1839 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Clare

Thomas Hood, in "Reminiscences of Thomas Hood" Hood's Own (1839) 555-57.



But to return to the table. Elia — much more of House Lamb than of Grass Lamb — avowedly caring little or nothing for Pastoral; cottons, nevertheless very kindly to the Northamptonshire Poet, and still more to his ale, pledging him again and again as "Clarissimus," and "Princely Clare," and sometimes so lustily, as to make the latter cast an anxious glance into his tankard. By his bright happy look, the Helpstone Visitor is inwardly contrasting the unlettered country company of Clod, and Hodge and Podge, with the delights of "London" society — Ellis, and Barry, and Herbert, and Mr. Table Talk, cum multis aliis — i.e. a multiplicity of all. But besides the tankard, the two "drouthie neebors" discuss Poetry in general, and Montgomery's "Common Lot" in particular, Lamb insisting on the beauty of the tangental sharp turn at "O! she was fair!" thinking, mayhap, of his own Alice W—, and Clare swearing "Dal!" (a clarified d—n) "Dal! if it isn't like a Dead Man preaching out of his coffin!" Anon, the Humorist begins to banter the Peasant on certain "Clare-obscurities" in his own verses, originating in a contempt for the rules of Priscian, whereupon the accused, thinking with Burns,

What ser'es their grammars?
They'd better ta'en up spades and shools,
On knappin hammers.

vehemently denounces all Philology as nothing but a sort of man-trap for authors, and heartily dals Lindley Murray for "inventing it!"

It must have been at such a time, that Hilton conceived his clever portrait of C—, when he was "C in alt." He was hardy, rough, and clumsy enough to look truly rustic — like an Ingram's rustic chair. There was a slightness about his frame, with a delicacy of features and complexion, that associated him more with the Garden than with the Field, and made him look the Peasant of a Ferme Ornee. In this respect he was as much beneath the genuine stalwart bronzed Plough-Poet, Burns, as above the Farmer's Boy, whom I remember to have seen in my childhood, when he lived in a miniature house, near the Shepherd and Shepherdess, now the Eagle tavern, in the City Road, and manufactured Aeolian harps, and kept ducks. The Suffolk Giles had very little of the agricultural in his appearance; he looked infinitely more like a handicraftsman, town-made.

Poor Clare! — It would greatly please me to hear that he was happy and well, and thriving; but the transplanting of Peasants and Farmer's Boys from the natural into an artificial soil, does not always conduce to their happiness, or health, or ultimate well doing. I trust the true Friends, who, with a natural hankering after poetry, because it is forbidden them, have ventured to pluck and eat of the pastoral sorts, as most dallying with the innocence of nature, — and who on that account patronized Capel Lofft's protege — I do trust and hope they took off whole editions of the Northamptonshire Bard. There was much about Clare for a Quaker to like; he was tender-hearted, and averse to violence. How he recoiled once, bodily-taking his chair along with him, — from a young surgeon's friend, who let drop, somewhat abruptly, that he was just come "from seeing a child skinned!" — Clare, from his look of horror, evidently thought that the poor infant, like Marsyas, had been flayed alive! He was both gentle and simple. I have heard that on his first visit to London, his publishers considerately sent their porter to meet him at the inn; but when Thomas necessarily inquired of the gentlemen in green, "Are you Mr. Clare?" the latter, willing to foil the traditionary tricks of London sharpers, replied to the suspicious query with "a positive negative."