Andrew Marvell, the Critical Heritage

By Elizabeth Story Donno | Go to book overview

49.

John Clare, from a letter to H. F. Cary

1829

Successively a shepherd, pot-boy, gardener, vagrant, and, ultimately, a madman, John Clare (1793-1864) enjoyed a few short years as a poet of some esteem.

Having successfully pawned off a composition of his own in 1825 as a poem of Marvell’s, he admitted both the fabrication and his rationale in a letter to H. F. Cary, the translator of Dante.

Extract from The Letters of John Clare, ed. J. W. and A. Tibble (1951), pp. 223-5.

Helpstone Jany 1829

MY DEAR SIR

…I write to beg your opinion of the enclosed Poem as one of those I intended to pass off as the writings of others—this I sent to the ‘Everyday book1 as the production of Andrew Marvel, & the Editor took it for granted that it was so & paid me a compliment in praising it which he would not have done had it passed under my own name & as I still have thoughts of going on with the deception I have sent it to request your opinion of it. I know nothing of the writing of the old Poets further then the ‘Specimens of Ellis’ & the ‘Songs of Ritson’2 but the idea of their manner is all I want to be acquainted with—I had read that Marvel was a great advocate for liberty & as death is a great leveller I thought it would add to the disguise to father upon him that subject. I have written several others for Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Henry Wooton &c &c; the old manner is all that I attempt with sprinkling a few old words [h]ere

1 Edited by William Hone, 1825.

2 The first edition (1790) of Specimens of the Early English Poets, edited by George Ellis, did not, in fact, include any Marvell; the second (1801) included two poems, both abridged: ‘Daphnis and Chloe’ and ‘Young Love. ’ Joseph Ritson’s Ancient Songs (1792) and Ancient Songs and Ballads (1829) also did not include any Marvell, though ‘The Nymph’ is one he did include in his three-volume English Anthology (1793-4).

-148-

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