Clare's self-doubt

I very infrequently post anything to this weblog but Clare's work, but here is a short extract from a recent paper that will be of interest to all Clare followers.


Clare was never confident that he had fully attained the status of author that he had learned and been encouraged to value, in part because he could never fully shake off the status of peasant or rustic that had been thrust upon him as an authenticating signature, and in part because he suspected that his first success may have been founded upon the fleeting judgment of fashion rather than solid principles of taste.

Throughout his letters, Clare worries that his reputation as an author may rest upon false premises. As early as February 24, 1821, Clare worried Taylor with the idea that his patrons, Lord Radstock and Mrs. Emmerson, may have dropped him for a fresher child of nature: "so god send they may find out a new 'child of nature' to foster & flatter whose name is rather fresher then mine ..." (Letters 160).

Summing up his career as a poet to Henry, Francis Cary sometime after October 20,1832, Clare writes: "I felt some vanity that I had a claim to the title of a poet & it was the praise & commendation of men of genius that fostered that ambition" (Letters 594); anticipating the response to a new collection of poems, Clare goes on to say, "I wished to be judged of by the book itself without any appeals to want of education lowness of origin or any other foil that officousness [sic] chuses to encumber my path with" (Letters 594).

Thus, though there were moments when Clare asserted his poetic powers as strongly as any poet, his letters betray a long-standing ambivalence about the measure of his success. When, after 1827, Clare's correspondence with his "friends" in the literary establishment of London began to drop off, that ambivalence gave way to disappointment and even regret that he had ever knocked upon the door of literary success, for more often than not, he relied upon the approval of those literary men and women of genius to bolster his self-confidence.

from "Hybridity, Mimicry and John Clare's Child Harold"
by Gary Harrison

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