Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

William Seward's Annotations to George Gregory's Life of Thomas Chatterton (1789)

Academic journal article John Clare Society Journal

William Seward's Annotations to George Gregory's Life of Thomas Chatterton (1789)

Article excerpt

On 29 September 2014, Chiswick Auctions knocked down an annotated copy of The Life of Thomas Chatterton by George Gregory, published in 1789, to a private bidder. The auction house had correctly identified the annotator as William Seward, and in doing so inadvertently uncovered a neglected biographical source for Thomas Chatterton. I am grateful to the current owner for permission to examine and transcribe the annotations to the text.

William Seward (1747-99) is described by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as an 'anecdotist'. He was a close friend of Samuel Johnson, providing James Boswell with material on Johnson's life, and authored four volumes of Anecdotes of Some Distinguished Persons (1795-6) and two volumes of Biographiana (1799).1 Seward is mentioned in passing in E. H. W. Meyerstein's standard Life of Chatterton (1930) as providing Gregory with some biographical material on Chatterton in 1787, and by 1782 had made charitable donations to Chatterton's mother and sister totalling £2 2s.2 Seward's place at the heart of the controversy surrounding Chatterton's writings is evident from an episode recorded by Fanny Burney:

Mr Lort produced several curious M.S.S. of the famous Bristol Chatterton,- among others, his Will, &. divers Verses written against Dr Johnson, as a place man &. Pensioner-, all which he Read aloud, with a steady voice &. unmoved Countenance!-I was astonished at him; Mrs Thrale silent & attentive,- & Mr [William] Seward was slyly Laughing. Dr Johnson himself listened profoundly. Indeed I believe he wishes his abusers no other Thing than a good Dinner (like Pope).3

Seward's annotations were published by John Towill Rutt (17601841) in the Monthly Repository of Theology and General Literature. Rutt was one of the founders of the Repository and a frequent contributor and occasional editor to the magazine; in later years, he edited the works of Joseph Priestly. What follows are the extant annotations, followed by further annotations published in the Repository, which now appear to have been lost. Rutt's transcriptions have been of inestimable assistance in ascertaining the texts printed here, as letters and some whole lines were lost when the book was cropped and bound in library boards by Islington Public Library (the pages bear stamps for 'Highgate Hill Free Reading Room and Library' and 'Islington Public Libraries', as well as two library catalogue numbers). All of the ink annotations are in Seward's hand; a handful of subsequent light pencil lines highlighting particular passages are not significant for this analysis. The text is transcribed with [square brackets] indicating letters or words supplied by Rutt's printed text, one instance of an unreadable deletion, thus , and one instance of an /interlineation/.

Extant Annotations

Endpaper recto:

Wm. Seward.


from the Author

Endpaper verso:

[Cjhatterton was very stout in his [per]son, but short, his eyes were [g]rey, of a lustre that made [t]hem appear almost transparent. [Mr. Cjatcott says that when you looked [fu]ll in the Boy's face his eyes [a]lways withdrew from inspection, &. [he] hung down his head. Mrs. [Ne]wton, who has a countenance strongly [indicative of sense, says she [rjesembled her Brother very much [in] her face. Her second son, who [d]ied a few years ago was said [to] have been very like his uncle. |C]hatterton when detected in any [falsehoodjd, us'd to stammer excessively [and stamp with his feet. When]

Following on, inscribed on the recto of the frontispiece engraving (an extract from 'Kew Gardens' given as a facsimile of Chatterton's handwriting):

Mr Barrett was putting together his materials for the History of Bristol, the Boy came to him & told him he had found a List of the Abbots of St. Austin's Conv[ent] in that city, &. present1*, him wi[th] it on paper apparently as old, &. a writing apparently of the same hand with that of the Poems, on examining however this List [by] the Register of the Cathedral o[f] Wells (in which Diocese Brisftol] then was) the names were foun[d] to be intirely of the Boys makjing. …

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