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The Rowley Poems   By:

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First Page:

THE

ROWLEY POEMS

BY

THOMAS CHATTERTON

REPRINTED FROM TYRWHITT'S THIRD EDITION

EDITED, WITH AN INTRODUCTION, BY MAURICE EVAN HARE

MCMXI

CONTENTS.

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION

I. CHATTERTON'S LIFE AND DEATH AND THE GENESIS OF THE ROWLEY POEMS

II. THE VALUE OF THE ROWLEY POEMS

III. BIBLIOGRAPHY

IV. NOTE ON THE TEXT

V. NOTES

VI. APPENDIX ON THE ROWLEY CONTROVERSY

REPRINT OF THE EDITION OF 1778. (The Table of Contents follows the 1778 title page.)

EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION.

I. CHATTERTON'S LIFE AND DEATH AND THE GENESIS OF THE ROWLEY POEMS

Thomas Chatterton was born in Bristol on the 20th of November 1752. His father also Thomas dead three months before his son's birth, had been a subchaunter in Bristol Cathedral and had held the mastership in a local free school. We are told that he was fond of reading and music; that he made a collection of Roman coins, and believed in magic (or so he said), studying the black art in the pages of Cornelius Agrippa. With all the self acquired culture and learning that raised him above his class (his father and grandfathers before him for more than a hundred years had been sextons to the church of St. Mary Redcliffe) he is described as a dissipated, 'rather brutal fellow'. Lastly, he appears to have been 'very proud', self confident, and self reliant.

Of Chatterton's mother little need be said. Gentle and rather foolish, she was devoted to her two children Mary and, his sister's junior by two years, Thomas the Poet. Of these Mary seems to have inherited the colourless character of her mother; but Thomas must always have been remarkable. We have the fullest accounts of his childhood, and the details that might with another be set down as chronicles of the nursery will be seen to have their importance in the case of this boy who set himself consciously to be famous when he was eight, wrote fine imaginative verse before he was thirteen, and killed himself aged seventeen and nine months.

Thomas, then, was a moody baby, a dull small boy who knew few of his letters at four; and was superannuated such was his impenetrability to learning at the age of five from the school of which his father had been master. He was moreover till the age of six and a half so frequently subject to long fits of abstraction and of apparently causeless crying that his mother and grandmother feared for his reason and thought him 'an absolute fool.' We are told also by his sister and there is no incongruity in the two accounts that he early displayed a taste for 'preheminence and would preside over his playmates as their master and they his hired servants.' At seven and a half he dissipated his mother's fear that she had borne a fool by rapidly learning to read in a great black letter Bible; for characteristically 'he objected to read in a small book.' In a very short time from this he appears to have devoured eagerly the contents of every volume he could lay his hands on. He had a thirst for knowledge at large for any kind of information, and as the merest child read with a careless voracity books of heraldry, history, astronomy, theology, and such other subjects as would repel most children, and perhaps one may say, most men. At the age of eight we hear of him reading 'all day or as long as they would let him,' confident that he was going to be famous, and promising his mother and sister 'a great deal of finery' for their care of him when the day of his fame arrived. Before he was nine he was nominated for Colston's Hospital, a local school where the Bluecoat dress was worn and at which the 'three Rs' were taught but very little else, so that the boy, disappointed of the hope of knowledge, complained he could work better at home. To this period we should probably assign the delightful story of Chatterton and a friendly potter who promised to give him an earthenware bowl with what inscription he pleased upon it such writing presumably intended to be 'Tommy his bowl' or 'Tommy Chatterton'... Continue reading book >>




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