In Severn's vale, a wan and moonstruck boy
Sought by the daisy's side a pensive joy;
Held converse with the sea-birds as they passed,
And strange and dire communion with the blast;
And read in sunbeams, and the starry sky,
The golden language of eternity.
Age saw him, and looked sad; the young men smiled;
And wondering maidens shunned his aspect wild.
But He — the ever kind, the ever wise,
Who sees through fate, with omnipresent eyes,
Hid from the mother, while she blessed her son,
The woes of genius, and of Chatterton. — Ebenezer Elliott.
The church of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, is a beautiful church; some of the biographers of Chatterton have declared that it is the finest parish church in England. Mr. Britton has been almost as enamoured of it as was Chatterton himself. He has written a complete history of it, and has for years zealously exerted himself to rouse the inhabitants of Bristol to have this ornament of their city put into thorough repair by subscription, an object in which I am glad to find that he has finally succeeded, and that the perfect restoration, especially of the time-worn exterior, is already commenced under the superintendence of himself and Mr. Brayley.
"Beautiful exceedingly," is St. Mary of Redcliffe; and it is the triumph of this beauty that it has awoke the poet in the soul of one of its lovers, and a poet so extraordinary in the circumstances of his life, in the mere boyhood of his age, in the tragic nature of his death, and, above all, in the proud splendour of his genius; that his passion for this lovely structure, and the facts which have sprung out of it, have flung round St. Mary an everlasting interest, and made it one of the most brilliant monuments of national glory which stand on the bosom of our motherland.
If it had turned out that the Rowley Poems produced to the public by Chatterton had been genuine, and that the fame of so great a poet as Thomas Rowley the priest had been buried for near four hundred years in the iron chest of William Canynge, it would have been a most extraordinary circumstance, that it should have been a boy of fourteen who had discovered them; who had had the taste and discernment to pick them out from amidst the ordinary documents of such a chest, of little interest except to parishioners; to transcribe them, to press them upon the attention of his townsmen, and the literary public, and to have suffered insult, obloquy, and persecution on their account. Had he only raised that great public astonishment, inquiry, quarrel and controversy, amongst the learned and antiquarian of his time, and had been satisfactorily proved to be only the discoverer, introducer, and champion of the merit of these productions, it would have been one of the most remarkable occurrences in the whole history of literature, and the boy Chatterton would have still merited the happy epithet of "the marvellous boy." Had he been allowed, on justly admitted grounds, to have taken only that position which he claimed, that of the discoverer of the Rowley MSS., and the writer of his own acknowledged poems, the occurrence would have stood alone in the annals of letters, and Chatterton must have still remained one of the most extraordinary of precocious geniuses. The wit which sparkles through the whole series of his verses, from Sly Dick to his Journal and his Will; the bold satire, the daring independence of his thoughts, setting defiance to public opinion, even on the most solemn of all subjects — religion; the indomitable pride, and bold adventure of the lad; these are facts, in connexion with his great "discovery," supposing it to have been a real discovery, which must have raised the wonder of every one, and have given him a distinguished niche in the Walhalla of his country. The boy of sixteen, who could pen such a description as that of Whitfield in his Journal, beginning—
In his wooden palace jumping,
Tearing, sweating, bawling, thumping,
Repent, repent, repent,
The mighty Whitfield cries,
Oblique lightning in his eyes;—
the daring description of religion in his Defence; or who could make such a Will as that which he drew up, when he for the first time proposed to himself suicide, must be pronounced a startling but most uncommon lad. The youth, who, without friends or patrons in the great metropolis, could set out with a small fund borrowed at the rate of a guinea apiece from his acquaintances, to make his fortune and fame; and there, in the midst of the utter wreck of all his august visions and soaring hopes; in the depth of neglect, contempt, and the most grinding indigence, could issue satire after satire, and launch Junius-like letters from the newspapers at the highest personages of the land, not sparing even the crowned head, can, however we might estimate such productions in an experienced adult, only be regarded with the most profound and unmixed wonder. We may lament over the waywardness of his genius, but we must admit its unequivocal reality; and when its career is closed by self-violence, after appealing to Heaven from the abyss of its agony in stanzas such as the following, we know not whether most to marvel at the greatness of the phenomenon, or the dense stolidity of the age which did not perceive it, but suffered it to expire in horror, to the eternal disgrace of human nature and our country.
O God, whose thunder shakes the sky,
Whose eye this atom globe surveys,
To thee, my only rock, I fly
Thy mercy in thy justice praise.
The mystic mazes of thy will,
The shadows of celestial light,
Are past the power of human skill;—
But what th' Eternal acts is right.
O teach me in the trying hour,
When anguish swells the dewy tear,
To still my sorrows, own thy power,
Thy goodness love, thy justice fear.
If in this bosom anght but Thee
Encroaching sought a boundless sway,
Omniscience could the danger see,
And Mercy look the cause away.
Then why, my soul, dost thou complain?
Why, drooping, seek the dark recess?
Shake off the melancholy chain,
For God created all to bless.
But ah! my breast is human still;
The rising sigh, the falling tear,
My languid vitals' feeble rill,
The sickness of my soul declare.
But yet, with fortitude resigned,
I thank the inflictor of the blow;
Forbid the sigh, compose my mind,
Nor let the gush of misery flow.
The gloomy mantle of the night,
Which on my sinking spirit steals,
Will vanish at the morning light
Which God, my East, my Sun, reveals.
But pride and despair triumphed over this deep feeling of trust in Divine goodness. These words were the rending cry of the dying giant; they were the mighty poetry of forlornest misery; and independently of the poems of Thomas Rowley, stamped beyond dispute the high poetical renown of Thomas Chatterton. They showed, that notwithstanding the unworthy subjects on which necessity had forced him to attempt the waste of his sublime endowments, and had forced him in vain, for the soul of poesy within him had refused to come forth at the call of booksellers and political squabblers, there lay still in his bosom the great heart, and the great mind, of the first-rate poet.
But what were all these flashes and indications of the mens divinior to the broad and dazzling display of it in the Rowley Poems themselves; those poems which would have crowned any grown man a king in the realms of intellectual reputation, which yet the towering pride of the boy — "that damned, native, unconquerable pride" which he said "plunged him into distraction," that "nineteen-twentieths of his composition," as he himself asserted it to be — flung determinedly from him? These poems, now admitted on all hands to be his own boyish compositions, and which indeed were thrust upon him as crimes by those of his cotemporaries who ought to have seen in them the proofs of a genius which should have been carefully and kindly cherished for the good of humanity, and the honour of England, — these are indeed more stately and beautiful than the fair pile of St. Mary, which had first awoke in his spirit the deathless love of poetry and antique romance. Ah! what a sad, beautiful, but heart-wringing romance is itself the story of Chatterton! His real history is this.
There was a little boy, in Bristol, whose fathers, for many generations, had been the sextons of St. Mary Redciffe. The veneration for this beautiful fabric, from the habit of ages, might be said to be woven into the frames and infused into the blood of this family. The office was gone out of the family; the boy's father had become a schoolmaster, and died three weeks previous to the child's birth. His uncle had been the last to fill this post, but he too was deceased. The boy's mother, however, lived in a small house in a back court, nearly opposite to this church; and the lad, very likely led by what he heard her say of the former long connexion of their family with it, was in the habit of going into it when open, and wandering about it for hours. At that time, nearly a century ago, neither churches nor churchyards were so rigidly locked up as at present, and ample and often was the time when a little boy on the watch might enter, and while marriage or burial ceremony went on, while the cleaners and sweepers were at work, or while the evening and the morning bell was rung, might stroll to and fro, and gaze, and wonder to his heart's content. That this was his dearest occupation was soon well known to his family. "His mother's house," says one of his biographers, "was close to the fine structure of St. Mary Redcliffe, and they well knew that the boy's favourite haunts were the aisles and towers of that noble pile. And there they would find the truant, seated generally by the tomb of Canynge, or lodged in one of the towers, reading." And what effect this church-haunting had upon him was very early visible. At five years of age he went to the day school in Pyle-street, which had formerly been taught by his father, but here he was dull and stupid; and till he was six and a half years old, his master could trace no sign of intellectual progress in him, and his poor mother began to think him an absolute fool. But the objects of the silent church had not fallen in vain on his infant fancy. Those quaint and gorgeous paintings, and those antique letters engraven on floor crosses, had acquired a strong hold upon him, and, without doubt, led him to seize as he did, with an avidity new to him, on the old musical manuscript in French, adorned with illuminated capitals, which he found at home. "He fell in love with it," said his mother; and the shrewd woman catching at this discovered charm, brought him an ancient black letter Bible, which she possessed, to read, and the boy's inner nature came to light, — "he was no longer a dunce." At eight he was a voracious devourer of books. He read morning, noon, and night, from the hour that he awoke to that in which he went to bed. But another cause now contributed to strengthen the impressions of antiquity which he had received in St. Mary's church, He was become an inmate of the blue-coat school of Bristol, on St. Augustine's Back, founded by Colston, a merchant, in 1708. Here, in an institution which, though not of ancient date, was yet conducted in the ancient fashion, he was arrayed in long blue coat and belt, and scarlet stockings, and tonsure cap. Here, say some of his schoolfellows, he took no part in the poetical and literary emulations which arose. An usher wrote poetry, and his example stimulated others to alike ambition; but Chatterton "possessed apparently neither the inclination nor ability for literary pursuits;" he contented himself with the ordinary sport and pastimes of his age. But, in truth, he was secretly gleaning up knowledge wherever he could lay hands on it. Long before, he had begged of a painter "to paint him an angel, with wings and a trumpet to trumpet his name over the world!" This spirit once awoke, was not likely to die again, even in the bosom of a child. He had continually in his heart that cry which haunted Cowley: — "What shall I do to be for ever known?" From the time he had begun to read, a great change had passed over him. "He grew thoughtful and reserved. He was silent and gloomy for long intervals together, speaking to no one, and appearing angry when noticed or disturbed. He would break out into sudden fits of weeping, for which no reason could be assigned; would shut himself in some chamber, and suffer no one to approach him, nor allow himself to be enticed from his seclusion. Often he would go to the length of absenting himself from home altogether, for the space, sometimes, of many hours; and his sister remembered him being most severely chastised for a long absence, at which, however, he did not shed one tear, but merely said, 'It was hard, indeed, to be whipped for reading.' This was before his entering Colston's school, but there he kept up the zealous reading. He is reported to have stood aloof from the society of his schoolmates, to have made few acquaintances, and only amongst those whose disposition inclined them to reflection. His money, all that he could procure, went to get the perusal of books; and on Sundays, and holidays, and half-holidays, he was either wandering solitarily in the fields, sitting beside the tomb of Canynge in the church, or was shut up in a little room at his mother's, attending to no meal-times, and only issuing out, when he did appear, begrimed with ochre, charcoal, and black-lead.
"From twelve to seven, each Saturday, he was always at home; returning punctually a few minutes after the clock had struck, to get to his little room, and to shut himself up. In this room he always had by him a great piece of ochre in a brown pan; pounce-bags full of charcoal dust, which he had from a Miss Sanger, a neighbour; also a bottle of black-lead powder, which they once took to clean the stove with, and made him very angry. Every holiday, almost, he passed at home, and often, having been denied the key when he wanted it, because they thought he hurt his health, and made himself dirty, he would come to Mrs. Edkins, and kiss her cheek, and coax her to get it him, using the most persuasive expressions to effect his end; so that this eagerness of his to be in this room so much alone, the apparatus, the parchments (for he was not, then, indentured to Mr. Lambert), both plain as well as written on, and the begrimed figure he always presented when he came down at tea-time — his face exhibiting many stains of black and yellow, all these circumstances began to alarm them; and when she could get into his room, she would he very inquisitive, and peep about at everything. Once he put his foot on a parchment on the floor, to prevent her from taking it up, saying — 'You are too curious and clear-sighted — I wish you would bide out of the room — it is my room.' To this she answered by telling him that it was only a general lumber-room, and that she wanted some parchment to make thread-papers of; but he was offended, and would not permit her to touch any of them, not even those that were not written on; but at last, with a voice of entreaty, said — 'Pray don't touch anything here,' and seemed very anxious to get her away; and this increased her fears, lest He should be doing something improper, knowing his want of money, and his ambition to appear like others. At last they got a strange idea that these colours were to colour him himself with, and that perhaps he would join some gipsies, one day or other, as he seemed so discontented with his station in life, and unhappy."
But the true secret was one far beyond the conception of his simple relatives. Coining and forging, indeed, he was bent upon, and meant to join himself, some day or other, to a company which, in their eyes, would have appeared stranger than a troop of gipsies. He was already, child as he was, forging the name and deeds of Thomas Rowley, and fathering upon him the glorious coinage of his own brain. A great and immortal guest was theirs, and they did not know it. One of themselves was marked by the passing angel of destiny, as the one of all his generation doomed to the fearful sacrifice of a sad but eternal fame. The spirit which had stolen upon him and taken possession of him as he had roamed the dim aisles of the old church, and gazed on the great sacred scene of the Ascension of Christ, and on the light avenues of lofty columns, and sat by the tomb of Master Canynge, was now busy with him. It was this which had made him gloomy and retiring, which had caused him to burst into passions of tears for which no reason could be assigned. A new world had dawned before his inner vision; the sensibilities of the poet were now quivering in every nerve; mysterious shapes moved around him, which one day he must report of to the world — shapes, the offspring of that old church, and its tombs and monuments, and traceries and emblazonments, mingled with the spirit of his solitary readings in history, divinity, and antiquities; and that melancholy foreboding, that "Ahnung" of the future, as the Germans term it, which, like a present angel of prophecy, unseen but felt, hangs on the heart of youthful genius with an overpowering sadness, was spread over him like a heavenly cloud, which made the physical face of life dreary and insipid to him.
This was the boy of eleven or twelve years old, who had already commenced satirist, and launched his arrows of sarcasm at offenders, in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal; where "Sly Dick," and "Apostate Will," were pilloried before the whole city, by so young a hand. This was the boy of, perhaps, fourteen, who astonished the worthy pewterer, Burgum, by bringing to him an historic account of his pedigree, with coats of arms all elaborately painted on parchment, tracing his descent, with minute detail of personages, from no less a distance than the Saxon period, and from no less a person than the great Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland, Northampton, and Huntingdon! Great has been the laughter at poor Burgum, for swallowing the pleasant deceit; but let any one imagine to himself a charity schoolboy, in old-fashioned costume, and his innocent boy's face, appearing before him, and presenting to him so matter-of-fact a document, as found in a chest in the muniment room of St. Mary's church, in which this boy was known to pore and hunt about. Could any suspicion of such a boy's forgery of the document at first he entertained? Would any feelings but those of wonder and curiosity be excited? Burgum was completely taken in, and a thousand others who have since laughed at him would have been taken in too. And now began to be sounded about that famous story of the iron-bound chest of Master Canynge, in the muniment room over the, north porch of St. Mary Redcliffe church, from which Chatterton's father had been allowed to carry home whole heaps of parchments, and from which heaps Chatterton professed to have drawn this pedigree of the de Bergham family. This was a most prolific source of strange documents, which time to time came issuing forth, in the shape of transcripts by the boy Chatterton. His fifteenth year, however, saw him, in one day, metamorphosed from a Colston's charity boy into a lawyer's apprentice. He was bound to one Lambert, a man of little practice, and who, besides, is termed "a vulgar, insolent, imperious man; who, because the boy wrote poetry, was of a melancholy and contemplative disposition, and disposed to study and reading, thought him a fit object of insult and contemptuous rage." Need we ask why his mother bound him to such a man? To whom can the poor bind their children? Had Lambert been a pleasant fellow, and in great practice, he would have had rich men's sons offered, and would have demanded a fee that would effectually exclude the poor. Here his life was the life of insult and degradation, which might pretty safely be calculated upon with such a man, and such a practice. Twelve hours he was chained to the office, i.e. from eight in the morning till eight at night, dinner hour only excepted; and in the house he was confined to the kitchen, slept with the foot-boy, and was subjected to indignities of a like nature, at which his pride rebelled, and by which his temper was embittered. Yet here it was, during this life of base humiliation, that Thomas Chatterton worked out the splendid creations of his imagination. In less then three years of the life of a poor attorney's apprentice, fed in the kitchen, and lodged with the foot-boy, did he here achieve an immortality such as the whole life of not one in ten millions is sufficient to create.
In the long solitary hours of this empty office, — for, not having any business, even the master was very often absent, — he had ample leisure and secure opportunity to give scope to the feelings and fancies which had sprung up in the aisles of St. Mary's; but which had since grown with the aliment of historic and poetic knowledge, gathered from Fuller, Camden, Chaucer, and the old chroniclers. From time to time, as I have said, came flying forth some precious old piece of local history, which astonished the good people of Bristol, and were always traced to this same wonderful lad, and his inexhaustible parchments from the old chest. A new bridge is built, and in Felix Farley's Journal appears an account of the opening of the old bridge ages before, with all the ceremonies and processions of civil officers, priests, friars, and minstrels, with all their banners and clarions. Then Mr. Barrett, a surgeon, is writing his history of the place, and lacks information respecting the ancient churches; and lo! the prolific MSS. of Maister Canynge supply not only histories of all churches, but of castles and palaces, with the directions of the ancient streets, and all the particulars of the city walls, and all their gates. Never was an historian so readily and so affluently supplied! Whoever now sees the ponderous quarto of Barrett's History of Bristol, with all the wonders palmed upon the author by Chatterton, must be equally amazed at the daring of the lad and the credulity of the man. He restored in a fine drawing the ancient castle, in a style of architecture such as surely never was seen in any castle before. There were towers of a most lofty and unique description, yet extremely beautiful; there were battlements as unique, as if the ancient knights who defended them had left their shields lying upon them. There were tiers of arches, circles and stars one above another, in fronts of the most fanciful kind. There were other parts where pilasters ran from ground to battlement, ornamented with alternating cross-keys, human figures, lozenges, ovals, zig-zag lines, and other ornaments, such as never could have originated but in a poetical and daring brain; yet was the whole worthy of the residence of some knight or king of old romance. It was beautiful, and might suggest to architects, in these threadbare days, ideas of a style piquantly original and refreshing. This was the view of Bristol Castle in 1138, Rowlie Canonicus, deleniator 1440, to be seen in Barrett's History. But deeper and deeper does this fortunate youth dive into the treasures of the chest, and more and more amazing are the wonders that he brings up. Never was so rich a chest stowed away in cloisters of the rich old middle ages. Now came up poets, painters, carvers, heralds, architects, and stainers of glass, besides warriors of proudest renown, all flourishing in times that we are wont to deem barren of such glories; and a more than chivalric reign of Arthur — a more than Elizabethan constellation of genius in arts and arms, astonishes the senses of those deeply learned, who fancied that they had explored all possible mines of the past knowledge. The dark ages grow brighter and brighter as the necromantic stripling rubs his lamp in the office of the attorney Lambert, till the living are almost blinded by the blaze of light from the regions of the forgotten dead. No less than eleven poets of great fame did he bring to light, of whom Abbot John, who flourished in 1186, he says, was one of the greatest that ever lived; and Maister John a Iscan not much less, living in the the of time great Maister Canynge, himself also a fine poet! But of all men, most versatile and rich in lore and intellect was Thomas Rowley, the friend of Canynge, and priest of St. John in Bristol; and truly, if the poems which he put forth in Rowley's name had been Rowley's, Rowley would have been a famous poet indeed — to say nothing of his sermons, histories, and other writings.
Spite of the wretchedness of his domestic position in Lambert's house, this must have been the happiest portion of Chatterton's life. His bringing out these treasures to the day had given him great consideration, amongst not only some of the most leading men, but amongst the youth of Bristol. With his excitable temperament his spirits rose occasionally into great gaiety and confidence. He began to entertain dreams of a lofty ambition.
He laid created a new world for himself in which he lived. He had made Rowley its great heroic bard. He had raised Maister Canynge again from his marble rest in the south transept of St. Mary's, placed him and in his ancient glory in Bristol. Beneath his hands St. Mary's rose like a fairy fabric out of the earth, and was consecrated amid the most glorious hymns, and with the most gorgeous processions of priests and minstrels. Great and magnificent was Canynge in his wealth and his goodness once more in his native city; and in the brave lays of Rowley the valiant Ella fought, and the fierce Harold and William the Norman made the hill of Battell the eternal monument of the loss and gain of England.
"He was always," says Mr. Smyth, one of his intimate companions, "extremely fond of walking in the fields, particularly in Redcliffe meadows, and of talking about these manuscripts, and sometimes reading them there. 'Come,' he would say, you and I will take a walk in the meadow. I have got the cleverest thing for you imaginable; — it is worth half-a-crown merely to have a sight of it, and to hear me read it to you.' When we arrived at the place proposed he would produce his parchment, show it me, and read it to me. There was one spot in particular, full in view of the church, in which he would take a particular delight. He would frequently lay himself down, fix his eyes upon the church, and seem as if he were in a kind of trance. Then, on a sudden, abruptly he would tell me, 'That steeple was burnt down by lightning; that was the place where they formerly acted plays.'
"His Sundays were commonly spent in walking alone into the country about Bristol, as far as the duration of daylight would allow; and from those excursions he never failed to bring home with him drawings of churches, or some other objects which had impressed his romantic imagination."
This was one of those brief seasons in the poet's life when the heaven of his spirit has cast its glory on the nether world. When the light and splendour of his own beautiful creations invest the common earth, and he walks in the summer of his heart's joy. Every imagination seems to have become a reality; every hope to expand before him into fame and felicity; and the flowers beneath his tread, the sky above him, the air that breathes upon his cheek, — all Nature, in short, is full of the intoxication of poetic triumph. Bristol was become quite too narrow for him and Rowley; he shifted the field of his ambition to London, and the whole enchanted realm of his anticipations passed like a Fata Morgana, and was gone! There came instead, cruel contempt, soul-withering neglect, hunger, despair, and suicide!
Such was the history of the life of one of England's greatest poets, who perished by his own hand, stung to the soul by the utter neglect of his country, and too proud to receive that bread from compassion which the reading public of Great Britain refused to his poetic labours. Of this, of Walpole, and Gray, and Sam Johnson, and the like, we will speak more anon. Here let us pause, and select a few specimens of that poetry which the people of England, at the latter end of the eighteenth century, would fain have suffered to perish with its author. That they may be better understood, we will modernize them.
The chief of his Rowley Poems are, — Ella, a Tragical Interlude, or Discoursing Tragedy; Godwin, the fragment of another Tragedy; the Battle of Hastings, the fragment of an Epic; and the Parliament of' Sprytes, a most merry Interlude; with smaller ones.
ROUNDELAY, BY THE MINSTRELS IN ELLA.
O! sing unto my roundelay,
O! drop the briny tear with me;
Dance no more at holiday;
Like a running river be.
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed,
All under the willow tree.
Black his hair as the winter night,
White his neck as the summer snow,
Red his face as the morning light;
Cold he lies in the grave below.
My love is dead, etc.
Sweet his tongue as the throstle's note,
Quick in dance as thought can be,
Daft his tabour, cudgel stout;
O he lies by the willow tree.
My love is dead, etc.
Hark! the raven flaps his wing
In the briared dell below;
Hark the death-owl loud doth sing
To the nightmares, as they go.
My love is dead, etc.
See! the white moon shines on high—
Whiter is my true love's shroud;
Whiter than the morning sky,
Whiter than the evening cloud.
My love is dead, etc.
Here, upon my true love's grave,
Shall the barren flowers be laid;
Not one holy saint to save
All the coldness of a maid.
My love is dead, etc.
With my hands I'll bend the briars
Round his holy corse to gre:
Elfin fairies, light your fires;
Here my body still shall be.
My love is dead, etc.
Come with acorn-cup and thorn,
Drain my heart's blood all away;
Life and all its good I scorn,
Dance by night, or feast by day.
My love is dead,
Gone to his death-bed,
All under the willow tree.
Water-witches, crowned with reytes,
Bear me to your lethal tide.
I die! I come! my true love waits;—
Thus the damsel spoke, and died.
This roundelay has always, and most justly, been greatly admired for its true pathos, and that fine harmony which charms us so much in the fragments of similar songs preserved by Shakspeare. Not less beautiful is the Chorus in Godwin. There is something singularly great and majestic in its imagery.
CHORUS IN GODWIN.
When Freedom, dressed in blood-stained vest,
To every knight her war-song sung,
Upon her head wild weeds were spread
A gory anlace by her hung:
She danced upon the heath;
She heard the voice of death;
Pale-eyed Affright, his heart of silver hue,
In vain assailed her bosom to acale;
She heard unmoved the shrieking voice of woe,
And Sadness in the owlet shake the dale.
She shook the pointed spear,
On high she reared her shield;
Her foemen all appear,
And fly along the field.
Power, with his head aloft unto the skies,
His spear a sunbeam, and his, shield a star,
Like two fierce flaming meteors rolled his eyes,
Chafes with his iron foot and sounds to war.
She sits upon a rock,
She bends before his spear,
She rises with the shock,
Wielding her own in air.
Hard as the thunder doth she drive it on;
Wit, closely mantled, guides it to his crown,—
His long sharp spear, his spreading shield is gone;
He falls, and falling, rolleth thousands down.
War, gore-faced War, by Envy armed, arist,
His fiery helmet nodding to the air.
Ten bloody arrows in his straining fist....
Next let its take a poem whose truest criticism is contained in its own title:—
AN EXCELLENT BALLAD OF CHARITY.
From Virgo did the sun diffuse his sheen,
And hot upon the meads did cast his ray;
Red grew the apple from its paly green,
And the soft pear did bend the leafy spray;
The pied goldfinch sung the livelong day:
'Twas now the pride, the manhood of the year,
And eke the ground was dight in its most deft aumere.
The sun was gleaming in the midst of day,
Dead still the air, and eke the welkin blue,
When from the sea arose in drear array
A heap of clouds of sable sullen hue;
The which full fast unto the woodlands drew,
Hiding at once the sun's rejoicing face,
And the black tempest swelled and gathered up apace.
Beneath an holm fast by a pathway side,
Which did unto St. Godwin's convent lead,
A hapless hapless pilgrim moaning did abide;
In aspect poor, and wretched in his weed.
Long filled with the miseries of need,
Where from the hailstone could the almer fly?
He had no house at hand, nor any convent nigh.
Look in his gloomed face, his sprite there scan;
How woe-begone, how withered, dry and dead!
Haste to thy church-glebe-house, unhappy man!
Haste to thy coffin, thy sole sleeping bed.
Cold as the clay which will lie on thy head
Is charity and love amongst high elves;
Now knights and barons live for pleasure and themselves.
The gathered storm is rife; the big drops fall;
The sun-burnt meadows smoke and drink the rain;
The coming ghastness doth the cattle 'pall.
And the full flocks are driving o'er the plain.
Dashed from the clouds, the waters fly again;
The welkin opes; the yellow levin flies,
And the hot fiery steam in the wide flashing dies.
List! now the thunder's rattling, dinning sound
Moves slowly on, and then augmented clangs,
Shakes the high spire, and lost, dispended, drowned,
Still on the startled ear of terror hangs.
The winds are up; the lofty elm tree swings!
Again the levin, and the thunder pours,
And the full clouds at once are burst in stony showers.
Spurring his palfrey o'er the watery plain,
The Abbott of St. Godwin's convent came;
His chapournette was drenched with the rain,
His painted girdle met with mickle shame;
He backward told his bead-roll at the same;
The storm grew stronger, and he drew aside
With the poor alms-craver near to the holm to bide.
His cloak was all of Lincoln cloth so fine,
A golden button fastened near his chin;
His autremete was edged with golden twine,
And his peaked shoes a noble's might have been;
Full well it showed that he thought cost no sin;
The trammels of the palfrey pleased his sight,
For the horse-milliner his head with roses dight.
"An alms, sir priest!" — the dropping pilgrim said;
"O! let me wait within your convent door,
Till the sun shineth high above our head,
And the loud tempest of the air is o'er;
Helpless and old am I, alas! and poor;
No house, nor friend, nor money in my pouch;
All that I call my own is this my silver crouche."
"Varlet!" replied the Abbott, "cease your din;
This is no season alms and prayers to give;
My porter never lets a stroller in;
None touch my ring who not in honour live."
And now the sun with the black clouds did strive,
And shedding on the ground his glaring ray,
The Abbott spurred his stood, and eftsoons rode away.
Again the sky was black, the thunder rolled;
Fast hieing o'er the plain a priest was seen;
Not dight full proud, nor buttoned up in gold;
His cloak and cape were grey, and eke were clean;
A limitor he was of order seen;
And from the pathway side then turned he,
Where the poor almer lay beneath the holmen tree.
"An alms, sir priest," the dropping pilgrim said,
For sweet St. Mary and your order's sake,"
The limitor then loosed his pouch's thread,
And did thereout a groat of silver take;
The wretched pilgrim did for gladness shake.
"Here, take this silver, it may case thy care;
We are God's stewards all; nought of our own we bear."
"But oh! unhappy pilgrim, learn of me,
Scarce any give a rent-roll to their Lord.
Here, take my semi-cape, thou'rt bare I see;
'Tis thine; the saints will give me my reward."
He left the pilgrim, and away he strode.
Virgin and Holy Saints, who sit in gloure,
Or give the mighty will, or give the good man power!
The following presents a very living picture of the ceremony of church consecration formerly:—
ON THE DEDICATION OF OUR LADY'S CHURCH.
Soon as bright sun along the skies had sent his ruddy light,
And fairies hid in oxlip cups till wished approach of night;
The matin bell with shrilly sound reechoed through the air;
A troop of holy friars did for Jesus' mass prepare.
Around the high unsainted church with holy relics went;
And every door and post about with godly things bespent.
Then Carpenter, in scarlet dressed and mitred holily,
From Master Canynge, his great house, with rosary did hie.
Before him went a throng of friars, who did the mass song sing;
Behind him Master Canynge came, tricked like a barbed king.
And then a row of holy friars who did the mass song sound;
The procurators and church reeves next pressed the holy ground.
And when unto the church they came, a holy mass they sang,
So loudly that their pleasant voice unto the heavens rang.
Then Carpenter did purify the church to God for aye,
With holy masses and good psalms which he therein did say.
Then was a sermon preached soon by Carpenter holily;
And after that another one ypreached was by me.
Then all did go to Canynge's house an interlude to play,
And drink his wines and ale so good, and pray for him for aye.
We will select just one short lyric more, because its stanza and rhythm seem to me to have communicated their peculiar music to one of the sweetest of our living poets:—
SONG OF SAINT WARBURGH.
When king Kynghill in his hand
Held the sceptre of this land,
Shining star of Christ's own light,
The murky mists of pagan night
'Gan to scatter far and wide;
Then Saint Warburgh he arose,
Doffed his honours and fine clothes;
Preaching his Lord Jesus' name
To the land of West Sexx came,
Where yellow Severn rolls his tide.
Strong in faithfulness he trode
Over the waters like a god,
Till he gained the distant hecke;
In whose banks his staff did stick
Witness to the miracle.
Then he preached night and day,
And set many the right way.
This good staff great wonders wrought,
More than guessed by mortal thought,
Or than mortal tongue can tell.
Then the folks a bridge did make
Over the stream unto the heck,
All of wood eke long and wide,
Pride and glory of the tide,
Which in time did fall away.
Then Earl Leof he besped
This great river from its bed,
Round his castle for to run;
'Twas in truth all ancient one;
But war and time will all decay.
Now again with mighty force,
Severn in his ancient course,
Boils his rapid stream along,
With a sand both swift and strong,
Whelming many an oaken wood.
We, the men of Bristol town,
Have rebuilt this bridge of stone,
Wishing each that it may last
Till the date of days be past,
Standing where the other stood.
Now, would it ever have been believed, had not the thing really taken place in its unmitigated strangeness, that such poetry as this — poetry, indeed, of which these are but mere fragments, which, while they display the power, poetic freedom, and intellectual riches of the writer, do not show the breadth and grandeur of his plans, to be seen only in the works themselves, — that they could have been presented to the public, and passed over with contempt, not a century ago? Would it have been credited, that the leading men of the literary world at that time, instead of flinging back such poems at the boy who presented them as a discovered antiquity, were not struck with the amazing fact, that if the boy were an impostor, as they avowed, if he indeed had written them himself that he must be a glorious impostor? Yet this Horace Walpole, Gray, Mason, Sam Johnson, and the whole British throng of literati, were guilty of this blindness!
That was a dark time in which Chatterton had the misfortune to appear. Spite of the mighty intellects, the wit or learning of such men as Johnson, Gray, Goldsmith, Thomas and Joseph Warton, Burke, and Walpole, poetry, and the spirit of poetry, were, as a general fact, at a low ebb. It was the midnight succeeding the long declining day of the imitators of Pope. The great crowd of versifiers had wandered away from Nature, and her eternal fountain of inspiration, and the long array of Sprats, Blackmores, Yaldens, Garthes, and the like, had wearied the ear and the heart to deaths with their polished commonplaces. The sweet muse of Goldsmith was almost the only genuine beam of radiant light, before the great dawn of a more glorious day which was about to break; and Goldsmith himself was hasting to his end. Beattie was but just appearing, publishing the first part of his Minstrel the very year that Chatterton perished by his own hand. The great novelists, Richardson, Fielding, and Sterne, had disappeared from the scene, and their fitting cotemporary, Smollett, was abroad on his travels, where he died the year after Chatterton's suicide. Akenside died the same year; Falconer was drowned at sea the year before; Sheridan's literary sun appeared only above the horizon five years later, with the publication of his Rivals. Who then were in the ascendant, and therefore the influential arbiters of public opinion; they who must put forth the saving hand, if ever put forth, and give the cheering "all hail," if it were given? They were Gray, who, however, himself died the following year, Armstrong, Anstey, of the Bath Guide, Mason, Lord Lyttleton, Gibbon, the Scotch historians and philosophers, Hume, Robertson, Adam Smith, and the like. There were, too, such men about the stage as Foote, Mackim, Colman, and Cumberland; and there were the lady writers, or patrons of literature, Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Macauley, Mrs. Montagu. Macpherson was smarting under the flagellations received on account of his Ossian, — and that was about all. Spite of great names, is that a literary tribunal from which much good was to be hoped? No, we repeat it, it was, so far as poetry, genuine poetry was concerned, a dark and wintry time. The Wartons were of a more hopeful character, and Mrs. Montagu, the founder of the Blue-Stocking club, had then recently published her Essay on the Genius and Writings of Shakspeare. She, a patron and an advocate of Shakspeare, might, one would have thought, have started from the herd, and done herself immortal honour, by asserting the true rank of the new genius, and saving him from a fearful death. But it is one thing to assert the fame of a Shakspeare, established on the throne of the world's homage, and another to discover, much more to hymn the advent of a new genius. The literary world, warned by the scarifying castigation which Macpherson had undergone for introducing Ossian, as if, instead of giving the world a fresh poet, he had robbed it of one, shrunk back from the touch of a second grand impostor — another knave come to forge for the public another great poet! It was a new kind of crime, this endowment of the republic of literature with enormous accessions of wealth; and, what was more extraordinary, the endowers were not only denounced as thieves, but as thieves from themselves! Macpherson and Chatterton did not assert that they had written new and great poems, which the acute critics proved to be stolen from the ancients, Ossian and Rowley; that and their virtuous indignation we might have comprehended; but, on the contrary, while the critics protested that Chatterton and Macpherson themselves were the actual poets, and had only put on the masks of ancients, they treated them, not as clever maskers, joining in the witty conceit, and laughing over it in good-natured triumph, but they denounced them in savage terms, as base thieves, false coiners, damnable impostors! Oh glorious thieves! glorious coiners! admirable impostors! would to God that a thousand other such would appear, again and again appear, to fill the hemisphere of England with fresh stars of renown! And of what were they impostors? Were not the poems real? Were they not genuine, and of the true Titanic stamp? Of what were they thieves? Were not the treasures which they came dragging into the literary bank of England genuine treasures? and if they were found not to have indeed dug them out of the rubbish of the ruined temple of antiquity, were they not their own? Did the critics not protest that they were their own? What then was their strange crime? That they would rob themselves of their own intellectual riches, and deposit them on the altar of their country's glory. Wondrous crime! wondrous age! Let us rejoice that a better time has arrived. Not thus was execrated and chased out of the regions of popularity, and even into a self-dug grave, "The Great Unknown," "The Author of Waverley." He wore his mask in all peace and honour for thirteen years, and not a soul dreamed of denouncing Sir Walter Scott, when he was compelled to own himself as the real author, because he had endeavoured to palm off his productions as those of Peter Pattison, or Jedediah Cleishbotham.
The world has grown wiser, and that through a new and more generous, because a more gifted generation which has arisen. The age which was in its wane when Chatterton appeared upon the stage, was lying beneath the incubus of scholastic formality. Dr. Johnson ruled it as a growling dictator, and the mediocre herd of copyists shrunk equally from the heavy blow of his critical cudgel, and the sharp puncture of Horace Walpole's wit. But the dawn was at hand. Bishop Percy had already, in 1765, published his Reliques, and they were beginning to operate. Men read them, went back again at once to nature, and, at her inspiration, up sprung the noble throng of poets, historians, essayists, and romance writers, which have clothed the nineteenth century with one wide splendour of the glory of genius.
The real crime, however, which Chatterton committed was, not that he had attempted to palm off upon the world his own productions as Rowley's, but that he had succeeded in taking the knowing ones in. He had caught in his trap those to whom it was poison and death not to appear more sagacious than all the world besides. He had showed up the infallibility of the critics, — an unpardonable crime! These tricks of mere boys, by which the craft, and the owl-gravity of the greybeards of literary dictation, might any day he so lamentably disconcerted, and exposed to vulgar ridicule, was a dangerous practice, and therefore it was to be put down with a genuine Mohawk onslaught. Walpole, who had been bitten by Macpherson, and was writhing under the exposure so agonizing to his aristocratic pride, was most completely entrapped again by Chatterton. Spite of his cool denial of this, any one has only to read his letter to Chatterton, dispatched instantly on the receipt of Chatterton's first packet, to be quite satisfied on this point. He "thinks himself singularly obliged," he "gives him a thousand thanks for his very curious and kind letter." "What you have sent," he declares, "is valuable, and full of information; but instead of correcting you, sir, you are far more able to correct me." Think of the cruel chagrin of the proud dilettante, Walpole, when he discovered that he had been making this confession to a boy of sixteen! What was worse, he had offered, in this letter of March 28, 1769, to print the poems of Rowley, if they had never been printed! and added, "The Abbot John's verses which you have given me are wonderful for their harmony and spirit!"
Never was a sly old fox so perfectly entrapped by a mere lad. But hear with what excess of politeness he concludes:—
"I will not trouble you with more questions now, sir, but flatter myself, from the urbanity and politeness you have already shewn me, that you will give me leave to consult you. I hope, too, you will forgive the simplicity of my direction, as you have favoured me with no other.
I am, sir, your much obliged
and obedient servant,
This was before Gray and Mason, who had seen the MS. sent, had declared it to be a forgery; and before poor Horace had discovered that he had been thus complimenting a poor lawyer's clerk, and his own poems! The man thought that he was addressing some gentleman of fortune, pursuing antiquarian lore in his own noble library, no doubt: but he was stung by two serpents at once — the writer was a poor lad, and the verses were his own!
There has been a great war of words regarding the conduct of Walpole to Chatterton. Almost every writer of the end of the last century and the beginning of this, has written more or less respecting Chatterton and the Rowley poems; and all have gone largely into the merits or demerits of Walpole in the case. Some have declared him guilty of the fate of the poor youth; others have gone as far the other way, and exempted him from all blame. In my opinion, nothing can ever excuse the conduct of Walpole. If not to prevent the fate of Chatterton, was, in his case, to accelerate it, then indeed Walpole must be pronounced guilty of the catastrophe which ensued; and what greatly aggravates the offence is, that he made that a crime in Chatterton of which he himself had set the example. Chatterton gave out that his poems were written by Rowley, and Walpole had given out that his Castle of Otranto was the work of an old Italian, and that it had been found, not in Canynge's chest, but "in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England." Nothing is more certain, then, that brought into close communication with this extraordinary youth and his brilliant productions, he either did not or would not see, that if Rowley was nobody, Chatterton was a great poet, and as a boy, and a poor boy, was an extraordinary phenomenon; and that both patriotism and humanity demanded that he should be at once brought under the notice of the good and wise, and everything possible done to develop his rare powers, and secure them to his country. Walpole coolly advised him to stick to his desk, and walked off! Sir Walter Scott has said that Walpole is not alone to blame, the whole country partakes the censure with him, and that he gave the boy good advice. This is not quite true. The whole country did not know of Chatterton, of his wonderful talents, and his peculiar situation; but all these were thrust upon the attention of Walpole, and he gave him advice. True, the advice in itself was good, but unluckily it was given when Walpole by his conduct had destroyed all its value with Chatterton; when the proud boy, on seeing the contemptible way in which the selfish aristocrat, wounded in his vanity, had turned round upon him, had torn his letters to atoms, and stamped them under his feet.
Had Walpole, when he discovered the real situation and genius of Chatterton, kindly taken him by the hand; had he, instead of deserting him on account of his poverty, and of his having put on him the pardonable trick of representing his own splendid productions as those of a nonentity, Thomas Rowley, then and there advised him to adhere to his profession, as a certain source of fortune, and to cultivate his poetic powers in his leisure moments, promising to secure for him, as he so easily could, a full acknowledgment of his talents from the public; it is certain that he might have made of Chatterton, who was full of affection, what he would. He might have represented to him what a fair and legitimate field of poetry he had chosen; thus celebrating the historic glory of his nation, and what an injustice he was doing to himself by giving the fame of his own genius to Rowley. Had he done this he would have assuredly saved a great mind to his country, and would have deserved of it all honour and gratitude. But to have expected this from Walpole was to expect warmth from an icicle.
Spite, therefore, of the advice of Walpole, "given with as much kindness and tenderness as if he had been his guardian," no argument or eloquence will ever be able to shield him from the utter contempt of posterity. There stands the fact — that he turned his back on a great poet when he stood before him blazing like a star of the first magnitude, and suffered him to perish. He did more. When that poet had perished, and the great soul of his country had awoke to its error and its loss, and acknowledged that "a prince had fallen in Israel," then, on the publication of Chatterton's letters to him in 1786, did this mean-souled man, in a canting letter to Hannah More, absolutely deny that he had ever received these letters! "letters pretended to have been sent to me, and which never were sent."
After this, let those defend Walpole who like; would that we could clear that rough, dogmatic, but noble fellow, Samuel Johnson, from a criminal indifference to the claims and fate of Chatterton; but with that unreflecting arbitrariness of will, which often led him into error, we learn from Boswell, who often urged him to read the poems of Rowley, that he long refused, saying, "Pho, child! don't talk to me of the powers of a vulgar, uneducated stripling! No man can coin guineas but in proportion as he has gold." When at length he was induced to read them, he confessed — "This is the most extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the whelp has written such things." It had then been long too late to begin to admire; and the giant prejudices of Johnson had driven poor Chatterton as completely from him, as the petit-maitre vanity of Walpole repulsed him in that quarter.
Miss Seward, a woman who, with all her faults as a writer, had always the tact to discern true genius, and was one of the first to recognise that of Scott and Southey, would have dared to acknowledge the vast powers of Chatterton, had it been in her own day of popularity; but at the death of Chatterton she was a country girl of twenty-three. What she says of Johnson's conduct is very just. "Though Chatterton had long been dead when Johnson began his Lives of the Poets; though Chatterton's poems had long been before the world; though their contents had engaged the literati of the nation in controversy, yet would not Johnson allow Chatterton a place in those volumes into which Pomfret and Yalden were admitted. So invincible were his grudging and surly prejudices, enduring long-deceased genius but ill, and contemporary genius not at all."
Thus we have traced the course of Thomas Chatterton to that eventful crisis of his fate, when he found himself rejected, as it were, by the literary senate of his nation, and thrust down the few steps of the temple of fame, which he had dared to ascend, as a forger and impostor. He was thrust away, in a manner, from the heart, and what was more, from the intellect of his country; yet his proud spirit spurned the ignominious treatment, and he dared to make one grand effort, one great and final appeal against the fiat, in the face of the whole world, and in the heart of the British metropolis. Alas! it was a desperate enterprise, and our hearts bleed as we follow him in his course. There is nothing, in my opinion, so utterly melancholy in all the history of the calamities of authors, as the four fatal months of Chatterton's sojourn in London. It was his great misfortune, from the hour of his birth till that moment, that he never had one suitable friend; one wise, generous, and sympathizing friend, who saw at once his splendid endowments, and the faults of his character, and who could thus acquire a sound and at the same time an inspiring influence over him. Born of poor people, who, however they might love him, did not and could not comprehend him; living in a town devoted to trade; and nailed to the desk of a pettifogging attorney, he went on his way alone, conscious of his own powers, and of the inferiority of those around him, till his pride and his passions kept pace with his genius, and he would have been a miracle had he not had great and many faults. If we, therefore, sigh over his religious scepticism, and regret the occasional symptoms of a sufficient want of truth and high principle in his literary hoaxes, especially in foisting fictitious matter into grave history, we are again compelled to acknowledge that it was because he had no adequate friend and counsellor. He was like a young giant wandering solitarily over a wilderness without guide or guide-post; and if he did not go wrong in proportion to his unusual ardour, strength, and speed, it were a wonder. But from the moment that he sets foot in London, what is there in all biography so heart-breaking to contemplate? With a few borrowed guineas he sets out. Arrived in this great ocean of human life, where one living wave rushes past another as unrecognizant as the waves of the ordinary sea, his heart overflowing with domestic affections, he expends the few borrowed guineas in presents to his mother and sister, and sends them with flaming accounts of his prospect of honours for himself, and of wealth for them. If any one would make himself acquainted with the true pathetic, let him only read the few letters written home by Chatterton from Shoreditch and Holborn. He was to get four guineas a month by one magazine; was to write a History of England, and occasional essays for the daily papers. "What a glorious prospect!" He was acquainted with all the geniuses at the Chapter coffeehouse. "No author can be poor who understands the arts of booksellers; this knowledge I have pretty well dipped into!" Ah! poor Chatterton, one frog more gone to put himself under the protection of King Stork! Mr. Wilkes knew him by his writings; and he was going to visit him, and use his interest to secure the Trinity House for a Mrs. Ballance. He wrote to all his young men acquaintances. They were to send him up compositions, and he would have them inserted in all sorts of periodicals. Songs he was to write for a Doctor in music; and such was the good fortune pouring in that he could not help exclaiming — "Bravo, my boys, up we go!" One person would give him a recommendation as travelling companion to the young Duke of Northumberland, only he spoke nothing but English; another to Sir George Colebrook, an East India Director, for a place of no despicable description, only he would not go to sea. He was about to wait on the Duke of Bedford, and had had a most polite interview with Beckford, the Lord Mayor. In short, all, according to his poetic fancy, was going on most mountingly. "If," wrote he to his sister, "money flowed as fast upon me as honours, I would give you a portion of £5,000.
But what was the stern reality? Amid all the flush of imaginary honours and success, or what he would have his family to think such, to tranquillize their minds, he was in truth almost from the first in a state of starvation. His journey, and the presents so generously but so injudiciously purchased for his mother and sister, — the little fund of borrowed guineas, was gone. Of friends he does not appear to have had one in this huge human wilderness. Besides the booksellers for whom he did slave-work, not a single influential mortal seems to have put out a single finger of fellowship towards him. So far as the men of literary fame were concerned, it was one wide, dead, and desert silence. From the wretched region of Shoreditch, he flitted to the good-natured dressmaker's of Brook-street, Holborn. But starvation pursued him, and stared him every day more fearfully in the face. He was, with all his glorious talents, and his indomitable pride, utterly alone in the world. Walpole, who had given him advice "as kindly as if he had been his guardian," was in great bodily comfort, penning smart letters, and compiling a Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors, at Strawberry-hill, while the noblest genius living was stalking on sternly through the streets of pitiless London, to famine and despair. Sam Johnson, all his struggles now over, and at the annual price of £300 become, according to his own definition of Pensioner, in his Dictionary — "A slave of state, hired by a stipend to obey his master," was comfortably lolling on the soft sofas of Mrs. Thrale, or acting the lion in the Literary club, or in the saloon of some wealthy noble. Goldsmith was hastening to his end at fifty-three, and Chatterton to his at seventeen!
Of all the fine flourishes about the booksellers, whose arts he flattered himself that he understood, the following extract from his pocket-book, found after his death, will show the wretched result: [Table omitted; Chatterton received £4 15s. 9p. for seven publications.]
"In another part of this little book," says his biographer, "shortly before his death, he had inserted a memorandum, intimating that the sum of eleven pounds was due to him from the London publishers. It was a cruel fate to be compelled to turn literary drudge, with four and twenty shillings a month for wages, — and more cruel still, to be doomed to suffer all the pains of hunger because those wages were not paid!"
Such was the life of Chatterton. His fate is too well known; and so little sensation did the awful death of this "Marvellous boy, who perished in his pride," occasion, that it was long before his friends heard anything of him. He was buried without ceremony, amongst paupers in Shoe-lane; his identity could with difficulty be established when the fact was known.
In all the annals of literature there is nothing resembling the history of this boy-poet; he stands alone. Never did any other youth of the same years, even under the most favourable circumstances, produce works of the same high order; and never was child of genius treated by his country with such unfeeling contempt, with such an iron and unrelenting harshness of neglect. The fate of Francis Hilary Gilbert, a French writer, has been compared to that of Chatterton; but, besides that Gilbert was a man of forty-three, and had no claims to the genius of Chatterton, being a writer on veterinary medicine and rural economy, he destroyed himself because the government, which had sent him to Spain, neglected to send him his remittances, — not from neglect of a whole nation. Except in the mere facts of destitution and suicide, there is little resemblance in the characters, claims, or fates of the two men. Chatterton's death has furnished a tragedy to the French stage from the pen of Alfred de Vigny.
The haunts of Chatterton lie within a narrow space. He was not one of those whom fate or fortune allows to traverse many lands; Bristol and London were his only places of residence. In London, little can now be known of his haunts: that he frequented Vauxhall and Marylebone gardens; resorted to the Chapter coffee-house; that he lived nine weeks at Mr. Walmsley's, a plasterer, in Shoreditch: and then removed to Mrs. Angel's, dressmaker, No. 4, Brook-street, Holborn, comprises nearly the totality of his homes and haunts in London. Where Mr. Walmsley's house was cannot now be ascertained; the Chapter coffee-house still retains its old situation, but has long ceased to be the resort "of all the literary characters" of London; Vauxhall is in its deserted old age, and Marylebone gardens are, like many other gardens of Chatterton's time, now overrun, not with weeds, but houses. No. 4, Brook-street, Holborn, would be an interesting number if it remained — but, as if everything connected with the history of this ill-fated youth, except his fame, should be condemned to the most singular fatality; there is no No. 4 — it is swallowed up by an enormous furniture warehouse, Steffenoni's, fronting into Holborn, and occupying what used to be numbers one, two, three, and four of Brookstreet. Thus, the whole of the interior of these houses has been cleared away, and they have been converted into one long show-shop below, and as long manufacturing shops above. In this form they have been for the last eighteen years; and previous to that time, I am told, were occupied by an equally extensive ironmongery concern. Thus, all memory of the particular spot which was the room of Chatterton, and where he committed the suicide, is rooted out. What is still more strange, the very same fate has attended his place of sepulture. He was buried amongst the paupers in Shoe-lane; so little was known or cared about him and his fate, that it was some time, as stated, before his friends learned the sad story; in the mean time, the exact site of his grave was well-nigh become unknown. It appears, however, from inquiries which I have made, that the spot was recognised; and when the public became at length aware of the genius that had been suffered to perish in despair, a headstone was erected by subscription amongst some admirers of his productions. With the rapid revolutions of property which now take place, especially in the metropolis and other large cities; with new plans and improvements, which in their progress seem to spare nothing of the past, however sacred, we have already men, in the course of these volumes, how many traces of the resorts and dwellings of our poets have vanished from amongst is. The very resting-place of Chatterton could not escape the ungenial character of his fate. London, which seemed to refuse to know him when alive, refused a quiet repose to his ashes. To lie amongst the paupers of Shoe-lane was, one would have thought, a sufficiently abject lot for so proud and soaring a nature; but fortune had still another spite in reserve for his remains! The burial-ground in Shoe-lane, one of those enclosures of the dead which a dignitary of the Church has asserted to be guarded and guaranteed against all violence and change by the ceremony of consecration, was sold to form Farringdon market; and tombs and memorials of the deceased disappeared to make way for the shambles and cabbage stalls of the living. Was there no lover of literature, no venerator of genius to take the alarm; to step in and see that the hones and the headstone of Chatterton were removed to the grave-yard which still is attached to St. Andrew's church? It appears not. Neglected in death as in life, the headstone was pulled up, the bones of the poet were left to share the fate of those of his pauper comrades, and it is now most probable that they are scattered — Heaven knows where! for I am assured, on good authority, that houses are now built on the spot where this unfortunate youth lay. If houses are built, most likely cellars were dug to those houses; and then the bones of Chatterton — where are they? Echo may answer — where?
Let us now quit the desecrated scene of the poet's interment, and, returning to Bristol, seek that of his birth, we shall seek it equally in vain! The house of his birth, and the last narrow house of his remains, are alike swept away from the earth! Chatterton was born on Redcliffe-hill, in a back court behind the row of houses facing the north-west side of St. Mary's churchyard; the row of houses and its back courts have all been pulled down and rebuilt. The house in which Chatterton was born was behind a shop nearly opposite the north-west corner of the church; and the monument to the young poet, lately erected by subscription, has been very appropriately placed in a line between this house and the north porch of the church in which he professed to have found the Rowley MSS. This monument is a gothic erection, much resembling an ancient cross, and on the top stands Chatterton, in the dress of Colston's school, and with an unfolded roll of parchment in his hand. This monument was erected under the care and from the design of John Britton, the antiquary, who, so much to his honour, long zealously exerted himself to rescue Chatterton's memory from apparent neglect in his native city. The man who can gaze on this monument; can contemplate the boyish figure and face of the juvenile poet; can glance from this quarter, where he was born in poverty, to that old porch, where he planned the scheme of his fame; and can call to mind what he was, and what he did, without the profoundest sensations of wonder and regret, may safely pass through life without fear of an astonishment. It is, in my opinion, one of the most affecting objects in Great Britain. How much, then, is that feeling of sympathy and regret augmented when you approach, and upon the monument read the very words written by the inspired boy himself for his supposed monument, and inserted in his "will."
"TO THE MEMORY OF
Reader, judge not if thou art a Christian — believe that he shall be judged by a Superior Power; — to that Power alone is he now answerable."
One of the spots in Bristol which we should visit with the intensest interest connected with the history of Chatterton, would be the office of Lambert the attorney, where he wrote the finest of his poems attributed to Rowley. The first office of this person was on St. John's Steps, but he left this during Chatterton's abode with him; and, ceasing to be an office, it does not now seem to be exactly known in which house it was. From this place he removed to the house now occupied by Mr. Short, silversmith, in Cornhill, opposite to the Exchange; and here Chatterton probably wrote the greater portion of Rowley's poems. Another favourite haunt of, Chatterton's, Redcliffe meadow, is now no longer a meadow, but is built all over; so rapidly has about seventy years eradicated the footsteps of the poet in his native place. There are two objects, however, which from their public character remain, and are likely to remain, unchanged; and around which the recollections of Chatterton and his singular history will for ever vividly cling — these are, Colston's school and the church of St. Mary's.
The school in Pyle-street, where he was sent at five years of age, and which his father had taught, I believe no longer exists. The school on St. Augustine's Back exists, and is likely to exist. It is one of those endowments founded by the great merchants of England, which, if they had been preserved from the harpy and perverting fingers of trustees, would now suffice to educate the whole nation. This school, founded at a comparatively recent date, and in the midst of an active city like Bristol, seems to be well administered. There you find an ample schoolroom, dining hall, chapel, and spacious bed-rooms; all kept in most clean and healthy order; a hundred boys, in their long blue full-skirted coats, and scarlet stockings, exactly as they were in the days of Chatterton. You may look on them and realize to yourself precisely how Chatterton and his schoolfellows looked when he was busy there devouring books of history, poetry, and antiquities, and planning the Burgum pedigree, and the like. Take any fair boy, of a similar age, let him be one of the oldest and most attractive, — for, says his biographer, "there was a stateliness and a manly bearing in Chatterton, beyond what might have been expected from his years." "He had a proud air," says Mrs. Edkins, and, according to the general evidence, he was as remarkable for the prematurity of his person, as he was for that of his intellect and imagination. His mien and manner were exceedingly prepossessing; his eyes were grey, but piercingly brilliant; and when he was animated in conversation, or excited by any passing event, the fire flashed and rolled in the lower part of the orbs in a wonderful and almost fearful way. Mr. Calcott characterized Chatterton's eye "as a kind of hawk's eye, and thought we could see his soul through it." As with Byron, "one eye was more remarkable than the other; and its lightning-like flashes had something about them supernaturally grand." Take some fine, clever-looking lad then, from the crowd, and you will find such, and you will feel the strangest astonishment in imagining such a boy appearing before the grave citizen Burgum, with his pedigree, and within a few years afterwards, acting so daring and yet so glorious a part before the whole world.
To the admirers of genius, and the sympathizers with the strange fate of Chatterton, a visit to this school must always be a peculiar gratification; and under the improved management of improved times, and that of a zealous committee, and so excellent a master as the present one, Mr. Wilson, that gratification will be perfect. All is so airy, fresh, and cheerful; there is such a spirit of order evinced even in the careful rolling up of their Sunday suits, with their broad silver-plated belt clasps, each arranged in its proper place, on shelves in the clothes room, under every boy's own number; and yet without that order degenerating into severity, but the contrary, — that you cannot help feeling the grand beneficence of those wealthy merchants who, like Edward Colston, make their riches do their generous will for ever; who become thereby the actual fathers of their native cities to all generations; who roll in every year of the world's progress some huge stone of anxiety from the hearts of poor widows; who clear the way before the unfriended but active and worthy lad; who put forth their invisible hands from the heaven of their rest, and become the genuine guardian angels of the orphan race for ever and ever; raising from those who would otherwise have been outcasts and ignorant labourers, aspiring and useful men, tradesmen of substance, merchants the true enrichers of their country, and fathers of happy families. How glorious is such lot! how noble is such an appropriation of wealth! how enviable is such a fame! And amongst such men there were few more truly admirable than Edward Colston. He was worthy to have been lifted by Chatterton to the side of the magnificent Canynge, and one cannot help wondering that he says so little about this great benefactor of his city.
Edward Colston was not merely the founder of this school for the clothing, maintaining, and apprenticing of one hundred boys, at a charge of about £40,000, but he also founded another school in Temple-street, to clothe and maintain forty boys, at a cost of £3,000; and he left £8,500 for an almshouse for twelve men and twelve women, with 6s. per week to the chief brother, and 3s. per week to the rest, with coals, &c.; £600 for the maintenance of six sailors in the Merchants' Almshouse; £1,500 to clothe, maintain, instruct, and apprentice six boys; £200 to the Mint Workhouse; £500 to rebuild the Boys' hospital; £200 to put out poor children; £1,200 to be given in £100 a year, for twelve years, to apprentice the boys with, £10 each for his school; £1,230 to beautify different churches in the city; £2,500 to St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London; and £2,000 to Christ Church School, in London; £500 to St. Thomas's hospital; £500 to Bethlehem Hospital; £200 to New Workhouse in Bishopsgate Without; £300 to the Society for Propagating the Gospel; £900 for educating and clothing, twelve poor boys and twelve girls, at £45 yearly, at Mortlake in Surrey; to build and endow an almshouse at Sheen in Surrey, sum not stated; £6,000 to augment poor livings; besides various other sums for charitable purposes. All this property did this noble man thus bestow on the needs of his poorer brethren, without forgetting, as is often the case on great occasions, those of his own blood relatives, to whom he bequeathed the princely sum of £100,000. But, like an able and wise merchant, he did not merely bequeath these munificent funds, but "he performed all these charitable works in his lifetime; invested revenues for their support in trustees' hands; lived to sec the trusts justly executed, as they are at this day; and saw with his own eyes the good effects of all his establishments." Great, too, as were these bequests, they were not the result of hoarding during a long penurious life, as is often the case, to leave a boastful name at his death; his whole life was like the latter end of it. True, he did not marry, and when urged to it, used to reply with a sort of pleasantness, "Every helpless widow is my wife, and her distressed orphans my children." "He was a most successful merchant," says Barrett, in his history of Bristol, "and never insured a ship, and never lost one." He lived first in Small-street, Bristol, but having so much business in London, and being chosen to represent the city, he removed thither, and afterwards lived, as he advanced in years, a very retired life, at Mortlake, in Surrey. His daily existence was one of the noblest acts of christian benevolence; and his private donations were not less than his public. He sent at one time £3,000 to relieve and free debtors in Ludgate, by a private hand; freed yearly those confined for small debts in Whitechapel prison, and the Marshalsea; sent £1,000 to relieve distress in Whitechapel; twice a week distributed beef and broth to all the poor around him; and were any sailor suffering or east away, in his employ, his family afterwards found a sure asylum in him."
Why did not Chatterton, who by the splendid provision of this man received education and advance into life, resound the praises of Edward Colston as loudly as he did those of William Canynge? There is no doubt that it was because time had not sufficiently clothed with its poetic hues the latter merchant, as it had the former. Canynge, too, as the builder of Redcliffe church, was to him an object of profound admiration. This church is the most lively monument of the memory of Chatterton. His mother is said to have lived on Redcliffe-hill, nearly opposite to the upper gate of this church, at the corner of Colston's parade; this must have been when he was apprentice at Lambert's, and also probably before, while he was at Colston's school. The houses standing there now, however, are too large and good for a woman in her circumstances to have occupied; and it is, therefore, probable that this abode of his, too, must have been pulled down. We turn, then, to the church itself; as the sole building of his resort, next to Colston's school, which remains as he used to see it. A noble and spacious church it is, as we have stated, of the lightest and most beautiful architecture. The graceful, lofty columns and pointed arches of its aisles; the richly groined roof; and the fine extent of the view from east to west, being no less than 197 feet, and the height of the middle cross aisle, 54 feet, with a proportionate breadth from north to south, fills you, on entering, with a feeling of the highest admiration and pleasure. What does not a little surprise you, is to find in the church, where the great painted altar-piece used to hang, now as large a painting of the Ascension, with two side pieces; one representing the stone being rolled away from the sepulchre of our Saviour, and the other, the three Marys come to visit the empty tomb; and those by no other artist than — Hogarth! The curiosity of such a fact makes these paintings a matter of intense interest; and if we cannot place them on a par with such things from the hands of the old masters, we must allow that they are full of talent, and wonderful for a man whose ordinary walk was extremely different.
Another object of interest is the tomb of Admiral Penn, the father of the founder of Pennsylvania, which is in the pavement of the south aisle, with this inscription: — "Here lieth the body of Sir William Penn, who departed this life the 16th of September, 1674. Dum clavum teneam." On a pillar near, hang two or three decayed banners, a black cuirass and helmet, gauntlets and sword, with his escutcheon and motto. Not being aware that Admiral Penn lay buried here, I cannot describe the singular feeling which the sight of these remnants of aristocratic pageantry, suspended above the tomb of the father of the great quaker of Pennsylvania, gave me; suspended too in one of the proudest temples of that proud national church, the downfal of which this very man predicted on his death-bed: — "Son William, if you and your friends continue faithful to that which has been made known to you, you will make an end of priests and priestcraft to the end of the world."
In the south transept stand conspicuously the tomb and effigies of William Canynge. These are striking objects in connexion with the history of Chatterton. Here you behold the very forms which, from the early dawn of his life, filled the mind of the poet-child with the deepest sense of admiration. It was here, before these recumbent figures, that he used to be found sitting in profound thought; and when the reading of the wealth, the princely merchant state, and the munificent deeds of William Canynge, had arrayed the inanimate stone with the hues of longpast life and the halo of solemn and beautiful deeds — the raising of this fair church the most beautiful of all, — then was it these which became the germ of the great Rowley fable; Canynge, the ancient and magnificent, now the merchant and now the shaven priest and dean, arose once more at the touch of the inspired boy, and played his part, not as a citizen of Bristol, but as a citizen of the world. These effigies are singular in themselves. First, you have William Canynge and Joan his wife, lying on an altar-tomb, in full proportion, under a canopy handsomely carved in freestone; then, not far off, you have Canynge again carved in alabaster, lying along in his priest's robes as dean of Westbury, with hands lifted up as in devotion, and a large book under his head. It is rare, and almost unique, to have two monuments of the same person side by side, and that in two different characters, yet still little would these have attracted notice over a thousand other goodly tombs in our churches, had they not chanced to attract the attention of this little charity-boy, the descendant of the sextons of the church.
Last, but far most striking of all the haunts of Chatterton, is that muniment room over the north porch. When you ascend the dark and winding stair, and enter this dim and stony hexagon apartment, and see still standing on its floor the seven very chests of the Rowley story, old and mouldering, their lids, some of them circular as if hewn out of solid trees, broken off, and all dirty and worm-eaten, the reality of the strange facts connected with them comes thrillingly upon you. You seem then and there only first and fully to feel how actual and how sad is the story of Thomas Chatterton: that here, indeed, began his wondrous scheme of fame; hence it spread and stood forth as a brilliant mystery for a moment; hence the proud boy gloried in its sudden blaze, as in that of a recognizing glory from heaven; and then how
The shadow of a starless night, was thrown,
Over the earth, in which he moved alone. — Shelley.