"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

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