Genius and Scholarship



During a brief aside to his lecture series on the major British poets, Hazlitt dashed Chatterton’s claim to literary fame. ‘It is his name, his youth, and what he might have lived to have done’, he suggests, ‘that excite our wonder and admiration’.2 For more than forty years, by this point, Chatterton had in fact been conducive to a number of highly divisive critical debates. And over a number of decades many noteworthy literary figures collected piles of Chattertoniana with relish, including Thomas Percy, William Mason, Michael Lort, Robert Glynn, William and Jane Cole, as well as the leading Shakespeare experts of the age, such as Edmond Malone, George Steevens and Richard Farmer, along with dozens of notable gentlemen, aristocrats, physicians and amateur historians. In the public realm the principal vernacular scholars of the late eighteenth century gave detailed axiological attention to Chatterton’s texts, particularly so by Thomas Warton, Malone, Steevens, and the nation’s pre-eminent Chaucerian, Thomas Tyrwhitt, as well as Southey and Cottle, Walter Scott, and Percival Stockdale in the early nineteenth century. In particular, the boy-poet proved flexible enough to conform to, and embolden, familiar if conflicting theorizations of genius, from Joseph Addison’s well-known essay in The Spectator (no. 160) on natural and learned genius through to Edward Young’s forceful rejection of the Augustan ‘rules of art’ in the second half of the eighteenth century, as well as the models of intertwined genius, taste and judgement established by the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers William Duff and Alexander Gerard.


Eighteenth Century Literary History Public Realm Modern Work English Poetry 
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Copyright information

© Daniel Cook 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DundeeUK

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