The life span of John Clare (1793–1864) runs from Pitt to Palmerston, Washington to Lincoln, Blake and Burns to Trollope and Tennyson; yet the essential features of his world were contained within a few square miles clustered around his birthplace, Helpston, Northamptonshire, in the east of England, a village containing about sixty families. Clare never went as far east as Cambridge or further north than Boston, Lincolnshire, the latter affording him his one view of the sea; he became nervous if he moved more than two or three miles away from Helpston. His four trips to London might as well have been visits to Mars, and he was regarded by the inhabitants of the city much as a Martian might have been. He amassed a great quantity of country lore and was skilled in several trades, he could boast a library of four hundred books and was a ruggedly independent critic of what he read, he had several volumes of published poetry to his credit, but his lifelong...

 
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