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Brothers" on sable horses; and, finally, of “the preests, parish, mendicant, and "seculor, some synging Saincte Warburgh's song, others sounding claryons thereto, and otherssome citrialles;” how, when the procession had reached the bridge, the “manne with the anlace" took his station on a mound reared in the middle of it; how the rest gathered round him, “the preestes and freers, all in white albs making a most goodlie shewe,” and singing “the song of Saincte Baldwyn;" how, when this was done, “the manne on the top threwe with greet mycht his anlace into the see, and the claryons sounded an auntiant charge and forloyn;” how then there was more singing, and, at the town-cross, a Latin sermon “preeched by Ralph de Blundeville;” and how the day was ended by festivities, the performance of the play of “The Knyghtes of Bristow" by the friars of St. Augustine, and the lighting of a great bonfire on Kynwulph Hill. The antiquaries of the town were eager to know the anonymous “Dunhelmus Bristoliensis” who had contributed this perfectly novel document to the archives of Bristol; and they succeeded in identifying him with Mr. Lambert's singular apprentice,—the discoverer, as they would now learn, of a similar piece of antiquity in the shape of a pedigree for Mr. Burgum, i. pewterer. Examined, coaxed, and threatened on the subject of his authority, Chatterton prevaricated, but at last adhered to the assertion that the manuscript in question was one of a collection which had belonged to his father, who had obtained them from the large chest or coffer in the muniment-room of the church of St. Mary Redcliffe. And here, whether owing to his obstinacy or to the stupidity of the inquisitors, the matter was allowed to rest. The general impresssion that followed the discovery of the author of the communication relative to the opening of the old bridge, was that Mr. Lambert's apprentice was really a very extraordinary lad, who, besides being a poet in a small way, was also a dabbler in antiquities, and had somehow or other become possessed, as he said himself, of valuable materials respecting the history of Bristol. Accordingly he became, in some sense, a local celebrity. Among the persons that took
him by the hand were one or two of some name and importance in Bristol— Mr. George Catcott, the partner of Mr. Burgum; his brother, the Rev. Alexander Catcott; and Mr. Barrett, a surgeon in good practice. Two of these had a reputation as literary men. The Rev. Mr. Catcott had written a book in support of the Noachian view of the Deluge, and was, besides, according to Chatterton's delineations of him, a kind of oracle on scientific points at Bristol tea-parties, where, “shewing wondering cits his fossil store,” he would expound his orthodox theory of springs, rocks, mountains, and strata. 'hat the reverend Catcott was at refined tea-parties, his coarser brother, the pewterer, was at taverns. Chatterton thus hits him off:— “So at Llewellyn's your great brother sits, The laughter of his tributary wits, Ruling the noisy multitude with ease, Empties his pint, and sputters his decrees." Mr. Barrett, the surgeon, on the other hand, was a sedate professional man, of repute as an antiquarian, and known to be engaged in writing a history of Bristol. The two Catcotts, Barrett, and Burgum, with some others, known either through their means or independently of them ; Mr. Matthew Mease, a vintner; Messrs. Allen and Broderip, two musicians and church organists; the Rev. Mr. Broughton; Mr. Clayfield, a distiller, “a worthy, generous man;" Mr. Alcock, a miniature painter; together with certain nondescripts, designated as Mr. Cary, Mr. Kator, Mr. Smith, Mr. Rudhall, Mr. Williams, &c., chiefly, as we imagine, young men of mercantile pursuits and literary asirations,—such, so far as we can colect their names, were the principal acquaintances and associates of Chatterton during his apprenticeship with Mr. Lambert. There are references also to some acquaintances of the other sex,−Mrs. Baker, Mrs. Carty, Miss Webb, Miss Sandford, Miss Bush, Miss Thatcher, Miss Hill, &c., not to omit the most conspicuous of all, and the only one between whom and Chatterton one is able to surmise a sentimental relation, that “female Machiavel, Miss Rumsey,” sospitefully alluded to in the letter to the transatlantic Mr. Baker. The Catcotts, Barrett, and Burgum, however, come most into notice. On the Rev. Mr. Catcott, Chatterton, we are to suppose, drops in occasionally, to listen to a prelection on fossils and the deluge; Burgum and the other Catcott he may sometimes meet at Matthew Mease's, where Catcott acts the chairman ; and from Barrett, calling on him at his surgery once a week or so, he receives sensible advices as to the propriety of making poetry subordinate to his profession, as well as (what he greatly prefers) the loan of medical and uncommon books.
It is to this little public of heterogeneous individuals—clergymen, surgeons, tradesmen, vintners, and young apprentices like himself, that Chatterton produces his Rowley poems, and other antique writings. As early as the date of the Burgum pedigree, we have seen, he had ventured to bring out one antique piece, the “Romaunt of the Cnychte,” by the so-called John de Bergham. To this had been added, as early as the commencement of 1768, the “Tournament,” the poem alluded to in the letter to Baker, as well as, perhaps, other pieces. Further, in the account of the opening of the old bridge (September, 1768), references are introduced to the “Songe of Saincte Warburghe,” and the “ Songe of Saincte Baldwynne,” showing that these antiques must have been then extant. In short, there is evidence that, before the conclusion of his sixteenth year, Chatterton had produced at least a portion of his alleged antiques. But the year that followed, or from the close of 1768 to the close of 1769, seems to have been his most prolific period in this respect. In or about the winter of 1768–9, that is, when he had just com
leted his sixteenth year, he produced, in the circle of his friends above mentioned, his ballad of “The Bristowe
Tragedie;” his “tragical interlude” of “Ella," in itself a large poem ; his “Elinoure and Juga," a fine pastoralpoem of the wars of the Roses; and numerous other pieces of all forms and lengths, in the same antique spelling. Then, also, did he first distinctly give the account of those pieces to which he ever afterwards adhered—to wit, that they were, for the greater part, the compositions of Thomas Rowley, a priest of Bristol of the fifteenth century, many of whose manuscripts, preserved in the muniment room of the church of St. Mary, had come into his hands. The Catcotts were the parties most interested in the recovered manuscripts; and whenever Chatterton had a new poem of Rowley's on his hands, it was usually to Mr. George Catcott that he first gave a copy of it. To Mr. Barrett, on the other hand, he usually imparted such scraps of ancient prose records, deeds, accounts of old churches, &c., as were likely to be of use to that gentleman in preparing his history of Bristol. So extensive, in fact, were the surgeon's obligations to the young man, that he seems to have thought it impossible to requite them otherwise than by a pecuniary recompense. Accordingly, there is evidence of an occasional guinea or half-guinea having been transferred from the pocket of Mr. Barrett to that of Chatterton on the score of literary assistance rendered him in the progress of his work. From the Catcotts, too, Chatterton seems, on similar grounds, to have now and then obtained something. That they were not so liberal as they might have been, however, the following bill in Chatterton's handwriting will show —
“To the Executors of T. Rowley.
“To pleasure recd. in readg. his Historic works his Poetic works
Whether the above was splenetically sent to Calcott, or whether it was only drawn up by Chatterton in a cashless moment by way of frolic, is not certain; the probability, however, is, that if it was sent, the pewterer did not think it necessary to discharge it. Yet he was not such a hard subject as his partner, Burgum, whom Chatterton (no doubt after sufficient trial) represents as stinginess itself.
But it was not only as a young man of extensive antiquarian knowledge and of decided literary talent that Chatterton was known in Bristol. As the transcriber of the Rowley poems, and the editor of curious pieces of information, derived from ancient manuscripts which he was understood to have in his possession, the Catcotts, Barrett, and the rest, had no fault to find with him: but there were other phases in which he
appeared, by no means so likely to recommend him to their favour, or to the favour of such other influential persons in the community as might have been disposed to patronise modesty in combination with youth and literature. In a town of 70,000 inhabitants (which was about the population of Bristol eighty years ago) it must be remembered that all the public characters are marked men—the mayor, the various aldermen and common-councilmen, the city clergymen, the chief grocers, bankers, and tradesmen, the teachers of the public schools, &c., are all recognised as they pass along the streets; and their peculiarities, physical and moral, such as the red nose of Alderman Such-an-one, the wheezy voice of the Rev. Such-another, and the blustering self-importance of citizen Such-athird, are perfectly familiar to the collective civic imagination. Now, it is the most natural of all things for a young man in such a town, just arrived at a tolerable conceit of himself, and determined to have a place some day in Mr. Craik's “Pursuit of Knowledge under Difficulties,” to be seized with a tremendous disrespect for everything locally sacred, and to delight in promulgating it. What nonsense they do talk in the town-council; what a miserable set of mercantile rogues are the wealthy citizens; what an absence of liberality and high general intelligence there is in the whole procedure of the community—these are the commonplaces (often, it must be confessed, true enough) through which the highspirited young native of a middle-class British town must almost necessarily pass, on his way to a broader appreciation of men and things. Through the sorrows of Lichfield, the Lichfield youth realises how it is that all creation groaneth and travaileth ; and, pinched by the inconveniences of Dundae, the aspirant who is there nursed into manhood turns down his shirt-collar at all things, and takes a Byronic view of the entire universe. Chatterton was specially liable to this discontent with everything around him. Of a dogged, sullen, and passionate disposition, not without a considerable spice of malice; treated as a boy, yet with a brain consciously the most powerful in Bristol; sadly in want of pocket-money for purposes more or less questionable, and having hardl any means of procuring it—he took his
revenge out in satire against all that was respectable in Bristol. If Mr. Thomas Harris, then the Right Worshipful Mayor of the city, passed him on the pavement, either ignorant what a youth of genius he was pushing aside, or looking down somewhat askance, as a Mayor will do at an attorney's apprentice that will not take off his hat when he is expected, the thought that probably arose in his breast was, “You are a purse-proud fool, Mr. Mayor, and I have more sense in my little finger than you have in your whole body.” If there was a civic dinner, and Chatterton was told of it, the remark would be, what feeding there would be among the aldermen and city brothers; what guzzling of claret; and what after-dinner speeches by fellows that could not pronounce their H's, and hardly knew how to read. If he chanced to sit in church, hearing the Rev. Dr. Cutts Barton, then Dean of Bristol, preach, what would pass in his mind would be, “you are a drowsy old rogue, Cutts, and have no more religion in you than a sausage.” And even when Newton, the Bishop of the diocese, distinguished prelate as he was, made his appearance in the pulpit, he would not be safe from the excoriations of this young critic in the distant pew. Chatterton's own friends and acquaintances, too, came in for their share of his sarcasms. Lambert, we believe, he hated; and we have seen how he could wreak a personal grudge on an old teacher. †. Rev. Mr. Catcott, not a bad fellow in the main, he soon set down, in his
own private opinion, as a narrow-minded
parson, with no force or philosophy, conceited with his reputation at teaparties, and a dreadful bore with his fossils and his theory of the deluge. His brother, the unclerical Catcott, again, had probably more wit and vigour, but dogmatised insufferably over his beer; Burgum was a vain, stingy, ungrammatical goose ; and Mr. Barrett, with all his good intentions, was too fond of giving common-place advices. In short, Bristol was a vile place, where originality or genius, or even ordinary culture and intelligence had no chance of being appreciated; and to spend one's existence there would be but a life-long attempt to teach a certain class of animals the value and the beauty of pearls. Poor, unhappy youth; how, through the mist and din of eighty years past and gone since then, I recognise thee walking in the winter evenings of 1769– 70, through the dark streets of Bristol, or out into its dark environs, ruminating such evil thoughts as these ! And what, constituting myself for the moment the mouthpiece of all that society has since ronounced on thy case, should I, leaping back over long years to place myself at thy side, whisper thee by way of counsel or reproach 2– “Persist ; be content; be more modest ; think less of forbidden indulgences; give up telling lies; attend to your master's business; and, if you will cherish the fire of genius and become a poet and a man of name, like the Johnsons, the Goldsmiths, the Churchills, and others whom you think yourself born to equal or surpass, at least study patience, have faith in honourable courses, and realise, above all, that wealth and fame are vanity, and that, whether you succeed or fail, it will be all the same a hundred years after this.” “Easily said,” thou wouldst answer; “cheaply advised l—I also could speak as you do; if your soul were in my soul's stead I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. That the present will pass, and that a hundred years hence all the tragedy or all the farce will have been done and over—true; I know it. Nevertheless I know also that, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, the present must be moved through and exhausted . “A hundred }. after this 1'-did not Manlius the oman know it; and yet was there not a moment in the history of the world, a moment to be fully felt and gone through by Manlius, when, flung from the Tarpeian Rock, he, yet living, hung halfway between his gaping executioners above and his ruddy death among the stones below 2 “A hundred years after this ' ' – Pompeius the Roman knew it; and yet was there not a moment in the history of the world, a moment fully to be endured by Pomius, when, reading in the treacherous oat, he sat halfway between the ship that bore his destinies, and his funeral H. on the Libyan shore ? Centuries ack in the past these moments now lie engulphed, but what is that to me? It is my turn now: here I am, wretched in this beastly Bristol, where Savage was allowed to starve in prison; and by the very fact that I live, I have a right to my solicitude!"
Obstinate boy! is there then aught that can still with some show of sense, be advised you? Yes, there is 1 Seek a friend. Leave the Catcotts, lay and clerical, the Burgums, the Barretts, the Matthew Meases, and the rest of them, and seek some one true friend, such as surely even Bristol can supply, of about the same age as yourself, or, what were better, somewhat older; see him daily, walk with him, smoke with him, laugh with him, discuss religion with him, hear his experiences, show your poetry to him, and, above all, make a clean breast to him of your delinquencies in the Rowley business. Or, more efficient perhaps still, fall really in love. Eschew the Miss Rumseys and other such questionable fair ones, and find out some beauty of a better kind, to whom, with or without hope, you can vow the future of your noblest heart. Find her; walk beneath her window; catch glimpes of her; dream of her; if fortune so, Woo her, and (true you are but seventeen 1) win her. Bristol will then be a paradise; its sky will be lightsome, its streets beautiful, its mayor tolerable, its clergy respectable, and all its warehouses palaces ! Is this nonsense 2 Well, then, I will give up the Mentor. with you and act the Mephistopheles. My acquaintance with general biography enables me to tell you of one particular family at this moment living in Bristol, that it might be well for you to get acquainted with. Mr. Barrett might be able to introduce you. The family I mean is that of the Mores—five sisters—who keep a boarding-school for young ladies in Park-street, “the most flourishing establishment of its kind in the west of England.” The Miss Mores, as you know, are praised by all the mammas in Bristol as extremely clever and accomplished young women—almost blue-stockings in fact —and one of them, Miss Hannah, is, like yourself, a writer of verses, and, like yourself, destined to literary celebrity. Now I do not wish to be mischievous, but seeing that posterity will wish that you two, living as you did in the same town, should at least have met and spoken with each other, might I suggest a notion to you? Could you not elope with Hannah More? True, she is seven years your senior, extremely sedate, and the very last person in the world to be guilty of any nonsense with an attorney's apprentice
Nevertheless try. Just think of the train of consequences: the whole boarding-school in a slutter—all Bristol scandalised—paragraphs in Felir Farley's Journal—and posterity effectually cheated of two things, the tragic termination of your own life, and the admirable old maidenhood of her's 1
- * *
Chatterton did not conceal his contempt from the very persons it was most likely to offend. Known not only as a transcriber of ancient English poetry, but also as a poet in his own person, he began to support his reputation in the latter character by producing from time to time, along with his Rowley poems, certain lengthy compositions of his own in a modern satirical vein. In these compositions, which were written after the manner of Churchill, there was the strangest possible jumble of crude Whig politics and personal scurrility against local notabilities. What effect they were likely to have on Chatterton's position in his native town, may be inferred from a specimen or two. How would Broderip the organist like this?—
“While Broderip's humdrum symphonies of flats Rival the harmony of midnight cats.”
Or the lay Catcott this allusion to a professional feat of his in laying the topstone of a spire?— “Catcott is very fond of talk and fame— His wish a perpetuity of name : Which to procure, a pewter altar's made To bear his name and signify his trade ; In pomp burlesqued the rising spire to head, To tell futurity a pewterer's deal.” And how could the clerical Catcott like this reference to his orthodoxy 2–
“Might we not, Catcott, then infer from hence, Your zeal for Scripture hath devoured your sense ?”
Or what would the Mayorsay to this?—
“Let Harris wear his self-sufficient air, Nor dare remark, for Harris is a mayor."
Or the civic dignity of Bristol to this 2–
** "Tis doubtful if her aldermen can read : This of a certainty the muse may tell, None of her common-councilmen can spell."
Clearly enough an attorney's aprentice that was in the habit of showing about such verses, was not in the way to procure patronage and good will. If, however, any of his friends remonstrated with him, his answer was ready :—
“Damned narrow notions, tending to disgrace
Accordingly Chatterton continued to support, in the eyes of the portion of the community of Bristol that knew him, a two-fold character: that, on the one hand, of an enthusiastic youth of antiquarian knowledge, the possessor of many antique manuscripts, chiefly poetry of the fifteenth century; and that, on the other, of an ill-conditioned boy of spiteful temper, the writer of somewhat clever but very scurrilous verses. Nay, more, it was observable that the latter character was growing upon him, apparently at the expense of the former ; for while, up to his seventeenth year (1768–9), his chief recreation seemed to be in his antiques and Rowley MSS., after that date he seemed to throw his antiques aside, and devote all his time to imitations of the satires of Churchill, under such names as The Consuliad, Kew Gardens, &c. And here the reader must permit me a little essay or disquisitional interleaf on the character and writings of Chatterton.
on THE CHARACTER AND WRITINGS OF CHATTERTON.
ALL thinking persons have now agreed to abandon that summary method of dealing with human character, according to which unusual and eccentric courses of action are attributed to mere caprices on the part of the individuals concerned—mere obstinate determinations to go out of the common route.
“The dog, to gain some private ends, Went mad, and bit the man,”
is a maxim less in repute than it once was. In such cases as that of Chatterton, it is now believed, deeper causes are always operating than the mere wish to deceive people and make a figure. Now, in the case of Chatterton, it appears to us, we must first of all take for granted an extraordinary natural precocity or prematurity of the facul