1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Chatterton

Robert Southey, in Specimens of Later English Poets (1807) 2:420.



Chatterton's sad story is well known; his life the wonder, his death the disgrace of his country. That a boy of seventeen years should have afforded a subject for dispute to the first criticks and scholars of his time is scarcely to be credited: who then shall believe that this prodigy of nature should be left a prey to indigence and famine! Scorned by those who envied him, and not understood by those who pretended to patronize him, the very efforts of his genius were made a plea for attacking his moral character; and inferences were unjustly drawn from his successful imitation of ancient manuscripts, that he would not scruple to commit the crime of forgery. This malicious insinuation, invented only to justify the odious neglect with which he was treated, met its refutation in his death, which was innocent to the world, except himself. Hunger itself did not tempt him to the violation of any social duty, and he closed his short life, unstained by any crime, the probable guilt of which was imputed to him by avarice and envy.

It would be irrelevant to this work to enter into the useless contest on the poems of Rowley — the specimens are therefore selected from those poems which he avowed for his own.