Love and Madness
The Same to the Same. 7 Feb. 1779
7 Feb. 1779.
While I live I will never forget your behaviour yesterday. Were I to live an hundred years, I could never thank you enough. But, you shall govern.
The task which you have set me about Chatterton,<16> is only a further proof of your regard for me. You know the warmth of my passions; and you think that if I do not employ myself, they may flame out, and consume me. Well, then, I will spend a morning or two in arranging what I have collected respecting the author of Rowley's poems. Every syllable which you will read, I assure you, shall be authentic.
Did you start at "The author of Rowley's Poems?" My mind does not now harbour a doubt that Chatterton wrote the whole, whatever I thought when we read them together at Hinchinbrook. The internal evidence of the matter shall not puzzle you: but you shall tell me whether you don't think it easier for Chatterton to have imitated the style of Rowley's age (which he has not done exactly, if you believe those who think as I think), than for Rowley to write in a style which did not exist till so many ages after his time. To suppose him to have found half, and to have added to them; or to consider him as a cat's-paw in the business to some contemporary Rowley, in order to extricate a fictitious Rowley, from oblivion, would in my humble opinion be nonsense. For my own part, though he might find some old manuscripts, I cannot believe that he found a syllable which he has attributed to Rowley. Who will engage to prove, from internal evidence, the antiquity of amy one of Rowley's compositions? What he did find, certainly suggested to him the idea of pretending to have found more; but how shall we persuade credulity to believe, that all Rowley's poems were copied from old manuscripts, when the only manuscripts produced in confirmation of the story are indisputably proved to be modern? Is any one fool enough to believe, that Chatterton was only the blind subterraneous channel, through which these things were to emerge to day, and float for ever down the stream of fame. This (without mentioning other objections to such a ridiculous belief) were to suppose two people to determine on the same strange conduct, and two people (the real and the foster father) to keep with equal fidelity the same secret: and would the foster-father have been as fond and careful of another's secret, as of the offspring of his own invention?
It is not clear to me that Chatterton's life (if such a scrap of existence can be called a life) does not exhibit circumstances still more extraordinary, if possible, than his being the author of Rowley's poems. But I possess not the abilities which Johnson displayed in his famous Life of Savage: nor is this a normal life of Chatterton; though such a thing might well employ even the pen of Johnson. This is only an idle letter to my dear Martha. —Oh, my Martha, you, who contributed so liberally, last year, to extricate from distress the abilities of a —; what would you not have done for a Chatterton!
Thomas Chatterton, destined to puzzle at least, if not to impose upon, some of the ablest critics and antiquarians which the polished age of England has produced, was born at Bristol, Nov. 20, 1752. His father had been master of the free-school in Pile Street in that city, and was sexton of St. Mary Redcliffe church. History condescends not to relate anything more of such an ignoble family, than that they had been sextons of the same church for near a century and a half.
It seems to have been determined by Fortune, that this poor lad, I ought rather to say, this extraordinary human being, should have no obligation but to genius and to himself. His father, as he was a schoolmaster, and is reported to have been a tolerable poet for a sexton, might perhaps have given his son a free school education, had he lived to see him old enough for instruction. But the sexton died very soon after, if not before, the birth of his son; who indisputably received no other education than what he picked up at a charity-school at a place called St. Augustine's Back in Bristol. Reading, writing, and accounts, composed the whole circle of sciences which were taught at this university of our Bristol Shakespeare.
On the 1st of July, 1767, he was articled clerk to an attorney of Bristol, whom I have not been able to find out. From him, I understand, has been procured a strange, mad manuscript of Chatterton, which he called his will.
When the new bridge at Bristol was finished, there appeared, in Farly's Bristol Journal, an account of the ceremonies on opening the old bridge (the piece is prefixed to the volume of Chatterton's Miscellanies), preceded by these words:—"To the Printer. Oct. 1, 1768. The following "description of the friars' first passing over the old bridge, taken from an old MS. may not at this time be unacceptable to the generality of your readers. Your's, Dunhelmus Bristoliensis." Curiosity at last traced the insertion of this curious memoir to Chatterton. To the threats of those who treated him (agreeably to his age and appearance) as a child, he returned nothing but haughtiness, and a refusal to give any account. To milder usage and many promises the boy, after some time, confessed that he had received that and other MSS. from his father, which he had found in an iron chest placed by William Canynge (the founder of the church of which C's family had so long been sextons) in a muniment room over the northern portico of St. Mary Redcliffe. Warton (in his History of English Poetry) says, that when this appeared, he was about seventeen. Days are more material in C's life than years in the lives of others. He wanted, you see, something ofsSixteen. One fact is curious, that, though it was not possible for him to have picked up Latin at a charity-school where Latin was not taught, his note to the printer has, for no apparent reason, a Latin signature, Dunhelmus Bristoliensis. This Latin certainly was not Rowley's. It must have been C's. The memoir procured C. the acquaintance of some gentlemen of Bristol, who, because they condescended to receive from him the compositions which he brought them, without giving him much, if anything, in return, fondly imagined themselves the patrons of genius. Mr. Catcott and Mr. Barrett, a pewterer and a surgeon, of his obligations to whom you will see him speak in his letters, were his principal, if not his only patrons. To these gentlemen he produced, between Oct. 1768, and April 1770 (besides many things which he confessed to be his own, and many which, in the interval, appeared in the Town and Country Magazine), all Rowley's poems, except the "Ballad of Charitie." Of these only two, I think, and those the shortest, he pretended to be the original MSS. The rest were transcripts, in his own hand; of some of which he acknowledged himself the author. Concerning these curiosities no distinct or satisfactory account, by friend or enemy, by threat or promise, could ever be drawn from him. For these curiosities how much he received from his Bristol patrons does not appear. His patrons do not boast of their generosity to him. They (Catcott at least) received no inconsiderable sum for Rowley's poems; nor has the sale of them turned out badly. In consequence of the money got by poems which Chatterton certainly brought to light, which I firmly believe C. to have written, his mother acknowledges to have received the immense surn of five guineas, by the hands of Mr. Catcott; and Mr. Barrett, without fee or reward, cured the whitlowed finger of the sister. Talk no more of the neglect of genius in any age or country, when, in this age and country, Rowley's poems have produced such fortunes to the author and his family. Should I ever appear in print on this subject, I would publicly call upon the gentlemen concerned in this transaction, to state their accounts.
Has not the world a right to know what Catcott fairly bought of Chatterton (he does not pretend to have bought all), and what was the fair purchase-money of these inestimable treasures? Let us know what the editors of Rowley's poems gave and received for them, and what the sale of them has produced. Is the son to be declared guilty of forgery? Are his forgeries to be converted into (I believe, no inconsiderable sums of) money? And is the mother and sister's share to be five guineas?
Either mean envy of C's extraordinary genius, or manly abhorrence of his detestable death, leads almost every person, who talks or writes about this boy, to tell you of his shocking profligacy and his total want of principle. One antiquarian of Cambridge has gone so far as to tell those of whom he has made inquiries concerning him, that his death was of little consequence, since he could not long have escaped hanging: C. never did anything which merited hanging, so much as it is merited by him who can dare to advance such an uncharitable assertion without a shadow of probability. Who knows but this venerable seer, in his next vision, may choose to discover that I shall live to be hanged; may see your H. gibbeted in perspective; because my indignation rescues such a villain as poor Chatterton from his monkish bigotry?
When C. left this world, in August 1770, he wanted as many months as intervene between August and November to complete his 18th year. If into so small a space he had contrived to crowd much profligacy and much want of principle, some perhaps may be ascribed to his youth, and some to want of friends. Johnson, I remember, defends even the life of Savage, which differed from Chatterton's in more circumstances than its length, by some such observation as this; that the sons of affluence are improper judges of his conduct, and that few wise men will venture to affirm they should have lived better than Savage in Savage's situation. Do profligate and unprincipled, some of the tenderest epithets vouchsafed poor Chatterton, mean dishonest or undutiful, an unkind brother or an unfeeling child? The dullest enemies of his genius can produce no proofs of any such crime. Some papers, which I shall send you, will contain the fullest proof of the contrary. Do they mean that, being a young man, he was addicted to women; that, being a youth of such an imagination, he was addicted to women, like all youths of strong imaginations? Do the epithets mean that he exhibited those damnable proofs of his crimes which the civilising Bougainville exported into the country of Omiah?<45> The proofs (if there were any, which his bedfellow at his first lodging in town denies) only show that he was unlucky. The crimes must be admitted. Do they mean that, writing to procure bread for himself, his mother and his sister, he wrote on any side, and on any subject, which would afford bread? The crime must perhaps be admitted. Yet, let not older men, who may possibly themselves, in this sense of the words, be a little unprincipled, a little profligate, head the advanced guard of veterans who are to attack this infant Hercules in his cradle. And let it be remembered, that, in the Memoirs of a Sad Dog, signed Harry Wildfire, inserted in the Town and Country Magazine, where Chatterton evidently sat to his own pencil for two or three features, there is this passage:
"As I know the art of Curlism<46> pretty well, I make a tolerable hand of it. But, Mr. Printer, the late prosecution against the booksellers having frightened them all out of their patriotism, I am necessitated either to write for the entertainment of the public, or in defence of the ministry. As I have some little remains of conscience, the latter is not very agreeable. Political writing of either side is of little service to the entertainment or instruction of the reader. Abuse and scurrility are generally the chief figures in the language of party. I am not of the opinion of those authors, who deem every man in place a rascal, and every man out of place a patriot."
In the preface to Chatterton's Miscellanies, we are even assured that "his profligacy was at least as conspicuous as his abilities," p. 18. Indeed! Then do I believe he was the most profligate mortal of his age (I had almost said, of any age) that ever existed. The Admirable Crichton (Adventurer, No. 81) bears no comparison with C. either as to the forwardness or the greatness of his abilities; still less in point of education, for he studied at St. Andrew's in Scotland till he was above three years older than C. was at the time of his death.
The insinuations thrown out by the editor of Chatterton's Miscellanies, and even by Mr. Warton perhaps against the elegant writer at Strawberry-hill, are certainly not founded. To impute Chatterton's death, in 1770, to the person, who, in 1768, refused to believe that some of his compositions had been written 300 years before, were to treat others still more uncharitably, if it be possible, than Chatterton has been treated. Mr. Walpole is by no means blameable for the life or the death of Chatterton.<47>.
Has the reverend Mr. Thomas Warton anything to urge against the vanity or the presumption of this poor boy? He should surely have remembered what the Reverend Dr. Joseph Warton thought proper to tell the world of almost all his brother's writings, and even of his own "Ode to Fancy."<48>
Let me now make you acquainted with the indisputable history of this boy till he left Bristol. As he says, in his Story of Canynge,
In all his sheepen gambols, and child's play,
At every merry-making, fair, or wake,
I kenn a purpled sight of wisdom's ray.
He ate down learning with the wastle cake.
As wise as any of the aldermen,
He'd wit enough to make a mayor at ten.
Beattie has hardly been able to invent a more striking picture of his minstrel, than is exhibited of Chatterton in a letter written by his sister, last year, to a gentleman who desired her to recollect every circumstance concerning him, however trifling it might seem to her. The letter is lent to me, with many charges of care. Pray be careful of it. In transcribing it, you will naturally preserve the false spellings and stops. Let Chatterton's sister tell her own story in her own way. Sir Horace Warpool, for Mr. H. Walpole, &c., stamps authenticity on her artless tale. The anxiety shown in this letter, to prove that "he was a lover of truth from the earliest dawn of reason" is owing to what these two poor women (the mother and sister) have heard about deceit, impostor, and forgery. For Chatterton's sake, the English language should add another word to its dictionary; and should not suffer the same term to signify a crime for which a man suffers the most ignominious punishment, and the deception of ascribing a false antiquity of two or three centuries to compositions for which the author's name deserves to live for ever. Suffer me to ask, what the prudery of our critics would have said, had the Song to Ælla, or the chorus to Godwin, been produced by Mr. Warton's nephew, or by a relation of Mr. Walpole? Should we then have been stunned in this manner with repetitions of impostor and forgery? The sins of the forgery and the impostor would then have been boasted by the child's most distant relations. Is Lady A. L. accused of forgery for her Auld Robin Gray? Is Macpherson's<11> name mentioned in the same sentence with this unfeeling word forgery, even by those who believe Macpherson and Ossian to be the same. "When a rich man speaketh," says the son of Sirach, "every man holdeth his tongue: and lo! what he says is extolled to the clouds: but if a poor man speak, they say, "What fellow is this?"<49>—For the same reason the letter is careful to mention the copy-book covers, which Chatterton told Catcott, &c. were, many of them, Rowley's manuscripts. But you will recollect that the father, by whom these manuscripts are said to have been cut up for this purpose, was himself a bit of a poet.
A gentleman, who saw these two women last year, declares that he will not be sure they might not easily have been made to believe that injured Justice demanded their lives at Tyburn, for being the mother and sister of him who was suspected to have forged the poems of Rowley. Such terror had the humanity of certain curious inquirers impressed upon their minds, by worrying them to declare the truth, and nothing but the truth, about the forgery. Strange-fated Chatterton! Hadst thou possessed fewer and less eminent abilities, the world would now give thee credit for more and for greater abilities.
With regard to the fact, the mother and sister either believe, or pretend to believe, with the pewterer, that all Rowley's poems came out of the old chest in the church. The case is, none of the three knows anything of the matter. Most readily I admit that, if Chatterton be an impostor (i.e. the wonderful human being I firmly believe him), he imposed upon every soul who knew him. This, with me, is one trait of his greatness.
It has been thought that murders and other crimes are pointed out to discovery by the finger of Providence. But "God's revenge against murder" is, in fact, only the sociableness of man's disposition. That we may have been wisely made thus for this purpose, among others, I do not deny. But Tyburn would see fewer executions were man a less sociable animal. It is not good for him to be alone. Joy or sorrow, villainy or otherwise; we must have society, we must communicate it. Man, in spite of grammar, is a noun adjective. Does any one admire Junius<27> for saying that his secret should die with him, and for hitherto keeping his word? But this was only saying, he would not enlarge the circle of those to whom his secret was already known; for, that he was, as he says, "the sole depositary of his own secret," I cannot think. The original letters were clearly written in a female hand.
Let any man, at any time of life, make an experiment of not communicating to a single individual, during twelve months, a single scheme, a single prospect, a single circumstance respecting himself. Let him try how it is to lock up everything, trifling or serious, sad or merry, within his own solitary breast. There are easier tasks.—This boy did it during his whole life.
Very few such men as John the Painter<50> have appeared in the world, from whom his secret was only stolen by the traitorous hand of friendship. No such human being as this boy, at any period of life, has ever been known, or possibly ever will be known. The Spartan lad was far inferior, and that was the effect of education. Psalmanazar<51> and D'Eon<52> are not to be compared with him. That, at his timid and sociable age, when other children are almost afraid to be left alone, Chatterton should wrap his arms round him, stand aloof from the whole world, and never lean upon a single individual for society in his schemes, is with me almost more wonderful than the schemes which I firmly believe him, without any assistance, to have planned and executed. It shall make a trait in the character of a general, if he have strength of mind enough not to communicate his plans to his first favourite, till the communication be no longer dangerous. Shall not a boy of eighteen, of seventeen, of sixteen, have merit for secrecy much more singular?
In this letter, from which I will detain you no longer, you will find his sister mentions some books which she sent him to London. She told me that many of them were in languages and in hands (types she meant), which she did not understand—that they were numerous—and that with them she sent a catalogue of the books he had read, to the amount of many hundreds.
To this I should add, that, when Chatterton tells the story of Astrea Brokage, in a letter to the Town and Country Magazine, dated "Bristol, Jan. 3, 1770,"—at the conclusion, Astrea writes thus:—"Having told you I do not like this uncivilized Bristolian, you may imagine a tendresse for some other has made his faults more conspicuous. You will not be far from the truth. A young author who has read more than Magliabechi,<53> and wrote more love-letters than Ovid, is continually invoking the Nine<54> to describe me."
In one part of the sister's letter, you will not fail to recollect Dryden, who speaks of the alliance between understanding and madness.—I am sure that love and madness are near relations.
"Concious, of my own inability to write to a man of letters. And reluctant to engage in the painful recollection of the particulars of the life of my dear deceased brother, together with the ill state of health I've enjoyed since it has been required of me, are, Sir, the real causes of my not writing sooner. But I am invited to write as to a friend, inspired with the sacred name, I will forget the incorrectness of my epistel and proceed.
My brother very early discovered a thurst for preheminence I remember before he was 5 years old he would always preside over his playmates as their master and they his hired servants. He was dull in learning not knowing many letters at 4 years old and always objected to read in a small book. He learnt the Alphabet from an old Folio musick book of father's my mother was then tearing up for wast paper, the capitals at the beginning of the verses I assisted in teaching him. I recollect nothing remarkable till he went into the school, which was in his 8th year. Except his promising my mother and me a deal of finery when he grew up as a reward of her care. About his 10th year he began (with the trifle my mother allowed him for pocket money) to hire books from the circulating library and we were informed by the usher made rapid progress in arithmetic. Between his 11th and 12th year he wrote a caterlogue of the books he had read to, the number of 70. History and divinity were the chief subjects, his school mates informed us he retired to read at the hours allotted for play. At 12 years old he was confirmed by the Bishop, he made very senciable serious remarks on the awfullness of the ceremony and his own feelings and convictions during it. Soon after this in the week he was door-keeper he made some verses on the last day, I think about 18 lines, paraphrased the 9 chapter of Job and not long after some chapters in Isaiah. He had been gloomy from the time he began to learn, but we remarked he was more chearfull after he began to write poetry. Some saterical peicis we saw soon after. His intimates in the school were but few and they solid lads and except the next neighbour's sons I know of none acquaintance he had out. He was 14 the 20th of Novr. and bound apprentice the 1st of July following. Soon after his apprenticeship he corresponded with one of his school mates that had been his bedfellow, and was I believe bound to a merchhant at New-York. He read a letter at home that he wrote to his friend, a collection of all the hard words in the English language, and requested him to answer it. He was a lover of truth from the earlyest dawn of reason, and nothing would move him so much as being bely'd. When in the school we were informed by the usher, his master depended on his verasity on all occations. Till this time he was remarkably indifferent to females. One day he was remarking to me the tendency sever study had to sour the temper and declared he had always seen all the sex with equal indifference but those that nature made dear, he thought of makeing an acquaintance with a girl in the neighbourhood, supposeing it might soften the austerity of temper study had ocationd, he wrote a poem to her and they commenced corrisponding acquaintance. About this time the parchments belonging to my father that was left of covering his boys books, my brother carried to the office. He would often speak in great raptures of the undoubted success of his plan for future life. He was introduced to Mr. Barret, Mr. Catcot, his ambition increased dayly. His spirits was rather uneven. some times so gloom'd that for many days together he would say very little and that by constraint. At other times exceeding, chearfull. When in spirits he would injoy his rising fame. confident of advancement he would promise my mother and me should be partakers of his success. Mr. Barret lent him many books on surgery and I beleive he bought many more as I remember to have packt them up to send to him when in London and no demand was ever made for them. About this time he wrote several saterical poems, one in the papers on Mr. Catcot's putting the pewter plates in St. Nicholas tower. He began to be universally known among the young men. He had many cap acquaintance but I am confident but few intimates. At about 17, he became acquainted with Mr. Clayfield, distiller in Castle Street, who lent him many books on astronomy. Mr. Cator likewise assisted him with books on that subject. from thence he applyd himself to that study. His hours in the office was from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening. He had little of his masters business to do, sometimes not two hours in a day, which gave him an opportunity to pursue his genius. He boarded at Mr. Lamberts, but we saw him most evenings before 9 o'clock and would in general stay to the limits of his time which was 10. o'clock. He was seldom 2 evenings together without seeing us. I had almost forgot to add, we had heard him frequently say that he found he studied best toward the full of the moon and would often sit up all night and write by moonlight.<55> A few months before he left Bristol he wrote letters to several booksellers in London I believe to learn if there was any probility of his getting an employment there but that I can't affirm as the subject was a secret at home. He wrote one letter to Sir Horace Warpool, and except his corrispondence with Miss Rumsey, the girl I before mentioned, I know of no other. He would frequently walk the colledge green with the young girls that statedly paraded there to shew their finery. But I realy beleive he was no debauchee (tho some have reported it). the dear unhappy boy had faults enough I saw with concern. he was proud and exceedingly impetious but that of venality he could not be justly accused with. Mrs. Lambert informed me not a months before he left Bristol, he had never been once found out of the office in the stated hours as they frequently sent the footman and other servants there to see. Nor but once stayd out till 11 o'clock; then he had leave, as we entertained some friends at our house at Christmas.
Thus Sir have I given you, as before the great searcher of hearts the whole truth as far as my memory have been faithfull the particulars of my dear brother. The task have been painfull, and for want of earlyer recollection much have been nay the greatest part have been lost. My Mother joins with me in best respects which conclude me,
Your very humble servant,
Sept. 22, 1778"
To proceed with some sort of regularity, you will next read the earliest production of Chatterton which I have been able to find. It is transcribed from an old pocket-book in his mother's possession. It appears to be his first, perhaps his only, copy of it; and is evidently his handwriting. By the date he was eleven<56> years and almost five months old. It is not the most extraordinary performance in the world but, from the circumstance of Chatterton's parentage and education, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that he should have met with any assistance or correction; whereas, when we read the ode which Pope wrote at twelve, and another of Cowley at thirteen, we are apt to suspect a parent, friend, or tutor, of an amiable dishonesty, of which we feel, perhaps, that we should be guilty. Suspicions of this nature touch not Chatterton. He knew no tutor, no friend, no parent—at least no parent who could correct or assist him.
This poem appears to have been aimed at somebody, who had formerly been a Methodist, and was lately promoted (to the dignity, perhaps, of opening a pew or a grave; for Chatterton was the sexton's son) in the established church. Satire was his forte, if anything can be called his forte, who excelled in everything he undertook. Catcott has another later poem of Chatterton's, called, I think, "The Exhibition." The church here also supplied his indignation with a subject. But, as the satire is rather severe, and the characters are living, Catcott does not permit it to be copied. He has suffered it to be read, and the three following couplets are in different parts of it. At the same time that the lines are surely not bad, they show that music was one of the many things which Chatterton found means to acquire during the few months he lived. He is known to have been musical. A fact we have upon poetical record only of him and Milton, I believe. They are not lowered in your estimation on this account.
Chatterton's father had a remarkable turn for music. An old female relation says that he talked little, was very absent in company, and used very often to walk by the river side, talking to himself, and flourishing his arms about.
The first and second couplets which I just now mentioned, are in ridicule, the last in praise, of some organist.
Sacred to sleep, in his inverted key,
Dull doleful diapason die away.
Whose jarring humdrum symphonies of flats
Rival the harmony of midnight cats.
He keeps the passions with the sounds in play,
And the soul trembles with the trembling key.
The e in key is, I believe, in the Somersetshire pronunciation, a.
Now, for the poem.
APOSTATE WILL, by T.C.
In days of old, when Wesley's power
Gathered new strength by every hour;
Apostate Will, just sunk in trade,
Resolved his bargain should be made:
Then straight to Wesley he repairs,
And puts on grave and solemn airs,
Then thus the pious man addressed:
"Good Sir, I think your doctrine best;
Your servant will a Wesley be,
Therefore the principles teach me."
The preacher then instruction gave,
How he in this world should behave:
He hears, assents, and gives a nod,
Says every word's the word of God,
Then lifting his dissembling eyes,
"How blessed is the sect!" he cries;
"Nor Bingham, Young, nor Stillingfleet,
Shall make me from this sect retreat."
He then his circumstance declared,
How hardly with him matters fared,
Begged him next morning for to make
A small collection for his sake.
The preacher said, "Do not repine,
The whole collection shall be thine."
With looks demure and cringing bows,
About his business straight he goes
His outward acts were grave and prim,
The Methodist appeared in him;
But, be his outward what it will,
His heart was an apostate's still.
He'd oft profess an hallowed flame
And every where preached Wesley's name;
He was a preacher and what not,
As long as money could be got;
He'd oft profess, with holy fire,
The labourer's worthy of his hire.
It happened once upon a time,
When all his works were in their prime,
A noble place appeared in view;
Then—to the Methodists, adieu.
A Methodist no more he'll be,
The Protestants serve best for he.
Then to the curate Strait he ran,
And thus addressed the rev'rend man:
"I was a Methodist, 'tis true;
With penitence I turn to you.
O that it were your bounteous will
That I the vacant place might fill
With justice I'd myself acquit,
Do everything that's right and fit."
The curate straitway gave consent—
To take the place he quickly went.
Accordingly he took the place,
And keeps it with dissembled grace.
April 14th, 1764.
Though it may not be the next in order of composition, for I shall send you nothing which is already printed, I shall now transcribe for you a poem dated 1769; of which Catcott tells, that, talking one day with Chatterton about happiness, Chatterton said, he had never yet thought on the subject, but that he would. The next day he brought Catcott these lines, and told him they contained his creed of happiness. There can in this be no deceit; for the pewterer produces the poem, and, in the simplicity of his vanity, imagines it to contain a panegyric on himself.
Since Happiness is not ordained for man,
Let's make ourselves as happy as we can;
Possessed with fame or fortune, friend or whore,
But think it Happiness—we want no more.
Hail Revelation! sphere-enveloped dame,
To some divinity, to most a name
Reason's dark-lantern, superstition's sun,
Whose cause mysterious and effect are one—
From thee, ideal bliss we only trace,
Fair as Ambition's dream, or Bounty's face,
But, in reality, as shadowy sound
As teeming truth in twisted mysteries bound.
What little rest from over-anxious care
The Lords of Nature are designed to share,
To wanton whim and prejudice we owe.
Opinion is the only God we know.
Where's the foundation of religion placed?
On every individual's fickle taste.
The narrow way the priest-rid mortals tread,
By superstitious prejudice misled—
This passage leads to Heaven—yet, strange to tell!
Another's conscience finds it leads to Hell
Conscience, the soul-chameleon's varying hue,
Reflects all notions, to no notion true.—
The bloody son of Jesse, when he saw
That mystic priesthood kept the Jews in awe,
He made himself an ephod to his mind,
And fought the Lord, and always found him kind
In murder, **, cruelty, and lust,
The Lord was with him, and his actions just
Priestcraft, thou universal blind of all,
Thou idol, at whose sect whole nations fall,
Father of misery, origin of sin,
Whose first existence did with fear begin;
Still sparing deal thy seeming blessings out,
Veil thy Elysium with a cloud of doubt—
Since present blessings in possession cloy,
Bid hope in future worlds expect the joy—
Or, if thy sons the airy phantoms slight,
And dawning Reason would direct them right,
Some glittering trifle to their optics hold;
Perhaps they'll think the glaring spangle gold,
And, madded in the search of coins and toys,
Eager pursue the momentary joys.
Catcott<57> is very fond of talk and fame;
His wish a perpetuity of name;
Which to procure, a pewter altar's made,
To bear his name, and signify his trade,
In pomp burlesqued the rising spire to head,
To tell futurity a pewterer's dead.
Incomparable Catcott, still pursue
The seeming happiness thou hast in view:
Unfinished chimneys, gaping spires complete,
Eternal fame on oval dishes beat;
Ride four-inched bridges,<58> clouded turrets climb,
And bravely die—to live in after-time.
Horrid idea! if on rolls of fame
The twentieth century only find thy name.
Unnoticed this in prose or ****
He left his dinner to ascend the tower.
Then, what avails thy anxious spitting pain?
Thy laugh-provoking labours are in vain.
On matrimonial pewter set thy hand;
Hammer with every power thou canst command;
Stamp thy whole soul, original as 'tis,
To propagate thy whimsies' name and phys—
Then when the tottering spires or chimneys fall,
A Catcott shall remain, admired by all.
Endo, who has some trifling couplets writ,
Is only happy when he's thought a wit—
Thinks I've more judgement than the whole Reviews,
Because I always compliment his Muse.
If any mildly would reprove his faults,
They're critics envy-sickened at his thoughts.
To me he flies, his best-beloved friend,
Reads me asleep, then wakes me to commend.
Say, sages—if not sleep-charmed by the rhyme,
Is flattery, much-loved flattery, any crime?
Shall dragon Satire exercise his sting,
And not insinuating Flattery sing?
Is it more natural to torment than please?
How ill that thought with rectitude agrees!
Come to my pen, companion of the lay,
And speak of worth where merit * *
Let lazy Barton undistinguished snore,
Nor lash his generosity to Hoare;
Praise him for sermons of his curate bought,
His easy flow of words, his depth of thought;
His active spirit, ever in display,
His great devotion when he drawls to pray;
His sainted soul distinguishably seen,
With all the virtues of a modern Dean.
Varo, a genius of peculiar taste,
His misery in his happiness has placed;
When in soft calm the waves of Fortune roll,
A tempest of reflection storms the soul
But what would make another man distressed,
Gives him tranquillity and thoughtless rest:
No disappointment can his thoughts invade,
Superior to all troubles not self-made—
This character let grey Oxonians scan,<59>
And tell me of what species he's a man.
Or be it by young Yeatman criticized,
Who damns good English, if not Latinized<60>
In Aristotle's scale the Muse he weighs,
And damps her little fire with copied lays;
Versed in the mystic learning of the schools,
He rings bob-majors by Leibnitzian rules.
Pulvis, whose knowledge centres in degrees,
Is never happy but when taking fees:
Blessed with a bushy wig and solemn pace,
Catcott admires him for a fossile face.
When first his face of countenance began,
Ere the soft down had marked him almost man,
A solemn dullness occupied his eyes,
And the fond mother thought him wondrous wise:
—But little had she read in Nature's book,
For fools assume a philosophic look.
O Education, ever in the wrong,
To thee the curses of mankind belong
Thou first great author of our future state,
Chief source of our religion, passions, fate:
On every atom of the Doctor's frame
Nature has stamped the pedant with his name
But thou hast made him (ever wast thou blind),
A licensed butcher of the human kind.
—Mould'ring in dust the fair Lavinia lies;
Death and our Doctor closed her sparkling eyes.
O all ye Powers, the guardians of the world!
Where is the useless bolt of vengeance hurled?
Say, shall this leaden sword of plague prevail,
And kill the mighty where the mighty fail!
Let the red bolus tremble o'er his head,
And with his guardian julep strike him dead!
But to return—in this wide sea of thought,
How thanshall we steer our notions as we ought?
Content is happiness, as sages say—
But what's content? The trifle of a day.
Then, friend, let inclination be thy guide,
Nor be thy superstition led aside.<61>
It is possible, I trust, to admire the lines, without approving the doctrine which they lay down. Wiser men than Chatterton, and older men than he was in 1769, have been sufficiently lost to conviction to maintain such doctrine: and which, I would ask, is more culpable; he who goes astray when he has been directed right, or he who loses his way when none has had the charity to point it out to him? Again—This boy's religious principles were abominable. Agreed. Whence did he get them? Did nature implant them with the seeds of life? Certainly not. They must have been ingrafted, transplanted. Go, then, to the authors of those books from which he must have transplanted those poisonous weeds. There the axe will fall with justice.
His sacred Muse (for this profligate boy had one) sometimes took less exceptionable flights. The original of what follows is in his mother's possession.
O God, whose thunder shakes the sky;
Whose eye this atom globe surveys;
To thee, my only rock, I fly,
Thy mercy in thy justice praise.
The mystic mazes of thy will,
The shadows of celestial light,
Are past the power of human skill,—
But what th' Eternal acts is right.
O teach me in the trying hour,
When anguish swells the dewy tear,
To still my sorrows, own thy power,
Thy goodness love, thy justice fear.
If in this bosom aught but Thee
Incroaching sought a boundless sway,
Omniscience could the danger see,
And Mercy took the cause away.
Then why, my soul, dost thou complain?
Why drooping seek the dark recess?
Shake off the melancholy chain,
For God created all to bless.
But ah! my breast is human still;
The rising sigh, the falling tear,
My languid vitals' feeble will
The sickness of my soul declare.
But yet, with fortitude resigned,
I'll thank th'inflicter of the blow;
Forbid the sigh, compose my mind,
Nor let the gush of misery flow.
The gloomy mantle of the night,
Which on my sinking spirit steals,
Will vanish at the morning light,
Which God, my East, my Sun, reveals.
Chatterton remained in the attorney's office, at Bristol, till April, 1770. The life he led there, you may collect from Mrs. Newton's letter. In addition to that, she and her mother relate, that his Sundays were generally spent in walking alone, into the country round Bristol, as far as the day would allow him time to return before night. From these excursions he never failed to bring home with him drawings of churches, or of something which had struck him. That he had a turn for drawing, you will see by the figure of a warrior (perhaps Ælla) presenting a church on his knee, which shall accompany this letter (and your are now a judge of drawing, you know): it was one of his first attempts. There are, I believe, better specimens of his ingenuity in this art. That he improved, is evident from his sketch for Beckford's statue, after he came to town, of which an engraving is prefixed to his Miscellanies, and which was thought worthy to be engraved for the Town and Country Magazine of the month in which he died.
But any single, self-acquired accomplishment ceases to surprise, when we recollect his other acquisitions of heraldry, architecture, music, astronomy, surgery, &c. Our surprise has been long since called forth. Had Chatterton, without any instruction but reading, writing, and accounts, before he was 18, arrived at the ability of only putting together, in prose or in verse, something which was deemed worth insertion in the most worthless magazine, it would have been surprising. What master would not be astonished to discover such a talent in a servant (grown grey in the acquisition of it) who had only learnt to read and write? Stephen Duck<62> and others have been lifted to independence, to wealth, for little more. Yet, even the thresher had a friend and instructor—without whom, says Polymetis Spence, "Stephen must have been placed in the same class with Hai Ebn Yokdhan,<63> and the young Hermes in Ramsay's Cyrus; the story of whose improvements, without any assistance, agrees only with romances."—Spence did not live to know Chatterton. But, we may infer, from his lives of Magliabechi and Hill, that he lived to change his opinion about romances. The author of our existence can alone determine to what he has made his creatures equal.
That Chatterton should acquire particular things, without instruction, is not singular, since it was with him a favourite maxim, that man was equal to anything, and that everything might be acquired by diligence and abstinence. Was a story of this sort mentioned in his hearing? All boy as he was, he would only observe, that the person in question merited praise; but that "God had sent his creatures into the world with arms long enough to reach anything, if they would be at the trouble of extending them." This idea he could not but feel confirmed by what he knew of a Mr. Burgum (I think), Mr. Catcott's partner, who taught himself Latin and Greek.
Yet this very Catcott tells us (Monthly Review, May, 1,777) that, "to his certain knowledge, Chatterton" (who, you remember, in 1768, used a Latin signature to the newspaper) "understood no language but his mother tongue." On what was this certain knowledge founded? It must rest, ultimately, upon this, that Chatterton had never told him he did, had perhaps told him he did not, understand any other language. With as much certainty of knowledge the same assertion might have been advanced of Mr. Burgum, before his acquisitions in languages were known to Mr. Catcott. With as much certainty of knowledge, and more appearance of truth, a pewterer of Schwabach might have assured the world, that Barretier (Fugitive Pieces, printed for Davies, vol. i. 141.) was not, at nine years of age, master of five languages, and did not, in his eleventh year, publish a learned letter in Latin, and a translation of a Hebrew book into French; nor add to it, in one month, notes that contain, it is said, so many curious remarks and inquiries out of the common road of learning, and afford so many instances of penetration, judgement, and accuracy, that the reader finds in every page some reason to persuade him they cannot possibly be the work of a child; but of a man long accustomed to these studies, enlightened by reflection, and dextrous by long practice in the use of books. Greater men than Catcott might profit by the just observations of Barretier's biographer, that "incredulity may, perhaps be the product rather of prejudice than reason—that envy may beget a disinclination to admit immense superiority—that an account is not to be immediately censured as false, merely because it is wonderful."
How qualified Catcott is to separate wonderful from false, we may judge from his own mouth. In the Monthly Review for May, 1777, he formally tells the world, that Chatterton could be little more than 15 when he gave him the Bristow Tragedy, the Ode to Ælla, and the two or three little pieces which he first produced. A few lines further of this account, he tells us how absurd it would be, to suppose that a lad of 15 could forge Rowley. In the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1778, this conscientious pewterer signs his name to a letter which thus attacks Warton's second volume of English Poetry.
"Page 141, He (W.) says Chatterton was 17 years old when he first produced the poems to me. He was but just turned of 15. He was born November 20th, 1752, and he gave me the poems in the beginning of the year 1768. He had then the tonsure on his head, being just come from Mr. Colston's charity-school. By thus misrepresenting the year of his age, in which he mentions most of the poems which have once appeared as being then in his possession, two years are gained; an interval of time which might give colour of probability to the (I must say) otherwise very improbable supposition of Chatterton's being the author of the works ascribed to Rowley."
In the Gentleman's Magazine for September, 1778, Mr. Catcott writes thus to the printer, and talks rather differently about. this interval of time, and its consequence.
"I lately received a letter from London, charging me with an inconsistency in my account of the time in which I first became acquainted with young Chatterton. In mine of last month, I said it commenced the beginning of the year: I now recollect it was about three weeks, or perhaps a month, subsequent to the publication in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, dated the 1st of October, 1768, respecting the ceremonies used in opening the old bridge; consequently, it could not have been till the latter end of the year: but, in my opinion, it is matter of little moment as to the precise time in which we became acquainted, as it will not add a single minute to his life, and, of course, not the least degree of credibility to the supposition of his being the author of the poems attributed to Rowley."
So that, supposing Catcott to tell the truth at last (and his "perhaps a month" may be perhaps two months; and probably "about three weeks, or perhaps a month," intervened between the first acquaintance, and the communication of the poems), Chatterton, instead of being a lad of 15 when he produced the first of Rowley's poems, was, on the 10th of the month subsequent to the publication in Farley's Journal, 16; for he was born in November, 1752. They, at least, who tell us of Chatterton's shocking impositions, should not themselves impose upon us about Chatterton. It is pleasant enough that everything like argument in Catcott rests on Rowley's own evidence of his own existence. These are Rowley's poems, because Rowley, "in a manuscript of his own writing," produced by Chatterton, says that he deposited poems in the chest, out of which Chatterton said that he had these poems. These poems were written three hundred years ago, because the Ode to Ælla, produced by Chatterton, is written in long lines like a prose composition, as was usual three hundred years ago, when parchment was scarce. (Monthly Review, May, 1777.)
But if Chatterton invented Rowley's poems, he invented also the other manuscripts in which those poems are mentioned. If Chatterton composed the Ode to Ælla, it was surely less difficult to write it on parchment, in lines not kept distinct, in the manner of prose," as was usual in. Rowley's age, than to be the author of it! But, says Mr. Catcott—
"With respect to the antiquity of these poems, it needs only to be observed, that Mr. Canynge, the great friend and patron of Rowley, died in the year 1474; and by his will, directed that these, together with a vast collection of other writings, sufficient to fill three or four large chests, should be deposited in Redcliff churh, in the room before mentioned; requesting that the mayor and chief magistrates of the city, attended by the town-clerk, together with the minister and churchwardens of the parish, would annually inspect the same, and see that everything was carefully preserved: ordering, moreover, that
An ENTERTAINMENT (Catcott himself gives this passage in Capitals) SHOULD BE PROVIDED FOR THEM ON THE DAY WHEN THIS VISITATION SHOULD BE HELD ." (Monthly Review, May, 1777.)"
If this be so, it is, to be sure, tolerably conclusive. But how stands the matter, if there should not be a single syllable of truth in the whole passage?—Every word, except perhaps the date of his death, is false. Rowley's name is not once mentioned in the will. It makes just as much mention of "three or four large chests" of Rowley, as of Ossian; or of three or four large chests of Catcott's pewter. See Warton's History of English Poetry, Vol. II. 159.
Whence did Mr. Catcott get this formal story? Certainly, either from Chatterton, or from some of Chatterton's friend Rowley's manuscripts. But, says Mr. Catcott (Gentleman's Magazine, August , 1778), it is true that what I told the world is not true—all this is not mentioned in Canynge's will. It is however mentioned "in a deed in Mr. Barrett's hand" (produced by Chatterton); "and, what is more, mention is there made of a particular portion of Mr. Canynge's estates set apart to defray the expenses of an entertainment on that occasion, and the chest itself is most particularly described." Catcott adds, "if Chatterton had seen this deed, he could not have read it, it being written in Latin, of which he was, to my knowledge, totally ignorant." To cut the matter short at once, he had better tell us that, to his knowledge, Chatterton did not write a syllable of Rowley; and there would be an end of the business.—with those at least who believe in Catcott's infallibility. But, unluckily, next to Chatterton, Catcott is the man least to be believed. What a proper person did Chatterton's judgement select for his deception! Yet, this is he with whom we are told (Monthly Review, May, 77) Mr. Hale, the late Lord Lyttelton, Lord Camden, Mr. Harris, the Dean of Clogher, and Dr. Mills, have all agreed in opinion. If it be so, is not this the blind leading the blind?<64>
But, to return from Catcott's contradictions. How very strongly the idea, that a human being may accomplish anything, had taken possession of Chatterton, one of his letters will convince you. He desires, you will see, his sister to improve herself in copying music, drawing, and everything which requires genius; as if genius were no less common to man and woman, than a pair of eyes or a nose. He gave all his fellow creatures credit for what he felt so plainly himself.
When Voltaire tells us, in his history of Charles XII. that, on such a day, Charles quitted Stockholm, to which he never returned, we are interested enough, even in such a savage, to feel something like concern. In April, 1770, Chatterton for ever quitted Bristol (from which place he never had before been absent further than he could walk in half a Sunday, and to which place he never returned), to try his fortune in London.—Hear him now tell his own story; and mark how regularly, but how rapidly, his method improves.
London, April 26, 1770.
Here I am, safe, and in high spirits—To give you a journal of my tour would not be unnecessary. After riding in the basket to Brislington, I mounted the top of the coach, and rid easy; and agreeably entertained with the conversation of a Quaker in dress, but little so in personals and behaviour. This laughing friend, who is a carver, lamented his having sent his tools to Worcester, as otherwise he would have accompanied me to London. I left him at Bath; when finding it rained pretty fast, I entered an inside passenger to Speenhamland, the halfway stage, paying seven shillings. 'Twas lucky I did so, for it snowed all night, and on Marlborough downs the snow was near a foot high.
At seven in the morning I breakfasted at Speenhamland, and then mounted the coach-box for the remainder of the day, which was a remarkable fine one.—Honest gee-ho complimented me with assuring me, that I sat bolder and tighter than any person who ever rid with him—Dined at Stroud most luxuriantly with a young gentleman who had slept all the preceding night in the machine; and an old mercantile genius, whose school-boy son had a great deal of wit, as the father thought, in remarking that Windsor was as old as our Saviour's time.
Got into London about 5 o'clock in the evening—called upon Mr. Edmunds, Mr. Fell, Mr. Hamilton, and Mr. Dodsley. Great encouragment from them; all approved of my design;—shall soon be settled.—Call upon Mr. Lambert; show him this, or tell him, if I deserve a recommendation, he would oblige me to give me one—if I do not, it will be beneath him to take notice of me.<65> Seen all aunts, cousins—all well—and I am welcome. Mr. T. Wensley is alive, and coming home.—Sister, grandmother, &c. &c. remember.—
Your dutiful son,
Shoreditch, London, May 6, 1770.
I am surprised that no letter has been sent in answer to my last. I am settled, and in such a settlement as I would desire—I get four guineas a month by one magazine: shall engage to write a History of England, and other pieces, which will more than double that sum. Occasional essays for the daily papers would more than support me. What a glorious prospect! Mr. Wilkes knew me by my writings since I first corresponded with the booksellers here. I shall visit him next week, and by his interest will insure Mrs. Ballance the Trinity-House. He affirmed that what Mr. Fell had of mine could not be the writings of a youth; and expressed a desire to know the author. By the means of another bookseller I shall be introduced to Townshend and Sawbridge. I am quite familiar at the Chapter Coffee-house, and know all the geniuses there. A character is now unnecessary; an author carries his character in his pen. My sister will improve herself in drawing. My grandmother is, I hope, well. Bristol's mercenary walls were never destined to hold me—there, I was out of my element; now, I am in it—London! Good God! how superior is London to that despicable place Bristol!—Here is none of your little meannesses, none of your mercenary securities, which disgrace that miserable hamlet.—Dress, which is in Bristol an eternal fund of scandal, is here only introduced as a subject of praise: if a man dresses well, he has taste; if careless, he has his own reasons for so doing, and is prudent. Need I remind you of the contrast? The poverty of authors is a common observation, but not always a true one. No author can be poor who understands the arts of booksellers—Without this necessary knowledge, the greatest genius may starve; and, with it, the greatest dunce live in splendor. This knowledge I have pretty well dipped into—The Levant man of war, in which T. Wensley went out, is at Portsmouth; but no news of him yet. I lodge in one of Mr. Walmsley's best rooms. Let Mr. Cary copy the letters on the other side, and give them to the persons for whom they are designed, if not too much labour for him.
I remain, yours, &c.
P. S. I have some trifling presents for my mother, sister Thorne, &c.
For Mr. T. CARY.
I have sent you a task. I hope no unpleasing one. Tell all your acquaintance for the future to read the Freeholder's Magazine. When you have anything for publication, send it to me, and it shall most certainly appear in some periodical compilation. Your last piece was, by the ignoranee of a corrector, jumbled under the considerations in the acknowledgements. But I rescued it, and insisted on its appearance.
Direct for me, to be left at the Chapter Coffee-House, Paternoster Row.
Mr. HENRY KATOR.
If you have not forgot Lady Betty, any complaint, rebus, or enigma, on the dear charmer, directed for me, to be left at the Chapter Coffee-House, Paternoster Row—shall find a place in some Magazine, or other; as I am engaged in many.
Mr. WILLIAM SMITH.
When you have any poetry for publication, send it to me, to be left at the Chapter Coffee-House, Paternoster row, and it shall most certainly appear.
The sooner I see you the better—send me as soon as possilbe Rymsdyk's Address.
(Mr. Cary will leave this at Mr. Flower's, Small street)
Give me a short prose description of the situation of Nash—and the poetic addition shall appear in some magazine. Send me also whatever you would have published, and direct for me, to be left at the Chapter Coffee-House, Pater-noster Row.
Mr. MAT. MEASE.
Begging Mr. Mease's pardon for making public use of his name lately—I hope he will remember me, and tell all his acquaintance to read the Freeholder's Magazine for the future.
Mr. A. Broughton
Mr. J. Broughton
Mr. Smith &c. &c.
to read the Freeholder's Magazine.
King's Bench, for the present,
May 14, 1770
Don't be surprised at the name of the place. I am not here as a prisoner. Matters go on swimmingly: Mr. Fell having offended certain persons, they have set his creditors upon him, and he is safe in the King's Bench. I have been bettered by this accident: His succesors in the Freeholder's Magazine, knowing nothing of the matter, will be glad to engage me, on my own terms. Mr. Edmunds has been tried before the House of Lords, sentenced to pay a fine, and thrown into Newgate. His misfortunes will be to me of no little service. Last week, being in the pit of Drury-lane Theatre, I contracfted an immediate acquaintance (which you know is no hard task to me) with a young gentleman in Cheapside; partner in a music shop, the greatest in the city. Hearing I could write, he desired me to write a few songs for him: this I did the same night, and conveyed them to him the next morning. These he showed to a Doctor in Music, and I am invited to treat with this Doctor, on the footing of a composer, for Ranelagh and the Gardens. Bravo, hey boys, up we go!—Besides the advantage of visiting these expensive and polite places, gratis; my vanity will be fed with the sight of my name in copperplate, and my sister will receive a bundle of printed songs, the words by her brother. These are not all my acquisitions: a gentleman who knows me at the Chapter, as an author, would have introduced me as a companion to the young Duke of Northumberland, in his intended general tour. But, alas! I speak no tongue but my own!—But to return once more to a place I am sickened to write of, Bristol. Though, as an apprentice, none had greater liberties, yet the thoughts of servitude killed me: now I have that for my labour, I always reckoned the first of my pleasures, and have still, my liberty. As to the clearance, I am ever ready to give it; but really I understand so little of the law, that I believe Mr. Lambert must draw it. Mrs. L. brought what you mention. Mrs. Hughes is as well as age will permit her to be, and my cousin does very well.
I will get some patterns worth your acceptance; and wish you and my sister would improve yourselves in drawing, as it is here a valuable and never-failing acquisition.—My box shall be attended to; I hope my books are in it—if not, send them; and particularly Catcott's<67> Hutchinsonian jargon on the Deluge, and the M.S. Glossary, composed of one small book, annexed to a larger.—My sister will remember me to Miss Sandford. I have not quite forgot her; though there are so many pretty milliners, &c. that I have almost forgot myself.—Carty will think on me: upon inquiry, I find his trade dwindled into nothing here—A man may very nobly starve by it; but he must have luck indeed, who can live by it.—Miss Rumsey, if she comes to London, would do well, as an old acquaintance, to send me her address.—London is not Bristol—We may patrol the town for a day, without raising one whisper, or nod of scandal—if she refuses, the curse of all antiquated virgins light on her: may she be refused, when she shall request! Miss Rumsey will tell Miss Baker, and Miss Baker will tell Miss Porter, that Miss Porter's favoured humble servrant, though but a young man, is a very old lover; and in the eight-and-fiftieth year of his age: but that, as Lappet says, is the flower of a man's days; and when a lady can't get a young husband, she must put up with an old bedfellow. I left Miss Singer, I am sorry to say it, in a very bad way; that is, in a way to be married.—But mum—Ask Miss Sukey Webb the rest; if she knows, she'll tell ye.—I beg her pardon for revealing the secret; but when the knot is fastened, she shall know how I came by it.—Miss Thatcher may depend upon it, that, if I am not in love with her, I am in love with nobody else: I hope she is well; and if that whining, sighing, dying pulpit-fop, Lewis, has not finished his languishing lectures, I hope she will see her amoroso next Sunday.—If Miss Love has no objection to having a crambo song on her name published, it shall be done. Begging pardon of Miss Cotton for whatever has happened to offend her, I can assure her it has happened without my consent—I did not give her this assurance when in Bristol, lest it should seem like an attempt to avoid the anger of her furious brother.<68> Inquire, when you can, how Miss Broughton received her billet. Let my sister send me a journal of all the transactions of the females within the circle of your acquaintance. Let Miss Watkins know, that the letter she made herself ridiculous by, was never intended for her; but another young lady in the neighbourhood, of the same name. I promised, before my departure, to write to some hundreds, I believe; but, what with writing for publications, and going to places of public diversion, which is as absolutely necessary to me as food, I had but little time to write to you. As to Mr. Barrett,<69> Mr. Catcott, Mr. Burgum, &c. &c. they rate literary lumber so low, that I believe an author, in their estimation, must be poor indeed! But here matters are otherwise had Rowley been a Londoner, instead of a Bristowyan, I could have lived by copying his works.—In my humble opinion, I am under very few obligations to any persons in Bristol: one, indeed, has obliged me; but, as most do, in a manner which makes his obligation no obligation<70>—My youthful acquaintances will not take it in dudgeon, that I do not write oftener to them, than I believe I shall: but, as I had the happy art of pleasing in conversation, my company was often liked, where I did not like: and to continue a correspondence under such circumstances, would be ridiculous—Let my sister improve in copying music, drawing, and everything which requires genius: in Bristol's mercantile style those things may be useless, if not a detriment to her; but here they are highly profitable.—Inform Mr. Rhise that nothing shall be wanting, on my part, in the business he was so kind as to employ me in; should be glad of a line from him, to know whether he would engage in the marine department; or spend the rest of his days, safe, on dry ground.—Intended waiting on the Duke of Bedford, relative to the Trinity-House; but his Grace is dangerously ill. My grandmother, I hope, enjoys the state of health I left her in. I am Miss Webb's humble servant. Thorne shall not be forgot, when I remit the small trifles to you. Notwithstanding Mrs. B.'s not being able to inform me of Mr. Garsed's address, through the closeness of the pious Mr. Ewer, I luckily stumbled upon it this morning
I remain, &c. &c. &c. &c.
(Direct for me, at Mr. Walmsley's, at Shoreditch—only.)
Tom's Coffee-house, London, May 30, 1770.
There is such a noise of business and politics in the room, that my inaccuracy in writing here, is highly excusable. My present profession obliges me to frequent places of the best resort. To begin with, what every female conversation begins with, dress: I employ my money now in fitting myself fashionably, and getting into good company; this last article always brings me in interest. But I have engaged to live with a gentleman, the brother of a Lord (a Scotch one indeed), who is going to advance pretty deeply into the bookselling branches: I shall have lodging and boarding, genteel and elegant, gratis: this article, in the quarter of the town he lives, with worse accommodations, would be 50l. per annum. I shall have, likewise, no inconsiderable premium; and assure yourself every month shall end to your advantage: I will send you two silks this summer; and expect, in answer to this, what colours you prefer. My mother shall not be forgotten. My employment will be writing a voluminous History of London, to appear in numbers the beginning of the next winter. As this will not, like writing political essays, oblige me to go to the Coffee-house, I shall be able to serve you the more by it: but it will necessitate me to go to Oxford, Cambridge, Lincoln, Coventry, and every collegiate church near; not at all disagreeable journeys, and not to me expensive. The Manuscript Glossary, I mentioned in my last, must not be omitted. If money flowed as fast upon me as honours, I would give you a portion of 5000l. You have, doubtless, heard of the Lord Mayor's remonstrating and addressing the King; but it will be a piece of news, to inform you that I have been with the Lord Mayor on the occasion. Having addressed an essay to his Lordship, it was very well received; perhaps better than it deserved; and I waited on his Lordship, to have his approbation, to addresss a second letter to him, on the subject of the remonstrance, and its reception. His Lordship received me as politely as a citizen could; and warmly invited me to call on him again. The rest is a secret—But the devil of the matter is, there's no money to be got of this side the question. Interest is of the other side. But he is a poor author, who cannot write on both sides. I believe I may be introdouced (and, if I am not, I shall introduce myself) to a ruling power in the Court party. I might have a recommendation to Sir George Colebrook, an East-India Director, as qualified for an office no ways despicable; but I shall not take a epo the sea,whilst I can continue on land. I went yesterday to Woolwich, to see Mr.Wensley; he is paid today. The artillery is no unpleasing sight, if we bar reflection, and do not consider how much mischief it may do. Greenwich Hospital and St. Paul's Cathedral are the only structures which could reconcile me to anything out of the Gothic<71>. Mr. Carty will hear from me soon: multiplicity of literary business must be my excuse—I condole with him, and my dear Miss Sandford, in the misfortune of Mrs. Carty: my physical advice is, to leech her temples plentifully: keep her very low in diet; as much in the dark as possible. Nor is this last prescription the whim of an old woman: whatever hurts the eyes, affects the brain: and the particles of light, when the sun is in the summer signs, are highly prejudicial to the eyes; and it is from this sympathetic effect, that the headache is general in summer. But, above all, talk to her but little, and never contradict her in anything. This may be of service. I hope it will. Did a paragraph appear in your paper of Saturday last mentioning the inhabitants of London's having opened another view of St. Paul's; and advising the corporation, or vestry of Redcliffe, to procure a more complete view of Redcliffe church? My compliments to Miss Thatcher: if I am in love, I am; though the devil take me, if I can tell with whom it is. I believe I may address her in the words of Scripture, which no doubt she reveres; "If you had not ploughed with my heifer" (or bullock rather),<72> "you had not found out my riddle." Humbly thanking Miss Rumsey for her complimentary expression, I cannot think it satisfactory. Does she, or does she not, intend coming to London? Mrs. O'Coffin has not yet got a place; but there is not the least doubt but she will in a little time.
Essay-writing has this advantage, you are sure of constant pay; and when you have once wrote a piece which makes the author inquired after, you may bring the booksellers to your own terms. Essays on the patriotic side fetch no more than what the copy is sold for. As the patriots themselves are searching for a place, they have no gratuities to spare. So says one of the beggars, in a temporary alteration of mine, in the Jovial Crew:
A patriot was my occupation,
It got me a name, but no pelf:
Till, starved for the good of the nation
I begged for the good of myself,
fal, lal, &c.
I told them, if 'twas not for me,
Their freedoms would all go to pot;
I promised to set them all free,
But never a farthing I got.
fal, lal, &c.
On the other hand, unpopular essays will not even be accepted; and you must pay to have them printed: but then you seldom lose by it. Courtiers are so sensible of their deficiency in merit, that they generally reward all who know how to daub them with an appearance of it. To return to private affairs—Friend Slude may depend upon my endeavouring to find the publications you mention. They publish the Gospel Magazine here. For a whim I write in it. I believe there are not any sent to Bristol; they are hardly worth the carriage—methodistical, and unmeaning. With the usual ceremonies to my mother, and grandmother; and sincerely, without ceremony, wishing them both happy; when it is my power to make them so, they shall be so; and with my kind remembrance to Miss Webb, and Miss Thorne; I remain, as I ever was,
Yours, &c. to the end of the chapter,
P. S. I am this minute pierced through the heart by the black eye of a young lady driving along in a Hackney-coach.—I am quite in love: if my love lasts till that time, you shall hear of it in my next.
June 19, 1770.
I have an horrid cold—The relation of the manner of my catching it may give you more pleasure than the circumstance itself. As I wrote very late Sunday night (or rather very early Monday morning), I thought to have gone to bed pretty soon last night: when, being half undressed, I heard a very doleful voice, singing Miss Hill's favorite bedlamite song. The hum-drum of the voice so struck me, that though I was obliged to listen a long while before I could hear the words, I found the similitude in the sound. After hearing her with pleasure drawl for above half, an hour, she jumped into a brisker tune, and hobbled out the ever-famous song, in which poor Jack Fowler was to have been satirized.—"I put my hand into a bush: I pricked my finger to the bone: I saw a ship sailing along: I thought the sweetest flowers to find:" and other pretty flowery expressions, were twanged with no inharmonious bray—I now ran to the window, and threw up the sash; resolved to be satisfied whether or no it was the identical Miss Hill, in propria persona.—But, alas! it was a person whose twang is very well known, when she is awake, but who had drank so much royal bob<73> (the gingerbread-baker for that, you know) that she was now singing herself asleep. This somnifying liquor had made her voice so like the sweet echo of Miss Hill's, that if I had not considered that she could not see her way up to London, I should absolutely have imagined it hers—There was a fellow and a girl in one corner more busy in attending to their own affairs, than the melody.
This part of the letter, for some lines, is not legible.
. . . . the morning) from Marybone gardens; I saw the fellow in the cage at the watch-house, in the parish of St. Giles; and the nymph is an inhabitant of one of Cupid's Inns of Court—There was one similitude it would be injustice to set slip. A drunken fishman, who sells souse mackerel, and other delicious dainties, to the eternal detriment of all twopenny ordinaries; as his best commodity, his salmon, goes off at three halfpence the piece: this itinerant merchant, this moveable fish-stall, having likewise had his dose of bob-royal, stood still for a while; and then joined chorus, in a tone which would have laid half a dozen lawyers, pleading for their fees, fast asleep: this naturally reminded me of Mr. Haythorne's song of
"Says Plato, who oy oy oy should man be vain?"
However, my entertainment, though sweet enough in itself, has a dish of sour sauce served up in it; for I have a most horrible wheezing in the throat: but I don't repent that I have this cold; for there are so many nostrums here, that 'tis worth a man's while to get a distemper, he can be cured so cheap.
June 29th, 1770.
My cold is over and gone. If the above did not recall to your mind some scenes of laughter, you have lost your ideas of risibility.
I send you in the box—
Six cups and saucers, with two basins, for my sister. If a china tea-pot and cream-pot is, in your opinion, necessary, I will send them; but I am informed they are unfashionable, and that the red china, which you are provided with, is more in use.
A cargo of patterns for yourself, with a snuff-box, right French, and very curious in my opinion.
Two fans—the silver one is more grave than the other, which would suit my sister best. But that I leave to you both.
Some British-herb snuff in the box:—be careful how you open it. (This I omit, lest it injure the other matters.) Some British-herb tobacco for my grandmother, with a pipe. Some trifles for Thorne. Be assured, whenever I have the power, my will won't be wanting to testify, that I remember you.
July 8, 1770.
N. B. I shall forestall your intended journey, and pop down upon you at Christmas.
I could have wished you had sent my red pocket-book, as 'tis very material
I bought two very curious twisted pipes<74> for my grandmother; but, both breaking, I was afraid to buy others, lest they should break in the box, and, being loose, injure the china. Have you heard anything further of the clearance? Direct for me, at Mrs. Angel's, sack maker, Brook Street, Holborn.
I have sent you some china and a fan. You have your choice of two. I am surprised that you chose purple and gold—I went into the shop to buy it: but it is the most disagreeable colour I ever saw—dead, lifeless, and inelegant. Purple and pink, or lemon and pink, are more genteel and lively. Your answer in this affair will oblige me. Be assured, that I shall ever make your wants, my wants; and stretch to the utmost to serve you. Remember me to Miss Sandford, Miss Rumsey, Miss Singer, &c. &c. &c.
As to the songs, I have waited this week for them, and have not had time to copy one perfectly: when the season's over, you will have 'em all in print. I had pieces last month in the following Magazines
Town and Country, viz.
Hunter of Oddities.
To Miss Rush, &c.
Court and City. London. Political Register, &c. &c.
The Christian Magazine, as they are not to be had perfect, are not worth buying—
July 11, 1770.
I am now about an Oratorio, which, when finished, will purchase you a gown. You may be certain of seeing me before the 1st of January, 1771.—The clearance is immaterial.—My mother may expect more patterns—Almost all the next Town and Country Magazine is mine. I have an universal acquaintance:—my company is courted everywhere; and, could I humble myself to go into a compter<75>, could have had twenty places before now:—but I must be among the great; state matters suit me better than commercial—The ladies are not out of my acquaintance. I have a deal of business now, and must therefore bid you adieu. You will have a longer letter from me soon—and more to the purpose.<76>
20th July, 1770.
During the period in which these letters were written, Chatterton produced many of the things printed in the volume of his Miscellanies. One passage I will be at the trouble of copying, because it shows the acuteness of his mental sight, which could plainly distinguish each varying ray of excellence, and see blots even in the sun from which his genius sprung, and which it worshipped.
"But, alas! happiness is of short duration; or, to speak, in the language of the high-sounding Ossian, Behold! thou art happy; but soon, ah! soon, wilt thou be miserable. Thou art as easy and tranquil as the face of the green-mantled puddle; but soon, ah! soon, wilt thou be tumbled and tossed by misfortunes, like the stream of the water-mill. Thou art beautiful as the Cathedral of Canterbury; but soon wilt thou be deformed like Chinese palace-paling. So the sun, rising in the East, gilds the borders of the black mountains, and laces with his golden rays the dark-brown heath. The hind leaps over the flowery lawn, and the reeky bull rolls in the bubbling brook. The wild boar makes ready his armour of defence. The inhabitants of the rock dance, and all nature joins in the song. But see! riding on the wings of the wind, the black clouds fly. The noisy thunders roar; the rapid lightnings gleam; the rainy torrents pour; and the dripping swain flies over the mountains, swift as Bickerstaff, the son of song, when the monster Bumbailiano, keeper of the dark and black cave, pursued him over the hills of death, and the green meadows of dark men—O, Ossian! Immortal genius! I what an invocation could I make now! But I shall leave it to the abler pen of Mr. Duff,<77> and spin out the thread of any adventures." Town and Country Magazine, July, 1770. p. 375.
Of course I have been a little curious after the short part of his life which he spent in town. By his letters you see that he lodged first in Shoreditch; afterwards (when his employments made it necessary for him to frequent public places, I suppose) in Brook Street, Holborn. The man and woman where he first lodged are still living in the same house. He is a plasterer. They, and their nephew and niece (the latter about as old as Chatterton would be now, the former three years younger), and Mrs. Ballance, who lodged in the house, and desired them to let Chatterton (her relation) lodge there also, have been seen. The little collected from them you shall have in their own words. But the life he led did not afford them many opportunities to observe him, could they have imagined that such a being was under the same roof with them, or that they would be asked for their observations upon him, after an interval of so many years.
Mrs. Ballance says he was as proud as Lucifer. He very soon quarrelled with her for calling him "Cousin Tommy," and asked her if she ever heard of a poet's being called Tommy: But she assured him that she knew nothing of poets, and only wished he would not set up for a gentleman. Upon her recommending it to him to get into some office, when he had been in town two or three weeks, he stormed about the room like a madman, and frightened her not a little, by telling her, that he hoped, with the blessing of God, very soon to be sent prisoner to the Tower; which would make his fortune.
He would often look steadfastly in a person's face, without speaking, or seeming to see the person, for a quarter of an hour or more, till it was quite frightful; during all which time (she supposes, from what she has since heard), his thoughts were gone about something else. When Beckford died, he was perfectly frantic, and out of his mind; and said that he was ruined. He frequently declared, that he should settle the nation before he had done: but how could she think that her poor cousin Tommy was so great a man as she now finds he was? His mother should have written word of his greatness, and then, to be sure, she would have humoured the gentleman accordingly,
Mr,Walmsley observed little in him, but that there was something manly and pleasing about him, and that he did not dislike the wenches.
Mrs. W.'s account is, that she never saw any harm of him—that he never mislisted her; but was always very civil, whenever they met in the house by accident—that he would never suffer the room, in which he used to read and write, to be swept, because, he said, poets hated brooms—that she told him she did not know anything poet folks were good for, but to sit in a dirty cap and gown in a garret, and at last to be starved—that, during the nine weeks he was at her house, he never stayed out after the family hours, except once, when he did not come home all night, and had been, she heard, poeting a song about the streets.—This night, Mrs. Ballance says, she knows he lodged at a relation's, because Mr. Walmsley's house was shut up when he came home.
The niece says, for her part, she always took him more for a mad boy than anything else, he would have such flights and vagaries that, but for his face, and her knowledge of his age, she should never have thought him a boy, he was so manly, and so much himself—that no women came after him, nor did she know of any connection; but still, that he was a sad rake, and terribly fond of women, and would sometimes be saucy to her—that he ate, what he chose to have, with his relation (Mrs. Ballance), who lodged in the house; but that he never touched meat, and drank only water, and seemed to live on the air.
Did not I send you some beautiful French lines last year from Ireland? Chatterton's muse had the same effect as Robin's mistress—.
Plus qu'un hermite it fait maisgres repas.<78>
The niece adds, that he was good-tempered, and agreeable, and obliging, but sadly proud and haughty: nothing was too good for him; nor was anything to be too good for his grandmother, mother, and sister, hereafter—that he had such a proud spirit as to send the china, &c. (mentioned in his last letter but two) to his grandmother, &c. at a time when she (the niece) knew he was almost in want—that he used to sit up almost all night, reading and writing; and that her brother said he was afraid to lie with him; for, to be sure, he was a spirit, and never slept; for he never came to bed till it was morning, and then, for what he saw, never closed his eyes.
The nephew (C.'s bedfellow, during the first six weeks he lodged there) says, that, notwithstanding his pride and haughtiness, it was impossible to help liking him—that he lived chiefly upon a bit of bread, or a tart, and some water: but he once or twice saw him take a sheep's tongue out of his pocket—that Chatterton, to his knowledge, never slept while they lay together; that he never came to bed till very late, sometimes three or four o'clock, and was always awake when he (the nephew) waked; and got up at the same time, about five or six—that almost every morning the floor was covered with pieces of paper not so big as sixpences, into which he had torn what he had been writing before he came to bed. In short, they all agree, that no one would have taken him, from his behaviour, &c. to have been a poor boy of 17, and a sexton's son—they never saw such another person before nor since—he appeared to have something wonderful about him. They say, he gave no reason for quitting their house. They found the floor of his room covered with little pieces of paper, the remains of his poetings, as they term it.
And yet poor Edwin was no vulgar boy;
Deep thought oft seemed to fix his infant eye.
Dainties he heeded not, nor gaud, nor toy,
Save one short pipe of rudest minstrelsy.
Silent, when glad; affectionate, though shy:
And now his look was most demurely sad;
And now he laughed aloud, yet none knew why.
The neighbours stared and sighed, yet blessed the lad:
Some deemed him wondrous wise, and some believed him mad.<79>
Mrs. Angel, to whose house he removed from Shoreditch, I have in vain endeavoured repeatedly to find out. A person in distressed circumstances, as I understand her to be, is slow to believe that an inquiry after her hiding-place is only set on foot by the curiosity of honest enthusiasm. Little versed in the history of mankind, she cannot imagine how any one can be curious or concerned about a person, so many years after his death, for whom in his life-time no one cared a farthing. Every stranger is to her imagination a bailiff in disguise. In every hasty tread she hears "the monster Bumbailiano, keeper of the dark and black cave."—Poor hunted animal! If you were kind to Chatterton; if, by your charitable means, his young hairs were brought down with somewhat less of sorrow to the grave, never may the monster lay his cruel paw upon your shoulder!
Could Mrs. Angel be found, much might not be learnt from her short knowledge of Chatterton; for he remained nine weeks in Shoreditch—at least, not much more, perhaps, than has been gotten from Mrs.Walmsley and her family.
Mrs. Wolfe, a barber's wife, within a few doors of the house in which Mrs. Angel lived, remembers him, and remembers his death. She speaks also of his proud and haughty spirit, and adds, that he appeared both to her and Mrs. Angel, as if born for something great. Mrs. Angel told her, after his death, that, as she knew he had not eaten anything for two or three days, she begged he would take some dinner with her on the 24th of August; but he was offended at her expressions, which seemed to hint that he was in want, and assured her (though his looks showed him to be three parts starved) that he was not hungry.
The First Book of Beattie's beautiful Minstrel appeared in 1771. While he was employed in painting an ideal Edwin; Bristol, without knowing it, possessed the original. Edwin was certainly the child of Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry:<80> perhaps Chatterton is descended from the same parents. We too may lament, with Beattie, over our Minstrel—
Ah! who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar!
Ah! who can tell how many a soul sublime
Hath felt the influence of malignant star,
And waged with Fortune an eternal war!
Checked by the scoff of Pride, and Envy's frown,
And Poverty's unconquerable bar,
In life's low vale remote hath pined alone,
Then dropt into the grave, unpitied and unknown!
Such was the short and incredible life of Thomas Chatterton. Over his death, for the sake of the world (he is out of the reach of our pity or concern), I would willingly draw a veil. But this must not be. They who are in a condition to patronise merit, and they who feel a consciousness of merit which is not patronised, may form their own resolutions from the catastrophe of his tale; those, to lose no opportunity of befriending genius; these, to seize every opportunity of befriending themselves; and, upon no account, to harbour the most distant idea of quitting the world, however it may be unworthy of them, lest despondency should at last deceive them into so unpardonable a step.
Let the reader learn, and remember too, that suicide is always holden up to shame.
Chatterton, as appears by the Coroner's Inquest, swallowed arsenic, in water, on the 24th of August, 1770; and died, in consequence thereof, the next day. He was buried in a shell, in the burying-ground of Shoe Lane workhouse. His taking of such a rash and unjustifiable step, is almost as strange as his fathering of his poems upon Rowley. That he should have been driven to it by absolute want, though I don't say it was not so, is not very possible; since he never indulged himself in meat, and drank nothing, but water.<81> The Coroner has no minutes of the melancholy business, and is unable to call any of the circumstances, at this distance of time, to his memory. The witnesses before the inquest, as appears by his memorandum, were Frederick Angell, Mary Foster, William Hamsley: none of whom I have been able to find out. That Chatterton's despair should fix on August, that it should not have stayed, at least, till the gloomier months of winter, must surprise those who are sensible of the influence of such a climate as ours.
Recollecting what Mrs. Newton says of the effect the moon had upon her brother, I searched for the moon's changes in August 1770. Much cannot be presumed from them. The moon was at the full on the 6th, and in the last quarter the 14th. The 20th, at 11 at night, there was a new moon. The fatal day was the 24th.
But who can bear to dwell upon, or argue about, the self-destruction of such a being as Chatterton? The motives for everything he did are past finding out.
His room, when they broke it open, after his death, was found, like the room he quitted at Mr.Walmsley's, covered with little scraps of paper.
What a picture would he have made, with, the fatal phial by his bedside, destroying plans of future Ællas and Godwins, and unfinished books of the Battle of Hastings? Martha, I have had the—(call it what you will)—to spend half an hour in this room. It was half an hour of most exquisite sensations. My visit of devotion was paid in the morning, I remember; but I was not myself again all day.
To look round the room; to say to myself, Here stood his bed; there the poison was set; in that window he loitered for some hours before he retired to his last rest, envying the meanest passenger, and wishing that he could exchange his own feelings, and intellects, for their professional or manual powers and insensibility! Then, abhorrence of his death, abhorrence of the world, and I know not how many different and contradictory, but all distracting ideas! All these things I imaged for him on the spot, and nothing should tempt me to undergo such another half-hour.
Bristol stand forth! Too just are even these rhymes
Without a trial to condemn thy crimes.
Come forward, answer to thy cursed name!
Stand, if thou dare, before the bar of Fame.
Bristol, hold up thine hand, that damned hand
Which scatters misery over half a land,
The land of Genius!—
But my Indignation cannot stay for rhyme; yet it must vent itself.
Tell me, Bristol, where is Savage<82>? Whither didst thou drive Hume<83>? Where hast thou hid the body of murdered Chatterton? Where are his mother and his sister? Could not the female hand of ostentatious Charity<84> spare one mite to the starving child of Genius! Miserable Hamlet!<85> as Chatterton calls thee. Unworthy such a treasure! Much more unworthy his guardian care! For, canst thou be sure, ungrateful city, that the spirit of neglected Chatterton does not still best delight to haunt the place which gave him birth? Canst thou be certain that his watchful providence did not lately extinguish the threatening flames of treason<86>! Perhaps, while I write, his spirit protects thy commerce;
Or, in black armour, stalks around
Embattled Bristol, once his ground,
And glows, arduous, on the castle stairs;
Or, fiery, round the minster glares.
Perhaps for Bristol still he cares;
Guards it from foemen and consuming fire;
Like Avon's stream encircles it around,
Nor lets a flame enharm the ground,
Till in one flame all the whole world expire<87>.
But the feelings of the moment have hurried me away. Bristol is not culpable. She may be proud that she produced Chatterton, and need not, perhaps, blush for his death. Had he remained in the "miserable hamlet," Rowley must inevitably have worked his way in the world. Sir Charles Bawdin and the Song of Ælla, were already known to Fame. Rowley's other poems must soon have blazed out—they could not, cold as was the age, have been kept much longer, even by the chilling hand of pewter-patronage, from kindling a flame in the literary world, which haply might have cheered their author—and Chatterton might, now (distracting reflection!); might nine years ago; might, before he was twice nine years old; have been considered as the most extraordinary prodigy of genius the world ever saw. Nay, had he continued at Bristol only a few weeks longer, had he continued in the world only a few days longer, he might, have been preserved. For, oh my Martha! I have been assured that the late amiable Dr. Fry, head of St. John's in Oxford, went to Bristol, the latter end of August, 1770, in order to search into the history of Rowley and Chatterton, and to patronise the latter if he turned out to be the former, or to deserve assistance when, alas! all the intelligence which he could pick up about either was, that Chatterton had, within a few days, swallowed the cowardly poison of unjustifiable despair.
Let me mention one circumstance which strikes me here, after which I maintain it to be impossible that a single individual should doubt, for a single moment, whether or not Ælla, &c. were all written by a poor sexton's son, before he was (I may say) seventeen.—After Chatterton left Bristol we see but one more of Rowley's poems, The Ballad of Charitie" and that a very short one. What was the reason of this? Had Chatterton given to the world all the contents of Canynge's chest? Certainly not—for he is known to have spoken of other manuscripts both at Bristol and in town; and you have seen him write to his mother, that, "had Rowley been a Londoner, instead of a Bristolian, he could live by copying his works." Is it likely that a lad, possessed of a chest full of such poems (some of which he sold for trifles to a pewterer, before he wanted money, or knew its value), should, when in real distress, and when he could have lived by only copying them, part with none of them, offer not one of them to any bookseller?
Ridiculous! Impossible! This was the very moment to produce them. In my own mind I am persuaded, that, had Chatterton really found the poems in an old chest, the idea of forging others, as like them as he could, would now have occurred to him. But, in truth, Canynge's old chest was only his own fruitful invention. At Bristol, undisturbed by the cares or the pleasures of the world, his genius had nothing to do but to indulge itself in creating Rowley and his works. In London was to be learnt, that which even Genius cannot teach, the knowledge of life—extemporaneous bread was to be earned more suddenly than even Chatterton could write poems for Rowley; and, in consequence of his employments, as he tells his mother, public places were to be visited, and mankind to be frequented. He who fabricated such poems, in the calm and quiet of Bristol, must have been almost more than man. Had Chatterton produced them to the world as fast, amidst the avocations, the allurements, the miseries of his London life, I would immediately become a convert to Rowley. At present, if I fall down and worship Rowley, it can only be as the golden image which Chatterton has set up.
The Ballad of Charity, the last of Rowley's poems, in addition to the internal proofs that it was a composition of the day, carries melancholy conviction to the mind, that it was the composition of Chatterton. The note, which, the editor of Rowley's poems tells us, accompanied this pastoral to the printer, is dated "Bristol, July 4, 1770." Now, in what month is the scene laid?
In virgyne the sweltrie sun gan sheene,
And hotte upon the meads did cast his ray.
If Chatterton had this by him all 1769, is it not odd that this should be the only poem which he did not show Catcott? Is it not singular that he should not produce it till July 1770? till the very month in which it was originally written? Again—
Look in his gloomed face, his sprite there scan,
How woebegone, how withered, sapless, dead!
Haste to thy church-glebe house, asshrewed man;
Haste to thy kiste, thy only dortours bed!
Cold as the clay which will gre on thy head
Is charity and love among high elves;
Knightis and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.
This seems too plainly designed for a sketch of himself, and of the coldness with which he conceived he had been treated: especially as "the Memoirs of a Sad Dog" appeared in the Town and Country Magazines for July and August, 1770; wherein Chatterton ridicules Mr. Walpole, with some humour, under the title of Baron<88> Otranto: and, more especially, as in a note of his own, upon. the fourth word in the stanza (gloomed), he writes thus—
"Clouded, dejected. A person of some note in the literary world, is of opinion, that glum and glom are modern cant words; and from this circumstance doubts the authenticity of Rowley's manuscripts—Glum-mong, in the Saxon, signifies twilight, a dark and dubious light; and the modern word gloomy is derived from the Saxon glum."
Again—the confidence with which he speaks of Rowley's merit, now that he is more convinced of his own abilities than he was when he carried the productions of them to Catcott—An excelent balade of Charitie. Can't you see his indignation penning the note to the printer? I can. if "the Glossary annexed to the following piece will make the language intelligible; the sentiment, description, and versification, are highly deserving the attention of the literati." Had it been thought to deserve the attention of the magazine, it might possibly have made its way to the literati, and the author might have been snatched from the fangs of suicide by the hand of Fame.
But, although the note be dated July 4, no such poem appears in the magazine for that month, nor for any other. Yet, surely, Rowley's Ballad of Charitie could not have disgraced the chaste records of an immortal magazine of 1770, more than Rowley's Elinoure and Juga in 1769! Addison said, he would put his friend Sir Roger de Coverley to death, lest any one should murder him. Is it possible that Chatterton should have determined to murder himself, because the Town and Country Magazine doubted the existence of his ideal Rowley? In turning over their volume for 1770, I thought that I had found room for some such suspicion, when I found the following passage among the acknowledgements to correspondents—" The pastoral from Bristol, signed 'D. D.' (which I conclude to be an error of the press for D. B.—especially, as no other acknowledgement is made for Chatterton's Pastoral) "has some share of merit; but the author will, doubtless, discover, upon another perusal of it, many exceptionable passages." However, on looking again, I saw that this was prefixed to the Magazine for August—consequently (which you will be heartily glad to know), when it was published on the 1st of September, Chatterton was beyond the reach of magazines.—But it is pretty clear, you see, that the Magazine thought Chatterton was the author of Rowley's poems. Did Chatterton suspect this; and could this have urged him to his end?
The circumstance most extraordinary, and which must appear so even to those (if there still be any such) who will not think as I think, is this—that he not only in his distress never endeavoured to procure bread by writing poems for Rowley (or by producing one or two from the many chests full of Rowley's poems, which he had in his possession, and brought to town in his pocket); but, that, having written the Ballad of Charitie, he did not, in distress by which some think that he was driven to suicide, turn it, or endeavour to turn it, into money. All his other things, after he came to town, as is known from booksellers, and is clear from his letters, were sold; the Ballad of Charitie was a free-will offering to literature. Had Chatterton so much respect for his fictitious Rowley (there is no the shadow of a reason to be given why he should have so much respect for a real Rowley), that he would not barter his poems to a magazine for bread? That it should be so is not altogether impossible; but it is surely odd (unless, I be to give the reason) that the same christian name should belong to the finder, and to the author of these poems, Thomas Rowley, Thomas Chatterton.
Everything that Chatterton did at every period of his life about Rowley was original. The only time (as I think Catcott says) that he ever asked the pewterer for money, was when he brought him the subsequent bill.
Mr. G. Catcott to the executors of T. Rowley, Dr.
To pleasure received in reading his historic works
5 5 0.
—— his poetic works
5 5 0
10 10 0
At Mr. Walmsley's he used frequently to say, that he had many writings by him, which would produce a great deal of money, if they were printed. To this it was once or twice observed, that they lay in a small compass, for that he had not much luggage. But he said that he had them, nevertheless.
When he talked of writing something which should procure him money to get some clothes, to paper the room in which he lodged, and to send some more things to his sister, mother, and grandmother; he was asked why he did not enable himself to do all this, by means of these writings which. were "worth their weight in gold." His answer was, that they were not written with a design to buy old clothes, or to paper rooms, and that, if the world did not behave well, it should never see a line of them.
O CHATTERTON! for thee the pensive song I rail
Thou object of my wonder, pity, envy, praise!
Bright Star of Genius!—torn from life and fame,
My tears, my verse, shall consecrate thy name!
Ye Muses! who around his natal bed
Triumphant sung, and all your influence shed
APOLLO! thou who rapt his infant breast,
And in his dædal<89> numbers shone confesssed,
Ah! why, in vain, such mighty gifts bestow
—Why give fresh tortures to the Child of Woe?
Why thus, with barbarous care, illume his mind,
Adding new sense to all the ills behind?
Thou haggard Poverty! whose cheerless eye
Transforms young Rapture to the pond'rous sigh,
In whose drear cave no Muse e'er struck the lyre,
Nor Bard e'er maddened with poetic fire:
Why all thy spells for CHATTERTON combine?
His thought creative, why must thou confine?
Subdued by thee, his pen no more obeys,
No longer gives the song of ancient days;
Nor paints in glowing tints from distant skies,
Nor bids wild scenery rush upon our eyes—
Checked in her flight, his rapid genius cowers,
Drops her sad plumes, and yields to thee her powers.
Behold him, Muses! see your favourite son
The prey of want, ere manhood is begun!
The bosom ye have filled, with anguish torn
The mind you cherished, drooping and forlorn!
And now Despair her sable form extends,
Creeps to his couch, and o'er his pillow bends.
Ah, see! a deadly bowl the fiend concealded,
Which to his eye with caution is revealed—
Seize it, Apollo!—seize the liquid snare!
Dash it to earth, or dissipate in air!
Stay, hapless youth! refrain—abhor the draught,
With pangs, with racks, with deep repentance fraught!
Oh, hold! the cup with woe ETERNAL flows,
More—more than Death the poisonous juice bestows
In vain! He drinks—and now the searching fires
Rush through his veins, and writhing he expires
No sorrowing friend, no sister, parent, nigh,
To soothe his pangs, or catch his parting sigh;
Alone, unknown, the Muse's darling dies,
And with the vulgar dead unnoted lies!
Bright Star of Genius!—torn from life and fame,
My tears, my verse, shall consecrate thy name!<90>
We come now to the questions of most difficulty, but of least consequence.
What could induce Chatterton to lay such a plan? Was it the credit of imposing upon the world, which he was determined never to claim, since he never owned the imposition?
My answer is, that I neither know, nor care: and the conjectures of the rustiest fellow of the Antiquarian Society cannot give an answer much more to the purpose. Are the motives of men's and women's conduct so plain, that he who runs may read them? How much less obvious are we to expect the motives of a boy's conduct, of such a boy's! Chatterton, with some, with many things about him, superior to most, to all men, was still but a boy. Though he did see 17 before his death, he must have been literally a boy, when he laid the foundation of his plans.—If Macpherson and Ossian be the same, if Chatterton thought them to be the same, Chatterton is an original in poetry only, not in suppositousness.— Mr. H.<27> has never taken off his mask, but rather chosen that Fame should dress up an ideal writer, and worship him as the author of Junius, than to claim the eternal crown in his own name and person.
Good men are satisfied with the applause of their own consciences, and scatter charity with the invisible hand of bounty. May not great men be formed in a similar mould? May not Obscurity appear to enlarge an ideal, as well as a real, object? God would, perhaps, be something less of God, were he visible.
But, as I said, I neither know nor care what was Chatterton's motive.
Am I still asked for it? Like many a man in conversation, I'll get off by telling a story. D'Alembert, in his pamphlet upon the Destruction of the Jesuits, relates that one of the order, who had spent twenty years on a mission in Canada, did not believe even the existence of a God. Notwithstanding this, he had, numerous times, run the hazard of his life in defence of that religion which he preached with success among the savages. To a friend who expressed surprise at the warmth of his zeal, the Missionary observed—"Ah, you have no idea of the pleasure there is in having 20,000 men to listen to you, and in persuading them what you don't believe yourself."
What suggested the scheme to Chatterton's invention?—This question it is, perhaps, still more impossible to answer: nor do I pretend to answer it. If you can ground any conjectures on a few facts I will mention—so.
Psalmanazar<50> died about the time that Chatterton's scheme was born, and bequeathed his methodistical memoirs to the world. Walpole, about the same time, endeavoured to turn a whole national current of belief, with respect to Richard III and, not long before, acknowledged the imposition he had put upon the public in the Preface to Otranto. The Douglas cause<91> was, about the same time, in high agitation. Ossian, with Blair's Dissertation,<11> in which the name of Ælla is mentioned, had not long made his appearance. The Concubine in Spenser's manner, appeared in 1767.<92> Percy's Reliques <80> had not long been published: page xxiv of the first vol. (2nd edition, 1767) mention is made of "Colgrin, son of that Ælla who was elected king of the Saxons in the room of Hengist." Chatterton must have admired Hardyknute<93> (Vol. II. p. 94.) which Mrs. Wardlaw pretended to have found on shreds of paper employed for what is called the bottoms of clues;" and must have read Erle Robert's Mice, in Chaucer's Style, by Prior; and have seen through the pretended Extract of a Letter from Canton to James Garland Esq; at the end of the third volume, which vouches for the truth of Percy's Hau Kiou Choaau, there advertised as translated from the Chinese.<94> On the 21st of January, 1769, the invisible Junius printed his first letter.<27> In May, 1769, Mrs. Montagu published her Essay on Shakespeare, from which it is not impossible that Chatterton's tindery ambition might catch the fire of rivalry. Farrer's Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare had appeared about a twelvemonth. In the wonderful extent of his reading, Chatterton could not be ignorant of Parnell's imposition on Pope, by means of a pretended Leonine translation of some of his lines in the Rape of the Lock; or of Parnell's Fairy Tale, in the ancient English style.<95>
Better memories may, perhaps, recollect other things of this kind.
That Chatterton had Walpole and Ossian in some measure present to his mind, is manifest from his fixing upon the same person (Mr. W.) to introduce Rowley to the world, whom Macpherson chose for Ossian: and, surely, to prove Earl Godwin a good man and true, in spite of history, is much such an attempt as Mr.W.'s concerning Richard! The first stanza of Canynge's Prologue to Godwin, is little more than a versification of the ingenious supposition in the article Godwin, in the Biographia Britannica; and is rather the language of our distant age, than of a man writing three hundred years nearer Godwin; who was not then ungently treated in so many histories, as now.
Whilomme, by pensmen, much ungentle name
Has upon Godwin Earl of Kent been laid,
Thereby bereaving him of faith and fame.
The unforgiving clergymen have said,
That he was knowen to no holy wurche.
But this was all his fault—he gifted not the church.<96>
It may be said, that hardly one of the schemes, which I have mentioned, succeeded. Let me, in my turn, tell what Fontenelle, in his Dialogues,<97> puts into the mouth of the Russian pretender. When he is asked how he dared to assert a claim, for which two or three impostors had suffered the cruellest death; he answers, it was upon that very circumstance he grounded the probability of passing for a true man, and no impostor.
When The Town and Country Magazine was first set up, in January 1769, the foundation of Chatterton's scheme was laid. The superstructure, of course, ascended by degrees. It has at least been some amusement to see if I could discover that he took any materials from these publications. For this purpose I have carefully looked them over, down to the time of his death. The memorandums which I made, I will transcribe for you, just as I scratched them down upon paper at the time. Some of them are little to the purpose, perhaps; and would not have occurred but for the consciousness that I was reading what had been read by the object of my admiration.
Many parts of the book which you lent me the other day struck me in a particular manner, because I knew that my Martha had perused the same parts.
We must not expect to track a Magliabechi<52> very often in the course of only one volume.
In January, 1769, p. 15, is this article The Ancient and Modern Dresses in France Compared with those of England which is continued and concluded in February, p.59. Therein the writer says, he is "glad to avail himself of the assistance of Chaucer, who describes the dresses in the time of Richard II."—In March, p. 136, Chatterton published Rowley's MS. on the Courtmantle.—The former part of this article (Jan. p. 15.) says, it appears by a journal of those times, that
"On the 17th of October, 1409, the Sieur John de Montague was conducted from the little Châtelet to the Halles, being seated high in a cart, and dressed in his livery, viz. a great coat half red and half white, and a hood of the same, with a red buskin and a white one, gilt spurs, his hands tied, and two trumpets before him: and that, after his head was cut off, his body was carried to the gibbet of Paris, and was there hung up with his buskins and gilt spurs."
Catcott, after all his contradictions, does not pretend to have received from Chatterton the death and execution of "Sir Charles Bawdin" in 1461, long, if at all, before the appearance of this article. They who imagine that this passage suggested Bawdin to Chatterton, will conclude Catcott to have received the poem just after the appearance of this article in January.
Page 30, of the same month, are inserted the singular notes which Rousseau left upon his table at Bourgoin when he quarrelled with the magistrates. The vanity and self-importance of these notes were hardly exceeded even by Chatterton. Among them are two, which I will transcribe; but not because they could to him have suggested anything; for he could not, poor fellow! see as far as our day. "The men of genius revenge themselves by insulting me, because they feel my superiority.—Authors pillage, and censure me; knaves curse me; the mob hoot at me." Take it as a motto for your copy of the poor boy's Rowley.
May we not suppose Chatterton to have read these French lines? (January, p. 34.)
L'homme vit par son ame, & l'ame est la pensée.
C'est elle qui pour vous doit mesurer le temps.
Cultivez la sagesse; apprenez l'art suprême
De vivre avec soi-meme,
Vous pourrez sans effroi compter tous vos instants.<98>
In an Essay on Fame (January, p. 37.) I find this passage— "Butler tells us 'Fools are known by looking wise.' And, indeed, it must occur to every discerning man, that affected wisdom and sententious gravity are often assumed, to conceal a great profundity of folly and ignorance." In the poem on Happiness, dated 1769, which you have already seen, are these lines—
And the fond mother thought him wondrous wise.
But little had she read in Nature's book,
For fools assume a philosophic look.
On a Friend who died in his Eighteenth Year, (January, p. 48.) Little did Chatterton think of his own fate, perhaps, when he read this.
In February, p. 62, an antiquarian gives an account of Burge Castle in Suffolk, anciently called Cnobersburge, wherein we are told that "one of the towers, being perhaps undermined when the castle was destroyed, is reclined from the wall at the top about six feet."—One of Rowley's manuscripts, produced by Chatterton, is a Plan to support the Tower of the Temple Church in Bristol, which had declined from its perpendicular. In a late reparation of the church, Catcott says that some subterraneous works have been found, which correspond with this MS.—Will Catcott prove, to the satisfaction of any person beside himself, that evidence is discovered of the tower's having declined; or that Chatterton could not possibly know or judge that the tower had declined; If he can, still Chatterton might by accident have hit upon such a thing, especially after he had seen the foregoing passage about Burge Castle. Chance makes luckier hits than this continually.
In February, p.104, are some lines, signed Asaphides, dated January 29, 1769.—On Mr. Alcock, a Miniature Painter, of Bristol. They are printed in Chatterton's Miscellanies. But should they be thought inferior to other things in his own and Rowley's name; and should that inequality, which we are obliged to pardon in the greatest geniuses, be used as an argument against a boy; I know not any proof that he wrote this, or another poem which we find in April, p. 217, with the same signature. He almost always signed himself D. B. the initials of his first Latin signature, Dunhelmus Bristoliensis. He is here twice, and only twice, made to assume the strange name of Asaphides.
In March, p. 146, is inserted an encomium on Pope's Pastorals, from Ruffhead. In May, p. 272, we read the pastoral of Elinoure and Juga, from D. B. dated May, 1769.
In April, p. 293, we find Remarks on the Works of some of the most Eminent Painters, with Short Anecdotes of their Lives. It was a little later, in the year 1769, than April, I think, that Chatterton offered to furnish Mr.Walpole with Rowley's MS. of A Series of Great Painters that had Flourished at Bristol."
In An Account of the Most Celebrated Monasteries in Europe (April, p. 201), mention is made of the abbey of St. Alban's, which was suppressed at the dissolution of monasteries. The scene of Elinoure and Juga (in the next month, May, p. 272.) is laid on Ruddeborne bank, a river near St. Alban's (as we learn from Chatterton's notes) and after the dialogue, Elinoure and Juga
—moved gentle o'er the dewy mees,
To where St. Alban's holy shrines remain.
In May, p. 272, immediately before his own Elinoure and Juga, is inserted a Monody. Some of the lines, together with the motto, I shall transcribe.
"—Oh! now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troops, and the big war,
That make ambition virtue! Oh! farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th' ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance, of glorious war!
And, oh! you mortal engines,whose rude throats
Th' immortal Jove's dread clamours counterfeit,
Farewell, Calcaria, now farewell!
Meandering wharf, adieu!
Ye neighbouring vills, I cease to tell
What joys I shared in you!
Farewell fair bridge, and Gothic pile,
Adieu you moat and mill!
No more yon murmuring water-fall,
Its rustic din I hear;
No more yon bells so sweetly call
My steps to wander there.
No more, dear F***********! Thy sweet song
Delights my listening ear;
No more dear Tom! Thy fiddle's strung,
My pensive soul to cheer.
No more, gay Flora, your guitar,
Though fraught with melody;
No more your voice, yet sweeter far,
Will fill my heart with glee.
No more, my friends, I join your joy,
Your concert, song, or ball:
Adieu, delightful Bramham park,
Thy walks, thy meads, thy groves!
Thy proud pavillions, and thy cot
With homely thatch done o'er;
Thy distant views, thy rural grot,
Give me leave, now, to transcribe you a few lines from Rowley's first eclogue. The old (and sometimes unintelligible) words, I will change for Chatterton's more modern ones in his notes.
Speak to me not; I ken thy woe in mine.
O! I've a tale the Devil himself might tell.
Sweet flowerets, mantled meadows, forests dign,
And groves far-seen around the hermit's cell;
The sweet ribible dinning in the dell;
The joyous dancing in the alehouse court,
Eke the high song and every joy—farewell!
Farewell the very shade of fair disport!
Of the impossibility to prove imitation I am well aware. But for intentional imitation, I do not here contend. The originality of Chatterton's sublime genius would not have stooped from its height to imitate any man that ever wrote. The question is, whether we perceive the remarkable turn of Othello's farewell, and whether Chatterton's wonderful memory had retained that, and the rustic din, the fiddle, guitar, &c. from a perusal of the monody, without being conscious of it. Chatterton himself explains ribible to be a "violin;" a musical instrument, not known, I fancy, to the period at which the scene of this eclogue is laid, nor very natural in the eclogue, though truth might mark the propriety of it in the monody.
By the nature of his plan, the folding-doors of imitation were effectually shut against Chatterton. His hands were tied up from picking and stealing. What other poet, ancient or modern, except Homer (and even Homer had his ancients perhaps), can produce an octavo volume, and such an oaavo volume, in the whole course of which, after a search of some years, the best and oldest heads are not able to detect him with certainty more than six or eight times?<100> And those coincidences must of course have been the effect more of memory than design. Rather different are the following coincidences; of which many (beside those they have the honesty to own) might be collected from every page of every poet but this boy.
Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies.
Pope. El. to Abilard
For soon as mastery comes, sweet love anon
Taketh his nimble wings, and soon away is gone.
Spenser. 3. 1. 25.
Love will not be confined by mastery
When mastery comes, the Lord of Love anon
Flutters his wings, and forthwith is he gone.
The attic warbler pours her throat:
Is it for thee the linnet pours his throat?
Pope, Essay on Man, 3. 33
The painful family of death.
Gray. Eton Col.
Hate, fear, and grief, the family of pain:
Waves in the eye of Heaven her many-coloured wings.
Interest that waves on parti-coloured wings.
Dunciad 4. 538.
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
The inaudible and noiseless foot of Time.
All's well that ends well.
There at the foot of yonder nodding beech,
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noon-tide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.
—He lay along
Under an oak, whose antique root peeped out
Upon the brook, that crawled along the wood.
Shakesp. As you like it.
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up.
Shakesp. Hen. V.
Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little song.
Goldsm. Edw. and Ang.
Man wants but little, nor that little long.
Young. Night 4.
In May, p. 328, is a modern version of "Eleanora and Juga," by S. W. A. "aged 16." What must have been the feelings of Chatterton, when he saw a boy take merit to himself for spoiling a poem by a modern version, at the same age, or perhaps at a more advanced one, than that at which he forged it!
In July, p.370, we read of Otway, that
"when he died (which he did in an obscure house, near the Minories), he had about him the copy of a tragedy, which it seems he had sold for a trifle to Bentley, the bookseller. I have seen," says the author of this article, "an advertisement, at the end of one of Lestrange's "political papers, offering a reward to any one who should bring it to his shop. What an invaluable treasure was there irretrievably lost, by the ignorance and neglect of the age he lived in!"
In this affecting picture it was impossible Chatterton should perceive his own features; but you will allow that it required all even his strength of mind, and conscious genius, to work on upon Rowley after reading the following truth—
"At present, were a man to endeavour to improve his fortune, or increase his friendship, by poetry, be would soon feel the anxiety of disappointment. The press lies open, and is a benefactor to every sort of literature but that alone."
If Chatterton did endeavour to catch the public by other baits, besides genius, who can blame him?
What must have been the sensations of Chatterton's feeling mind, when he read (July, p. 389) that the number of slaves brought from the coast of Africa, in one year, 1768, between Cape Blanco and Rio Congo, by the different European nations, amounted to One Hundred and Four Thousand One Hundred! Great Britain (the seat of freedom) 53,100—France 23,500—Holland (after wresting their own freedom from Philip) 11,300—Portugal 13,700—British America 6,300—Denmark 1,200. How must the genius of Rowley have fired at such a sum total of fellow-creatures, made beasts of burden, only because the common Creator had made them of a different colour!
Ill-fated Chatterton! Why didst thou not attend to Orestes On the Poverty of Authors? (August, p. 399). How couldst thou imagine that even thy parts would prevent thy adding one to his long but faithful list of the starved children of Genius! Could thy penetrating sight discover no truth in his borrowed observation, that—
"we more readily assist the lame and the blind than a poor man of genius—for every one is sensibly affected with the apprehension of blindness or lameness; but who is in the least dread of the accidents which attend on genius?"
—Here let me panse a moment to rescue the world from blame it does not merit. The world is not accountable for the death of every man of abilities who has perished, however miserably, in an alehouse or a prison. Profligacy and Genius, Ability and Prodigality, are not, as many imagine, the same things. But Genius too often thinks it necessary to be profligate, and Profligacy often demands to pass for genius. To behold Genius confined in a prison, or skulking in an alehouse, and not to lend relief, were infamous; provided the spectator could he sure that he was lending effectual relief. But, if to rescue from one prison, be only to give an opportunity to visit another—whose humanity is sturdy enough to bear such insults, even from a friend, or from a child? Churchill reproached the world with suffering Lloyd to pine in the Fleet,<101> and Johnson has moistened many an eye with the sufferings of Savage.<102> But the world, if it be ever accountable, is only accountable for the death of such a being as Chatterton, who (let his enemies or enviers persist, as they choose, in asserting what they cannot prove) was not extravagant, was not profligate, was not unprincipled. All his profligacy consisted in quitting the attorney's office, and penning Ælla—"when he should have engrossed."<103> His only extravagance was lavishing upon unnecessary presents to his grandmother, mother, and sister, a few shillings, the earnings of his genius, which might otherwise, perhaps, have saved him from starving. Unprincipled belongs to those who accuse him of crimes without a shadow of proof.
In the Magazine for September, p. 497, is a roundelay, for the Jubilee in honour of Shakespeare. Let me just transcribe the first stanza of it, and the first stanza of the famous Minstrel's Song in Ælla. Your musical ear must judge whether one suggested the other.
Sisters of the tuneful strain,
Attend your parent's jocund tree;
'Tis Fancy calls you, follow me,
To celebrate the jubilee.
O! sing unto my roundelay,
O! drop the briny tear with me;
Dance no more on holyday,
Like a running river be.
If your ear be struck by the cadence, you will be struck not a little, in the remainder of the song, by a strong resemblance or two of Shakespeare, to whom Chatterton's retentive memory must have been directed by the subject of the roundelay, and by the mention it makes of Desdemona.
In Othello (4. 13.), Desdemona sings, "All a green willow," &c. which she says her mother's maid Barbary "died singing." The burden of the song in Ælla is "All under the willow tree"—and it concludes with
I die; I come; my true-love waits.
Thus the damsel spake, and died.
The original of Desdemona's song ("Willow, willow") is in Percy's Reliques, l. 192.<104> One stanza (p. 193) is not totally unlike the Minstrel's first which I have just transcribed—
The cold stream ran by him,
His eyes wept apace;
The salt tears fell from him,
Which drowned his face.
What follows is surely rather more than coincidence!
Black his hair as the winter night,
White his cheek as the summer snow.
Whiter is my true-love's shroud.
Ælla, 852. 873.
White his shroud as the mountain snow.
Hamlet, 4. 5.
His beard was as white as snow,
All flaxen was his poll.
Hamlet, 4. 5.
Here, upon my true-love's grave,
Shall the barren flowers be laid.
Larded all with sweet flowers;
Which bewept to the grave did go,
With true-love flowers.
Hamlet, 4. 5.
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed.
Ælla. Burden of the song.
No, no, he is dead,
Go to thy death-bed.
Hamlet, 4. 5.
One other line has the same turn and expression as a line of Tickell.
Hark! the raven flaps his wing.
And, at her window,—
The raven flapped his wing.
Lucy and Colin.<105>
Have I tired you? But pray confess that there is more in the similarity of these passages, than if I were to argue that Chatterton wrote all Rowley, because in one of Rowley's poems there is a line which is to be found, word for word, in two other poets since Rowley.
And tears began to flow.
A Bristow Tragedy or The Death of Sir Charles Bawdin.<106>
And tears began to flow.
And tears began to flow.
Edwin and Angelina.<107>
So, in another Bard—
Right against the eastern gate.
Gray. Descent of Odin.
Right against the eastern gate.
This might happen without even having seen the lines which are so exactly the same. Then only it is, perhaps, that we can be sure we see the stealing hand of Memory, or catch, the Proteus form of Imitation, when the same idea is expressed in the same words.
Before we go any further, let me just show you how the account stands between Chatterton and the Town and Country Magazine for 1769.
Account of the Tincture of Saxon Heralds; and some lines On Mr. Alcock, which do not from the signature appear to be Chatterton's, though inserted in his Miscellanies
Ethelgar, a Saxon poem; and a manuscript by Rowley, On the Court Mantle
Kenrick, a Saxon poem; and an elegy, which does not from the signature appear to be Chatterton's, though inserted in his Miscellanies
Cerdick, a Saxon poem; Saxon Achievements, and Elinoure and Juga
Some lines to Mr. Holland
The Hirlas; and an elegy, which does not from the signature appear to be Chatterton's, though inserted in his Miscellanies, where I do not find The Hirlas, printed in the Magazine, p. 574, with his usual signature, D.B.
The Antiquity of Christmas Games, and The Copernican System
The Hirlas, an elegy, and some lines to Miss R.
You cannot, I am sure, but observe, and with surprise, how few things he contributed during the space of some whole months, from May to December. How are we to account for this? Was his active genius unemployed during all this time, and some of it the most poetical part of the year? Or did his
—With his loved Rowley by his side,
Where he might hear the swotie nightlark chaunte?
Battle of Hastings, 2. 581.
It is certain, that in December (p. 623 of the Magazine) there is a passage in a short article of Chatterton's upon the "Antiquity of Christmas Games," which seems clearly meant to prepare the world for Ælla, Godwin, and the Apostate—and who can tell for how many more of Rowley's plays?
"A register of the nunnery of Keynsham relates, that William, Earl of Gloucester, entertained two hundred knights with tilts and fortunes, at his great manor of Keynsham; provided thirty pies of the eels of Avon, as a curious dainty; and on the twelfth day began the plays for the knights by the monks; with miracles and maumeries for the henchmen and servants, by minstrels.
Here is plainly a distinction made between maumeries and miracles, and the more noble representations comprehended under the name of plays. The first were the holiday entertainments of the vulgar; the other of the barons and nobility. The private exhibitions at the manors of the barons were usually family histories; the monk, who repretented the master of the family, being arrayed in a tabard (or herald's coat without sleeves), painted with all the hatchments of the names. In these domestic performances absurdities were unavoidable; and in a play wrote by Sir Tibbet Gonges" (an error of the press, certainly, for Rowley's friend Gorges), "Constance, Countess of Bretagne and Richmond, marries and buries her three husbands in the compass of an hour. Sometimes these pieces were merely relations, and had only two characters of this kind, as that in Weever's Funeral Monuments. None but the patrons of monasteries had the service of the monks in performing plays on holidays; provided the same contained nothing against God or the church. The public exhibitions were superior to the private; the plot generally the life of some pope, or the founder of the abbey the monks belonged to. I have seen several of these pieces, MOSTLY LATIN, and cannot think our ancestors so ignorant of dramatic excellencies as the generality of modern writers would represent: they had a good moral in view; and some of the maumeries abound with wit, which, though low now, was not so then."
So much for the Town and Country Magazine, 1769.
Before I leave Rowley, I must transcribe you a short passage from the Gentleman's Magazine for August, 1777, p. 363, which accounts for the following extraordinary lines in the Epistle on Ælla:
Playes made from hallie tale I hold unmeete;
Let somme great story of a manne be songe:
Whanne as a manne we Godde and Jesus treate,
In mie pore mynde we doe the Godhedde wronge.
"I have hinted, that it is often impossible to distinguish between coincidence and imitation; nevertheless, I should fuppose the foregoing lines much more likesy to have been written by one who had seen the following passage of Vossius, than by one who had not. 'I am of opinion,' says he, 'that it is better to choose another argument than sacred: for it agrees not with the majority of sacred things to be made a play and a fable. It is also a work of very dangerous consequence, to mingle human inventions with things sacred: because the poet adds uncertainties of his own, sometimtes falsities; which is not only to play with holy things, but also to graft in men's minds opinions now and then false. These things have place especially, when we bring in God or Christ, speaking or treating of the mysteries of religion.' Now Rowley could not have seen Vossius; for Vossius was contemporary with Grotius, who was born in 1583. It may be thought very unlikely, that Chatterton, the youth who is said to have produced these poems as the compofition of Rowley, should have seen any work of Vossius: it is, however, not unlikely that he had seen this passage in the place from whence I have quoted it, viz. Lives of the Poets (12mo. vol. II. p. 14. Life of Francis Goldsmith); a book of which a young reader might very probably be possessed"—
—a book, I will add, which we may conclude our Magliabechi, just commencing the life of a poet, whether he possessed it or not, had certainly read.
One other question remains to be answered—It may be asked, why Chatterton's own Miscellanies are inferior to Rowley? Let me ask another question—Are they inferior?
Genius, abilities, application, we may bring into the world with us; these rare ingredients may be mixed up in our compositions by the hand of Nature: but Nature herself cannot create a human being possessed of a complete knowledge of our world almost the moment be is born into it. Is the knowledge of the world which his Letters and Miscellanies contain, no proof of his astonishing quickness in seizing everything he chose! Is it remembered when, and at what age, Chatterton for the first time quitted Bristol, and how few weeks he lived afterwards? Chatterton's Letters and Miscellanies, and everything which the warmest advocate for Rowley will not deny to have been Chatterton's, exhibit an insight into men, manners, and things, for the want of which in their writings, authors, who have died old men, with more opportunities to know the world (who could have fewer?) than Chatterton, have been thought to make amends by other merits.
Again—in his own character, he painted for booksellers and bread; in Rowley's, for fame and eternity. Why are a boy's tasks at school inferior to what he writes for his amusement?
Then—it is not impossible that he might designedly under-write himself. He certainly did, when he wrote "Ladgate's Answer to the Song of Ælla."
After all, he was no modern; the boy was born an ancient: and he knew mankind well enough to see, that, in the present age, there was a greater facility of emergence from obscurity to fame, through the channel of curiosity, for a monk of the 15th century, than for a sexton's son of the 18th. Shame upon that age, which still persists in bearing testimony to his knowledge of it!
Suffer me to indulge my whim in running a short parallel between this boy and our great Milton. Some similitudes, and some dissimilitudes, will not fail to strike your nice eye.
Milton enjoyed every advantage not only of private, but of public, not only of domestlc, but of foreign education.
Chatterton wanted every advantage of every possible education.
Milton in his youth received such instructions from teachers and schoolmasters, that, in his age, he was able to become a schoolmaster, and a teacher to others.
Chatterton became his own teacher and his own schoolmaster before other children are subjects for instruction; and never knew any other.
Milton's juvenile writings would not have justified a prophecy of Paradise Lost: but the author of them flatters himself, by dating his life 15 till he had turned 16.
Few, if any, of Milton's juvenile writings would have been owned by Chatterton, at least by Rowley, could he have passed for the author of them.
Milton did not produce Comus much earlier than in his 26th year; since it was first presented at Ludlow in 1634, and he was born in 1608. In 1645, when he was 37, Allegro and Penseroso first appeared. In 1655, when he was 47, after long choosing, and beginning late, he set himself to turn a strange thing, called a Mystery, into an epic poem; which was not completed in less than Chatterton's whole active existence, since the copy was not sold till April, 1667, and then consisted only of 10 books. With all its glorious perfections, Paradise Lost contains puerilities, to which Chatterton was a stranger. In 3 years more, when he was 62, appeared Milton's History of England. Paradise Regained, and Samson, were published in the same year. Lycidas I had forgotten. It was written in his 29th year. That propriety of character and situation, which Chatterton can seldom have violated, or he would not to this moment deceive such and so many men, Milton seldom preserves in Lycidas. If, in the course of an existence almost four times longer than Chatterton's, this man (fallen on evil days and evil tongues, with less truth than Chatterton), who bore no fruit worth gathering till after the age at which Chatterton was withered by the hand of Death—if, I say, this great man produced other writings, he will not quarrel that Posterity has forgotten them; if he should, Posterity will still perhaps forget them.
Chatterton, not suffered to be long choosing, or to begin late, in 17 years and 9 months, reckoning from his cradle to his grave, produced the volume of Rowley's poems, his volume of Miscellanies, and many things which are not printed, beside what his indignation tore in pieces the day he spurned at the world, and threw himself on the anger of his Creator.
Milton's manuscripts, preserved at Cambridge, bear testimony to his frequent and commendable correction.
What time could Chatterton have found for alteration or correction, when I maintain that any boy who should only have fairly transcribed, before his 18th year, all that Chatterton, before his 18th year, invented and composed, would be thought to deserve the reputation of diligence, and the praise of application?
Milton, as Ellwood relates, could never bear to hear Paradise Lost preferred before Paradise Regained. He is known to have pronounced Dryden to be no poet.
If Chatterton, much earlier in life than Milton was calculated either to be an author or a critic, had not possessed a chaster judgement he would not still impose on so many critics and authors.
Milton, more from inclination than want of bread, it seems, entered into party disputes, whether a king might be lawfully beheaded, &c. with a servility and a virulence, and let out his praise to hire, perhaps, with a meanness, at all periods of his life, which the worst enemies of Chatterton cannot prove him to have equalled.
Chatterton, in order to procure bread for himself, a grandmother, mother and sister, was ready to prove this patriotism of Bute, or of Beckford, in writings, which older men need not blush to own, and in an age when older men did not blush at such a profession.
Milton, in affluence (if compared with others beside Chatterton) felt on his brows those laurels which others could not see; and was persuaded that, "by labour and intense study, his portion in this life, he might leave something so written to after-times, as they should not willingly let it die."
Chatterton, steeped to the lips in poverty, entertained, long before he had lived 18 years, ideas, hopes, persuasions (by labour and intense study, more truly his portion in this life than Milton's), of living to all eternity in the Memory of Fame.
Paradise Lost produced the author and his widow only 28 pounds; The meaner, more servile, and more versatile abilities of the author produced him indeed enough go be deprived of four thousand poonds by ill-fortune, and to leave fifteen hundred pounds to his family.
Mr. Catcott and Mr. Barrett must inform the world whether Rowley's poems and his own together produced Chatterton 28 shillings.
Phillips relates of Milton, from his own mouth, that "his vein never happily flowed but from the autumnal equinox to the vernal." Richardson writes, that "his poetical faculty would on a sudden run upon him with an impetus or oestrum."
What is said of Chatterton, and of the moon's effect upon him, you have read.
Milton, when a man, seldom drank anything strong: he ate with delicacy and temperance.
Chatterton, when a boy, hardly ever touched meat, and drank only water: when a child, he would often refuse to take anything but bread and water, even if it did happen that his mother had a hot meal, "because he had a work in hand, and he must not make himself more stupid than God had made him."
Milton's historians and grand-daughter admit his moroseness to his children, and that he would not let them learn to write.
Chatterton's mother, his sister and his letters, can speak best of his heart, and of his wishes that his sisters might learn everything.
Into this parallel Chatterton's literary impositions on mankind, and the wonderful circumstance of his carrying the secret out of the world with him, are not taken.
Before I conclude this long scrawl, suffer me to observe, that the brother of him who is said to have written the "Essay on the Genius of Pope"<108> (of whom both, deservedly I conclude, have received from the hands of Literature that independence for which Chatterton courted her) might surely have concluded his criticism on Rowley, without studying to heap so many epithets of abhorrence on that boy, whom at the same time he seems to consider as Rowley, i. e. as the most extraordinary instance of genius the world ever saw. Warton finishes.with saying, that Chatterton was "an (1) adventurer, a professed (2) hireling in the trade of literature, full of (3) projects and invention, (4) artful, (5) enterprising, (6) unprincipled, (7) indigent, and (8) compelled to subsist by expedients." (Addition to p. 164. Hist. of Engl. Poetry, vol. ii) That prophets are not honoured in their own country, I have heard; but I never till now knew that poets are so little honoured in their own country, and in their own profession.
After all—of these epithets and phrases bestowed by the author of the Triumph of Isis, in the most mature and charitable part of his life, upon the juvenile author of Rowley's Poems, 1, 2, 8 do not convey very shocking ideas of criminality—3, 4, 5 may be construed into praise—7 is not a very unpardonable fault in Chatterton, except that this, together with ambition, and a desire to provide for his grandmother, mother and sister, laid the foundation of the six crimes already enumerated—6 is absolutely false.
With regard to Chatterton's face and person, all agree that he was a manly, good-looking boy: that there was something about him which instantaneously prepossessed you in his favour. Mr. Barrett and Mr. Catcott, as well as all who remember him, speak particularly of his eye. Catcott says that he could never look at it long enough to see what sort of an eye it was; but it seemed to be a kind of hawk's eye, he thinks; you could see his soul through it.
Mr. Barrett says, he took particular notice of his eyes, from the nature of his profession. He never saw such. One was still more remarkable than the other. You might see the fire roll at the bottom of them, as you sometimes do in a black eye, but never in grey ones, which his were. Mr.Barrett adds, that he used often to send for him from the charity-school (which is close to his house) and differ from him in opinion, on purpose to make him earnest, and to see how wonderfully his eye would strike fire, kindle and blaze up.
So ends what I have to say about Chatterton, when I shall have just observed that his innocent imposition on the world is exactly the story of M. Angelo's buried statue of Cupid;<109> and, finally, that Miss More is oftener boasted by Bristol, and acquired more fame and wealth, for an Ode to Garrick's Dog,<110> than Chatterton for all Rowley's poems. Prefix to this letter, if you please, the comforting discovery of Lord Shaftesbury<111> in his Characteristics, that "an ingenious man never starves unknown." Such a being as Chatterton should not have been suffered to starve at all. But comfort like this is to be expected from "Knights and Barons."
Bards may be Lords, but, 'tis not in the cards,
Play as you will, to turn Lords into Bards.<112>
The employment has been of the service to me which you meant it should. In some measure I have forgotten myself, and, as much as it was possible, forgotten my Martha, during the hours which I have spent upon this business.
If the story be not told as regularly as it might be told, the situation of my mind with regard to you must be my excuse. Besides, were I cold enough to tell such a tale as Chatterton's with as much regularity as I put a common occurrence upon paper, I should despise myself.
All I shall further add, is, that I do not hold out Chatterton as the first character in the world. An army of Macedonian and Swedish mad butchers, indeed, fly before him; nor does my memory supply me with any human being, who, at such an age, with such disadvantages, has produced such compositions<113>. Under the Heathen mythology, Superstition and Admiration would have explained all by bringing Apollo upon earth nor would the god ever have descended with more credit to himself.
But, after all, the world is only indebted to Chatterton for a few inimitable poems. If barbarity and fanaticism be suffered to destroy mankind, genius will write in vain when there is none to read. To preserve our fellow-creatures is still a greater praise than to instruct or to amuse them. Perhaps, all circumstances considered, the first character that ever existed was Bartholomew las Casas<114>.
Let me conclude these nine sheets of paper and a half with a most capital subject for a painter, from Chatterton's Tournament, which you may add to the subjects that I have before suggested to you. It will surprise you to find how very modern it is. The advocates for Rowley must explain this to you, if they can, and if Rowley have still any advocates; for I do assure you, as you will find by turning to the poem, that I have only altered four words, and those only by changing them for Chatterton's words of explanation in his notes to the poem.
When Battle, foaming with new-quickened gore,
Bending with spoils and bloody<115> dropping head,
Did the dark wood of Ease and Rest explore,
Seeking to lie on Pleasure's downy bed—
Pleasure, dancing from her wood,
Wreathed with flowers of eglantine,
From his visage washed the blood,
Hid his sword and gaberdine.<116>
The note which I risqued yesterday, you got, I hope. If you had not answered my last but one, I should certainly have thrown this bundle of papers into the fire. Since you are now a good girl again, I send them to you. May they afford you anything like entertainment! It was but last night that I finished them.—Adieu!
Much as I dread the expedition, tomorrow I believe must be the day.
17 February, 79.