John Clare Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

John Clare’s childhood was spent laboring in the fields near his native village and in the “dame schools” that provided a rudimentary education for those of the rural poor who understood their value. Clare’s father was a ballad singer of some local note, and this early exposure to village folk culture, together with his bent for reading, provided a solid base for his later accomplishments. His interest in writing seems to have awakened at the age of sixteen when he acquired a copy of James Thomson’s narrative-descriptive poem The Seasons (1730, 1744). Finding time and opportunity to write at all, however, proved difficult. Unable to afford much paper, he recorded his earliest efforts on scraps kept in his hat; thus they were easily lost or damaged. The extremely long hours of an agricultural laborer and the distrust of learning among his fellow villagers restricted him further. Nevertheless, by his early twenties, he had assembled a fairly substantial body of work that he showed to a nearby storekeeper with literary connections in London. His first book, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, was brought out in 1820 by John Taylor, publisher of Charles Lamb and John Keats. It was an immediate success, going through four editions within a year. Taylor then published a second volume, The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems, in 1821, but its sales were disappointing. Clare’s first book had caught the very end of a craze for “peasant poets,” Over the next several years, he...

(The entire section is 620 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Clare, who became known as a “peasant poet,” was the son of an almost illiterate farmer, Parker Clare, in Northamptonshire. John was a twin; his twin sister died shortly after birth. As a child he spent his time playing in the countryside with his surviving sister. About three months a year he attended school in the nearby village of Glinton. At the age of twelve he went to work, attending school at night, until he was fourteen. He worked in the fields at haying time and tended cattle, later finding work as a gardener at Burghley House, owned by the marquis of Exeter. This was a life that gave the young man time to wander, to read, and to think. He also found time to write poetry, sometimes nature poems, and sometimes drinking songs.

Fame came to Clare immediately after the publication of Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery in 1820. On the title page of this volume the poet was described as “a Northamshire peasant.” The volume brought Clare influential friends as well as fame. It also brought him some friendly reviews in the important periodicals of the time. Lord Radstock became Clare’s patron, and the poet, assured of an income, married Martha Turner, whom he had known for some time prior to his success as a published poet. In 1821, a year after his first volume, he published The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems. As time passed, the poet’s family grew in size, and so did his problems. Quarrels with his...

(The entire section is 413 words.)