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About the Manuscript Project

Chatterton muniment room Emma Marshall
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The Muniment Room, Redcliffe Church

From the novel Bristol Bells by Emma Marshall

The Project - Ten Years & Counting

The Thomas Chatterton Manuscript Project is a huge undertaking, a living thing! Growing and changing, adding & deleting as it rolls along; and it certainly rolls along, each and every day, throughout the day.

I have to say, 'so you know where you stand with me', that I have a real fondness for all Chattertonian writers; biographers, bibliographers, essayists, editors, and chancers (Dix, Wilcox, Croft, Catcott, perhaps I should add an etc to this list, don't you think?), whether their work be large or small, derivative or otherwise - there is usually something to delight about the work or the individual!  

As I write this I am surrounded by an array of Chatterton related books and periodicals, all of which I have used to work up the project - and yesterday, 7th December 2023, I bought yet another Chatterton related book. The madness (you might think it a madness) is that I already have three copies of the same book : William Barrett's rather large, 4to, History of Bristol, 1789. Let me change your mind about my madness; the book has an engraving tipped in of Rymsdick's portrait of Barrett. The first one I have ever seen available for sale, although it will now probably start popping up on ebay etc. The reason for owning more than one copy, only makes sense when you consider what extra knowledge you might gain from any annotations.  So many books and so many writers, yet the Project is driven by two specific writers, Edward Harry William Meyerstein, via his  'A Life of Thomas Chatterton,'  and Donald S. Taylor, via his 'The Complete Works of Thomas Chatterton'.

A work I must also mention is Thomas Chatterton 1752-1770, An Annotated Bibliography,' by Jean C. Rowles, A.L.A.  It's a wonderful piece of work 'submitted for fellowship of the Library Association, October 1981'. I have recently heard that Jean has passed on, I do wish I had had the chance to speak with her about her thesis.  My thanks go to Dawn Dyer of  (Bristol Library) for telling me of this work.

Over the last few years I have taken thousands of photographs of manuscripts, postcards, newspapers and magazines, in fact all sorts of artefacts and ephemera.  I am so fortunate that two of my favourite places, the absolutely wonderful, Bristol Reference Library, and Bristol Archives, are the source of most of my images to-date.

Manuscripts uploaded to the Chatterton Project, include some by the following writers: Thomas Chatterton (obviously); George Catcott;  Alexander Catcott; Alex Stopford Catcott; William Barrett; Dr Fry; Dr Lort; Thomas Tyrwhitt; Richard Smith; William Blake; and Horace Walpole. 

Note: George Catcott, by transcribing Chatterton's works, played the key role in publicising Rowley; good old George was very, very prolific.

Who to trust?  You might ask why I often present the original manuscript along with the first and second printings?  I do this because the project is about presenting the earliest documents and whatever proofs are available. This will allow the reader to judge for themselves and not be swayed by the writer. 

An example is Alexander Stopford Catcott's Paraphrase of Psalm 104, where I present the original and the two early printings : View to read more

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Project Update

I work on the many different aspects of the Project daily; currently I am working on the following:

  •  Wix, the supplier of my website, has made serious changes to the structure of the site. This has required me to rebuild all of the pages (77 and counting).  I have taken the opportunity (I am trying to be positive) to rewrite the pages as I go along.   I have completed the following pages, as at 07 Dec 23 :

         Home :  About : ​

  • Adding pages dedicated to the many names involved in the Chatterton story.

  • I have finished adding the titles of all of Chatterton's genuine works, plus works of doubtful authenticity, lost works and works incorrectly claimed as Chatterton's, and am now working on the next step; preparing and uploading images of original manuscripts or first printings to each of the titles - this might take a while.  

However, however, however, I have already uploaded many manuscripts and first printings, but I still have lots of titles waiting for the link to the manuscript or first printing to go live.  I will be trying to upload them daily, so do click a title and hope for the best. If you can't find a specific item do let me know and I will try to supply it.

I like to do the above online and in real time because this allows anyone interested in Chatterton to see these wonderful documents as soon as I have them ready.

 

If you would like to collaborate by photographing manuscripts local to you or have any questions or suggestions, do let me know Contact me .

Question everything & accept nothing but an image of the original manuscript.

I do hope you find the website interesting -:- May your research be filled with joy;

From the editor & originator of the TCMP  (Thomas Chatterton Manuscript Project)  :-

Reading Manuscripts via Google Docs

Original manuscripts from the 18th century can be difficult to read; this applies especially to Chattertonian Manuscripts.  For this reason, as well as controlling costs, I use Google Docs to present high quality images of manuscripts, which allows close-up and almost forensic views.  The website can be viewed in all of its beauty on any platform, however, if you wish to study the original manuscripts on a Mobile Phone or Tablet (but why would you - that way madness lies), you would be best served by downloading the Google Docs App, which is also available via the Apple app store etc.

 

Time to be serious: when studying stuff like this you should be using a Laptop or PC, rather than a mobile or tablet. This is because the manuscripts, thanks to the settings on mobile or tablet, sometimes appear 'fuzzy,' which can, of course, be adjusted, but it does make viewing awkward -  Read more about settings for mobiles and tablets.

Contact me if you need anything specific :-                                                       

 

My imprint throughout is QE!  because I question everything!

Collaborate - The Project Needs YOU !

'It's a simple thing, 

We don't need a ring'

There is no need to sign-up

To join, to enrol

 To enlist, become a member

Form a committee, have a meeting

or

Form a quorum.

In fact, nothing formal is required.

 It matters not who you are

Or where you live.

It matters only that you have the desire

To be part of the project.

The desire to research & investigate

a truly remarkable individual

a working-class poet

Chatterton, the Bristowyan. 

Chattertonian Manuscripts are widely distributed making it extremely difficult to view or study them. We either live too far away or don't have the accreditation that gets us into the hallowed libraries of massy knowledge.

The Project aims to ensure that high quality & zoomable images of all Chattertonian Manuscripts are freely available on the Project Website for study and collaboration or simply for the joy of it!

 

It is too costly for me to do all of this alone, although I will continue to try. So, if you are near to any source of original Chattertonian documents and can find the time, do consider helping by photographing them for the Project.  All you need is a smartphone; do send me an email if you are able to help.

Even Horace Walpole's 'Shade,' thanks to the collecting zeal of Lefty-Lewis (Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University), has its hands on Chattertonian Manuscripts.

I have been working steadily on the project for a number of years and have, to date, uploaded numerous manuscripts but still have hundreds to collate, crop, adjust, delete, prepare & upload - a true labour of love!

So many of the Manuscripts in Bristol Reference Library and Archives are in the autograph of George Symes Catcott, a friend and mentor to Chatterton. He seems never to have let the quill pen fall from his inky fingers.

The good news is that Chatterton Manuscripts outside of Bristol will often be one or two pages only, which is much less onerous on the person taking the photographs. Spare a thought for me, one of Catcott's Copy Books, which contains over 533 pages, took weeks to photograph & prepare for uploading.

Bristol & London are the key locations for Chatterton manuscripts, but there are a few in English and American Universities. 

 

Finally, do let me know if I can help your Chatterton researches in any way.

Chatterton Documents Consumed by Fire

   Another reason to get on with the Project 

Daniel Wilson's 1869 biography of Chatterton mentions the 1860 fire in Kerslake's Shop. It was originally reported in The Bristol Times & Felix Farley's Journal for Feb 18th 1860. 

The fire destroyed  "Manuscript Chattertoniana" collected by J. M. Gutch, and William Tyson, and further augmented by Thomas Kerslake'.  It also consumed the infamous Fust manuscript. 

Then, 20 years later, on October 9th, 1881, the 'Great Fire' in Canynges' House, Bristol, destroyed the stock of C. T. Jefferies, Printer & Bookseller. Fortunately the fabulous Canynges fireplace shown in the painting by E. H. Parkman, survived the fire - see below.

The Blitz

Chattertonian Documents and Alexander Catcott's Fossil Collection were destroyed when bombs landed on Temple Church and Bristol Museum.

Heads Up

Irreplaceable Manuscripts should be photographed ASAP!  If funding is short, opt for the low cost and simple option -  use a smartphone - it does an excellent job, which allows forensic views. The Images on this website show what can be achieved.

canynges House Fire 1881 E.H.Parkman
Canynges Fireplace
John Dix

John Ross Dix - The Chancer

I know I go against the norm with my liking for John Dix (the ultimate chancer), but his 1837 edition of The Life of Thomas Chatterton, was my introduction to Chatterton. It became my own first chief curse, with, perhaps, too much time given to this one subject.  I bought the book for £5 from a Bristol bookshop in the 1970s. Those were the days - no need to wear a mask, unless you were robbing a bank!

You know you want to see the actual book, yes you do, well here it is:

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The minute I picked the book up I was captivated. The annotations were intriguing, a direct challenge to discover more!  The portrait was a 'fake' tell me more of this too! 

Yes, I found the Athenaeum online. Yes I discovered what the Latin words meant! Yes I discovered more about Chatterton & yes I love exclamation marks!!!; I am quite the fan of semi-colons too! 

 

So, what was all the fuss about after publication of Dix's Life of Chatterton?  Well, Dix was reviled because he had no regard for the truth and would create 'facts' to enliven the story - starting with the image of Chatterton, which turned out to be a painting of the son of Mr Morris, the artist.  It's true, that Dix (actually, George Spenser Phillips, c. 1800-1865) clouded the Chatterton story but it is easy to discover the rights and wrongs of it with the help of Meyerstein and Taylor.

 

 I look at it like this: Dix was to Chatterton what Hofmann was to the Mormons, beyond annoying in so many ways, but at least Dix didn't kill anyone, and he certainly stirred things up a bit!  What he lacks in truth he makes up with colour; was he writing a biography, obviously not, in fact it feels little more than 'penny dreadful' story.   Dix's book is a part of Chatterton's story and it will remain so, it adds colour and confusion and is entertaining. It will remain one of my favourite books (because it was my first) regardless of its inaccuracies and downright fictions!

At this point, making no allowance for my own feelings, I must interject with a link to the publication Notes and Queries, for April 13, 1872. It contains an article by Walter Thornbury, noted by Meyerstein,  which puts Dix firmly in his place :  View

Transcript Chatterton Poems

Here's a friendly little Chattertonian Manuscript Riddle:

The manuscript in question (part of it is shown above) was sold by a top Auction House. They listed it as 18th century by an unknown hand.  Now that's a Challenge hard to resist - and waiting to be solved!

The works are clearly Chatterton's but who is the Scribe? This is Just the trailer, you will be able to read the interesting story behind the creation of the manuscript soon, I promise. George Catcott had a role in the story, which is no surprise, and it helps you to date it!

Chatterton's Signature

Angels with a Trumpet
Blowing Chatterton's Name About

Links to All Works & Correspondence

   Call it what you will, authentic, doubtful, lost, or plainly wrong - if it was linked with Chatterton it will be included in Chatterton's Works & Correspondence.  This will be the base point from which we can examine every piece of work, and add notes and links accordingly.  

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