Thursday

Acquisitions (67): John Clare's Birds


John Clare: Bird Poems (1980)
[Unless otherwise noted, all illustrations of this book come from Warwick Carter: Folio Archives 224 (2021)]



Thomas Grimshaw: Portrait of John Clare (1844)


John Clare: Bird Poems (1980)
[BookMark, Devonport - 27/4/2022]:

John Clare. Bird Poems. Introduction by Peter Levi. Wood-Engravings by Thomas Bewick. London: The Folio Society, 1980.


Warwick Carter: John Clare: Bird Poems (1980)


The Battle of the Birds


I wrote a post about John Clare a few years ago in which I compared the complex influence of his life and work to that of Baudelaire. This approach may seem needlessly paradoxical, but then Lord Byron was one of the principal alter egos adopted by Clare in his later years in the asylum, so typing him simply as a 'peasant poet' is not really sufficient anymore - it it ever was.

Considering the fortunes of this lovely little volume of bird poems put out by the Folio Society some forty years ago (which I was lucky enough to find the other day at BookMark second-hand bookshop in Devonport), seems as good a way as any of illustrating the point.



For a start, it's important to emphasise the fact that this is not the only book on the topic. Within two years of the appearance of the Folio edition, editors Eric Robinson and Richard Fitter published the book above, with illustrations by Robert Gillmor in place of those by Thomas Bewick. Why?


The Poems of John Clare (2 vols: 1935)


Well, mainly it comes down to a question of texts. The Folio editors copied their text from John Tibble's 1935 edition of John Clare's poems. Eric Robinson aspired to provide a new, untidied version of Clare's work, edited directly from the manuscripts.



Here's Professor Robinson's own account of the situation, from a 2003 correspondence in The Guardian:
Clare's rights

John Mullan's review of Simon Kovesi's edition of Flower Poems by John Clare ("Pistils at dawn", November 9 2002) and Kovesi's letter (December 7 2002) have come to my attention.

I have not waived my rights in respect of the copyright in the works I have published and I have not ruled out court action against Mr Kovesi. The copyright laws protect the "lawful publisher" of a previously unpublished work for 25 years from the date of publication. The object of this law is to do precisely what Kovesi rails against, namely to encourage scholars and the like to seek out and publish previously unpublished works. The limited copyright provides publishers with the opportunity to recover the cost of publication and to obtain a financial benefit from doing so. It is, however, much less than the usual life of author plus 70 years, that is to say two generations.

Having lawfully brought into the public domain the works of John Clare after they lay unpublished for so long, my lifetime efforts are surely worthy of such limited protection free from opportunistic replication. Having obtained from Clare's heirs and successors a legal assignment of copyright, including the lawful right to publish previously unpublished works, the right to do so falls to me. The right is limited and has been exercised by me as a life's work.

The historical claim to copyright in some of Clare's original poems arises from an agreement dated August 8 1864 between Joseph Whitaker and John Clare's widow and children, in which copyright was transferred to Whitaker.

The original document was destroyed in the bombing of London but it was transcribed by H T Kirby, "John Clare and Some Recently Discovered Documents," Current Literature, June 1932, pp. 178-81 and 200. The legal position is as I understand it that this is "best evidence" and therefore admissible in court as evidence of the agreement.

All the poems published by Clare before the signing of this document, even those of which he disapproved because friends or editors altered them, and wherever they were published, are out of copyright. All other poems by Clare, in manuscript or print, in public or private possession, are within the Whitaker copyright sold to me by Haddon Whitaker who was, I believe, a great-grandson of Joseph Whitaker, as "unpublished works". In respect of these works, only I can lawfully publish them. Copyright runs from the date of publication.

I discovered this copyright situation when I was preparing, with Geoffrey Summerfield, three books which were published in 1964. I wanted to clear copyright in a legal fashion; I wanted to protect my work from being plundered by unscrupulous scholars and publishers; and I wanted to ensure, as far as I could, that the public was given accurate texts. I have been working on Clare since 1963 and this month, the final volume of my nine-volume edition of Clare's poems in the Oxford English Texts series will be published.

Eric Robinson
Virginia, USA


On the face of it, this sounds reasonable enough. Nobody could accuse Professor Robinson of slacking off in his efforts to give us precise details of the exact state of Clare's immense manuscript remains. Twenty years of work - with the aid of his various collaborators - on the nine-volume Oxford English Texts edition is only the beginning. As you can see from the bibliography below, he's edited (and facilitated) numerous further editions of the poet's work over the last half century. Is he not entitled to some reward for his efforts?


John Clare: Bird Poems (1980)


However, the sheer extent of these labours has made it a bit difficult for anyone else attempting to enter the field. Either they have to resort to John and Anne Tibble's rather old-fashioned 'corrected' texts - the solution (as mentioned in the illustration above) chosen by the Folio Society editors - or they're forced to take on the present copyright holder. The Wikipedia entry on John Clare puts it as diplomatically as possible:
Copyright on much of his work was claimed after 1965 by the editor of the Complete Poetry, Professor Eric Robinson, but this has been contested. Recent publishers such as Faber and Carcanet have refused to acknowledge it and it seems the copyright is defunct.
A rather more combative account is given in John Goodridge's 2000 Guardian article "Poor Clare":
The copyright has helped to ensure the overwhelming predominance of a single editing style: the so-called "textual primitivist" presentation where nothing of the text is corrected or standardised from the manuscript. After the heavy correction of earlier editions, this seemed to create a refreshingly raw "authenticity" in Clare's work, described by John Barrell as being like "discovering the original of a great painting previously known only through engravings". But its dominance has also limited Clare's accessibility, denying him the wider audience that his poetry deserves.

For Clare is, as the Independent's literary editor Boyd Tonkin recently put it, "The People's Poet". He speaks for the common people and for the dispossessed (birds, animals, flowers as well as people). He is important for many who have suffered from mental health problems, for ecologists and for nature-lovers. It is a grotesque anomaly for one person to try to control a poet from the 19th century, particularly one who, as Tim Chilcott notes, "so tellingly damned all manifestations of 'property', 'possession' and 'enclosure'".
Let's look at some examples of the difference between the two approaches. First, here's the text of 'The Partridge', copied from the 1935 Tibble edition:

John Clare: Bird Poems (1980)


And here's Eric Robinson's text, from John Clare's Birds (p.74):
One day across the fields I chancd to pass
When chickens chelped and skuttled in the grass
And as I looked about to find the seat
A wounded partridge dropped agen my feet
She fluttered round and calling as she lay
The chickens chelped and fluttered all away
I stooped to pick her up when up she drew
Her wounded wing and cackled as she flew
I wondered much to hear the chickens lye
As still as nothing till I wandered bye
And soon she came agen with much ado
And swept the grass and called them as she flew
But still they kept their seat and left no trace
And old cows snorted when they passed the place
There is, admittedly, a certain expressiveness in the second text which is obscured somewhat by the heavy-handed punctuation of the Tibbles' version. Besides that, though, the only substantive variant seems to be 'When' for 'Where' in Robinson's transcription.

For myself, I'm happy to have both books. The Folio Society one is (as you'd expect) an exquisite piece of printing and bookmaking. However, the Robinson / Fitter book has the advantage of including prose as well as verse, and John Clare's prose is - at least in my view - even more expressive and electric than his poetry.

The truth is, I understand perfectly what Goodridge means when he says that Clare "is important for many who have suffered from mental health problems, for ecologists and for nature-lovers." I find it impossible to read some of his lines without being moved to tears - and if you can't understand the power of his famous comment on the enforced enclosure of England's common land, "they have cut off my head and picked out all the letters in the alphabet", I'm forced to conclude that you'll never get him at all.

Here are a few more selections from the Bird Poems book for those of you who do enjoy Clare's (and Bewick's) work:










John Clare: Bird Poems (1980)






William Hilton: John Clare (1820)

John Clare
(1793-1864)

    Poetry:

  1. Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820)
  2. The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems. 2 vols (1821)
  3. The Shepherd's Calendar with Village Stories and Other Poems (1827)
  4. The Rural Muse (1835)
    • The Rural Muse. 1835. Ed. R. K. R. Thornton (1982)
  5. Poems by John Clare. Ed. Norman Gale (1901)
  6. Poems by John Clare Ed. Arthur Symons (1908)
    • The Works of John Clare. Ed. Arthur Symons. 1908. Introduction by John Goodridge. The Wordsworth Poetry Library. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1995.
  7. John Clare: Poems Chiefly from Manuscript. Ed. Edmund Blunden & Alan Porter (1920)
  8. Madrigals and Chronicles, Being Newly Found Poems Written by John Clare. Ed. Edmund Blunden & Alan Porter (1924)
  9. The Poems of John Clare. Ed. J. W. Tibble. 2 vols (1935)
  10. Poems of John Clare’s Madness. Ed. Geoffrey Grigson (1949)
    • Poems of John Clare’s Madness. Ed. Geoffrey Grigson. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1949.
  11. Selected Poems of John Clare. Ed. Geoffrey Grigson (1950)
  12. The Later Poems. Ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield (1964)
    • The Later Poems. Ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1964.
  13. The Shepherd’s Calendar. Ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield (1964)
    • The Shepherd’s Calendar. Ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield. Wood Engravings by David Gentleman. 1964. London: Oxford University Press, 1974.
  14. John Clare: Selected Poems. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble. Everyman's Library (1965)
    • Selected Poems. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble. Everyman’s Library, 563. London: J. M. Dent, 1965.
  15. The Wood is Sweet. Ed. David Powell (1966)
    • The Wood is Sweet. Ed. David Powell. Introduction by Edmund Blunden. Illustrated by John O'Connor. Poems for Young Readers. London: The Bodley Head Ltd., 1966.
  16. Clare: Selected Poems and Prose. Ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield (1966)
  17. John Clare: Selected Poems. Ed. Elaine Feinstein (1968)
  18. Birds Nest. Ed. Anne Tibble (1973)
  19. John Clare: The Midsummer Cushion. Ed. Anne Tibble & R. K. R. Thornton (1979)
  20. John Clare: Bird Poems. Introduction by Peter Levi (1980)
    • Bird Poems. Introduction by Peter Levi. Wood-Engravings by Thomas Bewick. London: The Folio Society, 1980.
  21. John Clare’s Birds. Ed. Eric Robinson & Richard Fitter (1982)
    • John Clare’s Birds. Ed. Eric Robinson & Richard Fitter. Illustrated by Robert Gillmor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  22. John Clare: The Oxford Authors. Ed. Eric Robinson & David Powell (1984)
    • John Clare: The Oxford Authors. Ed. Eric Robinson & David Powell. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.
    • Major Works: Including Selections from The Shepherd's Calendar. Ed. Eric Robinson & David Powell. 1984. Oxford World's Classics. Introduction by Tom Paulin. 2004. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
  23. The Poetry of John Clare. 9 vols. Ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell, Margaret Grainger & P. M. S. Dawson. Oxford English Texts (1984-2003)
    1. Early Poems of John Clare, volume I (1989)
    2. Early Poems of John Clare, volume II (1989)
    3. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837, volume I (1996)
    4. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837, volume II (1996)
    5. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837, volume III (1998)
    6. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837, volume IV (1998)
    7. John Clare: Poems of the Middle Period, 1822-1837, volume V (2003)
    8. The Later Poems of John Clare, 1837-1864, volume I (1984)
    9. The Later Poems of John Clare, 1837-1864, volume II (1984)
  24. The Parish. Ed. Eric Robinson (1985)
    • The Parish: A Satire. Ed. Eric Robinson. Notes by David Powell. 1985. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.
  25. Birds Nesting. Ed. Eric Robinson (1987)
  26. The Summons. Ed. Eric Robinson (1989)
  27. Trees. Ed. Eric Robinson (1989)
  28. The Hue & Cry. Ed. Eric Robinson (1990)
  29. John Clare: Selected Poems. Ed. Geoffrey Summerfield (1990)
    • Selected Poems. Ed. Geoffrey Summerfield. 1990. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2000.
  30. John Clare: Cottage Tales. Ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell & P. M. S. Dawson (1993)
  31. John Clare: Northborough Sonnets. Ed. Eric Robinson, David Powell & P. M. S. Dawson (1995)
  32. Selected Poems. Ed. R. K. R. Thornton. Everyman's Poetry (1997)
  33. A Champion for the Poor: Political Verse and Prose by John Clare. Ed. P. M. S. Dawson, Eric Robinson & David Powell (2000)
  34. John Clare: Love Poems. Ed. Simon Kövesi (2000)
  35. John Clare: Flower Poems. Ed. Simon Kövesi (2002)

  36. Prose:

  37. John Clare: The Prose. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble (1951)
    • The Prose. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble. 1951. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
  38. The Natural History Prose Writings of John Clare. Ed. Margaret Grainger (1983)
  39. John Clare's Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Eric Robinson (1986)
  40. John Clare By Himself. Ed. Eric Robinson & David Powell (1996)
    • John Clare By Himself. Ed. Eric Robinson & David Powell. Wood Engravings by Jon Lawrence. 1996. Fyfield Books. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002.

  41. Letters:

  42. John Clare: The Letters. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble (1951)
    • The Letters. Ed. J. W. & Anne Tibble. 1951. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
  43. The Letters of John Clare. Ed. Mark Storey. (1985)
    • Selected Letters. Ed. Mark Storey. 1985. Oxford Letters & Memoirs. 1988. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

  44. Secondary:

  45. Martin, Frederick. The Life of John Clare (1865)
  46. Cherry, J.L. Life and Remains of John Clare (1873)
  47. Tibble, J. W. & Anne. John Clare: A Life. 1932. Rev. Anne Tibble. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1972.
  48. Storey, Edward. A Right to Song: The Life of John Clare. London: Methuen, 1982.
  49. Bate, Jonathan. John Clare: A Biography. 2003. Picador. London: Pan Macmillan, 2004.
  50. Sinclair, Iain. Edge of The Orison: In the Traces of John Clare's "Journey Out of Essex". London: Hamish Hamilton, 2005.
  51. Foulds, Adam. The Quickening Maze. 2009. Vintage Books. London: Random House, 2010.
  52. [Powell, David. First Publications of John Clare's Poems. 2004. 2nd. ed. Research Papers on John Clare, number 1. USA: The John Clare Society of North America, 2009.]



John Clare: Bird Poems (1980)










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