John Clare

  (1793 - 1864)

Short Biography


John Clare (1793 - 1864) was born on July 13 at Helpstone, a village in Northamptonshire, close to the Lincolnshire fens. His father, Parker Clare, worked as a farm labourer. In his spare time his father was also a rustic wrestler and ballad singer. 

Clare attended a dame school in his native village between 1798 (5) and 1800 (7), then went to Glinton school in the next village. 

First poems
His first poems were imitations of his father’s songs. 

When his father became ill with rheumatism, Clare began work first as a horse-boy, then ploughboy, then as a gardener at Burghley House. In 1812 (19), he enlisted in the militia, returning home some eighteen months later. 

He went lime burning, and in Casterton he met Martha Turner, who joined the Clare family just before the birth of the first of their eight children. 

First publication
Clare’s first book of poems, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life, appeared in 1820 (27), published by Hessey and Taylor, Keats’ publisher. The volume ran to four editions in the first year, and he became celebrated in London literary society as the ‘peasant poet’. The Village Minstrel followed in 1821 (28), and the Shepherd’s Calendar in 1827 (34), but neither book achieved the success of his first volume. The Rural Muse (1835, 42) scarcely sold at all, and the pressures of his situation began to tell. 

In 1837 (44) he was admitted into Matthew Allen’s private asylum of High Beech in Epping Forest, where he stayed for four years until he discharged himself, walking the eighty miles home to Northborough in three days, eating grass on the way, which he said tasted like bread. He wrote two long, suffering poems, Don Juan and Child Harold, which documented his precarious mental state. He was certified insane by two doctors in December 1841 (48), and was admitted to St Andrews County Lunatic Asylum in Northampton, where he stayed until his death. He was treated well, and continued to write, producing many short, semi-mystical poems. 

He died in 1864 (71).

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