The Poet and the Poor Law. Reflections Upon John Clare's ``The Parish''
Author: Charlesworth L.
Source: Liverpool Law Review, Volume 23, Number 2, 2001 , pp. 167-178(12)
This article argues that the work of the hedgerow poet John Clare is invaluable for legal social history in illuminating the reality of the operation of the poor law as it affected the lives of the poor. Clare's poem, The Parish, written between 18236 was not published during the author's lifetime. Written as he first achieved fame, it consists of 2,202 lines of satire denouncing the cant and hypocrisy he himself had witnessed and experienced in local village life. His Parish was his settlement parish where he and his parents were subject to the power of the vestry and local officials. This piece considers the text within the context of the legal history of the poor law. The value of The Parish as a primary source for that legal history is not merely in the simple narrative of biographical events allied to the poet's words, evocative as they are. It lies in the subtleties of Clare's own ambiguity about being poor and in the way those ambiguities assist us today both in understanding Clare's times and values and in hearing Clare mediating the universal experience of poverty through his art.
Document Type: Regular paper
Publication date: 2001-01-01