1780 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Chatterton

Mary Newton (sister), in Herbert Croft, Love and Madness (1780) 143-47.



Concious, of my own inabilitys to write to a man of letters. And reluctant to engage in the painfull recollection of the particulars of the life of my dear deceased brother. together with the ill state of health I've enjoyed since it has been required of me, are, Sir, the real causes of my not writing sooner. But I am invited to write as to a friend, inspired with the sacred name, I will forget the incorrectness of my epistel and proceed.

My brother very early discover'd a thurst for preheminence I remember before he was 5 years old he would always preside over his playmates as their master and they his hired servants. He was dull in learning and knowing many letters at 4 years old and always objected to read in a small book. He learnt the Alphabet from an old Folio musick book of father's my mother was then tearing up for wast paper, the capitals at the beginning of the verses. I assisted in teaching him. I recollect nothing remarkable till he went late into the school, which was in his 8th year. Excepting his promiseing my mother and me a deal of finery when he grew up as a reward of her care. About his 10th year he began (with the trifle my mother allowed him for pocket money) to hire books from the circulating liberay and we were informed by the usher made rapid progress in arithmatick. Between his 11th and 12th year he wrote a caterlogue of the books he had read to the number of 70. History and divinity were the chief subjects, his school mates informd us he retired to read at the hours allowed for play. At 12 years old he was confirm'd by the Bishop, he made very senciable serious remarks on the awfullness of the ceremony and his own feelings and convictions during it. Soon after this in the week he was door-keeper he made some verses on the last day, I think about 18 lines, paraphrased the 9 chapter of Job and not long after some chapters in Isaiah. He had been gloomy from the time he began to learn, but we remark'd he was more chearfull after he began to write poetry. Some saterical peicis we saw soon after. His intimates in the school were but few and the solid lads and except the next neighbour's sons I know of none acquaintance he had out. He was 14 the 20th of Novr. and bound apprentice the 1st of July following. Soon after his apprenticeship he corresponded with one of his school mates that had been his bedfellow, and was I believe bound to a merchant at New York. He read a letter at home that he wrote to his friend, a collection of all the hard words in the English language, and requested him to answer it. He was a lover of truth from the earlyest dawn of reason, and nothing would move him so much as being bely'd. When in the school we were informed by the usher, his master depended on his verasity on all occations. Till this time he was remarkably indifferent to females. one day he was remarking to me the tendency sever study had to sour the temper and declared he had always seen all the sex with equal indifference but those that nature made dear, he thought of makeing an acquaintance with a girl in the neighbourhood supposeing it might soften the austerity of temper study had ocationd, he wrote a poem to her and they commenced corrisponding acquaintance. About this time the parchments belonging to my father that was left of covering his boys books, my brother carried to the office. He would often speak in great raptures of the undoubted success of his plan for future life. He was introduced to Mr. Barret, Mr. Catcot, his ambition increas'd dayly. His spirits was rather uneven. some times so gloom'd that for many days together he would say very little and that by constraint. At other times exceeding chearfull. When in spirits he would injoy his rising fame. confident of advancement he would promise my mother and me should be partakers of his success. Mr. Barret lent him many books on surgery and I believe he bought many more as I remember to have packt them up to send to him when in London and no demand was ever made for them. About this time he wrote several saterical poems. one in the papers on Mr. Catcot's putting the pewter plates in St. Nicholas tower. He began to be universally known among the young men. He had many cap aquaintance but I am confident but few intimates. At about 17. he became acquainted with Mr. Clayfield distiller in Castle-street, who lent, him many books on astronomy. Mr. Cator. likewise assisted him with books on that subject. from thence he apply'd himself to that study. His hours in the office was from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening. He had little of his masters business to do. some times not 2 hours in a day, which gave him an oppertunity to persue his genius. He boarded at Mr Lamberts, but we saw him most evenings before 9 o clock and would in general stay to the limits of his time which was 10. o clock. He was seldom 2 evenings together without seeing us. I had almost forgot to add, we had heard him frequently say that he found he studied best toward the full of the moon and would often sit up all night and write by moon light. A few months before he left Bristol he wrote letters to several book-sellers in London I believe to learn if there was any probibility of his getting an employment there but that I can't affirm as the subject was a secret at home. He wrote one letter to Sr Horace Warpool. and exept his corrispondence with Miss Rumsey, the girl I before mentioned, I know of no other. He would frequently walk the Colledge green with the young girls that statedly paraded there to shew their finery. But I realy beleive he was no debauchee (tho some have reported it). the dear unhappy boy had faults enough I saw with concern. he was proud and exceedingly impetious but that of venality he could not justly be accused with. Mrs Lambert informd me not 2 months before he left Bristol, he had never been once found out of the office in the stated hours as they frequently sent the footman and other servants there to see Nor but once stayd out till 11 o Clock; then he had leave, as we entertained some friends at our house at Christmas.

Thus Sir have I given you, as before the great searcher of hearts the whole truth as far as my memory have been faithfull the particulars of my dear brother. The task have been painfull, and for want of earlyer recollection much have been nay the greatest part have been lost. My Mother joins with me in best respects which conclude me.

Sir
Your very humble servant,
Mary Newton

Bristol.
Somerset square
Sept. 22, 1778.