The Gateway to Chatterton Manuscripts
This rather long scrolling page is laid out, near enough, in the order of Chatterton's short life. I believe this makes it easier to appreciate the flow and growth of his works and might even show how he saw himself from one iconic moment to the next. So, go ahead and join young Tom on his journey and imagine his joy and pain as he strives to make his way in the world, from his blossoming in mercenary Bristol to his fateful trip to London and final demise in a rough garret in Brooke Street, London.
The Chatterton Family Bible
First Sample of Chatterton's Handwriting?
The rediscovery, in 1881, of this strangely dilapidated old bible, created much excitement at the time. It was claimed to be the original Chatterton family bible complete with handwritten details of the Chatterton family.
It went on to create a vitriolic argument played out in various editions of a magazine of the day, The Athanaeum, between John Taylor, author and Bristol librarian, and John Ingram, author of The Life of Thomas Chatterton. Their letters for and against the genuineness of the bible were also published in 1883, by William George, a bristol book dealer, in a booklet, New Facts Relating to The Chatterton Family. William George's family donated the bible to the library in 1900.
The bible in question is Laurence Clarke's, A Compleat History of the Holy Bible, which ran to at least three editions, 1737, 1739, 1740. It is assumed that the Chatterton bible, which is missing some pages, including the title page and some of the engraved plates, is the 1737 edition - but is it?
One task is to determine the edition, the other is to determine who made the entries in the bible; it seems clear that there was more than one writer. The obvious contenders are Chatterton's father, Thomas; his mother, Sarah; his sister, Mary; perhaps even his Grandmother (we don't know her name); and of course young Thomas himself - so, does this bible contain the earliest sample of Thomas's handwriting?
It is said that Chatterton was taught to read using this bible, so it is highly likely that he was greatly influenced by the stories and engravings in it; for this reason, it would be useful to see the bible as it was when Chatterton was learning to read from it.
So, I plan to create an online version of the Chatterton Family bible, complete as it was when new. I will be using what remains of the bible with the addition of the missing pages and engravings from whichever other edition the family bible resolves itself to be.
However, I found early on is that it is difficult to distinguish one edition from the other because the engravings tend to vary from edition to edition, and I wondered how, without the help of the title page, they came to decide it was the 1737 edition? Fortunately, I managed to obtain copies of all three editions and am in the throes of comparing and collating the contents.
Details of this research, along with images of the family bible, can be seen by clicking the Chatterton Bible button.
Heads up! When you work with old documents and are trying to determine who the handwriting belongs to, it is as well to note the career of the American counterfeiter & murderer, Mark Hofmann. His counterfeiting shenanigans should give you pause for thought! He was in Bristol in 1973 for his two-year Mormon mission and it seems certain that he would have helped himself to blank pages from antiquarian books in our reference library. He even bought an antiquarian bible from an antique shop on the Christmas Steppes, Bristol, which formed part of one of his early frauds upon the Mormon Church. It is thought that Chatterton was one of Hofmann's inspirations and that he chose Bristol for his mission because it would bring him closer to a depository of antique documents!
Iconic Moment No. 1
'Paint me an Angel with a Trumpet to Blow my Name About'
Chatterton's Age: 5
Dwelling /Location: Master's House, Pile Street
Heads Up! The Iconic Moments I have chosen are based on events that may have shaped Chatterton's short life.
The above image depicts the 'Paint me an Angel with a Trumpet' anecdote. It was completed 75 years after the anecdote first appeared in The Pubic Advertiser, 1772 (I have yet to see this edition). The artist, W. J. Montaigne, completed the painting in 1847, he also, apparently, painted more than one copy of the original, which seems to be the norm. Henrietta Ward did the same with her 'Chatterton' painting, and Henry Wallis, would knock off a copy of his painting 'The Death of Chatterton' whenever he needed to pay the rent.
Chatterton's sister told the Angel with a Trumpet anecdote to Dr Michael Lort in October 1784, it is also in the 1780 edition of Herbert Croft's Love and Madness. It must be said that Chatterton looks older than 5 years of age - a little poetic licence never hurt anyone, I guess!
The cutting shows the anecdote from p.23, of 'A Life of Thomas Chatterton', by Edward Harry William Meyerstein. Click the button to read the Ms. of Meyersteins book and to discover more about a fascinating Chattertonian 'hero.'
Meyerstein wrote his book in longhand, which must have taken him years to complete. It took me long enough, just to collate and photograph it and then compare it to the printed version.