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Key People

Correspondence with Horace Walpole

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

Thomas Chatterton

Horace Walpole

Chatterton's Home (Left), Pile St, Bristol

A Two Up - Two Down - Now a Coffee Shop : View

(The building at the back is the schoolhouse)

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Walpole's Home, Strawberry Hill

Lots of Rooms Up - Lots Down

The Strawberry Hill Trust : Open for visits :  View

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Chatterton in his Garret '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!  

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

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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 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.' 

Walpole - Chatterton Correspondence 

Published 1789 / 1792,

19 / 22 years after Chatterton's Death

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  From Linda Kelly's Book, The Marvellous Boy

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The original rests at the British Library. 

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Walpole is excited and intrigued by Chatterton's letter.  He has no time to lose and writes back the same day.

Written 28th March 1769.  Published European Magazine Feb 1792 Tp.955

 Read the Control Page for this Letter :  View

Barrett Chatterton Letter 2 to Walpole

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Histoirie of Payncters yn Englande.

Stanzas by Ecca, & Elmar.

The Warre.

Written 30th March 1769.  Published Barrett 1789, p.642 Taylor's analysis Tp.955

This letter 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 *

Walpole wrote his 2nd letter to Chatterton on or about the 6th April 1769, directly after he showed Chatterton's previous two letters to Thomas Gray & William Mason, who both pronounced the works as 'modern forgeries.' See p.34, A Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of Thomas Chatterton  : View

 

The original letter is missing, presumed lost, which is surprising when you consider that Walpole tended to keep copies of his letters.

 

However, we do have, (or at least what Walpole purports it to be), a summary of the contents of his missing letter (shown below), which was published in his Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of T. Chatterton 1779.  

I also show below, Walpole's 'Last Declaration Respecting Chatterton' 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 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.

Walpole's Letter to
The  Editor of Chatterton's Miscellanies

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Walpole's Letter to The Editor of Chatterton's Miscellanies
Printed 1779 at Walpole's Strawberry Hill Press
View above or  
View online

Walpole's
'Last Declaration Respecting Chatterton'
The  Editor of Chatterton's Miscellanies

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Walpole's 'Last Declaration Respecting Chatterton'

in

The Works of Horatio Walpole, 1798, v4, p.240

 View above or  View online

 Read the Control Page for this Letter  :   View

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 Ms. was presumed lost, as listed by Donald S. Taylor, Tp.961, but has been rediscovered and is now at Johns Hopkins Sheridan Library.

(From the Arthur and Janet Freeman collection)  :  View

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,"

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

Read the Control Page for this Letter :  View

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 is now

One of four items in the Bonham sale of 14 November 2023  :  View

To Walpole:  14th April 1769

Demanding the return of his letters but is ignored.

Note regarding the original manuscripts:

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

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 Ms. was presumed lost - but has been rediscovered and is now

One of four items in the Bonham sale of 14 November 2023 : View

 

'Sir, I cannot reconcile your behavior to me'

Writ. 24th July 1769 - Manuscript Lost

Pub. Works of Horatio Walpole 1798, p.237,  TP985

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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 'Last Verses,' which we hope to have here in due course.  If you are an academic you might be able to get access to it : View

The copy of the original will appear here when it is to hand.

 

Read the Control Page for this work  :  View

Walpole Final letter to Chatterton

Walpole's Final Letter to Chatterton

(not sent)

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The Ms. was presumed lost - but has been rediscovered and is now

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 genuine 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 (or 12 October) 1769

First Published : The Works of Horatio Walpole, 1798, p.237   :  View

Read the Control Page for this Work  :  View

48 volumes walpole

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

Horace Walpole - Links Online

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