1782
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades [Spenserian Stanzas].

Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades: or Nuage Antiquae et Novae. A new Elysian Interlude, in Prose and Verse.

George Hardinge


Two Spenserian stanzas appear in a dialogue of the dead between Thomas Chatterton and his fictive Rowley. In the course of the drama a series a number of ancient poets appear to do homage to Chatterton. Rowley recognizes Langland, Chaucer, and Lydgate, but not a more recent figure. Chatterton replies, "Oh, you mean that child of fancy, the gentle SPENSER; he was a delicious bard and moralized his song, the chief in fairy land. If the season would permit and my thought were of a graver cast, I could enlarge here" p. 37. The two stanzas echo the two cantos of Thomson's Castle of Indolence. The volume was published anonymously.

"Chatterton" says of Spenser and Chaucer: "Brave poets these; I am always ravished with their antique melody: but I have given their modes a continued cadence which justly surprizes the world" p. 37.

Michael Tyson of Cambridge: "I heard from [Richard] Farmer the other day, that the Dean of Exeter and other day, that the Dean of Exeter and other Rowleyans give up the Poems as forgeries. What are the grounds they go upon? To me, the last Monthly Review has demonstrated that Chatterton could not be the Author — who then could? Pray give me some account of the present controversy. I have interleaved my Rowley, and have a bushel of Notes from Glosses, &c" to Richard Gough, 18 June 1777; in Nichols, Anecdotes of the XVIII Century (1812-15) 8:626.

Anna Seward to Helen Maria Williams: "I protest to you his everlasting anathemas upon words, phrases, and usages of style, which are justified by the habitual practice of our finest writers, hectic me past bearing. I have great honour for his talents, his liberality, the energy of his exertions to serve the ingenious, and the unfortunate; but I shall never be able long to continue our correspondence, since he will have it to be incessant. I have neither his leisure nor his facility. By the way, whence comes it, that a man so eminent, and so high in the law, a senator, an orator, a counsellor, and a judge, should have so much leisure? As it was said of poor Chatterton, I fancy he never sleeps" 25 December 1787; Letters, ed. Scott (1811) 1:398.



SPENSER:
Surely some spright, from Archimago sent,
Has lulled the souls of listless mortal kind,
His subtle drops around th' horizon sprent!
Aye may such verse the willing hearer bind:
Why from such error draw th' enchaunted mind?
Of learned sleepe let nations take their fill;
May no rude chaunticleer his clarion wind,
Lest modern Sybarites should work their will,
That most ungentle Cock eftsoons prepar'd to kill.

How blest those antique times, whose goodly taste
In high-wrought numbers found supreme delight;
Ne would in folly's guise their moments waste;
But rais'd aloft their unconstrained sight,
And Nature view'd in varying colours bright:
In vain with screams funereal hovering round,
Strove cursed birds in dusky plumage dight
To blot day's empire, and deform the ground:
High blaz'd the lordly orb; loud beat the rapturous sound.

[p. 36]