Wednesday 11 February 2015

New Thomas Chatterton Society Website

Henry Wallis's 'The Death of Chatterton (1856)

Commonly held to be one of the first English Romantic poets, Thomas Chatterton is an intriguing figure known for his pseudo-medieval poetry and tragically early death aged just seventeen. Referred to as 'the marvellous Boy' by William Wordsworth in 'Resolution and Independence', Chatterton's great imagination, revolutionary spirit, and 'martyrdom' stemming from his apparent suicide appealed to the Romantics who followed him. In 1803, Robert Southey edited his poems, while John Keats dedicated Endymion (1817) to Chatterton and Percy Shelley features him in 'Adonais' (1821).

Born in Bristol in 1752, Chatterton was a voracious reader as a young child, devouring Chaucer, Spenser, Gray, Collins, Shakespeare, Macpherson, Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, and the Ossian fragments. This led to Chatterton beginning to compose his own poetry from the age of eleven, and between 1768 and 1770 he produced an astounding number of literary works, including poetry, elegies, and satires.

Engraving of one of the 'Rowley' parchment fragments
Chatterton's most famous works are his 'Rowley' poems, which he also wrote during this period. Chatterton claimed that Rowley was a 15th-century monk whose works he had discovered in a chest in St Mary Redcliffe Church, even going as far as to transcribe some of the works onto antique parchment so as to give the impression that they were genuine! It wasn't until 1782 that these texts were accepted to be the work of Chatterton, as few were willing to believe that such works could have been composed by a fifteen year old boy.

The Thomas Chatterton Society was founded in 2002 to celebrate the life and works of this fascinating figure, and they have recently relaunched their website. The site features details of news and events from the Society, as well as an excellent biography of Chatterton. One of my favourite parts of the site is the recitations of Chatterton section, which currently features an extract from 'An Excelente Balade of Charitie', one of Chatterton's Rowley poems. The recitation is beautifully produced, and I hope that the Society will add further recordings in the future.