Thomas Chatterton: four ways of literary terra-forming

by Nick Groom

08 Dec 2022
Journal of the British Academy, volume 10 (2022)
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Abstract: This article considers how the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton created literary worlds by examining and revealing the connections between four very different areas in which he ‘terra-formed’: mediaevalism, political satire, anti-slavery poetry, and environmentalism. Although these areas of Chatterton’s writing are usually treated separately by critics, the article argues that they in fact share many common features, and between them characterise Chatterton’s distinctive – if extraordinarily precocious – poetic voices. These shared characteristics have, moreover, been brought into sharp relief by pressing current issues, from the traumas of the pandemic to the debates on the commemoration (and misrepresentation) of historical figures such as Edward Colston and indeed Chatterton himself. The article concludes by showing how readers can find in the poetry of Thomas Chatterton not only an unexpected influence on some of the major cultural touchstones of the 21st century, but contemporary significance and relevance through the consolation of literature.

Keywords: Thomas Chatterton, 18th-century poetry, literary creativity, mediaevalism, political satire, anti-slavery poetry, environmentalism, commemoration, cultural influence.

Chatterton Lecture on Poetry, read 19 May 2022.

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