1785
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ode to the Memory of Chatterton.

Fugitive Pieces.

Henry Headley


Henry Headley's elegy for Thomas Chatterton is written in six (later eight) blank-verse quatrains in the manner of William Collins: the measure is that of the Ode to Evening, and the conceit of the four seasons weeping at Chatterton's tomb is adapted from Collins's How Sleep the Brave, both of which were reprinted in Dodsley's Collection of Poems, and extremely popular. Headley's imitation of the Ode to Evening is more suggestive than most, invoking Collins's temporal scheme for the passing of Chatterton and the georgic topic of the turning of the year. Headley himself would die young at the age of 23; he fell a victim to consumption shortly after this volume appeared. Fugitive Pieces was anonymously published.

Gentleman's Magazine: "One of the best poems is an Ode, or Dirge, in blank verse, in the measure of that by Collins to Evening, 'to the Memory of Chatterton,' and well indeed may the author lament the fate of that eccentric genius, as, at his own confession, he has been a fellow-sinner, having made him a model in a literary deception, by inserting, in the Town and Country Magazine (the first scene of Chatterton's forgeries) for March and June 1782, two letters, signed Oxoniensis and John Williams, concerning some spurious translations from the Welch, one of which, 'Llwen and Gyneth,' being 'elegantly turned into verse,' as genuine, in Mr. Evans's Ballads, by Mrs. Robinson, he now calls a 'laughable effect.' We see it in a more serious light, and are by no means convinced by the flimsy arguments he adduces to excuse or extenuate such impositions" 55 (July 1785) 546.

Monthly Review: "These pieces, partly poetical, and partly critical, bear evident traces of ability and ingenuity. Most of them have been made public, through different channels, and were written, as the Author declares, about the age of nineteen, without assistance from friends or scholars. Of the Author's poetical talents the following [Ode to Chatterton] is a pleasing specimen" 73 (October 1785) 294.

Patricia Meyer Spacks: "Most of his slender output of verse is derivative, but its influences are the standard ones of his time: Collins, Gray, Thomson, Macpherson. Headley believed as intensely as T. S. Eliot in the value of literary reference as a means of achieving poetic richness. His critical essays in the Gentleman's Magazine trace sources for Milton, Pope, Gray, Rochester and Shakespeare. He comments that 'Milton was not averse to borrowing hints from the popular poets of his day,' and speculates that 'many of his finest images' may have been suggested by the work of others. Headley's application of the same technique was not conspicuously successful" in Henry Headley, Poems (1966) iii.



When Spring, with scanty vest and maiden smile,
Leads on the youthful months and coming year,
Her tears of morning dew
Shall wet thy death-bed cold.

When jocund Summer with her honied breath
Sweet'ning the golden grain and blithsome gale,
Displays her sun-burnt face
Beneath the hat of straw;

When sober Autumn with lack-lustre eye
Shakes with a chiding blast the yellow leaf,
And hears the woodman's song,
And early sportsman's foot;

The Lily's hanging head, the Pansy pale,
(Poor Fancy's lowly followers) in meek
Attire, shall deck thy turf,
And withering lie with thee.

And naked Winter like a pilgrim grey
Of veriest rude aspect and joyless brow,
Calls for the carol wild
And trims the social fire;

Remembrance oft in pity's willing ear,
Shall toll at silent eve thy pensive knell,
And tell to after-days
Thy tale, thy luckless tale.

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