© Eric Robinson & Roger Rowe
John Clare's Will
No will was probated on Clare's death. This was hardly surprising, given his long incarceration in the asylum. Back in 1824-5 however, when his health had been poor and his depression led him to think that he would not live for long, he had shown considerable concern for the wording of his will. All that survives from his deliberations are various comments in his Journal and letters, together with an undated draft testament.
Clare began thinking about writing a will in the summer after his first book was published. The following winter he wrote to John Taylor, his publisher: 'When you write me again I want some instructions respecting making a will as life is unscertain -- I intend to leave my parents 5s a week of the funded money and patty the rest with an eaqual share of what comes from the publications till she remains a widow and then it drops to the child -- if I dont make a will she gets all & I shall be d---d mad at that I assure you so gi's your opinion sometime'. To modern ears, it sounds as if he wasn't feeling especially well disposed towards Patty at this time, but that is certainly far from the truth.
Clare's Journal for October and November 1824 reveals that he made at least three draft wills during this period. The undated surviving draft is almost certainly one of these. In it, Clare left ten pounds to his sister Sophia, an income of four shillings a week to his parents 'out of the Copy right of my works' and any residual income from his works to his children. As for the annuity that had been purchased with the capital put forward by his noble patrons, 'the £16 interest from the 4 per Cents is to be paid to my family as usual and the Principal divided amongst the Childern at the youngest's coming of age, though my wife is to have the benefit of the interest not only to bring up the childern but so long as she continues unmarried'.
It was in order to protect the interests of the children that Patty was only to receive the interest and not the principle (or indeed her husband's copyright). The Married Woman's Property Act lay in the future, so anything transferred to Patty would, in the event of her remarriage, have automatically passed to a new husband.
The draft will also expressed the wish 'that my friend John Taylor should be the Editor of my Remains and that all my writings be submitted to him'. Clare noted in his 1824 Journal that he had nominated as his executors the Reverend Charles Mossop, his friend Artis and his publisher Hessey. 'All monies arising from book profits etc' were to be left 'in their trust'.
In the spring of 1825, Clare returned to the question of his estate. He was dissatisfied with the wording of the will that had been drawn up for him by a local lawyer. He sent a new draft will to Lord Radstock in London. Radstock showed it to Eliza Emmerson. She told Clare that 'several parts appeared to me too indefinite'. It happened that on the very evening Radstock came round with the will her lawyer friend Mr Clutterbuck -- whom Clare had met when visiting London -- was dining with her. She took the liberty of showing him the will.
Clutterbuck made pencil alterations in relation to various legal matters and reworded it in 'proper legal form'. Emmerson sent a Clare a copy -- he would only have to send it back with any alterations he wished to make -- and she would arrange for the formal signing. She applauded Clare for 'the honorable and affectionate manner in which you have in the event of your decease, disposed of your nobly-earned property'.
But she was very concerned about the fate of Clare's unpublished manuscripts: the will proposed that they should be sold after his death. She informed Clare that she wanted to publish both sides of their correspondence, at her own expense and for the financial benefit of his family. If Clare died first, she would take the arrangements in hand. If she died first and her husband outlived Clare, he would do so. Thomas Emmerson outlived his wife, but seems to have destroyed Clare's letters to her. By not publishing them, he deprived us of what was undoubtedly the most intimate account of Clare's emotional life.
Eliza thought it would be unwise to sell Clare's manuscripts. She thought that it would be better for publication rights to remain in the hands of his executors: 'Do you mean your Memoirs, Essays, and the Natural History of Helpstone, with all the letters and MSS in your possession to be sold? If so, your Executors can have no power as to their publication afterwards.' She also cited a passage from the draft will sent to Radstock. Clare had written, 'I give the M.S.S. copy of the Village Minstrel with other Poems to ...' Emmerson queried, 'do you mean the selection that forms the 2 Vols -- or the Whole body of M.S.S. poems, from which the Work is selected? This is a delicate question for me to put -- but I have a serious motive for asking it -- for the insertion of "other MSS. Poems in the possession etc. etc." might be mistaken hereafter for all other M.S.S. Poems in the possession of T[aylor] & H[essey]." She suggested that the passage should be reworded to make the distinction clear. Was it a delicate question for her to ask because she was the intended recipient of The Village Minstrel manuscript? Was Clare giving away a memento of his published work or a whole body of related manuscripts that might yield material for future publication?
Two months later, Emmerson wrote to thank Clare for sending back the will as revised by Clutterbuck and further amended by the poet himself. His principal alteration seems to have been the reinsertion of the names of Taylor and Hessey as the intended publishers of his posthumous works. Emmerson replied that, given their failure to publish his Shepherd's Calendar (it had been languishing with them for well over a year, and wouldn't appear for another two years), he should not entrust his affairs to the firm -- which was indeed in considerable financial difficulty at this time. 'If you nominate your publishers in your will -- your Executors could have no control over your M.S.S. property.' The best course of action would be to give the choice of a future publisher to his executors, who would of course favour Taylor and Hessey provided the latter were disposed to act 'fairly and liberally'. The executors would have the best interests of Clare's family at heart. They should be men not involved in publishing: she suggested Lord Radstock, her own husband and Clare's friend Artis.
She pursued the matter in her next letter:
I like far best, that your MSS etc. should not be sold, but continue under the direction of yr Executors, to be published at 'half profits' the third of which I should advise you to allow to your dear wife, in the event of her marrying again -- for, it would be as much as you could injustice afford to allow for your property -- as the poor children should be chiefly taken care of in such an event as a second marriage.
Emmerson applied considerable pressure to persuade Clare to accept this arrangement. She told him it was 'the most serious and essential' aspect of his affairs and that both Lord Radstock and Mr Emmerson strongly commend her proposal. He must make a 'final answer'. (ln this letter Emmerson also thanked Clare for including in the will mention of the silver christening cup that she had given his daughter Eliza Louisa, her god-daughter, and she asked what was to become of his copy of Young's Night Thoughts -- a book most dear to her heart, because it was the first that she had sent him.)
Clare returned the will to Emmerson on 3 July 1825, in a form ready for signature. Emmerson was not a woman to back down without protest in the matter of the competition for patronage of Clare between her and Radstock on the one side and Taylor and Hessey on the other. It may therefore be inferred that Clare accepted all her suggestions, especially the crucial one about the right to publish the manuscripts remaining in the hands of his executors. Clutterbuck was out of town for the summer, but by the beginning of September Emmerson had the will legally signed. She said that she would bring it down to Clare when visiting him later that month.
Clare wrote in his journal on 12 November 1824: 'I mean to leave every thing both in the copy right and fund money etc etc of all my Books M.S.S. and property in the power of my family at le[a]st in the trust of those I shall nominate trustees.' Correspondence of 1850 between Clare's son Charles and William Knight concerning possible publication of the later poetry reveals that his family shared the assumption that power of publication belonged to Clare's trustees. Assuming that Emmerson's recommendations were incorporated into Clare's final will, the intention remained the same for posthumous publication: power would belong to his legal representatives.
© Eric Robinson & Roger Rowe
© Eric Robinson & Roger Rowe