Chatterton's Half-holiday by W.B. Morris. Enraved by W. Ridgeway. Exhibited Royal Academy 1869. Source: The Art-Journal (1875), which strangely to a modern reader makes no mention of Henry Wallis's earlier painting of 1856. Text and formatting by George P. Landow.
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A very good example of an artist who has painted and
exhibited at the Academy some most pleasing pictures,
attractive both in subject and in treatment; this appeared in
that gallery in 1869, and was simply called ‘Chatterton,’ but
was explained, to some extent at least, by a quotation from a
biographer of Chatterton: — “For nearly seven years he remained
an inmate of Colston’s school. He was extremely fond of being
alone ; and on holiday afternoons it was quite a subject of
speculation with his mother what the boy could be doing, sitting alone
for hours in a garret full of lumber.” That “lumber,” however,
was wealth, yet fatal wealth, to
“The marvellous boy,
The sleepless soul, that perished in his pride;”
for among those old parchments and manuscripts, the legacy
of a venerable relative who had filled the ofﬁce of parish-clerk
at one of the churches in Bristol, young Thomas Chatterton
assumed to find the poems and stories he imposed on the world.
we call the wealth “fatal;” his use of it led to his untimely end.
A few words must sufﬁce to explain his story, which, to a certain
extent, is that of the picture also.
He was born at Bristol in 1752, was educated at Colston’s
Charity-school, and at eleven years’ old wrote those well-known
and beautiful verses commencing “Almighty framer of the
skies.” Apprenticed at the age of fourteen to an attorney, he
spent his leisure hours in the forgery of ancient manuscripts of
various kinds, pretending that he had discovered them. Among
the rest, he sent Horace Walpole, then engaged in compiling
his “Anecdotes of Painters,” a ﬁctitious account of eminent
“Carvellers and Peyneters” who were presumed to have at one
period ﬂourished in Bristol. His imitations of the antique,
executed when he was but ﬁfteen or sixteen years old, exhibit a
vigour of thought and a facility of versiﬁcation, to say nothing
of their archaeological character, which puzzled the most learned
men of the day, and stamp him, a poet of a very high order.
Campbell says:--—“No English poet ever equalled him at the
same age.” After three years’ service in the lawyer’s ofﬁce he
came up to London, and found employment in writing for
magazines and newspapers; but these resources soon failed him,
through the exercise of an overbearing, unconquerable pride,
allied with excessive vanity. He indulged in intemperance, and,
reduced to the direst distress, and in his pride rejecting some
little aid kindly proffered by his benevolent landlady, he poisoned
himself with arsenic, August 25, 1770, ere he had reached the
age of eighteen. The remains of the unhappy suicide were
enclosed in a rough shell, and interred in the burial-ground
belonging to the Shoe Lane workhouse. He had, before his
death, destroyed all his unﬁnished papers, the fragments of
which were found strewed on the ﬂooring of his wretched
lodgings. Mr. Morris’s cleverly-painted and expressive picture seems
to be only the opening scene of the tragedy of which another
garret, equally covered with “lumber,” in London, was the last.
“Chatterton's Half-holiday.” Art-Journal. (1875). Hathi Trust Digital Library digitized from a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 2 April 2014.
Last modified 2 April 2014