Tim Dee takes about John Clare

In a short 9-minute film by James Murray-White, author and birdwatcher Tim Dee speaks of why John Clare is so important to the bird watching community.  Music by Mike Hobson.   A 'must see' film: https://vimeo.com/89252484

From Clare's Novel...

The black thorn was in its blossom & the soldiers were reminded of their early days      & one of them said    in such a spot as this comrade I tended sheep & have been delighted at seeing the black thorn in blossom as the earnest of may day a coming      when we should play at crookhorn & duck under-water & pelt over the garland -- & I little thought then of where I should ramble & what I should see --      these days Richard are all over & our happiness is gone after them for some other boys to pick up & loose agen as we did -- 

& so they wandered along shortning the way by little remembrances of former days that the scene around them brought up in their minds -- untill the sun went to bed as red as a drunken man dropping as if in the midst of the waste that surrounded them      & they were astonished in the seeming boundless stretch of the common which like an ocean of waste seemed to have no shore of termination to human existance & no harbours of comfortable cottages -- for they had not only been out of the sight of smoaking chimneys for hours but had even lost all sight of human existance in the shape of foot paths or waggon tracks –

From Clare's 'The Two Soldiers' an episode in his aborted novel from the 1820s, now published as "The memoirs of Uncle Barnaby" (Arbour Editions, 2017)  The public launch of which will take place at 6pm on 12th April at the John Clare Theatre, Peterborough.


I would not that my memory all should die,
And pass away with every common lot:
I would not that my humble dust should lie
In quite a strange and unfrequented spot,
By all unheeded and by all forgot,
With nothing save the heedless winds to sigh,
And nothing but the dewy morn to weep
About my grave, far hid from the world's eye:
I fain would have some friend to wander nigh
And find a path to where my ashes sleep--
Not the cold heart that merely passes by,
To read who lies beneath, but such as keep
Past memories warm with deeds of other years,
And pay to friendship some few friendly tears.

Tibbles II 106

John Clare and Charles Lamb

John Clare, the Northamptonshire  "stage peasant in grass-green coat and yellow waistcoat," with whom Lamb walked arm in arm along the Strand, discussing the "Clare-obscurities " of his poetry, and followed by troops of boys, shouting, " There go Tom and Jerry,"* who was lionized by the Mrs. Leo Hunters** of that day when he was not shut out by their footmen.

From ‘Charles Lamb and his biographers’ (1867)

*  Characters in Pierce Egan’s 19th century bestseller ‘Life in London’ in which Tom and Jerry’s ‘rambles and sprees through the Metropolis’ offers readers a unique glimpse into both high and low urban culture.

** A character in ‘Pickwick Papers’ (1852) : "Mrs. Leo Hunter—is proud to number among her acquaintance all those who have rendered themselves celebrated by their works and talents. Permit me, sir, to place in a conspicuous part of the list the name of Mr. Pickwick, and his brother–members of the club that derives its name from him.’ … She dotes on poetry, sir. She adores it; I may say that her whole soul and mind are wound up, and entwined with it. She has produced some delightful pieces, herself, sir. You may have met with her “Ode to an Expiring Frog,” sir.’ "

To an early butterfly

Thrice welcome here again thou fluttering thing
That gaily seeks about the opening flower
& opes & shuts thy gaudy spangld wing
Upon its bosom in the sunny hour
Fond gratefull thoughts from thy appearance spring
To see thee flye warms me once more to sing
That universal care who [h]apt thee down
& did thy winter dwelling please to give
That beings smiles on me dampt winters frown
& snatchd me from the storm & bid me live
& now agen the welcome seasons come
Tis thine & mine in natures gratful pride
To thank that good who snatchd us from the tomb
& stood our prop when all gave way beside

Village Minstrel II 206
EP II 386

Winter Walk

Some of the largest surviving lowland heath in East Devon are remnants of a habitat that would have once covered large areas of Southern England. Dominated by heather and purple moor grass, scattered pools exist throughout the heaths, providing permanent havens for their associated wildlife. Within this range of wildlife are nationally rare species of plants and insects, including some real rarities such as the Dartford Warbler, and a great variety of Damsel Flies. As a result management is now underway to conserve and protect these threatened and declining species. A walk over what we have always called "Woodbury Common" is a must, and with Clare as a guide, one can still be transported back a century or two. The looped walk we covered has all the habitats of the whole of the 'Commons', but it was a bit boggy in places.

The holly bush, a sober lump of green,
Shines through the leafless shrubs all brown and grey,
And smiles at winter be it eer so keen
With all the leafy luxury of May.
And O it is delicious, when the day
In winter's loaded garment keenly blows
And turns her back on sudden falling snows,
To go where gravel pathways creep between
Arches of evergreen that scarce let through
A single feather of the driving storm;
And in the bitterest day that ever blew
The walk will find some places still and warm
Where dead leaves rustle sweet and give alarm
To little birds that flirt and start away.

MP V 225

The poor Affrican...

Clare’s 2nd Visit to London (1822)

I do not know how the qualms of charity come over those who have plenty of riches to be charitable but I often feel it so strongly myself when objects of compassion pass me   that its the only thing that makes me oftenest wish I had plenty for the pleasure of relieving their wants      & when I was in London I often parted my little money so freely that I was often as bad off as those I relieved & needed it perhaps as bad that is I felt as bad or Worse inconvinience then they from the want of it    I remember passing St Pauls one morning where stood a poor Affrican silently soliciting charity but the sincerity of his distress spoke plainer then words           I felt in my pockets but I had only fourpence in all and I felt almost ashamed to recieve the poor creatures thanks for so worthless a pittance and passed him     but his looks spoke so feelingly that even a trifle would be acceptable that I ran back a long way and put the fourpence into his hand & I felt worse dissapointment when I saw the poor creatures heart leap to thank me & the tears steal down his cheeks at the gratification of the unlooked for boon      for his thanks & supprise told me he had met with little of even such charity as mine -- and I determind the next day to get my pocket recruited if possible    & give him a shilling & my first walk was to St Pauls but the poor affrican was gone and I never saw him again

Pet MS B5 R931
Robinson & Powell 'Major Works' (1984)

Clare wrote again about the poor Affrican in "The Memoirs of Barnaby" his aborted novel, to be published in March 2017.  Both passages are crucially important in helping us to further understand his compassion toward all people.  Most especially perhaps, to those he encountered trapped in the penury he saw all around him magnified in the London of 1822.