1780 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Chatterton

Herbert Croft, in Love and Madness (1780) 210-12.



By what was the scheme suggested to Chatterton's invention? — This question it is, perhaps, still more impossible to answer. Nor do I pretend to answer it. If you can ground any conjectures on a few facts I will mention — so. — Psalmanazar died about the time Chatterton's scheme was born, and bequeathed his methodistical memoirs to the world. Walpole, about the same time, endeavoured to turn a whole national current of belief, with respect to Richard iii. and, not long before, acknowledged the imposition he had put upon the public in the preface to Otranto. The Douglas cause was about the same time, in high agitation. Ossian, with Blair's dissertation, in which the name of Aella is mentioned, had not long made his appearance. "The Concubine," in Spenser's manner, appeared in 1767. Percy's "Reliques" had not long been published. Page xxiv. of the first vol. (2d edition 1767) mention is made of "Colgrin, son of that Ella who was elected king of the Saxons in the room of Hengist." C. must have admired "Hardyknute" (vol. 2. p. 94) which "Mrs. Wardlow pretended to have found on shreds of paper, employed for what is called the bottoms of clues;" and must have seen through the pretended extract of a letter from Canton to James Garland, Esq; at the end of the third volume, which vouches for the truth of Percy's Hau Kiou Choaau, there advertised as "translated from the Chinese." — On the 21st of January the invisible Junius printed his first letter. In May 1769, Mrs. Montagu published her Essay on Shakespeare, from which it is not impossible that C.'s "tindery" ambition might catch the fire of rivalry. Far[m]er's Essay on the learning of Shakespeare had appeared about a twelvemonth. In the wonderful extent of his reading Chatterton could not be ignorant of Parnell's imposition on Pope, by means of a pretended Leonine translation of some of his lines in the Rape of the Lock; or of Parnell's Fairy Tale, "in the antient English style." — Better memories may, perhaps, recollect other things of this kind. — That Chatterton had Walpole and Ossian in some measure present in his mind, is manifest from his fixing upon the same person (Mr. W.) to introduce Rowley to the world, whom Macpherson chose for Ossian. And, surely, to prove Earl Godwin a good man and true, in spite of history, is much such an attempt as Mr. W.'s concerning Richard!