It may seem strange to you, that I, who have been bred to trade, should interfere in a literary-dispute; but this is the case. I sold the copy of Rowley's poems as originals of undoubted antiquity, and many persons eminently qualified both as scholars, and as antiquaries, but whose names it may not perhaps be proper for me to mention, have so decided. Some there are who have honoured me with their correspondence on the occasion, who have seen and minutely examined all the originals on the spot, and who, notwithstanding what has been urged to the contrary, assure me, they still continue to be of the same opinion. I therefore conceive myself bound, as an honest man, to support, as much as in me lies, their claim to antiquity, and to invalidate any efforts to render it suspected.
Had the assertions I intend to examine fallen from a less respectable pen than that of Mr. Warton, they might have passed unnoticed by me; but h is name will render them important, and his opinion in this matter, must (as indeed in general it ought) greatly influence the judgment of the Public.
This gentleman mentions two circumstances, which, if true, would carry real weight with them. Page 141, he says Chatterton was 17 years old when he first produced the poems to me. He was but just turned of 15. He was born November 20, 1752, and he gave me the poems in the beginning of the year 1768. He had then the tonsure on his head, being just come from Mr. Colston's charity-school.
By thus misrepresenting the year of his age, in which he mentions most of the poems which have since appeared as being then in his possession, two years are gained; an interval of time, which might give some colour of probability to the (I must say) otherwise very improbable supposition of Chatterton's being the author of the works ascribed to Rowley.
In the emendations to page 164, Mr. Warton says Turgot died in 1015. The Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. But it happens Turgot was made Prior of Durham in 1087; and afterwards made Archbishop of St. Andrews; after that went to Rome, to Pope Paschal, on some dispute about jurisdiction; returned to Durham, and died.
A person, who had not so good and respectful an opinion of Mr. Warton as I have, might charge him with voluntarily misrepresenting two facts; but I am inclined rather to impute the mistakes to inattention. That he was inattentive, the following quotations, though otherwise of no consequence, will, I think, render probable at least.
Page 140 and 158, he says, the poems were deposited in an iron chest. It is a wooden one, and the construction of it attended with such peculiar circumstances, as serve to confirm the general evidence. N.B. The chest was made in the room.
Page 155, he has a quotation from an epistle of Rowley's to (as he says) Lydgate. No such thing ever existed. The two epistles prefixed to Aella are both addressed to Mr. Canynge, and his quotation is from the first.
Page 152, he has an extract from the second Eclogue, which he says was spoken by two ladies. This very beautiful poem is spoken throughout by a young man, whose father is supposed to have accompanied King Richard the First in his expedition to the Holy Land, wherein he expresses the most anxious solicitude for his father's safety.
Rowley himself mentions these poems in the yellow roll. This original parchment, Mr. Warton says, is lost. Perhaps not; for, as the gentleman to whose care it was entrusted, was undoubtedly apprized of its value, it may probably be found among his papers, when he returns from the Indies. However, should it be lost, it is lucky there is an exact copy.
Page 154, he says, the fac-simile is the only pretended original. Here also he is mistaken. There are many originals. But the fac-simile proves nothing in this case, being Canynge's hand-writing, and not Rowley's.
Page 158, the appointment of visitors to inspect this deposit, and an entertainment to be provided for them, is not mentioned in Mr. Canynge's will. True; but it is in a deed in Mr. Barrett's hands: and what is more, mention is there made of a particular portion of Mr. Canynge's estates set apart to defray the expences of an entertainment on that occasion, and the chest itself is most particularly described.
This deed Chatterton could not have seen; and if he had, he could not have read it, it being written in Latin, of which he was, to my knowledge, totally ignorant.
In the emendations, page 153, he mentions notices lately received from Bristol, concerning the fitting up St. Ewin's church for the reception of Edward the Fourth. He needed not have waited for late notices, as this fact is mentioned in the Editor's Introduction.
I have gone no farther into these points, than was necessary to shew with how little attention Mr. Warton has entered into the investigation of this subject. He was invited to come to Bristol to examine matters on the spot; and I should have been happy to have assisted his enquiries.
I am, &c.
Bristol, Aug. 15, 1778.
P.S. For the anecdotes respecting Turgot, I acknowledge myself indebted to a learned friend.
I lately received a letter from London, charging me with an inconsistency in my account of the time in which I first became acquainted with young Chatterton. In mine of last month, I said, it commenced the beginning of the year; I now recollect it was about three weeks, or perhaps a month, subsequent to the publication in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, dated the 1st of October, 1768, respecting the ceremonies used in opening the old bridge; consequently it could not have been till the latter end of the year: but, in my opinion, it is matter of little moment as to the precise time in which we became acquainted, as it will not add a single minute to his life, and, of course, not the least degree of credibility to the supposition of his being the author of the poems attributed to Rowley.
I must stand excused, for the future, from answering any publication, or even private letter, on the subject of this controversy; for here I intend my task shall really end. I am, Sir,
Bristol, Sept. 11, 1778.