1782
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

[Chatterton and Rowley transposed.]

Cursory Observations on the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley, a Priest of the Fifteenth Century: with some Remarks on the Commentaries on those Poems, by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Milles, Dean of Exeter, and Jacob Bryant, Esq; and a salutary Proposal addressed to the Friends of those Gentlemen.

Edmond Malone


The most subtle of eighteenth-century literary investigators, Edmond Malone, juxtaposes Chatterton with "Thomas Rowley" in order to buttress his position that the Rowley poems were not authentic. The illustration makes interesting use of the art of imitation: in the first passage, Malone re-writes a portion of from one of the African eclogues in the archaic manner; in the second one of the "discovered" eclogues is rewritten in the style of Chatterton's acknowledged verse. The pamphlet is advertised as "the second edition," in reference to an earlier version that had appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine.

Edmond Malone: "Of this double transformation I subjoin a short specimen; which is not selected on account of any extraordinary spirit in the lines that precede, or uncommon harmony in those that follow, but chosen (agreeably to the rule that has been observed in all the former quotations) merely because the African Eclogue happens to be the first poetical piece inserted in Chatterton's acknowledged Miscellanies.... If, however, after all, a little inferiority should be found in Chatterton's acknowledged productions, it may be easily accounted for. Enjoin a young poet to write verses on any subject, and after he has finished his exercise show him how Shakspeare, Dryden, and Pope, have treated the same subject. Let him then write a second copy of verses, still on the same theme. This latter will probably be a Cento from the works of the authours that he has just perused. The one will have the merit of originality; the other a finer polish and more glowing imagery. This is exactly Chatterton's case. The verses that he wrote for Rowley are perhaps better than his others, because they contain the thoughts of our best poets often in their own words. The versification is equally good in both" pp. 47, 49.

Monthly Review: "These Cursory Observations were first published in that valuable miscellany the Gentleman's Magazine. We read them there with much pleasure; and have only to express our general approbation of them; referring the Reader, who would wish for the more particular entertainment, and information they afford, either to the magazine or the pamphlet in its present form" 62 (September 1782) 235.

Samuel Johnson to Edmund Malone: "I think this wild adherence to Chatterton more unaccountable than the obstinate defence of Ossian. In Ossian there is a national pride, which may be forgiven, though it cannot be applauded. In Chatterton there is nothing but the resolution to say again what has once been said" 2 March 1782; Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 5:13.

Edmond Malone: "This note [of Johnson's] was in answer to one which accompanied one of the earliest pamphlets on the subject of Chatterton's forgery, entitled 'Cursory Observations on the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley,' &c. Mr. Thomas Warton's very able 'Inquiry' appeared about three months afterwards; and Mr. Tyrwhitt's admirable 'Vindication of the Appendix,' in the summer of the same year, left the believers in this daring imposture nothing but 'the resolution to say again what had been said before'" 1799; in Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Croker (1831) 5:13n.

James M. Kuist: Cursory Observations "appeared just as the debate over the authenticity of the poems attributed to a fifteenth-century priest was, after twelve years, entering its most crucial phase.... On the first of December, Jacob Bryant published his voluminous Observations upon the Poems of Thomas Rowley: in which the authenticity of those poems is ascertained. Some ten days later, Jeremiah Milles, Dean of Exeter and President of the Society of Antiquaries, brought out his own 'edition' of the poems, with a commentary providing extensive historical proof of what Bryant 'ascertained.' The remarks of Warton and Tyrwhitt suddenly seemed hasty and superficial.... Malone's essay had to be in Nichols' hands not long after the middle of December, for copy was already going to press by then. Doubtless he now put to use many ideas which had occurred to him as the controversy developed. But the origin of the essay was clearly his response, not simply to the poems and the controversy surrounding them, but specifically to what Milles and Bryant had written.... His refutations of their arguments give substance to every stage of his reasoning" Cursory Observations (1966) i-ii.

W. Davenport Adams: "Edmund Malone, critic and commentator (b. 1741, d. 1812), published an edition of Goldsmith's works in 1776; an Attempt to Ascertain the Order in which Shakespeare's Plays were Written (1778); an edition of the poems and doubtful plays of Shakespeare (1780); an edition of the plays and poems of Shakespeare (1790); Cursory Remarks on the Rowley Controversy (1782); an Inquiry into the Authenticity of certain Papers attributed to Shakespeare (1796); a Memoir of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1797); an edition of the works of Dryden, with a Life of the author (1800); and an edition of Gerard Hamilton's works, with Memoir (1808). The Life of Malone has been written by Sir James Prior (1860)" Dictionary of English Literature (1878) 372.



I. CHATTERTON IN MASQUERADE.
NARVA AND MORED; AN AFRICAN ECLOGUE.
[From Chatterton's Miscellanies, p. 56.]

Recyte the loves of Narva and Mored,
The preeste of Chalmas trypell ydolle sayde,
Hie fro the grounde the youthful heretogs (a) sprunge,
Loude on the concave shelle the launces runge:
In al the mysterke (b) maizes of the daunce
The youths of Bannies brennynge (c) sandes advaunce;
Whiles the mole (d) vyrgin brokkyng (e) lookes behinde,
And rydes uponne the penyons of the winde;
Astighes (f) the mountaines borne (g), and measures rounde
The steepie clifftes of Chalmas hallie (h) grounde.

a. Warriors. b. mystick. c. burning. d. used by Chatterton for "soft" or "tender." e. panting. f. ascends. g. brow, or summit. h. holy.

II. CHATTERTON UNMASKED.
ECLOGUE THE FIRST.
[From Rowley's Poems, quarto, p. 391.]

When England smoking from her deadly wound,
From her gall'd neck did twitch the chain away,
Seeing her lawfull sons fall all around,
(Mighty they fell, 'twas Honour led the fray,)
Then in a dale, by eve's dark surcoat gray,
Two lonely shepherds did abruptly fly,
(The rustling leaf does their white hearts affray,)
And with the owlet trembled and did cry:
First Robert Neatherd his sore bosom struck,
Then fell upon the ground, and thus he spoke.

[pp. 48-49]