When John Clare’s first volume of poetry, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, appeared in 1820, it was reviewed in aesthetic terms familiar to contemporary readers of magazines and reviews: the Géorgic tradition of the unspoiled rustic poet. During this period Wordsworth’s adaptation and revision of pastoral traditions in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads and Coleridge’s re-interrogation of them in Biographia Literaria were gaining currency. Those formulations founded one of the most influential varieties of what we now call Romanticism,1 and much of present-day criticism of Clare’s poetry relies more on Wordsworth and Coleridge’s refinements than on the older Géorgic tradition itself. The initial reviews of Clare’s poems occurred before such adaptations of the Géorgie had become ubiquitous, and they clearly demonstrated a powerful gentlemanly taste for new poetic ‘discoveries’ among the labouring classes. Reviewers sought after images of a pastoral world where peasant poets could represent a rural landscape lost them in their hectic urban milieus — ‘represent’ both in the sense of composing the images of nature that constituted that landscape and in the sense of standing for that lost pastoral world. John Taylor, Clare’s publisher, was keenly aware of this immediate aesthetic context as he attempted to situate Clare’s poetry in his introduction to the volume, and his intellectual lead shaped much of the critical response. Taylor’s own tastes were highly refined.
KeywordsRural Life Intellectual Lead Aesthetic Term Pastoral World Conservative Reader
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