Fact, Fiction, Forgery: Thomas Chatterton and Literary Invention

Ever since his untimely death at 17, Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) has been one of England’s most fascinating literary figures. His “Rowley Poems”— pseudo-medieval poetry presented as the work of a 15th-century priest—is one of the most famous of all literary hoaxes. That England’s leading men of letters were so unprepared to expose it spurred important advances in textual scholarship. Yet underpinning Chatterton’s forgery was prodigious literary talent, tragically silenced by his presumed suicide. Such credentials made Chatterton irresistible to the Romantics and Pre-Raphaelites, who mythologized him in their own poetry, and Chatterton continues to inspire artists intrigued by issues of literary authenticity and invention. This exhibition traces Chatterton’s career and enduring influence through items from a major new acquisition.