Did John Clare and Eliza Emmerson have an 'affair' ?

When I was in London the first time   Lord Radstock introduced me to Mrs Emmerson     she has been known as a very pretty woman & [it] is not a miss still     & a woman's pretty face is often very dangerous to her common sense   for the notion she has received in her young days throws affectation about her feelings   which she has not got shot of yet   for she fancys that her friends are admirers of her person as a matter of course & act accordingly     which happens in the eyes of a stranger as delicious enough   but the grotesque wears off on becoming acquainted with better qualities   & better qualities she certainly has to counter ballance them    

          She at once woud [be] the best friend I found    & my expectations are looking no further then correspondence with me early in my public life   & grew pretty thick as it went on     I fancyd it a pretty [thing] to correspond with a lady   & by degrees I grew up into an admirer   sometimes foolishly when I could not account for what I did   & I then after requested her portrait     & then I reccollect ridiculously enough   alluding to Lord Nelsons Lady Hamilton     she sent it & flattered my vanity in return     It was beautifully drawn by Behnes the sculptor     But bye & bye my knowledge of the world weakened my romantic feelings     I gave up in friendship & lost in flattery

          afterwards she took to patronizing one of Colridges   who had written a visionary ode on Beauty in Knights Quarterly Magazine in whom she discovered much genius     she called him   On that strike   one of the first Lyne poets in England --

          she soon wisht for her picture agen & I readily agreed to part with it   for the artificial flower of folly had run to seed

Pet MS B3 p82

Riches, Poverty and Slavery

Clare writing nearly 200 hundred years ago of what we observe all around us:

"Slavery originates with the luxury of tyranny & forced to submit to the crueltys [only] of oppression until the effeminancy of its oppressions grow into dotage     it then rises & regains its liberty like as the lion in his strength overawes the lesser beasts into unjust subjugation     but in the season of age when he looses his teeth [& needs] friends     they oppress him in turn [with injustice] & regain their former freedom     thus Tyrany generally gets paid with its own coin

Tyrants hate liberty the more bitterly because they themselves can enjoy every thing but liberty         they persecute their slaves into obedience but never consciliate them into friends     there for fear makes them the slave of slav[es]   for as they are dreaded by others      yet it is only as one tyrant to many of the oppressed so they more bitterly feel the dreaded vengance of the many enemys which their crueltys have made   recoiling upon themselves"

Pet MS A49 p1

"What a time we live in -- one class have been compaining & from complaints I fear have been encouraging the lower orders to break away from their own intention     this class complain of poverty but show no appearance of it   while the other is so destitute that one almost wonders they should have been silent so long"

Pet MS B5 p5

'Helpstone' from 'Accursed Wealth'

Helpstone (excerpt)

Thy pleasing spots to which fond memory clings 

Sweet cooling shades & soft refreshing springs 

& tho fates pleas'd to lay their beauties bye 

In a dark corner of obscurity 

As fair & sweet they blo[o]m'd thy plains among 

As blooms those Edens by the poets sung 

Now all laid waste by desolations hand 

Whose cursed weapons levels half the land 

Oh who could see my dear green willows fall 

What feeling heart but dropt a tear for all 

      Accursed wealth oer bounding human laws 

      Of every evil thou remains the cause 

      Victims of want those wretches such as me 

      Too truly lay their wretchedness to thee 

      Thou art the bar that keeps from being fed 

      & thine our loss of labour & of bread 

      Thou art the cause that levels every tree 

      & woods bow down to clear a way for thee 

I have indented the verses that Clare’s rich friends in London, as well as his publisher John Taylor wanted removed from the 2nd and subsequent editions of  ‘Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery’ (Jan 1820).  They got their way, much to Clare’s annoyance:

“Being very much botherd latley I must trouble you to leave out the 8 lines in ‘helpstone’ beginning ‘Accursed wealth’ …”

(Letter from JC to Taylor dated 16th May 1820)

'Accursed Wealth' - Arbour Editions (2017) page 1
£4 including P&P - leave me an MSS.

"TREES - In a Strange Stillness"

[Image : Shelly Rolinson]

From Clare's 'Autobiography'
On Sundays I usd to feel a pleasure to hide in the woods instead of going to church     to nestle among the leaves & lye upon a mossy bank were the fir likefern its under forest keeps

‘In a strange stillness’

watching for hours the little insects climb up & down the tall stems of the woodgrass & broad leaves

‘Oer the smooth plantain leaf a spacious plain’

or reading the often thumbd books which I possesd till fancy ‘made them living things’ I lovd the lonely nooks in the fields & woods & many favourite spots had lasting places in my Memory

‘the boughs that when a school boy screend my head’

before inclosure destroyd them


 Those who had the privilege of attending the Society Festival last July will have encountered, either on my bookstall, in the Clare Cottage or in the Bluebell, one or other of my Arbour Editions Chapbooks.  Clare knew Chapbooks well, and it is in his honour I resurrected the form for my 32-page books.

 Historically a Chapbook is normally octavo in size (A5) and is a book or made up of one or more full sheets of paper on which 16 pages of text were printed, which were then folded three times to produce eight leaves. Each leaf of an octavo book thus represents one eighth the size of the original sheet.  These eight leaves are also known as ‘signatures’.  So my Chapbooks being 32 pages in length are two signatures long, or 16 octavo (A5) sheets.

Chapbooks first came about in 16th century England with popular fairy tales like "Jack and Giant Killer" which Clare mentions of course:

To John Clare
 Well honest John how fare you now at home 

 The spring is come & birds are building nests 

 The old cock robin to the stye is come 

 With olive feathers & its ruddy breast 

 & the old cock with wattles & red comb 

 Struts with the hens & seems to like some best 

 Then crows & looks about for little crumbs 

 Swept out bye little folks an hour ago 

 The pigs sleep in the sty the bookman comes 

 The little boys lets home close nesting go 

 & pockets tops & tawes where daiseys bloom 

 To look at the new number just laid down 

 With lots of pictures & good stories too 

 & Jack the jiant killers high renown 

  (written in around 1861)

 Chapbooks were cheaply constructed and often roughly printed, but during the 17th Century and later they were purchased by people who otherwise weren't able to afford books.  Very few survive as they were often thrown out after reading, or often (it is said) used as toilet paper!

The number of chapbooks printed in England is mind boggling.  During the 1660s, as many as 400,000 almanacs were printed every year, enough to distribute to one of every three households in the country.

 I've been planning such for several years, to introduce the general reader to a wider range of 'Clare-related' subjects, each book concentrating on just one topic.  In keeping with their history my Arbour Editions Chapbooks are very inexpensive, but in a break with tradition the books are high quality productions with gloss covers.  

I have around a dozen titles planned, and have to date published five, all at £3.50:

1.             'Drinking with John Clare'
2.             'Helpston's Fountains'
3.             'With the Gypsies'
4.             ‘Playing Games with John Clare’
5.             “Accursed Wealth”
The sixth, ‘Trees – In a Strange Stillness’ is of double length (64 pages) and the first Chapbook in full colour - 17 colour photographs illustrating Clare’s text – priced at £6.50 including post and & packing.  The idea for this book came from an essay written by Professor Eric Robinson in 1989 which has not been widely read, so with his permission ‘Trees’ was created with the ‘Introduction’ by Professor Eric and myself.  Here is a extract:

“Clare’s map of boyhood was full of trees, from the elm trees that rocked over his cottage to the hollow oaks and old willows in which he hid from pelting rain and prying eyes.  They were his cradle, his robbers’ cave, his pulpit, his study and his refuge.  They were his friends and he knew them as individuals whose passing he mourned as he mourned the loss of his first love, Mary Joyce.  There seems little doubt that he felt for them the same constriction of the heart and the bottomless stomach that the rest of us experience from human loss.  

Trees were the signposts of his daily rambles, the monuments of his tradition, the guardians of  his dead and the symbols of changing time.  Twice at least in his Journal Clare comments on stories about the rapid growth of trees in the Helpston neighbourhood and in terms that demonstrate the particularlity of his tree-observations.

Clare was concerned about maintaining the tree population of his environment, and in a sense the history of Helpston and of our poet, is that partly told in trees.  Then came enclosure when, for the trees, a wholesale devastation took place.”

So there we have it, inexpensive, paperback sized, quality productions... the ideal gift for the lover of Clare.  Or perhaps that friend who just might love Clare if only they had opportunity to read the great man’s work.

The book will be published on Friday, 19th January, priced at £6.50 (including P&P)
Just email me at arborfield@gmail.com


  1. (Image by Lady Clementina Hawarden)

    A new years welcome lovely maid
  2. Awakes the poets song
  3. Be not of moral truths afraid
  4. Nor deem the lesson wrong
  5. Though newyears still their welcomes bring
  6. & hails thy blooming hour
  7. & on the green lap of the spring
  8. Leaves thee its fairest flower

  9. The withered year had youth & pride
  10. As thy unclouded joy
  11. But the today though deified
  12. To morrow shall destroy
  13. & sweet as is thy lovely bloom
    Of mingled white & red
  14. A days in waiting yet to come
  15. Shall find that beauty fled

  16. Bind not thy heart to things so frail
  17. A worshipher of pride
  18. Let choice of better things prevail
  19. & meaner ones deride
  20. As fair as is that lovely bloom
  21. Thy witching youth puts on
  22. A frowning year is yet to come
  23. Shall find its blossom gone

  24. The withered year saw many flowers
  25. As fair as thou art seen
  26. That now are lost to suns & showers
  27. With blossoms that have been
  28. Then live from pride & folly free
  29. & wear an angels bosom
  30. & when the last new year shall be
  31. Live an unfading blossom 

    MP III 476

Ballad 'The spring returns the pewet screams'

I expect lots of folk know it, but I only discovered this Mary Joyce poem recently - as is often the case with a poet as prolific as Clare.  Must admit that it would have been in our "In the Shadows" Signed/Numbered Handmade Limited Edition book if we had encountered it sooner.  The book tells the story, in Clare's own words, of his largely illusory relationship with Mary.  I still have a few copies of the book should anyone want to acquire one.

The spring returns the pewet screams 

Loud welcomes to the dawning 

Though harsh & ill as now it seems 

Twas music last may morning 

The grass so green—the daisy gay 

Wakes no joy in my bosom 

Although the garland last mayday 

Wore not a finer blossom 

For by this bridge my Mary sat 

& praised the screaming plover 

As first to hail the day—when I 

Confessed myself her lover 

& at that moment stooping down 

I pluckt a daisy blossom 

Which smilingly she called her own 

May garland for her bosom 

& in her breast she hid it there 

As true loves happy omen 

Gold had not claimed a safer care 

I thought loves name was woman 

I claimed a kiss she laughed away 

I sweetly sold the blossom 

I thought myself a king that day 

My throne was beautys bosom 

& little thought an evil hour 

Was bringing clouds around me 

& least of all that little flower 

Would turn a thorn to wound me— 

She showed me after many days 

Though withered—how she prized it 

& then she leaned to wealthy praise 

& my poor love despised it 

Aloud the whirring pewet screams 

The daisy blooms as gaily 

But where is Mary—absence seems 

To ask that question daily 

No where on earth where joy can be 

To glad me with her pleasure 

Another name she owns—to me 

She is as stolen treasure 

When lovers part—the longest mile 

Leaves hope of some returning 

Though mines close bye—no hope the while 

Within my heart is burning 

One hour would bring me to her door 

Yet sad & lonely hearted 

If seas between us both should roar 

We were not further parted 

Though I could reach her with my hand 

Ere suns the earth goes under 

Her heart from mine—the sea & land 

Are not more far asunder 

The wind & clouds now here now there 

Hold not such strange dominion 

As womans cold perverted will 

& soon estranged opinion 

MP IV 34

Ann hath a way

Clare's copy of Shakespeare's works (1825) contains lines pretended to be from the pen of the poet to his wife, Anne Hathaway.  The book is further inscribed in Clare's hand 'John Clare / His Book / Novr 15. 1827'

The lines are in Clare's handwriting could well be of his own composition, for we know that he had imitated several of the early poets.  There has been much speculation over the years, but no-one is any further forward as far as I know, to proving or disproving Clare's authorship.  Very interesting...

Would ye be taught, ye feathered throng,   
With love’s sweet notes to grace your song,
To perce the heart with thrilling lay,        
Listen to mine Ann Hathaway!               
She hath a way to sing so clear,               
Phoebus might wondering stop to hear.      
To melt the sad, make blythe the gay,       
& nature charm, Ann hath a way.          
        She hath a way,                             
        Ann Hathaway                          
To breathe delight Ann hath a way!          
When envy’s breath and rancorous tooth,   
Do soil & bite fair worth & truth,         
& merit to distress betray                    
To soothe the heart, Anne hath a way         
She hath a way to chace despair,               
To heal all grief, to cure all care               
Turn foulest night, to fairest day                
Thou know’st fond heart Ann hath a way            
        She hath a way                           
        Ann Hathaway                           
To make grief bliss Ann hath a way.       
Talk not of gems, the orient list,              
The diamond, topaze, amethist,                
The emerald mild, the ruby gay,             
Talk of my gem, Ann Hathaway          
She hath a way with her bright eye,         
Their various colours to defye—                
The jewel she & the foil they,             
So sweet to look, Ann hath a way,          
        She hath a way                              
        Ann Hathaway                             
To shame bright eyes Anne hath a way!

Published in 'Northamptonshire Natural History Society & Field Club' 
Vol XXV - No 199 - September 1929

MP II 345