Imagens das páginas

elegant, gratis, besides no inconsiderable premium. He is introduced to Beckford, the Lord Mayor, to whom he had addressed an Essay, and who received him with all the politeness a citizen could assume, and warmly invited him to come again. He might have a recommendation to Sir George Colebrook, an East India Director, as qualified for an office no ways despicable; but he shall not take a step to the sea while he can continue on land. If money flowed as fast upon him as honours, he would give his sister a portion of 5000l." The kind-hearted boy did indeed find means out of the little profits arising from his writings, to send her, his mother, and his grand-mother, several trifling pre


In July he removed to lodgings at Mrs. Angel's, a sack-maker in Brook-steeet, Holborn. He assigned no reason for quitting those he had occupied in Shoreditch; but Sir Herbert Croft supposes, not without probability, that it was in order to be nearer to the places of public entertainment, to which his employment as a writer for ephemeral publications, obliged him to resort. On the 20th of July, he acquaints his sister that he is engaged in writing an Oratorio, which when finished would purchase her a gown, and that she might depend on seeing him before the first of January, 1771. "Almost all the next Town and Country Magazine," he tells her, "is his." He boasts that "he has an universal acquaintance; that his company is courted every where; and could he humble himself to go behind a compter, he could have had twenty places, but that he must be among the great: state matters suit him better than commercial." Besides his communications to the above mentioned miscellany, he was a frequent contributor of essays and poems to several of the other literary journals. As a political writer, he had resolved to employ his pen on both sides. re Essays," he tells his sister, "on the patriotic side, fetch no more than what the copy is sold for. As the patriots themselves are searching for a place, they have no gratuities to spare. On the other hand, unpopular essays will not be accepted, and you must pay to have

them printed; but then you seldom lose by it. Courtiers are so sensible of their deficiency in merit, that they generally reward all who know how to daub them with an appearance." But all his visions of emolument and greatness were now beginning to melt away. He was so tired of his literary drudgery, or found the returns it made him so inadequate to his support, that he condescended to solicit the appointment of a chirurgeon's mate to Africa, and applied to Mr. Barrett for a recommendation, which was refused him, probably on account of his incapacity. It is difficult to trace the particulars of that sudden transition from good to bad fortune which seems to have befallen him. That his poverty was extreme cannot be doubted.

The younger Warton was informed by Mr. Cross, an apothecary in Brook-street, that while Chatterton lived in the neighbourhood, he often called at his shop; but though pressed by Cross to dine or sup with him, constantly declined the invitation, except one evening, when he was prevailed on to partake of a barrel of oysters, and ate most voraciously. A barber's wife who lived within a few doors of Mrs. Angel's, gave testimony, that after his death Mrs. Angel told her, that "on the 24th of August, as she knew he had not eaten anything for two or three days, she begged he would take some dinner with her; but he was offended at her expressions, which seemed to hint that he was in want, and assured her he was not hungry." The stripling whose pride would not let him go behind a compter, had now drunk the cup of bitterness to the dregs. On that day he swallowed arsenic in water, and on the following expired. His room was broken into, and found strewn over with fragments of papers which he had destroyed. He was interred in the burying ground of Shoe-lane work-house. Such was the end of one who had given greater proofs of poetical genius than perhaps had ever been shown in one of his years. By Johnson he was pronounced "the most extraordinary young man that had ever encountered his knowledge;" and Warton in the History of English Poetry, where he discusses the authenticity of the

Rowleian poems, gives it as his opinion, that Chatterton "would have proved the first of English poets if he had reached a maturer age."

"He was proud," says his sister, " and exceedingly imperious;" but both she and his school-fellow This tlethwaite, vindicated him from the charge of libertinism, which was brought against him by some who thought they could not sufficiently blacken his memory. On the contrary, his abstemiousness was uncommon; he seldom used animal food or strong liquors, his usual diet being a piece of bread and a tart, and some water. He fancied that the full of the moon was the most propitious time for study, and would often sit up and write the whole night by moonlight. His spirits were extremely uneven, and he was subject to long and frequent fits of absence, insomuch that he would look steadfastly in a person's face without speaking or seeming to see him for a quarter of an hour or more. There is said to have been something peculiarly pleasing in his manner and address. His person was marked by an air of manliness and dignity that bespoke the superiority of his mind. His eyes, one of which was more remarkable than the other, were of a grey colour, keen, and brilliant, especially when any thing occurred to animate him.

Of all the hypotheses concerning those papers which have been the subject of so much controversy, none seems more probable than that suggested by Warton, who in the History of English Poetry, admits that some of the poems attributed to Rowley might have been preserved in Canynge's chest; and in another publication allows, that Chatterton "might have discovered parchments of humble prose containing local memoirs and authentic deeds illustrating the history of Bristol, and biographical diaries, or other notices, of the lives of Canynge, Ischam, and Gorges. But that many of the manuscripts were not genuine, is proved not only by the dissimilitude of the style to any composition of the age of Henry VI. and Edward IV. and by the marked resemblance to several passages in modern poets, but by certain circumstances which leave little or no doubt of their having been fabricated by Chatterton

himself." One of his companions at the time that he was an apprentice to Lambert, affirms, that he one day produced a piece of parchment on which he wrote several words if not lines, in a character that appeared to his companion totally unlike English, that he then held it over a candle to give it the appearance of antiquity, which changed the colour of the ink, and made the parchment appear black and contracted. Another person declares, that he saw him rub a piece of parchment in several places in streaks with yellow ochre, and then rub it on the ground which was dirty, and afterwards crumple it in his hand. Having concluded the operation, he said it would do pretty well, but he could do it better at home. The first part of the Battle of Hastings, he confessed to Mr. Barrett, that he had written himself.

Some anachronisms as to particular allusions have been pointed out. The irregular, or Pindaric measure as it has been called, used in the song to Ella, in the verses on the Mynster, and in the Chorus in Goddwyn, was not employed till a much later æra. There are also in the Ælla some lines in blank verse, not introduced among us till the time of Surrey, who adopted it from the Italian.

Another criterion of a more general nature, which has not yet, at least that I am aware, been applied to those compositions, is, I think, very strongly against the antiquity of them; and that is, that the intention and purpose of the writer in the longer pieces is not sufficiently marked and decisive for the remoter ages to which they are ascribed. In the early stages of a language, before conventional phrases have been formed, and a stock of imagery, as it were provided for the common use, we find that the plan of a work is often rude and simple indeed, but that it almost always bears evident signs of having subsisted anteriorly in the mind of the writer as a whole. If we try Ella, the longest of the poems, by this test, we shall discover strong evidence of its being modern. A certain degree of uniformity is the invariable characteristic of the earlier productions of art; but here is as much desultoriness and incoherence, as can well be possible

in a work that makes any pretensions to a plan. On this internal proof alone I should not hesitate in assigning it to Chatterton rather than to Rowley, to the one who luxuriated in an abundance of poetic materials poured out before him for his use or his imitation, rather than to the other who had comparatively but a few meagre models to work upon.

Where he is much inspirited by his subject, being thrown off his guard, he forgets himself and be comes modern, as in these lines, from which I have removed nothing but the old spelling,

First Dane.

terly style of versification which they frequently display. Few more exquisite specimens of this kind can be found in our language than the Minstrel's song in Ella, beginning,

O sing unto my roundelay.

A young poet may be expected to describe warmly and energetically whatever interests his fancy or his heart; but a command of numbers would seem to be an art capable of being perfected only by long continued and diligent endeavours. must be recollected, however, that much might be done in the time which was at Chatterton's disposal,


Fly, fly, ye Danes, Magnus the chief is when that time was undivided by the


The Saxons come with Ælla at their head;
Let's strive to get away to yonder green;
Fly, fly, this is the kingdom of the dead.
Second Dane.

O Gods! have Romans at my anlace bled?
And must I now for safety fly away?
See! far besprenged all our troops are

Yet I will singly dare the bloody fray.
But no; I'll fly, and murder in retreat;
Death, blood, and fire shall mark the go-
ing of my feet.

The following repetitions are, if I mistake not, quite modern:

study of any other language but his own. We see in the instance of Milton's juvenile poems in Latin, not to mention others, to what excellence this species of skill may be brought, even in boyhood, where the organs are finely disposed for the perception of musical delight; and if examples of the same early perfection be rarer in our own tongue, it may be because so much labour is seldom or ever exacted at that age in the use of it.

Tyrwhitt, whose critical acumen had enabled him to detect a suppositi

Now Ella look'd, and looking did ex- tious passage in a tragedy of Euriclaim.


He falls, and falling rolleth thousands down. As is also this antithetical comparison of the qualities of a war-horse to the mental affections of the rider: Bring me a steed, with eagle-wings for fight,

Swift as my wish, and as my love is, strong.

There are sometimes single lines, that bear little relation to the place in which they stand, and seem to be' brought in for no other purpose than their effect on the ear. This is the contrivance of a modern and a youthful poet.


pides, was at first a dupe to the imposture of Chatterton, and treated the poems as so decidedly genuine that he cited them for the elucidation of Chaucer; but seeing good grounds for changing his opinion, as Mr. Nichols informs us, he canceled several leaves before his volume was published. Walpole was equally deceived; though his vanity afterwards would not suffer him to own that he to Dr. Glynn, well observed, that had been so. Mr. Tyson, in a letter

he could as soon believe that Ho

garth painted the cartoons, as that Chatterton wrote Rowley's poems: yet (he adds) they are as unlike any thing ancient, as Sir Joshua's flowing Thy words be high of din, but nought contour is unlike the squares and


is a line that occurs in Ella, and may sometimes be applied to the author himself.

Nothing indeed is more wonderful in the Rowley poems than the mas

angles of Albert Durer.

The poems that were written after his arrival in London, when his mind was agitated by wild speculations, and thrown off its balance by noise and bustle, were, as might be ex

[ocr errors][merged small]

pected, very unequal to those which he had produced in the retirement of his native place. Yet there is much poignancy in the satires. The three African eclogues have a tumid grandeur. Heccar and Gaira is the best of them.

The following verses are strong and impassioned:

The children of the wave, whose pallid race Views the faint sun display a languid face, From the red fury of thy justice fled Swifter than torrents from their rocky bed. Fear with a sicken'd silver tinged their hue. The guilty fear where vengeance is their due. Many of the pieces, confessedly his own, furnish descriptions of natural objects, equally happy with those so much admired in the Rowleian poems.

When golden Autumn, wreath'd in ripen'd


From purple clusters pour'd the foamy wine,
Thy genius did his sallow brows adorn,
And made the beauties of the season thine.
With rustling sound the yellow foliage flies,
And wantons with the wind in rapid whirls,
The gurging rivulet to the vallies hies,
Whilst on its bank the spangled serpent curls.

Pale rugged Winter bending o'er his tread;
His grizzled hair bedropt with icy dew;
His eyes a dusky light congeal'd and dead,
His robe a tinge of bright ethereal blue.
His train a motley'd, sanguine, sable cloud,
He limps along the russet dreary moor,
Whilst rising whirwinds, blasting keen and


Roll the white surges to the sounding shore.

The lofty elm, the oak of lordly look,
The willow shadowing the babbling brook,
The hedges blooming with the sweets of

With double pleasure mark'd the gladsome


[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

See Hope, array'd in robes of virgin white,
Trailing an arch'd variety of light,
Comes showering blessings on a ruin'd

And shows the crown'd director of the helm.
With him poetry looks best, when
she is


All deftly mask'd as hoar antiquity.
Scarcely any of these later poems
are free from grammatical incorrect-
Some are debased by the more seri-
or ambiguity of expression.
ous faults of ribaldry and profane-
ness. His irreligion, however, seems
to have been rather the fluctuating
of a mind that had lost its hold on
truth for a time, than the scepticism
of one confirmed in error. He ac-
Creator, though he casts off his be
knowledges his dependence on
lief in a Redeemer. His incredulity
does not appear so much the offspring
of viciousness refusing the curb of
moral restraint, as of pride unwilling
to be trammeled by the opinions of
the multitude. We cannot conceive
that with a faculty so highly imagi-
native, he could long have continued
an unbeliever, or, perhaps, that he
But he is a portentous example of
could ever have been so in his heart.
enced youth, highly gifted by nature,
the dangers to which an inexperi-
midst of greedy speculators, intent
is exposed, when thrown into the
only on availing themselves of his re-
sources for their own advantage, and
without any care for his safety or his

Some years ago the present laureat
works for the benefit of his sister,
undertook the office of editing his
Mrs. Newton. It is to be lamented,
that a project so deserving of en-
couragement does not appear to have
been successful.

[ocr errors]



THE power of poesy is by no means a royal qualification. The bay-tree will flourish in a garret, but it withers on a throne of marble. Were Time, or Time's treasurer

Oblivion, prevailed on to display the
poetic furniture of his shelves and
depositaries, there would, probably,
but few of the articles be found im-
pressed with the crown and sceptre.

Kings have been historians; witness Julius Cæsar and Frederic of Prussia. Kings have been orators; witness the same Cæsar and Pericles, amongst many others. They have been, even to a respectable degree, mathematicians, metaphysicians, theologians; such as Charles XII. James I. and Henry VIII. Nay, the law has had its imperial expounders; the long robe has been garnished with ermine, and the professional wig has restrained its curls with a diadem. In as much as legislation may be considered as the nobler branch of the law, kings have been lawyers. We have an illustrious instance here in our own Alfred; not to go so far back as Justinian, Numa, or Solo


Peter the Great was a mechanician, Frederic the Great a musician; the one could build a ship for his amusement, the other compose a waltz; the one could direct a vessel better than any pilot in his dominions, the other could play a march better than any piper in Prussia. There is scarcely any science or art which may not boast a royal professor of some note, but the one we have excepted, the Art of Poetry, Whether princes in general have despised the Muse, or have been of her despised, may be a question. We are rather inclined to suspect the latter member of the alternative to be the true answer. And for this reason: By the very nature of their education, and their manner of life, princes are less subject to those impressions and excitements which are the most fruitful source of poetry. The circumstances of their situation are often such as to nourish in them the faculties of oratory, legal subtlety, &c.; and frequently exact from them a knowledge of those arts which may be turned to practice. But the nature of poetry is abstract, and not only a king, but less worldly men, may live all their lives, without finding the least necessity to cultivate their genius in this unprofitable art, or any encouragement in surrounding circumstances to incite them towards displaying it. This is, however, an especial truth with regard to princes. As for the necessity,it is but seldom that kings have an opportunity, like Alfred, of entering an enemy's camp as a minstrel; and

seldomer still that they find themselves in the humour to take advantage of it. As for the encouragement,-all the poetic faculty with which a prince can be gifted, must be born with him; he can imbibe nothing of it from education, or experience. For, first; the face of nature is seldom familiar to them; her beauties are generally regulated for the eye of royalty by a brownbill or a pruning-hook; and instead of God, it is his majesty's gardener, whose works are worshipped. At all events, the diversities of nature do not continually revolve before him; neither has he time nor opportunity for a minute inspection of her latent charms, her secret operations, or her more rustic features. Hence is his mind barren of natural imagery, the great store from which poetry is furnished with all that is beautiful, magnificent, and impressive. Again; the world of the heart becomes, alas! invisible, according as the spectator mounts above his fellow-mortals. is covered with a dense atmosphere formed by the noxious breath of adulation, hypocrisy, and falsehood, which conceals it from his view; and when he ascends to the eminence of a throne, the world beneath appears dim and distorted through the haze of artifice and dissimulation which floats between him and his footstool. The sycophant, who in the fervor of loyal servility, will kiss the hem of his robe, will not pay the object of his idolatry the simple respect of speaking to him in the language of truth and of the heart.


We have been led into these reflections by the circumstance of having accidentally met with some verses of our ancient kings, which, although curious as such, and moreover of some intrinsic beauty, are not sufficient either in quantity or merit, to refute our opinion as to the humble pretensions of Earth's rulers towards the sovereignty of one poor turf in the domains of Parnassus. A single flower, and that almost hidden in the obscurest angle of those realms, owns itself the property of King Henry VI.; it is emblematic of the temper and condition of its royal master:

« AnteriorContinuar »