1851 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Clare

David Macbeth Moir, in Sketches of the Poetical Literature of the Past Half-Century (1851; 1852) 287-88.



Although not to the same extent as Burns or Bloomfield, as Hogg or Cunningham, John Clare has also just claims to be regarded as a true poet, — the wild pea being a flower in its way, as well as the statelier moss-rose. His pretensions, however, are of the humblest: he has no imagination, and exceedingly little either of the inventive or the constructive faculty, and may be said to stand in much the same relation to an epic poet, that a limner of fruit and dead-game pieces does to an historical artist. But he has nature and observation; and what he does in his own unpretending way is done accurately and well. We feel ever that he has seen with his own eyes, and that he describes from his own emotions: he gives us nothing at second-hand; so, if not a high, he is ever a true and an original painter. There is a simple nature about many of his pieces which is exceedingly touching; and had not something of the true inspiration burned within him, the light of his gentle genius could never have broken through the mass of encompassing darkness which seemed so helplessly to shroud his early fate, — for the prime of his life was absorbed in toils and privations sufficient to have ground ordinary spirits to the dust. The marvel is, that he did what he has done.

The moving accident was not his trade;
To stir the blood he had no ready arts;
'Twas his alone, reclined in rural shade,
To pipe a simple song to thinking hearts;

and he did so with a true fresh nature, if only with a rustic art.