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zine, Middlesex Journal, and other periodicals; while valuable, though undigested materials collected at an early date, by Mr. George Cumberland, from the poet's contemporaries and personal friends, are printed in an appendix, in all their original disarray.
Professor Masson’s “ Chatterton: a Story of the Year 1770,” is a very different production. Graphic and vigorous, though slight: it transmutes Dix's raw materials into a life-like picture of the boy, surrounded by the life of his time; and shows that had its a tror devoted himself to a careful biography, instead of a magazine article, there would have been little need for repeating the story of a life, the interest of which can never die, But while his appreciation of the poet's genius is adequate, and his estimation of his writings discriminating and just : he has, I conceive, accepted too readily the verdict of interested and prejudiced contemporaries on the personal character of the boy.
This critical judgment of Professor Masson might have been expected to prepare the way for a juster estimation of the poet. But he was followed almost immediately by Dr. Maitland, with his “Chatterton : an Essay,” in which all the calumny of former traducers is reiterated with keener intensity than ever : “An owl mangling a poor dead nightingale,” as Coleridge said of the earlier stupidities of Dea. Milles.
The personal character of the poet has thus been reproduced once more in so offensive an aspect as to repel the ordinary reader from poems, already rendered sufficiently unattractive by their uncouth disguise. If this be indeed the true portrait, there is no. help for it. But, with the exception of Sir Herbert Croft's strange medley of “Love and Madness,” published within a few years after Chatterton's death, and containing more graphic glimpses of the boy than all subsequent writers have supplied : the aim of most of those to whom we owe any direct information, has been to prove that he was not the poet, but only the more or less culpable
resetter and defacer of stolen literary treasures.
Viewed through so distorting a medium, those most honestly inclined could scarcely avoid misrepresentation; and later biographers, when favourably disposed, have expended their zeal in asserting his right to the merit of his own works; while they assume, at best, an apologetic tone in dealing with aspersions based mainly on the injustice they have refuted.
Reviewed in this light, I have found much in the old materials capable of being turned to new account; and to these research in various directions has enabled me to make some few additions. For access to the Chatterton MSS. still preserved in Bristol, and to other materials bearing on the poet's life and times; as well as for aid in all questions of local topography: I have been largely indebted to the courtesy of John Taylor, Esq., of the Bristol Library ; by whom also my attention was first directed to the will of Derrick, as the suggestive source of that of Chatterton.
In interpreting the biographical significance of the “Will” as well as of the Walpole “ Vindication,” and other documents familiar to previous biographers, it will be seen that I have arrived at conclusions differing from those generally maintained hitherto, and more in accordance with what I conceive to be their true bearing on the poet's life. “Nothing extenuate,” was the rule with Chatterton's earliest editors and biographers; but they generally forgot the further precept : "nor set down aught in malice ;” and assuredly the latest of these, in his “ Chatterton : an Essay,” has extenuated nothing that seemed calculated to deepen the shadows of the repulsive portraiture he aimed at. While dealing tenderly, I have sought to deal truthfully with the failings as well as the virtues of the boy: bearing always in remembrance, what it seems to me has too frequently been lost sight of, that he was but a boy; boy, and yet a poet of rare power. These results of careful study and research are now submitted to the reader, not without the
hope that a like spirit may animate him in the perusal of the following appeal for a reconsideration of the verdict on a life, wayward and erring :
“ Swift as a shadow, short as any dream,
Brief as the lightning in the collied night ;”
a record, at best, of “bright things come to confusion;" yet also of a life replete with genius, and not devoid of genuine traits of personal worth.
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, TORONTO,
Oct. 14th, 1869.
“ Saw all the scroll of Fate unravelled ;
And when the fate-marked babe acome to syghte,
The Storie of William Canynge.
The reader is invited in the following chapters to study the life of a posthumous child, the son of a poor widow, educated at a charity school, and buried in a pauper's To the grave when he was but seventeen. Virtuous men have shrunk from disentangling the Repelling
influences. ravelled skein of the boy's life: for his modern satires are formed on the models of Churchill, the clerical satirist of an age which had Wilkes for its hero; and his masterpieces are obscured, almost to repulsiveness, by an affectation of antiquity. Good men long refused his monument admission to consecrated ground: for he died an unbeliever, and by his own hand. Nevertheless his little fragment of a life is replete with instruction as well as warning; and as for a monument, he built his own, and asserts his claim to no mean rank among the second generation of the poets of the eighteenth century.
If all who lived in some of the years of Chatterton's i Contempobrief lifetime are included, he had for contemporaries : Young, Collins, Akenside, Gray, Smollett, and Mason ; Goldsmith, Johnson, Burns, and Cowper. Some of them were authors before he was born, and continued their labours long after his death. If the reader—not wholly forgetful of what he himself was at seventeen,-turn to the lives of the best of those contemporaries, and see
True estimate of the poet's career.
The fact of boyhood.
what Hazlitt has to say of Smollett ; Boswell of Johnson ; Forster of Goldsmith ; Southey or Grimshaw of Cowper ; Cunningham, Chambers, or other biographers, of Burns; up to their eighteenth year: he will be better able to estimate a career which then came to its close. For he will be able to answer for himself these questions : What life did they lead? what faith did the best of them hold? what work had the most gifted of them done, at seventeen ?
At every step it is needful to recall this fact of boyhood, apart from every other adverse element of orphanage, poverty, and misguidance. For the study is that of a child, a boy, a youth, running counter to all the tastes and habits of his age; acting in defiance of ordinary influences; at every stage doing a man's work : often unwisely, perversely, unaccountably; but still doing the work of a man, and baffling the astute selfishness of men, while yet a child.
Viewed in its most unfavourable aspects, such an intellectual phenomenon may well attract our study, as a strange example of precocity, approximating almost to genius acting by instinct : like those manifestations of irrational vital action, which puzzle us by their resemblance to the highest intelligence. But the brief existence here retraced has also its phases of sorrowful, and even tragic interest, on which we now look back as on a precious inheritance which that eighteenth century wasted and flung aside.
Interesting subject of study.