Clare, Cobbett and ‘Captain Swing’

  • Alan D. Vardy


John Lucas and P. M. S. Dawson have established the debate over the nature of Clare’s political commitments in their two influential essays: ‘Clare’s Politics’ and ‘Common Sense or Radicalism’. Lucas argues for an interpretation of Clare’s poetry that attends particularly to its radical sentiments, while Dawson questions whether or not those same sentiments are truly radical or are more properly understood in the British tradition of ‘common sense’. Dawson pursues his argument by historicising the term ‘radical’.1 Understanding political terms as they were used proves fruitful, and much more research remains to be done before we can be certain of how Clare viewed himself. This ongoing debate has been enhanced by the publication of John Clare: A Champion of the Poor, Political Verse and Prose which has made Clare’s political prose writing available to a much larger number of scholars. In addition, one of the editors of the volume, Eric Robinson, has joined the debate by asserting that: ‘His [Clare’s] politics are local, or at most regional, rather than national; conservative rather than radical; monarchical rather than revolutionary or republican.’2 None of these distinctions bears scrutiny. Robinson’s use of the terms conservative and radical confuse the issue. Arguing that Clare was conservative because his position on the reform of church property was not as radical as Cobbett’s renders the terms hopelessly relative.


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© Alan D. Vardy 2003

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  • Alan D. Vardy

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