Protest, "Nativism," and Impersonation in the Works of Chatterton and Keats

By Lau, Beth | Studies in Romanticism, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Protest, "Nativism," and Impersonation in the Works of Chatterton and Keats


Lau, Beth, Studies in Romanticism


THOMAS CHATTERTON'S INFLUENCE ON JOHN KEATS HAS BEEN ADDRESSED by a number of critics, most of whom point out echoes of Chatterton s poetry in Keats's work or trace the importance of Chatterton's image as a frail victim of a hostile society on Keats's conception of the poet and of literary fame. (1) No critic who has analyzed Chatterton's significance for Keats has claimed that the latter engaged in precisely the same genre or project, the forgery of ancient texts, as Chatterton did. In a number of ways, however, we can note similarities between strategies and techniques in Chatterton's poetic enterprise and Keats's. Moreover, these characteristics of Chatterton's and Keats's work are informed by both poets' class backgrounds and political views. (2)

Chatterton's influence has been detected in Keats's Medieval poems The Eve of St. Agnes and The Eve of St. Mark, the latter of which even includes a passage of pseudo-Middle English verse. (3) A closer parallel to Chatterton's recreation of fifteenth-century Bristol in the Rowley poems, however, may be Keats's depiction of ancient Greece in Endymion, a poem dedicated "to the Memory of Thomas Chatterton." (4) For both poets, the attempt to revive a past world is in part a consequence of their social positions and has political implications.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, both historiography and the study or interpretation of classical literature were preserves of the elite, educated classes and therefore considered off-limits to young men trained as legal copyists and surgeon apothecaries like Chatterton and Keats. In presuming to participate in antiquarian research or "[touch] the beautiful mythology of Greece" (Preface to Endymion; Poems 103), Chatterton and Keats were presumptuously aspiring beyond their traditional class prerogatives, as is made clear by the criticism to which both were subjected by conservative critics. Or rather, Chatterton and Keats were part of a growing number of middle-class people claiming a right to engage in activities once the exclusive preserves of gentlemen, and the harsh condemnations they and others of their class received reflect the anxieties of those in authority who feared a breakdown in traditional social hierarchies. (5)

Lolla notes that a major impulse behind both Chatterton's Rowley project and the arguments of those who defended the poems' authenticity in the controversy following Chatterton's death was a desire to challenge the establishment version of English literary history propounded by scholars such as Thomas Warton and Edmond Malone. Indeed, the Rowley controversy in many respects was a debate over who had the right to construct and interpret the national literary past. In particular, Chatterton and the Rowleyans after him disputed the progressive view of English literary history, which claimed that poetry steadily evolved from crude primitive origins to a more advanced, sophisticated state. Instead, Chatterton and the Rowleyans wished to prove that Medieval English poetry was vital and accomplished, perhaps even more so than the supposedly more refined literature that replaced it. Chatterton and the Rowleyans in this respect are similar to the eighteenth-century Irish, Scottish, and Welsh nationalist historians and antiquarians who likewise challenged a progressive view of British history and championed ancient, bardic poetry as a way of celebrating and preserving their Celtic culture and rejecting the English culture that had been imposed upon them. The resistance of these Celtic nationalist historians to the establishment view of British history clearly has political implications, reflecting the protest of a subjugated group to a dominant one. In the same way Chatterton's and the Rowleyans' efforts to rewrite the narrative of English literary history can be seen as the challenge of a suppressed but rising social class to those in power. (6) One correspondent of the St. James Chronicle in 1782 makes clear the class and political implications of his support for the Rowleyan cause when, addressing Warton, he declares that recent challenges to the latter's theory of literary history "will infallibly demolish that long-established Tory System of Passive Obedience and Non Resistance to your Decrees" (quoted in Lolla 159).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Protest, "Nativism," and Impersonation in the Works of Chatterton and Keats
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.