Chatterton's Will - Poem by Thomas Chatterton
Burgum, I thank thee, thou hast let me see
That Bristol has impress'd her stamp on thee,
Thy generous spirit emulates the Mayor's,
Thy generous spirit with thy Bristol's pairs.
Gods! what would Burgum give to get a name,
And snatch his blundering dialect from shame!
What would he give, to hand his memory down
To time's remotest boundary?--A Crown.
Catcott, for thee, I know thy heart is good,
But ah! thy merit's seldom understood;
Too bigoted to whimsies, which thy youth
Received to venerate as Gospel truth,
Thy friendship never could be so dear to me,
Since all I am is opposite to thee.
If ever obligated to thy purse,
Rowley discharges all-- my first chief curse!
For had I never known the antique lore,
I ne'er had ventured from my peaceful shore,
To be the wreck of promises and hopes,
A Boy of Learning, and a Bard of Tropes;
But happy in my humble sphere had moved,
Untroubled, unsuspected, unbelov'd.
To Barrett next, he has my thanks sincere,
For all the little knowledge I had here.
But what was knowledge? Could it here succeed
When scarcely twenty in the town can read?
Could knowledge bring in interest to maintain
The wild expenses of a Poet's brain;
Disinterested Burgum never meant
To take my knowledge for his gain per cent.
When wildly squand'ring ev'ry thing I got,
On books and learning, and the Lord knows what,
Could Burgum then, my critic, patron, friend!
Without security attempt to lend?
No, that would be imprudent in the man;
Accuse him of imprudence if you can.
He promis'd, I confess, and seem'd sincere;
Few keep an honorary promise here.
I thank thee, Barrett-- thy advice was right,
But 'twas ordain'd by fate that I should write.
Spite of the prudence of this prudent place,
I wrote my mind, nor hid the author's face.
Harris ere long, when reeking from the press,
My numbers make his self-importance less,
Will wrinkle up his face, and damn the day,
And drag my body to the triple way--
This is the last Will and Testament of me, Thomas Chatterton, of the city of Bristol; being sound in body, or it is the fault of my last surgeon: the soundness of my mind, the coroner and jury are to be the judges of, desiring them to take notice, that the most perfect masters of human nature in Bristol distinguish me by the title of Mad Genius; therefore, if I do a mad action, it is conformable to every action of my life, which is all savoured of insanity.
Item. If after my death, which will happen tomorrow night before eight o'clock, being the Feast of the Resurrection, the coroner and jury bring it in lunacy, I will and direct, that Paul Farr, Esq. and Mr. John Flower, at their joint expense, cause my body to be interred in the tomb of my fathers, and raise the monument over my body to the height of four feet five inches, placing the present flat stone on the top, and adding six tablets.
On the first, to be engraved in Old English characters:--
[Note that Chatterton did not speak French and this Middle French inscription was probably copied from a gravestone he had seen on his many pilgrimages to area churches. The same is true for the Latin. Interesting that he did not go to church for God, but to admire the ancient architecture and the memorial stones. --Anne]
Vous qui par ici pasez
Pur l'ame Guateroine Chatterton priez
Le cors di oi ici gist
L'ame receyve Thu Crist. MCCX.
(You who pass by here
Pray for the soul of Chatterton
Here lies his body
His soul is with Christ )
On the second tablet, in Old English characters:-
Orate pro animabus Alanus Chatterton, et Alicia Uxeris eius, qui quidem Alanus obictx die mensis Novemb. MCCCCXV, quorum animabus propinetur Deus Amen.
On the third tablet, in Roman characters:-
Sacred to the memory of
Reader, judge not; if thou art a Christian-- believe that he shall be judged by a superior Power-- to that Power alone is he now answerable
On the fifth and sixth tablets, which shall front each other:-
Atchievements: viz. on the one, vest, a fess, or; crest, a mantle of estate, gules, supported by a spear, sable, headed, or. On the other, or, a fess vert, crest, a cross of Knights Templars.--And I will and direct that if the coroner's inquest bring it in felo-de-se,
the said monument shall notwithstanding be erected. And if the said Paul Farr and John Flower have souls so Bristolish as to refuse this my request, they will transmit a copy of my will to the Society for supporting the Bill of Rights, whom I hereby empower to build the said monument according to the aforesaid directions. And if they the said Paul Farr and John Flower should build the said monument, I will and direct that the second edition of my Kew Gardens shall be dedicated to them in the following dedication:- To Paul Farr and John Flower, Esqrs. this book is most humbly dedicated by the Author's Ghost.
Item: I give all my vigour and fire of youth to Mr. George Catcott, being sensible he is most want of it.
Item: From the same charitable motive, I give and bequeath unto the Reverent Mr. Camplin senior, all my humility. To Mr. Burgum all my prosody and grammar, --likewise one moiety of my modesty; the other moiety to any young lady who can prove without blushing that she wants that valuable commodity. To Bristol, all my spirit and disinterestedness, parcels of goods, unknown on her quay since Canning and Rowley! 'Tand direct is true, a charitable gentleman, one Mr. Colston, smuggled a considerable quantity of it, but it being proved that he was a papist, the Worshipful Society of Aldermen endeavoured to throttle him with the oath of allegiance. I also leave my religion to Dr. Cutts Barton, Dean of Bristol, hereby empowering the Sub-Sacrist to strike him on the head when he goes to sleep in church. My powers of utterance I give to the Reverend Mr. Broughton, hoping he will employ them to a better purpose than reading letters on the immortality of the soul. I leave the Reverend Mr. Catcott some little of my free thinking, that he may put on spectacles of reason and see how vilely he is duped in believing the scriptures literally. I wish he and his brother George would know how far I am their real enemy; but I have an unlucky way of raillery, and when the strong fit of satire is upon me, I spare neither friend nor foe. This is my excuse for what I have said of them elsewhere. I leave Mr. Clayfield the sincerest thanks my gratitude can give ; and I will and direct that whatever any person may think the pleasure of reading my works worth, they immediately pay their own valuation to him, since it is then become a lawful debt to me and to him as my executor in this case.
I leave my moderation to the politicians on both sides of the question. I leave my generosity to our present Right Worshipful Mayor, Thomas Harris, Esq. I give my abstinence to the company at the Sheriffs' annual feast in general, more particularly the Aldermen.
Item. I give and bequeath to Mr. Matthew Mease a mourning ring with this motto, "Alas, poor Chatterton!" provided he pays for it himself.
Item. I leave the young ladies all the letters they have had from me, assuring them that they need be under no apprehensions from the appearance of my ghost, for I die for none of them. --
Item. I leave all of my debts, the whole not five pounds, to the payment of the charitable and generous Chamber of Bristol, on penalty, if refused, to hinder every member from a good dinner by appearing in the form of a bailiff. If in defiance of this terrible spectre, they obstinately persist in refusing to discharge my debts, let my two creditors apply to the supporters of the Bill of Rights.
Item. I leave my mother and my sister to the protection of my friends, if I have any.
--Executed in the presence of Omniscience this 14th of April, 1770.
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