The Rowley Poems
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Leah Moser and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
REPRINTED FROM TYRWHITT'S THIRD EDITION
EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION, BY MAURICE EVAN HARE
I. CHATTERTON'S LIFE AND DEATH AND THE GENESIS OF THE ROWLEY POEMS
II. THE VALUE OF THE ROWLEY POEMS
IV. NOTE ON THE TEXT
VI. APPENDIX ON THE ROWLEY CONTROVERSY
REPRINT OF THE EDITION OF 1778. (The Table of Contents follows the
I. CHATTERTON'S LIFE AND DEATH AND THE GENESIS OF THE ROWLEY POEMS
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
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
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" 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
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
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
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 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 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, 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_ 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 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_. 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.
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) 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.
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
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
To the second count of the indictment no defence is urged. Chatterton
was too honest and too intelligent to accept traditional dogmatics
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.
[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
[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_
II. THE VALUE OF ROWLEY'S POEMS--PHILOLOGICAL AND LITERARY
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
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
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.
Loverdes, how doughtilie the tylterrs joyne!
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
IV. NOTE ON THE TEXT.
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)
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
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
BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF THE ARGUMENTS USED IN THE ROWLEY CONTROVERSY.
(Taken mainly from Gregory's _Life of Chatterton_.)
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
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
13. Existence of undoubted plagiarisms from Shakespeare, Gray, &c.
1. Chatterton's assertion that they were Rowley's, his sister having
represented him as a 'lover of truth from the earliest dawn of
2. Catcott's assertion that Chatterton on their first acquaintance had
mentioned by name almost all the poems which have since appeared in
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.
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
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
1. No writings or chest deposited in Redcliffe Church are mentioned in
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.
SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN AT BRISTOL,
BY THOMAS ROWLEY, AND OTHERS, IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY.
SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN WRITTEN AT BRISTOL, BY THOMAS ROWLEY,
AND OTHERS, IN THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY. THE THIRD EDITION; TO
WHICH IS ADDED AN APPENDIX, CONTAINING SOME OBSERVATIONS UPON
THE LANGUAGE OF THESE POEMS; TENDING TO PROVE, THAT THEY WERE
WRITTEN, NOT BY ANY ANCIENT AUTHOR, BUT ENTIRELY BY THOMAS
THE CONTENTS OF THIS VOLUME.
Introductory Account of the Several Pieces
Eclogue the First
Eclogue the Second
Eclogue the Third
Elinoure and Juga
Verses to Lydgate
Songe to AElla
The Dethe of Syr Charles Bawdin
Epistle to Mastre Canynge on AElla
Letter to the dygne M. Canynge
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
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
Soon after this Mr. Catcott commenced his acquaintance with young
Chatterton, 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,
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
CONTAINED IN THIS VOLUME.
ECLOGUE THE FIRST. p. 1
ECLOGUE THE SECOND. 6
ECLOGUE THE THIRD. 12
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
There is only one other Poem in this book, viz. the fragment of
"_Goddwyn, a Tragedie_," which see below, p. 173.
ELINOURE AND JUGA.
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
The present Editor has taken the liberty to supply [between books]
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
VERSES TO LYDGATE. p. 23
SONGE TO AELLA. Ibid.
LYDGATE'S ANSWER. 26
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 .
[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_.]
THE TOURNAMENT. p. 28
This Poem is printed from a copy made by Mr. Catcott, from one in
_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_.
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.
THE DETHE OF SYR CHARLES BAWDIN. p. 44
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
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.
Item _for washynge the church payven ageyns } iiij d. ob.
Kynge Edward 4th is comynge._ }
AELLA, a tragycal enterlude. p. 65
This Poem, with the _Epistle, Letter_, and _Entroductionne_, is
printed from a folio MS. furnished by Mr. Catcott, in the beginning
of which he has written, "Chatterton's transcript. 1769." The whole
transcript is of Chatterton's hand-writing.
GODDWYN, a Tragedie. p. 173
This Fragment is printed from the MS. mentioned above, p. xv. in
ENGLYSH METAMORPHOSIS. p. 196
This Poem is printed from a single sheet in Chatterton's hand-writing,
communicated by Mr. Barrett, who received it from Chatterton.
BALADE OF CHARITIE. p. 203
This Poem is also printed from a single sheet in Chatterton's
hand-writing. It was sent to the Printer of the _Town and Country
Magazine_, with the following letter prefixed:
"To the Printer of the Town and Country Magazine.
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.
July 4, 1770. D.B."
BATTLE OF HASTINGS, No. 1. p. 210
BATTLE OF HASTINGS, No. 2. 237
In printing the first of these poems two copies have been made use of,
both taken from copies of Chatterton's hand-writing, the one by
Mr. Catcott, and the other by Mr. Barrett. The principal difference
between them is at the end, where the latter has fourteen lines from
ver. 550, which are wanting in the former. The second poem is printed
from a single copy, made by Mr. Barrett from one in Chatterton's
It should be observed, that the Poem marked No. 1, was given to Mr.
Barrett by Chatterton with the following title; "_Battle of Hastings,
wrote by Turgot the Monk, a Saxon, in the tenth century, and
translated by Thomas Rowlie, parish preeste of St. Johns in the city
of Bristol, in the year 1465.--The remainder of the poem I have
not been happy enough to meet with._" Being afterwards prest by Mr.
Barrett to produce any part of this poem in the original hand-writing,
he at last said, that he wrote this poem himself for a friend; but
that he had another, the copy of an original by Rowley: and being then
desired to produce that other poem, he, after a considerable interval
of time, brought to Mr. Barrett the poem marked No. 2, as far as ver.
530 incl. with the following title; "_Battle of Hastyngs by Turgotus,
translated by Roulie for W. Canynge Esq._" The lines from ver. 531
incl. were brought some time after, in consequence of Mr. Barrett's
repeated sollicitations for the conclusion of the poem.
ONN OURE LADIES CHYRCHE. p. 275
ON THE SAME. 276
The first of these Poems is printed from a copy made by Mr. Catcott,
from one in Chatterton's hand-writing.
The other is taken from a MS. in Chatterton's hand-writing, furnished
by Mr. Catcott, entitled, "_A Discorse on Bristowe, by Thomas
Rowlie_." See the Preface, p. xi. n.
EPITAPH ON ROBERT CANYNGE. p. 277
This is one of the fragments of vellum, given by Chatterton to Mr.
Barrett, as part of his original MSS.
THE STORIE OF WILLIAM CANYNGE. p. 278
The 34 first lines of this poem are extant upon another of the
vellum-fragments, given by Chatterton to Mr. Barrett. The remainder
is printed from a copy furnished by Mr. Catcott, with some corrections
from another copy, made by Mr. Barrett from one in Chatterton's
hand-writing. This poem makes part of a prose-work, attributed to
Rowley, giving an account of _Painters, Carvellers, Poets_, and other
eminent natives of Bristol, from the earliest times to his own.
The whole will be published by Mr. Barrett, with remarks, and large
additions; among which we may expect a complete and authentic history
of that distinguished citizen of Bristol, Mr. William Canynge. In the
mean time, the Reader may see several particulars relating to him in
_Cambden's Britannia_, Somerset. Col. 95.--_Rymers Foedera,_ &c.
ann. 1449 & 1450.--_Tanner's Not. Monast._ Art. BRISTOL and
WESTBURY.--_Dugdale's Warwickshire_, p. 634.
It may be proper just to remark here, that Mr. Canynge's brother,
mentioned in ver. 129, who was lord mayor of London in 1456, is called
_Thomas_ by Stowe in his List of Mayors, &c.
The transaction alluded to in the last Stanza is related at large in
some Prose Memoirs of Rowley, of which a very incorrect copy has been
printed in the _Town and Country Magazine_ for November 1775. It is
there said, that Mr. Canynge went into orders, to avoid a marriage,
proposed by King Edward, between him and a lady of the Widdevile
family. It is certain, from the Register of the Bishop of Worcester,
that Mr. Canynge was ordained _Acolythe_ by Bishop Carpenter on
19 September 1467, and received the higher orders of _Sub-deacon,
Deacon_, and _Priest_, on the 12th of March, 1467, O.S. the 2d and
16th of April, 1468, respectively.
ON HAPPIENESSE, by WILLIAM CANYNGE. p. 286
ONNE JOHNE A DALBENIE, by the same. Ibid.
THE GOULER'S REQUIEM, by the same. 287
THE ACCOUNTE OF W. CANYNGE'S FEASTE. 288
Of these four Poems attributed to Mr. Canynge, the three first are
printed from Mr. Catcott's copies. The last is taken from a fragment
of vellum, which Chatterton gave to Mr. Barrett as an original. The
Editor has doubts about the reading of the second word in ver. 7,
but he has printed it _keene_, as he found it so in other copies. The
Reader may judge for himself, by examining the _Fac simile_ in the
With respect to the three friends of Mr. Canynge mentioned in the last
line, the name of _Rowley_ is sufficiently known from the preceding
poems. _Iscamm_ appears as an actor in the tragedy of _AElla_, p.
66. and in that of _Goddwyn_, p. 174.; and a poem, ascribed to him,
entitled "_The merry Tricks of Laymington_," is inserted in the
"_Discorse of Bristowe_". Sir _Theobald Gorges_ was a knight of an
antient family seated at Wraxhall, within a few miles of Bristol [See
_Rot. Parl._ 3 H. VI. n. 28. _Leland's Itin._ vol. VII. p. 98.]. He
has also appeared above as an actor in both the tragedies, and as
the author of one of the _Mynstrelles songes_ in _AElla_, p. 91. His
connexion with Mr. Canynge is verified by a deed of the latter,
dated 20 October, 1467, in which he gives to trustees, in part of a
benefaction of L500 to the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe, "_certain
jewells of_ Sir _Theobald Gorges_ Knt." which had been pawned to him
_The Reader is desired to observe, that the notes at the bottom of
the several pages, throughout the following part of this book, are all
copied from MSS. in the hand-writing of_ Thomas Chatterton.
ECLOGUE THE FIRST.
Whanne Englonde, smeethynge from her lethal wounde,
From her galled necke dyd twytte the chayne awaie,
Kennynge her legeful sonnes falle all arounde,
(Myghtie theie fell, 'twas Honoure ledde the fraie,)
Thanne inne a dale, bie eve's dark surcote graie, 5
Twayne lonelie shepsterres dyd abrodden flie,
(The rostlyng liff doth theyr whytte hartes affraie,)
And wythe the owlette trembled and dyd crie;
Firste Roberte Neatherde hys sore boesom stroke.
Then fellen on the grounde and thus yspoke. 10
Ah, Raufe! gif thos the howres do comme alonge,
Gif thos wee flie in chase of farther woe,
Oure fote wylle fayle, albeytte wee bee stronge,
Ne wylle oure pace swefte as oure danger goe.
To oure grete wronges we have enheped moe, 15
The Baronnes warre! oh! woe and well-a-daie!
I haveth lyff, bott have escaped soe,
That lyff ytsel mie Senses doe affraie.
Oh Raufe, comme lyste, and hear mie dernie tale,
Comme heare the balefull dome of Robynne of the Dale. 20
Saie to mee nete; I kenne thie woe in myne;
O! I've a tale that Sabalus mote telle.
Swote flouretts, mantled meedows, forestes dygne;
Gravots far-kend arounde the Errmiets cell;
The swote ribible dynning yn the dell; 25
The joyous daunceynge ynn the hoastrie courte;
Eke the highe songe and everych joie farewell,
Farewell the verie shade of fayre dysporte:
Impestering trobble onn mie heade doe comme,
Ne on kynde Seyncte to warde the aye encreasynge dome. 30
Oh! I coulde waile mie kynge-coppe-decked mees,
Mie spreedynge flockes of shepe of lillie white,
Mie tendre applynges, and embodyde trees,
Mie Parker's Grange, far spreedynge to the syghte,
Mie cuyen kyne , mie bullockes stringe yn syghte, 35
Mie gorne emblaunched with the comfreie plante,
Mie floure Seyncte Marie shotteyng wythe the lyghte,
Mie store of all the blessynges Heaven can grant.
I amm duressed unto sorrowes blowe,
Ihanten'd to the peyne, will lette ne salte teare flowe. 40
Here I wille obaie untylle Dethe doe 'pere,
Here lyche a foule empoysoned leathel tree,
Whyche sleaeth everichone that commeth nere,
Soe wille I fyxed unto thys place gre.
I to bement haveth moe cause than thee; 45
Sleene in the warre mie boolie fadre lies;
Oh! joieous I hys mortherer would slea,
And bie hys syde for aie enclose myne eies.
Calked from everych joie, heere wylle I blede;
Fell ys the Cullys-yatte of mie hartes castle stede. 50
Oure woes alyche, alyche our dome shal bee.
Mie sonne, mie sonne alleyn, ystorven ys;
Here wylle I staie, and end mie lyff with thee;
A lyff lyche myn a borden ys ywis.
Now from een logges fledden is selyness, 55
Mynsterres alleyn can boaste the hallie Seyncte,
Now doeth Englonde weare a bloudie dresse
And wyth her champyonnes gore her face depeyncte;
Peace fledde, disorder sheweth her dark rode,
And thorow ayre doth flie, yn garments steyned with bloude. 60
[Footnote 1: _Smething_, smoking; in some copies _bletheynge_, but in
the original as above.]
[Footnote 2: deadly.]
[Footnote 3: pluck or pull.]
[Footnote 4: _Surcote_, a cloke, or mantel, which hid all the other
[Footnote 5: shepherds.]
[Footnote 6: abruptly, so Chaucer, Syke he abredden dyd attourne.]
[Footnote 7: affright.]
[Footnote 8: Added.]
[Footnote 9: sad.]
[Footnote 10: woeful, lamentable.]
[Footnote 11: the Devil.]
[Footnote 12: might.]
[Footnote 13: sweet.]
[Footnote 14: good, neat, genteel.]
[Footnote 15: groves, sometimes used for a coppice.]
[Footnote 16: far-seen.]
[Footnote 17: Hermit.]
[Footnote 18: violin.]
[Footnote 19: sounding.]
[Footnote 20: inn, or public-house.]
[Footnote 21: also.]
[Footnote 22: pleasure.]
[Footnote 23: annoying.]
[Footnote 24: to keep off.]
[Footnote 25: ever, always.]
[Footnote 26: meadows.]
[Footnote 27: grafted trees.]
[Footnote 28: thick, stout.]
[Footnote 29: liberty of pasture given to the Parker.]
[Footnote 30: tender.]
[Footnote 31: cows.]
[Footnote 32: strong.]
[Footnote 33: garden.]
[Footnote 34: whitened.]
[Footnote 35: cumfrey, a favourite dish at that time.]
[Footnote 36: marygold.]
[Footnote 37: hardened.]
[Footnote 38: accustomed.]
[Footnote 39: abide. This line is also wrote, "Here wyll I obaie
untill dethe appere," but this is modernized.]
[Footnote 40: deadly.]
[Footnote 41: destroyeth, killeth.]
[Footnote 42: grow.]
[Footnote 43: lament.]
[Footnote 44: much-loved, beloved.]
[Footnote 45: cast out, ejected.]
[Footnote 46: alluding to the portcullis, which guarded the gate, on
which often depended the castle.]
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