Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

ing with the terrible letters of the in. visible Junius. But the man of the hour, the hero of the self-dubbed crisis, was John Wilkes.

Arrested in 1763, on account of the publication of No. 45 of the North Briton, in which one of the King's speeches had been severely commented on; discharged a few days afterwards in consequence of his privilege as a member of parliament; lifted instan. taneously by this accident into an un. exampled blaze of popular favour; persecuted all the more on this ac count by the court party; at last, in January, 1764, expelled from his seat in the House of Commons by a vote declaring him to be a seditious libeller; put on his trial thereafter, before the Court of Queen's Bench, and escaping sentence only by a voluntary flight to France; this squint-eyed personage, known up to that time only as a pro. fligate wit about town, who lived on his wife's money, and fascinated other women in spite of his ugliness, had now been for six years the idol and glory of England. For six years " Wilkes and Forty-five" had been chalked on the walls; “ Wilkes and Liberty" had been the cry of the mobs; and portraits of Wilkes had hung in the windows of the print-shops. Remembering that he was the champion of liberal opinions, even pious Dis. senters had forgotten his atheism and his profligacy: they distinguished, they said, between the man and the cause which he represented.

For a year or two the patriot had been content with the mere echo of this applause as it was wafted to him in Paris; but, cash failing him there, and the parliament from which he had been ejected having been dissolved, he had returned to England early in 1768; had offered himself as a candi. date for the city of London ; had lost that election ; but had almost instantly afterwards been returned for the county of Middlesex. Hereupon he had ventured to surrender himself to the process of the law; and the result had been his condemnation, in June, 1768, to pay a fine of £1,000, and under go an imprisonment of twenty-two months. Nor had this been all. No sooner had parliament met than it had proceeded to expel the member for Middlesex. Then had begun the tug of war between parliament and the people. Thirteen days after his ex

pulsion, the exasperated electors of Middlesex had again returned Wilkes as their representative, no one having dared to oppose him. Again the house had expelled him, and again the electors had returned him. Not till after the fourth farce of election bad the contest ceased. On that occasion three other candidates had presented themselves; and one of them, Colonel Luttrell, having polled 296 votes, had been declared by the house to be duly elected, notwithstanding that the votes for Wilkes had been four times as nu. merous. Tremendous then had been the outcry of popular indignation; during the whole of the years 1768 and 1769 “ the violation of the right of election by parliamentary despotism” had been the great topic of the country ; and in the beginning of 1770 this was still the question of the hour, the question forced by the people into all other discussions, and regarding which all candidates for popular favour, from Chatham himself down to the parish beadle, were obliged distinctly to declare themselves.

Meanwhile, Wilkes was in the King's Bench, Southwark. His consolations, we may suppose, were, that by all this his popularity had been but increased ; that Parson Horne and the Society for the protection of the Bill of Rights had organised a subscription in his favour, which would more than pay his fine; and that the whole country was waiting to do him honour on the day when he should step out of prison.

It came at last: Tuesday, the 17th of April, 1770. There was a consi. derable show of excitement all day in the vicinity of the prison; and it was with some difficulty that the patriot, getting into a hackney coach late in the afternoon, made his way past the cordial clutches of the mob, into the country. That evening and the next there were huzzas and illuminations in his honour; the house of Beckford, the Lord Mayor, in the then aristocratic region of Soho-square, was con. spicuously decorated with the word “Liberty;" and public dinners to celebrate the release of the patriot were held in various parts of the city.

The rejoicings were not confined to London. In many other towns of England there were demonstrations in honour of Wilkes. A list of the chief places may still be culled from the newspapers of the day. From these

newspapers we learn, what indeed might have been independently surmised, that not the least eager among the towns of England in this emulous show of regard for Wilkes, was the ancient mercantile city of Bristol. The following appeared in the Public Adver. tiser, as from a Bristol correspondent, on the very day of Wilkes's release:

Bristol, April 14th. We hear that, on Wednesday next, being the day of Mr. Wilkes's enlargement, forty-five persons are to dine at the Crown,' in the passage leading from Broad-street to Tower-lane. The entertainment is to consist of two rounds of beef, of 45lbs. each ; two legs of real, weighing 45lbs.; two ditto of pork, 45lbs.; a pig roasted, 45lbs. ; two puddings, of 45lbs. ; 45 loaves ; and, to drink, 45 tankards of ale. After dinner, they are to smoke 45 pipes of tobacco, and to drink 45 bowls of punch. Among others, the following toasts are to be given :-1. Long live the King; 2. Long live the supporters of British liberty; 3. The Magistrates of Bristol. And the dinner to be on the table exactly 45 minutes after two o'clock."

Whether this precise dinner, thus announced by the Bristol correspon. dent of the Advertiser was held or not, must, we fear, remain a mystery; but that there were several dinners in Bristol on the occasion is quite certain. On Thursday, the 19th, in particular, a public entertainment (possibly the above, with the day altered) was given in honour of the patriot by "an emi. nent citizen," and attended by many of the most influential men in the place.

Ah! the poetry of coincidences! On that same Thursday evening, while the assembled guests in the “ Crown” were clattering their glasses in the hot room, puffing their tobacco-smoke, and making the roof ring with their tipsy uproar, there was walking moodily through the streets of Bristol, a young attorney's apprentice, who, four days before, had been discharged from his employment because he had alarmed his master by threatening to commit suicide. This attorney's apprentice was Thomas Chatterton.

CHAPTER II.

THE ATTORNEY'S APPRENTICE OF BRISTOL

It was in the month of August, 1760, that a poor widow, who supported her. self and two children by dressmaking, and by keeping a small day-school in one of the back streets of Bristol, gained admission for her younger child, a boy seven years and nine months old, into Colston's school, a charitable foun. dation, similar, in some respects, to Christ's Hospital in London. The husband of this widow, a rough, drunken fellow, who had been a singer, or subchaunter, in the cathedral choir of Bris. tol, as well as the master of a kind of free school for boys, had died a month or two before his son's birth. An old grandmother, however_either the wi. dow's own mother or her husband's was still alive, dependent, in some degree, on the family.

For nearly seven years, or from August, 1760, to July, 1767, the boy remained an inmate of Cols. ton's school, wearing, as the Christ's Hospital boys still do, a blue coat and yellow stockings, and receiving, according to the custom of the insti. tution, such a plain education as might fit him for an ordinary mercantile or

mechanical occupation. But, from the very first, the boy was singular. For one thing, he was a prodigious reader. The Bible, theological treatises, scraps of history, old magazines, poetry, whatever in the shape of a printed volume came in his way, all were eagerly pounced upon and devoured; and it was not long before his reputation in this respect enabled him to lay one or two circulating libraries under friendly contribution. Then, again, his temper, people remarked, had something in it quite unusual in one so young. Generally very sullen and silent, he was liable to sudden and unaccountable fits of weeping, as well as to violent fits of rage. He was also extremely secretive, and fond of being alone ; and, on Saturday and other holiday afternoons, when he was at liberty to go home from school, it was quite a subject of speculation with his mother, Mrs. Chatterton, and her acquaintances, what the boy could be doing, sitting alone for hours, as was his habit, in a garret full of all kinds of out of the way lumber.

When he was about ten years of age,

it became known to some of his seniors that the little Blue-coat was in the habit of writing verses. His first attempt in this way had been a pious little achievement, entitled, “On the Last Epiphany ; or, Christ's coming to Judgment;" and so proud had he been of this performance, and so ambitious of seeing it in print, that he had boldly dropped it, one Saturday after noon, into the letter-box of Felix Far ley's Bristol Journal, a weekly newspaper in high local repute. It accord. ingly appeared in the columns of that newspaper on the 8th of January, 1763. From that day Chatterton was a sworn poet. Piece after piece was dropped by him during a period of three years into the letter-box of the accommodating Journal. Only one of these, however, is it necessary to mention particularly—a little lampoon, printed the 7th of January, 1764, and entitled, “ The Church warden and the Apparition; a Fable.” A Mr. Joseph Thoinas, a brick-maker by trade, chancing, in that year, to hold the office of church warden for the parish of St. Mary Redcliffe, had greatly scandalized the public mind by causing the old church-yard to be levelled, and the surplus earth and clay to be carted away, as people said, for his own pro. fessional uses. For this outrage on decorum he was much attacked by the local press, and nowhere more severely than in the above-mentioned verses of the little Blue-coat, in whom, by-the. bye, there must have been a kind of hereditary resentment of such a piece of sacrilege, for his ancestors, the Chat tertons, had been sextons of the church of St. Mary Redcliffe for a period of one hundred and fifty years continu ously; and the office had, in fact, only passed out of the family on the death of an older brother of his father, named John Chatterton.

The date does not seem quite cer tain, but it was probably nearly three years after this occurrence, and when Chatterton would be above fourteen years of age, and one of the senior boys in the Blue-coat School, that he stepped, one afternoon, into the shop of a Mr. Burgum, partner of a Mr. Catcott in the pewter trade.

"I have found out a secret about you, Mr. Burgum," he said, going up to the pewterer at his desk.

“ Indeed: what is it?" said Mr. Burgam..

“That you are descended from one of the noblest families in England.” . “I did not know it,” said the victim.

"It is true, though," said Chatterton, and, to prove it, I will bring you your pedigree written out, as I have traced it by the help of books of the peerage and old parchments."

Accordingly, a few days afterwards, he again called, and presented the astonished pewterer with a manuscript copy-book headed in large text, as fol. lows:

“ Account of the Family of the De Bergham, from the Norman Conquest to this time; collected from original Records, Tournament-rolls, and the Heralds of March and Garter Records, by T. Chatterton."

In this document the Burgum pedigree was elaborately traced up, through no end of great names and illustrious intermarriages, to one " Simon de Seyncte Lyze, alias Senliz," who had come into England with the Conqueror; married a daughter of the Saxon chief, Waltheof; become possessed, among other properties, of Burgham Castle, in Northumberland; and been eventually created Earl of Northampton.

Pleased with the honours thus unexpectedly thrust upon him, the pewterer gave the Blue-coat five shillings for his trouble. To show his gratitude, Chat. terton soon returned with “A Conti. nuation of the Account of the Family of the De Bergham, from the Norman Conquest to this Time." In the original pedigree, the young genealogist had judiciously stopped short at the sixteenth century. In the supplement, however, he ventures as far down as the reign of Charles II., back to which point the pewterer is left to supply the links for himself. But the chief feature in the pedigree, as elaborated in the second document, is, that in addi. tion to other great names, it contains a poet. This poet, whose naine was John De Bergham, was a monk of the Cistercian order in Bristol ; he had been educated in Oxford, and was “one of the greatest ornaments of the age in which he lived." He wrote several books, and translated some part of the Iliad under the title of “ Romance of Troy." To give Mr. Burgum some idea of the poetic style of this distin. guished man, his ancestor, there was inseried a short poem of his in the ancient dialect, entitled “The Romaunte of the Cnychte;" and to render the meaning of the poem more intelligible, there was appended a modern metrical paraphrase of it by Chatterton himself."

By the éclat of this wonderful piece of genealogical and heraldic ingenuity done for Mr. Burgum, as well as by the occasional exercise in a more or less public manner of his talent for verse-making, Chatterton, already recognised as the first for attainments among all the lads in Colston's school, appears to have won a kind of reputa. tion with a few persons of the pewterer's stamp out of doors, honest people, with small pretensions to literature themselves, but willing to encourage a clever boy whose mother was in poor circumstances.

It was probably through the influ. ence of such people that, after having been seven years at the school, he was removed from it in July, 1767, to be apprenticed to Mr. John Lambert, a Bristol attorney. The trustees of Col. ston's school paid to Lambert, on the occasion, a premium of ten pounds; and the arrangement was, that Chatterton should be bound to him for seven years, during which period he was to board and lodge in Mr. Lambert's house, his mother, however, undertaking to wash and mend for him. There was no salary; but, as usually happens in such cases, there were pro. bably means in Bristol by which a lad writing, as Chatterton did, a neat clerk's hand, could hope to earn, now and then, a few stray shillings. At any rate, he had the prospect of finding himself, at the end of seven years, in a fair way to be a Bristol attorney.

Lambert's office-hours were from eight in the morning till eight in the evening, with an interval for dinner; from eight till ten in the evening the apprentice was at liberty, but he was required to be home at his master's house, which was at some distance from the office, punctually by ten. An indignity which he felt very much, and more than once complained of, was that, by the household arrangements, which were under the controul of an old lady, his master's mother, he was sent to take his meals in the kitchen, and sleep with the footboy. To set against this, however, there was the advantage of plenty of spare time; for, as Lambert's business was not very extensive, the apprentice was often left alone in the office with nothing special to do, and

at liberty to amuse himself as he liked. From copying letters and precedents, he could turn to “Camden's Britannia," an edition of which lay on the office. shelves, to “ Holinshed's Chronicles," to "Speght's Chaucer,” to “Geoffrey of Monmouth," or to any other book that he could borrow from a library, and smuggle in for his private recreation. Sometimes, also, the tradition goes, his master, entering the office unexpectedly, would catch him writing verses, and would lecture him on the subject. Once the offence was still more serious. An anonymous abusive letter had been sent to Mr. Warner, the head-master of Colston's school, and by the texture of the paper, and other evidences, this letter was traced to the ex-Bluecoat of Mr. Lambert's office, whose reasons for sending it had probably been personal. On this occasion, his master was so exasperated as to strike him.

A young attorney's apprentice, of proud and sullen temper, discontented with his situation, ambitious, conscious of genius, yet treated as a boy and menial servant, such was Chatterton during the two years that followed his removal from the Bluecoat School. To this add the want of pocket-money; for, busy as he was with his master's work, and his own secret exercises in the way of literature, it is still authentically known, that he found time of an evening not only to drop in pretty regularly at his mother's house, but also to do as other attorneys' apprentices did, and prosecute little flirtations, such as all apprentices, literary or otherwise, like to find practicable. Altogether, the best glimpse we have of Chatterton in his commoner aspect as an attorney's apprentice in Bristol, is that which we get from a letter written by him, during his first year with Mr. Lambert, to a youth named Baker, who had been his chum at Colston's school, and had emigrated to America. Baker had written to him from South Carolina, informing him, amongst other things, that he had fallen in love with an American belle, of the name of Hoyland, whose charms had obscured his memory of the Bristol fair ones; and begging him, it would also appear, to woo the Muses in his favour, and transmit him across the Atlantic a poem or two, to be presented to Miss Hoyland. Chatterton complies, and sends a long letter, beginning with a few amatory effusions to Miss Hoyland,

HOTTLEFIELFORT

such as Baker wanted, and concluded When Chatterton wrote this letter thus:

he was fifteen years and four months

“ March 6th, 1768. old. To its tone as illustrative of cer. “Dear FRIEND, -I must now close tain parts of his character we shall have my poetical labours, my master being yet to allude ; meanwhile let us attend returned from London. You write in to the reference made in it to the a very entertaining style; though I am Tournament, one canto of which is said afraid mine will be to the contrary. to be sent along with it. The poem Your celebrated Miss Rumsey is going here meant is doubtless the antique to be married to Mr. Fowler, as he him. dramatic fragment published among self informs me. Pretty children ! about

Chatterton's writings in the assumed to enter into the comfortable yoke of

guise of an original poem of the fifteenth matrimony, to be at their liberty ; just apropos to the old law, but out of the

century, descriptive of a tournament frying-pan into the fire. For a lover,

held at Bristol in the reign of Edward heavens mend him! but, for a husband, I. From the manner of the allusion it oh, excellent! What a female Machia is clear that as early as this period of vel this Miss Rumsey is! A very good Chatterton's life, that is, before the mistress of nature, to discover a demon close of the first year of his apprenticein the habit of a parson; to find a spirit ship, he was in the habit of showing so well adapted to the humour ofan Eng

about to some of his private friends lish wife; that is, one who takes off his

poems in an antique style, which he hat to every person he chances to meet,

represented as genuine antiques, copied to show his staring horns, and very politely stands at the door of his wife's

from old parchments in his possession. chamber whilst her gallant is entertain

It was not, however, till about six ing her within ! o'mirabile. what will months after the date of the foregoing human nature degenerate into? Fowler epistle that he made his debut in the aforesaid declares he makes a scruple of professed character of an antiquarian conscience of being too free with Miss and proprietor of ancient manuscripts, Rumsey before marriage. There's a gal. before the good folks of Bristol genelant for you! Why, a girl with anything rally. of the woman would despise him for it. But In September, 1768, a new bridge no more of it. I am glad you approve of the was opened at Bristol with much civic ladies in Charlestown; and am obliged

pomp and ceremony. While the exto you for the compliment of including

citement was still fresh, the antiquame in your happiness. My friendship is as firm as the white rock when the black

ries of the town were startled by the waves war around it, and the waters

appearance, in Felir Farley's Journal, burst on its hoary top; when the driv

of a very interesting account of the ing wind ploughs the sable sea, and the ceremonies that had attended the simirising waves aspire to the clouds, turn. lar opening, several centuries before, ing with the rattling hail. So much for of the old bridge, which had just been heroics ; to speak plain English, I am, superseded. This account, communi. and ever will be, your unalterable friend. cated by an anonymous correspondent I did not give your love to Miss Rumsey, signing himself i Dunhelmus Bristohaving not seen her in private ; and in

liensis," purported to be taken from an public she will not speak to me, because

old manuscript, contemporary with the of her great love to Fowler, and on ano

occurrence. It described how the ther occasion. I have been violently in love these three-and-twenty times since

opening of the old bridge had taken your departure, and not a few times

place on a “Fridaie ;" how, on that came off victorious. I am obliged to “Fridaie,” the ceremonies had begun you for your curiosity, and shall esteem by one “ Master Greggorie Dalbenye" it very much, not on account of itself, going, “aboute the tollynge of the but as coming from you. The poems, tenth clock,"to inform“ Master Mayor &c., on Miss Hoyland, I wish better for all thyngs were prepared;" how the her sake and your's. The • Tourna

procession to the bridge had consisted, ment,' I have only one canto of, which I first, of “two Beadils streying fresh send herewith ; the remainder is entirely lost. I am, with the greatest regret,

stre," then of a man dressed as “a going to subscribe myself, your faithful

Saxon Elderman," then of "a mickle and constant friend till death do us

strong manne in armour carrying a part,

huge anlace (i. e. sword)" then of “ THOMAS CHATTERTON.

“six claryons and minstrels," then of

“ Master Mayor" on a white horse, * Mr. Baker, Charlestown, "South Carolina."

then of “the Eldermen and Cittie

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »