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Key People

Dr Thomas Fry D.D

1718 1772


   No portrait of Dr Fry -

Instead an image of St John's College

      Thomas Fry, D.D., born in Pipe Lane, Bristol in 1718, was a man in a hurry: he entered St John's College, Oxford, in 1730,  matriculated in June 1732, BA in 1736,  MA in 1740,  Logic Reader from 1737 to 1740, Dean  of Arts from 1740 to 1744,  Ordained in 1744, Natural Philosophy Reader from 1745 to 1746, College Preacher from 1746 to 1747, Bursar from 1748 to 1749, Dean of Divinity from 1750 to 1754, Vice-President from 1755 to 1757, and President from 1757 until his death, intestate, on  22 November 1772.  He was buried in the churchyard at Clifton, Bristol.  

Dr Fry's Role in the Chatterton Story

Towards the end of August 1770, Dr Thomas Fry visited bristol to investigate Rowley and Chatterton, with a view to patronizing Chatterton - if he deserved it.  Unfortunately Dr Fry arrived too late, as Chatterton had died a few days earlier - so goes the story, which was first printed in Herbert Croft's Love and Madness, eight years after Fry's death. Click here to read the whole page online, or click Love and Madness  to visit our Herbert Croft page and read an analysis of the fifth edition. 

love and madness dr fry.jpg
love and madness new edition.jpg

   The Dr Fry & Chatterton Anecdote, see the cutting above, taken from Love and Madness by Herbert Croft

The nitty-gritty is required to appreciate what was actually going on; for this we need to consider where Croft got the story and, of course, the role Catcott played in it.  Keep in mind that Chatterton is gone and Catcott is now the main man when it comes to any information or introductions relating to the Chatterton / Rowley controversy.  He knows how to deal with the likes of Fry and Croft, and is not averse to a little manipulation as he strives to maintain and build interest in Rowley's works.


Dr Fry's visit to Bristol

   The interest in Rowley might have faded with the passing of Chatterton, but George Catcott had other ideas.  Both he, and William Barrett, had been left with a treasure-trove of 'original' manuscripts and transcripts, given to them by Chatterton, plus Catcott's own transcripts of some of 'Rowley's' works. Barrett was in no hurry to release what he had and intended keeping the works Chatterton had given him, for printing in his long awaited book 'The History and Antiquities of the City of Bristol' but that wouldn't happen until 1789.  Catcott must have been wondering how he could make best use of what he had.


   When you read Catcott's list of correspondents regarding Rowley & Chatterton, which include: William Blake, Thomas Tyrwhitt, Jacob Bryant, Lord Camden, Lord Charlemont, and Dr Jeremiah Milles among others, and then add his list of illustrious visitors, including Oliver Goldsmith,  Boswell & Johnson, as well as William Henry Ireland, you will begin to get a feel for what might be going on. It is obvious that he was not afraid of reaching out to any famous or well-connected literary person that he could think of, and it may be that the first contact between him and Dr Fry was as a direct result of the Chatterton-Rowley phenomenon; I say this because Fry, who was born in Bristol, was twenty years older than Catcott and had departed for St John's College, Oxford by 1730, nine years before Catcott was born.  Yet they had something in common, because young Fry, as a Bristol Grammar School boy, was taught by George Catcott's father, Alexander Stopford Catcott.  In any case, Dr Fry's roots were firmly in Bristol, which is evidenced by the fact that he was buried there after his sudden death in 1772;  so his visit to Bristol was not necessarily  or specifically to investigate Chatterton and Rowley, for he must have been a regular visitor to his extended family of Quakers in Bristol. It is also highly likely that he was reading the Bristol newspapers and so would already have had a taste of Rowley's works through the publication, in October 1768, of the Bridge Narrative.

   It is likely that Catcott was considering publication of  some of Rowley's poems, even before Chatterton died. He would have been getting feedback from the various people he had shown the poems to, which highlighted that the lack of punctuation and large number of archaic or unknown words, would put the generality of readers off, but it is also stated by some of Chatterton's editors that Catcott was not averse to making some words appear even more archaic than they were already.  Catcott was a bit of a chancer and seemed to believe that he knew what he needed to do to get 'Rowley's' poems ready for publication, and that may have driven  him to his first contact with Dr Fry, perhaps even sending the two 4to books and Rowley manuscripts directly to Fry at Oxford and, as a result, George Catcott would have been Dr Fry's first port of call when he visited Bristol. 

   It is worth noting that Catcott claims he was instrumental in the publication of The Execution of Charles Bawdin, which he says he arranged in partnership with a friend of his,  Thomas Eagles. The arrangement was (according to George Catcott) that Thomas Eagles would be the editor and Catcott would supply the manuscript - however, if George was so keen to have his name remembered, why is it not mentioned in the edition of 1772? Which, by the way, does not match any of the extant copies. Although it should be added that Thomas Eagles, is also not named in the edition.

Herbert Croft's Visit to Bristol & Meeting Catcott.

   Catcott met Croft when he visited Bristol. It was just a short while before Croft's Love and Madness, was published, and he used the opportunity to get some free 'advertising' for his Chatterton and Rowley collection. This was surely when Catcott related the 'too late' story about Dr Fry and, of course, Dr Fry was dead and gone and not able to deny or confirm his supposed role in the anecdote.

   It is thanks to George Catcott's manoeuvrings with Tyrwhitt that the first edition of Rowley's Poems were printed in 1777,  with a second edition in the same year and a third edition in 1778,  and it seems obvious that the pressure must be maintained to keep the gravy train running. It should be remembered that George continued putting surreptitious pressure on Barrett to get on and publish his History of Bristol, because he knew that this would keep Rowley in the limelight for a little longer but, try as he might, Barrett's History remained unpublished until 1789.

Dr Fry's Handwriting
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p (83) 1st Letter on Chatterton - Rowley - crop Dr Fry to Catcott.jpg

Catcott's transcript of the 'first letter' he ever received regarding Rowley. - Catcott's handwriting.

The 'first letter' Catcott ever received regarding Rowley is dated 25 September 1770.  Dr Fry's handwriting.

According to George Catcott, the first letter he ever received enquiring about Rowley was from Dr Fry, and is dated 25 September 1770, 31 days after the death of Chatterton. The letter clearly shows that Catcott must have been communicating with Dr Fry as early as the end of August, 1770.  So, Catcott either sent the two books and various manuscripts (mentioned in the letter) to Fry when he was in Hotwells, Bristol, or he posted them to Dr Fry at Oxford.  In fact Hotwells is a close enough walk from anywhere in central Bristol, and Catcott would have been able to hand them to Fry personally and not 'send' them, which leads me to believe that if they were sent anywhere, it was to Oxford.  Although, Meyerstein, in contradiction, has a note that Fry, having heard that Chatterton had died, called on 'Barrett and George Catcott' and 'received specimens of Rowley poems, "transcripts" in Chatterton's writing, promising to return them after making a glossary.'  I am still looking for the source of Meyerstein's information, so this is to be updated in due course.

Either way, Catcott is certainly not wasting any time now that Dr Fry has been hooked, and Dr Fry, by his actions, is validating Rowley and increasing the value of Catcott's Rowley collection. The hubbub and interest around Rowley is high and it seems that George can sell as many transcripts as he can make - he doesn't need to sell the ‘original's.' That time will come in 1776 when he is instrumental in Tyrwhitt's 1777 edition of 'Rowley's' Poems.

Dr Fry's Transcripts of  'Rowley's Works'

'Extracts from Rowley'

In Catcott's Copy-Book B6493

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This transcript of Extracts from Rowley is in the handwriting of  Dr Fry, which Dr Fry transcribed at the request of George Catcott, as is shown by the statement above, which is in Catcott's handwriting  :   

Extracts from Rowley  in Dr Fry's handwriting  :  View

I was at first concerned that Extracts from Rowley might be in the hand of an amanuensis, and felt that we needed to see an original of a personal letter written by Dr Fry to be sure.  Luckily, I remembered that there was an original letter in Dr Fry's hand in the  book of Chattertoniana gathered by Richard Smith. The flow of writing in the letter precludes dictation; for this reason, I believe, even though there is more than one scenario, that the letter can be confirmed as in the hand of Dr Fry, and can can now be compared to the writing in the Extracts from Rowley, which I am happy to report are identical - see the original letter in the previous panel above.

'Extracts from Rowley'

In Two Volumes

(The Earl of Lichfield's Copies)

dr fry transcript small.jpg

   The two pages shown above are the only images we have been able to obtain from the two volumes in this auction lot, but I do live in the hope that the owner will supply copies in the future. In the meantime we must make do with the description in the Sotheby's catalogue. 

   I can, however, confirm that the two volumes were transcribed by Dr Fry at the request of Catcott.

This is how it goes: Dr Fry was transcribing 'Rowley's' works for Catcott for sale to Earl Lichfield, but was surreptitiously making more copies than he had agreed to, when he upped and died suddenly. Catcott was mortified, as can be seen in his letter to Dr Woodward. He was concerned that the manuscripts/transcripts he had lent to Dr Fry for transcribing would fall into the hands of some unscrupulous person. It is clear that Catcott valued his stock of Rowley highly as, on one occasion, he had offered the whole collection  to Thomas Warton for £70, the equivalent today, supposedly, of around £13,000. 


More to add - working on this

This lot was Sold at auction, Sotheby's, 2015, for $11,250, plus hammer  :  View

Sotheby's Describe the two volumes as follows:

Poems, by Thomas Rowlie, Priest of St John's, in the City of Bristol, and Father Confessor to Mr. William Canyng, Founder of St Mary Redcliffe Church.

Two volume contemporary manuscript fair copy of twenty-one pieces, the first volume containing "Songe to Ella, Lorde of the Castle of Bristowe," "Mynstrelle's Songe. bie a Manne & Womanne", "Mynstrell's Song, from the Interlude of Ella", "Mynstrell's Songe .. bie Syr Thyboot Gorges", "Another Mynstrelle's Song," "The Tragedy of Ella opens with the following speech of Celmonde", "Another passage from the Tragedy of Ella", "Extract from ... the Tournament", "War song, in the Tournament scene", "extracted from ... a Dream, or Vision [i.e. The Storie of Wyllyam Canynge]", "On Selyness (or Happiness)", "Mr Canyng's Public Day", "Memorandum ... of the late John Browning", "John, second Abbot of St Augustyn's .. onn Kyng Rycharde", "K. Richard's Expedition to the H. Land", "Verses sent by Lidgate ... in return for his song to Ella", and the second volume containing four Eclogues (including "Elinoure and Juga") and "The Bristow Tragedy", each volume with title-page, the second volume with a glossary, contemporary pagination, text mostly on rectos only, modern pencil notes by Juel-Jensen on front endpapers, 73 pages, plus blanks, 4to (247 x 195 mm), dated 1771; slight browning. Contemporary stiff blind-tooled vellum; lightly stained.
Provenance: Dillon-Lee family, Earls of Lichfield and Viscounts Dillon, of Ditchley Park (small circular library stamp) -- Bent Juel-Jensen, 1922-2
006 (purchased at Blackwell's, Oxford, 1949).  acquisition: Bernard Quaritch, 2004.  PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT S, PIRIE VOLUMES I & II: BOOKS AND MANUSCRIPTS

Index of English Literary Manuscripts: Volume III 1700-1800, Part I, ed. M.M. Smith (1986), Thomas Chatterton, 
Catalogue Note
This pair of manuscripts is almost certainly the set of copies mentioned by Thomas Warton in the 1782 edition of his Enquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems Attributed to Thomas Rowley as having been in the possession of the 3rd Earl of Lichfield by 1772. 

QE!  : George Henry Lee II, 3rd Earl of Lichfield, and owner of the two 4to volumes, died 17 September 1772.  Dr Fry, the Transcriber of  them, died 22 November 1772.  Some suspicious additive in the ink, perhaps? No, come on, surely I am entitled to one little quip. Being serious though, Dr Fry returned two 4to volumes to George Catcott on the 25th September 1770, were these the copies he used to make the two volumes that were sold to the Earl of Lichfield?  Note that Warton states he was told by Lichfield that the two volumes were brought from Bristol. Is it more likely that he got them from Catcott rather than Fry, even though they contained a note from Fry.  It seems obvious to me that Catcott would have needed a note to go with the two volumes confirming that they were genuine copies of genuine poems. My feeling is that Catcott asked Dr Fry to supply the note to go with the books for sale to Lichfield. It should also be noted that Lichfield was a contemporary of Fry's at St John's College, Oxford.

There was I thinking the plot could get no thicker!

Catcott's Transcripts of Dr Fry's Letters

 In Catcott's 'Chattertoniana' BPL B5342.

p (86) Letter 3 Fry to Catcott.jpg

This letter-book has the title, 'Chattertoniana,' it contains George Catcott's transcripts of his correspondence with a number of people, and includes a group of seven letters in correspondence with Dr Fry.

The issue with transcripts is that you must decide if you trust the transcriber and, if you don't or are unsure, you need to compare the transcripts with a few originals. Fortunately, we do have an original letter, written by Dr Fry, which can be used to compare with Catcott's transcript of it; see the following images.

The good news is that Catcott's transcript of letter No. 1, is a verbatim copy of the Fry original, apart from the spelling of Ellea / Alla.  The taller letter below is the original in the handwriting of Dr Fry.  However, Catcott does seem to be selective in the letters he chooses to transcribe.

Links to Chatterton's 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.  

Authentic Works  : View

Lost Works  :  View                                                

Works of Doubtful Authenticity   :  View

Wrongly Attributed Works   :   View

All Correspondence in Chronological Order  :   View

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