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“The Village Minstrel,” and “The Rural Muse," his early history may be collected. At the age of thirteen, when he could read tolerably, and knew something of writing and arithmetic, he met, accidentally, with Thomson's “ Seasons," a book which not only awakened in his mind the love of poetry, but led him at once to the kind of poetry in which, from situation and from natural aptitude, he was most likely to succeed. For another sixteen years his brief leisure was filled with attempts more or less successful, to clothe, in the language of verse, his own feelings and observations. His chief trial, during this long probation, must have been his entire loneliness of mind-the absence of all companionship or sympathy. At this time he met with the "Patty" whom he afterwards married, and, in the hope of improving his circumstances, began to consider seriously about publishing a small volume by subscription; and having ascertained that the expense of three hundred copies of a prospectus would not be more than a pound, he set himself resolutely to work, and by hard labour, day and night, at length succeeded in accumulating the required sum.
“I distributed my papers," said the poor author, “ but as I could get no way of pushing them into higher circles than those with whom I was acquainted, they consequently passed off as quietly as if they had still been in my possession, unprinted and not
seen.” For a long while the number of subscribers stood at seven. At length, however, a copy of the proposals won their way to London. Messrs. Taylor and Hessey gave twenty pounds for the Poems; and, what was far better for the author, contrived to obtain for them immediate publicity.
The little volume was striking in what it had and in what it wanted. The very struggle between original thought and imperfect expression sometimes resulted in happiness and beauty. One thing was certain : John Clare was no imitator. Persons of taste and generosity in the higher classes took him by the hand. Lord Exeter sent for him to Burleigh, and hearing that he earned thirty pounds per annum by field labour, settled an annuity of fifteen pounds upon him, with a view to his devoting half his time to agricultural occupations, and half to literary pursuits. This benevolent proposal, which sounds so hopefully, proved a notable failure, chiefly in consequence of our national failing of running after everything and everybody that has attained a sufficient portion of notoriety. Poor Clare became as great a lion as if he had committed two or three murders. He was frequently interrupted, as often as three times a-day, during his labours in the harvest-field, to gratify the curiosity of admiring visitors; and a plan, excellent in its principle, was abandoned perforce. Other wealthy and liberal noblemen joined in the good work. Lord Spencer
gave ten pounds per annum. A subscription was set on foot by Lord Radstock, to which the present King of the Belgians, Lord Fitzwilliam, and Lord John Russell contributed generously, and which, together with the profits of his works—for “ The Village Minstrel” had now been published - realised for him altogether an annual income of five-and-forty pounds. This appeared affluence to our poet, and he married.
Praised by the “Quarterly," and befriended by noble patrons and generous booksellers, his prospects seemed more than commonly smiling. His third publication, too, “The Rural Muse,” in spite of its unpromising title, more than justified all that had been done for him. The improvement was most remarkable. That he should gain a greater command over language, a choicer selection of words, and the knowledge of grammatical construction, which he had wanted before, was to be expected ; but the habit of observation seemed to have increased in fineness and accuracy in proportion as he gained the power of expression, and the delicacy of his sentiment kept pace with the music of his versification. What can be closer to nature than his description of the nightingale's nest ?
Up this green woodland ride let's softly rove,
For here I've heard her many a merry year,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
We will not plunder music of its dower,