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Thomas Chatterton (20 November 1752 – 24 August 1770) was an English poet, claimed by some as the father of English Romantic poetry. A literary forger, he is best remembered for his verses in pseudo-medieval English, which he claimed were by a hitherto unknown 15th century poet called Thomas Rowley. He died, either by suicide or by accidental overdose, at the age of 17.
- Mie love ys dedde,
Gon to hys death-bedde,
Al under the wyllowe tree.
Waterre wytches, crownede wythe reytes,
Bere mee to yer leathalle tyde.
I die; I comme; mie true love waytes.
Thos the damselle spake, and dyed.
- Ælla; a Tragycal Enterlude, "Mynstrelles Songe", line 54.
- Almighty Framer of the Skies!
O let our pure devotion rise,
Like Incense in thy Sight!
Wrapt in impenetrable Shade,
The Texture of our Souls were made,
Till thy Command gave Light.
- "A Hymn for Christmas Day", line 1.
- How shall we celebrate the day,
When God appeared in mortal clay,
The mark of worldly scorn;
When the Archangel's heavenly Lays,
Attempted the Redeemer's Praise,
And hail'd Salvation's Morn!
- "A Hymn for Christmas Day", line 13.
- Happy (if mortals can be) is the man,
Who, not by priest but Reason, rules his span:
Reason, to its possessor a sure guide,
Reason, a thorn in Revelation’s side.
- "The Defence", line 23.
An Excelente Balade of Charitie
- Haste to thie kiste, thie onlie dortoure bedde.
Cale, as the claie whiche will gre on thie hedde,
Is Charitie and Love aminge highe elves;
Knightis and Barons live for pleasure and themselves.
- Stanza 4.
- The gatherd storme is rype; the bigge drops falle;
The forswat meadowes smethe, and drenche the raine;
The comyng ghastness do the cattle pall,
And the full flockes are drivynge ore the plaine;
Dashde from the cloudes the waters flott againe;
The welkin opes; the yellow levynne flies;
And the hot fierie smothe in the wide lowings dies.
- Stanza 5.
- Liste! now the thunder's rattling clymmynge sound
Cheves slowlie on, and then embollen clangs,
Shakes the hie spyre, and losst, dispended, drown'd,
Still on the gallard eare of terroure hanges;
The windes are up; the lofty elmen swanges;
Again the levynne and the thunder poures,
And the full cloudes are braste attenes in stonen showers.
- Stanza 6.
- Here take this silver, it maie eathe thie care;
We are Goddes stewards all, nete of oure owne we bare.
- Stanza 12.
- Chatterton, the marvellous boy,
The sleepless soul that perished in his pride.
- William Wordsworth, "Resolution and Independence" (1802) line 43.
- He was an instance that a complete genius and a complete rogue can be formed before a man is of age.
- Horace Walpole, letter to William Mason dated 24 July 1778; published in Horace Walpole (ed. William Hadley) Selected Letters (London: Everyman's Library, 1963) p. 191.
- I cannot find in Chatterton's works any thing so extraordinary as the age at which they were written. They have a facility, vigour, and knowledge, which were prodigious in a boy of sixteen, but which would not have been so in a boy of twenty. He did not show extraordinary powers of genius, but extraordinary precocity. Nor do I believe he would have written better, had he lived. He knew this himself, or he would have lived. Great geniuses, like great kings, have too much to think of to kill themselves.
- William Hazlitt Lectures on the English Poets (Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1818) p. 243.
- O Chatterton! that thou wert yet alive!
Sure thou would'st spread the canvass to the gale,
And love, with us, the tinkling team to drive
O'er peaceful Freedom's undivided dale;
And we, at sober eve, would round thee throng,
Hanging, enraptur'd, on thy stately song!
And greet with smiles the young-eyed Poesy
All deftly mask'd, as hoar Antiquity.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" (1794) line 126.
- The finest of the Rowley poems – Eclogues, Ballad of Charity &c rank absolutely with the finest poetry in the language…He was an absolute and untarnished hero.
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, letter to Hall Caine dated 13 June 1880; published in Vivien Allen (ed.) Dear Mr. Rossetti (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) p. 122.
- This is the most extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge. It is wonderful how the whelp has written such things.
- Samuel Johnson, 29 April 1776; reported by James Boswell, Life of Johnson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989) p. 752.