John Clare: The Critical Heritage

By Mark Storey | Go to book overview

11.

Advice on alterations and omissions: trouble with the native

1820

In the first edition of Poems Descriptive there were several poems and lines offensive to Clare’s patrons. This section charts some of the fluctuations of opinion, and Clare’s obduracy (see Introduction, pp. 3-4). But the bibliographica Ifacts are-eloquent: ‘The Country Girl’ was omitted from the second edition, ‘My Mary’ and ‘Dolly’s Mistake’ from the third. The fourth edition lost, in addition to these poems, ‘Friend Lubin’, the offending line from ‘Dawnings of Genius’ and part of ‘Helpstone’.

(a) Taylor to Clare, 12 February 1820, Eg. 2245, fol. 37v. The poem in question is ‘My Mary’.

If you have no objection we will insert unfit in the following Line, when the next Edition comes—

‘Who when the Baby’s all unfit’ …

As it stands the Blank is objected to as much almost as the other Word would be, & Lord Radstock wishes that this Poem & Dolly’s Mistake shod both be omitted next Time—So have several other Persons—For my own part I am not so fastidious. —Has any one said anything to you about them?

(b) Drury to Taylor, 13 February 1820, NMS. 43. Drury thinks ‘My Mary’ an ‘index of a mind above commonplace’, and would retain it, whilst reflecting that in this day and age it perhaps will not do. He suggests that it is not sufficiently humorous and concludes, ‘It is more disgusting than otherwise’. But on 20 February he adduces Burns as an example of someone who ‘gets away with it’, and reports to Taylor, ‘He [Clare] has a great notion of “My Mary” and the dirty verse he prizes!’

-60-

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