AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT OF AN UNPUBLISHED AND UNRECORDED IMPROMPTU POEM, SIGNED ('John Clare') and addressed 'To my friend F. Simpson Junr of Stamford', 12 lines, in four-line stanzas, 1 page, octavo, light browning, with pencil annotations ('impromptu' and 'For Miss Webbs Album now Mrs H.C. Hall-Cane'), Helpstone, 23 July 1827
Dear Frank against thy Work I place
These dull & feeble verses
& neath thy merits modest light
This dullness half disperses...
The poem is addressed to Frank Simpson Jr (1796-1861), son of the Mayor of Stamford, who himself became Mayor in 1853-1854. He was known as an artist principally for his drawings of fonts, which were published in 1828. Simpson was a close friend of Clare whose correspondence contains numerous references to their friendship and a number of letters to him; he published an illustrated book on ancient baptismal fonts.
The manuscript was sold at Sotheby's in 2003 when it was in association with another poem (lot 115) by Clare, 'East End of Crowland Abbey'. That poem was published in the Literary Souvenir in 1828 and in Clare's major collection The Rural Muse in 1835 and was accompanied by the actual drawing which inspired it. On the same day, 23 July 1827 (the date of the present manuscript and of the 'East End of Crowland Abbey'), Clare wrote to Henry Behnes (who made a bust of Clare) that he was with Simpson and writing poetry to go with his drawings ('...I am with him scribbling away to you...I have accompanied F's beautiful Drawing of our Cross with a trifling trifle the best that the spur of the moment allowed me.').
The opening line evidently refers to the poems which were to accompany Simpson's drawings executed on the same day. One of the pencil notes on the manuscript labels the poem 'Impromptu'.
Peter Croft remarks that Clare composed very easily and that his poems often show little evidence of revision even in the primary manuscripts. It was doubtless given on writing to Simpson and subsequently to Miss Webbs for her album. The poem does not appear in the editions of Clare's poems edited by Eric Robinson. Most of Clare's papers are at Northampton Public Library and Peterborough Natural Historical Society Museum, which between them have over 6,000 literary texts.
PROVENANCE: Frank Simpson; Mrs H.C. Hall-Cane (formerly Miss Webbs).
REFERENCES: P.J. Croft, Autograph Poetry in the English Language, 2 volumes, 1973; Index of English Literary Manuscripts, Volume IV, 1800-1900, Part I, compiled by Barbara Rosenbaum and Pamela White (not recorded); Jonathan Bate, John Clare: A Biography, 2003; Middle and Later Poems of John Clare, edited by Eric Robinson, 7 volumes in all, 1984-2003.