The Bard of Totham

The Totham 1821 Symposium, organised by James Bettley, will take place this November. We will contribute to it (sadly from afar), and it has already got us thinking about the reputation of Charles Clark in his own time and his status as a literary figure as well as a printer and collector. Its easy at times to forget that Clark – who achieved renown for his printing specimens and his book-collecting activities and whom we associate so much with letter-writing – was an active poet who was called upon to produce second and sometimes even third editions of his works to satisfy the local and the London market. He was very definitely a part of what was undoubtedly a very active and important local literary and cultural circle that included the artist Miss Ann Hayter, the Rev. Thomas Foote Gower and others, and Clark liked to circulate his poems, ballads, and broadsides amongst his literary friends at the same time as he was selling his works through the shop of his friend John Russell Smith in Soho. And though his works are of dubious literary quality (Clark’s interest in punning and in dialect sometimes make for tedious reading), they seem to have sold well. His ballad “John Noakes and Mary Styles” was especially popular, and it was advertised in John Russell Smith’s circular and sold in his shop.

His works also attracted some extremely positive reviews and some acclaim from admirers. Clark himself printed the following poem written in praise of his work by John Hollamby (the so-called “Unlettered Muse”), a Sussex poet much admired in turn by Clark and with whom Clark corresponded. Clark also printed some of Hollamby’s works and he certainly liked to collect his verse. Clark apparently could not resist printing the poem which Hollamby had written in 1842:

The Bard of Totham

FAIN would my humble muse attempt to sing

The Totham Bard ; for – unlike Byron – he

Does not despisre the humbler “sons of song;” –

While to his pen old Tiptree owes its fame,

And Epsom is indebted for renown.

“John Noakes and Mary Styles” will long be read, –

And will to ages yet unborn transmit,

In purity, the Essex Dialect. –

Though he, at pleasure, can his page adorn

With mirth-inspiring puns, and sparkling wit, –

And though his playful muse can well describe,

In the quaint phrase of drollery and fun,

The Horse-Race or the Fair, – yet is his mind

Attuned to feeling and to serious thought ;

For he will often pay the tribute due

To worth departed, or sing of “Sylvan Shades.”


J[ohn] H[ollamby]

Hailsham, Sussex, December, 1842.

Though none of their letters survive, Hollamby and Clark seem to have been regular correspondents, and Clark continued to write to and receive letters from John’s son Edward after his death; some of those letters, as well as a praise-poem by Edward, are preserved at East Sussex Record Office.


Clark's print of Hollamby's poem in his honour

Clark’s print of Hollamby’s poem in his honour

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