The Rowley Poems
by Thomas Chatterton
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REPRINT OF THE EDITION OF 1778. (The Table of Contents follows the 1778 title-page.)



Thomas Chatterton was born in Bristol on the 20th of November 1752. His father—also Thomas—dead three months before his son's birth, had been a subchaunter in Bristol Cathedral and had held the mastership in a local free school. We are told that he was fond of reading and music; that he made a collection of Roman coins, and believed in magic (or so he said), studying the black art in the pages of Cornelius Agrippa. With all the self-acquired culture and learning that raised him above his class (his father and grandfathers before him for more than a hundred years had been sextons to the church of St. Mary Redcliffe) he is described as a dissipated, 'rather brutal fellow'. Lastly, he appears to have been 'very proud', self-confident, and self-reliant.

Of Chatterton's mother little need be said. Gentle and rather foolish, she was devoted to her two children Mary and, his sister's junior by two years, Thomas the Poet. Of these Mary seems to have inherited the colourless character of her mother; but Thomas must always have been remarkable. We have the fullest accounts of his childhood, and the details that might with another be set down as chronicles of the nursery will be seen to have their importance in the case of this boy who set himself consciously to be famous when he was eight, wrote fine imaginative verse before he was thirteen, and killed himself aged seventeen and nine months.

Thomas, then, was a moody baby, a dull small boy who knew few of his letters at four; and was superannuated—such was his impenetrability to learning—at the age of five from the school of which his father had been master. He was moreover till the age of six and a half so frequently subject to long fits of abstraction and of apparently causeless crying that his mother and grandmother feared for his reason and thought him 'an absolute fool.' We are told also by his sister—and there is no incongruity in the two accounts—that he early displayed a taste for 'preheminence and would preside over his playmates as their master and they his hired servants.' At seven and a half he dissipated his mother's fear that she had borne a fool by rapidly learning to read in a great black-letter Bible; for characteristically 'he objected to read in a small book.' In a very short time from this he appears to have devoured eagerly the contents of every volume he could lay his hands on. He had a thirst for knowledge at large—for any kind of information, and as the merest child read with a careless voracity books of heraldry, history, astronomy, theology, and such other subjects as would repel most children, and perhaps one may say, most men. At the age of eight we hear of him reading 'all day or as long as they would let him,' confident that he was going to be famous, and promising his mother and sister 'a great deal of finery' for their care of him when the day of his fame arrived. Before he was nine he was nominated for Colston's Hospital, a local school where the Bluecoat dress was worn and at which the 'three Rs' were taught but very little else, so that the boy, disappointed of the hope of knowledge, complained he could work better at home. To this period we should probably assign the delightful story of Chatterton and a friendly potter who promised to give him an earthenware bowl with what inscription he pleased upon it—such writing presumably intended to be 'Tommy his bowl' or 'Tommy Chatterton'. 'Paint me,' said the small boy to the friendly potter, 'an Angel with Wings and a Trumpet to trumpet my Name over the World.'

At ten he was making progress in arithmetic, and it should be mentioned that he 'occupied himself with mechanical pursuits so that if anything was out of order in the house he was set to mend it.' At school he read during play hours and made few friends, but those were 'solid fellows,' his sister tells us; while at home he had appropriated to himself a small attic where he would read, write and draw pictures—a number of which are preserved in the British Museum—of knights and churches, and heraldic designs in red and yellow ochre, charcoal, and black-lead. In this attic too he had stored—though at what date is uncertain—a number of writings on parchment which had a rather singular history. In the muniment room of St. Mary Redcliffe, the church in which Chatterton's ancestors had served as sextons, there were six or seven great oak chests, of which one, greater than the others and secured by no fewer than six locks, was traditionally called 'Canynges Cofre' after William Canynge the younger, with whose name the erection and completion of St. Mary's were especially associated. These had contained deeds and papers dealing with parochial matters and the affairs of the Church, but some years before Chatterton's birth the Vestry had determined to examine these documents, some of which may have been as old as the building itself. The keys had in the course of time been lost, and the vestrymen accordingly broke open the chests and removed to another place what they thought of value, leaving Canynge's Coffer and its fellows gutted and open but by no means void of all their ancient contents. Such parchments as remained Chatterton's father carried away, whole armfuls at a time, using some to cover his scholars' books and giving others to his wife, who made them into thread-papers and dress patterns.

In the house to which Mrs. Chatterton had moved upon her husband's death there was still a sufficient number of these old manuscripts to make a considerable trove for the boy who, then nine or ten years old, had first learnt to read in black-letter and was in a few years to produce poetry which should pass for fifteenth century with many well-reputed antiquaries. It was no doubt on blank pieces of these parchments that he inscribed the matter of the few Rowley documents which he ever showed for originals. We have the account of a certain Thistlethwaite, one of the 'solid lads' with whom Chatterton had made friends at school, that his friend Thomas in the summer of 1764 told him 'he was in possession of some old MSS. which had been found deposited in a chest in Redcliffe Church, and that he had lent some or one of them to Thomas Phillips'—an usher at Colston's, an earnest and thoughtful man fond of poetry, and a great friend of Chatterton's. 'Within a day or two after this,' (Thistlethwaite wrote to Dean Milles,) 'I saw Phillips ... who produced a MS. on parchment or vellum which I am confident was "Elenoure and Juga"[1] a kind of pastoral eclogue afterwards published in the Town and Country Magazine for May 1769. The parchment or vellum appeared to have been closely pared round the margin for what purpose or by what accident I know not ... The writing was yellow and pale manifestly as I conceive occasioned by age.'

This was the beginning of the Rowley fiction—which might be metaphorically described as a motley edifice, half castle and half cathedral, to which Chatterton all his life was continually adding columns and buttresses, domes and spires, pediments and minarets, in the shape of more poems by Thomas Rowley (a secular priest of St. John's, Bristol); or by his patron the munificent William Canynge (many times Mayor of the same city); or by Sir Thibbot Gorges, a knight of ancient family with literary tastes; or by good Bishop Carpenter (of Worcester) or John a Iscam (a Canon of St. Augustine's Abbey, also in Bristol); together with plays or portions of plays which they wrote—a Saxon epic translated—accounts of Architecture—songs and eclogues—and friendly letters in rhyme or prose. In short, this clever imaginative lad had evolved before he was sixteen such a mass of literary and quasi-historical matter of one kind or another that his fictitious circle of men of taste and learning (living in the dark and unenlightened age of Lydgate and the other tedious post-Chaucerians) may with study become extraordinarily familiar and near to us, and was certainly to Chatterton himself quite as real and vivid as the dull actualities of Colston's Hospital and the Bristol of his proper century.

Chatterton's own circle of acquaintance was far less brilliant. His principal patrons were Henry Burgum and George Catcott, a pair of pewterers, the former vulgar and uneducated but very ambitious to be thought a man of good birth and education, the latter a credulous, selfish and none too scrupulous fellow, a would-be antiquary, of whom there is the most delightfully absurd description in Boswell's Johnson. The biographer relates that in the year 1776 Johnson and he were on a visit to Bristol and were induced by Catcott to climb the steep flight of stairs which led to the muniment room in order to see the famous 'Rowley's Cofre'. Whereupon, when the ascent had been accomplished, Catcott 'called out with a triumphant air of lively simplicity "I'll make Dr. Johnson a convert" (to the view then still largely obtaining that Rowley's poems were written in the fifteenth century) and he pointed to the "Wondrous chest".' '"There" said he 'with a bouncing confident credulity "There is the very chest itself"!' After which 'ocular demonstration', Boswell remarks, 'there was no more to be said.' It was to such men as these that Chatterton read his 'Rouleie's' poems. Another of his audience was Mr. Barrett, a surgeon, who collected materials for a history of Bristol, which, when published after the boy-poet's death, was found to contain contributions (supplied by Chatterton) in the unmistakable and unique 'Rowleian' language—valuable evidence about old Bristol miraculously preserved in Rowley's chest.

We hear also of Michael Clayfield, a distiller, one of the very few men in Bristol whom Chatterton admired and respected; of Baker, the poet's bedfellow at Colston's, for whom Chatterton wrote love poems, as Cyrano de Bergerac did for Christian de Neuvillette, to the address of a certain Miss Hoyland—thin, conventional silly stuff, but Roxane was probably not very critical; of Catcott's brother, the Rev. A. Catcott, who had a fine library and was the author of a treatise on the Deluge; of Smith, a schoolfellow; of Palmer an engraver, and a number of others—mere names for the most part. Baker, Thistlethwaite and a few more were contemporaries of the poet, but the rest of the circle consisted mainly of men who had reached middle age—dullards, perhaps, who condescended to clever adolescence, whom Chatterton certainly mocked bitterly enough in satires which he wrote apparently for his own private satisfaction, but whom he nevertheless took considerable pains to conciliate as being men of substance who could lend books and now and then reward the Muse with five shillings. For Burgum the poet invented, and pretended to derive from numerous authorities (some of which are wholly imaginary), a magnificent pedigree showing him descended from a Simon de Seyncte Lyse alias Senliz Earl of Northampton who had come over with the Conqueror. To this he appended a portion of a poem not included in this edition, entitled the 'Romaunte of the Cnyghte', composed by John de Bergham about A.D. 1320. It was some years before Mr. Burgum applied to the College of Heralds to have his pedigree ratified, but when he did so he was informed that there had never been a de Bergham entitled to bear arms.

With a second instalment of the genealogical table were copies of the poems called The Tournament and The Gouler's (i.e. Usurer's) Requiem, which are printed in this volume. Mr. Burgum was completely taken in, and, exulting in his new-found dignity, acknowledged the announcement of his splendid birth with a present of five shillings. It is worthy of notice that the pedigree made mention of a certain Radcliffe Chatterton de Chatterton, but Burgum's suspicions were not aroused by the circumstance.

In July 1765, that is to say when the boy was aged about 13, the authorities of Colston's Hospital apprenticed him to John Lambert, a Bristol attorney. He had chosen the calling himself, but it was not long before the life became intolerable to him. It was arranged that he should board with Lambert, and the attorney made him share a bedroom with the foot-boy and eat his meals in the kitchen. Further, though his sister has recorded that the work was light, the practice being inconsiderable, Lambert always tore up any writing of Chatterton's that he could find if it did not relate to his business. 'Your stuff!' he would say. Nevertheless he admitted that his apprentice was always to be found at his desk, for he often sent the footman in to see. And no doubt on some of these occasions Chatterton was copying the legal precedents of which 370 folio pages, neatly written in a well-formed handwriting, remain to this day as evidence of legitimate industry. At other times he was certainly composing poems by Rowley.

Perhaps at this point it would be well to give some account of Chatterton's method in the production of ancient writings. First it seems he wrote the matter in the ordinary English of his day. Then he would with the help of an English-Rowley and Rowley-English Dictionary (which he had laboriously compiled for himself out of the vocabulary to Speght's Chaucer, Bailey's Universal Etymological Dictionary, and Kersey's Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum) translate the work into what he probably thought was a very fair imitation of fifteenth century language. His spelling Professor Skeat characterizes as 'that debased kind which prevails in Chevy Chase and the Battle of Otterbourn in Percy's Reliques, only a little more disguised.' Percy's Reliques were not published till 1765, but it is natural to suppose that Chatterton when he was 'wildly squandering all he got On books and learning and the Lord knows what,' and thereby involving himself in some little debt, would have bought the volume very soon after its publication. Finally as to the production of 'an original'. We have two accounts; one of which represents the pseudo-Rowley rubbing a parchment upon a dirty floor after smearing it with ochre and saying 'that was the way to antiquate it'; the other, even more explicit, is the testimony of a local chemist, one Rudhall, who was for some time a close friend of Chatterton's. The incident in which Rudhall appears is worth relating at length.

In the month of September 1768 an event of some importance occurred at Bristol—a new bridge that had been built across the Avon to supersede a structure dating from the reign of the second Henry being formally thrown open for traffic. At the time when this was the general talk of the city Chatterton had left with the editor of Felix Farley's Bristol Journal a description of the 'Fryars passing over the Old Bridge taken from an ancient manuscript.' This account was in the best Rowleian manner, with strange spelling and uncouth words, but for the most part quite intelligible to the ordinary reader. The editor accordingly published it (no payment being asked) and great curiosity was aroused in consequence. Where had this most interesting document come from? Were there others like it? The Bristol antiquaries, rather a large body, were all agog with excitement. Ultimately they discovered that the unknown contributor, of whom the editor could say nothing more than that his 'copy' was subscribed Dunclinus Bristoliensis, was Thomas Chatterton the attorney's apprentice. Now the amazing credulity of these learned people is one of the least comprehensible circumstances of our poet's strange life. For on being asked how he had come by his MSS. he refused at first to give any answer. Then he said he was employed to transcribe some old writings by 'a gentleman whom he had supplied with poetry to send to a lady the gentleman was in love with'—the excuse being suggested no doubt by the case of Miss Hoyland and his friend Baker. Finally when, as we can only conclude, this explanation was disproved or disbelieved, he announced that the account was copied from a manuscript his father had taken from Rowley's chest. And this explanation was considered perfectly satisfactory.

Yet it seemed obvious that the antiquaries would demand to see the manuscript, and Chatterton, contrary to his usual practice of secrecy, called upon his friend Rudhall and, having made him promise to tell nothing of what he should show him, took a piece of parchment 'about the size of a half sheet of foolscap paper,' wrote on it in a character which the other did not understand, for it was 'totally unlike English,' and finally held what he had written over a candle to give it the 'appearance of antiquity,' which it did by changing the colour of the ink and making the parchment appear 'black and a little contracted.' Rudhall, who kept his secret till 1779 (when he bartered it for L10, to be given to the poet's mother, at that time in great poverty), believed that no one was shown or asked to see this document. Why, it is impossible to say.

The present volume contains a reproduction[2] in black and white of the original MS. of Chatterton's 'Accounte of W. Canynges Feast'. This was written in red ink. The parchment is stained with brown, except one corner, and the first line written in a legal texting hand. The ageing of his manuscript of the Vita Burtoni, to take a further instance, was effected by smearing the middle of it with glue or varnish. This document was also written partly in an attorney's regular engrossing[3] hand. During the next four years Chatterton 'transcribed' a great quantity of ancient documents, including AElla, a Tragycal Enterlude—far the finest of the longer Rowleian poems—the Songe to AElla and The Bristowe Tragedy (the authorship of which last he appears in an unguarded moment to have acknowledged to his mother). He told her also that he had himself written one of the two poems Onn oure Ladies Chyrche—which one, Mrs. Chatterton could not remember[4], but if it was the first of the two printed in this edition (p. 275) it was a strange coincidence indeed that led him to repudiate the antiquity of the only two Rowley poems which are really at all like 'antiques'—Professor Skeat's convenient expression. The two Battles of Hastings were written during this period, and it appears that Barrett the surgeon, on being shown the first poem, was for once very insistent in asking for the original, whereupon Chatterton in a momentary panic confessed he had written the verses for a friend; but he had at home, he said, the copy of what was really the translation of Turgot's Epic—Turgot was a Saxon monk of the tenth century—by Rowley the secular priest of the fifteenth. This was the second Battle of Hastings as printed in this book. Again this strange explanation, so laboured and so patently disingenuous, was accepted without comment though probably not believed. And if it appears matter for surprise that there should ever have been any controversy about the authorship of the Rowley writings, in view of the lad's admission that he had written three such signal pieces as the Bristowe Tragedy, the first Battle of Hastings, and Onn oure Ladies Chyrche, it must be considered that the production of the greater part of the poems by a poorly educated boy not turned seventeen would naturally appear a circumstance more surprising than that such a boy should tell a lie and claim some of them as his own.

With his acknowledged work, as with Rowley, Chatterton by dint of continued application was making good progress. In 1769 he had become a frequent contributor to the Town and Country Magazine, to which he sent articles on heraldry, imitations of Ossian (whom he very much admired) and various other papers; and in December of this year he wrote to Dodsley, the well-known publisher, acquainting him that he could 'procure copies of several ancient poems and an interlude, perhaps the oldest dramatic piece extant, wrote by one Rowley, a Priest in Bristol, who lived in the reign of Henry the Sixth and Edward the Fourth * * * If these pieces would be of any service to Mr. Dodsley copies should be sent.' The publisher returned no answer. Chatterton waited two months, then wrote again and enclosed a specimen passage from AElla. He could procure a copy of this work, he wrote, upon payment of a guinea to the present owner of the MS. Again Mr. Dodsley lay low and said nothing, and so the incident closed.

Dodsley having failed him, Chatterton next took the bolder step of writing to Horace Walpole, who must have been much in his mind for some years before his sending the letter. Some one has made the ingenious suggestion that a consideration of Walpole's delicate connoisseurship sensibly coloured Chatterton's account of the life of Mastre William Canynge. More than this, his delight in the Mediaeval—the Gothic—and his content with what may be termed a purely impressionistic view of the past, was singularly akin to the Bristol poet's own outlook on these matters. Walpole had further some three years before this time indulged in the very harmless literary fraud of publishing his Castle of Otranto as a translation from a mediaeval Italian MS., only confessing his own authorship upon the publication of the second edition. To Walpole then Chatterton addressed a short letter enclosing some verses by John a Iscam and a manuscript on the Ryse of Peyncteyning yn Englande wroten by T. Rowleie 1469 for Mastre Canynge[5] with the suggestion that it might be of service to Mr. Walpole 'in any future edition of his truly entertaining anecdotes of painting.' This drew from the connoisseur one of the politest letters[6] that have been written in English, in which the simple and elegant sentences expressed with a very charming courtesy the interest and curiosity of its author. He gave his correspondent 'a thousand thanks'; 'he would not be sorry to print' (at his private press) 'some of Rowley's poems'; and added—which reads strangely in the light of what follows—'I would by no means borrow and detain your MS.' Now Chatterton's Peyncteyning yn Englande is the clumsiest fraud of all the Rowley compositions, with the single exception of a letter from the secular Priest which exhibits the exact style and language of de Foe's Robinson Crusoe.[7] Professor Skeat has pointed out that the Anglo-Saxon words, which occur with tolerable frequency in the Ryse, begin almost without exception with the letter A, and concludes that Chatterton had read in an old English glossary, probably Somners, no farther than Ah. Walpole however 'had not the happiness of understanding the Saxon language,' and it was not until after he had received a second letter from Chatterton, enclosing more Rowleian matter both prose and verse, that he consulted his friends Gray and Mason, who at once detected the forgery. If, as seems certain, Elinoure and Juga was among the pieces sent, it was inevitable that Gray should recognize lines 22-25 of that poem as a striking if unconscious reminiscence of his own Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Now Walpole had some years before introduced Ossian's poems to the world and his reputation as a critic had suffered when their authenticity was generally disputed. Accordingly he wrote Chatterton a stiff letter suggesting that 'when he should have made a fortune he might unbend himself with the studies consonant to his inclination'; and in this one must suppose that he was actuated by a very natural irritation at having been duped a second time by an expositor of antique poetry, rather than by any snobbish contempt for his correspondent, who had frankly confessed himself an attorney's apprentice. Chatterton then wrote twice to have his MS. returned, asserting at the same time his confidence in the authenticity of the Rowley documents. Walpole for some reason returned no answer to either application, but left for Paris, where he stayed six weeks, returning to find another letter from Chatterton written with considerable dignity and restraint—a last formal demand to have his manuscript returned. Whereupon, amazed at the boy's 'singular impertinence,' the great man snapped up both letters and poems and returned them in a blank cover—that is to say without a word of apology or explanation. He might have acted otherwise if he had been a more generous spirit, but an attempt had been made to impose upon him which had in part succeeded, and he can hardly be blamed for showing his resentment by neglecting to return the forgeries. One may notice in passing that when Chatterton, more than a year later, committed suicide there were not wanting a great many persons absurd enough to accuse Walpole of having driven him to his death—a contemptible suggestion. Yet the connoisseur's credit certainly suffers from the fact that he gave currency to a false account of the transaction in the hope of concealing his first credulity.[8]

We now come to the circumstance which procured Chatterton's release from his irksome apprenticeship—his threat of suicide. He had often been heard to speak approvingly of suicide, and there is a story, which has, however, little authority, that once in a company of friends he drew a pistol from his pocket, put it to his head, and exclaimed 'Now if one had but the courage to pull the trigger!' This anecdote—if not in fact true—illustrates very well the gloomy depression of spirit which alternated with those outbursts of feverish energy in which his poems were composed. And he had much to make him miserable when with a change of mood he lost his buoyancy and confidence of ultimate fame and success. His ambition was boundless and his audience was as limited in numbers as in understanding. He was as proud as the poor Spaniard who on a bitter day rejected the friendly offer of a cloak with the words 'A gentleman does not feel the cold,' and his pride was continually fretted. He was keenly conscious of the indignity of his position in Lambert's kitchen; he seems to have been pressed for money, and though he 'did not owe five pounds altogether' he probably smarted under the thought that all his hard work, all the long nights of study and composition in the moonlight which helped his thought, could not earn him even this comparatively small sum. Again, he was not restrained from a contemplation of suicide by any scruples of religion—for he has left his views expressed in an article written some few days before his death. He believed in a daemon or conscience which prompted every man to follow good and avoid evil; but—different men different daemons—his held self-slaughter justified when life became intolerable; with him therefore it would be no crime. Wilson suggests too that the boy who had read theology, orthodox and the reverse, held to the common eighteenth century view that death was annihilation; and this may well have been the case. One thing at any rate is certain, that Chatterton on the 14th of April 1770 left on his desk a number of pieces of paper filled with a jumble of satiric verse, mocking prose, and directions for the construction of a mediaeval tomb to cover the remains of his father and himself. Part of this strange document was headed in legal form—'This is the last Will and Testament of me Thomas Chatterton,' and contained the declaration that the Testator would be dead on the evening of the following day—'being the feast of the resurrection.' The bundle was dated and endorsed 'All this wrote between 11 and 2 o'clock Saturday in the utmost distress of mind.' Now while one need not doubt that the distress was perfectly genuine, it is tolerably certain that Chatterton intended his master to find what he had written and draw his own conclusions as to the desirability of dismissing his apprentice. The attorney (who is represented as timid, irritable and narrow-minded)[9] did in fact find the document, was thoroughly frightened, and gave the boy his release. He was now free to starve or earn a living by his pen—so no doubt he represented the alternative to his mother. He must go to London, where he would certainly make his fortune. He had been supplying four or five London journals of good standing with free contributions for some time past, and had received it appears great encouragement from their editors. He gained his point and started out for the great city.

His letters show that he called upon four editors the very day he arrived. These were Edmunds of the Middlesex Journal; Fell of the Freeholders Magazine; Hamilton of the Town and Country Magazine; and Dodsley—the same to whom he had sent a portion of AElla—of the Annual Register. He had received, he wrote, 'great encouragement from them all'; 'all approved of his design; he should soon be settled.' Fell told him later that the great and notorious Wilkes 'affirmed that his writings could not be the work of a youth and expressed a desire to know the author.' This may or may not have been true, but it is certain that Fell was not the only newspaper proprietor who was ready to exchange a little cheap flattery for articles by Chatterton that would never be paid for.[10]

We know very little about Chatterton's life in London—but that little presents some extraordinarily vivid pictures. He lodged at first with an aunt, Mrs. Ballance, in Shoreditch, where he refused to allow his room to be swept, as he said 'poets hated brooms.' He objected to being called Tommy, and asked his aunt 'If she had ever heard of a poet's being called Tommy' (you see he was still a boy). 'But she assured him that she knew nothing about poets and only wished he would not set up for being a gentleman.' He had the appearance of being much older than he was, (though one who knew him when he was at Colston's Hospital described him as having light curly hair and a face round as an apple; his eyes were grey and sparkled when he was interested or moved). He was 'very much himself—an admirably expressive phrase. He had the same fits of absentmindedness which characterized him as a child. 'He would often look stedfastly 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.' We have accounts of his sitting up writing nearly the whole of the night, and his cousin was almost afraid to share a room with him 'for to be sure he was a spirit and never slept.'[11]

He wrote political letters in the style of Junius—generally signing them Decimus or Probus—that kind of vague libellous ranting which will always serve to voice the discontent of the inarticulate. He wrote essays—moral, antiquarian, or burlesque; he furbished up his old satires on the worthies of Bristol; he wrote songs and a comic opera, and was miserably paid when he was paid at all. None of his work written in these veins has any value as literature; but the skill with which this mere lad not eighteen years old gauged the taste of the town and imitated all branches of popular literature would probably have no parallel in the history of journalism should such a history ever come to be written.

His letters to his mother and sister were always gay and contained glowing accounts of his progress; but in reality he must have been miserably poor and ill-fed.

In July he changed his lodgings to the house of a Mrs. Angel, a sacque maker in Brook Street, Holborn; the dead season of August was coming on and probably he wanted to conceal his growing embarrassment from his aunt, who might have sent word of it to his mother at Bristol.

His opera was accepted—it is a spirited and well written piece—and for this he was paid five pounds, which enabled him to send a box of presents to his mother and sister bought with money he had earned. He had dreamed of this since he was eight. But his Balade of Charitie—the most finished of all the Rowley poems—was refused by the Town and Country Magazine about a month before the end; which came on August 24th. He was starving and still too proud to accept the invitations of his landlady and of a friendly chemist to take various meals with them. He was offended at the good landlady's suggestion that he should dine with her; for 'her expressions seemed to hint' (to hint) 'that he was in want'—no cloak for Thomas Chatterton! He could have borrowed money and gone back to Bristol, but there are many precedents for beaten generalissimos falling on their swords rather than return home defeated and disgraced. How could he return? He had set out so confidently; had boasted not a little of his powers, and had satirized all the good people in Bristol de haut en bas. Think of the jokes and commiserations of Burgum, Catcott, and the rest! 'Well, here you are again, boy; but of course we knew it would come to this!' He could not endure to hear that.

Accordingly on Friday the 24th August 1770 he tore up his manuscripts, locked his door, and poisoned himself with arsenic.

Southey, Byron, and others have supposed that Chatterton was mad; it has been suggested that he was the victim of a suicidal mania. All the evidence that there is goes to show that he was not. He was very far-sighted, shrewd, hard-working, and practical, for all his imaginative dreaming of a non-existent past; and this at least may be said, that Chatterton's suicide was the logical end to a very remarkably consistent life.

Chatterton's character has suffered a good deal from three accusations vehemently urged by Maitland and his eighteenth-century predecessors. The first is that the boy was a 'forger'; the second that he was a freethinker; the third that he was a free-liver.

To examine these in turn: the first admits of no denial as a question of fact, but justification may be pleaded which some will accept as a complete exculpation and others perhaps will hardly comprehend.

Chatterton could only produce poetry in his fifteenth-century vein; his imagination failed him in modern English. No one who has any appreciation of Rowley's poems will consider that the African Eclogues are for a moment comparable with them. If he was to write at all he must produce antiques, and, as it happened, interest had been aroused in ancient poetry, largely by the publication of Percy's Reliques and of the spurious Ossian. Appearing at this juncture, then, as ancient writings taken from an old chest, his poems would be read and their value appreciated; while no one would trouble to make out the professed imitations—not by any means easy reading—of an attorney's apprentice. Probably if an adequate audience had been secured in his lifetime, Chatterton would have revealed the secret when it had served its purpose—just as Walpole confessed to the authorship of Otranto only when that book had run into a second edition.

To the second count of the indictment no defence is urged. Chatterton was too honest and too intelligent to accept traditional dogmatics without examination.

Finally, he was no free-liver in the sense in which that objectionable expression is used. Rather he was an ascetic who studied and wrote poetry half through the night, who ate as little as he slept, and would make his dinner off 'a tart and a glass of water.' He was devoted to his mother and sister and to his poetry; and what spare time was not occupied with the latter he seems to have spent largely with the former. The attempt to represent him as a sort of provincial Don Juan—though in the precocious licence of a few of his acknowledged writings he has even given it some colour himself—cannot be reconciled with the recorded facts of his life.

Equally ill judged is that picture which is presented by Professor Masson and other writers less important—of a truant schoolboy, a pathetic figure, who had petulantly cast away from him the consolations of religion. Monsieur Callet, his French biographer, knew better than this: 'Il fallait l'admirer, lui, non le plaindre,' is the last word on Chatterton.

[Footnote 1: An extraordinary production for a boy of twelve, but we need not suppose that if 'Elenoure and Juga' were written in 1764 and not published until 1769 no alterations and improvements were made by its author in the period between these dates.]

[Footnote 2: From the engraving in Tyrwhitt's edition.]

[Footnote 3: See Southey and Cottle's edition, quoted in Skeat, ii, p. 123.]

[Footnote 4: Dean Milles has a delightful account of the reception accorded to Rowley in the Chatterton household. Neither mother nor sister would appear to have understood a line of the poems, but Mary Chatterton (afterwards Mrs. Newton) remembered she had been particularly wearied with a 'Battle of Hastings' of which her brother would continually and enthusiastically recite portions.]

[Footnote 5: Wilson believed that Chatterton never sent the Ryse, &c., at all (see page 173 of his Chatterton: A Biographical Study), but this is disposed of by the fact that the Ryse of Peyncteyning is the only piece of Chatterton's which contains Saxon words.]

[Footnote 6: March 28th, 1769.]

[Footnote 7: An account of Master William Canynge written by Thos. Rowlie Priest in 1460. Skeat, Vol. III, p. 219; W. Southey's edition, Vol. III, p. 75. See especially the last paragraph.]

[Footnote 8: See Letters of Horace Walpole, edited by Mrs. Paget Toynbee (Clarendon Press), Vol. XIV, pp. 210, 229; Vol. XV, p. 123.]

[Footnote 9: But attorneys are seldom 'in regrate' with the friends of Poetry.]

[Footnote 10: Masson's reconstruction of the scene between Chatterton and the editor of the Freeholder's Magazine is very convincing (see his Chatterton: a Biography, p. 160).]

[Footnote 11: Almost everything that we know of Chatterton in London was ascertained by Sir H. Croft and printed in his Love and Madness (see Bibliography).]


As imitations of fifteenth-century composition it must be confessed the Rowley poems have very little value. Of Chatterton's method of antiquating something has already been said. He made himself an antique lexicon out of the glossary to Speght's Chaucer, and such words as were marked with a capital O, standing for 'obsolete' in the Dictionaries of Kersey and Bailey. Now even had his authorities been well informed, which they were not by any means, and had Chatterton never misread or misunderstood them, which he very frequently did, it was impossible that his work should have been anything better than a mosaic of curious old words of every period and any dialect. Old English, Middle English, and Elizabethan English, South of England folk-words or Scots phrases taken from the border ballads—all were grist for Rowley's mill. It is only fair to say that he seldom invented a word outright, but he altered and modified with a free hand. Professor Skeat indeed estimates that of the words contained in Milles' Glossary to the Rowley Poems only seven percent are genuine old words correctly used. The Professor in his modernized edition is continually pointing out with kindly reluctance that such and such a word never bore the meaning ascribed to it—that because, for instance, Bailey had explained Teres major as a smooth muscle of the arm it was not therefore any legitimate inference of Chatterton's that tere (singular form) meant a muscle and could be translated 'health'. Only occasionally does one find the note (written with an obviously sincere pleasure) 'This word is correctly used.' Of course it was impossible that Chatterton should have produced even a colourable imitation of fifteenth-century poetry at a time when even Malone—for all his acknowledged reputation as an English Scholar—could not quote Chaucer so as to make his lines scan. The Rowley Poems and Percy's Reliques mark the beginning of that renascence of our older poetry so conspicuous in the time of Lamb and Hazlitt. Before this epoch was the Augustan age, much too well satisfied with its own literature to concern itself with an unfashionable past.

But, after all, however absurd from any historical point of view the language and metres of the boy-poet may be, at least he invented a practicable language which admirably conveyed his impression of the latest period of the middle ages—that after-glow which began with the death of Chaucer. Chatterton's poetry is a pageant staged by an impressionist. It cannot be submitted to a close examination, and it is all wrong historically, yet it presents a complete picture with an artistic charm that must be judged on its own merits. An illusion is successfully conveyed of a dim remote age when an idle-strenuous people lived only to be picturesque, to kill one another in tourneys, to rear with painful labour beautiful elaborate cathedrals, and yet had so much time on their hands that they could pass half their lives cracking unhallowed sconces in the Holy Land and, in that part of their ample leisure which they devoted to study, spell 'flourishes' as 'Florryschethe'. But if any one still anxious for literal truth should insist—'Is not the impression as false as the medium that conveys it? Were the middle ages really like that? Is it not a fact that the average baron stayed at home in his castle devising abominable schemes to wring money or its equivalent from miserable and half-starved peasants?'—such a one can only be answered with another question: 'Is Pierrot like a man, and has it been put beyond question that Pontius Pilate was hanged for beating his wife?' The Rowley writings are—properly considered—entirely fanciful and unreal. They have many faults, but are seen at their worst when Chatterton is trying to exhibit some eternal truth. There is a horrible (but perfectly natural) didacticism—the inevitable priggishness of a clever boy—which occasionally intrudes itself on his best work. Thus that charming fanciful fragment which begins—

As onn a hylle one eve fittynge At oure Ladie's Chyrche mouche wonderynge

embodies this truism fit for a bread-platter—or to be the 'Posy of a ring'—'Do your best.'

Canynges and Gaunts culde doe ne moe.

And the poet's boyishness demands still further consideration. He has a crude violence of expression which is apt to shock the mature person—some of the descriptions of wounds in the two Battles of Hastings would sicken a butcher; while in another vein such a phrase as

Hee thoughte ytt proper for to cheese a wyfe, And use the sexes for the purpose gevene. (Storie of William Canynge)

has an absurd affectation of straightforward good sense divested of sentiment which could not appeal to any one on a higher plane of civilization than a medical student.

And this is easily explicable if only it is borne in mind that the Rowley poems were written by a boy, and that such lovely things as the Dirge in AElla suggest a maturity that Chatterton did not by any means perfectly possess. In some respects he was as childish (to use the word in no contemptuous sense) as in others he was precocious. And it is a thousand pities that the difficulties of Chatterton's language and the peculiar charm and invention of his metrical technique cannot be appreciated till the boyish love of adventure, delight in imagined bloodshed, and ignorance of sentimental love, have generally been left behind. Nothing—to give an example—could be more frigid than the description of Kennewalcha—

White as the chaulkie clyffes of Brittaines isle, Red as the highest colour'd Gallic wine

(an unthinkable study in burgundy and whitewash, Battle of Hastings, II, 401); nothing, on the other hand, more vivid, more obviously written with a pen that shook with excitement, than

The Sarasen lokes owte: he doethe feere, &c. (Eclogue the Second, 23.)

Soe wylle wee beere the Dacyanne armie downe, And throughe a storme of blodde wyll reache the champyon crowne. (AElla, 631.)

Loverdes, how doughtilie the tylterrs joyne! (Tournament, 92.).

In fine, there is no poet, one may boldly declare, whose pages are so filled with battle, murder and sudden death, as Chatterton's are; and this is perhaps the clearest indication he gives of immaturity.

But if his ideas were sometimes crude and boyish they were not by any means always so; he has flashes of genius, sudden beauties that take away the breath. A better example than this of what is called the sublime could not be found:

See! the whyte moone sheenes onne hie; Whyterre ys mie true loves shroude; Whyterre yanne the mornynge skie, Whyterre yanne the evenynge cloude. (AElla, 872.)

and, from the Songe bie a Manne and Womanne,

I heare them from eche grene wode tree, Chauntynge owte so blatauntlie, Tellynge lecturnyes to mee, Myscheefe ys whanne you are nygh. (AElla, 107.)

Did ever shepherd's pipe play a prettier tune? He has some fine martial sounds, as for instance: Howel ap Jevah came from Matraval (Battle of Hastings, I, 181.)

He rarely employs personifications, but no poet used the figure more convincingly. The third Mynstrelle's description of Autumn is a lovely thing, and one will not easily forget his Winter's frozen blue eyes—though unfortunately that is not in Rowley.

His art was essentially dramatic, and he has some fine dramatic moments, as for example when the Usurer soliloquizing miserably on his certain ultimate damnation suddenly cries out

O storthe unto mie mynde! I goe to helle. (Gouler's Requiem.)

The word 'storthe' is a good example of Chatterton's use of strange words. The effect of a sudden outcry which it produces would be lost in a modernized version which rendered it 'death'.

Mr. Watts-Dunton in his article on Chatterton in Ward's English Poets speaks of his extraordinary metrical inventiveness and of his ultimate responsibility for such lines as these—

And Christabel saw the lady's eye And nothing else she saw thereby Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall—

the anapaestic dance of which breaks in upon the normal iambic movement of the poem with a natural dramatic propriety. He compares too The Eve of St. Agnes with the Excelente Balade of Charitie, remarking that it was only in his latest work that Keats attained to that dramatic objectivity which was 'the very core and centre of Chatterton's genius.'

Another writer, Mr. Thomas Seccombe, speaks of his 'genuine lyric fire, a poetic energy, and above all an intensity remote from his contemporaries and suggestive (as Cimabue in his antique and primitive manner is suggestive of Giotto and Angelico) of Shelley and Keats.'

Chatterton's influence on the great body of poets of the generation succeeding his own was very considerable—Mr. Watts-Dunton indeed declares him to have been the father of the New Romantic School—and the affection with which Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth and many others regarded him was extraordinary. He was their pioneer, who had lost his life in a heroic attempt to penetrate the dull crassness of the mid-eighteenth century.

He had great originality and the gift of an intense imagination. If he is sometimes crude and immature in thought and expression—if his images sometimes weary by their monotony—it is accepted that a poet is to be judged by his highest and not his lowest; and Chatterton's best work has an inspiration, a singular and unique charm both of thought and of music that is of the first order of English poetry.


A great deal more has been written about Chatterton than it is worth anybody's while to read. To begin with, there are all the volumes and pamphlets concerning themselves with the question whether the Rowley poems were written by Chatterton or by Rowley, or by both (Chatterton adding matter of his own to existing poems written in the fifteenth century), or by neither. It may be said that these problems were not conclusively and finally solved till Professor Skeat brought out his edition of Chatterton in 1871.

Then again there are the various lives of the poet; for the most part mere random aggregations of such facts, true or imagined, as fell in the editor's way, filled out with pulpit commonplaces and easy paragraphs beginning 'But it is ever the way of Genius ...' Professor Wilson's Chatterton: a Biographical Study is as final in its own way as Professor Skeat's two volumes. It is a scholarly compilation of all previous accounts, very well digested and arranged. Moreover, the Professor has for the most part left the facts to tell their own story; and thus his book is free from such absurdities as the sentimental regrets of Gregory and Professor Masson that Chatterton was led into a course of folly ending in suicide through being deprived of a father's care. Such a father as Chatterton's was!

While premising that any one who wishes to learn the facts of the boy-poet's life—his circumstances and surroundings—can find them all set forth in Professor Wilson's book: while equally if he is interested in the pseudo-Rowley's language, philologically considered, he will find this elaborately examined in Professor Skeat's second volume; it has been thought that the following bibliography of books dealing with various aspects of the poet which were read and valued in their day may be found of interest to students of literary history.

1598. Speght's edition of Chaucer, the glossary of which Chatterton used in the compilation of his Rowley Dictionary.

1708. Kersey's Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum, and

1737. Bailey's Universal Etymological Dictionary. (8th Enlarged Edition.) Bailey is largely copied from Kersey, but Chatterton certainly used both dictionaries in making his antique language.

1777. Tyrwhitt's edition of the Rowley poems. Tyrwhitt was Chatterton's first editor and in his edition many of the poems were printed for the first time. 'The only really good edition is Tyrwhitt's.' 'This exhibits a careful and, I believe, extremely accurate text ... an excellent account of the MSS. and transcripts from which it was derived. It is a fortunate circumstance that the first editor was so thoroughly competent.' (Professor Skeat, Introd. to Vol. II of his 1871 edition.)

1778. Tyrwhitt's third edition, from which the present edition is printed. With this was printed for the first time 'An appendix ... tending to prove that the Rowley poems were written not by any ancient author but entirely by Thomas Chatterton.' This edition follows the first nearly page for page; but was reset.

1780. Love and Madness by Sir Herbert Croft. This strange book deserves a brief description as it is the source of almost all our knowledge of Chatterton.

A certain Captain Hackman, violently in love with a Miss Reay, mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, and stung to madness by his jealousy and the hopelessness of his position, had in 1779 shot her in the Covent Garden Opera House and afterwards unsuccessfully attempted to shoot himself. Enormous public interest was excited, and Croft—baronet, parson, and literary adventurer—got hold of copies which Hackman had kept of some letters he had sent to the charming Miss Reay. These he published as a sensational topical novel in epistolary form, calling it Love and Madness. This is quite worth reading for its own sake, but much more so for its 49th letter, which purports to have been written by Hackman to satisfy Miss Reay's curiosity about Chatterton. As a matter of fact Croft, who had been very interested in the boy-poet and had collected from his relations and those with whom he had lodged in London all they could possibly tell him, wrote the letter himself and included it rather inartistically among the genuine Hackman-Reay correspondence. Amongst other valuable matter, this letter 49 contains a long account of her brother by Mary Chatterton.—(See Love letters of Mr. Hackman and Miss Reay, 1775-79, introduction by Gilbert Burgess: Heinemann, 1895.) 1774-81. Warton's History of English Poetry, in Volume II of which there is an account of Chatterton.

1781. Jacob Bryant's Observations upon the Poems of T. Rowley in which the authenticity of those poems is ascertained. Bryant was a strong Pro-Rowleian and argues cleverly against the possibility of Chatterton's having written the poems. He shows that Chatterton in his notes often misses Rowley's meaning and insists that he neglected to explain obvious difficulties because he could not understand them. Bryant is the least absurd of the Pro-Rowleians.

1782. Dean Milles' edition of the Rowley poems—a splendid quarto with a running commentary attempting to vindicate Rowley's authenticity. Milles was President of the Society of Antiquaries and his commentary is characterized by Professor Skeat as 'perhaps the most surprising trash in the way of notes that was ever penned.

1782. Mathias' Essay on the Evidence ... relating to the poems called Rowley's—he is pro-Rowleian and criticizes Tyrwhitt's appendix.

1782. Thomas Warton's Enquiry ... into the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley—Anti-Rowleian.

1782. Tyrwhitt's Vindication of his Appendix. Tyrwhitt had discovered Chatterton's use of Bailey's Dictionary and completely refutes Bryant, Milles, and Mathias. It may be observed in passing that though Goldsmith upheld Rowley, Dr. Johnson, the two Wartons, Steevens, Percy, Dr. Farmer, and Sir H. Croft pronounced unhesitatingly in favour of the poems having been written by Chatterton: while Malone in a mocking anti-Rowleian pamphlet shows that the similes from Homer in the Battle of Hastings and elsewhere have often borrowed their rhymes from Pope!

1798. Miscellanies in Prose and Verse by Edward Gardner (two volumes). At the end of Volume II there is a short account of the Rowley controversy and, what is more important, the statement that Gardner had seen Chatterton antiquate a parchment and had heard him say that a person who had studied antiquities could with the aid of certain books (among them Bailey) 'copy the style of our elder poets so exactly that the most skilful observer should not be able to detect him. "No," said he, "not Mr. Walpole himself."' But perhaps this should be taken cum grano.

1803. Southey and Cottle's edition in three volumes with an account of Chatterton by Dr. Gregory which had previously been published as an independent book. Southey and Cottle's edition is very compendious so far as matter goes, and contains much that is printed for the first time. Gregory's life is inaccurate but very pleasantly written.

1837. Dix's life of Chatterton, with a frontispiece portrait of Chatterton aged 12 which was for a long time believed to be authentic. No genuine portrait of Chatterton is known to be in existence; probably none was ever made. Dix's life, not a remarkable work in itself, has some interesting appendices; one of which contains a story—extraordinary enough but well supported—that Chatterton's body, which had received a pauper's burial in London, was secretly reburied in St. Mary's churchyard by his uncle the Sexton.

1842. Willcox's edition printed at Cambridge; on the whole a slovenly piece of work with a villainously written introduction.

1854. George Pryce's Memorials of Canynges Family; which contains some notes of the coroner's inquest on Chatterton's body, which would have been most interesting if authentic, but were in fact forged by one Gutch.

1856. Chatterton: a biography by Professor Masson—published originally in a volume of collected essays; re-published and in part re-written as an independent volume in 1899. The Professor reconstructs scenes in which Chatterton played a part; but it is suggested (with diffidence) that his treatment is too sentimental, and the boy-poet is Georgy-porgied in a way that would have driven him out of his senses, if he could have foreseen it. The picture is fundamentally false.

1857. An Essay on Chatterton by S.R. Maitland, D.D., F.R.S., and F.S.A. A very monument of ignorant perversity. The writer shamelessly distorts facts to show that Chatterton was an utterly profligate blackguard and declares finally that neither Rowley nor Chatterton wrote the poems.

1869. Professor D. Wilson's Chatterton: a Biographical Study, and

1871. Professor W.W. Skeat's Poetical Works of Thomas Chatterton (in modernized English) of which mention has been made above.

1898. A beautifully printed edition of the Rowley poems with decorated borders, edited by Robert Steele. (Ballantyne Press.)

1905 and 1909. The works of Chatterton, with the Rowley poems in modernized English, edited with a brief introduction by Sidney Lee.

1910. The True Chatterton—a new study from original documents by John H. Ingram. (Fisher Unwin.)

Besides all these serious presentations of Chatterton there are a number of burlesques—such as Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades (1782) and An Archaeological Epistle to Jeremiah Milles (1782), which are clever and amusing, and three plays, two in English, and one in French by Alfred de Vigny, which represents the love affair of Chatterton and an apocryphal Mme. Kitty Bell.

The whole of Chatterton's writings—Rowley, acknowledged poems, and private letters, have been translated into French prose. Oeuvres completes de Thomas Chatterton traduites par Javelin Pagnon, precedees d'une Vie de Chatterton par A. Callet (1839). Callet's treatment of Chatterton is very sympathetic and interesting.

Finally for further works on Chatterton the reader is referred to Bohn's Edition of Lowndes' Bibliographer's Manual—but the most important have been enumerated above.


This edition is a reprint of Tyrwhitt's third (1778) edition, which it follows page for page (except the glossary; see note on p. 291). The reference numbers in text and glossary, which are often wrong in 1778, have been corrected; line-numbers have been corrected when wrong, and added to one or two poems which are without them in 1778, and the text has been collated throughout with that of 1777 and corrected from it in many places where the 1778 printer was at fault. These corrections have been made silently; all other corrections and additions are indicated by footnotes enclosed in square brackets.


1. The Tournament, lines 7-10.

Wythe straunge depyctures, Nature maie nott yeelde, &c.

'This is neither sense nor grammar as it stands' says Professor Skeat. But Chatterton is frequently ungrammatical, and the sense of the passage is quite clear if either of the two following possible meanings is attributed to unryghte.

(1)=to present an intelligible significance otherwise than by writing—as 'rebus'd shields' do (un-write);

or (2) = to misrepresent (un-right).

With pictures of strange beasts that have no counterpart in Nature and appear to be purely fantastic ('unseemly to all order') yet none the less make known to men good at guessing riddles ('who thyncke and have a spryte') what the strange heraldic forms express-without-use-of-written-words ('unryghte')—or (taking the second meaning of unryghte—misrepresent) present-with-a-disregard-of-truth-to-nature.

2. Letter to the Dygne Mastre Canynge, line 15.

Seldomm, or never, are armes vyrtues mede, (that is to say, coats of arms) Shee nillynge to take myckle aie dothe hede

i.e. 'She unwilling to take much aye doth heed'; 'which is nonsense' says Prof. Skeat. But the sentence is an example of ellipse, a figure which Chatterton affected a good deal, and fully expressed would run 'She—not willing to take much, ever doth heed not to take much', which would of course be intolerably clumsy but perfectly intelligible.

3. AElla, line 467.

Certis thie wordes maie, thou motest have sayne &c.

Prof. Skeat 'can make nothing of this' and reads 'Certes thy wordes mightest thou have sayn'.

A simple emendation of maie to meynte would give very good sense.

4. AElla, line 489.

Tyrwhitt has sphere—evidently a mistake in the MS. for spere which he overlooked. It is not included in his errata. In the 1842 edition the meaning 'spear' is given in a footnote.

5. Englysh Metamorphosis.

Prof. Skeat was the first to point out that this piece is an imitation of The Faerie Queene, Bk. ii, Canto X, stanzas 5-19.

6. Battle of Hastings, II, line 578.

To the ourt arraie of the thight Saxonnes came

Prof. Skeat explains ourt as 'overt' and observes that it contradicts thight, which he renders 'tight'. But really there is not even an antithesis. Ourt arraie is what a military handbook calls 'open order' and thight is 'well-built', well put together (Bailey's Dictionary). The Saxons were well-built men marching in open order.



(Taken mainly from Gregory's Life of Chatterton.)

Against Rowley.

1. So few originals produced—not more than 124 verses.

2. Chatterton had shown (by his article on Christmas games, &c.) that he had a strong turn for antiquities. He had also written poetry. Why then should he not have written Rowley's poems?

3. His declaration that the Battle of Hastings I was his own.

4. Rudhall's testimony.

5. Chatterton first exhibited the Songe to AElla in his own handwriting, then gave Barrett the parchment, which contained strange textual variations.

6. Rowley's very existence doubtful.

William of Worcester, who lived at his time and was himself of Bristol, makes no mention of him, though he frequently alludes to Canynge. Neither Bale, Leland, Pitts nor Turner mentions Rowley.

7. Improbability of there being poems in a muniment chest. 8. Style unlike other fifteenth century writings.

9. No mediaeval learning or citation of authority to be found in Rowley; no references to the Round Table and stories of chivalry.

10. Stockings were not knitted in the fifteenth century (AElla). MSS. are referred to as if they were rarities and printed books common.

11. Metres and imitation of Pindar absurdly modern.

12. Mistakes cited which are derived from modern dictionaries (Tyrwhitt).

13. Existence of undoubted plagiarisms from Shakespeare, Gray, &c.

For Rowley.

1. Chatterton's assertion that they were Rowley's, his sister having represented him as a 'lover of truth from the earliest dawn of reason.'

2. Catcott's assertion that Chatterton on their first acquaintance had mentioned by name almost all the poems which have since appeared in print (Bryant).

3. Smith had seen parchments in the possession of Chatterton, some as broad as the bottom of a large-sized chair. (Bryant.)

4. Even Mr. Clayfield and Rudhall believed Chatterton incapable of composing Rowley's poems.

5. Undoubtedly there were ancient MSS. in the 'cofre'.

6. Chatterton would never have had time to write so much. He did not neglect his work in the attorney's office and he read enormously.

7. Chatterton made many mistakes in his transcription of Rowley and in his notes to the poems. (Bryant's main contention.)

8. If Leland never mentioned Rowley it is equally true he says nothing of Canynge, Lydgate, or Occleve.

For Rowley.

1. The poems contain much historical allusion at once true and inaccessible to Chatterton.

2. The admitted poems are much below the standard of Rowley.

3. The old octave stanza is not far removed from the usual stanza of Rowley.

4. If Rowley's language differs from that of other fifteenth century writers, the difference lies in provincialisms natural to an inhabitant of Bristol.

5. Plagiarisms from modern authors may in some cases have been introduced by Chatterton but in others they are the commonplaces of poetry.

Against Rowley.

1. No writings or chest deposited in Redcliffe Church are mentioned in Canynge's Will.

2. The Bristol library was in Chatterton's time of general access, and Chatterton was introduced to it by Rev. A. Catcott (Warton).

3. Facts about Canynge may be found in his epitaph in Redcliffe Church; and the account of Redcliffe steeple—(which had been destroyed by fire before Chatterton's time) came from the bottom of an old print published in 1746.

4. The parchments were taken from the bottom of old deeds where a small blank space was usually left—hence their small size.







The Preface Introductory Account of the Several Pieces Advertisement Eclogue the First Eclogue the Second Eclogue the Third Elinoure and Juga Verses to Lydgate Songe to AElla Lydgate's Answer The Tournament The Dethe of Syr Charles Bawdin Epistle to Mastre Canynge on AElla Letter to the dygne M. Canynge Entroductionne AElla; a Tragycal Enterlude Goddwyn; a Tragedie. (A Fragment.) Englysh Metamorphosis, B.I. Balade of Charitie Battle of Hastings, No. 1. Battle of Hastings, No. 2. Onn oure Ladies Chyrche On the same Epitaph on Robert Canynge The Storie of William Canynge On Happienesse, by William Canynge Onn Johne a Dalbenie, by the same The Gouler's Requiem, by the same The Accounte of W. Canynge's Feast GLOSSARY


The Poems, which make the principal part of this Collection, have for some time excited much curiosity, as the supposed productions of THOMAS ROWLEY, a priest of Bristol, in the reigns of Henry VI. and Edward IV. They are here faithfully printed from the most authentic MSS that could be procured; of which a particular description is given in the Introductory account of the several pieces contained in this volume, subjoined to this Preface. Nothing more therefore seems necessary at present, than to inform the Reader shortly of the manner in which these Poems were first brought to light, and of the authority upon which they are ascribed to the persons whose names they bear.

This cannot be done so satisfactorily as in the words of Mr. George Catcott of Bristol, to whose very laudable zeal the Publick is indebted for the most considerable part of the following collection. His account of the matter is this: "The first discovery of certain MSS having been deposited in Redclift church, above three centuries ago, was made in the year 1768, at the time of opening the new bridge at Bristol, and was owing to a publication in Farley's Weekly Journal, 1 October 1768, containing an Account of the ceremonies observed at the opening of the old bridge, taken, as it was said, from a very antient MS. This excited the curiosity of some persons to enquire after the original. The printer, Mr. Farley, could give no account of it, or of the person who brought the copy; but after much enquiry it was discovered, that the person who brought the copy was a youth, between 15 and 16 years of age, whose name was Thomas Chatterton, and whose family had been sextons of Redclift church for near 150 years. His father, who was now dead, had also been master of the free-school in Pile-street. The young man was at first very unwilling to discover from whence he had the original; but, after many promises made to him, he was at last prevailed on to acknowledge, that he had received this, together with many other MSS, from his father, who had found them in a large chest in an upper room over the chapel on the north side of Redclift church."

Soon after this Mr. Catcott commenced his acquaintance with young Chatterton[1], and, partly as presents partly as purchases, procured from him copies of many of his MSS. in in prose and verse. Other copies were disposed of, in the same way, to Mr. William Barrett, an eminent surgeon at Bristol, who has long been engaged in writing the history of that city. Mr. Barrett also procured from him several fragments, some of a considerable length, written upon vellum[2], which he asserted to be part of his original MSS. In short, in the space of about eighteen months, from October 1768 to April 1770, besides the Poems now published, he produced as many compositions, in prose and verse, under the names of Rowley, Canynge, &c. as would nearly fill such another volume.

In April 1770 Chatterton went to London, and died there in the August following; so that the whole history of this very extraordinary transaction cannot now probably be known with any certainty. Whatever may have been his part in it; whether he was the author, or only the copier (as he constantly asserted) of all these productions; he appears to have kept the secret entirely to himself, and not to have put it in the power of any other person, to bear certain testimony either to his fraud or to his veracity.

The question therefore concerning the authenticity of these Poems must now be decided by an examination of the fragments upon vellum, which Mr. Barrett received from Chatterton as part of his original MSS., and by the internal evidence which the several pieces afford. If the Fragments shall be judged to be genuine, it will still remain to be determined, how far their genuineness should serve to authenticate the rest of the collection, of which no copies, older than those made by Chatterton, have ever been produced. On the other hand, if the writing of the Fragments shall be judged to be counterfeit and forged by Chatterton, it will not of necessity follow, that the matter of them was also forged by him, and still less, that all the other compositions, which he professed to have copied from antient MSS., were merely inventions of his own. In either case, the decision must finally depend upon the internal evidence.

It may be expected perhaps, that the Editor should give an opinion upon this important question; but he rather chooses, for many reasons, to leave it to the determination of the unprejudiced and intelligent Reader. He had long been desirous that these Poems should be printed; and therefore readily undertook the charge of superintending the edition. This he has executed in the manner, which seemed to him best suited to such a publication; and here he means that his task should end. Whether the Poems be really antient, or modern; the compositions of Rowley, or the forgeries of Chatterton; they must always be considered as a most singular literary curiosity.

[Footnote 1: The history of this youth is so intimately connected with that of the poems now published, that the Reader cannot be too early apprized of the principal circumstances of his short life. He was born on the 20th of November 1752, and educated at a charity-school on St. Augustin's Back, where nothing more was taught than reading, writing, and accounts. At the age of fourteen, he was articled clerk to an attorney, with whom he continued till he left Bristol in April 1770.

Though his education was thus confined, he discovered an early turn towards poetry and English antiquities, particularly heraldry. How soon he began to be an author is not known. In the Town and Country Magazine for March 1769, are two letters, probably, from him, as they are dated at Bristol, and subscribed with his usual signature, D.B. The first contains short extracts from two MSS., "written three hundred years ago by one Rowley, a Monk" concerning dress in the age of Henry II; the other, "ETHELGAR, a Saxon poem" in bombast prose. In the same Magazine for May 1769, are three communications from Bristol, with the same signature, D.B. viz. CERDICK, translated from the Saxon (in the same style with ETHELGAR), p. 233.—Observations upon Saxon heraldry, with drawings of Saxon atchievements, &c. p. 245.—ELINOURE and JUGA, written three hundred years ago by T. ROWLEY, a secular priest, p. 273. This last poem is reprinted in this volume, p. 19. In the subsequent months of 1769 and 1770 there are several other pieces in the same Magazine, which are undoubtedly of his composition.

In April 1770, he left Bristol and came to London, in hopes of advancing his fortune by his talents for writing, of which, by this time, he had conceived a very high opinion. In the prosecution of this scheme, he appears to have almost entirely depended upon the patronage of a set of gentlemen, whom an eminent author long ago pointed out, as not the very worst judges or rewarders of merit, the booksellers of this great city. At his first arrival indeed he was so unlucky as to find two of his expected Maecenases, the one in the King's Bench, and the other in Newgate. But this little disappointment was alleviated by the encouragement which he received from other quarters; and on the 14th of May he writes to his mother, in high spirits upon the change in his situation, with the following sarcastic reflection upon his former patrons at Bristol. "As to Mr.——, Mr.——, Mr.——, &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 a letter to his sister, dated 30 May, he informs her, that he is to be employed "in writing a voluminous history of London, to appear in numbers the beginning of next winter." In the mean time, he had written something in praise of the Lord Mayor (Beckford), which had procured him the honour of being presented to his lordship. In the letter just mentioned he gives the following account of his reception, with some curious observations upon political writing: "The Lord Mayor received me as politely as a citizen could. But the devil of the matter is, there is no money to be got of this side of the question.—But he is a poor author who cannot write on both sides.—Essays on the patriotic side will fetch no more than what the copy is sold for. As the patriots themselves are searching for a place, they have no gratuity to spare.—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, as courtiers are so sensible of their deficiency in merit, that they generously reward all who know how to dawb them with the appearance of it."

Notwithstanding his employment on the History of London, he continued to write incessantly in various periodical publications. On the 11th of July he tells his sister that he had pieces last month in the Gospel Magazine; the Town and Country, viz. Maria Friendless; False Step; Hunter of Oddities; To Miss Bush, &c. Court and City; London; Political Register &c. But all these exertions of his genius brought in so little profit, that he was soon reduced to real indigence; from which he was relieved by death (in what manner is not certainly known), on the 24th of August, or thereabout, when he wanted near three months to complete his eighteenth year. The floor of his chamber was covered with written papers, which he had torn into small pieces; but there was no appearance (as the Editor has been credibly informed) of any writings on parchment or vellum.]

[Footnote 2: One of these fragments, by Mr. Barrett's permission, has been copied in the manner of a Fac simile, by that ingenious artist Mr. Strutt, and an engraving of it is inserted at p. 288. Two other small fragments of Poetry are printed in p. 277, 8, 9. See the Introductory Account. The fragments in prose, which are considerably larger, Mr. Barrett intends to publish in his History of Bristol, which, the Editor has the satisfaction to inform the Publick, is very far advanced. In the same work will be inserted A Discorse on Bristowe, and the other historical pieces in prose, which Chatterton at different times delivered out, as copied from Rowley's MSS.; with such remarks by Mr. Barrett, as he of all men living is best qualified to make, from his accurate researches into the Antiquities of Bristol.]






These three Eclogues are printed from a MS. furnished by Mr. Catcott, in the hand-writing of Thomas Chatterton. It is a thin copy-book in 4to. with the following title in the first page. "Eclogues and other Poems by Thomas Rowley, with a Glossary and Annotations by Thomas Chatterton."

There is only one other Poem in this book, viz. the fragment of "Goddwyn, a Tragedie," which see below, p. 173.


This Poem is reprinted from the Town and Country Magazine for May 1769, p. 273. It is there entitled, "Elinoure and Juga. Written three hundred years ago by T. Rowley, a secular priest." And it has the following subscription; "D.B. Bristol, May, 1769." Chatterton soon after told Mr. Catcott, that he (Chatterton) inserted it in the Magazine.

The present Editor has taken the liberty to supply [between books][1] the names of the speakers, at ver. 22 and 29, which had probably been omitted by some accident in the first publication; as the nature of the composition seems to require, that the dialogue should proceed by alternate stanzas.


These three small Poems are printed from a copy in Mr. Catcott's hand-writing. Since they were printed off, the Editor has had an opportunity of comparing them with a copy made by Mr. Barrett from the piece of vellum, which Chatterton formerly gave to him as the original MS. The variations of importance (exclusive of many in the spelling) are set down below [2].

[Footnote 1: Misspelled as hooks in the original.—PG editor]

[Footnote 2: Verses to Lydgate.

In the title for Ladgate, r. Lydgate. ver. 2. r. Thatt I and thee. 3. for bee, r. goe. 7. for fyghte, r. wryte.]


This Poem is printed from a copy made by Mr. Catcott, from one in Chatterton's hand-writing.

Songe to AElla.

The title in the vellum MS. was simply "Songe toe AElle," with a small mark of reference to a note below, containing the following words—"Lorde of the castelle of Brystowe ynne daies of yore." It may be proper also to take notice, that the whole song was there written like prose, without any breaks, or divisions into verses.

ver. 6. for brastynge, r. burslynge. 11. for valyante, r. burlie. 23. for dysmall, r. honore.

Lydgate's answer.

No title in the vellum MS.

ver. 3. for varses, r. pene. antep. for Lendes, r. Sendes. ult. for lyne, r. thynge.

Mr. Barrett had also a copy of these Poems by Chatterton, which differed from that, which Chatterton afterwards produced as the original, in the following particulars, among others.

In the title of the Verses to Lydgate.

Orig. Lydgate Chat. Ladgate. ver. 3. Orig, goe. Chat. doe. 7. Orig. wryte. Chat. fyghte.

Songe to AElla. ver. 5. Orig. Dacyane. Chat. Dacya's. Orig. whose lockes Chat. whose hayres. 11. Orig. burlie. Chat. bronded. 22. Orig. kennst. Chat. hearst. 23. Orig. honore. Chat. dysmall. 26. Orig. Yprauncynge Chat. Ifrayning, 30. Orig. gloue. Chat. glare.

Sir Simon de Bourton, the hero of this poem, is supposed to have been the first founder of a church dedicated to oure Ladie, in the place where the church of St. Mary Ratcliffe now stands. Mr. Barrett has a small leaf of vellum (given to him by Chatterton as one of Rowley's original MSS.), entitled, "Vita de Simon de Bourton," in which Sir Simon is said, as in the poem, to have begun his foundation in consequence of a vow made at a tournament.


This Poem is reprinted from the copy printed at London in 1772, with a few corrections from a copy made by Mr. Catcott, from one in Chatterton's hand-writing.

The person here celebrated, under the name of Syr Charles Bawdin, was probably Sir Baldewyn Fulford, Knt. a zealous Lancastrian, who was executed at Bristol in the latter end of 1461, the first year of Edward the Fourth. He was attainted, with many others, in the general act of Attainder, 1 Edw. IV. but he seems to have been executed under a special commission for the trial of treasons, &c. within the town of Bristol. The fragment of the old chronicle, published by Hearne at the end of Sprotti Chronica, p. 289, says only; "Item the same yere (1 Edw. IV.) was takin Sir Baldewine Fulford and behedid att Bristow." But the matter is more fully stated in the act which passed in 7 Edw. IV. for the restitution in blood and estate of Thomas Fulford, Knt. eldest son of Baldewyn Fulford, late of Fulford, in the county of Devonshire, Knt. Rot. Pat. 8 Edw. IV. p. 1, m. 13. The preamble of this act, after stating the attainder by the act 1 Edw. IV. goes on thus: "And also the said Baldewyn, the said first yere of your noble reign, at Bristowe in the shere of Bristowe, before Henry Erle of Essex William Hastyngs of Hastyngs Knt. Richard Chock William Canyng Maire of the said towne of Bristowe and Thomas Yong, by force of your letters patentes to theym and other directe to here and determine all treesons &c. doon withyn the said towne of Bristowe before the vth day of September the first yere of your said reign, was atteynt of dyvers tresons by him doon ayenst your Highnes &c." If the commission sate soon after the vth of September, as is most probable, King Edward might very possibly be at Bristol at the time of Sir Baldewyn's execution; for, in the interval between his coronation and the parliament which met in November, he made a progress (as the Continuator of Stowe informs us, p. 416.) by the South coast into the West, and was (among other places) at Bristol. Indeed there is a circumstance which might lead us to believe, that he was actually a spectator of the execution from the minster-window, as described in the poem. In an old accompt of the Procurators of St. Ewin's church, which was then the minster, from xx March in the 1 Edward IV. to 1 April in the year next ensuing, is the following article, according to a copy made by Mr. Catcott from the original book.

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