Epistle 1st from Richard


Here is one of Clare's love poems where Richard is writing to Kate - Clare appended to one of the manuscripts, "Richard a Country Clown and Kitty the Milkmaid".  Half a dozen years later Clare was composing the Hubbergubbel letters in much the same way.  As Professor Robinson wrote in his Introduction to Clare's aborted novel Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby, "It is high time that we learn to understand why Clare determined to ignore much that editors had forced upon him - and laugh with him."

Dear kate 
            Since I no longer can 
Go on in such a mopeing plan 

I send these lines with ham & hum 

To let the[e] ‘no’ I mean to cum' 

Sum' time or uther you to see 

W'en things ar' fitting to agree 


For ever since you jog'd from here 

The day to me do's seem a year 

I can't endur't so 'tis no use 

I love you wel' without excuse 

Therefore as now I plainly show't 

I only wish for you to 'now't 


& w'en the let'er you do get 

Let it suffice you how I fret 

For e'rey night I gang to bed 

Nou'ht but kit runs in my he'd 

The boys they all keep clit'er clat'er 

Wondering w'at can be the mat'er 


W'y I look dul'.—& w'ats befel' 

They on'y wish I wou'd but tel' 

But I'm determind not to do't 

They'l' on'y call me foolish fo' 't 

Yet not as I shou'd car' for that 

'T'wou'd on'y then be tit for tat 


But if I bro'ght thy name I 'no' 

Up 'mong such chaps as Jim & Jo 

 (Tho Jim if he 'ad on'y sense) 

 (To tel' mi'te be of conseq'ence) 

For he can reed an' never spel' 

 (An' 'rite a let'er mons'orous wel') 


Was thou to hear't as likly mi''te 

'Twou'd presen'ly to'n luv' to spite 

An' wou'd so much a terify'd thee 

As you ne'er after cou'd abide me 

This is the reeson kit (don't dou't it) 

That I ne'er tel' the boys about it 


For I'll sweet kit the thing is tru' 

Do ony thing to pleasur' you 

& w'ot you do'n't like sh'u'd be 

Shal' be the last thing dun by me 

For ere I 'rit this scrauling let'er 

 (I wish I cou'd ha' 'rit a bet'er) 


Fe'ering sum peeping chaps mi''te 'no' 

I 'new not 'ardly w'ere to go 

Yet anx''us stil' to send you one 

I at last contriv'd an' pitch'd upon 

Our bushy clos' agen the link 

'Twas ther' I went wi' pen an' ink 


The ink I stole from Jimys box 

For that he 'ardly ever lo'ks 

 (& if I'm 'ang'd for doing so 

It wil' be you that caus'd the wo') 

The paper at the shop I got 

& lu'ky pitch'd upon this spot 


Wher' skilarks wis'l'd oer my head 

& morning shun so bri''te an' red 

The du on e'rey bush did hing 

An' bods of al' so'tes did so sing 

That cou'd I sing like farmer's Jo' 

 (For shep'ads all can sing you 'no') 


I'd surely sung this very morn 

An' made a song in bushy laun 

But thats all now't I can'ot sing 

Nor 'bout this lawn nor 'bout the spring 

En'uf for me cans't thou but read 

This baddy stuf quite bad indeed 


An' w'at made worser on't you see 

Was writing on't upon my 'nee 

But w'y su'h 'pologin odrotit 

The stufs for you an' we'n you've got it 

Excuse the whol' an' never wonder 

That 'tis in all a worthles' blunder 


But kitty think nor think in vain 

My daily toyls my ni'tely pa'ne 

O if thy ''art can tender be 

'Twil' never fa'le to pity me 

I must konclude ther'fore ad''u 

My ''art an' so'le's for' ever tru' 


EP I 64

Superstitious Dream (excerpt)

Strange, as I read this - I am currently assembling Chapbook No.9 'The Gothic John Clare" - I feel Clare speaking of the disastrous Climate Change policy of most of the world's governments - a wringing of hands and not much else.  Already we are seeing the results of many decades of idle chatter and no coherent change to protect the environment.  Clare of course wrote this long poem about 'judgement' but perhaps that is not far from what awaits our childrens childrens children?

Fierce ragd destruction sweeping oer the land
& the last counted moment seemd at hand
As scales near equal hang the earnest eyes
In doubtful balance which shall fall or rise
So in the moment of that crashing blast
Eyes hearts & hopes pausd trembling for the last
& sudden thunder claps with yawning rents
Gashd the frail garments of the elements
& bursting wirlwinds wingd in purple flame
& lightnings flash in stronger terrors came
Burning all life & nature were they fell
& leaving earth as desolate as hell

The pleasant hues of woods & fields was past
& natures beautys had enjoyd their last
The colord flower the green of field & tree
What they had been forever ceasd to be
Grass shriveld brown in miserable hues
& showers of fire dryd up the hissing dews
Leaves crumbld ashes in the airs hot breath
& all awaited universal death
The sleeping birds scard from their mossy nest
Beat through the evil air in vain for rest
& many a bird the withering shades among
Wakend to perish oer its brooded young

& nightingale that waken with the moon
Dyd in the midst of its unfinishd tune
The cattle startld with the sudden fright
Sickend from food & maddend into flight
& steed and beast in plunging speed pursued
The desperate struggle of the multitude
The faithful dog yet knew its masters face
& cringing followd with a fearful pace
& joind the piteous yell with panting breath
While blasing lightnings followd fast with death
& as destruction stopt the vain retreat
They dropt & dying lickd their owners feet

MP I 327
(lines 49-84)

SONG

  1. The wing of the blackbird is the hue of her hair
    The hue of the rose is the face of my fair
    & yet she's a romekin slomekin thing
    & as wild as a filly let loose in the spring
    Shell jump oer the anthills as quick as a bee
    & shout to the birds on their nests in the tree
    Shes a good-for-nothing romikin slomekin thing
    Yet as sweet as a queen by the side of a King

    Shes healthy & wealthy & wild as a bird
    & startles with fear if a bramble be stirred
    When far from her home she will run like the roe
    & thinks rudeness watching where eer she may go
    But she has good excuses for being so wild
    Shes a woman in size while shes only a child
    She pictures in fancy what innocence means
    & sports like a baby not yet in her teens

    O girlhood has joys what her mother would fain
    Recall to herself if they would come back again
    & so would we all but ones youth is the time
    For health love & innocence justs in their prime
    A child so loves nature she does not mean sin
    Only see what a rolicking humour shes in
    Shes a young sweet & good-for-naught rolicking thing
    Yet as fair as a queen by the side of a King

    LP I 365

I am

'I am' was a Knight transcript (KT) from the Northampton Asylum, therefore no original manuscript remains. However, whilst the KT is quite clear - the reading is 

'Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes' 

The poem was published in a whole list of periodicals from when it was written, likely in 1846. In these periodicals changes were often made at the whim of the editor(s), so several 'versions' come down to us.  There are a number of mis-readings of Clare’s original text too (remember it has not survived) that scholars have suggested, nearly all due to Clare’s handwriting.  So this is our best ‘educated guess’:

I am—yet what I am, none cares or knows; 
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:—
I am the self-consumer of my woes;— 
They rise and vanish in oblivion's host, 
Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes:— 
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tost 

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,— 
Into the living sea of waking dreams, 
Where there is neither sense of life or joys, 
But the vast shipwreck of my lifes esteems; 
Even the dearest, that I love the best 
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest. 

I long for scenes, where man hath never trod 
A place where woman never smiled or wept 
There to abide with my Creator, God; 
And sleep as I in childhood, sweetly slept, 
Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie, 
The grass below—above the vaulted sky. 

The punctuation would be Knight’s, as Clare rarely punctuated his work.  Even this text is open to debate, for instance Knight’s ‘n’ is very much like his ‘u’, so ‘oblivions’s host’ might well be ‘oblivious host’ (5).  Knight has ‘lost’ for ‘tost’ (6), but this is a understandable misreading of Clare who hardly ever crossed his ‘t’…. and so on, and on, and on ………

Cloud Shapes

Researching a future Chapbook, this one entitled 'Clouds'.  I am surprise just how much material there is from which to choose.  Here is just one of the strong candidates:

Clouds rack & drive before the wind 

In shapes & forms of every kind 

Like waves that rise without the roar 

& rocks that guard an untrodden shore 

Now castles pass majestic by 

& ships in peaceful havens lie 

These gone ten thousand shapes ensue 

For ever beautiful and new 


The scattered clouds lie calm and still 

& day throws gold on every hill 

Their thousand heads in glory run 

As each were worlds and owned a sun 

The rime it clings to everything 

It beards the early buds of spring 

The mossy pales, the orchard spray 

Are feathered with its silver-grey

MP V 198

From an Old Book of Fables


A shattering poem from my "Accursed Wealth" chapbook.  Obviously unpublished in his day, and too honest for most in our own time too.

‘Gold is a general purchaser – buys all
‘From the high alter pallace bench & Hall
‘Down to the humble cottage hut or stall
‘Buys smiles or tears melts eyes or drys em – gold
‘Like Esops satire buys[1]breath hot and cold
‘Makes out all wants & all defects supplies
‘Een the old wrinkled hag young courtier buys
‘Can buy an ass a penegaric – build
‘A dog a monument[2]– vice with virtue gild
‘Nay buys a coward laurels -- & what not
‘Thus the proud Gaul[3]the stile of a great has got
‘That neer faced foe in reach of cannon shot
‘Buys knaves an office traitors power & trust
‘High & low fliers bought with shining dust
‘Buys villany a mask hypocrisy paint
‘Buys inside devil the out side face o’ saint
‘Buys tyrants champions – cut throats caps & knees
‘Buys lies & oaths buys souls & consiences
‘Buys prayers & curses buys both earth & hell
‘Nay buys heaven too at least if Rome can sell
‘What is it which that tempting ore cant buy
‘Buys everything but truth & honesty

MP II 192

[1] Aesop has ‘blows’
[2] "Epitaph to a Dog" is a poem by Lord Byron.  It was written in 1808 in honour of his Newfoundland dog, Boatswain, who had just died of rabies.  The poem is inscribed on Boatswain's tomb, which is larger than Byron's, at Newstead Abbey, Byron's estate.
[3] Napoleon Bonaparte

To a cowslip early


  1. Cowslip bud so early peeping
  2. Warmd by aprils hazard hours
  3. Oer thy head tho sunshines creeping
  4. Hind it threatnd temp[e]sts lower
  5. Trembling blossom let me bear thee
  6. To a better safer home
  7. Tho a fairer blossom wear thee
  8. Near a tempest there shall come

  9. Marys bonny breasts to charm thee
  10. Bosom soft as down can be
  11. Eyes like any suns to warm thee
  12. & scores of sweets unknown to me
  13. Ah for joys thoult there be meeting
  14. In a station so divine
  15. I'd 'most wish thats vain repeating
  16. Cowslip bud thy life were mine

    EP II 51/2
    Village Minstrel I 82 (1821)
    In the Shadows (2014)

Early Spring


Winter is past—the little bee resumes
Her share of sun & shade & oer the lea
Hums its first hymnings to the flowers perfumes
& wakes a sense of gratfulness in me
The little daisey keeps its wonted pace
Ere march by april gets disarmd of snow
A look of joy opes on its smiling face
Turnd to that power that suffers it to blow
Ah pleasant time as pleasing as ye be
One still more pleasing, hope reserves for me
Where suns unsetting one long summer shine
Flowers endless bloom where winter neer destroys
O may the good mans righteous end be mine
As I may witness these unfading joys

The Village Minstrel
Volume II, page 172

The Crow (Sonnet)

How peaceable it seems for lonely men
To see a crow fly in the thin blue sky
Over the woods and fealds, o'er level fen
It speaks of villages, or cottage nigh
Behind the neighbouring woods -- when March winds high
Tear off the branches of the huge old oak
I love to see these chimney sweeps sail by
And hear them o'er gnarled forest croak
Then sosh askew from the hid woodman's stroke
That in the woods their daily labours ply
I love the sooty crow nor would provoke
Its march day exercises of croaking joy
I love to see it sailing to and fro
While feelds, and woods, and waters spread below


LP I 498

Did John Clare and Eliza Emmerson have an 'affair' ?

When I was in London the first time   Lord Radstock introduced me to Mrs Emmerson     she has been known as a very pretty woman & [it] is not a miss still     & a woman's pretty face is often very dangerous to her common sense   for the notion she has received in her young days throws affectation about her feelings   which she has not got shot of yet   for she fancys that her friends are admirers of her person as a matter of course & act accordingly     which happens in the eyes of a stranger as delicious enough   but the grotesque wears off on becoming acquainted with better qualities   & better qualities she certainly has to counter ballance them    

          She at once woud [be] the best friend I found    & my expectations are looking no further then correspondence with me early in my public life   & grew pretty thick as it went on     I fancyd it a pretty [thing] to correspond with a lady   & by degrees I grew up into an admirer   sometimes foolishly when I could not account for what I did   & I then after requested her portrait     & then I reccollect ridiculously enough   alluding to Lord Nelsons Lady Hamilton     she sent it & flattered my vanity in return     It was beautifully drawn by Behnes the sculptor     But bye & bye my knowledge of the world weakened my romantic feelings     I gave up in friendship & lost in flattery

          afterwards she took to patronizing one of Colridges   who had written a visionary ode on Beauty in Knights Quarterly Magazine in whom she discovered much genius     she called him   On that strike   one of the first Lyne poets in England --

          she soon wisht for her picture agen & I readily agreed to part with it   for the artificial flower of folly had run to seed

Pet MS B3 p82

Riches, Poverty and Slavery


Clare writing nearly 200 hundred years ago of what we observe all around us:

"Slavery originates with the luxury of tyranny & forced to submit to the crueltys [only] of oppression until the effeminancy of its oppressions grow into dotage     it then rises & regains its liberty like as the lion in his strength overawes the lesser beasts into unjust subjugation     but in the season of age when he looses his teeth [& needs] friends     they oppress him in turn [with injustice] & regain their former freedom     thus Tyrany generally gets paid with its own coin

Tyrants hate liberty the more bitterly because they themselves can enjoy every thing but liberty         they persecute their slaves into obedience but never consciliate them into friends     there for fear makes them the slave of slav[es]   for as they are dreaded by others      yet it is only as one tyrant to many of the oppressed so they more bitterly feel the dreaded vengance of the many enemys which their crueltys have made   recoiling upon themselves"

Pet MS A49 p1

"What a time we live in -- one class have been compaining & from complaints I fear have been encouraging the lower orders to break away from their own intention     this class complain of poverty but show no appearance of it   while the other is so destitute that one almost wonders they should have been silent so long"

Pet MS B5 p5

'Helpstone' from 'Accursed Wealth'

Helpstone (excerpt)

Thy pleasing spots to which fond memory clings 

Sweet cooling shades & soft refreshing springs 

& tho fates pleas'd to lay their beauties bye 

In a dark corner of obscurity 

As fair & sweet they blo[o]m'd thy plains among 

As blooms those Edens by the poets sung 

Now all laid waste by desolations hand 

Whose cursed weapons levels half the land 

Oh who could see my dear green willows fall 

What feeling heart but dropt a tear for all 

      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 


I have indented the verses that Clare’s rich friends in London, as well as his publisher John Taylor wanted removed from the 2nd and subsequent editions of  ‘Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery’ (Jan 1820).  They got their way, much to Clare’s annoyance:

“Being very much botherd latley I must trouble you to leave out the 8 lines in ‘helpstone’ beginning ‘Accursed wealth’ …”

(Letter from JC to Taylor dated 16th May 1820)

'Accursed Wealth' - Arbour Editions (2017) page 1
£4 including P&P - leave me an MSS.

"TREES - In a Strange Stillness"


[Image : Shelly Rolinson]

From Clare's 'Autobiography'
On Sundays I usd to feel a pleasure to hide in the woods instead of going to church     to nestle among the leaves & lye upon a mossy bank were the fir likefern its under forest keeps

‘In a strange stillness’

watching for hours the little insects climb up & down the tall stems of the woodgrass & broad leaves

‘Oer the smooth plantain leaf a spacious plain’

or reading the often thumbd books which I possesd till fancy ‘made them living things’ I lovd the lonely nooks in the fields & woods & many favourite spots had lasting places in my Memory

‘the boughs that when a school boy screend my head’

before inclosure destroyd them

---oOo---

 Those who had the privilege of attending the Society Festival last July will have encountered, either on my bookstall, in the Clare Cottage or in the Bluebell, one or other of my Arbour Editions Chapbooks.  Clare knew Chapbooks well, and it is in his honour I resurrected the form for my 32-page books.

 Historically a Chapbook is normally octavo in size (A5) and is a book or made up of one or more full sheets of paper on which 16 pages of text were printed, which were then folded three times to produce eight leaves. Each leaf of an octavo book thus represents one eighth the size of the original sheet.  These eight leaves are also known as ‘signatures’.  So my Chapbooks being 32 pages in length are two signatures long, or 16 octavo (A5) sheets.

Chapbooks first came about in 16th century England with popular fairy tales like "Jack and Giant Killer" which Clare mentions of course:

To John Clare
 Well honest John how fare you now at home 

 The spring is come & birds are building nests 

 The old cock robin to the stye is come 

 With olive feathers & its ruddy breast 

 & the old cock with wattles & red comb 

 Struts with the hens & seems to like some best 

 Then crows & looks about for little crumbs 

 Swept out bye little folks an hour ago 

 The pigs sleep in the sty the bookman comes 

 The little boys lets home close nesting go 

 & pockets tops & tawes where daiseys bloom 

 To look at the new number just laid down 

 With lots of pictures & good stories too 

 & Jack the jiant killers high renown 


  (written in around 1861)

 Chapbooks were cheaply constructed and often roughly printed, but during the 17th Century and later they were purchased by people who otherwise weren't able to afford books.  Very few survive as they were often thrown out after reading, or often (it is said) used as toilet paper!

The number of chapbooks printed in England is mind boggling.  During the 1660s, as many as 400,000 almanacs were printed every year, enough to distribute to one of every three households in the country.

 I've been planning such for several years, to introduce the general reader to a wider range of 'Clare-related' subjects, each book concentrating on just one topic.  In keeping with their history my Arbour Editions Chapbooks are very inexpensive, but in a break with tradition the books are high quality productions with gloss covers.  

I have around a dozen titles planned, and have to date published five, all at £3.50:

1.             'Drinking with John Clare'
2.             'Helpston's Fountains'
3.             'With the Gypsies'
4.             ‘Playing Games with John Clare’
5.             “Accursed Wealth”
  
The sixth, ‘Trees – In a Strange Stillness’ is of double length (64 pages) and the first Chapbook in full colour - 17 colour photographs illustrating Clare’s text – priced at £6.50 including post and & packing.  The idea for this book came from an essay written by Professor Eric Robinson in 1989 which has not been widely read, so with his permission ‘Trees’ was created with the ‘Introduction’ by Professor Eric and myself.  Here is a extract:

“Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss.  

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations.

Clare was concerned about maintaining the tree population of his environment, and in a sense the history of Helpston and of our poet, is that partly told in trees.  Then came enclosure when, for the trees, a wholesale devastation took place.”

So there we have it, inexpensive, paperback sized, quality productions... the ideal gift for the lover of Clare.  Or perhaps that friend who just might love Clare if only they had opportunity to read the great man’s work.

The book will be published on Friday, 19th January, priced at £6.50 (including P&P)
Just email me at arborfield@gmail.com

TO **** ON NEWYEARS DAY


  1. (Image by Lady Clementina Hawarden)

    A new years welcome lovely maid
  2. Awakes the poets song
  3. Be not of moral truths afraid
  4. Nor deem the lesson wrong
  5. Though newyears still their welcomes bring
  6. & hails thy blooming hour
  7. & on the green lap of the spring
  8. Leaves thee its fairest flower

  9. The withered year had youth & pride
  10. As thy unclouded joy
  11. But the today though deified
  12. To morrow shall destroy
  13. & sweet as is thy lovely bloom
    Of mingled white & red
  14. A days in waiting yet to come
  15. Shall find that beauty fled

  16. Bind not thy heart to things so frail
  17. A worshipher of pride
  18. Let choice of better things prevail
  19. & meaner ones deride
  20. As fair as is that lovely bloom
  21. Thy witching youth puts on
  22. A frowning year is yet to come
  23. Shall find its blossom gone

  24. The withered year saw many flowers
  25. As fair as thou art seen
  26. That now are lost to suns & showers
  27. With blossoms that have been
  28. Then live from pride & folly free
  29. & wear an angels bosom
  30. & when the last new year shall be
  31. Live an unfading blossom 

    MP III 476