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SARA GUYER Figuringjohn Clare: Romanticism, Editing, and the Possibility ofJustice S ince john taylor’s first edition of john Clare’s poems descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820), the question of how to present Clare’s poetry has obsessed scholars and critics. Over the years, they have struggled with questions like: Should Clare be considered a romantic poet, or does this categorization lead us only to “colonize” Clare rather than to recog­ nize him as the misfit that he appeared during his infrequent trips to Lon­ don? Should we read Clare’s asylum poetry—including poems that he wrote in Lord Byron’s name—as continuous with his early poetry or rather as the “poetry ofmadness,” whether an aberration or a lens through which Clare’s complete works can retrospectively be understood?1 Yet, it is the question ofeditorial presentation, specifically, whether Clare’s language, spell­ ing, and punctuation should be “normalized” or published as it appeared in manuscript (or as close to that appearance as possible), that has attracted the most intense and ongoing attention. Clare’s first editor, John Taylor (also Keats’s publisher), was a great sup­ porter ofClare while well aware ofthe difficulty offinding a significant au­ dience for the poetry. Taylor was responsible for publishing the Poems De­ scriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, yet there is little agreement on the merits of Taylor’s editorial role. Tim Chilcott suggests that from at least 1821, Clare “began to rely increasingly on Taylor to transform rambling and un­ tidy manuscripts into poetry ready for publication.”2 The result, in the words of another editor, Arthur Symons, is that “it is difficult to know how much of the early poems were tinkered for publication by the too fas­ tidious publisher Mr. Taylor.”3 1. See Geoffrey Grigson, ed., Poems ofJohn Clare’s Madness (London: Routledge, 1949). See also Fredrick Burwick, Poetic Madness and the Romantic Imagination (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996). 2. Tim Chilcott, A Publisher and His Circle: The Life and Work ofJohn Taylor, Keats’s Pub­ lisher (London: Routledge, 1972), 96. 3. Poems ByJohn Clare, edited with an Introduction by Arthur Symons (London: Henry SIR, 51 (Spring 2012) 3 4 SARA GUYER In their 1963 essay on “John Taylor’s Editing of Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar, ” Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield follow this line of in­ quiry and aim to expose “the nature and extent ofTaylor’s ‘slashing’ of The Shepherd’s Calendar” (the word “slashing” is, as they acknowledge, Taylor’s own). They go on to argue that even “when all appropriate allowances have been made, Taylor cannot be judged a consistently reliable editor.”4 Jonathan Bate points out that Taylor did precisely too much “tidying” and leaves Clare’s poems not cleaned up, but positively “botched.”5 It is this ti­ dying up that led Robinson and his co-editors to undertake the massive project of producing a nine-volume collected Clare for Oxford, a collec­ tion ofpoetry and prose that aims to present Clare’s manuscripts “intact.” Robinson goes so far as to call Taylor “careless, dilatory, bullying” and insists that “it must be appreciated that Taylor was not simply trying to transcribe Clare’s manuscripts, a difficult task in itself, but also to alter Clare’s vocabulary, grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sometimes senti­ ments.”6 In undertaking to correct Taylor’s excesses, which Robinson fig­ ures as intentionally malicious, the Oxford volume intends a restoration and transcription (rather than what we might call a translation) of Clare’s original manuscripts.7 As a result, the volume maintains the obscure, and sometimes simply mistaken, spelling and grammar found in Clare’s manu­ scripts, reproduces Clare’s alternatively minimal, excessive, or incorrect punctuation, and tries to recover poems that have been erased, written over and muddled.8 Bate, while sympathetic, to the aspirations of this projFrowde , 1908), 4. See also Paul Chirico, “Authority and Community: John Clare and John Taylor” in Authorship, Commerce and the Public: Scenes of Writing, 1750—1850, eds. E. J. Clery, Caroline Franklin, Peter Garside (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 84—99. 4. Eric Robinson and Geoffrey Summerfield, “John Taylor’s Editing of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 3-24
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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