John Clare: The Critical Heritage

By Mark Storey | Go to book overview

Preface

This volume contains most of the reviews and notices of Clare’s work that appeared in his lifetime, except those that were entirely biographical. Many of these early reviews were written by uninspired, journeymen critics, now anonymous; but they still have their value. Some make points that have always been important in discussions about Clare, others reflect the particular concerns of the time. The assumptions and contradictions lurking behind all these accounts are interesting in themselves, for the light they throw on reactions to other poets of the period, as well as for what they show of the response to Clare.

The numerous letters written to Clare are well represented, as they constituted a powerful form of encouragement and persuasion. In the extracts from letters from Mrs Emmerson, Octavius Gilchrist, Edward Drury, Taylor and Hessey, we can see something of individual readers’ responses which qualify and enlarge upon the more formal reactions of the reviews. Extracts from Clare’s own letters help to show what effect these pressures had on him.

For the period after Clare’s death, the documents are necessarily of a different kind, and rather more selective. Each document has its own special interest—historical, critical, or even biographical (as this affects critical attitudes). Although most of the important responses are represented, there is nothing from the standard biographies by J. W. and Anne Tibble. These two works have played a crucial part in the revival and maintaining of interest in Clare this century, and some reactions to them are recorded here; but it would have been a travesty of their scope and intentions to pick and choose passages from them.

Documents are arranged chronologically. In one or two instances, however, a particular issue or theme is followed through, under one heading, so that, for example, the various views on a particular poem are gathered together, as are the differing opinions on matters of indelicacy, within a particular period. The general scheme is further broken up by a focusing of each of the early sections upon a particular volume. Therefore the critical reactions to Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery are to be found in sequence, and a separate section charts comments (usually from letters) on the growth of what was to

-xiii-

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