The Village Minstrel, and other Poems. By John Clare, the Northamptonshire Peasant; Author of "Poems on Rural Life and Scenery." 2 Vols [John Taylor, ed.]

John Clare

Ten Spenserians: Robert Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night is done over in John Clare's distinctly sharp-eyed manner. "Sunday" is notable in among the Burns imitations for its lack of piety: "Hail, sacred sabbath! hail, thou poor man's joy! | Thou oft hast been a comfort to my care, | When faint and weary with the week's employ | I met thy presence in my corner-chair." Other imitations of Burns's Cotter had appeared by this point, and Clare's poem may also owe something to this series, including The Poor Man's Sabbath (1804, etc.) by the Glasgow shoemaker, John Struthers.

John Taylor: "CLARE has a great delight in trying to run races with other men, and unluckily this cannot always be attempted without subjecting him to the charge of imitating; but he will be found free from this imputation in all the best parts of his poetry, and in the present instance it may be worth while comparing him with his prototype, to see how little he stands in need of such assistance. The propensity to emulate another is a youthful emotion, and in his friendless state it afforded him an obvious, and, perhaps, the only mode of endeavouring to ascertain what kind sad degree of ability he possessed as s Poet" Introduction to Clare, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820) xix.

Literary Gazette: "The variety of verse which Clare has tried, shows that he has read a good deal, end studied both our ancient and modern bards. A poem on Sunday, is full of simplicity, and at once eminently descriptive and meditatively soothing" (6 October 1821) 627.

European Magazine: "In his picture of a Cotter's Evening, Clare comes into too direct comparison with Burns, to be read with advantage: indeed it is in compositions liable to this dangerous contrast, that he is seen in the faintest light. The greater genius of Caesar predominates over his lesser fire till it is nearly extinguished, and we are glad to escape from the darkness, to view him in his own richer beaming" 80 (1821) 456-57.

Monthly Review: "We would advise him very assiduously to cultivate the high models of poetic taste in which our literature is so rich, not for the purpose of becoming a servile imitator, but to imbue his mind with their spirit; and we cannot forbear to suggest to him the advice which Dr. Moore offered to Burns, but which in fact is much more applicable to Clare, that he should 'deal more sparingly for the future in the provincial dialect.' Burns's Scotticisms give a lively simplicity and beauty to his poems, but there is nothing 'Doric' in the Northamptonshire dialect of this writer. We shall make our selections from the smaller poems, though many very pleasing verses might be extracted from The Village Minstrel. The following poem on Sunday has evidently been written after a perusal of The Cotter's Saturday-Night" 97 (March 1822) 258.

John Wilson: "SHEPHERD. To put an end to the argument a'thegither, you see, or rather to prevent it frae beginning, let me simply ask, where wull you find in a' England, siccan Poets o' the Peoiple, the peasantry, that is, the Children o' the soil, the Bairns o' Bank and Brae, as Robert Burns, Allan Kinningham, and me? NORTH. Why, James, there is Bloomfield. SHEPHERD. O man, Mr. North, sometimes after you've ta'en a drap, you do really, indeed, my dear sir, believe me when I say't, speak maist awfu' nonsense. NORTH. Why, James, there's Clare. SHEPHERD. I houp, sir, you'll no think me ower impertinent, gin I juist ask, how auld you are? You see the drift o' my question, so I'll no press't. But really, sir, you should be cautious — for at your time o' life — Kinningham and Clare indeed! NORTH. Then, James, there is — there is — Let me remember — why James, there is — there is— SHEPHERD. Aha! my man, ye were in houps o' findin' a parallel likewise to me? But familiar as you are with the hail range o' original poetry, and deeply as you feel, and weel's you understand it, you were out o' your reckoning there, my lad — when you thout to select some southron swain to shouther the Shepherd out o' the first rank o' genius — or even to staun by his side! Havena ye, my dear sir — just confess. TICKLER. What think you of Stephen Duck? SHEPHERD. That he was a duck — that ye are a guse — and that I am a swan" Blackwood's Magazine (October 1826) in Noctes Ambrosianae (1857) 2:257-58.

The Sabbath-day, of every day the best,
The poor man's happiness, a poor man sings;
When labour has no claim to break his rest,
And the light hours fly swift on easy wings.
What happiness this holy morning brings,
How soft its pleasures on his senses steal;
How sweet the Village-bells' first warning rings;
And O how comfortable does he feel,
When with his family at ease he takes his early meal.

The careful wife displays her frugal hoard,
And both partake in comfort though they're poor;
While love's sweet offsprings crowd the lowly board,
Their little likenesses in miniature.
Though through the week he labour does endure,
And weary limbs oft cause him to complain,
This welcome morning always brings a cure;
It teems with joys his soul to entertain,
And doubly sweet appears the pleasure after pain.

Ah, who can tell the bliss, from labour freed,
His leisure meeteth on a Sunday morn,
Fix'd in a chair, some godly book to read,
Or wandering round to view the crops of corn,
In best clothes fitted out, and beard new shorn;
Dropping adown in some warm shelter'd dell,
With six days' labour weak and weary worn;
List'ning around each distant chiming bell,
That on the soft'ning breeze melodiously doth swell.

And oft he takes his family abroad
In short excursions o'er the field and plain,
Marking each little object on his road,
An insect, sprig of grass, and ear of grain;
Endeavouring thus most simply to maintain
That the same Power that bids the mite to crawl,
That browns the wheat-lands in their summer-stain,
That Power which form'd the simple flower withal,
Form'd all that lives and grows upon this earthly ball.

The bell, when knell'd its summons once and twice,
Now chimes in concert, calling all to prayers;
The rustic boy that hankers after vice,
And of religion little knows or cares,
Scrapes up his marbles, and by force repairs,
Though dallying on till the last bell has rung:—
The good man there his book devoutly bears,
And often as he walks the graves among,
Looks on the untravel'd dust from whence his being sprung.

The service ended, boys their play resume
In some snug corner from the parson's view,
And where the searching clerk forgets to come;
There they their games and rural sports pursue,
With chuck and marbles wearing Sunday through:
The poor man seeks his cottage-hearth again,
And brings his family the text to view
From which the parson's good discourse was ta'en,
Which with what skill he may he labours to explain.

Hail, sacred sabbath! hail, thou poor man's joy!
Thou oft hast been a comfort to my care,
When faint and weary with the week's employ
I met thy presence in my corner-chair,
Musing and bearing up with troubles there;
Thrice hail, thou heavenly boon! by God's decree
At first creation plann'd, that all might share,
Loth man and beast, some hours from labour free,
To offer thanks to Him whose mercy sent us thee.

This day the field a sweeter clothing wears,
A Sunday scene looks brighter to the eye;
And hast'ning on to Monday morning's cares
With double speed the wing'd hour gallops by.
How swift the sun streaks down the western sky,
Scarcely perceiv'd till it begins to wane,
When ploughboys mark his setting with a sigh,
Dreading the morn's approaching hours with pain,
When capon's restless calls awake to toil again.

As the day closes on its peace and rest,
The godly man sits down and takes "the book,"
To close it in a manner deem'd the best;
And for a suiting chapter doth he look,
That may for comfort and a guide be took:
He reads of patient Job, his trials' thrall,
How men are troubled when by God forsook,
And prays with David to bear up with all;—
When sleep shuts up the scene, soft as the nightdews fall.