Imágenes de páginas

quaries who have endeavoured to prove that the poems attributed to Rowley were really written by him, I observe many ingenious remarks in confirmation of their opinion, which it would be tedious, if not difficult, to controvert.'

[ocr errors]

Now, this is so far from the mark that the whole controversy might have been settled by any one but the learned antiquaries themselves, who had the smallest share of their learning, from this single circumstance, that the poems read as smooth as any modern poems, if you read them as modern compositions; and that you cannot read them, or make verse of them at all, if you pronounce or accent the words as they were spoken at the time when the poems were pretended to have been written. The whole secret of the imposture, which nothing but a deal of learned dust raised by collecting and removing a great deal of learned rubbish, could have prevented our laborious critics from seeing through, lies on the face of it (to say nothing of the burlesque air which is scarcely disguised throughout) in the repetition of a few obsolete words, and in the misspelling of com

mon ones.

[ocr errors]

'No sooner,' proceeds the Doctor, do I turn to the poems, than the labour of the antiquaries appears only waste of time; and I am

involuntarily forced to join in placing that laurel which he seems so well to have deserved, on the brow of Chatterton. The poems bear so many marks of superior genius that they have deservedly excited the general attention of polite scholars, and are considered as the most remarkable productions in modern poetry. We have many instances of poetical eminence at an early age; but neither Cowley, Milton, nor Pope ever produced anything while they were boys which can justly be compared to the poems of Chatterton. The learned antiquaries do not indeed dispute their excellence. They extol it in the highest terms of applause. They raise their favourite Rowley to a rivalry with Homer, but they make the very merits of the works an argument against their real author. Is it possible, say they, that a boy should produce compositions so beautiful and masterly? That a common boy should produce them is not possible,' rejoins the Doctor; but that they should be produced by a boy of an extraordinary genius, such as was that of Homer or Shakspeare, though a prodigy, is such a one as by no means exceeds the bounds of rational credibility.'

Now, it does not appear that Shakspeare or Homer were such early prodigies; so that by this reasoning he must take precedence of them

too, as well as of Milton, Cowley, and Pope. The reverend and classical writer then breaks out into the following melancholy raptures:

'Unfortunate boy! short and evil were thy days; but thy fame shall be immortal. Hadst thou been known to the munificent patrons of genius..

'Unfortunate boy! poorly wast thou accommodated during thy short sojourning here among us; rudely wast thou treated; sorely did thy feelings suffer from the scorn of the unworthy; and there are at last those who wish to rob thee of thy only meed, thy posthumous glory. Severe too are the censures of thy morals. In the gloomy moments of despondency, I fear thou hast uttered impious and blasphemous thoughts. But let thy more rigid censors reflect that thou wast literally and strictly but a boy. Let many of thy bitterest enemies reflect what were their own religious principles, and whether they had any, at the age of fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen. Surely it is a severe and an unjust surmise that thou wouldst probably have ended thy life as a victim to the laws, if thou hadst not ended it as thou didst.'

Enough, enough, of the learned antiquaries, and of the classical and benevolent testimony of Dr. Knox. Chatterton was, indeed, badly

enough off; but he was at least saved from the pain and shame of reading this woful lamentation over fallen genius, which circulates splendidly bound in the fourteenth edition, while he is a prey to worms. As to those who are really capable of admiring Chatterton's genius or of feeling an interest in his fate, I would only say that I never heard any one speak of any one of his works as if it were an old well-known favourite, and had become a faith and a religion in his mind. It is his name, his youth, and what he might have lived to have done, that excite our wonder and admiration. He has the same sort of posthumous fame that an actor of the last age has,-an abstracted reputation which is independent of anything we know of his works. The admirers of Collins never think of him without recalling to their minds his Ode on Evening or on the Poetical Character. Gray's 'Elegy and his poetical popularity are identified together, and inseparable even in imagination. It is the same with respect to Burns; when you speak of him as a poet, you mean his works, his Tam o' Shanter' or his Cotter's Saturday Night.' But the enthusiasts for Chatterton, if you ask for the proofs of his extraordinary genius, are obliged to turn to the volume, and perhaps find there what they seek; but it is not in their


minds, and it is of that I spoke. The Minstrel's song in Ella' is, I think, the best:

'O! synge untoe mie roundelaie,

O! droppe the brynie teare wythe mee,
Daunce ne moe atte hallie daie,
Lycke a rennynge ryver be.
Mie love ys dedde,

Gon to hys death-bedde,
Al under the wyllowe-tree.

'Blacke hys cryne as the wyntere nyghte,
Whyte hys rode as the sommer snowe,
Rodde hys face as the mornynge lyghte,
Cale he lyes ynne the grave belowe.
Mie love ys dedde,

Gon to hys deathe-bedde,

Al under the wyllowe-tree.

'Swote hys tyngue as the throstles note,
Quycke ynne daunce as thoughte canne bee;

Defte hys taboure, codgelle stote,

O! hee lyes bie the wyllowe-tree.

Mie love ys dedde,

Gonne to hys deathe-bedde,

Alle underre the wyllowe-tree.

'Harke! the ravenne flappes hys wynge,
In the briered delle belowe;

Harke! the dethe-owle loude dothe synge,
To the nyghte-mares as heie goe.

Mie love ys dedde,

Gonne to hys deathe-bedde,
Al under the wyllowe-tree.

« AnteriorContinuar »