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Malone, Edmond / Cursory Observations on the Poems Attributed to Thomas Rowley (1782)
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Ἕκτορος ἀντικρὺ, βαλέειν δὲ ἑ ἵετο θυμός·

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footnote markers, all _single_ brackets are in the original. Footnotes
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The Augustan Reprint Society



on the

Attributed To


_Introduction by_

Publication Number 123
William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California, Los Angeles


George Robert Guffey, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Earl Miner, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Maximillian E. Novak, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Robert Vosper, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_


Richard C. Boys, _University of Michigan_
James L. Clifford, _Columbia University_
Ralph Cohen, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Vinton A. Dearing, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Arthur Friedman, _University of Chicago_
Louis A. Landa, _Princeton University_
Samuel H. Monk, _University of Minnesota_
Everett T. Moore, _University of California, Los Angeles_
Lawrence Clark Powell, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_
James Sutherland, _University College, London_
H. T. Swedenberg, Jr., _University of California, Los Angeles_


Edna C. Davis, _William Andrews Clark Memorial Library_


Edmond Malone’s _Cursory Observations_ was the most timely publication
in the Rowley controversy. His work appeared just as the debate over the
authenticity of the poems attributed to a fifteenth-century priest was,
after twelve years, entering its most crucial phase.[1] These curious
poems had come to the attention of the reading public in 1769, when
Thomas Chatterton sent several fragments to the _Town and Country
Magazine_. The suicide of the young poet in 1770 made his story of
discovering ancient manuscripts all the more intriguing. When Thomas
Tyrwhitt published the first collected edition in March of 1777,[2]
speculation about whether the poems were the work of Rowley or
Chatterton began in earnest. Malone arrived in London two months later
to take up permanent residence, and very likely he soon became in
private “a professed anti-Rowleian.”[3] But during the late 1770’s,
although anonymous writers filled the periodicals with pronouncements on
both sides of the question, there was no urgent need to demonstrate that
the poems were spurious. The essay which Tyrwhitt appended to the third
edition of Rowley poems in 1778[4] and Thomas Warton’s chapter in his
_History of English Poetry_[5] seemed to show with sufficient authority
that the poems could not have been written in the fifteenth century. The
Rowleians, however, were diligently preparing their arguments,[6] and
late in 1781 they at last came forward with massive scholarly support
for the Rowley story.

On the first of December, Jacob Bryant published his voluminous
_Observations upon the Poems of Thomas Rowley: in which the authenticity
of those poems is ascertained_.[7] Some ten days later, Jeremiah Milles,
Dean of Exeter and President of the Society of Antiquaries, brought out
his own “edition” of the poems, with a commentary providing extensive
historical proof of what Bryant “ascertained.”[8] The remarks of Warton
and Tyrwhitt suddenly seemed hasty and superficial. Warton had clearly
outlined his reasons for skepticism, but he offered to show “the
greatest deference to decisions of much higher authority.”[9] Tyrwhitt
had also hesitated to be dogmatic. He saw fit to suggest that, since
Chatterton had always been equivocal, the authenticity of the poems
could be judged only on internal grounds. Merely to show what might be
gleaned from the poems themselves, he examined “_part_ of the internal
evidence,” the language, and specifically “a _part_ only of this _part_,
viz. ... _words_, considered with respect to their _significations_ and
_inflexions_.”[10] Thus, when the apparently exhaustive work of Bryant
and Milles was published, the Rowleians could well feel that the burden
of proof now rested with the other side. Tyrwhitt and Warton had command
of the proof they needed, and eventually they won over all but the
fanatics.[11] But for the moment any answers they could make to Bryant
and Milles would seem to be merely defensive. At this hour, the position
which they represented needed new support from someone who could bring a
fresh perspective into the debate and, if possible, throw the confident
Rowleians into confusion. Edmond Malone’s observations served precisely
these ends.

Malone must have set to work as soon as the books of Bryant and Milles
appeared.[12] At any rate, he rushed his essay into print. His friend
John Nichols published it, over the signature “Misopiclerus,” in the
December issue and yearly Supplement of the _Gentleman’s Magazine_,
which went into circulation early in January.[13] To appear in these
numbers, Malone’s essay had to be in Nichols’ hands not long after the
middle of December, for copy was already going to press by then.[14]
Doubtless he now put to use many ideas which had occurred to him as the
controversy developed. But the origin of the essay was clearly his
response, not simply to the poems and the controversy surrounding them,
but specifically to what Milles and Bryant had written. His questioning
of their competence to settle literary questions is his most basic
justification of his own analysis. His refutations of their arguments
give substance to every stage of his reasoning. And even though in the
_Gentleman’s Magazine_ the essay is divided into two installments, its
continuity and stylistic cohesiveness indicate that Malone wrote it
purposefully at a time when his thoughts were unified by a clear

A letter which Malone wrote to Lord Charlemont in Ireland on 8 January
1782 reveals something of the seriousness with which, beneath their
merriment, Malone and others regarded the Rowleian manifesto:

The Rowley controversy, about which you enquire, is going on
ding-dong. Dr. Milles’s quarto and Mr. Bryant’s octavos are on
my table, ready to be packed in your parcel. They have said
everything that could be said on their side of the question, and
have staggered some. Warton is preparing an answer, which will be
out soon; only a shilling pamphlet. The cautious Tyrwhitt is
slower in his operations. He means, I belive, to enter deeply into
the business, and it will therefore be some time before we shall
see his vindication. I am, you know, a professed anti-Rowleian,
and have just sent a little brat into the world to seek his
fortune. As I did not choose to sign my name, I preferred, for the
sake of a more general perusal, to give my cursory remarks to a
magazine, in consequence of which they appear rather awkwardly,
one half in that for December and the other in the supplement,
which is to be published in a few days. When I can get a perfect
copy, I will send it to you, for I flatter myself your partiality
to me will incline you to run your eye over it, notwithstanding
your leaning to the other side of the question. Tyrwhitt wants me
still to make a pamphlet of it, in order to bind up with all the
other pieces which that most wonderful youth, Chatterton, has
given occasion to.[15]

While his little brat was diverting the wide audience of the
_Gentleman’s Magazine_, Malone was busy arranging for it to make a more
damaging sally. Tyrwhitt may have asked for a more convenient text; what
Malone gave him was a better essay. He seems to have spent the entire
month revising his work, for the pamphlet was not ready until early in
February. As late as 7 February, writers commenting on the essay
referred to and even quoted from the _Gentleman’s Magazine_.[16] On 4
February, Horace Walpole, writing to thank Malone for sending him a copy
of _Cursory Observations_, said that he had been “earnestly wishing”
for such a present because Malone’s remarks were “far too good to be
committed only to the few hours of life of a newspaper.”[17]

The pamphlet was first advertised in the _St. James’s Chronicle_, in
which developments in the Rowley controversy were usually announced
promptly, until No. 3266 (9-12 Feb.). This and all other advertisements
of the pamphlet were for the version of Malone’s essay which the author
sent to Walpole some days earlier: “the second edition, revised and
augmented.”[18] This phrase on the title-page has led scholars to miss
the significance which Malone himself found in the pamphlet. The phrase
does not indicate, as bibliographies have heretofore stated, that the
pamphlet achieved a second printing. It emphasizes that in the pamphlet
Malone revised and expanded considerably the essay which made its first
appearance in the _Gentleman’s Magazine_.

Every page in the pamphlet bears evidence of Malone’s revision.[19] It
was necessary, of course, to re-orient the essay, which after the
formula of the _Gentleman’s Magazine_ was addressed to Mr. Urban. At
least one passage, which carried a slur upon publishers, may have been
changed to suit Mr. Nichols.[20] But more indicative of his carefulness
are his revisions of words and phrases. “The whole fabrick” of
Chatterton’s poems became “the beautiful fabrick” (p. 12). The “practice
of knitting,” which Malone wished to show had not developed as early as
the fifteenth century, he now called “the art of knitting” (p. 24). When
he found that he had not questioned emphatically enough “the antiquity
of these MSS,” he added the phrase “not of one, but of all” (p. 31).
Malone attended to the more general stylistic aspects of his essay as
well as to minute details. If he paused to recompute the number of
parchments which could fit into the famous Bristol chests (p. 59),
he also changed the simple declarative “I shall” to the more forceful
“I will” throughout the essay. Although his verbal revisions cannot be
called drastic, they are numerous and are frequently strategic.

Malone’s expansion of his essay, however, was in itself ample reason to
call the pamphlet a “new edition.” The reviewer for the _Gentleman’s
Magazine_ might assure readers that “great part of this pamphlet” had
already appeared there,[21] but there were also “great” additions. What
Malone came to consider Bryant’s “most plausible argument” (“that every
author must know his own meaning--that Chatterton did not know the
meaning of many words and lines in his book, and therefore was not the
author”), he answered in an entirely new passage (pp. 41-45). He
observed later that “almost every writer on the subject” subsequently
“adopted” this rebuttal.[22] Another crucial section (pp. 45-49), in
which Malone compares a modernized passage from “Rowley” with a passage
from Chatterton’s acknowledged poetry translated into Rowleian verse,
was also new. This critical technique, which Malone perfected, became a
standard one thereafter.[23] Malone added six other passages, none of
which is less than half a page in length, as well as five footnotes
documenting or elaborating points which he had made in the magazine.[24]
The most heavily augmented part of the essay is that containing
miscellaneous proofs, but Malone bolstered his initial arguments as
well. In his comparison of “Rowley’s” smooth versification with the work
of authentic late-medieval poets--the passage which, as we shall see,
Tyrwhitt thought so effective--Malone introduced two further quotations
and substituted the first lines from Bradshaw’s _Holy Life_ for those he
had quoted in the magazine.[25] Malone’s additions to his essay, which
taken together amount to some twenty pages (in a pamphlet of sixty-two
pages), represent a careful effort to support with an irresistable
battery of arguments the main line of attack which he had thrown against
the Rowleians.

As his second paragraph and his appeals to “poetical readers” indicate,
Malone’s fundamental message was that the Rowley poems must be judged as
literature and not as historical documents. The poems had, of course,
found many appreciative readers. A correspondent in the _Gentleman’s
Magazine_ in 1777 (XLVII, 361-365), for instance, discussed with frank
admiration the imagery, pathetic sentiment, accommodation of sound to
sense and other aspects of the poems. It was Malone, however, who got to
the heart of the matter in showing that poetry inevitably bears the
hallmark of the era in which it is written. Even to appreciate the
importance of this fact, he insisted, one must have read the early
English poets with perception and taste. In establishing this criterion,
Malone delivered his most devastating blow against the Rowleians: all
their learned arguments were irrelevant.

Malone’s essay helped to awaken some very witty attacks on the
Rowleians. Malone himself made use of wit in occasional passages, such
as his abuse of Milles for relying on Shakespeare’s historical accuracy
(pp. 22-24). The cure for Rowleiomania which he prescribed in the
concluding passage aroused a good deal of comment. Not all readers were
happy that he chose to ridicule respectable scholars,[26] and the
effectiveness of his humor did not go unquestioned. Burnaby Greene,
whose _Strictures_ were the only major attempt to discredit Malone, was
anxious to show that, although Malone seemed to promise humor, he did
not prove to be “a writer abounding in exertions of the risible
muscles.”[27] Among the replies to Greene were some jovial verses in the
_St. James’s Chronicle_ very likely contributed by Malone:

Says Bryant to Burnaby, what do you mean?
The Cause of old Rowley you’ve ruin’d quite clean.
I had taught Folk to think, by my learned _Farrago_,
That Drydens and Popes wrote three Centuries ago;
Though they stared at my Comments, and sometimes might slumber,
Yet the Truth they might fancy beneath all my Lumber:
But _your_ stupid Jargon is seen through _instanter_,
And your Works give the Wits new Subjects for Banter.
Such _cler_-obscure Aid may I meet again never!
For now Milles and I will be laugh’d at for ever.[28]

Greene’s criticisms are frequently absurd, but probably even Malone was
ready to acknowledge that humor was not the outstanding feature of the
_Cursory Observations_. His purpose was not to satirize but to refute.

Other writers in 1782, however, exerted their risible muscles much more
vigorously than Malone did. William Julius Mickle wrote _The Prophecy of
Queen Emma; An Ancient Ballad lately discovered, written by Johannes
Turgotus, Prior of Durham, in the Reign of William Rufus_, to which he
added a long satirical postscript about the discovery of the poem.
George Hardinge’s _Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades_ brilliantly
depicts various scenes in the other world after news of the Rowley
controversy is carried there. The most hilarious performance of the
year--indeed, of the entire controversy--was the _Archaeological Epistle
to Dean Milles_, published by John Nichols at the end of March,[29]
which turned the language of the Rowley poems ingeniously against the
two fumbling historians. Such pieces would have appeared whether or not
Malone had written the _Cursory Observations_. The general reader was
likely to find ridiculous the sober effort to document Rowley’s
existence. As a contributor to the _St. James’s Chronicle_ said,
“To mistake the Apprentice of a modern Attorney for an ancient Priest,
too nearly resembles an Incident in the new Pantomime at Covent-Garden,
where a Bailiff, intent on arresting an old Beau, is imposed on by a
Monkey dressed in his Clothes, and employed in an awkward Imitation of
his Manners.”[30] But ridicule could hurt the Rowleians only if their
confidence had been penetrated already. Malone delivered his strokes two
months before any of the others, and the strength of his diversified
attack made it possible for the wits to strike home.

Throughout 1782, the _Cursory Observations_ remained at the forefront of
the reaction to Milles and Bryant. In March, William Mason wrote Walpole
that he understood “a Mr. Malone” was “the proto-antagonist” of the
Rowleians.[31] As late as the August issue of the _Gentleman’s Magazine_
appeared an “Ode, Addressed to Edmond Malone, Esq. on his presuming to
examine the learned and unanswerable Arguments urged by Jacob Bryant,
Esq. and the Rev. Dr. Milles....”[32] Perhaps the fairest contemporary
appraisal of Malone’s work was given in the June issue of the _Critical
Review_. Although the reviewer felt that some of Malone’s proofs, such
as the anachronism of “knitting white hosen,”[33] were as elusive as
those of the antiquaries, he found the method of comparing “Rowley”
and other poets illuminating, and the “miscellaneous observations” he
considered “frequently important, and often decisive.” On the whole, the
reviewer said, “Mr. Malone deserves much praise for his very clear and
comprehensive view” of the controversy.[34]

In their replies to Bryant and Milles, both Warton and Tyrwhitt referred
appreciatively to the _Cursory Observations_. Warton found that he had
duplicated Malone’s method of rewriting Chatterton’s acknowledged
poetry. In a footnote, he said: “The ingenious author of _Cursory
Observations on the Poems of Rowley_, has been beforehand with me in
this sort of tryal. But mine was made, before I had seen his very
sensible and conclusive performance.”[35] Tyrwhitt went so far as to let
Malone speak for him: “From the _Language_, I might go on to examine the
_Versification_ of these Poems; but I think it sufficient to refer the
reader, who may have any doubts upon this point, to the specimens of
really ancient poetry, with which the verses of the pretended _Rowley_
have lately been very judiciously contrasted. Whoever reads those
specimens, if he has an ear, must be convinced, that the authors of them
and of the Poems did not live within the same period.”[36] A century
after Tyrwhitt, in a re-examination of the Rowley poems which is in many
ways the final word on the subject, W. W. Skeat recommended Tyrwhitt’s
_Vindication_, the chapter in Warton’s _History_, and the _Cursory
Observations_ as the three contemporary analyses of the poems which a
reader should consult.[37] The pamphlet is now offered to
twentieth-century readers as an illustration of the mature and versatile
critical powers of one of the eighteenth-century’s great scholars.


1. A good general account of the controversy can be found in
E. H. W. Meyerstein’s _A Life of Thomas Chatterton_ (London, 1930).
I wish to thank the University of Western Ontario for the grant
enabling me to work at the British Museum and Bodleian Library. I am
indebted to my colleague Herbert Berry for his useful suggestions.

2. _Poems, supposed to have been written at Bristol, by Thomas
Rowley and Others, in the Fifteenth Century; the greatest part now
first published from the most authentic copies, with an engraved
specimen of one of the MSS...._ The earliest advertisement that I
have seen for this edition is in the _London Chronicle_, No. 3158
(1-4 March 1777).

3. Until Professor James M. Osborn’s biography of Malone is ready,
Sir James Prior’s _Life_ (London, 1860) remains standard. Concerning
Malone’s private opinions about Rowley, see his letter to Charlemont
quoted below.

4. A convenient reprinting of this edition is _The Rowley Poems by
Thomas Chatterton_, ed. M. E. Hare (Oxford, 1911).

5. II (London, 1778), 139-164--perhaps more accessible in Richard
Price’s edition of the _History_, II (London, 1840), 338-360.

6. Letters from Francis Woodward to Lord Charlemont on 21 July 1778
and 8 April 1779 give brief accounts of the progress of Milles’
research. See the Twelfth Report of the Historical MSS Commission,
Appendix X: _The Manuscripts and Correspondence of James, First Earl
of Charlemont_ (London, 1891), I, 340-341 and 345.

7. An advertisement in the _St. James’s Chronicle_, No. 3233 (24-27
Nov.) says that the _Observations_ will be published “Saturday
next.” An advertisement in No. 3235 (29 Nov.-1 Dec.) says that the
_Observations_ “this day were published.” The latter phrase was
often used in consecutive advertisements of a work during this
period, but in view of the announcement in No. 3233, it would seem
that Bryant’s work did appear on 1 Dec.

8. Milles reprinted Tyrwhitt’s edition (except for the “Appendix,”
Tyrwhitt’s essay against the authenticity of the poems), correcting
the errata and adding a few new pieces. His commentary includes a
long answer to Tyrwhitt, a “Preliminary Dissertation,” introductions
to various poems, and footnotes throughout the text. Since 1782 is
the year imprinted on the title-page, bibliographies have always
given this as the year of publication. But No. 3239 of the _St.
James’s Chronicle_ (8-11 Dec. 1781) advertises the work as
published. A MS note by Joseph Haslewood in a pamphlet at the
British Museum (shelf-mark C.39.f.16) mentions his having seen a
copy of Milles’ work which Richard Gough obtained on 12 Dec. 1781.

9. _History_, ed. Price, II, 340.

10. _Rowley Poems_, ed. Hare, p. 311.

11. See Meyerstein, _Life_, pp. 472-474. Warton’s reply, advertised
in the _St. James’s Chronicle_ in No. 3280 (14-16 March 1782) to be
published “in a few Days,” was _An Enquiry into the Authenticity of
the Poems attributed to Thomas Rowley. In which the arguments of the
Dean of Exeter, and Mr. Bryant are examined_. Tyrwhitt’s reply,
first advertised in the _St. James_ in No. 3342 (6-8 Aug. 1782), was
_A Vindication of the Appendix to the Poems, called Rowley’s...._

12. The only earlier replies were obscure squibs in the newspapers.
See the _St. James’s Chronicle_, Nos. 3238 (6-8 Dec., against
Bryant), 3240 (11-13 Dec., against Bryant), and 3245 (22-25 Dec.,
against both).

13. LI (1781), 555-559, 609-615. On its publishing schedule during
the 18th century, see the _Gentleman’s Magazine_, N.S.,
I (July-Dec., 1856), 9. Neither the magazine nor the pamphlet
mentioned Malone’s authorship, but his hand in “the new Pamphlet,”
at least, was soon recognized (see the _St. James’s Chronicle_, No.
3268, 14-16 Feb. 1782). One can only speculate whether Malone and
Nichols were fellow plotters from the beginning. They seem to have
taken interest in each other’s work as early as 1779, when Nichols
printed for Malone special copies of some early analogues to
Shakespeare’s plays. See Albert H. Smith, “John Nichols, Printer and
Publisher,” _The Library_, 5th Ser., XVIII (1963), 182-183. And
evidently Nichols had an eye out for anti-Rowleian materials. At his
solicitation, Horace Walpole allowed the _Letter to the Editor of
the [Chatterton] Miscellanies_ (Strawberry Hill, 1779) to be
reprinted in the _Gentleman’s Magazine_ in 1782 (LII, 189-195,
247-250, 300, and 347-348).

14. Nichols’ printing operations are described in a pamphlet by
David Bond, _Friendship Strikingly exhibited in a New Light_
(London, 1781).

15. Charlemont Correspondence, I, 393-394. I wish to thank Professor
Osborn for calling my attention to this letter.

16. See the _Gentleman’s Magazine_, LII (1782), 14-15, and the _St.
James’s Chronicle_, Nos. 3257 (19-22 Jan.) and 3264 (5-7 Feb.).

17. _The Letters of Horace Walpole_, ed. Paget Toynbee, XII (Oxford,
1904), 152.

18. Concerning Walpole’s copy, see _Horace Walpole’s Correspondence_,
Yale Ed., ed. W. S. Lewis _et al._, XVI (New Haven, 1952), 363.
I have found no trace of any other version of the pamphlet, and it
is doubtful that there was time for one to be published between
8 Jan., when Malone wrote to Charlemont, and 31 Jan., the date of
the “Advertisement” printed in the “revised and augmented”
edition. We may presume that as editor of the magazine Nichols
would not be anxious for another printing of the essay during Jan.
to compete with two numbers in which the essay was a principal
feature. All copies of the pamphlet which I have been able to
locate specify “the second edition, revised and augmented.” In my
examination of six copies (at the Library of Congress, the
Bodleian, and the British Museum), I found variation only in the
catchword on p. 32. Although the first word on p. 33 is “comprise”
in all copies, the catchword in three copies (Bodleian, and
British Museum shelf-marks 687.g.33 and 78.i.9) is “contain,” the
word Malone used in the magazine. Since the copies are otherwise
identical, repeating distinctive flaws and errors (note, for
instance, “written,” p. 19), I judge that this discrepancy was
seen and corrected at press, and that all copies are of one

[[In this edition, the catchword is “comprise”.]]
[[P. 19: “undoubtedly writtten [_sic_] by one person”.]]

19. Besides the added paragraphs and footnotes, I have noted 235
separate textual changes. Undoubtedly some deviations in spelling
and punctuation were the printer’s work. But the number of changes
in quoted passages (see especially pp. 16 and 60) and the regularity
of changes (like those noted above) which evidently serve a
stylistic purpose suggest the author’s meticulous revision.

[[Page 16: “My love is dead...” and following.]]
[[Page 60: Footnote X.]]

20. In reference to Bryant’s _Observations_ (advertised at 8s.),
Malone had said, “by an unwarrentable artifice of the bookseller, it
is divided into two, to furnish a pretence for demanding an uncommon
price.” Compare with this the statement on p. 2.

[[P. 2: “Many persons, no doubt, will be deterred by the size of
these works...”]]

21. LII (1782), 128.

22. See Malone’s letter of 19 Nov. 1782 in _Charlemont
Correspondence_, I, 422.

23. See Meyerstein, _Life_, p. 474, and Warton’s comment (n. 35).

24. The other passages are on pp. 19-22, 23, 25, 49-50, 51-57, and
57-58. The new footnotes are on pp. 10, 24-25, 29, 33, and 50.

[[Footnotes A, D, F, G, Q.]]

25. That he had quoted out of Warton’s _History_ the passages from
Hoccleve and Bradshaw, not having other texts readily at hand,
indicates Malone’s haste to publish the essay originally. He
retained the Hoccleve passage (p. 6); his point about Warton’s basis
of selection is effective. But, perhaps feeling that two such
citations weakened the point, he took the trouble to bring the
quotation from Bradshaw into conformity with the other examples.

[[“Aristotle, most famous philosofre...”]]

26. The reviewer for the _Gentleman’s Magazine_ commented that
Malone’s “levity” and his ridicule of “respectable characters” could
“only reflect on himself”--LII (1782), 128. According to Joseph
Haslewood (see n. 8), the magazine’s reviewer at this time was
Richard Gough, who devoted much of his life to antiquarian studies.
For the opposite reaction to Malone’s “cure,” see the _St. James’s
Chronicle_, No. 3289 (4-6 April 1782), and the _Critical Review_,
LIII (1782), 418.

27. _Strictures Upon a Pamphlet entitled, Cursory Observations on
the Poems attributed to Rowley, A Priest of the Fifteenth Century_
(London, 1782), p. 3.

28. No. 3311 (25-28 May). In a vol. of clippings at the British
Museum relating to the controversy (shelf-mark C.39.h.20), Joseph
Haslewood wrote “E. Malone” beneath this poem. Haslewood attributed
certain other items in the _St. James_ at this time to “G. Steevens”
and appears to have been reporting first-hand information.

29. Today scholars attribute the _Epistle_ to William Mason, whose
letters to Walpole certainly imply that he wrote it but was zealous
to conceal the fact. See _Walpole’s Correspondence_, ed. W. S.
Lewis, XXIX (New Haven, 1955), 168-169, 175, 182, 189-190, 199-200;
and Philip Gaskell, _The First Editions of William Mason_
(Cambridge, 1951), p. 26. The man who published the _Epistle_,
however, says confidently, “this admirable Poem, very generally
ascribed at the time to Mr. Mason, was written by John Baynes, Esq.
and handed to the press by his intimate friend John Watson Reed,
Esq.” Mason’s furtiveness may, of course, have fooled even the
publisher. The periodicals of the day bear out at least Nichols’
word (contrary to what Gaskell says) that the work was immediately
received as Mason’s. Besides this pamphlet and Malone’s, Nichols
printed Tyrwhitt’s _Vindication_ (for the publishers T. Payne and
Son). In a letter to Nichols on 18 March 1782, George Steevens
commented, “Your house seems to be the forge from which
Anti-Rowleian thunders of every kind are to be issued.” For all of
the above information, see Nichols’ _Literary Anecdotes_, VIII
(London, 1815), 113.

30. No. 3257 (19-22 Jan. 1782).

31. _Walpole’s Correspondence_, ed. Lewis, XXIX, 195.

32. LII (1782), 379-381.

33. A series of articles on this very topic in Malone’s article
illustrates how elusive such proofs were. See the _Gentleman’s
Magazine_, LI (1781), 609; LII (1782), 76, 168, 229, 434, 471; LIII
(1783), 38-39, 127.

34. _Critical Review_, LIII (1782), 418-419.

35. _Enquiry_, pp. 92-93.

36. _Vindication_, p. 82. A footnote refers the reader to the
_Cursory Observations_.

37. _The Poetical Works of Thomas Chatterton_, II (London, 1890), xlv.


Edmond Malone’s _Cursory Observations on the Poems Attributed to
Thomas Rowley_ is reproduced from a copy at the Beinecke Library of
Yale University.


On The


Attributed To


A PRIEST of the Fifteenth Century:



On the COMMENTARIES on those Poems,
by the Rev. Dr. JEREMIAH MILLES, Dean of
Exeter, and JACOB BRYANT, Esq;



Addressed to the Friends of those Gentlemen.

The Second Edition, Revised And Augmented.

---- _Ridentem dicere verum
Quid vetat?_ HOR.


Printed for J. NICHOLS, and sold by J. WALTER, Charing
Cross; R. FAULDER, New Bond street; J. SEWELL, Cornhill;
and E. NEWBERY, Ludgate street.


[Price One Shilling and Six-Pence]


The following Observations having met with a more favourable reception
than so hasty an Essay had any title to claim, I have endeavoured to
render them less imperfect by a revisal, and by adding such new remarks
as a more attentive examination of a very copious subject has suggested.

In the discussion of any other question, I should have treated the
gentlemen whose arguments I have endeavoured to confute, with that
ceremonious respect to which Literature is entitled from all her sons.
“A commentator (as the most judicious critick of the present age has
observed) should be grave;” but the cause of Rowley, and the mode in
which it has been supported, are “too risible for any common power of

_January 31, 1782._

on the
attributed to

Never surely was the course marked out by our great Satirist-- _And
write about it, Goddess, and about it_-- more strictly followed, than in
the compositions which the present _Rowleiomania_ has produced. Mercy
upon us! Two octavo volumes and a huge quarto, to prove the forgeries of
an attorney’s clerk at Bristol in 1769, the productions of a priest in
the fifteenth century! ----Fortunate Chatterton! What the warmest wishes
of the admirers of the greatest Genius that England ever produced have
not yet effected, a magnificent and accurate edition of his works, with
notes and engravings, the product of thy fertile brain has now obtained.
--It is almost needless to say, that I allude to two new publications by
Mr. Bryant, and the Dean of Exeter; in the _modest_ title of one of
which, _the authenticity_ of the poems attributed to Thomas Rowley is
said to be _ascertained_; the other gentleman indeed does not go so
far-- he only _considers and defends their antiquity_. --Many persons,
no doubt, will be deterred by the size of these works from reading them.
It is not, however, so great as they may imagine; for Mr. Bryant’s book
is in fact only a moderate octavo, though by dextrous management it has
been divided into two volumes, to furnish an excuse (as it should seem)
for demanding an uncommon price. Bulky, however, as these works are,
I have just perused them, and entreat the indulgence of those who think
the discussion of a much controverted literary point worth attention,
while I lay before them some observations on this inexhaustible subject.

And, first, I beg leave to lay it down as a fixed principle, that the
authenticity or spuriousness of the poems attributed to Rowley cannot be
decided by any person who has not a _taste_ for English poetry, and a
moderate, at least, if not a critical, knowledge of the compositions of
most of our poets from the time of Chaucer to that of Pope. Such a one
alone is, in my opinion, a competent judge of this matter; and were a
jury of twelve such persons empaneled to try the question, I have not
the smallest doubt what would be their almost instantaneous decision.
Without this critical knowledge and taste, all the Saxon literature that
can be employed on this subject (though these learned gentlemen should
pour out waggon instead of cart-loads of it,) will only puzzle and
perplex, instead of illustrating, the point in dispute. Whether they are
furnished with any portion of this critical taste, I shall now examine.
But that I may not bewilder either my readers or myself, I will confine
my observation to these four points. 1. The verification of the poems
attributed to Rowley. 2. The imitations of modern authours that are
found in them. 3. The anachronisms with which they abound. 4. The
hand-writing of the Mss.-- the parchments, &c.

I. It is very obvious, that the first and principal objection to the
antiquity of these poems is the smoothness of the versification.
A series of more than three thousand lines, however disfigured by old
spelling, flowing for the most part as smoothly as any of Pope’s-- is a
difficult matter to be got over. Accordingly the learned Mythologist,
Mr. Bryant, has laboured hard to prove, either, that other poets of the
fifteenth century have written as smoothly, or, if you will not allow
him this, that Rowley was a prodigy, and wrote better than all his
contemporaries; and that this is not at all incredible, it happening
very frequently. And how, think you, gentle reader, he proves his first
point? He produces some verses from Spenser, written about the year
1571; some from Sir John Cheke, written in 1553; and others from Sir H.
Lea, master of the Armoury to queen Elizabeth. These having not the
smallest relation to the present question, I shall take no notice of
them. He then cites some verses of blind Harry, (who knows not blind
Harry?) written in the time of King Edward IV.; and some from _the
Pilgrimage of the Soul_, printed by Caxton in 1483. I will not encumber
my page by transcribing them; and will only observe, that they do not at
all prove the point for which they are adduced, being by no means
harmonious. But were these few verses ever so smooth, they would not
serve to decide the matter in controversy. The question is not, whether
in Chaucer, or any other ancient English poet, we can find a _dozen_
lines as smooth as

“Wincing she was, as is a jolly colt,
“Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt--”

but whether we can find _three thousand_ lines as smooth as these;
containing the same rythm, the very collocation and combination of words
used in the eighteenth century.

Let us bring this matter to a very fair test. Any quotation from
particular parts of old poetry is liable to suspicion, and may be
thought to be selected by the advocates on one side as remarkably
harmonious, or by those on the other as uncommonly rugged and uncouth.
I will therefore transcribe the first four lines of as many ancient
poems as are now lying before me; and I request that they may be
compared with the opening of _the Battle of Hastings_, No. 1, the piece
which happens to stand first in the new quarto edition of Chatterton’s

Divested of its old spelling, which is only calculated to mislead the
reader, and to assist the intended imposition, it begins thus:

“O Christ, it is a grief for me to tell
“How many a noble earl and val’rous knight
“In fighting for king Harold nobly fell,
“All slain in Hastings’ field, in bloody fight.”

Or, as Chatterton himself acknowledged this to be a forgery, perhaps it
will be more proper to quote the beginning of _the Battle of Hastings_,
No. 2, which he asserted to be a genuine, ancient composition:

“O Truth! immortal daughter of the skies,
“Too little known to writers of these days,
“Teach me, fair saint, thy passing worth to prize,
“To blame a friend, and give a foeman praise.”

The first four lines of _the Vision of Pierce Plowman_, by William
(or Robert) Langland, who flourished about the year 1350, are as
follows: [I quote from the edition printed in 1561.]

“In a summer season, when set was the sunne,
“I shope me into shroubs, as I a shepe were,
“In habit as an hermet, unholye of werkes,
“Went wide in the werlde, wonders to here.”

Chaucer, who died in 1400, opens thus: [Tyrwhitt’s edit. 1775.]

“Whanne that April with his shoures sote
“The droughte of March hath perced to the rote,
“And bathed every veine in swiche licour,
“Of whiche vertue engendred is the flour--.”

The _Confessio Amantis_ of Gower, who died in 1402, begins thus:
[Berthelette’s edit. 1532.]

“I maye not stretche uppe to the heven
“Myn honde, ne set al in even
“This worlde, whiche ever is in balaunce,
“It stant not in my suffisaunce----.”

Of Occleve’s translation of Egidius _de Regimine principum_, not having
it before me, I cannot transcribe the first lines. But here are the
first that Mr. Warton has quoted from that poet, and he probably did not
choose the worst.

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