This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for July 13, 2017: Her Sweet Deceit

July 13, 2017: birthday: John Clare

It’s the birthday of the poet John Clare (books by this author), born in Nottinghamshire, England (1793). He grew up on a farm, writing poems on his mother’s sugar bags, but he was only able to attend school for three months a year. He spent the rest of his time tending his father’s sheep. When he was twelve, he left school altogether to work as a laborer. In his spare time he continued to write poetry, and in 1820 he published his first book, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820), with the byline “John Clare, a Nottinghamshire peasant.” He became suddenly famous. That year sightseers visited his cottage, wealthy patrons gave him money, and he went to London to meet other poets such as Coleridge and Charles Lamb. After his initial success, things went downhill for Clare. He continued to publish books of poems, including The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) and The Rural Muse (1835), but they did not sell as well as his first book and he fell out of fashion. He became a tenant farmer to support his seven children. He drank too much, started to lose his mind, and was sent to an insane asylum. In 1841 he escaped and walked 80 miles back to his home, eating grass by the roadside along the way because he was so hungry. Eventually he was sent back to another asylum, where he spent the last 23 years of his life, believing he was Lord Byron or Robert Burns, and writing some of his best work.