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John Clare

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Helpstone, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, England
Death: Died in Northampton, Northamptonshire, England
Place of Burial: St. Botolph's Churchyard, Helpston, Northamptonshire, England
Immediate Family:

Son of Parker Clare and Ann Clare
Husband of Martha Clare
Father of Anna Maria Sefton; Unknown Clare; Eliza Louise Clare; Frederick Clare; John Clare and 4 others
Brother of Unknown Clare

Occupation: Poet
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Clare

John Clare b. July 13, 1793 Helpstone, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, England, d. May 20, 1864 Northamptonshire County General Lunatic Asylum, Northampton, Northamptonshire, England buried St. Botolph's Churchyard, Helpston, Northamptonshire, England

Parents: Parker Clare 1765- 1846 and Ann Stimson d. 1835

Wife: Martha Turner 1801- 1871

Children:

  1. Anna Maria 1820-1844
  2. died in infancy b. 1821
  3. Eliza Louise 1823-
  4. Frederick 1824-1843
  5. John 1826-
  6. died in infancy b. 1827
  7. William Parker 1828-
  8. Sophia 1830-
  9. Charles 1833-1852

John Clare was born to a poor labouring family in Northamptonshire. His education did not extend much beyond basic reading and writing, and he had to start work herding animals at the age of seven. This was not a promising start for a future writer, but in his early teens he discovered The Seasons by James Thomson and began writing poems himself.

His first love, Mary Joyce, was the daughter of a wealthy farmer; their separation caused Clare great pain, and it contributed to the sense of loss which pervades much of his poetry.

In 1820 he married Martha Turner and published his first book of poems. He was described as 'John Clare, a Northampton Peasant' on the title-page, and the current fashion for 'rural poetry' brought him some celebrity in London. He made friends with Charles Lamb and other literary figures, and was granted the sum of £45 a year by wealthy patrons.

The vogue for rustic poets did not last long however, and his popularity faded during the 1830s. The situation was made worse by his publishers, who insisted on 'correcting' Clare's individual style and use of dialect, to make his verse fit contemporary notions of poetic convention. Clare's attempts to write like other poets of his day, as well as his financial worries, put tremendous strain on his mind, and in 1837 he was admitted to a mental asylum in High Beach, Epping.

He escaped from the asylum in 1841, and walked home to Northamptonshire, under the delusion that he would be reunited with Mary Joyce there. A few months later he entered Northamptonshire General Asylum, where he lived for the rest of his life, still writing poems when his mental health permitted. The asylum poems are among his best known works, but the haunting descriptions of rural landscapes in poems such as 'The Flitting', 'Decay' and 'Remembrances' are more typical of the true character of his poetic voice.

His poetry underwent a major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is often now considered to be among the most important 19th-century poets.[2] His biographer Jonathan Bate states that Clare was "the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self".

He died on 20 May 1864, in his 71st year. His remains were returned to Helpston for burial in St Botolph’s churchyard. Today, children at the John Clare School, Helpston's primary, parade through the village and place their 'midsummer cushions' around Clare's gravestone (which has the inscriptions "To the Memory of John Clare The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet" and "A Poet is Born not Made") on his birthday, in honour of their most famous resident. The thatched cottage where he was born was bought by the John Clare Education & Environment Trust in 2005 and is restoring the cottage to its 18th century state.

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John Clare's Timeline

1793
July 13, 1793
Helpstone, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, England
1820
1820
Age 26
1820
Age 26
1821
1821
Age 27
1823
1823
Age 29
1824
1824
Age 30
1826
1826
Age 32
1827
1827
Age 33
1828
1828
Age 34
1830
1830
Age 36