Reading epitaphs in the St Pancras Churchyard in London, deep in conversation with a friend, Thomas Chatterton fell into a newly dug grave. His companion lent him a hand and cheerfully declared that he was only too happy to assist the resurrection of genius. Chatterton grinned, took him by the arm, and said, ‘My dear friend, I feel the sting of a speedy dissolution — I have been at war with the grave for some time, and find it is not so easy to vanquish it as I imagined — we can find an asylum to hide from every creditor but that’!1 Still only seventeen years old, he died three days later, on 24 August 1770, in a cramped garret room in Holborn. In this story we witness all at once the boy-poet’s quick wit, a prescient obsession with his own untimely end, and even the stirrings of his resurrection in a literary afterlife. But the anecdote is a convenient fabrication. First printed a decade after the event, it met a gathering interest in the mysterious author behind the ‘Rowley’ papers, a newly recovered body of putatively medieval writings and sketches attributed to an unknown priest and his coterie in Bristol. Poems, Supposed to have been Written at Bristol, by Thomas Rowley, and Others, in the Fifteenth Century had appeared posthumously, in 1777, to great acclaim and ran to three editions in little over a year. Belatedly, the aspiring artist found a captive audience.


Eighteenth Century Literary Scholarship Modern Work Authorial Signature Young Writer 
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Copyright information

© Daniel Cook 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DundeeUK

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