Batts by John Clare

I know not how batts propagate I have heard it asserted that they breed like mice but when I was a boy I was foolish enough to suppose they laid eggs like other birds & have often sought vainly to find them I remember there was an old ash tree in the Lordship with a woodpeckers hole in it of long standing a wryneck generally laid in it yearly & one year I swarmed up it to take the nest & on putting my hand into the hole I felt something different to what I usually met with so I hastily pulld it out when to my astonishment a multitude of batts followd in quick succession to the count of 20 or 30 I had not the hardihood to venture my hand into the hole again to satisfye my curiosity wether there was eggs in it but retreated down the tree as fast as I coud so it still remaind a mystery Batts are pleasing objects in the summer eves we usd to pull oft’ our hats when boys & keep bawling out ‘Bat bat come under my hat & I will give you a slice of bacon’ upon what superstitious notion it is founded I know not they hide in charnel vaults in steeples & old empty houses or barns it will steal its way into dairies were it feeds on the milk bacon or cheese like a mouse Collins in his delicious Ode to evening mentions it beautifully that I shall not venture to hunt up ‘other extracts to keep it company Now air is hushed save were the weak-eyd bat With short shrill shriek flits by on leatherback wing


NPG 1469; John Clare by William Hilton
by William Hilton, oil on canvas, 1820