Thomas Chatterton

Edward Rushton, Neglected Genius: Or, Tributary Stanzas to the Memory of the Unfortunate Chatterton, 1787; in Poems (1806)

Oh! thou, who many a silent hour,
Sat'st brooding o'er thy plans profound,
Oh, Chatterton! thou fairest flower
That ever graced poetic ground;
'Twas thine, in lyrics sweet and strong,
To bear the enraptured soul along
'Twas thine to paint domestic woe,
And bid the drops of pity flow;
'Twas thine, in Homer's glowing strain,
To sing contention's bloody reign
And oh! 'twas thine, with unfledged wings to soar,
Upborne by native fire, to heights untried before.

In lonely paths, and church-yards drear,
When shrouded pale-eyed ghosts are seen.
When many a wild note strikes the ear,
From fairies rev'lling on the green,
Then didst thou oft with daring fire,
Sweep o'er the solemn gothic lyre;
Then, whilst the broad moon lent her aid,
To times long past thy fancy stray'd,
Then Hasting's field was heap'd with dead,
And Birtha mourn'd, and Baldwin bled;
Yet what to thee did poesy produce,
Why — when on earth neglect, when in the grave abuse.

Ah penury! thou chilling sprite,
Thou pale depressor of the mind,
That with a cloud opaque as night,
Veil'st many a genius from mankind.
Ah! what avails the minstrel's art,
That melts and animates the heart,
If at his side, with haggard mien
And palsied step thy form is seen;
When on thy sterile common thrown,
The strongest powers must pine unknown;
But mark the world — let wealthy witlings raise
The decorated lyre, and all applaud the lays.

When all is hush'd, full oft to thee,
Poor child of song, I sorrowing turn,
Full oft bewail thy misery.
Full oft with indignation burn.
Heavens! that a genius such as thine,
Equal to every vast design,
A genius form'd in Shakspeare's mould,
Untutor'd, piercing, clear, and bold,
Should pour in these enlighten'd days,
On Britain's ear, such matchless lays,
Yet find on British ground neglect and woe,
And envy's cankering sting, when in the grave below!

Oh poesy! delusive power,
Thou ignis fatuus of the soul,
Thou syren of the solemn hour,
That lurest full oft to scenes of dole,
Oh how seducing are thy smiles,
How powerful all thy witching wiles,
Yet in the foldings of thy train,
Lurk squalled want and mental pain;
See, where thy wretched victim lies,
What frantic wildness in his eyes.
Hark how be groans! see, see, he foams! he gasps!
And his convulsive hand the pois'nous phial grasps!

Stung by the world's neglect and scorn,
While conscious merit fir'd his mind,
Unfriended, foodless, and forlorn,
With lowering eye the bard reclined;
When lo! his mantle cover'd' o'er,
With streaming, and with clotted gore,
The offspring of despair and pride,
Came stalking in, fell Suicide,
Wreaths of dark foxglove, hemlock green,
And poppy round his brows were seen,
And now his purpose dire, his blood-stain'd eyes,
And rugged front, were veil'd in soft Compassion's guise.

Rous'd from his gloom aghast and wild,
"Ah! what art thou?" — the minstrel cried,
With wily tongue and aspect mild;
"Thy guardian power," the form replied,
"Sweet bard — ah! why dost thou remain
On this vile orb, this scene of pain?
Art thou not steeped in blackest woe?
Hast thou a single patron? no,
Or can thy sweetly sounding lyre
Make stern necessity retire?
If not, be firm, these sordid reptiles spurn,
(Oh Phoebus' glowing son!) and to thy sire return."

Stung to the soul, the hapless boy,
With greedy ears the sounds devour'd,
This the grim phantom saw with joy,
And still the wordy poison pour'd;
Till slackening every selfish spring,
Which makes us to existence cling,
"Would I a worthless world adorn,"
He cried — "that merits but thy scorn?
No, misery's son this cordial take,
And want, neglect, and pain, forsake!"
With pale distracted look, the youth complied,
Tore many a beauteous lay, and in wild ravings died.

Unshelter'd, wither'd, scarcely blown,
Thus like a blasted flower he fell,
Thus pin'd, unnotic'd or unknown,
Thus bade a sorrowing scene farewell,
Gaze on his corse, ye gloomy train,
Whom fortune tries to bless — in vain.
Gaze on his corse, ye foodless crowd,
And you whom torturing pangs have bow'd;
Gaze too ye ardent sons of song,
Whom haply cold neglect has stung,
And when ideas black and sad arise,
Should Suicide appear — oh! spurn him and be wise!

Thus headlong rush'd the indignant soul,
From earth, where tides of rancour flow,
Where folly's sons in affluence roll,
While merit droops o'erwhelm'd with woe.
Ye gen'rous minds, if such there are,
Who make neglected worth your care,
Where dwelt you when he gazed around,
And not one gleam of comfort found?
Oh what a deed! What endless fame
Had twined around that mortal's name,
Who from despair had snatched this wondrous boy,
Foster'd his towering muse, and flushed his soul with joy!

And one there was, sweet fancy's child,
Whilst thou wert listening to the shade,
One reverend sage, humane and mild,
Was then on wing to give thee aid;
And scarcely had the parish shell
Convey'd thee to the cold dark cell,
When lo! he came, O piteous tale,
But, pity what wilt thou avail!
He came, by love of genius led,
Intent to raise thy drooping head;
He came, he sigh'd, and down the stream of time,
For this his praise shall flow in many a splendid rhyme.

Borne to the grave without a friend,
The workhouse glebe received thy clay,
Thus did thy scrap of breathing end,
But oh! thy fame shall ne'er decay.
E'en Radcliff and her flowery plains,
Where thou hast pondered o'er thy strains,
Thy natal roof, thy earthy bed,
Scarce known amidst th' unhonour'd dead,
When thy proud scorners are no more,
And moths have knaw'd their pedant lore,
E'en these, the sons of fancy shall revere,
Sigh o'er thy mournful fate, and drop the sorrowing tear.

For thee, Compassion oft shall plead,
Her tenderest plaints for thee shall flow,
Her hand shall brush away each weed,
Which envy o'er thy turf may throw;
And kindly soft that hand shall bring,
For thee each blighted flower of spring,
The violet, scenting nature's breath,
Then, from her storms receiving death,
The lowly primrose born to blow,
Then 'whelm'd beneath the drifted snow,
And oft with these, and tufts of wither'd bloom,
Compassion dewy-eyed, shall deck thy early tomb.

And now where'er thy spirit stalks,
Great framer of the antique lay,
Whether thou haunt'st thy favourite walks,
Or hover'st o'er thy bed of clay;
Whether, with Savage at thy side,
Thou blam'st the world's contempt and pride;
Whether thou talk'st with Otway's shade,
Of all the misery life display'd,
Or glid'st in gloomy guise along,
Aloof from all the ghastly throng,
From one inured to many a mental pain,
Oh! deign, immortal youth! t' accept this heartfelt strain.