The Life of John Clare
Part 5 out of 5
complaining of anything, nor possessing, to all appearance, any other
desire than that of being left alone in his little room, among his books
and papers. Thus the winter passed, and the spring made its
appearance--the spring of 1835. At the approach of it the dark clouds
seemed to vanish once more for a short time. Throughout March and April,
he did not show the least sign of mental derangement, and on there coming
a letter from his publishers, asking him to write a preface to his little
book of poems, just on the point of being issued, he did so without
hesitation. This preface, dated 'Northborough, May 9, 1835'--containing
nothing remarkable, except a melancholy allusion to 'old friends' long
vanished from the scene, and to 'ill health,' which had left the writer
'incapable of doing anything,'--was duly issued with the new book in the
month of June.
The book was entitled 'The Rural Muse,' and, by desire of the publishers,
was dedicated to Earl Fitzwilliam. It was but a small volume of 175
pages, comprising some forty-four ballads and songs, together with
eighty-six sonnets. Messrs. Whittaker and Co. fearful of risking money in
printing too large a quantity of rural verse, so much out of fashion for
the time, had picked these short pieces from about five times as many
poems, furnished to them by the author. The pieces, however, were well
chosen; and were likewise tastefully printed, besides being illustrated
with the inevitable steel engravings--pictures of Clare's cottage and of
the, church at Northborough. Short as most of the poems were, it was on
the whole a splendid collection of exquisite verse, such, as had not been
published for many a day. The 'Rural Muse,' compared to Clare's first
book, the 'Poems of Rural Life,' was as much higher in thought as the
works of the master are to those of the apprentice, and as much more
beautiful in outward form as the butterfly is to the chrysalis.
Nevertheless, the new volume, so far from passing, like the first,
through four editions, and being praised by 'Quarterly Reviews' and other
high organs of criticism, proved thoroughly unsuccessful. The reviewers
refused to notice, and the public to buy, the 'Rural Muse.' There was no
critic in all England to say one word in its recommendation; nor one of
all the old friends and patrons who sent a cheering note of praise to the
author. Of the ill success of his book Clare, however, heard soon enough.
The publishers let him know that he could expect no remuneration, the
entire receipts being insufficient to pay the expenses, including the
cost of the much-admired steel engravings. Clare received the information
very calmly. His soul, once more, was beyond the strife of hopes and
Though there was no literary review in England to say a word in favour of
the forgotten poet at Northborough, there was one in Scotland. Professor
Wilson, of Edinburgh, had no sooner seen the new book when he broke forth
in eloquent praise of it in 'Blackwood's Magazine.' In the number for
August, 1835, he gave an article of sixteen pages, headed 'Clare's Rural
Muse,' containing not a few strong honest words about the poet and the
unjust neglect under which he was suffering. After comparing Clare with
Burns, and setting him, at the same time, far above Bloomfield, Professor
Wilson broke forth in indignant strain:--
'Our well-beloved brethren, the English--who, genteel as they are, have a
vulgar habit of calling us the Scotch--never lose an opportunity of
declaiming on the national disgrace incurred by our treatment of Burns.
We confess that the people of that day were not blameless--nor was the
bard whom now all the nations honour. There was some reason for sorrow,
and perhaps for shame; and there was avowed repentance. Scotland stands
where it did in the world's esteem. The widow outlived her husband nearly
forty years; she wanted nothing, and was happy. The sons are prosperous,
or with a competence; all along with that family all has been right.
England never had a Burns. We cannot know how she would have treated him
had he "walked in glory and in joy" upon _her_ mountain-side. But we do
know how she treated her Bloomfield. She let him starve. Humanly
speaking, we may say that but for his imprisonment--his exclusion from
light and air--he would, now have been alive. As it was, the patronage he
received served but to prolong a feeble, a desponding, a melancholy
existence; cheered at times but by short visits from the Muse, who was
scared from that dim abode, and fain would have wafted him with her to
the fresh fields and the breezy downs. But his lot forbad--and generous
England. There was some talk of a subscription, and Southey, with hand
"open as day to melting charity," was foremost among the poets. But
somehow or, other it fell through, and was never more heard of--and
meanwhile Bloomfield died. Hush then about Burns.'
When brave Christopher North wrote these lines in 'Blackwood,' he
probably knew nothing about the actual position of Clare, except the
general rumour that he was not very well off, though not absolutely poor.
He therefore thought to do enough in inviting all the admirers of genuine
poetry to purchase the 'Rural Muse,' in order that 'the poet's family be
provided with additional comforts.' That some 'comforts' were theirs
already, Professor Wilson judged from the elaborate steel engraving of
Clare's dwelling, prefixed to the new volume. 'The creeping plants,' he
said, 'look pretty in front of the poet's cottage, but they bear no
fruit. There is, however, a little garden attached, and in it may he dig
without anxiety, nor need to grudge among the esculents the gadding
flowers.... Clare is contented, and his Patty has her handful for the
beggar at the door, her heartful for a sick neighbour.'
Alas! had but Professor Wilson known the bitter actual truth, the
frightful condition of another Burns, it might have been time yet to
rouse with thunder voice the heart of England--of England and of
Scotland--to prevent another 'national disgrace.'
BURST OF INSANITY.
The article in 'Blackwood's Magazine' occasioned some talk in the
literary world of London; but on the whole made little impression, and
probably did not contribute much to the sale of the 'Rural Muse.' The old
patrons of Clare were glad to learn, on the authority of a great writer,
that he was tolerably comfortable and,'contented,' with something to
spare for 'the beggar at the door,' and for the rest people did not
trouble themselves much about 'national disgrace,' engendered by the
treatment of rural poets. Three months after the publication of his
'Rural Muse,' Clare was as much forgotten as ever; his name never
mentioned in polite society; and the copies of his book lying unsold on
the shelves of Messrs. Whittaker and Co. in Ave Maria Lane. The poet
himself was not affected by it, for he had ceased to suffer from the
neglect of the world and the rude buffetings of poverty and misery. Like
Fell into sadness, then into a fast,
Thence to a watch, thence into a weakness,
Thence to a lightness; and, by this declension,
Into the madness wherein now he raves.'
In the winter of 1835-6 the poet's mental state became alarming. His
ordinarily quiet behaviour gave way at times to fits of excitement,
during which he would talk in a violent manner to those around him.
However, his wife and children were as yet almost the only people who
knew of his mental derangement, the world being still entirely ignorant
that the 'Northamptonshire Peasant,' who had just issued a new book of
poetry, was a madman. Even Clare's own neighbours knew little of his
state; to them he always was an inexplicable, erratic being, with words
and actions not to be measured by the ordinary standard, and they,
therefore, took little notice of occasional strange scenes which they
witnessed. This was fortunate, in so far as it contributed to put poor
Mrs. Clare more at her ease. She rightly judged that if she could but
induce her husband to leave his narrow room and his books, and enjoy
again as of old the sight of flowers, trees, and green fields, his health
would be greatly improved. With this constant aim in view, she succeeded
at last in drawing her unhappy partner from his gloomy retirement. The
spring of 1836 was unusually fine, and when nature had put on her first
smiling green, and the whole little village was wrapped in a belt of
fragrant blossoms and flowers, Patty instructed her two eldest daughters
to lead their father for a short walk through the neighbourhood. The
poet, this time, made no resistance whatever, but allowed himself to be
guided by his children. He returned much pleased with his excursion,
expressing a wish to go again the next day. From the second walk he came
back still more delighted, and the daily rambles continuing for more than
a month, Clare at last seemed almost recovered from his malady. Except at
rare intervals, when his speech would become somewhat wild and
incoherent, his behaviour showed not the least signs of eccentricity, and
though more quiet and subdued than formerly, the conversation he carried
on seemed perfectly judicious and rational. Once more, Patty fervently
hoped Heaven would restore her husband.
It was not long before Clare's old love of nature came back with such
renewed ardour that he could not be made to stop a single day at home.
Whenever the weather was moderately fine, he sallied forth, mostly
unaccompanied by any one, and seldom returned before the sun had set. He
extended his excursions as far as Helpston Heath on the one side, and
Peterborough on the other, seemingly as much as ever acquainted with
every nook and piece of ground for miles around the neighbourhood of his
ancient haunts. One day, when rambling about on the confines of the
cathedral city, he met and was recognised by Mrs. Marsh. The good old
lady was delighted to see her poet again, and insisted that he should
make up for his former neglect by accompanying her at once, and staying a
few days at the episcopal mansion. Clare said he was expected home by his
wife, and could not go the same day; but promised to pay a visit to
Peterborough in the course of a week. He kept his word, and on the
appointed time presented himself before Mrs. Marsh. She was exceedingly
pleased, and to prevent her poet from running away again, kept him
constantly in her company. Conversing with him on all subjects, Mrs.
Marsh at times thought his remarks rather singular; while his sudden
swerving from one topic to another often astonished her not a little. But
all this the good lady held to be perfectly natural in a poet and a man
of genius. To her a poet was nothing if not eccentric.
Clare remained for several days a guest at the residence of the bishop,
and on the last evening of his visit was taken by Mrs. Marsh to the
theatre. A select band of roving tragedians had taken possession of the
Peterborough stage--converted, by a more prosaic living generation, into
a corn-exchange--and were delighting the inhabitants of the episcopal
city with Shakespeare, and the latest French melodramas. On the evening
when Clare went to the theatre in company with Mrs. Marsh, the 'Merchant
of Venice' was performed. Clare sat and listened quietly while the first
three acts were being played, not even replying to the questions as to
how he liked the piece, addressed to him by Mrs. Marsh. But at the
commencement of the fourth act, he got restless and evidently excited,
and in the scene where Portia delivered judgment, he suddenly sprang up
on his seat, and began addressing the actor who performed the part of
Shylock. Great was the astonishment of all the good citizens of
Peterborough, when a shrill voice, coming from the box reserved to the
wife of the Lord Bishop, exclaimed, 'You villain, you murderous villain!'
Such an utter breach of decorum was never heard of within the walls of
the episcopal city. It was in vain that those nearest to Clare tried to
keep him on his seat and induce him to be quiet; he kept shouting, louder
than ever, and ended by making attempts to get upon the stage. At last,
the performance had to be suspended, and Mrs. Marsh, after some
difficulty, got away with her guest. The old lady, in her innocence, even
now did not apprehend the real cause of the exciting scene which she had
witnessed, but, as before, attributed the behaviour of her unfortunate
visitor to poetic eccentricity. But she began thinking that he was almost
The next morning, Clare went back to Northborough, having received an
intimation from Mrs. Marsh that it would be best he should go home at
once. He wandered forth from the city in a dreamy mood, and lost his way
before he had gone far. Some acquaintances found him sitting in a meadow,
near the hamlet of Gunthorpe, and seeing his wild haggard looks and
strange manners, they took him by the arm, and led him back to
Peterborough, delivering him over to the porter at the episcopal mansion.
Mrs. Marsh, on hearing that her poet had again made his appearance, was
somewhat alarmed; her guest had ceased to be ornamental to her
establishment, and her chief object now was to get rid of him as soon as
possible. She therefore ordered a servant to take charge of Clare and
deliver him up to his wife, with instructions not to let him go, under
any pretence, to Peterborough. The order was duly obeyed, and the poet
soon found himself in his little cottage. Patty was frightened to see
what a sad change the few days' absence had wrought in her husband. He no
longer talked sensibly as before, but addressed her and the children in
an abrupt manner, asking for his 'Mary,' and complaining that all his
friend's had left him. The poor wife soothed him as best she could, and
after some efforts succeeded in calming his mind. At the end of a few
days, Clare seemed again sufficiently well to leave the house, and
renewed his daily walks in company with one or the other of his children.
The inhabitants of the village, together with most of his acquaintances
in the neighbourhood, were still ignorant that the poet whom they saw
daily roving through the fields was at madman.
The ignorance was so general as to be shared by most, of Clare's friends
and patrons. One of the latter, the Rev. Mr. Mossop, Vicar of Helpston,
had frequent occasions of seeing him, but never detected the slightest
sign of mental derangement. Thus one morning, soon after the poet's
return from Peterborough, he invited him to his house, to meet a friend
who wished to make the acquaintance of the author of the 'Rural Muse.'
Mrs. Clare was rather unwilling to let her husband depart; but had not
the courage to detain him, remembering the exceeding kindness, always
shown to her family by the vicar and his sister. The poet accordingly
made his appearance at Mr. Mossop's house; but had not been long there
before he showed unmistakeable signs of a wandering intellect. In the
midst of an animated conversation, he suddenly broke off, and pointing to
the ceiling, cried that he saw figures moving up and down. Surprised as
the host and hostess were at this exclamation, they at once perceived the
real condition of their unhappy visitor. The reverend gentleman, without
loss of time, hurried off to get medical assistance, while his sister,
Miss Jane Mossop, did her best to quiet the poet by conversing with him
on his favourite topics, and drawing his attention to the plants and
flowers in the garden. It was not long before a surgeon arrived, in the
person of a Mr. Skrimshaw, resident at Market Deeping. He pronounced at
once--what, indeed, was obvious to all the persons in the house--that the
poor poet was a lunatic. The kind-hearted vicar thereupon had Clare
carefully conveyed back to his own home, making further arrangements for
his comfort and safety.
Through Mr. Mossop, the Earl Fitzwilliam and other patrons of Clare were
made acquainted with the mental state of the poet, of which they had been
so long ignorant. The earl at once proposed to send the poet to the
county lunatic asylum, at Northampton, where he would be kept under safe
restraint; but this scheme met with some opposition on the part of Mrs.
Clare, who thought that her husband might yet recover by being left
quietly at home. For a short time, indeed, it seemed as if this was the
case. During the next four or five months, and up to the spring of 1837,
the cottage at Northborough bore as quiet an aspect as if disease and
misery had never entered it. Clare kept working in his garden, and
reading in his little study, week after week, speaking to his family in
the most rational manner, and occasionally writing verses as sweet and
beautiful as any that had ever come from his pen. But with the warm days
of summer, his mind seemed again to get distracted, and the report
reaching Milton Park, imprisonment at the Northampton asylum was once
more advised, or ordered. By desire of the noble earl, negotiations were
entered into with the authorities at the county establishment to receive
Clare, against payment of a small weekly sum, at a somewhat better
footing than the ordinary paupers; but while these were pending, there
came letters from London offering to do a little more for the unhappy
poet. Mr. John Taylor and other old friends and patrons, having now
become fully acquainted with the condition of Clare, proposed to place
him in a private lunatic asylum, near the metropolis, discharging all the
expenses of his maintenance there. The earl, being a clear gainer by this
new arrangement, had no objection whatever to make against it, and
signified his desire of having his pensioner at Northborough at once
removed to the new place of safety. This was done without loss of time.
Early on the morning of the 16th of July, 1837, Clare was led away from
his wife and children, by two stern-looking men, who placed him in a
small carriage and drove rapidly away southward. Late the same day, the
poet found himself an inmate of Dr. Allen's private lunatic asylum, at
Fair Mead House, High Beech, in the centre of Epping Forest.
GLIMMERS OF COUNTY PATRONAGE.
The news that Clare had been taken to a lunatic asylum did not become
generally known till many months after the event had taken place. In the
meanwhile, however, the few persons who still took an interest in the
'Northamptonshire Peasant' heard vague rumours that he was living at home
in a state of extreme destitution, productive at times of mental
derangement, and on the initiative of the most energetic of these old
friends another appeal was made to the public for pecuniary aid. Allan
Cunningham was the first to call upon the admirers of Clare to help him
in his distress, and the editors of various more or less fashionable
annuals, published in the autumn of 1837, followed the example. Though it
did not lead to the desired result, the movement thus set on foot was
curious, as showing the estimation in which the poet was held by some of
those who wished to figure as his patrons. Among them was the Marquis of
Northampton, a nobleman who, though never having in the least assisted
Clare, fancied himself a sort of protector of the poet, for the sole
reason that he was living in the county. This sort of county-property
feeling, common to not a few of Clare's noble patrons, was expressed to a
notable degree in a letter which the marquis wrote in reply to one of the
appeals in favour of the 'Northamptonshire Peasant.'
The appeal in question appeared in the 'Book of Gems,' an annual edited
by Mr. S. C. Hall. The writer, after stating that Clare had 'for many
years existed in a state of poverty, as utter and hopeless as that in
which he passed his youth;' that he had 'a wife and a very large family;'
and that 'at times his mind is giving way under the sickness of hope
deferred,' finished with an eloquent address to some nobleminded patron
of poetry to come forward and help Clare. 'It is not yet too late,' the
writer exclaimed, 'for a hand to reach him: a very envied celebrity may
be obtained by some wealthy and good Samaritan. Strawberry Hill might be
gladly sacrificed for the fame of having saved Chatterton.' The Marquis
of Northampton replied to this address. His lordship evidently was
hankering after the 'envied celebrity,' but wished to get it as cheap as
possible. So he wrote a long letter to the editor of the 'Book of Gems,'
making his bid for fame, and expressing at the same time his opinion
about one whom he considered a '_county poet_.' His lordship's letter--in
which, it will be noticed, the _county_ predominates over all heavenly
and earthly things--ran as follows:--
'_Castle Ashby, Northampton, Oct. 17th, 1837_.
Sir,--Though an utter stranger, I think you will excuse my troubling you
with this present letter: but I will not waste your time with a
lengthened apology. I was this morning reading the collection of poetry
which you have lately published--"The Book of Gems, 1838,"--and I was at
the same time struck and shocked by what you say on the subject of our
county poet, Clare. I must confess that I am not of his exceeding
admirers, and should by no means be disposed to place him in the same
rank with Hogg, or even with Bloomfield and Crockford. Still he is
undoubtedly a great credit to our county, and it would, I think, be a
great disgrace to it if Clare was left in the state in which you mention
him to be. Now it appears to me that the most feasible means of relieving
him would be for him to publish a collection of all his poems in a volume
by subscription. Probably there would be found a good many persons in
this county who would subscribe for five or ten copies each.
Northamptonshire is not a large county, nor is it either wealthy from
manufactures or from a dense population. It has, however, some
considerable source of wealth. Many of its resident nobility and gentry
have considerable properties elsewhere, as for instance the Dukes of
Buccleuch and Grafton, and Lords Spencer, Fitzwilliam, Winchelsea; and
you will see that the resources of the county are really in that sense
larger than they appear. However, I must confess that I do not think that
we are very literary, and probably such a speculation would hardly
succeed unless in addition to the copies taken here there were hopes of a
sale elsewhere. On this subject you are far better able to judge than I
can be. You know also more exactly how Clare is situated, at least you
could find out. If Her Majesty would allow the book to be dedicated to
her that would probably be a considerable advantage, and through Lord
Lilford, who, I think, is a Lord of the Bedchamber, permission might be
obtained. But in this I speak at random. If such a plan was taken up, I
should myself be willing to subscribe for ten or twenty copies, and I
have no doubt that I could obtain subscriptions from others. But I could
not myself do more for this scheme. In fact I should not be able to do
quite so much now in this way in consequence of a late publication of
mine, as I could not in general apply to the same subscribers. Still I
could apply to many on the ground of it being a county question. But
still, as I said before, the question is whether the public in general
would be likely to join the effort. Pray let me know what you think of
the matter. If a direct subscription for Clare should be proposed in lieu
of the publication I should be happy to contribute towards it, but I
should doubt its being as productive as the book. It would be probably
well if there were some new poems in the book in addition to the old
ones. Perhaps there may be a difficulty to get the copyright if he has
sold it to a bookseller.
I am, Sir, your humble servant
The philanthropic scheme of the Marquis of Northampton in favour of 'our
county poet' was destined not to be realized. Whether the failure was
owing to the mysterious 'Lord of the Bedchamber,' or to differences of
opinion in respect to Clare being 'a great credit to our county,' and his
relief 'a county question,' so much is certain, the not '_very_ literary'
county subscribers declined to come forward, although a number of
prospectuses were printed and issued to them. Thus there remained the
'great disgrace.' To Professor Wilson it simply was a 'national disgrace'
but the most honourable the Marquis of Northampton undoubtedly felt it
deeper by declaring it to be a 'disgrace to our county.'
DR. ALLEN'S ASYLUM.
Dr. Matthew Allen, of Fair Mead House, into whose asylum Clare had been
taken, was among the first reformers who adopted the mild system of
treatment for the insane, both on medical and philanthropic grounds. He
argued, in the teeth of a whole legion of irate professional brethren,
that kindness would be more powerful than cruelty in curing human beings
deranged in intellect, and that, even if incurable, the poor creatures
whom God had afflicted did not deserve being laid in fetters and treated
like savage animals. The doctor necessarily made a great many enemies by
preaching this new doctrine; but he likewise was fortunate enough to gain
a few friends, who advocated his cause and rendered active aid in
carrying it into practice. It was with the help of these friends that Dr.
Allen was enabled to set up a large private asylum in the centre of
Epping Forest, the establishment consisting of half-a-dozen houses,
connected together, and surrounded by large gardens. Here the unhappy
sufferers from mental derangement were kept under no more restraint than
was absolutely necessary for their own safety and that of others; and,
while under the best medical care and attention, were allowed an abundant
amount of indoor recreation as well as out-door exercise. When Clare
arrived, there were about fifty inmates at Fair Mead House, all of them
belonging to the middle and upper classes. Feeling deep sympathy with the
unfortunate position of the poet, Dr. Allen admitted him at a mere
nominal rate of payment, treating him nevertheless exactly on the same
footing as the most favoured of his patients.
The poet's existence at Fair Mead House for several years flowed on
monotonous enough; even more so than that of the other inmates of the
asylum. He longed to see his family, to meet familiar faces, and to read
and write poetry; but neither wife, nor children, nor any friends ever
came to visit him, and the supply of books was necessarily scant and not
altogether to his taste. Dr. Allen's treatment of his patients was based
on the principle of giving them as much physical labour and exercise as
possible, so as to destroy all tendency to a morbid concentration of
thought; and thus Clare was kept away from books and paper, and made to
go into the garden, to plant, and dig, and water the flowers. He seemed
to fret at first on being deprived of the solace of his poetry, and
eagerly seized every occasion to scribble verses upon odd slips of paper,
or with, chalk against the wall. But as the months passed on, his new
forced habits grew upon him, and he left off writing to a great extent,
and was foremost among the workers in the fields and garden. His mental
state, however, did not improve, although his physical strength appeared
to gain by this change. He got stout and robust, and able to go through a
greater amount of physical labour than in former days. What seemed to
contribute to sooth and quiet--or, perhaps, deaden--his mental energies,
was the habit of smoking, which he acquired from his companions. He would
smoke for whole days and weeks, either working in the garden, or sitting
on the stump of a tree in Epping Forest, without uttering a word.
Yet notwithstanding the visible and increasing derangement of his mental
faculties, Clare's poetical powers seemed to be nearly as great and as
brilliant as ever. Rare as were the opportunities when he was allowed to
indulge in the luxury of writing verses, whenever they offered, the
stream of poetry came flowing on swiftly and sweetly. Some accidental
visitors to Fair Mead House one day offered him a pencil and sheet of
paper, when he sat down on a bench in the garden, and without further
musing wrote the following lines:--
'By a cottage near the wood
Where lark and thrushes sing,
In dreaming hours I stood,
Through summer and through spring:
There dwells a lovely maiden
Whose name I sought in vain--
Some call her pretty Lucy,
And others honest Jane.
By that cottage near a wood
I often stood alone
In sad or happy mood,
And wished she was my own.
The birds kept sweetly singing,
But nature pleased in vain;
For the dark and lovely maiden
I never saw again.
By the cottage near the wood
I wished in peace to be:
The blossoms where she stood
Were more than gems to me.
More fair or sweeter blossoms
My rambles sought in vain;
But the dark and lovely maiden
I never found again.
By that cottage near a wood
The children held her gown,
And on the turf before her
Ran laughing up and down.
They played around her beauty,
While I sought joys in vain;
She fled--the lovely maiden
I could not find again.
By that cottage near the wood,
Where children used to play,
Spring often burst the bud,
And as often passed away.
And with them passed my visions
Of her whom I adore;
For the dark and lovely maiden,
I love her evermore.'
When Clare had been above a year at the asylum, and it was found that he
was perfectly harmless and inoffensive, he was allowed to roam at his
will all over the neighbourhood and through the whole of the forest. This
freedom he greatly enjoyed, and not a day passed without his taking long
excursions in all directions. In these wanderings he was mostly
accompanied by T. Campbell, the only son of the author of 'The Pleasures
of Hope,' with whom he had come to form an intimate acquaintance. Clare
wrote a sketch of his forest promenades in a sonnet which he handed to
Dr. Allen. It ran:--
'I love the forest and its airy hounds,
Where friendly Campbell takes his daily rounds;
I love the break-neck hills, that headlong go,
And leave me high, and half the world below.
I love to see the Beech Hill mounting high,
The brook without a bridge, and nearly dry.
There's Bucket's Hill, a place of furze and clouds,
Which evening in a golden blaze enshrouds:
I hear the cows go home with tinkling bell,
And see the woodman in the forest dwell,
Whose dog runs eager where the rabbit's gone;
He eats the grass, then kicks and hurries on;
Then scrapes for hoarded bone, and tries to play,
And barks at larger dogs and runs away.
His acquaintance with young Thomas Campbell brought to Clare occasional
presents, and now and then, the pleasant face of a visitor. Among them
was Mr. Cyrus Bedding, who left a record of his visit in the 'English
Journal.' Describing Dr. Allen's asylum, he says:--'The situation is
lofty; and the patients inhabit several houses at some distance from each
other. These houses stand in the midst of gardens, where the invalids may
be seen walking about, or cultivating the flowers, just as they feel
The visitor, who was accompanied by a friend who had known Clare
previously, found him working in a field, 'apart from his companions,
busily engaged with a hoe, and smoking. On being called, he came at once,
and very readily entered into conversation. Our friend was surprised to
see how much the poet was changed in personal appearance, having gained
flesh, and being no longer, as he was formerly, attenuated and pale of
complexion. We found a little man, of muscular frame and firmly set, his
complexion fresh and forehead high, a nose somewhat aquiline, and long
full chin. The expression of his countenance was more pleasing but
somewhat less intellectual than that in the engraved portrait prefixed to
his works in the edition of "The Village Minstrel," published in 1821. He
was communicative, and answered every question put to him in a manner
perfectly unembarrassed. He spoke of the quality of the ground which he
was amusing himself by hoeing, and the probability of its giving an
increased crop the present year, a continued smile playing upon his lips.
He made some remarks illustrative of the difference between the aspect of
the country at High Beech and that in the fens from whence he had
come--alluded to Northborough and Peterborough--and spoke of his
loneliness away from his wife, expressing a great desire to go home, and
to have the society of women. He said his solace was his pipe--he had no
other: he wanted books. On being asked what books, he said Byron; and we
promised to send that poet's works to him.
'The principal token of his mental eccentricity was the introduction of
prize-fighting, in which he seemed to imagine he was to engage; but the
allusion to it was made in the way of interpolation in the middle of the
subject on which he was discoursing, brought in abruptly, and abandoned
with equal suddenness, and an utter want of connexion with any
association of ideas which it could be thought might lead to the subject
at the time; as if the machinery of thought were dislocated, so that one
part of it got off its pivot, and protruded into the regular workings; or
as if a note had got into a piece of music which had no business there.
This was the only symptom of aberration of mind we observed about Clare;
though, being strangers to him, there might be something else in his
manner which those who knew him well could have pointed out. To our
seeming, his affection was slight; and it is not at all improbable that a
relief from mental anxiety might completely restore him. The finer
organization of such a humanity, if more easily put out of order than
that of a more obtuse character, is in all probability more likely to
re-tune itself, the evil cause being removed.'
Mr. Cyrus Bedding was mistaken in the anticipation that Clare's
'machinery of thought' would ever get again 'into the regular workings.'
At the very time when the visit described here took place, the poet's
mental state was worse than before, and there seemed less chance than
ever of restoring 'the finer organization of such a humanity.' Clare was
haunted now, wherever he went, by the vision of his first ideal love, his
ever-sought 'Mary.' He fancied that she was his wife, torn from him by
evil spirits, and that he was bound to seek her all over the earth. In
his wild hallucinations, he confounded his real with his ideal spouse,
addressing the latter in language wonderfully sweet, though exhibiting
strange flights of imagination. On one occasion, the poet handed to Dr.
Allen the following piece of poetry, which he called 'A Sonnet,' with the
remark that it should be sent to his wife:--
'Maid of Walkherd, meet again,
By the wilding in the glen;
By the oak against the door,
Where we often met before.
By thy bosom's heaving snow,
By thy fondness none shall know;
Maid of Walkherd, meet again,
By the wilding in the glen.
By thy hand of slender make,
By thy love I'll ne'er forsake,
By thy heart I'll ne'er betray,
Let me kiss thy fears away!
I will live and love thee ever,
Leave thee and forsake thee never!
Though far in other lands to be,
Yet never far from love and thee.'
Dr. Allen told his patient that he thought his verses very beautiful, at
which Clare seemed pleased, and expressed his intention to take them home
to his wife, his 'Mary.' The doctor paid little heed to this remark,
which, however, was seriously meant. To see his beloved Mary again, now
became the one all-absorbing thought of the poet's mind. He appeared to
have a vague notion that she was far away; but determined, nevertheless,
to seek her, even at the risk of his life. In the spring of 1841--having
been nearly four years at Fair Mead House--he made several attempts to
escape, but was frustrated each time, being brought back by people who
met him wandering at a distance. Dr. Allen, notwithstanding these
warnings, continued to allow full liberty to his patient, ascribing his
occasional flights to a mere propensity for roaming about. Clare, as
before, took his daily excursions, sometimes in company with his friend
Campbell, but oftener alone. One day, in the middle of July, 1841, he
stayed away unusually long. When the sun had set without his returning
home, attendants were despatched in all directions; but after a long and
minute search over the whole neighbourhood, they came back, late at
night, reporting that they had been unsuccessful in tracing the lost
patient. Some persons who knew him by sight had seen him passing through
Enfield in a northerly direction; but beyond this fact nothing could be
ascertained. Dr. Allen felt very uneasy at this mysterious disappearance,
and the next day despatched two horsemen in search of Clare. But even
they could discover no trace of him beyond Enfield. John Clare was never
seen again at Fair Mead House, Epping Forest.
ESCAPE FROM THE ASYLUM.
Clare's flight from Dr. Allen's custody was accomplished by dint of
extraordinary perseverance, involving an amount of physical suffering
almost unexampled, and approaching starvation and the most horrible of
deaths. The poet started early on the morning of the 20th of July, with
not a penny in his pocket, and no other knowledge of the road than that
given to him by a gipsy whom he had met a few days before. This gipsy at
first promised more active assistance in his flight; but did not keep his
word, owing, probably, to the inability of the poor lunatic to procure
any tangible reward. However, urged onward by his intense desire to see
his 'Mary' again, Clare did not hesitate to start alone on his unknown
journey, and, groping his way along, like one wrapt in blindness, he at
once succeeded so far as to get into the right track homewards. The first
day he walked above twenty miles, to Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, where
he arrived late at night, footsore and faint, having been without any
refreshment the whole day. He rested for the night in an old barn, on
some trusses of clover, taking the singular precaution, before lying
down, of placing his head towards the north, so as to know in which
direction to start the next morning. This day, the 21st of July, he rose
early, pursuing his way northward, and crawling more than walking along
the road. A man threw him a penny which he used to get a glass of ale;
but beyond this he had again no refreshment. After a second night, spent
in the open air, he rose once more to crawl onward, slowly but steadily.
To stifle the torments of hunger, he now took to the frightful expedient
of eating grass with the beasts in the field. The grass served to appease
the dreadful pains of his stomach, yet left him in the same drowsy
condition in which he was before. His feet were bleeding, the dry gravel
of the road having penetrated his old worn-out shoes; but he heeded it
not, and stedfastly pursued his way northward. Alternately sleeping and
walking, sometimes wandering about in a circle, lying down in ditches at
the roadside, and continuing to eat grass, together with a few bits of
tobacco which he found in his pocket, he at length reached the
neighbourhood of Peterborough and scenes familiar to his eye. But he was
now fast breaking down under hunger and fatigue, having had no food for
more than ninety hours. Hearing the well-known place, he could get no
further, but sank down on the road, more dead than alive. A great many
people passed--people rich and poor, on foot and in carriages, in
clerical habit and in broadcloth; but not one gave alms, or even noticed,
or had a kind word for the dying man at the roadside. There was not one
good Samaritan among all the wayfarers from the rich episcopal city.
At last there passed a cart, containing some persons from Helpston. They
recognised their old neighbour, although he was terribly altered, with
the livid signs of starvation impressed upon his face. The wanderer, in a
faint voice, told those friends his tale of woe; but even they were not
Christians enough to lift him into their vehicle and take him home. All
that they did was to give him a few pence; not even placing the money in
his hand, with, perhaps, a kindly greeting, but throwing it at him from
their cart. The wretched poet crept along the road to gather the coppers,
and then crawled a little farther on to a public-house, where he procured
some refreshment. The food--the first he had taken for nigh four
days--enabled him to pursue his journey slowly, and he hobbled on through
Peterborough, the blood still trickling from his wounded feet. At every
stone-heap at the roadside he rested himself, until he came to the hamlet
of Werrington, where a cart ran up against him, out of which sprang a
woman who took him in her arms. It was Patty, who had heard from the
charitable Helpston people that her husband was lying on the road, and
had come in search of him. But Clare did not know her. He refused even to
take a seat at her side, until he was told that she was his 'second
wife.' Then he allowed himself to be taken to Northborough, where he
arrived in the evening of the 23d of July, utterly exhausted, and in a
state bordering upon delirium.
But already the next day he felt considerably better, and at once asked
for writing materials. Having obtained pen and ink, together with an old
blank ledger, in which he formerly entered his poems, he sat down to
write an account of his 'Journey from Essex.' Such another account,
probably, was never written before. Here it stands, unaltered from the
original, save in slight attempts at punctuation. The paper commences:--
'_July 24th 1841_.--Returned home out of Essex, and found no Mary. Her
and her family are nothing to me now, though she herself was once the
dearest of all. And how can I forget!'
After this entry begins what is headed the 'Journal':--
'_July 18, 1841, Sunday._--Felt very melancholy. Went for a walk in the
forest in the afternoon. Fell in with some gypsies, one of whom offered
to assist in my escape from the madhouse by hiding me in his camp, to
which I almost agreed. But I told him I had no money to start with; but
if he would do so, I would promise him fifty pounds, and he agreed to do
so before Saturday. On Friday I went again, but he did not seem so
willing, so I said little about it. On Sunday I went and they were all
gone. An old wide-awake hat and an old straw bonnet, of the plum-pudding
sort, was left behind, and I put the hat in my pocket, thinking it might
be useful for another opportunity. As good lack would have it, it turned
out to be so.
_July 19, Monday_.--Did nothing.
_July 20, Tuesday_.--Reconnoitred the road the gypsey had taken, and
found it a legible (!) one to make a movement; and having only honest
courage and myself in my army, I led the way and my troops soon followed.
But being careless in mapping down the road as the gypsey told me, I
missed the lane to Enfield Town, and was going down Enfield Highway, till
I passed the "Labour-in-vain" public-house, where a person who came out
of the door told me the way. I walked down the lane gently, and was soon
in Enfield Town, and by and by on the great York Road, where it was all
plain sailing. Steering ahead, meeting no enemy and fearing none, I
reached Stevenage, where, being night, I got over a gate, and crossed the
corner of a green paddock. Seeing a pond or hollow in the corner, I was
forced to stay off a respectable distance to keep from falling into it.
My legs were nearly knocked up and began to stagger. I scaled over some
old rotten palings into the yard, and then had higher palings to clamber
over, to get into the shed or hovel; which I did with difficulty, being
rather weak. To my good luck, I found some trusses of clover piled up,
about six or more feet square, which I gladly mounted and slept on. There
were some drags in the hovel, on which I could have reposed had I not
found a better bed. I slept soundly, but had a very uneasy dream. I
thought my first wife lay on my left arm, and somebody took her away from
my side, which made me wake up rather unhappy. I thought as I awoke
somebody said "Mary;" but nobody was near. I lay down with my head
towards the north, to show myself the steering point in the morning.
_July 21_.--Daylight was looking in on every side, and fearing my
garrison might be taken by storm, and myself be made prisoner, I left my
lodging by the way I got in, and thanked God for His kindness in
procuring it. For anything in a famine is better than nothing, and any
place that giveth the weary rest is a blessing. I gained the North Road
again, and steered due north. On the left hand side, the road under the
bank was like a cave; I saw a man and boy coiled up asleep, whom I
hailed, and they awoke to tell me the name of the next village. Somewhere
on the London side, near the "Plough" public-house, a man passed me on
horseback, in a slop frock, and said, "Here's another of the broken-down
haymakers," and threw me a penny to get a half pint of beer, which I
picked up, and thanked him for, and when I got to the "Plough," I called
for a half pint and drank it. I got a rest, and escaped a very heavy
shower in the bargain, by having a shelter till it was over. Afterwards I
would have begged a penny of two drovers, but they were very saucy; so I
begged no more of anybody.
Having passed a lodge on the left hand, within a mile and a half, or
less, of a town--I think it might be St. Ives, or it was St. Neot's, but
I forget the name--I sat down to rest on a flint heap, for half an hour
or more. While sitting here, I saw a tall gypsey come out of the lodge
gate, and make down the road to where I was. When she got up to me, I saw
she was a young woman, with a honest-looking countenance, and rather
handsome. I spoke to her, and asked her a few questions, which she
answered readily and with evident good humour. So I got up, and went on
to the next town with her. She cautioned me on the way to put something
in my hat to keep the crown up, and said in a lower tone, "You'll be
noticed." But not knowing at what she hinted, I took no notice and made
no reply. At length she pointed to a small church tower, which she called
Shefford Church, and advised me to go on a footway, which would take me
direct to it, and would shorten my journey fifteen (!) miles by doing so.
I would gladly have taken the young woman's advice, feeling that it was
honest, and a nigh guess towards the truth; but fearing I might lose my
way, and not be able to find the North Road again, I thanked her, and
told her I should keep to the road. She then bid me "good day," and went
into a house or shop on the left hand side of the road.
Next I passed three or four good built houses on a hill, and a
public-house on the roadside in the hollow below them. I seemed to pass
the milestones very quick in the morning, but towards night they seemed
to be stretched further asunder. I now got to a village of which I forget
the name. The road on the left hand was quite overshadowed by trees, and
quite dry. So I sat down half an hour, and made a good many wishes for
breakfast. But wishes were no meal; so I got up as hungry as I sat down.
I forget here the names of the villages I passed through, but recollect
at late evening going through Potton, in Bedfordshire, where I called in
a house to light my pipe. There was a civil old woman, and a country
wench making lace on a cushion as round as a globe, and a young fellow;
all civil people. I asked them a few questions as to the way, and where
the clergyman and overseer lived; but they scarcely heard me, and gave no
answer. I then went through Potton, and happened to meet with a
kind-talking countryman, who told me the parson lived a good way from
where I was. So I went on hopping with a crippled foot; for the gravel
had got into my old shoes, one of which had now nearly lost the sole. Had
I found the overseer's house at hand, or the parson's, I should have
given my name, and begged for a shilling to carry me home; but I was
forced to brush on penniless, and be thankful I had a leg to move on. I
then asked him whether he could tell me of a farmyard anywhere on the
road, where I could find a shed and some dry straw, and he said, "Yes, if
you will go with me, I will show you the place; it is a public-house on
the left hand side of the road, at the sign of the Ram." But seeing a
stone heap, I longed to rest, as one of my feet was very painful. So I
thanked him for his kindness, and bid him go on. But the good-natured
fellow lingered awhile, as if wishing to conduct me; but suddenly
recollecting that he had a hamper on his shoulder, and a lock-up bag in
his hand, to meet the coach, he started hastily, and was soon out of
I followed, looking in vain for the countryman's straw bed. Not being
able to find it, I laid down by the wayside, under some elm trees.
Between the wall and the trees there was a thick row, planted some five
or six feet from the buildings. I laid there and tried to sleep; but the
wind came in between the trees so cold that I quaked like having the
ague, and I quitted this lodging to seek another at the "Ram," which I
scarcely hoped to find. It now began to grow dark apace, and the odd
houses on the road began to light up, and show the inside lot very
comfortable, and my outside lot very uncomfortable and wretched. Still I
hobbled forward as well as I could, and at last came the "Ram." The
shutters were not closed, and the lighted window looked very cheering;
but I had no money, and did not like to go in. There was a sort of shed,
or gig-house, at the end; but I did not like to lie there, as the people
were up; so I still travelled on. The road was very lonely and dark,
being overshaded with trees. At length I came to a place where the road
branched off into two turnpikes, one to the right about, and the other
straight forward. On going by, I saw a milestone standing under the
hedge, and I turned back to read it, to see where the other road led to.
I found it led to London. I then suddenly forgot which was north or
south, and though I narrowly examined both ways, I could see no tree, or
bush, or stone heap that I could recollect having passed.
I went on mile after mile, almost convinced I was going the same way I
had come. These thoughts were so strong upon me, and doubts and
hopelessness made me turn so feeble, that I was scarcely able to walk.
Yet I could not sit down or give up, but shuffled along till I saw a lamp
shining as bright as the moon, which, on nearing, I found was suspended
over a tollgate. Before I got through, the man came out with a candle,
and eyed me narrowly; but having no fear I stopped to ask him whether I
was going northward. He said, "When you get through the gate you are." I
thanked him, and went through to the other side, and gathered my old
strength as my doubts vanished. I soon cheered up, and hummed the air of
"Highland Mary" as I went on. I at length came to an odd house, all
alone, near a wood; but I could not see what the sign was, though it
seemed to stand, oddly enough, in a sort of trough, or spout. There was a
large porch over the door, and being weary I crept in, and was glad
enough to find I could lie with my legs straight. The inmates were all
gone to rest, for I could hear them turn over in bed, while I lay at full
length on the stones in the porch. I slept here till daylight, and felt
very much refreshed. I blest my two wives and both their families when I
laid down and when I got up in the morning.
I have but a slight recollection of my journey between here and Stilton,
for I was knocked up, and noticed little or nothing. One night I laid in
a dyke-bottom, sheltered from the wind, and went asleep for half an hour.
When I awoke, I found one side wet through from the water; so I got out
and went on. I remember going down a very dark road, hung over on both
sides with thick trees; it seemed to extend a mile or two. I then entered
a town, where some of the chamber windows had lights shining in them. I
felt so weak here that I was forced to sit on the ground to rest myself,
and while I sat here a coach that seemed heavily laden came rattling up,
and splashing the mud in my face wakened me from a doze. When I had
knocked the gravel out of my shoes I started again. There was little to
notice, for the road very often looked as stupid as myself. I was often
half asleep as I went on.
The third day I satisfied my hunger by eating the grass on the roadside,
which seemed to taste something like bread. I was hungry, and eat
heartily till I was satisfied; in fact, the meal seemed to do me good.
The next and last day I remembered that I had some tobacco, and my box of
lucifers being exhausted, I could not light my pipe. So I took to chewing
tobacco all day, and eat it when I had done. I was never hungry
afterwards. I remember passing through Buckden, and going a length of
road afterwards; but I do not recollect the name of any place until I
came to Stilton, where I was completely footsore, bleeding, and broken
down. When I had got about half way through the town, a gravel causeway
invited me to rest myself; so I laid down and nearly went to sleep. A
young woman, as I guessed by the voice, came out of a house, and said,
"Poor creature;" and another more elderly said, "Oh, he shams." But when
I got up the latter said, "Oh no, he don't," as I hobbled along very
lame. I heard the voices, but never looked back to see where they came
from. When I got near the inn at the end of the gravel walk, I met two
young women, and asked one of them whether the road branching to the
right by the inn did not lead to Peterborough. She said, "Yes." As soon
as ever I was on it, I felt myself on the way home, and went on rather
more cheerful, though I was forced to rest oftener than usual.
Before I got to Peterborough, a man and woman passed in a cart; and on
hailing me as they passed, I found they were neighbours from Helpston,
where I used to live. I told them I was knocked-up, which they could
easily see, and that I had neither food nor drink since I left Essex.
When I had told my story they clubbed together and threw me fivepence out
of the cart. I picked it up, and called at a small public-house near the
bridge, where I had two half pints of ale, and twopennyworth of bread and
cheese. When I had done, I started quite refreshed; only my feet were
more crippled than ever, and I could scarcely bear walk over the stones.
Yet I was half ashamed to sit down in the street, and forced myself to
keep on the move.
I got through Peterborough better than I expected. When I came to the
high road, I rested on the stone-heaps, till I was able to go on afresh.
By-and-by I passed Walton, and soon reached Werrington. I was making for
the "Beehive" as fast as I could when a cart met me, with a man, a woman,
and a boy in it. When nearing me the woman jumped out and caught fast
hold of my hands, and wished me to get into the cart. But I refused; I
thought her either drunk or mad. But when I was told it was my second
wife, Patty, I got in, and was soon at Northborough. But Mary was not
there; neither could I get any information about her further than the old
story of her having died six years ago. But I took no notice of the lie,
having seen her myself twelve months ago, alive and well, and as young as
ever. So here I am hopeless at home.'
This wonderfully graphic narrative--extraordinary compound of facts and
dreams, illuminated by the lurid flame of a marvellous imagination--Clare
accompanied by a letter to his visionary spouse. The letter, addressed,
'To Mary Clare, Glinton,' and dated 'Northborough, July 27, 1841,' ran as
'My Dear Wife,--I have written an account of my journey, or rather
escape, from Essex, for your amusement. I hope it may divert your leisure
hours. I would have told you before that I got here to Northborough last
Friday night; but not being able to see you, or to hear where you were, I
soon began to feel homeless at home, and shall by and by be nearly
hopeless. But I am not so lonely as I was in Essex; for here I can see
Glinton Church, and feeling that my Mary is safe, if not happy, I am
gratified. Though my home is no home to me, my hopes are not entirely
hopeless while even the memory of Mary lives so near me. God bless you,
my dear Mary! Give my love to our dear beautiful family and to your
mother, and believe me, as ever I have been and ever shall be,
My dearest Mary,
Your affectionate husband,
The poet's glorious intellect was gone; he sat there bereft of reason;
body and soul alike shattered and broken to pieces. Yet on the wreck and
ruins of all this mass of marvellous life, there still sat enthroned the
memory of his First Love. 'For Love is strong as Death,' says the Song of
Happy for Clare if his weary life had been allowed to end here, in dreams
of his first, his purest love. But it was ordained otherwise, and he had
yet to drag a miserable course of earthly existence for more than twenty
years. The period was one of great physical and mental suffering. Much of
it might have been, if not prevented, at least softened and alleviated,
but for the fresh interference of troublesome foes and ignorant friends.
There was clearly no harm in leaving the poet in his little cottage at
Northborough, allowing him to tend his flowers, to listen to the song of
birds, and to write verses to his Mary in heaven. Now as ever, he was as
harmless and guileless as a child; he would not hurt the worm under his
feet, and even in his most excited moods not an unkind word to those
around him escaped his lips. A little additional assistance--if only from
the 'county,' of which a noble earl held him to be 'a great
credit'--might have made his own and his wife's existence perfectly free
from cares, and softened the evening of their lives. But the great
patrons would have it otherwise. Clare had no more books to dedicate to
Honourables and Most Honourables, and they thought that the best thing to
be done was to get such a useless 'county poet' out of the way and out of
Clare had not been many weeks at his little home, resting from his
fatigue, and enjoying the caresses of his children, when he was visited
by the Mr. Skrimshaw, of Market Deeping, who had attended him on a former
occasion. This person, who called himself a doctor, had a notion that
poets were always and naturally insane, and that the very fact of a man
being given to write verses was decisive proof of his madness. Mr.
Skrimshaw, therefore, had little trouble in consigning Clare to another
lunatic asylum. All that was necessary was to engage the help of a
brother-doctor to go through a slight legal formality. This was soon
done, and 'Fenwick Skrimshaw,' together with 'William Page,' both of
Market Deeping, signed the due certificate that John Clare was to be kept
under restraint at a madhouse, for the definitely stated reason of having
written poetry, or, as literally given by the doctors:--
'_After years addicted to poetical prosings._'
On the ground of this new crime, punishable, according to the wise men of
Market Deeping, with life-long imprisonment, Clare was torn away from his
wife and children, and carried off to the madhouse. He struggled hard
when the keepers came to fetch him, imploring them, with tears in his
eyes, to leave him at his little cottage, and seeing all resistance
fruitless, declaring his intention to die rather than to go to such
another prison as that from which he had escaped. Of course, it was all
in vain. The magic handwriting of Messrs. Fenwick Skrimshaw and William
Page, backed by all the power of English law, soon got the upper hand,
and the criminal 'addicted to poetical prosings' was led away, and thrust
into the gaol for insane at Northampton.
It was, perhaps, with some regard to Clare being considered, on high
authority, 'our county poet,' that he was consigned to the county lunatic
asylum at Northampton, instead of being taken hack to the more
respectable refuge of Dr. Allen, who was anxious to see him again under
his charge, and even expressed strong hopes of an ultimate cure. The
change was not a hopeful one; though, as far as the patient's physical
comforts were concerned, there was no suffering attached to it. During
the whole of his long sojourn at Northampton, the poet was treated with a
kindness and consideration beyond all praise, and which, indeed, he had
scarcely a right to expect from his position. Earl Fitzwilliam, who had
taken him under his charge, only allowed eleven shillings a week for his
maintenance, which small sum entitled Clare to little better than pauper
treatment. Nevertheless, the authorities at Northampton, with a noble
disregard for conventionalities, placed Clare in the best ward, among the
private patients, paying honour to him as well as themselves by
recognising the poet even in the pauper.
The Northampton General Lunatic Asylum stands at a little distance from
the town, on the brow of a hill, in a very beautiful position,
overlooking the smiling plain traversed by the River Nene. It is a large
establishment, containing, on the average, some four hundred patients,
the great majority of them paupers. The private patients have to
themselves a large sitting-room, somewhat similar to a gentleman's
library, the windows of which overlook the front garden, the valley of
the Nene, and the town of Northampton. In the recess of one of these
windows, Clare spent the greater part of his time during the twenty-two
years that he was an inmate of the asylum. Very melancholy at first, and
ever yearning after his 'Mary,' he became gradually resigned to his fate,
and after that never a murmur escaped his lips. He saw that the world had
left him; and was quite prepared himself to leave the world. During the
whole twenty-two years, not one of all his former friends and admirers,
not one of his great or little patrons ever visited him. This he bore
quietly, though he seemed to feel it with deep sorrow that even the
members of his own family kept aloof from him. 'Patty' never once showed
herself in the twenty-two years; nor any of her children, except the
youngest son, who came to see his father once. The neglect thus shown
long preyed upon his mind, till it found vent at last in a sublime burst
'I am! yet what I am who cares, or knows?
My friends forsake me like a memory lost.
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost.
And yet I am--I live--though I am toss'd
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dream,
Where there is neither sense of life, nor joys,
But the huge shipwreck of my own esteem
And all that's dear. Even those I loved the best
Are strange--nay, they are stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod,
For scenes where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept
Full of high thoughts, unborn. So let me lie,
The grass below; above the vaulted sky.'
This was the last poem which Clare wrote--the last, and, we think, the
noblest of all his poems. Clare's swan-song, we fervently hope, will live
as long as the English language.
For the last ten or twelve years of his existence the poet suffered much
from physical infirmities. Previously he was allowed to go almost daily
into the town of Northampton, where he used to sit raider the portico of
All Saints' Church, watching the gambols of the children around him, and
the fleeting clouds high up in the sky. When these excursions came to be
forbidden, he retired to his window-recess in the asylum, reading little
and speaking little; dreaming unutterable dreams of another world.
Sometimes his face would brighten up as if illuminated by an inward sun,
overwhelming in its glory and beauty. This life of contemplation,
extending over many years, was followed by a singular change in the
physical constitution. The head seemed to expand vastly; the bushy
eyebrows grew downward until they almost obscured the eyes, and the
abundant hair, white as snow, came to fall in long curls over the massive
shoulders. In outward appearance the poet became the patriarch.
The inmates of the asylum treated Clare with the greatest respect--far
greater than that previously allotted to him by the world without. To his
fellow-sufferers he always was John Clare the poet; never Clare the
farm-labourer or the lime-burner. An artist among the patients was
indefatigable in painting his portrait, in all possible attitudes; others
never wearied of waiting upon him, or rendering him some slight service.
The poet accepted the homage thus rendered, quietly and unaffectedly, as
a king would that of his subjects. He gave little utterance to his
thoughts, or dreams, whatever they were, and only smiled upon his
companions now and then. When he became very weak and infirm, they put
him into a chair, and wheeled him about in the garden. The last day he
was thus taken out, and enjoyed the fresh air and the golden sunshine,
was on Good Friday, 1864. He was too helpless to be moved afterwards; yet
would still creep, now and then, from his bed to the window, looking down
upon the ever-beautiful world, which he knew he was leaving now, and
which he was not loth to leave, though he loved it so much.
Towards noon on the 20th of May, the poet closed his eyes for ever. His
last words were, 'I want to go home.' So gentle was his end that the
bystanders scarcely knew when he had ceased to breathe. God took his soul
away without a struggle.
Clare had always expressed a wish to sleep his last sleep in the
churchyard of his native village, close to his 'own old home of homes.'
In the very first poem of his earliest published book of verses, he
summed up all his aspirations in the one that he should--
'As reward for countless troubles past,
Find one hope true: to die at home at last.'
Accordingly, when the poet's spirit had fled, the superintendent of the
Northampton asylum wrote to his patron, Earl Fitzwilliam, asking for a
grant of the small sum necessary to carry the wish of the deceased into
effect. The noble patron replied by a refusal, advising the burial of the
poet as a pauper at Northampton.
But this lasting disgrace, fortunately, was not to be. Through the active
exertions of some true Christian souls, real friends of poetry, the
requisite burial fund was raised in a few days, and the poet's body,
having been conveyed to Helpston, was reverently interred there on
Wednesday, the 25th of May, 1864. There now lies, under the shade of a
sycamore-tree, with nothing above but the green grass and the eternal
vault of heaven, all that earth has to keep of John Clare, one of the
sweetest singers of nature ever born within the fair realm of dear old
England--of dear old England, so proud of its galaxy of noble poets, and
so wasteful of their lives.
* * * * *
Allen, Dr. Matthew, of Fair Mead House.
'Anniversary,' annual, edited by Allan Cunningham.
Artis, Edward, friend of Clare.
Bachelors' Hall, Helpston, meeting at.
Bains, Granny, cowherd of Helpston.
Baring, Sir Thomas, patron of Clare.
Bedford, Duke of, patron of Clare.
Behnes, Henry, sculptor, makes a bust of Clare; spends an evening with.
Bell, Dr. makes Clare's acquaintance; defends his friend; threatens him
with the 'canister of the Blue Devils'.
Bellamy, 'Mr. Councillor' of Wisbeach.
Benyon, Tom, head-porter of Messrs. Taylor and Hessey; teaches political
Billings, John and James, of 'Bachelor's Hall.'
'Blackwood's Magazine,' on Clare.
Bloomfield, Robert, letter from; death.
'Book of Job,' Clare's rendering of.
Boston, Clare's visit to; the mayor of.
Boswell, king of the gipsies.
Bowles, Rev. Wm. L. editor of Pope; quarrel with Mr. Gilchrist.
Bridge, Casterton, Clare working at.
Bullimore, Mrs. schoolmistress.
Burghley Park, Clare's first visit to; working as gardener at; received
Burkhardt, Herr, watchmaker of the Strand.
Burns and Clare, compared by Professor Wilson.
Byron, Lord, funeral of.
Campbell, Mr. at Dr. Allen's asylum.
Cardigan, Earl, patron of Clare.
Gary, Rev. H. T. receives Clare at his home; at the 'London Magazine'
Chiswick, Clare's residence at.
Clare, John, birth; parents; in search of other worlds; at the
dame-school; first pleasures of song; learns threshing; is attacked by
the ague; goes to Mr. Merrishaw's school; studies algebra; travels to
Wisbeach; interview with Mr. Councillor Bellamy; fails in becoming a
lawyer's clerk; promoted to be potboy at the 'Blue Bell;' growing love of
nature; takes to reading fairy tales; first love; meets with Thomson's
'Seasons;' efforts to obtain the book; the first poem; attempts to learn
a trade; apprenticed to the head gardener at Burghley Park; dissipation;
flight from Burghley Park; returns home; poetical aspirations; verses
'wanting fire'; consults a rural critic; becomes conscious of terrible
ignorance; devours 'Lowe's Spelling-book;' unable to master 'quartacutes'
and 'quintacutes;' in search of a patron; visits 'Bachelors' Hall;'
enlists in the militia; swears fidelity to King George; is taught the
goose-step; returns to Helpston; Love and the Apocalypse; turns gipsy
under King Boswell; limeburning; zeal in writing verses; first meeting
with 'Patty;' narrow escape from being drowned; attempts to publish a
book; writes a prospectus; issues an 'Address to the Public;' quarrels
with his mistress; bids farewell to 'Patty;' enlists in the Royal
Artillery; determines to quit Helpston; meets with a patron; makes
arrangements for printing his poems; gets intimate with Mr. Drury;
meeting with Mr. John Taylor; first interview with Mr. Gilchrist; hears
of the success of his 'Poems of Rural Life;' visit to Holywell Park;
romance of fugitive love; patronized by Viscount Milton; by Earl
Fitzwilliam; by the Marquis of Exeter; marries 'Patty;' first visit to
London; troubles of fame; defends himself against patronage; has an
annuity settled upon him; ignored by Sir Walter Scott; publication of the
'Village Minstrel;' correspondence with Bloomfield; visited by Mr. John
Taylor; second trip to London; adventure in a hackney coach; short stay
at Chiswick; visit to Charles Lamb; attempts to purchase a freehold;
falls very ill; third visit to London; Fleet Street philosophy; is
present at a meeting of lions; returns to Helpston; fails in getting work
as a labourer; great poverty; takes to farming; publication of the
'Shepherd's Calendar;' writes for the annuals; Platonic love; last visit
to London; turns pedlar; journey to Boston; glimpse of happiness; removal
to Northborough; mental alienation; cry for help; publication of the
'Rural Muse;' excitement at the Peterborough Theatre; burst of delirium;
is taken to Dr. Allen's asylum; escape from the madhouse; writes the
diary of his escape; taken to Northampton asylum; his last poem; physical
Clare, Parker, birth; marriage; poverty and sufferings; dependent upon
alms; accompanies his son to Burghley Park; reproves John for writing
verses; struck down by illness.
Clark, Mr. editor of a literary magazine.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, at a soiree.
'Cottage near the wood,' Clare's poem of.
'County poet,' our, and county patronage.
Crouch, Mr. issues Clare's poems.
Cunningham, Allan, at Mr. Taylor's house; letter to, from Clare;
interview with; attempts to assist him.
Dalia, Mademoiselle, of the Regency theatre.
Darley, George, meeting with Clare.
Darling, Dr. attends Clare in illness; acts as his guide.
De Quincey, Thomas, at the 'London Magazine' dinner.
Deville, Mr. professor of phrenology.
Devonshire, Duke of, patron of Clare.
Drury, Mr. Edward, first meeting with Clare; offers to print his book;
inspects the MSS.; submits them to a critic; intimacy with Clare.
Durobrivae, Roman station.
Elton, Charles, makes Clare's acquaintance.
Emmerson, Mrs. first interview with Clare; receives Clare at her house;
renews her acquaintance; acts as hostess.
Etton, village near Helpston.
Exeter, Marquis of, first interview with Clare; visits the poet at home;
finds Clare unfit for patronage.
Fair Mead House lunatic asylum, Clare's stay at.
Pane, Lady, visit to Clare.
Farrow, Jim, cobbler of Helpston.
Field, Baron, literary country gentleman.
'First Love,' Clare's poem of.
Fitzwilliam, Earl, becomes a patron of Clare; presents him with L100;
gives him a cottage; maintains him at the asylum; advises to bury him as
'Gentleman's Magazine,' the, on Clare's Poems.
Gilford, William, interview with Clare.
Gilchrist, Octavius, first meeting with Clare; becomes his patron;
accompanies him to London; gives his opinion on Sir Walter Scott;
disputes with the Rev. Mr. Bowles; engaged in 'Battle of the Windmills;'
falls seriously ill; meets Clare at London; last interview with Clare;
Glinton, the home of 'Mary;' Memorial of Clare's first love.
Grantham, visit of John Clare to.
Gregory, Francis, landlord of the 'Blue Bell.'
Grill, Monsieur, cook at Milton Park.
Hall, Mr. S. C. editor of the 'Book of Gems.'
Hazlitt, William, at Mr. Taylor's house.
Helpo, founder of Helpston; 'mystic stipendiary knight.'
Helpston, origin of; the parish clerk patronises Clare; removal of Clare
Henderson, Mr. friend of Clare.
Henson, Mr. first interview with Clare; agrees to publish his 'Original
Trifles;' returns Clare's manuscripts.
Hilton, William, paints Clare's portrait.
Hogarth's house, at Chiswick.
'Hole-in-the-Wall' public-house, the.
Holland, Rev. Mr. makes Clare's acquaintance; brings news of his success.
Holywell Park, Visit to.
'Home of Homes,' Clare's poem of.
Hood, Thomas, sub-editor of 'London Magazine.'
'Iris,' the, contribution of Clare to.
Joyce, Mary, John Clare's first love.
Keats, John, gift to, from Earl Fitzwilliam.
Lamb, Charles, visited by Clare; at the 'London Magazine' dinner.
Landon, Miss, error of dedication.
Langley Bush, sketched by Clare.
Leopold, King of Belgium, gift to Clare.
Lolham Brigs, near Helpston.
London, as seen from the distance.
'London Magazine,' the, on Clare's poems.
Lowe's 'Critical Spelling-book.'
Manton, Bill, stone-cutter at Market-Deeping.
Market-Deeping, visit to horsedealers at.
Marsh, Mrs. visits Clare; receives him at her mansion; takes him to the
Maxey, village near Helpston.
Merrishaw, Mr. schoolmaster at Glinton.
Milton Park, Clare's first visit to.
Milton, Viscount, interview with John Clare; takes Clare under his
Militia, life in the.
'Morning Walk,' the, Clare's first poem.
Mossop, Rev. Mr. patron of Clare.
Mounsey, Rev. Mr. of Stamford.
Murray, Mr. John, interview with.
Nell, Mr. bookseller of Peterborough.
Newark-upon-Trent, John Clare at.
Newcomb, Mr. proprietor of the 'Stamford Mercury.'
'New Monthly Magazine,' the, on Clare's poems.
North, Christopher, on Clare.
Northborough, Clare's removal to.
Northampton, Marquis of, threatens to patronise Clare.
Northampton asylum, Clare's stay at.
Northumberland, Duke of, patron of Clare.
Offley's tavern, visit of Clare to.
'Original Trifles,' a first poetical speculation.
Oundle, militia drill at.
Page, Mr. certifies to Clare's insanity.
Parker, grandfather of John Clare.
'Patty,' Clare's first sight of; meeting with; wavering between two
suitors; supposed last interview; reconciliation; marriage.
Peterborough, Bishop of, visit to Clare.
Peterborough, the 'Red Lion;' episcopal palace, Clare's visit to;
theatre, Clare's visit to.
Pickworth, Clare working at.
'Poems of Rural Life,' publication of.
'Poetical Prosings,' new form of insanity.
Poets, their patronage and income.
Poets and the poor-rates.
Porter, Thomas, of Ashton Green.
Preston, Mr. a 'brother poet.'
'Quarterly Review,' the, on Clare's poems.
Radstock, Lord, first meeting with Clare; refuses to assist him;
interferes with Mr. Taylor; death.
Redding, Cyrus, visit to Clare.
Regency Theatre, Tottenham-court-road.
Reynardson, General, meets Clare; shows his residence.
Reynolds, William, at the 'London Magazine' dinner.
Rippingille, Mr. friend of Clare; leaves him in difficulties.
Rossini, sets Clare's verses to music.
'Rural Muse,' address to.
'Rural Muse,' the, publication of.
Russell, Lord John, patron of Clare.
Scott, Sir Walter, and John Clare; judged by Mr. Gilchrist.
'Shepherd's Calendar,' publication of.
Sherwell, Captain, friend of Sir Walter Scott.
Skrimshaw, Mr. sees Clare; certifies to his insanity.
Smith, Dr. physician of Peterborough.
Spencer, Earl, grants an annuity to Clare.
Stamford, the 'Dolphin' Inn; the 'New Public Library.'
Stamford bookseller, the, and John Clare.
Stimson, John, shepherd of Castor.
Stimson, Morris, visits John Clare; tries to lift him into a profession.
Taylor, Mr. John, first interview with Clare; receives him at London;
procures an annuity for Clare; visit to Helpston; receives Clare a second
time; reproves him for his ambition; receives Clare on his third visit to
London; last interview with.
Taylor and Hessey, publishers, gift to Clare.
Tickencote, hamlet near Stamford.
Townsend, Mr. Chauncey Hare, visits Clare.
Twopenny, the Rev. Mr., incumbent of Little Casterton.
Turnill, John, teaches Clare algebra.
Ventouillac, Monsieur, publisher of the 'Iris.'
Vestris, Madam, reciting Clare's poems.
'Village Minstrel,' publication of.
Walkherd Lodge, home of 'Patty.'
Watts, Alaric, makes Clare's acquaintance.
Wilders, Mr. of Bridge Casterton.
Wilson, Professor, on Clare's poetical genius.
Wisbeach, John Clare's journey to.
Withers, nurseryman, employs Clare.
'Woman's Love,' Clare's poem of.
* * * * *
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