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FROM 'THE MINSTREL,' Book I.
When the long-sounding curfew from afar
Or blast that shrieks by fits the shuddering isles along.
Or, when the setting moon, in crimson dyed
Anon in view a portal's blazoned arch
The long-robed minstrels wake the warbling wire,
With merriment, and song, and timbrels clear,
To right, to left, they thrid the flying maze;
Of tapers, gems and gold, the echoing forests blaze.
The dream is fled. Proud harbinger of day,
Thy boastful mirth let jealous rivals spill,
Forbear, my Muse. Let Love attune thy line.
But who the melodies of morn can tell?
The cottage-curs at early pilgrim bark;
Crowned with her pail the tripping milkmaid sings;
O Nature, how in every charm supreme!
And held high converse with the godlike few, Who to th' enraptured heart, and ear, and eye, Teach beauty, virtue, truth, and love, and melody.
[THOMAS CHATTERTON was born at Bristol on the 20th of November, 1752. From 1767 to 1770 he produced a mass of poetry, the more noticeable portions of it being the pseudo-antique Rowley Poems which were collected after his death by Thomas Tyrwhitt in 1777. He died by his own hand in London on the 24th of August, 1770, aged 17 years and 9 months.]
Chatterton has been neglected of late years, but Mr. Skeat's modernised version of the 'Rowley' Poems will, very likely, direct as much attention to them as can be afforded by an age embarrassed already by the wealth it has inherited and by the luxuriance of its own poetic growths. And if in the following selections I have not availed myself of Mr. Skeat's modernised text, but have rather chosen a text of my own, it has been from no defective appreciation of the acuteness, the industry, and the learning apparent in every page of his edition, but because he sometimes seems to miss that peculiar musical movement governing Chatterton's ear, which often renders it impossible to replace, by any modern word whatsoever, an archaism or pseudo-archaism of his, whether invented by himself or found in Bailey or Speght. Dominated as he commonly was by eighteenth-century movements, Chatterton yet showed at times an originality of ear that has never been appreciated. As far as I know, indeed, his metrical inventiveness has never been perceived-certainly it has never been touched upon-by any of his critics, from Tyrwhitt downwards. Yet it seems necessary to touch upon it here-technical as the enquiry may seem-or how can we gauge the undeniable influence Chatterton has had, both as to spirit and as to form, upon the revival in the present century of the romantic temperthat temper, without which English poetry can scarcely perhaps
hold a place at all when challenged in a court of universal criticism?
This influence has worked primarily through Coleridge, who (partly, it may be, from Chatterton's connexion with Bristol) was profoundly impressed both by the tragic pathos of Chatterton's life and by the excellence, actual as well as potential, of his work. And when we consider the influence Coleridge himself had upon the English romantic movement generally, and especially upon Shelley and Keats, and the enormous influence these latter have had upon subsequent poets, it seems impossible to refuse to Chatterton the place of the father of the New Romantic school. As to the romantic spirit, it would be difficult to name any one of his successors in whom the high temper of romance has shown so intense a life. And, as to the romantic form, it is matter of familiar knowledge, for instance, that the lyric octo-syllabic movement of which Scott made such excelent use in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, and which Byron borrowed from him, was originally borrowed (or rather stolen) by Scott from Coleridge, whose Christabel, while still in manuscript, was recited in the hearing of Scott by Coleridge's friend Stoddart. Coleridge afterwards, when Christabel was published in 1816, speaks of the anapaestic dance with which he varies the iambic lines, as being founded on a new principle'; and he has been much praised, and very justly, for such effects as this :
'And Christabel saw the lady's eye,
Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall,
That this 'new principle' was known to Chatterton is seen in the following extract, which has exactly the Christabel ring— the ring which Scott only half caught and which Byron failed to really catch at all.
But when he threwe downe his asenglave,
Next came in Syr Botelier bold and brave,
The dethe of manie a Saraceen,
Theie thought him a devil from Hell's black den,
Ne thinking that anie of mortalle menne
Could send so manie to the grave.
For his life to John Rumsee he render'd his thanks