poverty was still
standing at the threshold. The baker threatened to stop the supply of
bread if his debt should long remain unpaid, and even the owner of the
little ruinous dwelling, fourth part of a hut, in which Clare lived,
hinted that the inmates would be driven out, unless the arrears of rent
were discharged. This last menace almost drove the poet wild with
excitement. Narrow and dark as it was, he dearly loved the little hut in
which he was born, and the thought of leaving it, with, perhaps, the
ultimate prospect of going to the workhouse for shelter, was to him blank
despair. Agitated beyond measure, he ran to his friends at Milton Park,
imploring aid and advice. Mr. Edward Artis was, as usual, away on his
antiquarian rambles, intending to leave the service of Earl Fitzwilliam
altogether, and devote himself to authorship on Durobrivae and Roman
pottery. But Henderson was at home, and to him Clare poured out his tale
of woe. While talking in the garden, the earl happened to come near, and
kindly addressed Clare. The latter, in his excitement, found courage to
speak of all his troubles, and his fear of having to quit his little
home, with no place in the world where to lay his head. His lordship was
struck with the intensity of feeling exhibited by the poet. He told him
that he would attend to his wants, and provide a little cottage for him
somewhere in the neighbourhood. Clare was astonished; the offer seemed to
him so excessively generous that he scarce knew how to express his
thanks. Seeing his confusion, the earl turned to other subjects, asking
Clare whether he intended to bring out a new volume of poems, and being
answered in the negative, earnestly advised him to do so. The counsel of
the noble lord, no doubt, was well meant, but nevertheless very
injudicious. The grant of a few acres of land, in a healthy district and
at a moderate rent, would have been more beneficial to him than all the
fame he could ever hope to gain from book-making.

Clare returned to his cottage with a joyful heart, brimful of pleasant
visions of the future. The next day he was visited by Dr. Smith, a
physician of Peterborough, who came in consequence of orders received
from the noble owner of Milton Park. Earl Fitzwilliam, in his interview
with Clare, perceived, or fancied he perceived, a certain wildness of
looks about him, and not knowing what to think of it, was anxious to get
the opinion of a medical man, well known for his successful treatment of
mental diseases. The poet was not at all pleased with the visit of Dr.
Smith; however, in gratitude to his benefactor, he willingly submitted to
a lengthened examination. It had for result a report by the Peterborough
physician to Earl Fitzwilliam, stating that there was no mental
derangement whatever visible in Clare; but that his brain, developed to
an unusual degree, was liable to great and sudden fits of excitement,
from which it ought to be guarded by constant employment and a fair share
of physical labour. Here was useful advice; but which, unfortunately, was
misunderstood by his lordship. The earl quite agreed with the counsel of
giving employment; but fancied the most natural work for a poet was that
of writing poetry, at almost any time, and to any extent. In consequence,
he sent for Clare, and, repeating his promise of giving him a neat little
cottage with garden for occupation, urged him strongly not to neglect
writing poetry, and to publish his new volume as soon as possible. Clare
was but too willing to follow the advice of the noble lord.

The visits of Dr. Smith to Helpston did not cease with the first. Having
been very favourably impressed with the character of the poet, the
Peterborough physician took a great liking to him, and lost no occasion
for friendly intercourse. Clare being devoted anew to writing poetry,
some of the verses fell under the notice of the doctor, who expressed his
approbation of them in rapturous terms. This naturally won the heart of
the author, and, being urgently pressed, he consented to pay a visit to
his medical friend at Peterborough, and stay a few days at his house. The
visit took place in the spring of 1832, and led to some not unimportant
results. Having communicated to his friend his former unfavourable
attempts of book-publishing, and how the four volumes which had been
issued had brought him nothing more substantial than fame, Dr. Smith felt
moved by compassion, and began earnestly to reflect upon the great
problem of converting poetry into cash. The result of these meditations
came out in the shape of strong advice to Clare to fall back upon the old
plan he had once entertained of publishing his verses by subscription.
This was coupled with the promise that he would do his best to procure
subscribers, and otherwise assist in the matter. Clare joyfully entered
into the scheme, and, before leaving Peterborough, made arrangements with
a Mr. Nell, a bookseller, to be his local agent for getting
subscriptions, as well as to make arrangements with a London publisher to
bring out the new volume of poems as soon as sufficient subscribers had
ensured the success of the work. Mr. Nell promised his most energetic
support, and being on the point of undertaking a visit to the metropolis,
Clare furnished him with the following note to his friend Allan

'_Angel Inn, Peterborough_.

My Dear Allan,

Here is a friend of mine, a Mr. Nell, a very hearty fellow, and one who
is very desirous of seeing you--a poet, and, as I have convinced him, as
hearty a fellow as himself. Therefore I have taken the liberty of
introducing a stranger without any apology, feeling that such an
introduction was not needed. He will be particularly gratified in seeing
what you can show him of the immortal specimens of Chantrey's genius, and
any other matters that can interest a literary man; for his profession,
that of a bookseller, is not his only recommendation, he being a man of
no common taste, and also a great admirer of painting and sculpture, and
a lover of the muses.

Here ends my introduction of my friend Mr. Nell. And now, my dear Allan,
how are you? How is Mrs. Cunningham and your family, and our old friend
George Darley? As for myself, I am as dull as a fog in November, and as
far removed from all news of literary matters as the man in the moon;
therefore I hope you will excuse this dull scrawl, and believe me, as I
really am,

Yours heartily and affectionately,

John Clare.

Has Hogg visited London yet? When he does tell me, and I'll see if I
don't muster up every atom of my strength to have a sight of him.

Having left your address at Helpston, I am obliged to trust this letter
and my friend to Providence to find you, which I trust he will readily.
Your J. C.

Allan Cuningham, Esq. London.

Favoured by my friend, Mr. Nell.'

Although 'as dull as a fog in November,' Clare was in a hopeful mood at
this time. Sanguine as ever, and more than ever imbued with the
consciousness of his poetical power, he dreamt that his new publication
would be a success, and that his verses at last would gain a sufficient
circle of admirers to encourage him in writing more, and thus securing
independence for the rest of his days. This hopefulness was somewhat
disturbed after a while by news from his friends at Peterborough, who
told him that subscribers were coming in but very slowly. These
unfavourable tidings he communicated to Mr. Artis, in a note dated May,
1832, in which he said: 'I want to get out a new volume; but the way in
which I have started is not very practicable, for I Want to make it a
source of benefit.' The words bear a striking melancholy sound. Evidently
the poor poet, deeply impressed with his sad experience of the past,
scarcely dared to expect the golden millennium when his verses should
actually prove 'a source of profit' to him as well as to the booksellers.
There probably never lived, a poet--a printing and publishing poet--full
of more sublime meekness and resignation.


Earl Fitzwilliam punctually kept his promise to assign a new dwelling to
Clare. The latter received notice at the beginning of May that he might
remove in the course of the month to a pretty and substantial cottage
which his lordship had erected for him at the hamlet of Northborough,
three miles from Helpston, nearer to the Peterborough Great Fen. The news
did not bring joy to the poet, but bitter sorrow. His heart was full of
anguish at the thought of quitting the little hut where he was born, the
village which he so dearly loved, and all the familiar scenes and objects
amidst which the quiet course of his existence had rolled on for nearly
forty years. He went over to Northborough, and saw the neat dwelling
which the kindness of Earl Fitzwilliam had prepared for him; and though
he liked the place, he could no more than before reconcile his mind to
the thought of leaving his dear old home and all its cherished
associations. The noble earl had fixed upon Northborough as the residence
of the poet on account of the thoroughly sylvan scenery all around, the
little hamlet lying hidden in a very sea of flowers, trees, and
evergreens. The spot indeed was beautiful enough; yet to Clare it did not
appear half so beautiful as the bare and bleak environs of his native
village. Here he knew every shrub and every inch, of ground, and, through
many years' converse with nature, had come to look upon the most minute
objects with intense feelings of love. Though strangers might see nothing
but a barren landscape all around, to him it was a Garden of Eden,
animated with living thought, and full of soul-inspiring beauty. The mere
thought of quitting this Eden filled his mind with terror.

The terror increased when the time came near that he was actually to
leave. More than once he was on the point of requesting an audience at
Milton Park, for the purpose of imploring the noble earl to take back his
kind gift and leave him in his little hut. But his friends at Milton
Park, Artis and Henderson, would not hear of this resolution, and got
quite angry at the mere mentioning of the subject. They represented to
Clare that it would be black ingratitude on his part not to accept the
generous benefaction of his lordship, who had taken all along the
greatest interest in his welfare, and in this very choice of a residence
in the evergreen vale of Northborough had shown the most delicate taste
and appreciation of his poetical genius. Clare could not deny the force
of these arguments, and, after another inward struggle, decided to go to
Northborough, at any sacrifice to his feelings. Yet even after this firm
determination of his mind, he could scarcely bring himself to the
execution of the task. Patty, radiant with joy to get away from the
miserable little hut into a beautiful roomy cottage, a palace in
comparison with the old dwelling, had all things ready for moving at the
beginning of June, yet could not persuade her husband to give his consent
to the final start. Day after day he postponed it, offering no excuse
save that he could not bear to part from his old home. Day after day he
kept walking through fields and woods among his old haunts, with wild
haggard look, muttering incoherent language. The people of the village
began to whisper that he was going mad. At Milton Park they heard of it,
and Artis and Henderson hurried to Helpston to look after their friend.
They found him sitting on a moss-grown stone, at the end of the village
nearest the heath. Gently they took him by the arm, and, leading him back
to the hut, told Mrs. Clare that it would be best to start at once to
Northborough, the earl being dissatisfied that the removal had not taken
place. Patty's little caravan was soon ready, and the poet, guided by his
friends, followed in the rear, walking mechanically, with eyes half shut,
as if in a dream.

His look brightened for a moment when entering his new dwelling place, a
truly beautiful cottage, with thatched roof, casemented windows, wild
roses over the porch, and flowery hedges all around. Yet, before many
hours were over, he fell back into deep melancholy, from which he was
relieved only by a new burst of song. His feelings found vent in the

'I've left my own old Home of Homes,
Green fields, and every pleasant place;
The summer like a stranger comes,
I pause--and hardly know her face.

* * * * *

I miss the heath, its yellow furze,
Mole-hills and rabbit-tracks, that lead
Through besom-ling and teasel burrs
That spread a wilderness indeed:
The Woodland oaks, and all below
That their white powder'd branches shield,
The mossy paths--the very crow
Croaks music in my native field.

I sit me in my corner chair,
That seems to feel itself alone;
I hear fond music--here and there
From hawthorn-hedge and orchard come.
I hear--but all is strange and new:
I sat on my old bench last June,
The sailing puddock's shrill "pee-lew,"
O'er Royce Wood seemed a sweeter tune.

I walk adown the narrow close,
The nightingale is singing now;
But like to me she seems at loss
For Royce Wood and its shielding bough.
I lean upon the window sill,
The trees and summer happy seem,--
Green, sunny green they shine--but still
My heart goes far away to dream
Of happiness--and thoughts arise
With home-bred pictures many a one--
Green lanes that shut out burning skies,
And old crook'd stiles to rest upon.

* * * * *

I dwell on trifles like a child--
I feel as ill becomes a man;
And yet my thoughts like weedlings wild
Grow up and blossom where they can.'--

'Northborough, June 20, 1832,' these lines were written. They formed the
beginning of a new era in the life of the sorrowing poet.

Happiness never came to Clare in his rose-enshrined cottage at
Northborough. His poetical powers culminated at this period; but his mind
gradually gave way under a burthen of sorrows and cares. Perhaps some of
them were fanciful, and such 'as ill become a man;' but the bulk had
their roots in bitter reality. Clare now had a pretty cottage to live in;
yet, for all that, remained as poor as ever. In truth, he was, if
anything, poorer; for having left his old neighbourhood, and come to
dwell among strangers, he had lost his chances of finding work as a
farm-labourer. His little garden, it was true, yielded a few fruits and
vegetables for his family; yet there was not a tithe enough for their
support, and dire want was standing at the door with as grim aspect as
ever. Then there came new expenses for keeping the larger cottage in
repair, and for fitting it with appropriate furniture, and a mountain of
fresh debt was added to the old liabilities which so sorely pressed upon
the poor poet. It was a pressure nigh overwhelming to a tenderly
susceptible mind.

Clare's removal to Northborough had the immediate effect, not desirable
by any means, of drawing upon him the attention of a number of persons
more or less acquainted with his works, but by whom he had been
forgotten. As usual, public rumour magnified to an enormous extent the
nature of the bounty conferred by Earl Fitzwilliam; and while the most
moderate statement was that the poet had an annual allowance of two
hundred pounds a year from his lordship, besides a fine house to live in,
others went so far as to raise the two hundred to a thousand, and the
house to a mansion. Local newspapers busily printed these attractive
items of public intelligence, and the consequence was that the cottage at
Northborough was for some months quite besieged with visitors, all come
to congratulate. Clare felt in no mood to give or receive compliments,
and positively refused to entertain the stream of kind friends of whose
friendships he had never before been aware. With a few of the visitors,
however, with whom he had been previously acquainted, he entered into
conversation, speaking frankly of his actual circumstances, and of the
entire untruth of the rumours which asserted his sudden wealth. Among the
friends who gained his confidence to this extent was a Mr. Clark, editor
of a literary magazine, who, with the view of making a little article out
of his visit, questioned and cross-questioned Clare in the most minute
way as to his financial circumstances, and the number of his patrons.
John Clare, as to all men, so here to this supposed friend, spoke in a
frank and confiding manner, not hiding the fact that his poetry had never
been remunerative, nor that, though having many patrons left, he was on
the very brink of starvation. This was interesting news to Mr. Clark; and
the matter being eminently fit for raising the old discussion about poets
and their patrons, he spun it into a flaming article, duly painted and
coloured, which was printed in the literary magazine.

The poet was immensely astonished when, at the beginning of October, he
received a paper containing an account of himself and his troubles. It
was stated that his publishers had robbed him of the profits of his
works; that some noble patrons, alluded to in no complimentary terms,
kept feeding him with compliments, but left him to starve; and much more
to the same effect. The whole account deeply hurt his feelings, and he at
once sent a letter to a friend at Stamford, contributor to Mr. Clark's
magazine. The letter ran: 'My dear friend,--I am obliged to write to you
to contradict the misrepresentations in your paper of October the 5th,
which I received on Saturday. As long as my own affairs are
misrepresented, I care nothing about it; but such falsehoods as are
bandied about in this article not only hurt my feelings but injure me.
Mr. Clark in making these statements must have known that he was giving
circulation to lies; and had I been aware of his intentions to meddle in
my affairs, I should most assuredly have treated him as a foe in
disguise. For enemies I care nothing; from friends I have much to fear,
it seems. There never was a more scandalous insult to my feelings than
this officious misstatement.... I am no beggar; for my income is L36, and
though I have had no final settlement with Taylor, I expect to have one
directly.' The letter, after going into the details of his commercial
transactions both with Mr. Drury and Mr. Taylor, not altogether
complimentary to the former, ended with a positive demand that the
statements made in the magazine should be retracted.

But no attention was paid to this demand. The result was that Clare got
more gloomy and melancholy than ever, hiding himself for whole days in
the neighbouring woods, and refusing to see even the most intimate of his
friends. The publication of the unfortunate magazine article and
'officious misstatement,' of which there appeared no public
contradiction, was likewise not without effect upon the demeanour of
Clare's patrons. Earl Fitzwilliam, after providing him with a suitable
dwelling in an unexpectedly generous manner, subsequently left him to his
fate. Thus the poet sank deeper and deeper into poverty and wretchedness,
until he could sink no further.


The publication of the new volume of verses made little progress for a
long time to come. Notwithstanding the strenuous exertions of Dr. Smith
and other friends, the desired subscribers were very slow in presenting
themselves, poetry being evidently at a discount at the border of the fen
regions. In the spring of 1833, Clare informed his kind friend, the Vicar
of Helpston, who continued to assist him in his needs, that he had
secured 'subscribers for forty-nine copies' of his intended new volume;
adding, however, the dismal fact of eighteen among them being 'rather
doubtful.' Thus a poet, whose fame the leading organ of criticism, the
'Quarterly Review,' had proclaimed a dozen years before, and who was now
at the very zenith of his power, was actually unable to find more than
thirty persons in his own neighbourhood, where he was best known, who
would support him to the extent of a few pence. Nor was Clare more
fortunate in his endeavours to find patronage among the great publishers
of the metropolis. Although he sent specimens of some exquisite songs and
ballads to many of the best-known dealers in poetical ware, they declined
publishing them without having the previous signatures of a certain
number of purchasers. One of the specimen poems thus sent to London was
the following song, entitled 'Woman's Love:'--

'O the voice of woman's love!
What a bosom stirring word!
Was a sweeter ever uttered,
Was a dearer ever heard,
Than woman's love?

How it melts upon the ear!
How it nourishes the heart!
Cold, cold must his appear
Who has never shared a part
Of woman's love.

'Tis pleasure to the mourner,
'Tis freedom to the thrall;
The pilgrimage of many,
And the resting place of all,
Is woman's love.

'Tis the gem of beauty's birth,
It competes with joys above;
What were angels upon earth
If without woman's love?
A woman's love.'

It did not seem to strike the publishers, to whom this poem, with many
similar ones, was submitted, that there was anything beautiful in it; and
after having travelled up and down Paternoster Row, the verses were
returned to the author, 'with thanks.' One bookseller, indeed, offered to
bring out the volume, but on condition that Clare was to advance one
hundred pounds, to be spent in steel engravings and other
'embellishments.' Without embellishments, he told his correspondent, the
verses would never attract public attention, the taste of the day being
all for high art, as exhibited in the annuals. Clare wrote an angry note
in return, deeming it an insult that a man should ask him to spend a
hundred pounds upon steel engravings, when he was in want of bread.

The winter of 1832-3 proved the greatest trial the unhappy poet had yet
undergone. With scarcely food for his children; with not money enough to
satisfy even a fraction of the claims of his most importunate creditors;
and with no expectations of earning anything, either by work in the
fields or by the publication of his new volume of verses, he saw nothing
but the dreariest prospect of misery staring him in the face. He wept
bitterly when, on the 4th of January, 1833, his wife brought him another
boy, his seventh child. Passionately fond of his little ones, and devoted
to them heart and soul, he could not bear the thought of the coming day
when he might have no bread to give them. The mere idea made him feel
faint and giddy, and he rushed forth into the fields to cool his
throbbing head. Not returning in time for the evening meal, his eldest
daughter went in search through all the neighbourhood. After long
inquiries and searching, she found her father lying on an embankment,
close to a footpath leading from Northborough to the village of Etton. He
looked deadly pale, and being quite insensible, had to be carried home on
the shoulders of some labourers, who were called for assistance.
Consciousness did not return till some hours after, and for nearly a
month he was unable to leave his bed. The parish doctor, when called in,
shook his head, talked something of ague and fever, and ended by sending
some bottles full of yellowish stuff, which Clare refused to take. He
knew, better than the doctor, that something else than medicine was
required to restore his health--health of the mind, as well as of the

When the spring came, Clare had gathered sufficient strength to be able
to leave the house. But he now, to the infinite surprise of his family,
refused to leave it. He seemed to have lost, all at once, his old love
for flowers, sunshine, and green trees, and kept sitting in his little
study, silently writing verses, or poring over his books. In vain his
children begged him to go with them into the smiling fields, spread out
temptingly on all sides around their pretty cottage. He went, now and
then, as far as the garden; but quickly returned, sitting down again to
his books and papers. Some theological works in his collection, which had
been presented to him years ago, but at which he had scarcely ever looked
before, now chiefly engrossed his attention. He sat reading them all day
long, and often till late at night, neglecting food and rest over the
perusal of these works. Sometimes he ceased reading for a few hours, and
took to writing religious verses, attempting paraphrases of the Psalms,
the Proverbs, and the Book of Job. Visitors he now altogether refused to
see, and even to his wife and children he spoke but little. Thus the news
of his illness did not spread beyond the village, and remained unknown
even to his friends at Milton Park. It was quite accidentally that Dr.
Smith looked in upon his friend one day, and was admitted after some
difficulty. The doctor was startled on seeing the pale and haggard face
of Clare, and the fixed stare of his eyes. But a short examination of his
friend went far to reassure the physician, for he found that Clare talked
not only quite rationally, but with more than usual good sense and
apparent firmness of purpose. He informed his visitor that, as his former
productions had not been as favourably received as he hoped they would
be, he had bethought himself of writing a volume of religious poetry; not
controversial, but simple expositions of the truth proclaimed in the
Bible. To show the work he was doing, Clare read two of his renderings of
the Psalms, which pleased the doctor so much that he broke out into
rapturous applause. He promised at the same time that he would leave no
stone unturned to get subscribers both for the book of ballads and
sonnets previously planned, and for the new volume of religious verse.
The poet, usually so sensitive to words of kindness, received both the
praise and the promise with great coldness. This again surprised the
Peterborough physician.

Dr. Smith kept word in regard to the beating-up of subscribers. After
indefatigable exertions, and by almost forcing his poor patients, lay and
clerical, to take a poetical prospectus together with their pills, he
succeeded in getting a couple of hundred names to the subscription list.
He carried the paper in triumph to Northborough; but was again received
in a cold and apathetic manner. Clare expressed no pleasure whatever on
hearing that there was now a good prospect of bringing out his new
volume. He scarcely listened to what the doctor said, and kept on
interrupting him every minute with remarks of his own on biblical
subjects. 'Is not this Book of Job a wonderful poem--one of the most
wonderful elegies ever written?' he asked again and again. Dr. Smith was
somewhat surprised; the man of science had never been thinking much about
the Book of Job, and, perhaps, knew it only by repute. He looked Clare
steadfastly in the face; but the latter averted the glance, bonding over
the papers before him. 'Shall I read to you some of my verses?' he
inquired, after a pause. The doctor willingly consented, and Clare began
declaiming his paraphrase of the 38th chapter of Job:--

'Then God, half angered, answered Job aright,
Out of the whirlwind and the darkening storm--'

When he had finished reading, with tremulous voice, the last lines,
scarcely altered from the text:--

'And who provides
The raven with his food--His young ones cry
To God, and wander forth for lack of meat'--

Clare burst out crying, hiding his face in his hands. The medical man got
alarmed, and went out to see Mrs. Clare. He asked her whether she had
observed anything unusual about her husband of late; in fact, words or
doings betoking mental disorder. She replied that she had not noticed
anything, except his being unusually silent and reserved, and utterly
disinclined to leave the house. Thereupon both went into Clare's room,
and found that he had overcome his sudden burst of grief, and was looking
out of the window. He now entered freely into conversation with the
doctor, betraying not the slightest sign of incoherent thought or
reflection. Thanking his friend for all his kindness in getting
subscribers for the intended volume of poems, he told him that he was
going to write immediately to London, and make arrangements for the
publication of the book. The doctor then left, promising to call again.

He often called, and invariably met Clare in the same mood. Though
somewhat reserved in manner, he was cheerful, and his talk completely
rational; so that Dr. Smith almost reproached himself for having
harboured suspicions about the mental condition of his friend. What
dispelled the last remnant of these suspicions, was the character of some
of the poems which Clare was writing in his presence, and afterwards
reading aloud. The doctor was a fair judge of verses, and he confessed to
himself that those which his friend was now composing were more exquisite
in form than any which had ever before come from his pen. When visiting
Clare early one morning, he found him in a happier mood than usual, and
learned that he had just written some lines in praise of an old
sweetheart, whom he had seen the day before from his window, when she was
walking along the road. The poet, being asked to do so, willingly read
the verses to his friend. But his voice quivered with emotion, when

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

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

The doctor highly praised these and the following verses addressed to
'Mary;' and, on proffering the wish, was promised a copy of them. The
poem seemed to him a convincing proof that, whatever Clare's sufferings
had been, they had left no effect upon his mind. Had the man of science
been aware of all the facts, he would have known that these very verses
were indications of a partial disturbance of reason. Sweet 'Mary,' to
whom Clare's verses were addressed, and whom he fancied to have seen in
the road the day before, had long been lying in her grave.


Being under the impression that his friend was perfectly well, Dr. Smith
soon discontinued his visits, and, not being called upon, never saw him
again. But just at this time the poet's condition got rapidly worse, and
the first tokens of insanity began to show themselves. Morbidly occupied
with one set of thoughts, he had now lost the consciousness of his own
identity, and addressed his wife and children as strangers. When the
former first heard her husband speaking of 'John Clare' as a third
person, she became terribly frightened; but thinking he might recover
from his mental aberration by being carefully nursed and kept as quiet as
possible, she resolved to do her own duty independent of the world. She
was successful, to some extent; for after a while the clouds began, to
disappear, and the poet again spoke in a rational manner. He seemed to
feel as if awakening from a heavy, oppressive dream; his thoughts
perfectly clear, yet with a conscious remembrance that his reason had
been disturbed, and an infinite dread that the same calamity might happen
again. Full of this apprehension, and in terrible anxiety to shield
himself against the coming danger, he resolved to consult his friend, Mr.
John Taylor, from whom he had not heard for a long time. He wrote a first
note at the beginning of July, 1834; but, not getting an immediate reply,
despatched a second letter. It ran:--

'_Northborough, July 10, 1834_.

My Dear Taylor,--I am in such a state that I cannot help feeling some
alarm that I may be as I have been. You must excuse my writing; but I
feel if I do not write now I shall not be able. What I wish is to get
under Dr. Darling's advice, or to have his advice to go somewhere; for I
have not been from home this twelvemonth, and cannot get anywhere. Yet I
know if I could reach London I should be better, or else get to salt
water. Whatever Dr. Darling advises I will do if I can.

Mrs. Emmerson, I think, has forsaken me. I do not feel neglect now as I
have done: I feel only very anxious to get better. I cannot describe my
feelings; perhaps in a day or two I shall not be able to do anything, or
get anywhere. Write, dear Taylor, and believe me.

Yours sincerely, John Clare.'

The reply to this note was an invitation to come to London at once, and
consult Dr. Darling, who would be glad to see his old friend and patient.
But the advice was easier than its execution. There was such dire poverty
within the pretty cottage at Northborough, that many a day its inmates
had to go without a dinner; and to raise the money for paying the journey
to London and back seemed sheer impossibility. Clare had made
arrangements, some time previous, for the printing of his new volume of
poems; but this, too, had not yet proved a remunerative affair. The
publishers who had undertaken the task, Messrs. Whittaker and Co. of Ave
Maria Lane, informed him that, before sending any remuneration for the
book, they must see how it would sell; clearly hinting that, if not
successful, there would be no payment. Thus the poor poet was again
baffled in his endeavours to extricate himself from his dire misery by
the want of a few pounds. Probably, could he but have raised at this
moment sufficient money to pay for his journey to London and consult Dr.
Darling, his life, and what was more than his life, might yet have been
saved. But, again and again, there was not a hand stretched forth from
among the host of high friends and patrons to save a glorious soul from

A last appeal for help and assistance issued forth from the cottage at
Northborough at the beginning of August. Clare once more informed his
friend Taylor that he felt terribly anxious to consult Dr. Darling, but
could not undertake the journey for want of means. 'If I could but go to
London,' he wrote, 'I think I should get better. How would you advise me
to come? I dare not come up by myself. Do you think one of my children
might go with me? Write to me as soon as you can. God bless you! Excuse
the short letter, for I am not able to say more. Thank God, my wife and
children are all well.' There was no answer to this note, nor to a final
still more piercing cry for help. After that, all was quiet at the pretty
cottage at Northborough. The last struggle was over.

Months and months passed, and no change took place in the mental
condition of the poet. He kept reading and writing all day long; spoke
but little, and seemed averse to the society of even his wife and
children. At times, and for long consecutive periods, his remarks to his
family, and some few neighbours or visitors who were admitted to the
house, were quite rational; but again at other times his language
betrayed the sad aberration of a noble intellect. At such moments he
always spoke of himself as a stranger, in the third person, alternately
praising and condemning the sayings and doings of the man John Clare. He
was fond, too, of appealing to some invisible 'Mary,' as his wife, quite
ignoring the faithful spouse at his side, and treating her with utter
indifference. Throughout, however, he was calm and quiet; never


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