• ‘O Bristol, be worthy of your worthiest sons’: John Gregory, St Mary Redcliffe and the Memorialisation of Thomas Chatterton

    John Goodridge (see profile)
    English language, History, Romanticism
    Item Type:
    English, Victorian culture
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    This essay examines the poetry of John Gregory (1831-1922) focusing on his four ‘Sonnets on Chatterton's Church, Bristol' (1877) and verses ‘Concerning Chatterton' (1908). In the long history of tributary poems to the Redcliffe poet Thomas Chatterton (1752-70), Gregory's are distinctive. The sonnet sequence celebrates the church that had inspired Chatterton's mock-medieval ‘Rowley' poems, before demanding that its doors be thrown open to re-admit the spirit of the poet, whose statue then stood on unconsecrated ground, reflecting ambivalent local feeling about this perceived ‘forger' and ‘suicide' (an ambivalence that continues). The later poem forms a sequel to the sonnets, bringing the Chatterton statue imaginatively to life so that the earlier poet can make his own posthumous ‘wail' for fairer treatment from his erstwhile community. Predominant in these poems is the desire to re-localise and re-socialise Chatterton's spirit and art. As a radical socialist and a Christian Gregory saw the church, with its fine ring of twelve bells and beautiful medieval craftsmanship, as a place that could inspire those in humble life like Chatterton and himself to ‘look up' and aspire to more, and could reinstate Chatterton's lonely art into the joyfully socialised world of Gregory's political and social milieu. As well as a poet, a shoemaker and a singer-musician, Gregory was a pioneering figure in the development of an independent working-class movement in Bristol, a passionate speaker against capital punishment and war. His call for Chatterton's readmission into Bristol culture is fired with his campaigning instincts and remains relevant.
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    2 years ago
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