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From Sharpe's Magazine.
LITERARY IMPOSTURES OF THOMAS CHATTERTON.
In devoting this paper to an examination Some of his biographers have not hesitated of the most remarkable literary forgery of to affirm that there was the taint of insanity modern times, the writer cannot but feel in his constitution; thus, as Mr. Southey that he is in a situation of some embarrass- remarks, “affording a key to the eccentriciment. The genius of Chatterton has found ties of his life, and the deplorable rashness so many admirers, and so much has been of his death." written respecting every incident of his life, At the time of his death Chatterton was that it becomes a task of no ordinary diffi- but seventeen years and ten months old. culty, from the abundance of accessible ma But what were the results of this short life? terial, to construct and condense a satisfac- He had not only produced a collection of tory sketch of his singular career and world- poems, which exhibit a ripeness of fancy and famous imposture. By the side of the Row- a warmth of imagination far beyond any ley poems, all other literary fabrications effort of the frigid age in which he lived, but shrink into insignificance; and the more at- by a skillfully executed fraud had given rise tentively they are examined, the more vehe- to a controversy in which the keenest intelment will be our feelings of admiration and lects eagerly engaged. Nor can it be said astonishment.
that the depth and variety of antiquarian The leading features of Chatterton's life information and research displayed in this may be condensed into a short compass. memorable dispute--by Warton and Malone He was born at Bristol; educated at the especially on one side, and Jacob Bryant on Free-school there; apprenticed to an attor- the other—were entirely thrown away. If ney; became disgusted with his profession; the exhibition of learning and the zeal of the sought his fortune in London, and, after a combatants appear disproportioned to the short and miserable career as a literary importance of the subject, it must, at any hack, died-by his own hand. It is true rate, be admitted that the Rowley controthat this apparently uneventful life is full of versy roused for a time the dormant spirit of incidents painfully interesting and instruc- literary inquiry, and facilitated the introductive; and few who have directed their attention of stricter canons of criticism, and more tion to the study of the human mind-its rigid principles of analysis. innate principles and secret workings—would Chatterton's first forgery, although of the pass it by without serious and solemn reflec- nature of an innocent hoax-a mere schooltion. The precocious development of his fac- boy's trick—is deserving of some little atulties imbued him in early youth with the feel- tention, as illustrating in a striking manner ings and aspirations of manhood. His char- not merely his profound skill in the art of acter was full of incongruities. He was at deception, but his ready insight into human once willful, arrogant, and obstinate ; aimable, character, and quick perception of individual gentle, and affectionate. From his child weaknesses and peculiarities. A pewterer hood he lived, and moved, and breathed in of Bristol, named Burgum, had taken some a world of his own. A brother apprentice notice of him, and, whilst treating him as a has related that there was “generally a mere boy, had encouraged a degree of intidreariness in his look, and a wildness, at- macy which gave Chatterton an opportunity tended with a visible contempt for others;" of practising on his credulity. He soon found and an old female relation, according to that Burgum was a vain man, and just the Warton, has stated that “ he talked very lit- person to be tickled and inflated with the tle, was very absent in company, and used pride of ancestry; so he set to work and devery often to walk by the river-side, talking duced his pedigree from one of the companto himself, and flourishing his arms about.” | ions of the Conqueror. From documents
which he pretended to have discovered in the question of morality by, to proceed with the muniment room of the church of St. our narrative. In December, 1768, ChatterMary Redcliffe, he compiled a history of the ton wrote to Dodsley, the bookseller, to state • De Bergham” family; and furthermore that he “could procure copies of several produced a poem, entitled “The Romaunt ancient poems, &c. written by one Rowley, a of the Cnyghte," written by one John De priest in Bristol, who lived in the reign of Bergham, who flourished in the fourteenth Henry VI. and Edward IV.” The bookcentury. As Chatterton had suspected, the seller returned no answer; and, after waiting worthy pewterer was too well pleased to two months, Chatterton wrote again. This permit himself to doubt the authenticity of letter--whether answered or not is doubtful the documents which conferred on him such —also led to no result, and some other chanan amount of ancestral dignity; and thus nel of publication was sought for. Horace auspiciously commenced the course of fraud Walpole at this time occupied a high position which ended in the production of Rowley. in the world of letters. From his private
A short time after this, a new bridge was printing-press at Strawberry Hill had issued opened at Bristol, with the usual ceremonies, many remarkable works, and his reputation and the same week there appeared in Felix as a man of taste was already European. Farley's Bristol Journal a curious account of In addressing such an august personage, the manner of opening the old bridge, pre- Chatterton saw the necessity of conforming faced by the following letter:
to his particular tastes, and assuming a most
respectful deference. He accordingly for“Mr. Printer - The following description of the Mayor's first passing over the old bridge, ta- Peyneteyne in Englande, wroten by T. Rowlie,
warded a paper, entitled, “The Byse of ken from an old manuscript, may not (at this time) be unacceptable to the generality of your for Mastre Canynge," with the accompanyreaders. Yours, &c.
ing note : DUNHELMUS BRISTOLIENSIS.”
Sir,--Being versed a little in antiquities, I Then followed, in curiously antique or have met with several curious manuscripts, among thography, a circumstantial account of the which the following may be of service to you, in procession. The communication was read
any future edition of your truly entertaining with avidity and astonishment; but who
· Anecdotes of Painting. In correcting the was Dunhelmus Bristoliensis ?
mistakes (if any) in the notes, you will greatly were made, the handwriting examined; but
Your most humble servant, Chatterton kept his secret, and remained
THOMAS CHATTERTON.” undiscovered. Emboldened by success, however, he presented another paper for in This short note, it will be observed, is sertion, and was recognized. He was now another striking example of Chatterton's closely interrogated about the discovery of miraculous perception of character and the documents, and after some little demur, knowledge of the world. Never was invented a tale, which, however plausible, epistle more adroitly worded. Walpole, was anything but satisfactory.
who was at once pleased with his corresA surgeon of Bristol, named Barrett —a pondent, and evidently imagined him a very learned and painstaking man—was at this different person from the humble Bristol aptime writing a history of Bristol; and to this prentice, forwarded a prompt and polite gentleman, Chatterton was introduced by a reply, containing, among others, these comMr. Catcott, the partner of Burgum the plimentary expressions : “What you have pewterer, as a likely person to furnish some already sent me is valuable and full of inforinformation respecting the antiquities of the mation; but, instead of correcting you, sir, place. This was too good an opportunity to you are far more able to correct me.
I be lost; Chatterton eagerly embraced it, have not the happiness of understanding the and soon produced an Ancient Account of Saxon language, and without your learned Bristol, by Turgot or Turgotus, “ translated notes, should not have been able to compreby T. Rowley, out of Saxon into English.” hend Rowley's text.” So auspicious was This is perhaps the least excusable of Chat- Chatterton's introduction to Walpole ! terton's frauds; it was falsifying the infor Believing that he had at last secured an mation of a really valuable work, and in- influential patron to present his “discovjuring the reputation of a learned and esti- eries” to the world of letters, he lost no time mable man, to gratify an idle and certainly in forwarding some additional anecdotes and not very honorable caprice. But we pass fragments of ancient poetry. But his eager
ness excited suspicion. Walpole submitted | the Old Bailey if Chatterton had been upon the documents to his friends, Mason and trial for forging a bill of exchange.”. PosterGray, and took other steps to ascertain their ity, however, has passed a more lenient judgauthenticity. At the same time inquiries ment—a judgment which is thus admirably were instituted at Bristol, and as soon as summed up by Thomas Campbell: “The Walpole had learned that his correspondent Rowleian forgery,” says this kind-hearted was a mere boy, in an humble station of life, and excellent man, “must indeed be proa marked change took place in his manner. nounced improper by the general law which Too cautious and sensitive to become the condemns all falsifications of history; but it dupe of a lawyer's apprentice, he now drew deprived no man of his fame; it had no sacback, and wrote the young enthusiast an rilegious interference with the memory of deedifying homily on the danger and disgrace parted genius." The following remarks from of forgeries, and urged him to stick to busi- the same source are eloquent and touching : ness, and relinquish his poetical aspirations. When we conceive the inspired boy transThis conduct in Walpole is not surprising— porting himself in imagination back to the from one so totally deficient in warmth of days of his fictitious Rowley, embodying his heart and generosity of disposition what else ideal character, and giving to airy nothing a could have been expected ?—but it does ex- local habitation and a name,' we may forget cite resentment to find this dandy littérateur the impostor in the enthusiast, and forgive —the author, be it remembered, of the the falsehood of his reverie for its beauty “ Castle of Otranto,” which was said in the and ingenuity.”. In a more exaggerated preface to have been discovered “in the strain, Mr. William Howitt, in one of his library of an ancient Catholic family in the recent works, exclaims, after noticing this north of England, and printed at Naples, in charge of forgery and falsification : " globlack letter, in the year 1529”--thus insult- rious thieves ! glorious coiners ! admirable ingly speaking of Chatterton when the won- impostors! would to God that a thousand derful enthusiast was no more: “All the other such would appear, again and again house of forgery are relations; and though it appear, to fill the hemisphere of England is just to Chatterton's memory to say, that with fresh stars of renown !" his poverty never made him claim kindred
Having said so much respecting the cirwith the richest, or more enriching branches, cumstances of the forgery, it is time for us to yet his ingenuity in counterfeiting styles, make a few remarks on the poems themand, I believe, hands, might easily have led selves. The first in the collection is the him to those more facile imitations of prose, • Bristowe tragedie, or, the dethe of Syr promissory notes." Chatterton took his re- Charles Bawdin,'
Charles Bawdin,” which Jacob Bryant venge on Walpole, and expressed his resent- naïvely says “ is written too much from the ment in some spirited lines, which have been heart to be a forgery.” It is a simple and published in a recent memoir. We select a touching ballad, which few who are fond of few couplets as apropos to our remarks: such productions will read without interest, “ Thou mayst call me cheat;
and which records the fate of a zealous adheSay didst thou never practice such deceit ?
rent of the house of Lancaster, who was exWho wrote Otranto ?—But I will not chide ; ecuted at Bristol in the first year of the Scorn I'll repay with scorn, and pride with pride ; reign of Edward IV. Although it is stated Still, Walpole, still thy prosy chapters write, by Milles, a zealous champion for the authenAnd twaddling letters to some fair indite, Laud all above thee, fawn and cringe to those
ticity of Rowley, and president of the Royal Who for thy fame were better friends than foes." Antiquarian Society, to contain a greater
number of internal proofs of antiquity than Although, perhaps, we are not called on any poem in the collection, it is so decidedly to argue in these pages the
broad question of modern in style, tone, and sentiment, that we morality involved in the Rowley forgeries, cannot help quoting a few stanzas divested of we cannot help making a slight reference to their antique orthography. it in this place. A short time after Chatterton's death, it was not an uncommon thing to speak of him as a mere vulgar impostor.
“ Soon as the sledge drew nigh enough,
That Edward he might hear, There were not wanting biographers, like Mr.
The brave Sir Charles he did stand up, Alexander Chalmers, who, in the words of
And thus his words declare : Southey's celebrated article in the “ Quarterly," related "the history of the Rowley Pa “Thou see'st me, Edward, traitor vile ! pers just as a pleader would have told it at
Exposed to infamy ;
But be assured, disloyal man,
“ As Elynour bie the green lesselle* was sytI'm greater now than thee.
As from the sone's hete she harried, t “. By foul proceedings, murder, blood, She sayde, as herr whytte liondes whyte hosen Thou wearest now a crown;
was knyttynge, And hast appointed me to die,
• Whatte pleasure ytt ys to be married ! By power not thine own.
“. Mie husbande, Lorde Thomas, a forrester «• Thou thinkest I shall die to-day;
As ever clove pynne,f or the baskette, I
I have ytte as soon as I aske ytte.
nynge, I still wanted somethynge, botte whatte ne coulde
Mie lorde fadre's barbdes haulle** han ne “ King Edward's soul rushed to his face;
66 Eche mornynge
doe I sette mie may. He thus did speak and say:
Somme to spynn, somme to curdell,fi somme “ To bim that so much dreaded death
bleachynge, No ghastly terrors bring.
Gyff any new entered doe aske for mie aidens, B-hold the inan! he spake the truth,
Thann swythynne|||| you fynde mee a teachHe's greater than a king!'”
“ • Lorde Walterre, mie fadre, he loved me welle, The tragical interlude of “ Alla" is the
And nothynge unto mee was nedeynge, most celebrated of the Rowley poems, and Botte schulde I agen goe to merrie Cloud-dell, the most thickly studded with poetical beau In sothen I I 'twoulde be wythoute redeynge.'*** ties. One of the sweetest lyrics in our language is the well-known " Mynstrelle's
“Shee sayde, and Lorde Thomas came over the
lea, Songe," or rather dirge, of which we transcribe one or two stanzas, in modern spelling, Shee patte uppe her knyttynge, and to hym wente
As hee the fatte derkynnestit was chacynge ; just to bring it to our readers' minds.
So wee leave them both kyndelie embracynge.” “Oh! sing unto my roundelay, Oh! drop the briny tear with me,
It is stated by Warton, that in Durfey's Dance no more at holy day,
“Pills to purge Melancholy,” or some other Like a running river be ;
book of pills for the same salutary purpose, My love is dead,
he remembered an old Somersetshire ballad, Gone to his death-bed,
which exhibited, as he believed, for the first All under the willow tree.
time, the same structure of stanza.
“ Go find out the Vicar of Taunton Dean, “See the white moon shines on high;
And he'll tell you the banns were asked ; Whiter is my true love's shroud ;
A thumping fat capon he had for his pains,
And I skewered her up in a basket.”
Besides the interlude of Ælla, these cele-
brated forgeries comprise a fragment of All under the willow tree.” “Goddwyn, a tragedie, by T. Rowlie;" an
unfinished poem on the Battle of Hastings, Although it is, perhaps, unnecessary to
Hastened. multiply examples, we cannot refrain from Terms in archery.
Comforts. quoting, in the original orthography, another Choice.
Hung round with armor.
** Hall. "mynstrelle's songe” from the same interlude,
77 Allurements. 11 Curd.
$$ Assistance. which is as remarkable for its graceful and
Truth. melodious versification, as for its dissimilarity
Young deer. to the style of our early poets.
In short, every
said to have been written by Turgot the his position: “I lay it down for a certainty, monk, a Saxon, in the tenth century, and if a person in any such composition has, in translated by T. Rowlie ; “ The Parliamente transcribing, varied any of the terms through of Sprytes ; a most merrie Entyrlude, bie T. ignorance, and the true reading appears from Rowlie and J. Iscamme," and several shorter the context, that he cannot have been the poems. This Thomas Rowley was said by author. If, as the ancient vicar is said to Chatterton to have been a priest of Saint have done in respect to a portion of the GosJohn's, at Bristol ; and, as a prose specimen pel, he for sumpsimus reads uniformly mumpof the Bristol boy's inventive genius, we quote simus, he never composed the treatise in the following passage from Rowley's account which he is so grossly mistaken. If a perof his friend and patron, William Canynge: son, in his notes upon a poem, mistakes Liber,
“I gave master Cannings my Bristow Bacchus, for liber, a book; and, when he tragedy, for which he gave me in hands meets with liber, a book, he interprets it liber, twentie pounds, and did praise it more than free, he certainly did not compose the poem I did think myself did deserve ; for I can
where these terms occur. say in troth, I was never proud of my verses writer must know his own meaning,” &c. since I did read master Chaucer; and nowe A number of instances are then given in haveing nought to do, and not wyling to be which Chatterton is said to have mistaken ydle, I wente to the minster of our Ladie and the sense of Rowley. Further, Mr. Bryant Saint Goodwin, and then did purchase the argues that the acknowledged poems of Saxon manuscripts, and sett myselfe diligent- Chatterton furnished conclusive evidence that lie to translate and worde it in English metre, he could not have written the poems
ascribed which in one year I performed, and styled it to Rowley. “It may appear," he says, "an the Battle of Hastings; master William did invidious task, and it certainly is not a pleasbargyin for one manuscript, and John Pel-ing one, to decry the compositions of an unham, an Esquire of Ashley for another. fortunate young man, and expose his mistakes Master William did praise it muckle greatly to the world ; but, as there are persons who
gave me 20 markes, and I did goe rank his poems with those of Rowley, and to Ashley, to master Pelham, to be payd of think them equally excellent, we have no way him for the other one I left with him. But to take this prejudice, but by showing in this his ladie being of the family of the Fiscamps, manner their great inferiority. Though he of whom some things are said, he told me he was pleased to say of himself that he had had burnt it, and would have me burnt if I read more than Magliabecchi, yet his reading did not avaunt. Dureing this dinn his wife was certainly scanty, and confined, in great did come out, and made a dinn, to speak by measure, to novels and magazines, and the a figure, would have oversounded the bells trash of a circulating library.” Examples of our Ladie of the Cliffe; I was fain content are then cited, and Mr. Bryant triumphantly to get away in a safe skin.”
concludes: “A person may write volumes in Although the history of the Rowley con- this style and taste, and never be a Rowley !" troversy has now lost much of its interest, On the other hand, Warton and Malone we cannot conclude this article without a satisfactorily proved, from internal evidence, brief reference to the most celebrated com- that the compositions were modern, and batants and their prominent arguments. Of must have been forged by Chatterton or the authenticity of Rowley, the ablest and some one else. It was well observed by most successful champion was the learned Warton, that “the lines have all the tricks Jacob Bryant. Some of his arguments, and trappings, all the sophistications of pobacked as they were by the authority of his etical style, belonging to those models which potent name, appeared at the time unanswer were popular when Chatterton began to able. For instance, of Chatterton's explana- write verses. The poems which he protions of the obsolete words in Rowley, he duced were too perfect and too polished to thus speaks :
have proceeded from a priest of the 15th “The transcriber has given some notes in century. It was here, perhaps, that his order to explain words of this nature. But prudence was at fault. *"His aim," says he is often very unfortunate in his solutions. Warton, “was to dazzle and surprise by proHe mistakes the sense grossly; and the ducing such high-wrought pieces of ancient words have often far more force and signifi- poetry as never before existed.
But to cance than he is aware of. This could not secure our credulity he should have pleased have been the case if he had been the us less. He has shown too much genius, author.” And he thus amusingly illustrates and too little skill.