1. The history of this youth is so intimately connected with that of the poems now published, that the Reader cannot be too early apprized of the principal circumstances of his short life. He was born on the 20th of November 1752, and educated at a charity-school on St. Augustin's Back, where nothing more was taught than reading, writing, and accounts. At the age of fourteen, he was articled clerk to an attorney, with whom he continued till he left Bristol in April 1770.

Though his education was thus confined, he discovered an early turn towards poetry and English antiquities, particularly heraldry. How soon he began to be an author is not known. In the Town and Country Magazine for March 1769, are two letters, probably, from him, as they are dated at Bristol, and subscribed with his usual signature, D. B. The first contains short extracts from two MSS., "written three hundred years ago by one Rowley, a Monk," concerning dress in the age of Henry II.; the other, "ETHELGAR, a Saxon poem," in bombast prose. In the same Magazine for May 1769, are three communications from Bristol, with the same signature, D. B. viz. CERDICK, translated from the Saxon (in the same style with ETHELGAR), p. 233.-- Observations upon Saxon heraldry, with drawings of Saxon atchievements, &c. p. 245.-- ELINOURE and JUGA, written three hundred years ago by T. ROWLEY, a secular priest, p. 273. This last poem is reprinted in this volume. In the subsequent months of 1769 and 1770 there are several other pieces in the same Magazine, which are undoubtedly of his composition.

In April 1770 he left Bristol and came to London, in hopes of advancing his fortune by his talents for writing, of which, by this time, he had conceived a very high opinion. In the prosecution of this scheme, he appears to have almost entirely depended upon the patronage of a set of gentlemen, whom an eminent author long ago pointed out, as not the very worst judges or rewarders of merit, the booksellers of this great city. At his first arrival indeed he was so unlucky as to find two of his expected Mæcenases, the one in the King's Bench, and the other in Newgate. But this little disappointment was alleviated by the encouragement which he received from other quarters; and on the 4th of May he writes to his mother, in high spirits upon the change in his situation, with the following sarcastic reflection upon his former patrons at Bristol. "As to Mr.-- , Mr.-- , Mr.-- , &c. &c. they rate literary lumber so low, that I believe an author, in their estimation, must be poor indeed! But here masters are otherwise. Had Rowley been a Londoner instead of a Bristowyan, I could have lived by copying his works."

In a letter to his sister, dated 30 May, he informs her, that he is to be employed "in writing a voluminous history of London, to appear in numbers the beginning of next winter." In the mean time, he had written something in praise of the Lord Mayor (Beckford), which had procured him the honour of being presented to his lordship. In the letter just mentioned he gives the following account of his reception, with some curious observations upon political writing: "The Lord Mayor received me as politely as a citizen could. But the devil of the matter is, there is no money to be got of this side of the question.-- But he is a poor author who cannot write on both sides.-- Essays on the patriotic side will fetch no more than what the copy is sold for. As the patriots themselves are searching for a place, they have no gratuity to spare.-- On the other hand, unpopular essays will not even be accepted; and you must pay to have them printed: but then you seldom lose by it, as courtiers are so sensible of their deficiency in merit, that they generously reward all who know how to dawb them with the appearance of it."

Notwithstanding his employment on the History of London, he continued to write incessantly in various periodical publications. On the 11th of July he tells his sister that he had pieces last month in the Gospel Magazine; the Town and Country, viz. Maria Friendless; False Step; Hunter of Oddities; To Miss Bush, &c. Court and City; London; Political Register, &c. But all these exertions of his genius brought in so little profit, that he was soon reduced to real indigence; from which he was relieved by death (in what manner is not certainly known), on the 24th of August, or thereabout, when he wanted near three months to complete his eighteenth year. The floor of his chamber was covered with written papers, which he had torn into small pieces; but there was no appearance (as the Editor has been credibly informed) of any writings on parchment or vellum. Back.

2. One of these fragments, by Mr. Barrett's permission, has been copied in the manner of a Fac simile, by that ingenious artist Mr. Strutt, and an engraving of it is inserted here. Two other small fragments of Poetry are printed in this volume. See the Introductory Account. The fragments in prose, which are considerably larger, Mr. Barrett intends to publish in his History of Bristol, which, the Editor has the satisfaction to inform the Publick, is very far advanced. In the same work will be inserted A Discorse on Bristowe, and the other historical pieces in prose, which Chatterton at different times delivered out, as copied from Rowley's MSS.; with such remarks by Mr. Barrett, as he of all men living is best qualified to make, from his accurate researches, into the Antiquities of Bristol. Back.

Previous Next