[CHATTERTON]. Poems, supposed to have been written at Bristol, by Thomas Rowley, and others, in the Fifteenth Century, the greatest part now first published from the most authentic copies, with an engraved specimen of one of the Mss., etc. London: Printed for T. Payne and Son, at the Mews-Gate. 1777.
8vo.; sometime finely bound in early twentieth-century half tan calf over marbled paper boards, spine ruled and decorated gilt in compartments with gilt centres and onlaid blue leather labels lettered in gilt, all edges speckled red; pp. xxvii + 507 + final errata leaf; with one engraved facsimile plate after the original manuscript at p. 288, as called for; a very handsome copy with a gentle patina and slight uniform fading to spine, internally very fresh with unavoidable light toning, some cracking to inner upper hinge, endpapers slightly extruding from book block, without inscription.
First edition, with the second state of C4, as usual, which is a cancel which omits the phrase "and were probably composed by him".
Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) was an extraordinary literary prodigy, political writer, and forger who, bearing in mind his short life, achieved great notoriety and became an influence on the Romantic poets and artists. He is subject of a famous painting "The Death of Chatterton" by Pre-Raphaelite artist Henry Wallis, which hangs in Tate Britain, and of an acclaimed biography by Roger Ackroyd, "Chatterton" (Hamish Hamilton 1987).
This fascinating romantic figure was born 15 weeks after the death of his father and was raised, in lowly circumstances, by his mother who established a girls' school and took in needlework, to pay the bills. He was educated initially at Edward Colston's, a charitable school in Bristol, but was largely self-taught and became an isolated and lonely child given to fits of melancholy and abstraction. By the age of 8 he was reading almost all day long and by 11 had become a contributor to the Bristol Journal under the editorship of Felix Farley. He applied himself so assiduously to his studies that he was soon producing mature work which he claimed to be the recently discovered writings of an imaginary 15th century monk and poet, Thomas Rowley.
He soon began working alongside antiquaries such as William Barrett, providing transcripts of Rowley's works for their investigations and, in 1769, sent examples of Rowley's poetry to Horace Walpole who offered to print them if they were unknown, until he discovered that Chatterton was only 16. His suspicions were raised and he snubbed him.
Turning his attention to political writings for journals Chatterton assumed the pen name "Junius" and launched a serious of damaging diatribes against figures of standing, including Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, the Princess of Wales, before fleeing to London. His nine weeks there were an outpouring of eclogues, lyrics, operas and satires in prose and verse which received very little financial reimbursement and he quickly became destitute, apparently committing suicide by arsenic poisoning in his garret in Brook Street at the age of just 17 years and 9 months.