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And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
And seemed to dress the curls,
Queen-like, with gold and pearls;
Some, snowing, on her drapery stopped;
Some on the earth, some on the water dropped;
While others, fluttering from above,
Seemed wheeling round in pomp, and saying: ‘Here reigns Love.'
How often then I said,
JOHN CLA. R. E.
JoHN CLARE, one of the most truly uneducated of English poets, and one of the best of our rural describers, was born at Helpstone, a village near Peterborough, in 1793. His parents were peasants —his father a helpless cripple and a pauper. John obtained some education by his own extra work as a plough-boy: from the labour of eight weeks he generally acquired as many pence as paid for a month's schooling. At thirteen years of age he met with Thomson's Seasons, and hoarded up a shilling to purchase a copy. At daybreak on a spring morning, he walked to the town of Stamford— six or seven miles off—to make the purchase, and had to wait some time till the shops were opened. This is a fine trait of boyish enthusiasm, and of the struggles of youthful genius. Returning to his native village with the precious purchase, as he walked through the beautiful scenery of Burghley Park, he composed his first piece of poetry, which he called the Morning Walk. This was soon followed by the Evening Walk, and some other pieces. A benevolent exciseman instructed the young poet in writing and arithmetic, and he continued his obscure but ardent devotion to his rural muse. ‘Most of his poems, says the writer of a memoir prefixed to his first volume, “were composed under the immediate impression of his feelings in the fields or on the roadsides. He could not trust his memory, and therefore he wrote them down with a pencil on the spot, his hat serving him for a desk; and if it happened that he had no opportunity soon after of transcribing these imperfect memorials, he could seldom decipher them or recover his first thoughts. From this cause several of his poems are quite lost, and others exist only in fragments. Of those which he had committed to writing, especially his earlier pieces, many were destroyed from another circumstance, which shews how little he expected to please others with them: from a hole in the wall of his room where he stuffed his manuscripts, a piece of paper was often taken to hold the kettle with, or light the fire. In 1817, Clare, while working at Bridge Casterton, in Rutlandshire, resolved on risking the publication of a volume. By hard working day and night, he got a pound saved, that he might have a prospectus printed. This was accordingly done, and a Collection of Original Trifles was announced to subscribers, the price not to exceed 3s. 6d. “I distributed my papers, he says; “but as I could get at no way of pushing them into higher circles than those with whom I was acquainted, they consequently passed off as quietly as if they had been still in my possession, unprinted and unseen. Only seven subscribers came forward! One of these prospectuses, however, led to an acquaintance with Mr Edward Drury, bookseller, Stamford, and through this gentleman the poems were published by Messrs Taylor and Hessey, London, who purchased them from Clare for £20. The volume was brought out in January 1820, with an interesting well-written introduction, and bearing the title, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, by John Clare, a Northamptonshire Peasant. The attention of the public was instantly awakened to the circumstances and the merits of Clare. The magazines and reviews were unanimous in his favour. ‘This interesting little volume, said The Quarterly Review, “bears indubitable evidence of being composed altogether from the impulses of the writer's mind, as excited by external objects and internal sensations. Here are no tawdry and feeble paraphrases of former poets, no attempts at describing what the author might have become acquainted with in his limited reading. The woods, the vales, the brooks, “the crimson spots i' the bottom of a cowslip,” or the loftier phenomena of the heavens, contemplated through the alternations of hope and despondency, are the principal sources whence the youth, whose adverse circumstances and resignation under them extort our sympathy, drew the faithful and vivid pictures before us. Examples of minds highly gifted by nature, struggling with, and breaking through the bondage of adversity, are not rare in this country: but privation is not destitution; and the instance before us is, perhaps, one of the most striking of patient and persevering talent existing and enduring in the most forlorn, and seemingly hopeless condition, that literature has at any time exhibited.’ In a short time, Clare was in possession of a little fortune. The late Earl Fitzwilliam sent £100 to his publishers, which, with the like sum advanced by them, was laid out in the purchase of stock; the Marquis of Exeter allowed him an annuity of fifteen guineas for life; the Earl of Spencer a further annuity of £10, and various contributions were received from other noblemen and gentlemen, so that the poet had a permanent allowance of £30 per annum. He married his ‘Patty of the Vale,' ‘the rosebud in humble life, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer; and in his native cottage at Helpstone, with his aged and infirm parents and his young wife by his side—all proud of his now rewarded and successful genius–Clare basked in the sunshine of a poetical felicity. The writer of this recollects with melancholy pleasure paying a visit to the poet at this genial season in company with one of his publishers. The humble dwelling wore an air of comfort and contented happiness. Shelves were fitted up, filled with books, most of which had been sent as presents. Clare read and liked them all ! He took us to see his favourite scene, the haunt of his inspiration. It was a low fall of swampy ground, used as a pasture, and bounded by a dull rushy brook, overhung with willows. Yet here Clare strayed and mused delighted.
Flow on, thou gently plashing stream, O'er weed-beds wild and rank; Delighted I’ve enjoyed my dream Upon thy mossy bank: Bemoistening many a weedy stem, I’ve watched thee wind so clearly, And on thy bank I found the gem That makes me love thee dearly.
In 1821 Clare came forward again as a poet. His second publication was entitled The Village Minstrel and other Poems, in two volumes. The first of these pieces is in the Spenserian stanza, and describes the scenes, sports, and feelings of rural life—the author himself sitting for the portrait of Lubin, the humble rustic who ‘hummed his lowly dreams’
Far in the shade where poverty retires.
The descriptions of scenery, as well as the expression of natural emotion and generous sentiment in this poem, exalted the reputation of Clare as a true poet. He afterwards contributed short pieces to the annuals and other periodicals, marked by a more choice and refined diction. The poet's prosperity was, alas! soon over. His discretion was not equal to his fortitude: he speculated in farming, wasted his little hoard, and amidst accumulating difficulties, sank into nervous despondency and despair. He is now in a private asylum—hopeless, but not dead to passing events. This sad termination of so bright a morning it is painful to contemplate. Amidst the native wild-flowers of his song we looked not for the ‘deadly nightshade’—and, though the examples of Burns, of Chatterton, and Bloomfield, were better fitted to inspire fear than hope, there was in Clare a naturally lively and cheerful temperament, and an apparent absence of strong and dangerous passions, that promised, as in the case of Allan Ramsay, a life of humble yet prosperous contentment and happiness. Poor Clare's muse was the true offspring of English country-life. He was a faithful painter of rustic scenes and occupations, and he noted every light and shade of his brooks, meadows, and green lanes. His fancy was buoyant in the midst of labour and hardship; and his imagery, drawn directly from nature, is various and original. Careful finishing could not be expected from the rustic poet, yet there is often a fine delicacy and beauty in his pieces, and his moral reflections and pathos win their way to the heart. He wrote out of the fulness of his heart; and his love of nature was so universal, that he included all, weeds as well as flowers, in his picturesque catalogues of her charms. In grouping and forming his pictures, he has recourse to new and original expressions-as, for example:
Brisk winds the lightened branches shake By pattering, plashing drops confessed;
And, where oaks dripping shade the lake, Paint crimping dimples on its breast.
A sonnet to the glowworm is singularly rich in this
In these happy microscopic views of nature, Grahame, the author of the Sabbath, is the only poet who can be put in competition with Clare. The delicacy of some of his sentimental verses, mixed up in careless profusion with others less correct or Pleasin: may be seen from the following part of a ballad, The Fate of Amy: The flowers the sultry summer kills, Spring's milder suns restore; But innocence, that fickle charm, Blooms once, and blooms no more.
The swains who loved no more admire,
And maidens triumph in her fall
Lost was that sweet simplicity;
And o'er her cheeks, where roses bloomed,
So fades the flower before its time,
So droops the bud upon its stem
What is Life?
And what is Life? An hour-glass on the run,
And what is Hope? The puffing gale of morn,
A cobweb, hiding disappointment's thorn,
And what is Death? Is still the cause unfound?
That dark mysterious name of horrid sound?
And Peace? Where can its happiness abound?
Then what is Life? When stripped of its disguise,
'Tis sweet to meet the morning breeze, Or list the giggling of the brook;
Or, stretched beneath the shade of trees, Peruse and pause on nature's book.
When nature every sweet prepares
The images which morning wears,
Now let me tread the meadow paths,
As sprinkled o'er the withering swaths
And hear the beetle sound his horn,
And hear the skylark whistling nigh, Sprung from his bed of tufted corn, s: hailing minstrel in the sky.
First sunbeam, calling night away
Split by the willow's wavy gray,
How fine the spider's web is spun, Unnoticed to vulgar eyes;
Its silk thread glittering in the sun Arts bungling vanity defies.
Roaming while the dewy fields 'Neath their morning burden lean,
While its crop my searches shields, Sweet I scent the blossomed bean.
Making oft remarking stops;
Climb the grass's spiry tops
So emerging into light,
Fearful genius takes her flight,
The Primrose—A Sonnet.
Welcome, pale primrose! starting up between
The Thrush's Nest-A Sonnet.
Within a thick and spreading hawthorn bush
First-love will with the heart remain When its hopes are all gone by;
As frail rose-blossoms still retain
* Montgomery says quaintly but truly of this sonnet: ‘Here we have in miniature the history and geography of a thrush's nest, so simply and naturally set forth, that one might think such strains No more difficile Than for a black-bird 'tis to whistle.
But let the heartless critic who despises them try his own hand either at a bird's nest or a sonnet like this; and when he has succeeded in making the one, he may have some hope of being able to make the other.”
And joy's first dreams will haunt the mind
As summer leaves the stems behind
Mary, I dare not call thee dear,
How loath to part, how fond to meet,
Thy face was so familiar grown,
When last that gentle cheek I prest,
Dawnings of Genius.
In those low paths which poverty surrounds,
The bursts of thought with which his soul's perplexed,
Are bred one moment, and are gone the next;
youth. Two of his latest poems are devoted to his reminiscences of Chigwell. After the completion of his education, James Smith was articled to his father, was taken into partnership in due time, and eventually succeeded to the business, as well as to the appointment of solicitor to the Ordnance. With a quick sense of the ridiculous, a strong passion for the stage and the drama, and a love of London society and manners, Smith became a town wit and humorist—delighting in parodies, theatrical colloquies, and fashionable criticism. His first pieces appear to have been contributed to the Pic-nic newspaper, established by Colonel Henry Greville, which afterwards merged into The Cabinet, both being solely calculated for the topics and feelings of the day. A selection from the Pic-nic papers, in two small volumes, was published in 1803. He next joined the writers for the London Review—a journal established by Cumberland the dramatist, on the novel principle of affixing the writer's name to his critique. The Review proved a complete failure. The system of publishing names was an unwise innovation, destroying equally the harmless curiosity of the reader, and the critical independence of the author; and Cumberland, besides, was too vain, too irritable and poor, to secure a good list of contributors. Smith then became a constant writer in The Monthly Mirror—wherein Henry Kirke White first attracted the notice of what may be termed the literary world—and in this work appeared a series of poetical imitations, entitled Horace in London, the joint production of James and Horace Smith. These parodies were subsequently collected and published in one volume in 1813, after the success of the Rejected Addresses had rendered the authors famous. Some of the pieces display a lively vein of town levity and humour, but many of them also are very trifling and tedious. In one stanza, James Smith has given a true sketch of his own tastes and character:
Me toil and ease alternate share,
To London he seems to have been as strongly attached as Dr Johnson himself. “A confirmed metropolitan in all his tastes and habits, he would often quaintly observe, that London was the best place in summer, and the only place in winter; or quote Dr Johnson's dogma: “Sir, the man that is tired of London is tired of existence.” At other times he would express his perfect concurrence with Dr Mosley's assertion, that in the country one is always maddened with the noise of nothing; or laughingly quote the Duke of Queensberry's rejoinder, on being told one sultry day in September that London was exceedingly empty: “Yes, but it’s fuller than the country.” He would not, perhaps, have gone quite so far as his old friend Jekyll, who used to say, that “if compelled to live in the country, he would have the approach to his house paved like the streets of London, and hire a hackney-coach to drive up and down the street all day long;” but he would relate, with great glee, a story shewing the general conviction of his dislike to ruralities. He was sitting in the library at a country-house, when a gentleman, informing him that the family were all out, proposed a quiet stroll into the pleasure-grounds. “Stroll! why, don't you see my gouty shoe?” “Yes, but what then?
You don't really mean to say that you have got the