Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Thomas Chatterton, obsessed with the creation of antique literature, did not limit his artistic output to the poetry he pretended was written by the fictional fifteenth century cleric Thomas Rowley, even though any claim for his literary recognition is based on the Rowley collection. Although Chatterton’s prose writings are generally imitative and unoriginal, at a time of rampant literary forgeries, he created a pastiche of spurious historical manuscripts, maps, drawings, genealogies, and pedigrees for credulous, if historically ignorant, dilettantes seeking to restore the lost treasures of Great Britain. Such exotic esoterica served two purposes: substantiation of his insistent claim of authenticity for his fraudulent poetry, and a means to ingratiate himself with the circle of those who passed as the literate antiquarians in Bristol. In 1768, at the dedication of the new Bristol Bridge across the Severn River, he fabricated and had published a minutely detailed account of the three-hundred-year-old ceremonies on the occasion of the opening of the old bridge; the manuscript, he attested, was found in St. Mary Redcliffe Church and appeared to be written in authentic Old English.

In exploring various modes for presenting the life and character of his medieval hero William Canynges (Chatterton dropped the final “s”), a famous mayor of Bristol under Henry VI in the fifteenth century, Chatterton created illuminating letters from both him and his wholly...

(The entire section is 581 words.)