Clare's Autobiography


I was born July 13, 1793, at Helpstone, a gloomy village in Northamptonshire, on the brink of the Lincolnshire fens; my mother’s maiden name was Stimson, a native of Caistor, a neighboring village, whose father was a town shepherd as they are called, who has the care of all the flocks of the village; my father was one of fate’s chancelings, who drop into the world without the honour of matrimony.  HE took the surname of his mother, who to commemorate the memory of a worthless father with more tenderness of lovelorn feeling than he doubtless deserv’d, gave him his surname at his christening, who was a Scotchman by birth, and a schoolmaster by profession, and in this stay at this, and the neighboring villages, went by the name of John Donald Parker.  This I had from John Cue of Ufford, an old man who in his young days was a companion and confidential to my run-a-gate of a grandfather; for he left the village and my grandmother, soon after the deplorable accident of misplaced love was revealed to him; but her love was not that frenzy which shortens the days of the victim.

The old table, which, old as it was, doubtless never was honoured with higher employment all its days then the convenience of bearing at meal times the luxury of a barley loaf, or dish of potatoes, was now covered with the rude beggings of scientifical requisitions, pens, ink, and paper, out hour,  hobbling the pen at sheephooks and tarbottles, and another, trying on a slate a knotty question in Numeration, or Pounds, Shillings and Pence; at which times my parents’ triumphant anxiety was pleasingly experienced; for my mother woud often stop her wheel, or look off from her work, to urge with a smile of the warmest rapture in my father’s face her prophesy of my success, saying ‘she’d be bound I shoud one day be able to reward them with my pen for the trouble they had taken in giving me schooling.’

And I have to return hearty thanks to a kind providence in bringing her prophesy to pass, and giving me the pleasure of being able to stay the storm of poverty and smoothen their latter days, and as a recompense for the rough beginnings of life, bid their tottering steps decline in peaceful tranquillity to their long home, the grave.  Here my highest ambition was gratify’d, for my greatest wish was to let my parents see a printed copy of my poems; that pleasure l have witness’d […]

Composed 1821                  First published 1931