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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, generally, these exalted establishments were restricted to those who could afford the fee.

According to Meyerstein, Chatterton visited a number bookshops, where he was allowed to read the books without payment, and he would transcribe sections of interest to him.

It is also said that his mother paid the quarterly fee to allow him to use a circulating library  - more on this to follow, but 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, 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 recently developed an improved appreciation of the 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 - basically, keep to your station.

I 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.'


Click the Image to read the book

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Click the Image to read the book

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.

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.

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

Walpole's 2nd Letter to Chatterton  - Rejects Chatterton 

Letter is lost.

Walpole got advice from Thomas Gray & William Mason who pronounced the works to be 'modern forgeries'.

Writ. 6th April 1769 (approx.)

Pub. A Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of T. Chatterton 1779  TP770

Chatterton's 3rd Letter to Walpole

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

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

Writ.  8th April 1769 -

Pub. Works of Walpole 1798, p.236,  TP961

Chatterton's 4th Letter to Walpole

 Demanding the return of his letters but is ignored

To Walpole:  14th April 1769 TP962

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.

Chatterton's 5th Letter to Walpole

'Sir, I cannot reconcile your behaviour to me'

Writ. 24th July 1769 - Manuscript is missing.

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

Chatterton in his pique wrote this: 

'Walpole! I thought not I should ever see...'  with the annotation 'Intended to have sent the above to Mr. Walpole but my Sister perswaded me out of it.

The first printing was in Dix 1837, p.102

(Waiting for the original in Chatterton's autograph, B20930)


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 supposedly 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 (The original letter is missing).

Writ. 4th August (or 12 October) 1769 - First Published 1798, p.237.

Walpole - Links Online

House & Garden - Strawberry Hill : Main Site

House & Garden - Strawberry Hill : Treasure Hunt - Lost Contents

Yale University : Lewis Walpole Library 

Yale University: Horace Walpole at 300 Blog

Serendipity : Letter to Horace Mann Jan. 28, 1754  (click then scroll down the page)

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