1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Chatterton

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 238-39.



The arbitrary orthography, in rude imitation of the ancient, used by Chatterton, being a mere affectation, we dismiss it from our few specimens of his writings. The diction is obviously modern, and there is no longer any reason for retaining what was only designed as a means of supporting an imposture....

"The poems of Chatterton," says Sir Walter Scott, "may be divided into two grand classes: those ascribed to Rowley, and those which the bard of Bristol avowed to be his own composition. Of these classes, the former is incalculably superior to the latter in poetical power and diction."

Of the Rowley poems the principal are: The Tragedy of Ella, The Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin, Ode to Ella, The Battle of Hastings, The Tournament, A Description of Cannynge's Feast, and one or two dialogues. An animated controversy as to their authenticity sprang up and raged for a long time. Some of the political poems acknowledged by Chatterton show remarkable maturity and freedom of style, and indicate powers akin to those of Swift and Dryden. But his imitations of the antique are superior to all his other attempts. He has been compared to the mocking-bird, whose note of mimicry is sweeter than its natural song.