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The following Poems will probably attract some notice by their intrinsic merit; but they are also entitled to attention from the circumstances under which they were written. They are the genuine productions of a young Peasant, a day-labourer in husbandry, who has had no advantages of education beyond others of his class; and though Poets in this country have seldom bcen fortunate men, yet he is, perhaps, the least favoured by circumstances, and the most destitute of friends, of any that ever existed.
John CLARE, the author of this Volume, was born at Helpstone, near Peterborough, Northamptonshire, on the 13th of July, 1793. He is the only * son of Parker and Ann Clare, who are also natives of the same village, where they have always resided in extreme poverty; nor are they aware that any of
their ancestors have been in better circumstances. Parker Clare is a farmer's labourer, and latterly he was employed in threshing; but violent colds brought on the rheumatism to such a degree that he was at length unable to work, or even to move without assistance. By the kind liberality of Lord Milton he was then sent to the Sea-bathing Infirmary at Scarborough, where he found great relief; but returning home part of the way on foot, from a desire to save expenses, his exertions and exposure to the weather brought on the pain again, and re- , duced him to a more deplorable state than ever. He is now a helpless cripple, and a pauper, receiving an allowance of five shillings a week from the parish.
JOHN CLARE has always lived with his parents at Helpstone, except for those short periods when the distance to which he was obliged to go for work prevented his return every evening. At his own home, therefore, he saw Poverty in all its most affecting shapes, and when he speaks of it, as in the Address to Plenty, p. 48,
“Oh, sad sons of Poverty !
And again :
“ Toiling in the naked fields,
he utters “ no idly-feign’d poetic pains:" it is a picture of what he has constantly witnessed and felt. One of our poets has gained great credit by his exterior delineations of what the poor man suffers; but in the reality of wretchedness, when “the iron enters into the soul,” there is a tone which cannot be imitated. CLARE has here an unhappy advantage over other poets. The most miserable of them were not always wretched. Penury and disease were not constantly at their heels, nor was pauperism their only prospect. But he has no other, for the lot which has befallen his father, may, with too much reason, be looked forward to as his own portion. In the “simple annals of the poor” want occupies a part of every page, except, perhaps, the last, where the scene changes to the workhouse; and then the burthen which is taken from the body is laid upon the spirit: at least it would be so with CLARE; for though the contemplation of parochial relief may administer to some minds a thankless,
bopeless sort of consolation, under the pressure of extreme distress, yet to the writer of the following lines it must be the highest aggravation of affliction:
“Oh, may I die, before I'm doom'd to seek
That last resource of hope, but ill supplied;
Which justice forces from disdainful pride!» (p. 78.) While such was the destitute condition of his parents, it may seem extraordinary that CLARE should have found the means to acquire any learning whatever; but by extra work as a ploughboy, and by helping his father morning and evening at threshing, he earned the money which paid for his education. From the labour of eight weeks he generally acquired as many pence as would pay for a month's schooling; and thus in the course of three years he received, at different times, so much instruction that he could read very well in the Bible. He considers himself to have derived much benefit from the judicious encouragement of his schoolmaster, Mr. Seaton, of Glinton, an adjoining parish, from whom he sometimes obtained threepence a week in rewards, and who once gave him sixpence for repeating, from memory, the third chapter of Job. With these little sums he bought a few books.