- The Lifetime Published Poetry
Introduction Northborough Church
Recent years have seen the publication not only of the final volume of the Poetry of John Clare in the Oxford English Texts series, but also of a major new biography of Clare by Professor Jonathan Bate (2003). The new OET edition of Clare’s poetry, while comprehensive, has been derived entirely from original manuscripts, and reproduces the poet’s idiosyncratic spelling, grammar and punctuation. The poems are therefore quite different in appearance from how they were first printed in the volumes published during Clare’s lifetime. Apart from a poorly edited version of his first volume Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, published in 1986, and the recent parallel-text edition of The Shepherd’s Calendar by Tim Chilcott (2006), which includes only the title poem, the lifetime volumes have not been reprinted since their original publication in the 1820s and 1830s. The versions of Clare’s poems that appear in them have been entirely superseded by the revised versions from manuscript. So while it is easier than it has ever been for scholars and students of Clare to read his poems as he originally composed them, it remains difficult to obtain access to the poems as they were initially presented to Clare’s readers in the early nineteenth century.
The purpose of compiling a complete e-text of Clare’s four volumes of published poetry is therefore to provide an easily accessible and reliable copy of the original versions. Photocopies of the original volumes were scanned into a computer to be used as a base for producing a first draft. That first draft was then proofread against original volumes in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the University Library, Cambridge and the British Library. Clear misprints and other mistakes in the original were amended in the e-text and notes added to show the changes. However, since the basic principle was to reproduce the volumes as closely as possible, a minimum of changes were made. A simple layout that reflected the original page design was chosen, and page and line numbers were inserted.
I would like to thank Aichi University for allowing me time to pursue this project during a sabbatical, and Nottingham Trent University for providing me with the facilities I needed. I am particularly grateful to Professor John Goodridge of the School of English for sharing his enthusiasm, knowledge and collection of materials relating to Clare; and also to Roberta Davari-Zanjani for so generously sharing her office and giving of her time. The field of Clare studies has always been one in which no “fence of ownership crept in between”, and I would especially like to mention the help and encouragement I received from Simon Kövesi and Bob Heyes amongst many others. Mistakes and anomalies in these pages are entirely my own fault, and I would be grateful for corrections to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.