The Arbour Chapbook series - No. 5 ‘Accursed Wealth’



           On the 16th July, whilst many were still at the Society’s Festival, Jeremy Corbyn quoted John Clare at Tolpuddle festival:

     "Inclosure came and trampled on the grave  
     Of labour's rights and left the poor a slave …
     And birds and trees and flowers without a name /
     All sighed when lawless law's enclosure came."

            Even in 2017,  without doubt, Clare is as relevant as ever.  Here are the lines from his 1820 collection "Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery" that his publisher had expunged from the book in the Second and subsequent editions, MUCH to Clare's annoyance:

     "Accursed wealth oer bounding human laws 
     Of every evil thou remains the cause 
     Victims of want those wretches such as me 
     Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee 
     Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed 
     & thine our loss of labour & of bread 
     Thou art the cause that levels every tree 
     & woods bow down to clear a way for thee "

            ‘Accursed Wealth’ – those two words echo down the generations for any student of Clare, whether scholar or simply a reader of the great poet’s work.  Right from the early poems that have come down to us, we find in Clare an honesty that is often painful to observe.  We all know that here was a man born in grinding poverty but perhaps because of naivety, roundly cheated by his publishers of much of his earnings:

"& tho I know I am cheated   such is the cunning of avarice [that] like the tricks of a conjuror   it defies detection"

It is hardly surprising that Clare was personally affronted by the actions of those who should have been acting on his behalf.  As he appended to one ‘financial’ statement from Drury and Taylor:

"How can this be?  I never sold the poems for any price -- what money I had of Drury was given me on account of profits to be received     but here it seems I have got nothing and am brought in minus twenty pounds of which I never received a sixpence -- or it seems that by the sale of these four thousand copies I have lost that much -- and Drury told me that 5,000 copies had been printed tho' 4,000 only are accounted for." 

Clare had not befitted by these sales by a single penny.  All this simply cemented his long-held belief that, in the words of his essay ‘Apology for the Poor:

“Every restraint now adays is laid on poverty & every liberty is given to luxury (…) every nessesary article with the poor is taxed & every luxury with the rich goes riot free”

For Clare all this is cemented into to place in his mind by the evidence of the enclosure around Helpston.

            Clare’s poetic response to the dramatic transformations in society of the time provides a unique, eye-witness account of the impact these changes had on the people who were their victims.  The only voice, of a rural working man and victim of the enclosures, that we have.  Read Clare for yourself and will get a very good idea of what the ordinary labourer thought.

“They give me eight pence by the day
& make it up at night
With six pence worth of parish pay
& can ye call it right

Nay they have stopt me when Ive gone
To take that weight away
& backed deceptions wrong        
To take your gains away”

“Accursed Wealth” is the 5th Chapbook in the series, and is to be published on the 4th September.  It is available from me for £4 including P&P.  Email me at rogerclare0@yahoo.co.uk for more details, or leave a message below.


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