John Clare: The Critical Heritage

By Mark Storey | Go to book overview

139.

W. K. Richmond on Clare

1947

From chapter vi, ‘The Peasants’ Revolt’, Poetry and the People, 1947, pp. 150-80.

Kenneth Richmond (b. 1910), an educationalist, is the author of a number of books, chiefly on education. Poetry and the People is a passionate and often persuasive work. See Introduction, p. 20.

Clare’s tragedy is so significant, indeed, that his case is worth examining in detail. As peasant-poet he had gifts, attitudes of which the Romantics were scarcely aware: and in its humble way the quality which he wished to contribute was something more enduring than any which they possessed.

Circumstances prevented that contribution being made. Socially, the poet fell between two stools. For the sake of his art he had become an outcast among his own kind: and the city intellectuals regarded him as an interesting freak, or when the novelty of his first acquaintance was done, discarded him. Though the accounts which Clare has left of his conver-sations with Lamb, Hazlitt, Coleridge, Hood and the rest of the Londoners show that he could more than hold his own with them, it is clear that he could never have been really at home in company of this kind. Gradually he came to feel that he had been betrayed, lured on by flattering hopes and then neglected, left to his fate. Thus abandoned, he turned moody, fell into a sadness, thence to a watch, thence into a weakness, and so into the madness in which he raged at last. By little and little that happy impersonality which had been his at the outset—that objectivity which was to have been the folk-poet’s contribution to literature—was taken from him. Put crudely, Clare was forced into Romanticism.

(The same fate had almost overtaken Burns. Study his life. Unable to make farming pay, unable to make more than a precarious living by his pen, he, too, ended his days among strange faces, other minds…. The Dumfries port authorities were hostile: he had lost the natural social

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