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By P. Chirico

This huge and unique research of the entire diversity of John Clare's paintings is the 1st to take heavily his repeated appeals to the judgement of destiny readers. a sequence of shut readings finds Clare's subtle poetics: his covert quotations, his cautious research of the heritage, and his fascination with literary good fortune and posthumous popularity.

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7 The end of that year brought the following exchange between Taylor and Clare: When did you write The Wish? and is the Prose of The Woodman all your own Composition: it seems to me to be much more correct than your prose usually is. 8 The Prose you speak of is mine entirely such as it is & was intended to be carried on in a series of Charicteristic & Descriptive Pastorals in prose on rural life & manners but for the want of better judgments then mine I dropt it altogether9 By questioning the authorship of ‘The Woodman’, Taylor is hinting at the uncomfortable use that Clare habitually makes of the texts he admires as he begins his writing career.

10 In fact, Clare’s poem appears to be closely modelled on Pomfret’s, but the implicit aspiration to the status of that model – ‘a Person of Quality’ – is complicated by Clare’s explanation to Taylor of the writing of the poem: The wish is earlyish I think about 15 just when I had got the knack of writing smoothly with little sense the line from Pomfret I got from a second hand vol of Miscellanies by ‘Werge’ a man then (when his book was printed) residing at Stamford the authors I mention I had never seen them further then the title page—Hurn & Templman is bad bad stuff as I have since heard11 Clare’s extreme self-consciousness about his literary debts often encouraged him to plead mitigating factors, for example exaggerating the youthfulness of many of his compositions.

His involvement in various forms of field work – archaeological digs, studies of natural history and particularly fossils, the exploration of ruins and the fostering and gathering of old narratives – prompted his creative reconstructions of past communities, both human and (more often) animal. These in turn led him to some complex and often inconclusive meditations on the unknowable. I attempt here to extend Barrell’s account of Clare’s relationship to the cultural conventions of landscape description, pressing the case that the terrain which the poet habitually describes is itself a cultural construct.

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