Interesting quotes by Thomas Chatterton
“There is a time for all things - except marriage, my dear.”
“It is my PRIDE, my damned, native, unconquerable Pride, that plunges me into Distraction. You must know that 19 - 20th of my Composition is Pride. I must either live a Slave, a Servant; to have no Will of my own, no Sentiments of my own which I may freely declare as such; —or DIE —perplexing alternative!”
A brief biography of Thomas Chatterton
Thomas Chatterton was born on November 20, 1752 in Bristol, England. He was an influential poet—inspiring future Romantic authors such as Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth. Chatteron is best known for his work done under the name of “Thomas Rowley”, a controversial yet brilliant ploy to execute his literary acumen. Though he only lived to the age of seventeen, Thomas was quite the gifted youngster—learning his letters from old capitals on sheet music and learning to read from the bible. He never received enjoyment reading from smaller books and wasn’t interested in playing with other children. By the age of eight, Chatterton was very content with reading his books and writing all day if permitted. In his adolescence, his sister inquired as to what image would he like designed on a bowl she was making for him, he answered, “Paint me an angel, with wings, and a trumpet, to trumpet my name over the world.”
Thomas Chatterton’s father, whom he was named after, died fifteen weeks before his birth. Along with growing up destitute, Chatterton always seemed to long for his father. Since his birth, he was subject to having episode of unexplained crying, accompanied with fits and being caught up in trance—often sitting for hours doing nothing. The death of his father was believed to be the creation of his alias, “Thomas Rowley”. According to a psychoanalyst named Louise J. Kaplan, the fact that Chatterton was raised by his mother and sister held back his manly identity, which instilled the fantasy of his deceased father in him. There are similarities between his father and the falsehood of Rowley—one being Chatterton’s father, who was a sub-chanter at the Bristol Cathedral—while Rowley was portrayed as a fifteenth century monk.
Elinoure and Juga was the first of Thomas Chatterton’s medieval writings and he composed it before he was twelve. Feigning it was the work of a fifteenth century monk, he showed it to the school usher. Later on, The Town and Country Magazine would publish it in June of 1769. Before that, at the age of eleven, Chatterton would have his first poem published in Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal. This was where Thomas would present himself as “Thomas Rowley”. Chatterton, under the monk’s name, would write a poem about the new Bristol Bridge. Once accomplishing his first publication, he felt inclined to reach out to the local journal where he would be published as Rowley again, on January 7, 1764. The latter poem (being religious), about how a cross three centuries old was vandalized by a member of the parish. St. Mary Redcliffe was the church where the incident occured and inspired his poem. In 1769, Chatterton sought patronage and he sent Rowley’s The Ryse of Peyncteynge yn Englade to Horace Walpole, who was willing to publish them providing it was never printed before. Unfortunately, Walpole discovered Chatterton was only sixteen and assumed the Rowley works were forgeries. Creating an enemy in Walpole, Chatterton would cease his work in forgery. Later on, he would resume publishing political articles in Town and Country Magazine, assuming another letter writer’s pseudonym, “Junius”—using his skills to go against Whigs and nobelmen, even the Princess of Wales. Chatterton made it to London where he would use a pseudonym of his own, “Decimus,” and become a known rival to the real Junius. Under this new name, Chatterton became a large contributor to Town and Country Magazine.
Upon leaving Bristol and hoping to escape to London, Thomas Chatterton drew out his last will and testament. It was published in the Middlesex Journal—a satirical write-up, suggesting he would end his life later that evening. Among the humorous statements contained within, Chatterton willed “his ‘humility’ to the Rev. Mr. Camplin, his ‘religion’ to Dean Barton” and “...to Bristol all his spirit and disinterestedness, parcels of goods unknown on its quay since the days of Canynge and Rowley.” Chatterton’s friends and associates would then gift him money, easing the travels to London.
In London, he found a new avenue for periodicals, mainly the Freeholder’s Magazine and another in backing liberty and John Wilkes—a radical journalist and first member of Parliament in 1757. His articles to these magazines were authorized, however, Thomas didn’t receive much money for them. Often being recognized as starving, neighbors of Chatterton would offer to have him for dinner, but he always declined stating he wasn’t hungry.
One day when he was taking a stroll with a friend, he nearly fell into an empty grave. Thomas’ friend saved him from the fall, saying (jokingly) that he was glad to aid in, “...the resurrection of genius,” which prompted Chatterton to reply, “My dear friend, I have been at war with the grave for some time now.” Three days after, Thomas Chatterton committed suicide.
On August 24, 1770 in Holborn, England, Thomas Chatterton took his own life. He consumed arsenic and proceeded to destroy all of his written works, reducing them to shreds. He was seventeen years old.
Thomas Chatterton’s peculiar life captivated the interest of many, besides other future poets. Alfred de Vigny would write a play in his honor recounting his life, which is still being performed today. Another homage to Thomas was a painting completed in 1856 by Henry Wallis, titled The Death of Chatterton. It was first exhibited upon completion in the Royal Academy. Today The Death of Chatterton is on display at the Tate Britain art museum in the City of Westminster in London. In 1928, a memorial plaque was placed on Thomas’ last known residence at 39 Brooke Street in Holborn, England. Inscribed on the plaque says:
In a House on this Site Thomas Chatterton Died August 24 1770