John Clare and Footpath Walking

John Clare is the genius of the footpath. So poignant is his statement on the road that it tends to overlay his many and various statements on the footpaths. That wretched road journey, in July 1841, just after his forty-sixth birthday, when he was alone, weakening and penniless, and when he had to, as he said, “lay down with my head towards the north to show myself the steering point in the morning”, was a walk entirely isolated from every other walk he had made, or would ever make.

Clare was more than acquainted with the way, that simplest, purest, most eloquent of ways, the footpath. And life only went wrong when he was diverted from it. He knew where he stood. He knew where he should walk. He knew when he should drop down. He knew what no other English writer knew or knows, which is what the English countryman's eyes saw, or sees, in its purity … we know that countless people, whilst on the way to work, or at work itself, are unwittingly visionary, and that they do not pass through these scenes on earth without taking them in, and wondering at them sometimes. What they -- or few of us do, is to drop down in our tracks to write because the need to write is overwhelming, as it is with writers. There were days when Clare could not follow the footpaths. On Thursday 23 September 1824 he writes:

“A wet day did nothing but nurse my illness Coud not have walkd out had it been fine very disturbd in conscience about the troubles of being forcd to endure life & dye by inches & the anguish of leaving my childern & the dark porch of eternity whence none returns to tell the tale of their reception” (Natural History, p. 181)

But a few weeks later - what a change?

Sunday 31 October 1824
“Took a walk got some branches of fee spindle tree with its pink colord berys that shine beautifully in the pale sun - found for fee first time 'fee herb true love' or 'one berry' [Paris quatrifollia} in Oxey Wood brought a root home to set in my garden” (Natural History, p. 197)

Did we but comprehend it, a great amount of our best poetry, novels and essays smell, not of the lamp, but of dust, mud, grit, pollen, and, I expect, sweat.

Ronald Blythe ~ John Clare Society Journal, 14, 1995

And then there were three... or is that eight?

The publication of “With the Gipsies” today [22nd May] sees the third Clare Arbour Chapbook added to the list.  At the risk of repeating myself, this effort is to put Clare texts into the hands of those who cannot easily afford current paperback prices.  At £3-50 per copy, these will not be listed on Amazon as the minimum they charge for postage and packing is £2-80 – but they ARE available from me for £4-50 inclusive.

How can I afford to do this?  All I seek to do is simply to break-even on all my Arbour Editions titles, to ensure that folk do not have to take a financial punt simply to buy a book!

All my titles are still available (prices maked include P&P):

Hidden Treasures - £7.50
The Memoirs of Uncle Barnaby - £14.00
Drinking with John Clare - £4.50
Helpstons Fountains - £4.50
With the Gipsies - £4.50

I also have a few of my (with Anne Lee) Limited edition, handmade books still available:

The Lovers Meeting - £32.50
The Poet in Love - £37.50
In the Shadows -  £37.50

All will of course be available at the John Clare Society Festival in July.

Roger R.

The Death of Dobbin (excerpt)

The summers heat & winters cutting cold
Have stood with the[e] with the[e] as partners shar'd
The toiling slaves to those that better far'd
These where thy friends & these thy friends well knew
A horses worth that might be trusted too
And this they every day could prove & see
The value dobbin of a horse like thee
They by expirience taught knew how to prize
That worth which unexpirienc'd fools despise
And treat thy Memory with that due respect
Which thy self loving master does neglect
Never through him by hardy work's attain'd
And lasts no longer then his ends are gain'd
Sway'd by self interest—when thy best was o'er
As he could profit by thy strength no more
When courage left thee & old age came on
And all the hopes of an amendment gone
When willing still weak efforts provd too true
That thou hadst done the utmost thou cou'dst do
Then merits past and praises all adieu
His profits vanishd and his praises too
On merits past he could'n't tent to call
Nor spare a praise where merits past was all
But turnd the[e] out in yon bare grounds to feed
To pine or die as future fate decreed
And happy future fate did so ordain
To see thy sufferance and to ease thy pain

EP I 84 (lines 32-58)

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:

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.

Beauties of a winter Forrest (excerpt)

Now tis Winter plainly shown by the icicles which hang pendant from the low mossy eaves of the woodmans cottage -- who now with his mattocks and leather doublet is ready to begin his winters labour to cut down the wood in the still forrest and plash [shape] the hedge to stand as a fence against intruding cattle -- He and he only knows & sees the beauties & horrors of winter mingled together tho the short day – 

 For the shepherd cuts his journeys short & now only visits his flock on nescessity – Croodling with his hands in his pockets and his crook under his arms he tramples the frosty plain with dithering haste glad and eager to return to the warm corner of his cottage fire -- His favorite tree (where he was wont in summer to stretch his limbs in idle dalliance on the flowrey turf beneath its cooling shade) is now left desolate robbed both of its idle shepherd & the green foliage that clothd its summer boughs – 

 The Milk-boy too in his morning rambles no longer saunters to the pasture as he had used to do in summer (pausing on every pathway flower & swanking idly along; often staring with open mouth thoughtlessly musing on the heavens as if he could wish for somthing in the passing clouds leaning his lazy sides gainst everystile he come{s} to and can never get his heavy cloutred shoon over the lowest without resting      sighing as he retires with the deepest regret to leave such easy chairs) – 

But now in hasty claumping tried finding nothing but cold & snow to pause on he never stops to cawm his thoughtless head about – but shuffling along he make{s} the frosty plain reecho with his hasty bruzzing foot-steps – the stiles which where (were) so hard to climb over in summer are now scald (scaled) with the greatest ease and he wishes for nothing but his journey's end – prefering the sheltering warm confines of the farm yard and stables before the frozen plain – 

 But tis not so with the woodman no He glories in the weather & rising early in the dark morning ere the copper colored streaks appear to spread over the eastern skie – he pursues his journey over many new made hills and valleys of new fallen snow with “heart felt glee” cheering his rugged way with the oft repeated scrap of an harmless old song making the rihmy feathered thickets rezound in rural melody      Thus he cheerfully sallutes the winter morning till at length [he] enters the wild forrest – Here he brushes along his well known winding pad and the many intricating turns that leads to its deepest recesses – and then the beauties of witherd nature “surround him on every side”

Hidden Treasures (Arbour Editions) 2016

Harvest from 'The Village Minstrel'

As rests warm rapture rousd the rustics lay
The thread bare ballad from each quavering tongue
As ‘peggy bond’ or the ‘sweet month of may’
As how he joyd to hear each ‘good old song’
That on nights pausing ear did echo loud & strong
The muse might sing too for he well did know
The freaks & plays that harvest home doth end
How the last load is crownd wi boughs & how
Wi floating ribbons diznd at their end
The swains & maids wi fork & rake attend
& how the children on the load delight
Wi shouts of harvest home their throats to rend
& how the dames peep out to mark the sight
& all the feats that crown the harvest supper night

(Lines 559-572)

Ave Maria...

As is the maiden while her heart pursues
Her evening walk oer fields in silent dews
Ave Maria tis the hour of love

Sighs & pains & tears on beautys breast
Are whispered into blessings from above
Ave Maria tis the hour of rest

For man & woman & the weary beast
That blesses all with sleep & quiet rest
Ave Maria tis the hour of night
Like to an Indian Maiden dressed in white

(Lines 8-17 of "Now evenings rosey streaks...")
LP I 168