No, it was this...
|The Death of Chatterton (1856) Henry Wallis|
I don't know why I fell in love with him so much: maybe it was the luminous hair that seemed to glow like embers, or those blue/purple trousers that mirror the gentle dawn glow that can be seen from his window, maybe it's because his skin looks like delicious chiseled marble. Anyhow, I fell for him and it's a love affair that continues today. The question is why did the Victorians fall in love with him?
He was different from other boys and read so much that he started writing for the Bristol Journal by 11 years old. That's pretty impressive, I hadn't done anything that good, although I had memorised every song from The Sound of Music.
|Chatterton 1765 (1873) Henrietta Mary Ada Ward|
He longed for a greater world and took his work to London, working in the fictional persona of Thomas Rowley, a reflection of himself inside the world of Medieval chivalry and all the romantic things his life lacked. He was precocious and learnt to mimic the style of not only Medieval manuscripts but also contemporary poets like Pope or Gray, however he was not steered in his course, either through neglect (he was without a significant male role model) or through his own bloody-mindedness. His work as Rowley was taken as just transcription, that he was merely copying out the work of this lost medieval genius. In London he worked as a struggling writer at the age of 16, rejected mainly as a result of his youth and strangeness, until he either took arsenic due to misery (tearing is poems to shreds in a final act of despair) or in an attempt to cure venereal disease. He was 17.
Scroll on one hundred years. In that time, Chatterton gained notoriety, the posterboy for living fast and leaving a pretty corpse. His work was finally revealed to be 'forgery' (gasp!) but somehow his twisted genius became romantic. Shelley wrote a poem about him, Alfred de Vigny wrote a drama of his life (entirely fictitious, but somehow that seems appropriate) and then the Pre-Raphaelites embraced him as a lost brother...
|Sketch for Chatterton (1856) Henry Wallis|
|The Death of Thomas Chatterton (1801) Francesco Bartolozzi|
Possibly the reason for this is that Henry Wallis arguably never did a work equal to it, at least in popularity...
|Shakespeare's House, Stratford Upon Avon (1854) Henry Wallis|
|Robins of Modern Times John Roddam Spencer Stanhope|
|Thoughts of the Past J R Spencer Stanhope|
All this meandering around good looking men with the clap brings me to the end of today's post. I think what I have come to appreciate is that Chatterton is a brilliant piece of work that resonates with vast numbers of people yet seems to be under-appreciated in terms of artistic consideration. How many times did you hear it discussed in the last year of Pre-Raphaelite news in the media? It's always Ophelia, not her spiritual brother who gets the coverage. It might not be as technically perfect as Millais' picture but it has pathos and breath-taking beauty aplenty, plus Wallis nailed the image of the glamorous burn-out of a hot boy-star.
Thank you Henry Wallis, you made an eighteen year old girl very happy. Somehow that doesn't sound quite right...