Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

ye

on Lena's wind like the flames of an hundred hills. Let them sound on the winds of Erin and remind us of the fight. Ye sons of the roaring streams that pour from a thousand hills, hear the king of Morven; attend to the words of his power. Gaul, strongest arm of death; Oscar of the future fights ; Connal, son of the blue shields of Sora; Dermid of the dark brown hair; Ossian, king of many songs, - be near your father's arm.' We reared the sunbeam of battle, the standard of the king. Each hero exulted with joy as waving it flew in the wind. It was studded with gold above as the blue wide shell of the mighty sky. Each hero had his standard too, and each his gloomy men. Now, like an hundred different winds that pour through many vales, divided, dark the sons of Selma advanced. Cromla echoed around. How can I relate the deaths when we closed in the strife of arms ? O daughter of Toscar, bloody were our hands! The gloomy ranks of Lochlin fell like the banks of the roaring Cona! Our arms were victorious on Lena. Each chief fulfilled his promise.

Thou hast seen the sun retire red and slow behind his cloud, night gathering round on the mountain, while the unfrequent blast roars in the narrow vale. At length the rain beats hard ; thunder roars in peals; lightning glances on the rocks; spirits ride on beams of fire. The strength of the mountain streams comes roaring down the hills. Such was the noise of battle, maid of the arms of snow! Why, daughter of Toscar, why that tear? The maids of Lochlin have cause to weep. The people of their country wail. Bloody are the blue swords of the race of my heroes.”

The work of both Percy and Macpherson caused hot discussion in literary circles. Bishop Percy's collection had aroused a dispute among other scholars of ancient poetry concerning his right to amend the old ballads by adding or supplying his own words or lines where the originals were missing. Although Percy had done his work in the best of faith and in all honesty, telling just what part of the work was his own, yet the criticism upon him for these interpolations into the old text was so sharp that the poor bishop must have felt as if he had unexpectedly put his head into a hive of stinging-bees.

In the case of Macpherson and his Ossianic poems, the dispute ran higher. One party believed that these poems were really translations from the Gaelic; another party declared that Macpherson had composed them himself; and the two factions belabored each other with arguments and abuse. During most of the discussion, Macpherson maintained a silence which seems rather obstinate ; and there never was any absolute settlement of the inquiry as to the originality of the poems. It seems probable, however, that although they were, in the main, written by Macpherson, they were founded on fragments of old songs of the Celtic bards which had been preserved by tradition in the Highlands of Scotland.

But the dispute about the work of Percy and Macpherson was slight compared with that which arose concerning the writings of Thomas Chatterton, the boy-poet, one of the greatest prodigies in the whole history of our literature,

THOMAS CHATTERTON was born in the interesting old town of Bristol. His mother, left a widow just before the birth of this son, started a milliner's shop, and

1752-1770 bravely took upon herself the burden of supporting and educating her family. When five years old, Chatterton was sent to school; but as the manner of imparting instruction does not seem to have taken hold of his infant mind, he stayed there a year without learning his letters; and at six the teacher reported him to his mother as a hopeless dunce. Just before this time he saw an old French book with illuminated letters, and fell so in love with it that his mother conceived the idea of teaching him his letters from another ancient book which she owned, copy of the Bible in the black-letter text in which the early English books were printed. From this old text he learned to read ; and when once he had mastered the alphabet, books became his delight. By the time he was eight, this hopeless dunce had devoured every book he could lay hands upon. He went to a free school in his town, and had for tutor a man named Phillips, who sometimes wrote verses for the current newspapers.

For him Chatterton felt a warm friendship, and Phillips seems to have been the only person about him able in the least to sympathize with his genius.

an old

The old church of St. Mary's, at Bristol, in which one of Chatterton's uncles had been a sexton, was an ancient and interesting old building. In the fifteenth century it had been repaired and partly rebuilt by worthy Mr. William Cannynge, a rich citizen of Bristol. In the time of Chatterton's father, a chest in a room over the church porch had been opened, and a quantity of old papers, among them the deeds of the church and other papers relative to William Cannynge's bequest, had been taken out and removed for safe keeping. Some of these old parchments, considered worthless, had fallen into the hands of Chatterton's father, who carried off a quantity to his house.

Chatterton had grown to be eleven or twelve, and had already begun to write verses, when one day he came upon some pieces of this old manuscript. He was at once interested in its history, and collecting all he could find, he carried his treasures off to a room in his mother's house of which he kept the key, and locked them up there, guarding them henceforth from all eyes. He seems to have spent all his leisure poring over and imitating the writing of the manuscript. He kept his writing materials in this room, and he added to these ochre and lampblack, to counterfeit the yellow and grimy look of the parchment.

At fifteen the boy was apprenticed to an attorney, who proved a very disagreeable and exacting master. Here Chatterton was set to work as copying-clerk, and employed in all the various capacities of an office drudge. Yet he still found time for his work with the old manuscripts, and at length wrote to Dodsley, a bookseller in London, that he had a valuable collection of poems for publication, written by Thomas Rowley, a priest of Bristol, in the fifteenth century, and a friend of Mr. Cannynge, the benefactor of the Bristol church.

These poems were written in wonderful imitation of old black-letter manuscript in text, in spelling, and in style. But the poor boy could get little notice from either the bookseller or the rich patrons of literature to whom he sent an account of these treasures. Discouraged at his want of success in Bristol, he resolved to go to London and live by

his pen.

Chatterton was only a little more than seventeen when, in the spring of 1770, he came up to the great city with high hopes and full of courage. He began at once to write for magazines and newspapers, and at first met with enough success to encourage him in splendid dreams of fame and fortune. He wrote glowing accounts to his mother and sister of what he intended to achieve; he spent his earnings in presents for them, a set of china for his mother, a fan for his sister, and other trinkets to send home to Bristol. But his bright hopes faded; the little money he could earn was barely enough for his scanty support, and he gradually fell from his lofty mood to one of despair. Forced by necessity, he went in midsummer to take a cheap lodging in the house of a dressmaker in London. Too proud to make known his wants or ask assistance, he was soon on the verge of starvation. One evening in August, when he had been for two or three days without his dinner, his landlady, mistrusting his condition, invited him to dine with her. With characteristic pride, he refused the dinner, and shutting himself

up in his room, he ended his short, sad life with a dose of arsenic. He was found dead next mornir among a litter of papers torn into bits, which he had destroyed before taking the poison, without a word of farewell or explanation. Thus ended, in suicide and despair, the brief life of the greatest prodigy in the history of English literature.

It was after his death that the discussion about the poetry which he claims was written by Thomas Rowley began. It was a controversy much hotter, and engaged men more eminent, than even Percy's ballads or Macpherson's translations. But the best authorities agreed that the old poems must have been written by Chatterton only, and that Rowley was the pseudonym under which he had sought to hide his own work, believing, no doubt, that inore fame would attach to them with Rowley's name than the works themselves would bring.

in his room, The most remarkable among the poems ascribed to Rowley are a ballad on the Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin ; The Tragedy of Ella ; The Battle of Hastings , The Tournament; and A Description of Cannynge's Feast.

The Execution of Sir Charles Bawdin, although it has less poetical merit than Ella, is most in keeping with the antique style Chatterton strove to imitate, and has in it a good deal of the ring of the early ballad. It begins thus :

[blocks in formation]

“ Sir Canterlone then bended low,

With heart brimful of woe;
He journeyed to the castle-gate,

And to Sir Charles did go. 1 As the ancient spelling which Chatterton used was merely the artificial form into which he put his verses, and it would make it more difficult to read if I followed it, I give it to you in ordinary spelling. This is a specimen of the stanzas in antique spelling:

“ The feathered chanti cleere

Han wounde hys bugle horn,
And tolde the earlie villager

The commynge of the morn.
“King Edward saw the ruddie streakes

Of lyghte eclypse the greie,
And herde the raven's crokynge throte

Proclaime the fated daye."

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »