1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Clare

A Well-wisher to Merit, "John Clare, the Northamptonshire Peasant and Poet" Morning Post (11 February 1820).



Oh may I die, before I'm doomed to seek
That last resource of hope, but ill supplied;
To claim the humble pittance once a week,
Which justice forces from disdainful pride.
(P. 78.)

Then come, little Robin, and never believe
Such warm invitations are meant to deceive;
In duty I'm bound to show mercy on thee,
Since God don't deny it to sinners like me.
(P. 44.)

SIR,

The Public have too long been accustomed to your liberality, to be in the least surprised at your generous and truly disinterested conduct towards the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet CLARE. And let me first ask, where is the man possessing the least share of taste, a liberal mind, and good feelings, who could peruse the little volume in question, without experiencing an anxious desire to snatch its deserving author from the impending misery that even still menaces him? I shall now, then, without further preamble, venture to suggest that which appears to me well calculated to second your noble and benevolent intentions in favour of this surely heaven-born Poet. The difficulty that naturally here occurs, is that indeed which generally presents itself in nearly similar cases — I mean that of discovering that happy medium — the fixing upon the exact point, which offers neither too much nor too little. The simple question, therefore, now before us is, What is best to be done for this wonderful child of nature? To afford him mere temporary relief, would be but throwing him into the state of tantalization which might ultimately drive him to despair. Whilst on the other hand, to remove him at once, were it practicable, to a sort of independency, would be, perhaps, a still more dangerous course to pursue; for, at best, this would necessarily check his ardour, and prevent him from exercising his powerful energies, if not render him idle and dissipated. It appears to me, that a kind of happy medium here offers itself, namely, that one of our Poet's Northamptonshire Patrons, who is no less able than willing to serve him, should hold out to him a fostering hand, receiving him under his roof, in the capacity of a sort of nominal under gardener. In this humble, though secure situation, he might wield the spade and the pen alternately, as circumstances might require, not being shackled by either, so long as he should be found not to be making an abuse of such indulgence. A comfortable and snug little room, with a proper and well-timed advice, would afford to this then fortunate being, a perfect heaven upon earth. Here he would find scope for that genius, which has been hitherto comparatively smothered, and from hence might he take his long wished for flight to those unexplored regions of fancy which his ardent imagination has till now so anxiously and so perseveringly sought in vain.

Where is the clay-cold heart that could read with indifference those at once noble and feeling lines which I have chosen for my motto. The first extracted form his beautiful poem of "The Village Funeral," in which he contemplates the horrors of a workhouse, or parochial relief; the second, his simple and pathetic "Address to the Robin," almost worthy the pen of a GOLDSMITH or a COWPER, to which I cannot restrain myself from adding the charming stanzas addressed to Autumn:

Now Autumn's come, adieu to the pleasing greens,
The charming landscape, and the flowery plain,
All have deserted from these motley scenes,
With blighted yellow tinged and russet stain.

Though desolation seems to triumph here,
Yet this is Spring to what we still shall find;
The trees must all in nakedness appear,
Reft of their foliage by the blustry wind.

Just so 'twill fare with me in Autumn's life,
Just so, I'd wish; but may the trunk and all
Die with the leaves, nor taste that wintery strife,
When sorrows urge, and fear impedes the fall. — (P. 41.)

Surely, Mr. EDITOR, such an appeal to our best feelings cannot be made in vain; and although but few can be found capable of taking the lead in this much interesting concern, how many hundreds might be readily found to give their encouragement by purchasing the little volume in question. Were this to be done, a second edition of CLARE'S Poems would necessarily be speedily called for; when, from the already proved liberality of the publishers, Messrs. TAYLOR and HESSEY, Fleet-street, poor CLARE would shortly obtain at least some substantial pecuniary relief. Another advantage would likewise accrue from a second edition, that is, some two or three poems in the present edition might be expunged, in order to make room for others of riper and purer growth. It is probable that the compiler of the present volume might have chosen his selection with a view of making more fully known the versatility of the youth's genius; or perhaps the stock was so scanty as not to admit of choice. At any rate much allowance must be made for a seeming want of refinement, which it must be confessed appears in one or two instances, in this otherwise most admirable little work. Unfortunately for the sake of example, some of our greatest wits have but too often sullied their pages by not checking their licentious and indelicate transient thoughts. These unfortunate traits in human nature are certainly unworthy imitation; nevertheless we are too apt to look up to our superiors as models, and consequently ought to serve as a lesson to us to be careful how we set a bad example. I am, Sir,

Your much obliged humble servant,

A WELL-WISHER TO MERIT.