Chatterton's Search for a Patron

Correspondence with

Horace Walpole

Chatterton Age: 16

Still an Apprentice at Lambert's

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Thomas Chatterton

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Chatterton's Home (L)

A Two Up - Two Down

Pile Street, Bristol


Chatterton in his Library

A little 'poetic' licence is at play here, obviously, but you get the idea.

Chatterton's life was a struggle from start to finish. He had to mix in circles above his pay grade to get sight of or borrow books.


It is said that Chatterton used the circulating libraries but, in truth, these exalted establishments were restricted to those who could afford the fee.

Take a look at this website: British Circulating Libraries.

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Horace Walpole


Walpole's Home

Lots Up - Lots Down

Strawberry Hill

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Walpole in his Library

Walpole's collection of Chattertoniana can be seen on the top shelf of the bookcase to the right of the window - It's true, honestly!

The majority of Walpole's Chattertoniana (collection of books and letters) eventually ended up in the possession of Wilmarth 'Lefty' Lewis. He bought most of it from the New York Mercantile Library - now there's a man with perseverance in his blood!

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Walpole was 51 when he received 16 year old Chatterton's first letter, containing his The Ryse of Peyncteynge, yn Englande​.

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!

While preparing these pages I have developed a new appreciation of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford. This new found pleasure is derived from reading his letters, which are often a joy, but it helps to believe that every 'class' of person will face a personal 'struggle' of some sort or other, and that we should make allowances for this, but you simply must smile when you read the following excerpt from his: 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.'

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Click the left image to read the whole of volume IV, or the right hand image to go directly to page 205 to read Walpole's take on his correspondence with Chatterton. 

The Correspondence

Published 1789 / 1792,

19 / 22 years after Chatterton's Death

Walpole's 1st Letter in Reply

Walpole is Excited and Intrigued by Chatterton's Letter.

He writes back same day - no time to lose.

2. Writ 28th March 1769 - Pub European Mag Feb 1792 TP955

Chatterton's 2nd Letter to Walpole

Histoirie of Payncters yn Englande.

Stanzas by Ecca, & Elmar.

The Warre.

3. Writ 30th March 1769 - Pub Barrett 1789 TP955

Walpole's 2nd Letter to Chatterton  - Rejects Chatterton 

He got advice from Thomas Gray & William Mason

who pronounced the works to be 'modern forgeries'.

4. Writ 6th (approx.) April 1769 - Pub by Walpole 1779  TP770

Chatterton's 3rd Letter to Walpole

Chatterton is stunned by the rejection and writes back in haste: 

'...and will....go beyond it by destroying all my useless Lumber of Literature.'

5. Writ  8th April 1769 TP961

Chatterton's 4th Letter to Walpole

 Demanding the return of his letters but is ignored

6. To Walpole:  14th April 1769 TP962

Chatterton Writes a Poem to Walpole - Unposted

7. To Walpole:  24th July 1769

Copy from Dix 1837 - (Waiting for original B20930)


Walpole returns Chatterton's 'Manuscripts'

This letter was meant to go with the manuscripts but Walpole decided to send the Mss. in a plain cover with no letter.

8. From Walpole: 4th August (or 12 October) 1769

Published 1798 in his works.