London: Taylor and Hessey, Fleet Street; and E. Drury, Stamford, 1821. Two twelvemo volumes bound in a single volume, modern dark green calf over marbled paper boards, raised bands, spine compartments ruled in gilt, brown morocco spine label lettered in gilt, endpapers renewed. Engraved frontispiece portrait of Clare in Volume I; Volume II bound without title page and first page of table of contents. Ink ownership signatures of Fenwick Skrimshire to title of Volume I and half-title of Volume II. Light foxing.
First edition of “peasant poet” John Clare's second book, following the surprise success of Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery in 1820. A Northamptonshire farm laborer whose personal struggles were compounded by mental illness, Clare produced hundreds of closely observed lyrics that remain startling in their immediacy and detail: “Bees in every peep did try, / Great had been the honey shower, / Soon their load was on their thigh, / Yellow dust as fine as flour.” This copy bears the ownership signature of Clare's sympathetic longtime doctor, Fenwick Skrimshire, who first treated Clare in 1820, and eventually admitted him to the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where Clare spent his final years, still writing: “He lives the Crusoe of his lonely fields / Which dark green oaks his noontide leisure shields." When Skrimshire and Clare arrived at the asylum, the doctor described Clare's madness as hereditary; asked if it had been “preceded by any severe or long continued mental emotion or exertion,” Skrimshire noted: “after years addicted to Poetical prosing” (Bate, 5). Skrimshire's copy of The Village Minstrel is accompanied here by a first edition of his own 1838 treatise, The Village Pastor's Surgical and Medical Guide, in which he advises on the treatment of the insane: “the friend who can command a firm authoritative manner, and whilst looking the patient steadfastly in the face, will seize his arm, and lead him resolutely back to his bed, need not dread his violence.” A near-fine copy, with a moving association.