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extraordinary of precocious geniuses. The wit which sparkles through the whole series of his verses, from Sly Dick to his Journal and his Will; the bold satire, the daring independence of his thoughts, setting defiance to public opinion, even on the most solemn of all subjects—religion; the indomitable pride, and bold adventure of the lad; these are facts, in connexion with his great “discovery,” supposing it to have been a real discovery, which must have raised the wonder of every one, and have given him a distinguished niche in the Walhalla of his country. The boy of sixteen, who could pen such a description as that of Whitfield in his Journal, beginning
“In his wooden palace jumping,
Repent, repent, repent,
Oblique lightning in his eyes;"the daring description of religion in his Defence; or who could make such a Will as that which he drew up, when he for the first time proposed to himself suicide, must be pronounced a startling but most uncommon lad. The youth, who, without friends or patrons in the great metropolis, could set out with a small fund borrowed at the rate of a guinea apiece from his acquaintances, to make his fortune and fame; and there, in the midst of the utter wreck of all his august visions and soaring hopes; in the depth of neglect, contempt, and the most grinding indigence, could issue satire after satire, and launch Junius-like letters from the newspapers at the highest personages of the land, not sparing even the crowned head, can, however we might estimate such productions in an experienced adult, only be regarded with the most profound and unmixed wonder. We may lament over the waywardness of his genius, but we must admit its unequivocal reality; and when its career is closed by selfviolence, after appealing to Heaven from the abyss of its agony in stanzas such as the following, we know not whether most to marvel at the greatness of the phenomenon, or the dense stolidity of the age which did not perceive it, but suffered it to expire in horror, to the eternal disgrace of human nature and our country.
O God, whose thunder shakes the sky,
this atom globe surveys,
Thy mercy in thy justice praise.
The shadows of celestial light,
But what th' Eternal acts is right.
When anguish swells the dewy tear,
Thy goodness love, thy justice fear.
Encroaching sought a boundless sway,
And Mercy look the cause away.
Why, drooping, seek the dark recess?
For God created all to bless.
The rising sigh, the falling tear,
The sickness of my soul declare.
I thank the inflictor of the blow;
Nor let the gush of misery flow.
Which on my sinking spirit steals,
Which God, my East, my Sun, reveals.”
booksellers and political squabblers, there lay still in his bosom the great heart, and the great mind, of the first-rate poet.
But what were all these flashes and indications of the mens dicinior to the broad and dazzling display of it in the Rowley Poems themselves; those poems which would have crowned any grown man a king in the realms of intellectual reputation, which yet the towering pride of the boy—“that damned, native, unconquerable pride” which he said “plunged him into distraction,” that “nineteen-twentieths of his composition,” as he himself asserted it to be-flung determinedly from him? These poems, now admitted on all hands to be his own boyish compositions, and which indeed were thrust upon him as crimes by those of his cotemporaries who ought to have seen in them the proofs of a genius which should have been carefully and kindly cherished for the good of humanity, and the honour of England, these are indeed more stately and beautiful than the fair pile of St. Mary, which had first awoke in his spirit the deathless love of poetry and antique romance. Ah! what a sad, beautiful, but heart-wringing romance is itself the story of Chatterton! His real history is this.
There was a little boy, in Bristol, whose fathers, for many generations, had been the sextons of St. Mary Redcliffe. The veneration for this beautiful fabric, from the habit of ages, might be said to be woven into the frames and infused into the blood of this family. The office was gone out of the family; the boy's father had become a schoolmaster, and died three weeks previous to the child's birth. His uncle had been the last to fill this post, but he too was deceased. The boy's mother, however, lived in a small house in a back court, nearly opposite to this church; and the lad, very likely led by what he heard her say of the former long connexion of their family with it, was in the habit of going into it when open, and wandering about it for hours. At that time, nearly a century ago, neither churches nor churchyards were so rigidly locked up as at present, and ample and often was the time when a little boy on the watch might enter, and while marriage or burial ceremony went on, while the cleaners and sweepers were at work, or while the evening and the morning bell was rung, might stroll to and fro, and gaze, and wonder to his heart's content. That this was his dearest occupation was soon well known to his family. “His mother's house,” says one of his biographers, “ was close to the fine structure of St. Mary Redcliffe, and they well knew that the boy's favourite haunts were the aisles and towers of that noble pile. And there they would find the truant, seated generally by the tomb of Canynge, or lodged in one of the towers, reading." And what effect this church-haunting had upon him was very early visible. At five
At five years of age he went to the day school in Pyle-street, which had formerly been taught by his father, but here he was dull and stupid; and till he was six and a half years old, his master could trace no sign of intellectual progress in him, and his poor mother began to think him an absolute fool. But the objects of the silent church had not fallen in vain on his infant fancy. Those quaint and gorgeous paintings, and those antique letters engraven on floor crosses, had acquired a strong hold upon him, and, without doubt, led him to seize as he did, with an avidity new to him, on the old musical manuscript in French, adorned with illuminated capitals, which he found at home. “He fell in love with it," said his mother; and the shrewd woman catching at this discovered charm, brought him an ancient black letter Bible, which she possessed, to read, and the boy's inner nature came to light,—" he was no longer a dunce." At eight he was a voracious devourer of books. He read morning, noon, and night, from the hour that he awoke to that in which he went to bed. But another cause now contributed to strengthen the impressions of antiquity which he had received in St. Mary's church. He was become an inmate of the blue-coat school of Bristol, on St. Augustine's Back, founded by Colston, a merchant, in 1708. Here, in an institution which, though not of ancient date, was yet conducted in the ancient fashion, he was arrayed in long blue coat and belt, and scarlet stockings, and tonsure cap. Here, say some of his schoolfellows, he took no part in the poetical and literary emulations which arose. An usher wrote poetry, and his example stimulated others to a like ambition; but Chatterton “possessed apparently neither the inclination nor ability for literary pursuits;" he contented himself with the ordinary sports and pastimes of his age. But, in truth, he was secretly gleaning up knowledge wherever he could lay hands on it. Long before, he had begged of a painter “ to paint him an angel, with wings and a trumpet to trumpet his name over the world!” This spirit once awoke, was not likely to die again, even in the bosom of a child. He had continually in his heart that cry which haunted Cowley :
“ What shall I do to be for ever known?"
From the time he had begun to read, a great change had passed over him. “ He grew thoughtful and reserved. He was silent and gloomy for long intervals together, speaking to no one, and appearing angry when noticed or disturbed. He would break out into sudden fits of weeping, for which no reason could be assigned; would shut himself in some chamber, and suffer no one to approach him, nor allow himself to be enticed from his seclusion. Often he would go to the length of absenting himself from home altogether, for the space, sometimes, of many hours; and his sister remembered him being most severely chastised for a long absence, at which, however, he did not shed one tear, but merely said, 'It was hard, indeed, to be whipped for reading. This was before his entering Colston's school, but there he kept up the zealous reading. He is reported to have stood aloof from the society of his schoolmates, to have made few acquaintances, and only amongst those whose disposition inclined them to reflection. His money, all that he could procure, went to get the perusal of books; and on Sundays, and holidays, and half-holidays, he was either wandering solitarily in the fields, sitting beside the tomb of Canynge in the church, or was shut up in a little room at his mother's, attending to no meal-times, and only issuing out, when he did appear, begrimed with ochre, charcoal, and black-lead.
“From twelve to seven, each Saturday, he was always at home; returning punctually a few minutes after the clock had struck, to get to his little room, and to shut himself up. In this room he always had by him a great piece of ochre in a brown pan; pounce-bags full of charcoal dust, which he had from a Miss Sanger, a neighbour; also a bottle of black-lead powder, which they once took to clean the stove with, and made him