JOHN CLARE BY HIMSELF
unreliable account, which nevertheless used original sources. There is evidence in J. L. Cherry's Life and Remains of John Clare the 'Northamptonshire Peasant Poet' (London and Northampton, 1873) that the author had access to original Clare manuscripts. He refers on page 9 to 'a few undecipherable lines commencing "Good morning to ye, ballad-singing thrush"' written in an arithmetical and geometrical exercise-book which is now Northampton MS 11. Cherry also quotes extensively from Clare's 'Journal' and letters to and from him. Butthe best biographyisstillJ.W. andAnne Tibble' s John Clare: A Life (1932), which deserves to be reissued. A subsequent volume by the same authors, John Clare: His Life and Poetry (1956), adds new information but is less successful as a whole and is, in general, a rather strange mixture of biography and criticism. 7 What always brings these biographies to life is the quotations from Clare's own autobiographical statements, reflective or satirical, nostalgic or ironic, contemplative or indignant.
Clare had the idea of collecting facts for his life-story very early on. He wrote to J. A. Hessey (John Taylor's publishing partner) on 29 June 1820:
- I mean to leave Taylor the trouble of writing my Life merely to stop the mouths of others - & for that purpose shall collect a great many facts which I shall send when death brings in his bill-8
. At the time, he was composing his will. Keats, as Clare learned from Taylor, was seriously ill. Some of Clare's Helpston friends were dying off. He never thought that he himself would make old bones. Yet at the same time he was getting his first experience of fame - his first volume, Poems Descriptive of Rural life and Scenery, had been published in January 1820. Lord Radstock had become his patron, the local gentry were making him 'the stranger's poppet Show', and he was enquiring from Captain Sherwill xiv