1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Clare

Anonymous, Review of Clare, The Village Minstrel; New Monthly Magazine NS 3 (November 1821) 579.



The manner in which the first productions of this Northamptonshire peasant, — the Poems on Rural Life and Scenery, were received by the public, evinced a degree of feeling and benevolence which we were glad to find could rise above the cold and petty system of carping criticism and chilling ridicule, that act like a mildew upon the present age, wherein they are unhappily encouraged with an ungenerous avidity that threatens destruction; to every nobler sentiment and more refined pursuit. We hope the Village Minstrel will not be received with less favour than has already been shewn to its author; for its poetical merits are quite sufficient to enable it to give pleasure to the reader, and it is calculated to excite in him feelings of sympathy and compassion, which will at any rate make him rise from the perusal of it with his heart amended, whether his taste be gratified or not. And this is Clare's peculiar excellence. He does not bring before us individual pictures, in all their provincial peculiarities, as Bloomfield does; nor can he awaken in us that deep train of reflections on life which the vigorous mind of the better educated Burns perpetually lays open to us; but he can teach us to feel for his poverty, and for the privations of that large class of society to which he belongs; he can teach us to rejoice in the pleasures and enjoyments, scanty as they may be, that fall to their lot; he can teach us to value their labours, and to extend our charities beyond the cold and calculating limits of parish dues. As a proof of his powers in this way, we would refer our readers to the poems in this collection entitled "An Effusion" — "Address to My Father" — "Sunday" — "The Woodman" — "Sunday Walks," and "The Cress Gatherer." Those who have read Beattie's Minstrel with the delight which it will ever inspire in the enthusiastic, the ingenuous, and the young, will be pleased also to trace, in the artless description of the "Village Minstrel's" feelings, the same causes producing the same effects, differing only in the modes of expression, which convey in each poem so faithful a picture of the situation and peculiar habits of the writer. It would be easy for us to interest our readers by extracts from these poems, illustrative of the various merits we feel inclined to assign to them; but, as this would carry us beyond the brief boundary to which we limit ourselves, we can only refer them to the work itself, which will be found well deserving the attention of all who take pleasure in rural imagery, in faithful delineations of nature, in the artless expression of pure and virtuous feelings, — and, above all, in the delightful contemplation of the heavenly gilt of genius, yielding good and happiness to its possessor, even amid the pressure of poverty, hunger, anxiety, and almost every ill "that flesh is heir to." It is gratifying to reflect that most of these evils have been, removed from time subject of this article by the benevolence of those to whom his merit, and his privations became known by his first publication; and we trust his present performance will add alike to the modest fame and to the decent comforts which his earlier attempts were fortunate enough to procure for him.