Lv Lttr

Confined to an asylum in 1849, poet John Clare made this curious entry in a notebook:

M Drst Mr Cllngwd

M nrl wrn t & wnt t hr frm Nbd wll wn M r hv m t n prc & wht hv dn D knw wht r n m Dbt — kss’s fr tn yrs & lngr stll & Ingr thn tht whn ppl mk sch mstks s t cll m Gds bstrd & whrs p m b shttng m p frm Gds ppl t f th w f cmmn snse & thn tk m hd ff bcs th cnt fnd m t t hrds hrd

Drst Mr r fthfll r d thnk f m knw wht w sd tgthr — dd vst m n hll sm tm bck bt dnt cm hr gn fr t s ntrs bd plc wrs nd wrs nd w r ll Frnchmn flsh ppl tll m hv gt n hm n ths wrld nd s dnt believe n th thr nrt t mk mslf hvn wth m drst Mr nd sbscrb mslf rs fr vr & vr

Jhn Clr

Decoding it is simple enough — Clare had removed all vowels and the letter Y. Evidently it was the draft of a letter:

My Dearest Mary Collingwood

I am nearly worn out and want to hear from you — Nobody will own me or have me at any price and what have I done — Do you know what you are in my Debt — kisses for ten years and longer still and longer than that — when people make such mistakes as to call me God’s bastard and whores pay me by shutting me up from God’s people out of the way of common sense and then take my head off because they can’t find me — it out-Herods Herod.

Dearest Mary are you faithful or do you think of me — you know what we said together — you did visit me in hell sometime back but don’t come here again for it is a notorious bad place worse and worse and we are all turned Frenchmen — foolish people tell me I have got no home in this world and as I don’t believe in the other [? undertake] to make myself heaven with my dearest Mary and subscribe myself yours for ever and ever

John Clare

I almost offered this as a puzzle, but it’s too sad. “This is among the most disturbing letters that Clare ever wrote,” notes biographer Jonathan Bate. “It takes us inside his head during a phase of derangement. Even once one has broken the code, it is impossible to decipher the sub-text, especially as we know nothing about the identity of Mary Collingwood beyond the fact that in another of his lists Clare identified her as a Northampton girl.”