1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Chatterton

Anonymous, in "Early Life of Men of Genius" in Oriental Herald 2 (June 1824) 163.



A high and inspired mind is seldom rapidly matured; it follows the process by which the most valuable productions of nature are formed; it grows insensibly. Necessity has sometimes, it is true, reversed this proceeding, and crowded and hastened its efforts, till an untimely ripeness has been produced, which has caused the death of the plant: but there have been few Chattertons and Kirke Whites. Nor is it desirable that there should be many: nurtured upon nature's moderate regimen, those youths (the former at least) might have lived long, and given birth to works of very high character. The true secret of their precocity was their applying that time to meditation, which should have been employed in storing the mind with more knowledge. The richness of Chatterton's fancy was expended on a very narrow range; it was undividely directed one way. His metaphors and allusions are beautiful; but they do not indicate extensive so much as intense thought. What he wished to know he studied with irrepressible ardour; but he restrained his warmth with a severe economy: he perceived it was not for him to know too many things. The same courage, united to the same degree of industry and enthusiasm, would at any time produce the same results: their union, in fact, is genius.