Edmund Spenser makes a brief appearance in this anonymously published satire, a contribution to the Rowley controversy which was at its height in 1782. George Hardinge was among the majority who believed that the Rowley poems were in fact written by Chatterton. This dialogue of the dead burlesques not only Chatterton, but of Langland, Chaucer, Lydgate, and Spenser. Whatever the outcome of the authenticity debate, Hardinge regards the Chatterton episode as on the whole beneficial to poetry and scholarship. As a distinguished legal mind, Hardigne was perhaps in a better position to weigh the evidence than some other contributors to the controversy.
Preface: "As much has been said in this our upper world about the uncommon subject of Rowley's poems, it may be a matter of some curiosity to conceive what the principal persons concerned, now inhabitants of the shades below, are entertaining themselves with on this head.... If, indeed, I thought that the force of ridicule could absolutely overthrow the nature of proof and reason, prevent the curiosity of an investigating mind, or give an irreversible bias to it; I should hardly have been tempted to compose the following trifles. Did those who penned the immortal satire on the abuse of science, wish to decry the use and advancement of genuine learning, whose power they felt and acknowledged? — It is my design here to try whether this side of the Rowleian question can be treated without descending to ill-natured personal reflections. If Rowley's Poems cannot stand a test of this kind, their authenticity, in my opinion, deserves little or no regard" pp. iii-iv.
Encountering Chatterton in the Underworld, Rowley inquires who he is, to which the young man replies, "I am nothing but allusion, or if you will illusion, from the toe to the crown" p. 3. "Who am I, sir? Why, Sir, I am YOU, and YOU are I" p. 6. Chatterton explains how he was able to gull a credulous nation. The fictional priest is delighted to discover his new status as a poet, and the pair are discussing a plan to return to the living world to observe the folly when they are interrupted by the figure of Ossian. Chatterton explains that his case is much the same as that of Rowley: despite the fact that his verses were a fabrication, people will believe what they are inclined to believe. Richard Bentley next appears, with the exploded Phalaris, and remarks of Chatterton, "I hope no great scholar will condescend to write upon this business; but my long experience of mankind will suffer me to doubt of nothing" p. 18.
The second act opens as Rowley and Chatterton are preparing to return to the land of the living, but their departure is postponed by a succession of figures. William the Conqueror lauds Chatterton's recording pen in Rowleyesque verse. He is followed by Chatterton's Aella and Birtha, Rowley observing that "they were willing to speak, as they had heard you made them" p. 26. Chatterton thinks they give "a very imperfect idea of it." They are followed by Turgot and Kenewalcha, occasioning some lewd thoughts about monastic loves. Master Canynge and the Bishop of Worcester strain to fit their thoughts to verse. They are followed by Langland, Chaucer, Lydgate, and Spenser, describing the progress of British verse: "For know a wondrous Boy has touched our stringes, | And veiled in termes straunge his nobile thought, | Whereof enmarvailled all Englonde ringes: | To such perfection is his work ywrought" pp. 35-36.
Next appears a chorus of antic antiquarians, led by John Leland, who celebrate the revival of barbarous rhyme. They are interrupted by the shade of a young poet, who in an irregular ode hails Chatterton's achievement as a poet, "In Times proud spoils right gorgeously array'd" p. 40. The play concludes as Chatterton and Rowley depart for the upper world, Rowley observing that "Perhaps the very same circumstances may occur again, and the same conversation may pass among our learned gentry" p. 43.
Critical Review: "We must confess that this author, with no common share of learning and vivacity, has entered the lists against the supporters of Rowley; and, if he has not added to our stock of knowledge, has enlivened the faded prospect with brighter colours, and inspired us with fresh spirits to renew our toils.... Pierce Plowman, Chaucer, Lydgate, and Spenser ... converse in their peculiar strains, with a spirit and elegance seldom found in their real poems" 54 (1782) 25, 27.
Joan Pittock: "Only one contributor to the Rowley furore exploited the irony of this situation — George Hardinge, whose appointment as Solicitor-General to the Queen was announced in the April lists. His Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades exposes the disproportionate pother over a question of authorship in this year when the crisis in affairs of state is coming to a head. Using the device of the dialogue of the dead, Hardinge portrays an encounter between the fourteenth-century Rowley and the eighteenth-century Chatterton to put the quarrel on a new footing. By modelling his dialogue more closely than was common on those of Lucian, Hardinge enhances the dramatic impact and hence the irony of the encounter, associating Rowley with Ossian and Phalaris in a lively portrayal of Chatterton's ambivalent relationship with Rowley and his place in a tradition of forgery and literary opportunism. Alongside his ironic treatment of Chatterton's indebtedness to past poets and beneficence to contemporary antiquarians Hardinge establishes the Rowley poems as an enduring achievement in themselves" Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades (1979) iii.
Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades was at one time attributed to Thomas James Mathias, author of Pursuits of Literature.
AN ELYSIAN PROMENADE. HEROES OF ANTIQUITY, POETS, &C. ANCIENT AND MODERN, IN THE DRESSES OF THEIR TIMES. ROWLEY AND CHATTERTON COME FORWARD.
ROWLEY. Impossible, impossible. Ha! ha!
CHATTERTON. Sir, your obedient servant; I ought to have some slight acquaintance with your person; notwithstanding something may be allowed for difference of years.
ROWLEY. (Not minding him.) Impossible. Ha! ha!
CHATTERTON. Sir, may I beg the favour of a word with you — (He seems in high glee.) — The air of this place smells delicately; it has something inspiring in it: "Swote flourettes, mantled meadows, forests dygne!" [Author's note: Rowley, Ecl. 1.]
ROWLEY. Pardon my inattention, young gentleman; but I was so taken up with an odd idea or two that has been communicated to me by some poets, just arrived from the upper world, that I could scarce contain myself — Impossible — Ha! ha!
CHATTERTON. Impossible? — what's impossible, Sir? nothing's impossible that's practicable; and there's nothing that is not practicable (at least in the upper world) if a man will exert himself. All things co-operate with your designs; superstition, credulity, fraud, tyranny, fortune—
ROWLEY. (Aside.) (So young and yet so knowing! I'll speak to him more closely.)
Stay, Sir; you seem to be moved; I fear you had too much sense and sagacity to allow you a long residence in the region of mortality. Your voice and appearance bespeak early youth; your sentiments, a green old age. You took up my words with warmth; did you allude to any thing particular?
CHATTERTON. Allude. Sir? — I am nothing but allusion, or if you will illusion, from the toe to the crown. Sprites of the blest! to hear a man talk of impossibility? The amenused nations—
ROWLEY. I must interrupt you a moment; your dialect smacks not of modern lore, you seem to have lived in other times, though I cannot say I recollect your features in this place. (Aside.) — There is something in the wildness of his port and the lightning of his eye, which marks superior intelligence. — What climate had the honour of producing you, Sir? for though you use the British speech, I am inclined to believe the powers of any other are familiar to you.
CHATTERTON. Am I indeed a stranger to you?
Now doeth Englonde weare a bloody dresse;
Peace fledde, disorder sheweth her dark rode;
And thorough ayre doth flie in garments steyned with bloode.
[Author's note: Rowley, Ecl. 1.]
If you have held conversation lately with any spirits just arrived in Elysium, you will perceive by my words, I am not ignorant of the state of England. Yes, Sir, I was born in that part of the world, and I should have thought by this time, you would also have discovered my place of birth. Yes, Sir, "mokie" clouds "honge" over the "londe," and Englonde lies "smeethynge" with a "lethal wounde"; "roin and sleeter" prevail, nor is there any "sheen" by which she may receive "cherisaunce." Now I imagine you discover something provincial in my speech, if I am not also deceived in your person and in the age and country in which you lived.
ROWLEY. You somewhat surprize me: you seem to assume at pleasure an antique speech, and lay it down again. If you are indeed a modern, what an excellent logonomia must you have. Do I recognize your words? Yes — they remind me of my earthly existence. How are the folk of Somersetshire? some centuries, I believe, have elapsed since any genius has arrived here from that part of the world. Who? what? whence are you? I talked of impossibility just now? went it not so?
CHATTERTON. You have had my ideas on the subject, but you stopt me in haste. I have a tale to unfold. — What will not men believe, when you take them in the humour. and contrive to hit them between wind and water? "Credo quia impossibile," is the creed of all nations at some period or other, and a skilful artist will take advantage of it. Surely you must know me by this time: are not our preliminaries settled yet? don't you know your own verses? can't you take a hint? Surely you are—
ROWLEY. I mean not to deny my existence, present or past: ROWLEY is my name. You perceived I was in a merry humour when you accosted me: how could it be otherwise? I have been saluted as a poet; I have heard from undoubted authority that I am the author of various poems, histories, and parchments, whose very names were new to me. But there was no denying the fact; I was no witness in my own cause; and one spirit here told me that it had been proved to the satisfaction of a learned nation. They had investigated the matter thoroughly, there was not a doubt of the fact: there was proof positive, proof collective, proof collateral; and evidence external, internal, and eternal sufficient to convince Thomas Aquinas himself in "propria persona."
CHATTERTON. Now if I were another man, I might say all this was strange, passing strange, incredible; nay, as you said before, impossible: but as matters stand, why, Mr. Rowley, the case is altered. But, faith, I am come to lay open my heart to you, for you know you are, or were, a Father Confessor.
ROWLEY. Another new title, as I am a separate existing being! I suppose next I shall be proved to have been Archbishop of the Antipodes, or Vicar-General of the Western Islands. You may proceed, I am all eye, all ear; I am "quidlibet ex quolibet"; proceed, Sir; variety is charming. even in Elysium. But who are you, pray, my curiosity is excited.
CHATTERTON. Who am I, sir? Why, Sir, I am YOU, and YOU are I, "mutatis mutandis"; by the strangest hypostatic union that ever existed. By mortals I am called CHATTERTON; I have made it my business to enquire for you ever since my arrival here. You are now no longer at a loss.
ROWLEY. Angels and ministers of grace! Come to my longing arms. While fame, excellence, genius, and every great quality shall be dear to man, so long shall I be indebted to thy powers. Our spirits are of the Pythagorean order, and you are absolutely another Maeonides Quintus. But is it true?
CHATTERTON. It is: lift up thy head; I have lifted up thy voice sufficiently. You have heard the story, you say, so that it is needless to repeat it; the fact is stubborn.
ROWLEY. But how could you effect this strong delusion? what proportionate means had you?
Give me where to stand, said the philosopher of Syracuse, and I'll shake the universe. My materials were scanty, but solid. A few antique terms gleaned from the refuse of a glossary or two, and substituted with art for simpler words, will make a poem pass current for the genuine offspring of the fifteenth or any teenth century you please. As to introducing new words into the English language, that is a mere trifle; 'tis no more than Scotch writers and parliamentary speakers do every day.
ROWLEY. But really, by the account, your genius must have been fertile in the highest degree, your erudition extensive, and your versification polished and pure.
CHATTERTON. So some have asserted; but, you know, when once a commentator has determined to see a meaning, what power can prevent the accomplishment of his purpose? He sees allusions where none exist; he sees history where none was extant; he makes transpositions, alterations, and accommodations of unresisting passages, and with all the exultation of Pythagoras himself, attributes his own inventions to the patient author before him.
I perceive matters above are in the old routine; the same scenes with new actors.
CHATTERTON. True; you perceive the nature of my fabric; if an author does one-third of the business, the easy credulity of mankind will complete the rest. My (that is, your) versification was doubtless elegant and nervous; and I published a few unmeaning trifles, bagatelles, in my own name, of which I pretended to be vain, and this gave the seal of confirmation to the whole.
ROWLEY. I am all gratitude to you; but pray, what became of all my manuscripts.
CHATTERTON. Egad, that's another pleasant circumstance. Why they a assert above that these manuscripts were confined close prisoners in an old chest, with divers keys of magic power, consigned to the care of mayors and aldermen, for greater security I suppose; as such personages are seldom conjurors. Then the keys were lost, and the chest forced, and the manuscripts dispersed; some changed into copy-book covers, and others into old ladies thread papers; with a thousand other circumstances related with the utmost gravity and confidence.
ROWLEY. Humorous enough. "En verite ces plaisans gens-la s'egayent bien sur mon corps." I should wish to hear more of this curious farce.
CHATTERTON. Yes; whole libraries have been ransacked; there has been proof upon proof, register upon register, itinerary upon itinerary; the dead have been wakened to put the living into a trance; and what with affidavits, depositions, &c. you stand forth in palpable plain form, Maister Thomas Rowley, with all appendages, as I said before.
ROWLEY. And I know nothing at all of the matter. O Bristol, this youth has revenged thy cause, and enriched thee with novel merchandise; thou Boeotia of modern times.
CHATTERTON. I have heard also, since my arrival here, that my ignorance has been attested by those who know no more of the sound of a verse, than modern divines do of the fathers of the church; and men, women, and children, who never saw even the outside of a learned book, assert most readily that I was a stranger to the languages of Athens and Rome; and as to Saxon and such lingos, they are certain that they never knew I could spell a single line. It is almost incredible; every offspring that folly could beget on literary phrenzy has been brought to light, and the stars of Thomas Hearne, Leland, and Antony a Wood have risen from the darkness of their horizon.
ROWLEY. What to explain my poems? — If disembodied spirits were capable of sensible diminution or encrease, I think laughter would soon make me the fattest of all the Elysian tribe.
CHATTERTON. I wish it were possible or us to have permission to visit the other world incog. — What a pleasant scheme! to see all my designs in their full effect, and be actual spectators of what is carrying on in the studies of the learned, the clubs of demi-wits and petit-maitres in science, and in all the conversationi of Dilettanti's in antiquity.
ROWLEY. I thank you for the hint; but do you think Minos would consent to it?
CHATTERTON. You have had more experience of his highness than myself; yet possibly the singularity of the idea might induce him to comply. We may take Horace in our company (as a brother poet) who might tell him 'tis a "dignus vindice nodus." There may be something done, perhaps. — But who is this approaching? he seems wrapt in thought: hark, heard you his voice? 'Twas tempered to the harps of other times. Whom can his form denote?
OSSIAN. "Pleasant are the words of the song; and lovely are the tales of other times. They are like the calm dew of the morning on the hill of roes, when the sun is faint on it's side, and the lake is settled and blue in the vale. O Carril, raise again thy voice, and let me hear the song of Tura, which was sung in my halls of joy, when Fingal king of Shields was there and glowed at the deeds of his fathers. He was strong as the waters of Lora; his followers were like the roar of a thousand streams. His big heart swelled with pride, AND THE DEATH OF THE YOUTH WAS DARK IN HIS SOUL." [Author's note: Fingal, B. 3.]
[OSSIAN, CASTING A GLANCE ON CHATTERTON, IMPORTING MORE THAN MET THE SENSE, RETIRES INTO THE LAUREL GROVE.]
ROWLEY. What sounds were those? they came o'er my ear in extasy of delight: I have oft observed that shade, but am a stranger to his title. Speak if you know.
CHATTERTON. I am not surprised at your ignorance in this particular. Indeed, had it not been for his words, I should have been at a loss myself; but I perceive early intelligence is brought hither from above, of every transaction of note. The form you saw was that of Ossian, the son of Fingal. You marked a look of astonishment on his countenance, and well you might: "Astupet ipse sibi."
ROWLEY. You have raised my curiosity, do proceed and satisfy me.
CHATTERTON. "Dark-brown" ages have rolled over the world above, since he dwelt among the sons of men; but his fame is great among the wilds of Caledonia. Your lot resembles his. You heard the song he recited, and I doubt not, conceived it was the effusion of his own soul. No such thing; it has been reported lately to him, and the fancy has pleased him. Another instance of easy credulity: mark my words. There was, and I believe still is, in the other world, a man of singular, dexterity and curious felicity in composition, who took it into his head to make an experiment on the faith of his fellow-creatures. To this end, he published a collection of Scotch poems, translations, as he said, consisting of wild rambling highland ideas, caught upon the mountains of mist, amid the blasts of surly winds and the howl of torrents. These poems, the subjects of which are in the highest degree pleasing to a poetical mind, he chose to attribute to Ossian. The world seconded his plan, and with the doughty assistance of Scotch lairds and Scotch professors, by mere dint of dissertation, he also proved their authenticity. Some sagacious people saw through the scheme, but talked to little purpose; the illusion was pleasing.
ROWLEY. I have heard a rumour here of some French Jesuit, who undertook to prove (since my time) that every celebrated composition of antiquity was the work of monks and churchmen in the middle ages. Were he now alive, there might be some call for a fresh exercise of his pen. CHATTERTON.
Not to admire, is said to be the art of happiness. Be the result of the maxim what it may, the necessity of it is daily more and more confirmed: the plague of man, is the opinion of wisdom. You see you are not the only author whose name has served to veil the productions of another, and gratify such singular turns of mind as my own. Will you — but stay, I cannot help observing two other forms approaching towards us: one seems of regal port and wears the robe of power; the second is rather of a formidable though reverend aspect. Let us attend a moment.
ENTER PHALARIS, AND DR. BENTLEY. [Author's note: Possibly the reader may be surprized to meet with this TYRANT in Elysium, as well as some other personages in this piece; but I plead the old prescriptive right of poetical licence, which is all that a candid reader will require on such an occasion.]
PHALARIS. "Epistolas thaumasias panu!" [Author's note: Greek characters. Suidas of the Epistles of Phalaris.] most admirable epistles truly; and, so, my dear doctor, what you have been reading to me is my composition.
DR. BENTLEY. Yes, so the world was disposed to believe for a long season; and I must confess, "that the sophist, whoever he was, who wrote this small book of letters in your name and character, had not so bad a hand at humouring and personating, but that several believed it was you yourself that talked so big." [Author's note: Bentley's Dissert. On Phal. Pag. 17.] The testimony of an old scholiast and a glossarian or two settled the affair with many. My antagonist was an honourable man, so were they all, all honourable men. They were marvelously "periphlegous" indeed, when I first asserted the epistles were "amphisbetesimous."
PHALARIS. And I suppose my taurine architect, Perillus, may by this time have written very elegantly, and his epistles too may have come to light.
DR. BENTLEY. No truly; but your majesty's conceit is not without humour. (Aside.)
(Ut vellem his potius nugis tota illa dedisset
You may rest assured that you stand acquitted of all the epistles in your name. My antagonists strove hard, but what could such feeble atempts avail "contra sonatem Palladis aegida"? I speak, as I was wont to do above, with proper confidence.
PHALARIS. Right: what could kings and scholars do, without presumption on their high stations? My thanks are due to you for the exertion of your great abilities in my cause. Pray, Doctor, have you heard of any impositions of the kind that have happened lately?
DR. BENTLEY. I was conversing a little while ago with a spirit just arrived from above, who told me of a similar attempt in the poetical line in my own country, by an ingenious lad, which has succeeded beyond the most sanguine expectation. But it is English, and I never was peculiarly fond of my vernacular idiom. Indeed once, in the hour of folly, I attempted a bungling reformation of our great poet Milton. Greek and Roman tongues are the only ones that merit our serious attention, so I really can give you no just information on any subject merely English. I hope no great scholar will condescend to write upon this business; but my long experience of mankind will suffer me to doubt of nothing. — If your majesty will walk into the next grove, I can point a few regal absurdities contained in this little epistolary volume, which will divert you much.
PHALARIS. With all my heart.
[EXEUNT, BENTLEY STALKING BEFORE PHALARIS.
CHATTERTON. This is another curious subject; but I shall not descant upon it now. I perceive they were alluding to me.
ROWLEY. Yes indeed, true enough; but shall we pursue the plan you were just now mentioning.
CHATTERTON. Well, if you will endeavour to gain permission from Minos, I have no objection to take a trip above stairs; and by the easy conveyance of an incorporeal vehicle, we may be able to visit scenes which may afford us no small instruction and entertainment. We shall observe the workings of the delusive spirit, the strong magic of prejudice, the farce of burlesque literature, and the prostitution of superior abilities to laborious folly, difficult trifles, and unsatisfactory investigation.
ROWLEY. Probable enough; the most subtle folly is often the produce of the most subtle wisdom. My obligations to you are so great, that I hope I shall be able to get your request granted. On our return we shall, in my opinion, come fraught with materials of so curious and uncommon a nature, that Minos himself shall own he was before ignorant of the full extent and nature of human absurdity.
ANOTHER PART OF ELYSIUM.
ROWLEY and CHATTERTON.
ROWLEY. Well, I have prevailed with Minos to consent, and at what hour soever we chuse, he has given us full permission to set out on our voyage of discovery: he wishes we should be minute in our observations.
CHATTERTON. No doubt; we shall soon agree on the time, and I think the event will abundantly satisfy the most extended desire of curiosity.
ROWLEY. The reverend judge was indeed rather surprised we should have a desire of re-visiting the world we had left; but when I told him the reason, he replied with much good-nature; Right, I know not how mortals would endure the load of their daily existence, if it were not for the genial powers of wit and ridicule; when we consider the solemn farce of great life, the apish and aukward imitation of the vulgar, the vagaries of the learned, and all the traits and shades of ever-varying affectation. Let men say what they please in the hour of dejection, there is an infinitely greater scope for the exertions of Thalia than of Melpomene.
CHATTERTON. As sensible a speech at least as most judges make on a bench. — But do you take notice of that troop of heroes and warriors approaching, whom I, under the sanction of your name, have brought into more public view above. Let us retire a little, but at such a distance as to enable us to overhear the conversation.
ENTER WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR, WITH A LARGE RETINUE, EUSTACE, &c.
WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR.
Ye noble spirits, once my brave compeers,
Who, while enshrin'd in vest of mortal mold,
Flam'd foremost in my Norman van, what time
Great Albion's empire, seat of heroes old,
Prompted my bold emprize, the guerdon fair
Of hard-earn'd vict'ry: Ye remember well,
That martial ardour which inspir'd our troops,
When in dread order marshall'd, they advanc'd
In battailous array to crush the might
Of haughty Harold, while the minstrel band
Chaunted Rolando's ancient rhyme, so fam'd
In Charlemagne's wide realm! — Hail, worthies all,
For so ye are, and may your valiant deeds,
In glory's brightest characters portray'd
High on the brow of Time, eternal live,
Eternal as the kingdom you subdued.
Long had the fame of Hastings' fatal day
Lien buried in oblivion, or consign'd
To monkish legends and ignoble prose,
Died every day it liv'd; 'till this blest hour,
It owns a new existence, from the force
And mighty working of energic verse,
Raised by a stripling's hand. Ye all have heard,
(For in Elysium the report is rife)
Nor shall I now with repetitions vain
Disturb those moments which in changeless bliss
For ever flow; such is fair virtue's meed!
Live hence in full security of fame.
[EXIT WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR, WITH ALL HIS TRAIN.
ROWLEY. Upon my word, a very monarchal speech indeed, suitable to the dignity of the subject. He seems large in your praises and sensible of your worth. But I perceive he consults the pleasure of his audience, by avoiding repetitions of what they knew before: very unlike the generality of mankind, or at least of the learned part of them, who when full of a subject, go the same ground over and over in every company they frequent, to the great entertainment of themselves and annoyance of every body else.
CHATTERTON. To be sure his Majesty did fulmine in a noble strain; but you would not have a king speak plain prose like his subjects. There is a dignity to be preserved even when he holds a levee in Elysium.
ROWLEY. I must own I thought some of his nobility would have answered his conquering Majesty, and as they knew he had fixed his power by force and right of arms, would, by an easy transition, have discoursed on some "jure divino" topic.
CHATTERTON. Now you are quite unreasonable: you know every court is always in unison with it's monarch; you saw them bow, and nod and assent at every line that issued from the royal lip. Words are dubious, signs are unequivocal. Besides, how do you know whether they could make verses? or if by chance they could have made better verses than his Majesty, it would have been a most impolitic step in them to have let him know it. This is true, "mutatis mutandis," in all dealings with the great; and many a man of genius has suffered by not attending to it.
ROWLEY. I agree with you on second thoughts; but here comes another personage or two: Pray observe them.
CHATTERTON. There is something in his air and port which inclines me to think it is Aella, the ancient warden of Bristol Castle, on whose misfortune you know, you wrote a tragedy, at least so you have been told.
ENTER AELLA, IN THE AMOUR WHICH BE WORE WHEN ALIVE, WITH SOME FRIENDS, LEADING BIRTHA BY THE HAND.
Turn, Birtha, turn; my deeds shall live for aye,
Rous'd by the generous muse to second birth;
Though clos'd the warrioir eye, tho' brief his day,
The trump of memory lifts him from the earth,
And gives to every age his lasting worth.
Nobly I liv'd; fate call'd, I nobly fell;
Dauntless, unshrinking went my spirit forth;
Loud was the sound of my departing knell;
The Dacian raven slapt his lethal plume,
Bristol the omen heard, and trembled for her doom.
Yet here thy presence shall thy Birtha charm,
Fast by the fount of purest happiness;
Here no shrill clarions can my breast alarm;
Why wears my Aella still that uncouth dress?
Turn hither, and thy faithful mistress bless.
Yes we have heard, to novel fame we rise,
Young genius cries, no pow'r can make it less;
No groveling praise but of gigantic size:
Doff war's habiliments and turn to joy;
Here Pleasure holds his reign, and charms that never cloy.
[EXEUNT AELLA, BIRTHA, &c.
ROWLEY. All in one story, I perceive; they have all heard of the honour you have done them. Now I suppose your tragedy was written in some such measure, and they were willing to speak, as they had heard you made them.
CHATTERTON. Yes indeed, they are very grateful for favours never intended personally to them. But it is strange, people will think that poets write to please the persons they celebrate. Ridiculous! vanity is the main spring, and momentary amusement naturally accounts for the rest. Aella and his lady to be sure have adopted my mode of versification, but indeed it gives you a very imperfect idea of it.
ROWLEY. I see you we like all the rhyming rout, jealous even when there is no occasion; or perhaps, like many others above, you may think it is a mark of superior genius to be pleased with nothing.
CHATTERTON. Come, come, you should not be too severe, my good friend — but lo! here is another gentle pair; they seem to reason of love and love's disport. We will listen a moment. The lover is in a monkish habit and some fair nun accompanies him. Between friends, "seulement l'ombre du clocher d'une abbaye est feconde." I suppose they will hold converse sweet on some monastic transaction.
ROWLEY. I am all attention, she is of an exquisite form.
CHATTERTON. I think I guess at their persons — But hush; they are about to open.
ENTER MR. ARCHDEACON TURGOT, AND KENEWALCHA.
Softly breathes this genial gale;
Softer is thy voice, my fair:
Hear the blest Elysian tale
Floating thro' the expanse of air.
Well I know that tuneful tongue;
Oft I mark'd that radiant eyne,
When the Divinistres sung
Holiest chaunt at Cuthbert's shrine.
Sweet the balm remembrance pours
Gently o'er the wounded mind;
Wild the bliss that rapture show'rs
On the soul by love refin'd.
Why recall the moments past?
Mortal pleasures, mortal joy.
Here our happier doom is cast;
Here no monkish laws annoy.
Yet on them my thought must dwell:
Scenes for ever clos'd in vain!
Passion fierce — the secret cell—
Glowing guilt, and generous pain.
Raise no more th' impetuous storm;
Nought but mild affections move:
See, where Adhelm's faded form
Glides along the myrtle grove.
Injur'd youth! my heart still bleeds,
Sullied thy connubial bed:
Still on thee my fancy feeds—
Stream my tears; the form is fled.
Why these idle thoughts revolve?
Adhelm lives: heroic fame,
Valour prompt, the stern resolve,
Stamp for aye their vot'ry's name.
See beneath that flowery brink
Roll the soft Lethaean streams;
Sprites perturbed there may drink,
Sprites, that start at earthly themes.
I agree; no more I mourn;
Cuthbert's self absolves the crime:
Here with purer flames we burn,
Wand'ring thro' th' ambrosial clime.
[EXEUNT MR. ARCHDEACON TURGOT, AND KENEWALCHA.]
CHATTERTON. I told you so; you perceive they are shy, and give dark hints. I am almost sure it was Kenewalcha's shade and a monk of Durham. You celebrated her, you know, as the spouse of one of your Battle of Hastings' heroes. I think you would hardly have bestowed such a string of similies on her, had you suspected her of incontinence. But who will answer for man or woman?
ROWLEY. Not I, upon my honour — But two reverend personages are advancing this way, they seem deep in conversation. Pray look at them, perhaps you may know them too.
CHATTERTON. Heavens! — if you and I are unacquainted with them, it is strange; mind their air and gait. Master Canynge, as I live, and his good friend the Bishop of Worcester. I protest they are beginning to speak in verse. A mayor and a bishop! Chryses and Agamemnon! though I believe they never quarrelled about a fair demoysel. Let us listen.
ENTER MASTER CANYNGE AND BISHOP CARPENTER.
Albeit unused to the rhyminge fitte,
Some cherisaunie yet my soul does moove,
To stryve in courteous phrase to shape my witte;
For once I bare to learnynge mickle love:
I gatherde fetyve songes that otheres writte,
While yet I sojourned in the world above:
My fame was grete in Bristol's nobile towne,
Full well men redde my richesse and renowne.
Dygne Maistere Canynge, pleased I heare thee speake;
I too wille strive some poesie to singe:
Tho' Latine small I kenn'd, and smaller Greeke,
Yet to the crozier Edwarde did me bringe:
(Fools! that thro' Greeke gate preferment seeke,
Few soar to mitres on Moeonian winge.)
Sure thou wast loved of all the merchannt route,
And pilgrim minstrels noised thy fame aboute.
CANYNGE. I must stop; your Lordship will excuse me; my muse totters: I really would with pleasure continue this alternate rhyming, but I am only an amateur, or gentleman-versifier and not a professor of the art.
BISHOP CARPENTER. No apologies, pray; I'll stop versification with all my heart; you surprised me into it.
CANYNGE. You may have reason to speak well of king Edward; I am sure he was a ruthless king to me.
BISHOP CARPENTER. Yes, it was rather absurd and cruel in him, to force you into orders: but if you had married into the Widville family, I suppose I should have been commanded to compose an epithalamium on the occasion: a new employment for a Bishop. But I am told, they are talking much of your fame above, and many things almost incredible; if you will step aside, I'll inform you.
CANYNGE. What! Can any thing appear absurd or incredible to a man who has been five times mayor of a corporation? However, I shall be glad to hear; I'll follow you, my lord.
[EXEUNT MASTER CANYNGE AND BISHOP CARPENTER.
CHATTERTON. That is indeed a noble spirit! He was "a grete and good man, the friend of the church, the companion of kings, and the fadre of his native citie." But the mention of his name is sufficient; you know the rest. I protest, I think we shall never get away from this place; for see here are more personages approaching that are not unworthy of notice. They seem antique poets by their garb and walk. Let us listen, perhaps we may hear something not unentertaining.
ENTER PIERCE PLOWMAN, CHAUCER, LYDGATE, AND SPENSER.
How curious was the company of courts and cities
When I lived in the world, and viewed full wide
All selcouths that I saw with ken sagacious,
The train of folly and blind fortune; I could find
Nothing but new deceit, and dealings devilish.
Then I called CONSCIENCE to come courageously,
And send his forriours forth to frighten the folk
That lived in letchery and lasciviousness;
Kinges and Keysars and all that offended Kinde,
Monkes and dark-cowled churchmen in cope or jape,
Or lovely lemans and yonge leud demoyselles.
My satire was sharp, and spared no manner sort,
And made Poetry to purpose noble and pious.
Though rhyme I refused, yet I reared my speeche
So bolde and brave, that I bared the brow of vice,
And bad virtue move in the vanward, with vigour
Pursue her way, and with the scepter of wisdom
Maintain her dominion majestic yet mild.
We have reasoned right oft in these shady solitudes,
Then answer me in accentes shrewd and artful,
For thou hast painted with a powerful pencil,
And given harmony and high-bearing to words,
Good Maister Chaucere.
Grete Plowman, if aright thy wordes I rede,
In mannis truthe thou haste but smalle crede:
I too have dwelte in many sondry londes,
And wandered farre and wide to distaunt strondes;
I marked their manners and eache divers geste,
Their smoothe glozings, rare deceits at beste;
Those tongues right sote who trusts, must nedes falle,
Their sugre tempred is with mickle galle.
Come then thou heavenlie gift, dread Poesie;
With soundis fulle of pleasaunt minstrelsie;
Come forth, but with a righte bold semblaunce,
And vice will shrinke with his high portaunce:
Let notes of sweetest modulation
Rise in our lines with exultation;
This be the praise and wirke of my honde,
Fadre of polished verse in fair Englonde.
Hail worthy Maisters in this sapient lore,
The stocke and roote of varied excellence,
From whom, as from a welle, forth do poure
The streamis clere, that gladness can dispense
To the mind's eyen and the mortal sense:
Now shall our songes with novelle joy be heard,
Marked everich strain and sconned everich word.
For know a wondrous Boy has touched our stringes,
And veiled in termes straunge his nobile thought,
Whereof enmarvailled all Englonde ringes:
To such perfection is his work ywrought,
From mothes and parchments olde they deeme it brought;
So soft into their minds delusion flows,
"Like as the dew descendeth on the rose."
Surely some sprite, 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.
Come broder-bards, among these swotie greves,
While Zephyrus blows pleasaunce through the leves,
Let us retire and holden mickle speeche,
If that our ken may this reporte reche,
And so that hendy Boy with poets olde
For his gode wirke be sithence enrolde.
[EXEUNT PIERCE PLOWMAN, &c.
CHATTERTON. 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. I could not refrain my most eager attention.
ROWLEY. I think I remember them all but one.
CHATTERTON. 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. But look, see you that grotesque groupe of figures bending their steps hither? their merry antics demonstrate some uncommon joy: there should be a lord of misrule among them. They are actually striking up a solemn chorus.
ENTER A TROOP OF ANTIQUARIES, LEXICOGRAPHERS, GLOSSARIANS, ETYMOLOGISTS, ITINERARIANS, JOURNALISTS, &c. WITH LELAND, ANTONY A WOOD, ELIAS ASHMOLE, KERSEY, AND SKINNER AT THEIR HEAD.
Hail to the dawn of this auspicious day,
That lifts to life and light
The labours of each myster-wight,
And tomes of import deep unfolds in dread array.
[LELAND ADVANCES WITH HIS CYGNEA CANTIO IN HIS HAND.]
Well met, my noble friends; with liveliest air
To solemnize this great event prepare!
Ye, who oft in cloyster'd gloom
Read the dark records of doom;
And treasur'd up the sacred store,
Skill'd in monumental lore;
From parchments wip'd th' injurious dust,
And lov'd the green medallic rust;
Or from the moss-grown abbey brought
Each rare device and anecdote;
Then from your work returning blithe
Tore from Time his idle scythe.
Nor in these my festive lays,
Pass unsung your deathless praise,
Ye, by whose unceasing pains
Old language still fresh lustre gains;
Ye, who illum'd with glosses queint
Mystic terms of meaning faint;
Whose works now rise, secure from fate,
In barbaric latian state;
In antic groups around me throng,
And swell the choral majesty of song.
Hail to the dawn of this auspicious day,
That lifts to life and light
The labours of each myster-wight,
And tomes of import deep unfolds in dread array.
[HERE THE ANTIQUARIANS DANCE IN CIRCLES: LELAND, (EN MAITRE DES CEREMONIES) DIRECTS THEIR STEPS: THEIR SOLEMNITIES ARE INTERRUPTED BY THE SHADE OF A YOUNG POET, WHO RUSHES IN AND SINGS THE FOLLOWING
'Tis done: — THE MIGHTY STRIPLING gave the word:
Instant round Bristol's crouded mart
Beams of celestial glory dart,
And to each kindling breast poetic flames impart.
Give me the harp, he cried, of thousand strings;
Echo from her mountain cell
O'er desert heath or shadowy dell
The repercussive notes in varying pauses brings:
Th' obedient power of inspiration heard.
Now swell the strain in accent bold;
Now tun'd to artless woe
Let the soft numbers musically flow;
Or to the praise of heroes old,
Let Freedom's war-song sound in thundrous terror roll'd.
Far hence all idle rhymes,
The taste of none but giddy-paced times:
In manlier modes I strike the deep-ton'd lyre,
And other joys inspire.—
Whence is this ardour? what new motion bodes
My agonizing soul? It is decreed:
Illusion come, work thy all-potent deed,
And deal around the land thy subtle dole.
Be the solemn subject drest
In antique members, antique vest:
In Time's proud spoils right gorgeously array'd;
With many a strange conceit and lore profound;
There be the bookman's sapient art display'd,
While Folly gapes, and Wonder stares around.
See, Fancy wafts her radiant forms along,
Borne on the plume sublime of everlasting song.
BRAVE Richard calls: the crescent falls;
He rears the cross; the nations bow:
Vengeance arise! great Bawdin dies;
Awful be the notes and slow.
Juga's woes demand the strain
Shall female sorrow stream in vain?
Ah deck with myrtle wreaths that hapless herse.
Nor let sainted Charity,
Godlike maid with upcast eye,
Unheeded pass without one votive verse.
Grief's a plant of every clime,
Call'd into birth from earliest time;
Soon it shoots a branching tree,
Water'd with tears of misery.
Change, my lyre, thy numbers change;
And give aspiring thought an ampler range.
In buskin'd pomp appear
Dread Aella's regal form;
Fate stalking in the rear Prepare the iron storm.
Mark where the Norman canvass swells afar,
And wafts the destin'd troops to Albion's strand:
Hear, Harold , hear! the distant sound is war;
War, that shall sweep thee from thy native land.
The measure's clos'd; the work dispos'd;
Hang the recording tablet high!
The colours mix; the soul they fix;
Confest before th' entranced eye.
Confirm, Pierian powers, the bold design;
And stamp, with ROWLEY'S name each consecrated line.
[HAVING SUNG THIS, THE SHADE OF THE YOUNG POET DARTS FROM THEM, WITHOUT TAKING THE LEAST NOTICE. THE ANTIQUARIANS RESUME THEIR SOLEMNITIES, THEN RETIRE, CHAUNTING THEIR FORMER CHORUS.
CHATTERTON. Would to all the powers of poetry, I knew that shade; thanks, generous youth.
ROWLEY. He moved me much, but he seemed to bear down the sensations of your soul. — It was strange; the quick transition from the most ludicrous scene to the rapture of the poet formed the strangest contrast imaginable.
CHATTERTON. Doubtless it did. I don't wonder at the exultation of these antiquarians; if it had not been for my late attempts, they might have slept for ever on their shelves. I have raised them, and if the delusion continues, (as I doubt not it will) they may become, "bona fide," classics. Master Leland's song was spirited enough for a man of his cast. I will answer for no mans genius hereafter. How common is it in the other world, to deny an eminent man merit in every department but that single one in which he happens to have distinguished himself. In vain are the seeds of genius planted in any soil, if circumstance and occasion do not conspire to bring them forth. I must own I never expected so much diversion; but genuine pleasure always comes unexpected.
ROWLEY. If you please now we will prepare matters or our expedition, as I am rather eager to visit the scenes above. Perhaps the very same circumstances may occur again, and the same conversation may pass among our learned gentry. For I have not unfrequently observed, that every man has his peculiar strain of talking, and his own specific mode of allusion; and two friends of similar dispositions will insensibly repeat precisely the same ideas, and communicate to each other the same discoveries with trivial variation, relative to a favourite subject, with the same satisfaction as at their first discovery. Had you lived much among men, you might have seen it; but as your date was short, let me observe for your comfort, that there is not that variety in life which some imagine, wherever the scene of it be placed; the cloystered monk and the general courtier would unite in this opinion, if they spoke honestly.
CHATTERTON. Right; and if I were to pass my time again in the other world, it would be worth my attention, or that of any young man who sallies jocund into life. Happily, however for us, nothing but self-experience can undeceive any man; and I suppose, by this time, you may be of opinion, that my character does not incline me to wish it otherwise. Come, Mr. Rowley, "sans ceremonie."