‘The marvellous boy,
The sleepless soul that perished in his pride’
Wordsworth’s lines on Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) contributed to a legend that became better known than Chatterton’s work itself. His story is moving: a sensitive, unhappy boy, he fell in love with the medieval world and escaped into it from miserable schooling and the drudgery of apprenticeship. He read and then wrote ‘medieval’ poetry which he passed off as genuine. When the poems he wrote in his own name brought him some success, he went to London to seek his fortune as a writer. After six months’ struggle, too proud to admit defeat, starving and alone, he killed himself in his attic room. He was seventeen.
There is more to Chatterton than the romantic archetype. His poetry was admired by Keats, Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth; as Grevel Lindop says in his introduction, ‘Chatterton’s work contains in essence the whole of Romanticism’. This selection, with its detailed notes, shows the historical significance and unexpected range of Chatterton’s poetry, and also enables the reader to enjoy it for its rich resonance and wonderfully memorable rhythms.
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