In order to understand how Clare came to be considered a ‘minor’ poet in the Romantic canon, it is necessary to investigate the aesthetic assumptions that form the bases of such judgements. In part, Clare’s status is a continuation of assumptions concerning his class identity. The social and political nuances of the earliest aesthetic claims made for and against Clare1
and his poetry persist. This troubling persistence of the original terms of the critical debate demands that we examine what we mean by Romantic poetry, and what we mean when we identify Clare’s poetry as a ‘minor’ variant. Attitudes towards class have changed sufficiently that Clare can be admitted as a poet without any special pleading on class grounds, yet the view of him as a naïve rustic, simple-mindedly in love with the objects of the natural world, continues to have currency. David Simpson provocatively addresses this puzzle in his essay, ‘Is the Academy Ready for John Clare?’.2
Simpson puts the problem in succinct historical terms:
We would not expect to see much of Clare in the pages of M. H. Abrams’s The Mirror and the Lamp or Natural Supernaturalism, for these were at the forefront of the ‘old’ Romanticism of complex high philosophic consciousness whose avowed displacement has been the task of so much recent criticism. But neither does Clare figure (except in two brief mentions) in Marilyn Butler’s Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries, the book that best represents the ‘new’ Romanticism’s commitment to placing its writers in forgotten social and historical environments; and he is completely absent from Jerome McGann’s The Romantic Ideology, which has received even more attention than Butler’s book for its claim to set right the theorization of the Romantic period and its legacies. (p. 70)
KeywordsAesthetic Judgement Paradise Lost Human Inhabitant Aesthetic Pleasure Pleasant Image
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