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)