Mr. Bodger next day, rosy-faced, kind, but mildly surprised, took us into his room at the Museum and gave us the freedom. A large cupboard was unlocked. He explained that the masses of papers revealed were the remains of the exhibition of 1893—catalogues were still to be had. We were soon left to see what to do with so many bundles and bound volumes, in most admired disorder, and there was no time to lose. But one thing stood out: if Clare's Asylum MSS. were not here, a splendid transcript of many of them was, occupying two beautifully bound folios. To copy these entire and select later seemed the best plan. It was obvious at a glance that here was richness, but in confusion.
But literary research, I believe, is what Coleridge in early glory said that poetry is: its own exceeding great reward. To come into a sort of direct contact with some remarkable personality, someone who made a reverent and courageous study of life, is not the end of it. To deprive oblivion of creative writings which had only by the spell of ignorance or rude mischance gone perilously near the end of all is not the only thing. Let such writings, saved and secured, rise into our own world of many hopes and troubles,- we are mighty fine fellows, but we cannot write like William Blake, nor G. M. Hopkins, nor Thomas Traherne—and suppose after all that we could add Shakespeare's letters and notebooks and discarded openings to his known Works to the canon, any complaints? No, but those John Clare adventures of mine may serve as an example of the enrichment of incident, acquaintance, romance in real life, which 'the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties' may lead to. And nowadays the difficulties may be as it were accommodated by benefits of various denominations, such as I hope all my listeners may receive, once magnetized by a fine literary object. I spare you further details of my John Clare experiences, my many hours in his company (even in the British Museum where his incoming correspondence is kept), my days with his utterly unspoiled grandchildren. It became unavoidable that I should leave the complete editing of his works and account of his life to others,- but now, in his centenary year, it looks as though things will be happening at Peterborough and Northampton and other sensible cities which will improve our knowledge and enjoyment of Clare, and one man's thanks to his character and genius, the stars of a sometimes obscure voyage through modern times.
Republished in the John Clare Society Journal
Number 15 July 1996