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Key People

Chatterton's Search for a Patron

Chatterton Age: 16

Still an Apprentice at Lambert's

Free Online Access

To all 48 Volumes of The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s

Correspondence and Chattertoniana  :  View

Supposed Portrait of Thomas Chatterton

Horace Walpole

Pile Street Charity School (behind the little lean-to) 

Chatterton's Home, a two up - two down (left).

Now a Coffee Shop : Open for visits : View

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Walpole's Home - Strawberry Hill - a Gothic vision

'Two' many rooms up and 'two' many rooms down.

The Strawberry Hill Trust : Open for visits :  View

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'Chatterton in his Library' 

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Walpole in his Library

According to the Strawberry Hill website, Walpole spent more than £20,000 on the first stage of the redevelopment of his house - this is a truly vast amount,  spent by the man who claimed not to be born to wealth!

 

The majority of Walpole's library, after his death, eventually ended up in the possession of Wilmarth 'Lefty' Lewis. He bought most of it from the New York Mercantile Library. It is thanks to 'Lefty' that Walpole is as famous as he is these days - Lefty was a man with perseverance in his blood!  

​It is said that Chatterton's life was a struggle from start to finish, a life of poverty!   He had to mix in circles well above his pay grade to get sight of or borrow books. It is also claimed that his mother paid the quarterly fee so he could use the circulating libraries but, generally, these exalted establishments were restricted to those who could afford the fee, bearing in mind that the average weekly wage for a labourer in 1760, was 7s 6d : view source.  According to Meyerstein, Chatterton visited a number bookshops where he was allowed to read the books without payment, and he would also transcribe sections of interest to him.

Learn more about British Circulating Libraries  :  View online

At some point we have to decide : was Chatterton's life one of poverty or was his family, from a financial perspective, edging beyond working class? Surely his schooling at Colston's and his associations with the likes of Barrett, along with the sterling efforts of his mother, Sarah, who was running her own little Dames School - until she developed cancer - must lift the family a little beyond the basic difficulties of the poor working-class ?

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Walpole died 2nd March, 1797, aged 79.  The contents of Strawberry Hill went to auction in April of 1842. The sale lasted 24 days.

Chatterton died 24th August, 1770, at 17 years & nine months of age. There was nothing left in his attic room but the clothes he died in; a pocket book; some scraps of paper; his pens & ink and other such 'worthless' paraphernalia and, on the windowsill - an empty phial of kill or cure medicine.

It is clear that Walpole was not responsible for the death of Chatterton and, in any case, it is accepted by those of us willing to read the facts, that Chatterton's death was caused by an accidental overdose and not by suicide!

I have to say that I have enjoyed reading the letters and works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, although I do like to keep in mind that he was in a massively privileged position. It seems to me that he truly believed he was a step or two (or three or more) above the likes of Chatterton, which gave him the right to pass judgment and then to offer advice, which was, basically, keep to your station.

 

However, you must smile when you read the following excerpt from Walpole's 'A Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of Thomas Chatterton, 1779': 

‘My fortune is private and moderate; my situation, more private; my interest, none. I was neither born to wealth, nor to accumulate it: I have indulged a taste for expensive baubles, with little attention to economy; it did not become me to give myself airs of protection; and, though it might not be generous, I have been less fond of the company of authors, than of their works.' 

Chatterton's  Correspondence with Walpole

Published 1789 / 1792,

19 / 22 years after Chatterton's Death

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  From Linda Kelly's book, The Marvellous Boy

Click images for larger view.

The original manuscript rests at the British Library. 

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 Written 28th March 1769.  Published European Magazine Feb 1792

 

Walpole was excited and intrigued by Chatterton's letter.  He obviously felt that he had no time to lose and wrote back the same day.

Click the images for a larger view.

 Read the Control Page for this Letter :  View

Barrett Chatterton Letter 2 to Walpole

Chatterton's second letter to Walpole, containing his Histoirie of Payncters yn Englande, Stanzas by Ecca, & Elmar, and The Warre,   has a complicated history. You would be well served to read the various notes and remarks by the likes of Taylor, Meyerstein, Lort and, of course, Walpole.

Click the Control Page link below for all that we know.

The Mysteriously Missing Letter of Rejection

Original Manuscript :    

  • Walpole wrote his 2nd letter to Chatterton on or about the 6th April 1769 (Taylor suggests 1-7th April), directly after he showed Chatterton's previous two letters to Thomas Gray & William Mason, who both pronounced the works as 'modern forgeries.The original letter is missing, presumed lost, which is surprising when you consider that Walpole tended to keep copies of his letters.

First Printing :  'Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of T. Chatterton 1779'. 

  • However, we do have (what Walpole purports to be) a summary of the contents of his missing letter to Chatterton, which was published in his 55 page book 'Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of T. Chatterton 1779'.   View the summary below, or read the complete volume  :  View online

Read the Control Page for this Letter :  View

Walpole's Letter to The Editor of Chatterton's Miscellanies
Printed 1779 at Walpole's Strawberry Hill Press
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Chatt 3rd letter to Walpole
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The letter is folded in a particular way to form its own envelope and then sealed with red wax.

Click images for larger picture. 

 The manuscript was presumed lost (as listed by Donald S. Taylor, p.961) but has been rediscovered and is now at Johns Hopkins Sheridan Library.  It is part of the Arthur and Janet Freeman collection  :  View

Chatterton's 3rd letter to Walpole,  8th April 1769; Chatterton is stunned by the rejection and writes back in haste :

"I am not able to dispute with a person of your literary character."

Chatterton also threatens to "destroy all my useless lumber of literature,"

First Printing : in Walpole's Works, 1798, p.236 : View

Sold at Christie's 28 June 1995, for £10,350 + hammer.

Read the Control Page for this Letter :  View

Chatterton's 4th Letter to Walpole 

14th April 1769

Chatt 4th Letter to Walpole
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The letter is folded in a particular way to form its own envelope and then sealed with red wax.

Click images for larger picture. 

 The Ms. was presumed lost - but has been rediscovered and was one of four items in the Bonham sale of 14 November 2023  :  View

Chatterton's letter to Walpole (the 3rd draft), dated 14th April 1769, where he demands the return of his letters but is ignored by Walpole.

Three drafts of this letter were written:

  • 1st draft : Chatterton's handwriting : Pub. 1803.  

  • 2nd draft : Barrett's handwriting : Pub. 1803. 

  • 3rd draft : Chatterton's handwriting : Pub. Walpole's Works, 1798.

The note in black ink at the foot of the letter is in the handwriting of Walpole.

Read the Control Page for this Letter  :  View

Chatterton's 5th Letter to Walpole

24th July 1769

Chatts 5th Letter to Walpole
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The letter is folded in a particular way to form its own envelope and then sealed with red wax.

Click images for larger picture. 

The manuscript was presumed lost, but resurfaced as one of four items in the Bonhams sale of 14 November 2023 : View

 

'Sir, I cannot reconcile your behavior to me...'

The letter was written, 24th July 1769, and first published in The Works of Horatio Walpole, 1798, p.237.

Read the Control Page for this Letter  :  View

Chatterton's Lines to Walpole

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From Dix p.102

Chatterton in his pique wrote his Lines on Walpole : 

  • 'Walpole! I thought not I should ever see...' 

He also added this note :

  • 'Intended to have sent the above to Mr. Walpole but my Sister perswaded me out of it.

 

The first printing was in Dix, p.102, 1837, which left Donald S. Taylor a little concerned, but Meyerstein accepted it as Chatterton's.

Nick Groom wrote 'The Case Against Chatterton's 'Lines to Walpole' and his 'Last Verses.'   We hope to have copies of it here in due course.  If you are an academic you might be able to get access to it : View

 

Read the Control Page for this work  :  View

Walpole's 3rd (Final) Letter to Chatterton
(not sent - 4 August 1769)

Walpole Final letter to Chatterton
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Click images for larger views. 

The Ms. was presumed lost - but has been rediscovered and was one of four items in the Bonham sale of 14 November 2023 : View

 

Walpole returns Chatterton's 'Manuscripts

'Sir, I do not see, I must own, how those precious MSS. of which you have sent me a few extracts, should be lost to the world by my detaining your letters. Do the originals not exist,...'  

Walpole wrote this letter to go with the 'Rowley' papers he was returning to Chatterton, but decided to send the papers in a plain cover without the letter. He claimed that he had thrown the letter into the fire but then in 1783/84 he found the letter unburnt and included it in his Collected Works of 1798.  The letter is a genuine Walpole construct but we must make up our own minds re the veracity of the contents.

Also, Lady Lyttelton's card to Walpole reused by Walpole to record the return of Chatterton's Mss. on the back of the card.  Written :  4th August 1769

First Published :

Read the Control Page for this Work  :  View

Walpole's 'Last Declaration Respecting Chatterton'

Walpole's 'Last Declaration Respecting Chatterton'  was published in The Works of Horatio Walpole, 1798, v4, p.240.  The fourth paragraph is a delight. It shows Walpole covering all angles to defend himself, even after death, and states that if the missing letter does appear after he has died and it tells a different story to what he claims the truth to be, then it will be a forgery. 

Meyerstein suggests that "maybe Chatterton destroyed it [the letter] in a fury without communicating the whole to Barrett." See Meyerstein, p.261

Finally, I must, yet again, defend Walpole and add that no right minded person would charge Walpole with causing the death of Chatterton.  It should also be mentioned that Walpole, when writing about Chatterton, is a picture of contradictions, on the one hand praising Chatterton's works, on the other calling him a rascal. 

The Works of Horatio Walpole, 1798

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View above, click image for larger view or  Click to View online

Walpole Publications

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The Works of Walpole

40 Pages re Chatterton 

Published 1798   View

How important is W. S. Lewis's Walpole edition (1951), volume 16, in relation to Chatterton?

Well now, thanks to the Lewis Walpole Library (Yale University), you can judge for yourself !  They have, rather wonderfully and without restrictions, put the whole 48 volumes online - and free to all.  Click the View links above to read or search the Chatterton sections.

 To read or search through all 48 volumes   :   View

Walpoliana :  Anecdotes, etc., 1799. 

Includes mention of Chatterton in Vol 1    View  Vol 1      View  Vol 2

"I think Chatterton was an astonishing genius"

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"I think Chatterton was an astonishing genius"

So says Walpole in his letter to Rev. Cole, 19 June 1777 (only part of the letter is shown here).  I think it fair to say that Walpole was a walking, talking but mainly a writing contradiction; he treats Chatterton as a Hero and a Villain or, rather, a Genius and a Villain depending on who he was talking to or corresponding with. The copy of this letter is from the book 'Historical and Literary Curiosities,' 1852.  My goodness but this man wrote and received so many letters - he must have spent most of his time sat at his desk in his library, and thank goodness for that as many of his letters are a real treat!  The whole of the letter in this section, as well as the rest of Walpole's correspondence can be viewed in an easier to read format : View this letter at Yale editions..

You can also click the letter for a larger view of it.

Horace Walpole - Links Online

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