1769
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Englysh Metamorphosis: Bie T. Rowleie. Booke Ist.

Poems, supposed to have been written at Bristol, by Thomas Rowley, and others, in the Fifteenth Century; the greatest Part now first published from the most authentic Copies, with an engraved specimen of one of the MSS. To which are added, a Preface, an introductory Account of the several Pieces, and a Glossary.

Thomas Chatterton


Eleven "Rowley" stanzas (ababbcdcdD) printed in the first collected edition of Thomas Chatterton's poems (1777).

Critical Review: "A more curious and entertaining publication than this, is very rarely offered to the public. We had long ago heard of the poems discovered at Bristol, and ardently wished for a perusal of them; but without hope of ever seeing them ushered into the world with so many advantages as they derive from the experience and judgment of their present editor" 43 (February 1777) 88.

Edmond Malone: "The greatest genius England has produced since the days of Shakespear" Cursory Observations on Poems attributed to Rowley (1782) 41.

E. H. W. Meyerstein: "This is Chatterton's 'Imitation of Spenser'; it consists of eleven Rowley stanzas, with strict alexandrines. A note says: 'Booke 1st. I will endeavour to get the remainder of these poems.' Ovid has suggested the title, and (as Skeat saw) the 'Chronicle of Briton Kings' in The Faerie Queene (II. x., st. 5-19) most of the matter. But, though not so far from Spenser as Blake's 'Imitation,' it is farther than Keats's. The poet's object is to improve on the mythological derivation of the Severn from Sabrina, daughter of Locrine and Estrild, whom he calls Elstrid. In her flight the latter dons man's gear and names herself Vyncente. 'Gendolyne,' the outraged wife of Locrine, sends a giant after them, who throws a mountain, which overwhelms the mother with the child in her arms; but the gods change Elstrid into St. Vincent's Rock, and Sabrina into the river.... The giant, while on his return to Gendolyne, is struck by lightning, falls 'an hepe of ashes on the playne' and emerges as Snowdon. Hence we have three metamorphoses, Spenser being content with 'Which of her name now Seuerne men do call' merely; the proceeding is typical of Chatterton's attitude to existing literary matter" Life of Chatterton (1930) 226-37.

Though Chatterton plainly knew Spenser, poems published under the name of Rowley could hardly be presented as Spenser imitations — Chatterton needed to avoid being recognized as an imitator, and in the event was original enough to deceive several learned critics who ought to have known better. Readers paid Chatterton the supreme compliment of imitating him (several times in the Spenserian manner) — so that Thomas Chatterton quickly became an "original" after all.

Robert Southey to William Taylor of Norwich: "I should much like [for the Annual Anthology] more relics of Rowley, were it not that the language would preclude them, like other relics, from every becoming popular; a ballad or two, some fragments of a romance, and more books of the English Metamorphoses, might make an amusing volume: these are tempting subjects. Eight years ago I thought of continuing the Metamorphoses, and soon after actually planned six books to complete the Faery Queen, and wrote three cantos; the cantos I burnt, but the plans, I believe, still exist" 12 March 1799; in J. W. Robberds, Memoir of the Life and Writings of William Taylor (1843) 1:262.

Donald S. Taylor: "Spenser's archaism and sensuous imagery seem clearly to have shaped both Chatterton's idea of imitating medieval works and the particular texture of his imitations, especially in the Rowleyean poems, 'Englysh Metamorphosis,' where Chatterton attempts to rival Spenser's stanza, archaic spellings, Arthurian matter, and narrative, and 'The Tournament,' with its interest in chivalry" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 144.



Whanne Scythyannes, salvage as the wolves theie chacde,
Peyncted in horrowe fromes bie nature dyghte,
Heckled yn beastskyns, slept uponne the waste,
And wyth the morneynge rouzed the wolfe to fyghte,
Swefte as descendeynge lemes of roddie lyghte
Plonged to the hulstred bedde of laveynge seas,
Gerd the blacke moutayn okes yn drybblets twighte,
And ranne yn thoughte alonge the azure mees,
Whose eyne dyd feerie sheene, like blue-hayred defs,
That dreerie hange upon Dover's emblaunched clefs.

Soft boundeynge over swelleynge azure reles
The salvage natyves sawe a shyppe appere;
An uncouthe denwere to theire bosomme steles;
Theyre myghte ys knopped ynne the froste or fere.
The headed javlyn lisseth here and there;
Theie stonde, theie ronne, theie loke wyth eger eyne;
The shyppes sayle, boleynge wythe the kyndelie ayre,
Ronneth to harbour from the beateygne bryne;
Theie dryve awaie aghaste, whanne to the stronde
A burled Trojan lepes, wythe Morglaien sweerde yn honde.

Hymme followede eftsoones hys compheeres, whose swerdes
Glestred lyke gledeynge starres ynne frostie nete,
Hayleynge theyre capytayne in chirckynge wordes
Kynge of the lande, whereon theie set theyre fete.
The greete kynge Brutus thanne theie dyd hym greete,
Prepared for battle, mareschalled the fyghte;
Theie urg'd the warre, the natyves stedde, as flete
As fleaynge cloudes that swymme before the syghte;
Tyll tyred with battles, for to ceese the fraie,
Theie uncted Brutus kynge, and gave the Trojanns swaie.

Twayne of twelve years han lemed up the myndes,
Leggende the salvage unthewes of theire breste,
Improved in mysterk warre, and lymmed theyre kyndes,
Whenne Brute from Brutons sonke to aeterne reste.
Eftsoons the gentle Locryne was possest
Of swaie, and vested yn the paramente;
Halceld the bykrous Huns, who dyd infeste
Hys wakeynge kyngdom wyth a foule intente;
As hys broade swerde oer Homberres heade was honge,
He tourned toe ryver wyde, and roarynge rolled alonge.

He wedded Gendolyne of roieal sede,
Upon whose countenance rodde healthe was spreade;
Bloushing, alyche the scarlette of herr wede,
She sonke to pleasaunce on the marryage bedde.
Eftsoones her peacefull joie of mynde was stedde;
Elstrid ametten with the kynge Locryne;
Unnombered beauties were upon her shedde,
Moche fyne, moche fayrer thanne was Gendolyne;
The mornynge tynge, the rose, the lillie floure,
In ever ronneynge race on her dyd peyncte theyre powere.

The gentle suyte of Locryne gayned her love;
Theie lyved soft momentes to a swotie age;
Eft wandringe yn the coppyce, delle, and grove,
Where ne one eyne mote theyre disporte engage;
There dydde theie tell the merrie lovynge sage,
Croppe the prymrosen floure to decke theyre headde;
The feerie Gendolyne yn woman rage
Gemoted warriours to bewrecke her bedde;
Theie rose; ynne battle was greete Locryne sleene;
The faire Elstrida fledde from the enchafed queene.

A tye of love, a dawter fayre she hanne,
Whose boddeynge morneyng shewed a fayre daie,
Had fadre Locrynne, once an hailie manne.
Wyth the fayre dawterre dydde she haste awaie,
To where the Western mittee pyles of claie
Arise ynto the cloudes, and doe them beere;
There dyd Elstrida and Sabryna staie;
The fyrste tryckde out a whyle yn warryours gratch and gear;
Vyncente was she ycleped, butte fulle soone fate
Sente deathe, to telle the dame, she was notte yn regrate.

The queene Gendolyne sente a gyaunte knyghte,
Whose doughtie heade swepte the emmertleynge skies,
To slea her wheresoever she shulde be pyghte,
Eke everychone who shulde her ele emprize.
Swefte as the roareynge wyndes the gyaunte flies,
Stayde the loude wyndes, and shaded reaulmes yn nyghte,
Stepte over cytties, on meint acres lies,
Meeteynge the herehaughtes of morneynge lighte;
Tyll mooveynge to the Weste, myschaunce hys gye
He thorowe warriours gratch fayre Elstrid did espie.

He tore a ragged mountayne from the grounde,
Harried uppe noddynge forrests to the skie,
Thanne wythe a fuirie, mote the erthe astounde,
To meddle ayre he lette the mountayne fle.
The flying wolfynnes sente a yelleynge crie;
Onne Vyncente and Sabryna felle the mount;
To lyve aeternalle dyd theie eftsoones die;
Thorowe the sandie grave boiled up the pourple founte,
On a broade grassie playne was layde the hylle,
Staieynge the rounynge course of meint a limmed rylle.

The goddes, who kenned the actyons of the wyghte,
To leggen the sadde happe of twayne so fayre,
Houton dyd make the mountaine bie theire mighte.
Forth from Sabryna ran a ryverre cleere,
Roarynge and rolleynge on yn course bysmare;
From female Vyncente shotte a ridge of stones,
Eche syde the ryver rysynge heavenwere;
Sabrynas floode was helde ynne Elstryds bones.
So are theie cleped; gentle and the hynde
Can telle, that Severnes streeme bie Vyncentes rocke's ywrynde.

The bawsyn gyaunt, hee who dyd them slee,
To telle Gendolyne quycklie was ysped;
Whanne, as he strod alonge the shakeynge lee,
The roddie levynne glesterrd on hys headde:
Into hys hearte the azure vapoures spreade;
He wrythde arounde yn drearie dernie payne;
Whanne from his lyfe-bloode the rodde lemes were fed,
He felle an hepe of ashes shoote ynto the lyghte,
A wondrous mountayne hie, and Snowdon ys ytte hyghte.

[pp. 196-202]