Thomas Chatterton, author of the Rowley poems. An icon of the romantic era, Chatterton forged his famous Rowley poems while still a teenager. As a child of 12, Chatterton had been given some blank scraps of medieval parchment from the Gothic church of St. Mary Redcliffe where his late father had been choirmaster. On these, he began writing a number of poems in an antique style which he claimed were written by a fifteenth century monk named Thomas Rowley. At first, like the Ossian epics, these were believed to be authentic and caused considerable excitement among antiquarians.

Chatterton appealed to Walpole for patronage, but was spurned as a forger. Distressed at the rejection, Chatterton continued to assert that the verses were genuine. As a consequence, Chatterton himself received no praise for their remarkable quality. He had moved to London in the hopes of creating a name for himself as a writer, but while Thomas Rowley's poems were extravagantly praised, Thomas Chatterton's did very poorly.

 

 

A proposed, potentially lucrative, commission on the subject of the Lord Mayor Beckford of London was unfortunately cancelled due to Beckford's death (his son William Beckford was the author of Vathek.)

Rejecting all aid, the boy, now seventeen and literally starving to death, took arsenic, died in agony and was buried in an unmarked grave. Many held Walpole partially responsible. The neglected young genius became a legend, and an icon of Romantic poets such as Blake, Coleridge, Keats and Wordsworth.

Keats dedicated Endymion to him, Wordsworth called him Marvellous boy and Coleridge eulogized him in Monody on the Death of Chatterton. For the Romantics, Chatterton epitomized the tragedy of lost potential and wasted genius of the kind eulogized by Walpole's close friend the poet Thomas Gray in his Elegy on a Country Churchyard. His lines would make an apt epitaph fot the luckless poet whose remains are long lost. Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/And waste its sweetness on the desert air. /...Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest. .

Chatterton's tragic death is the subject of Wallis' Death of Chatterton, for which the novelist George Meredith, author of The Shaving of Shagpat posed.

I do not believe there ever existed so masterly a genius. Walpole was to say of him later.