The Cottager’s Friend

  • Alan D. Vardy


When Eliza Emmerson wrote to her influential friend Lord Radstock in 1820 recommending Clare as a suitable beneficiary of his Lordship’s patronage, she concluded with a poem in praise of Clare ending with the assurance that: ‘He’ll put up with distress—and be content’.1 Part of the appeal of Clare was the perception that even if his poetic aspirations ended in failure he would not turn his disappointment into anger and bitterness. His capacity for ‘contentment’ in the face of adversity made him an ideal representative for a peasantry whose fealty to landowners and farmers was being severely challenged by the socially destructive forces of agricultural enclosure. Mrs Emmerson took her line directly from Clare’s poem ‘Helpstone’, and she hoped that the promise of rural ‘contentment’ would convince Radstock that Clare was worthy of support. The line in Clare’s poem ends a description of ‘little birds’ buffeted by harsh winter conditions. Clare makes an explicit comparison between the birds and himself, ‘like to me these victims of the blast’, and thus suggests that current conditions in the countryside were analogous to perpetual winter. By removing them from their context, Mrs Emmerson extracted a sense of stoic calm from the lines and offered them to Radstock as a reassurance.


Religious Faith Rural Economy Physical Privation Funeral Rite Religious Devotion 
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© Alan D. Vardy 2003

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  • Alan D. Vardy

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