Page:EB1911 - Volume 06.djvu/23

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10
CHATTERTON


The Bande Malaram hymn is apparently addressed to both idols.”

The poem, then, is the work of a Hindu idealist who personified Bengal under the form of a purined and spiritualized Kali. Of its thirty-six lines, partly written in Sanskrit, partly in Bengali, the greater number are harmless enough. But if the poet sings the praise of the “ Mother ”

“As Lachmi, bowered in the flower
That in the water grows,

he also praises her as “Durga, bearing ten weapons, ” and lines 10, 11 and 12 are capable of very dangerous meanings in the mouths of unscrupulous agitators. Literally translated these run, “She has seventy millions of throats to sing her praise, twice seventy millions of hands to fight for her, how then is Bengal powerless?” As S. M. Mitra points out (Indian Problems, London, 1908), this language is the more significant as the Bands Mataram in the novel was the hymn by singing which the Sannyasis gained strength when attacking the British forces.

During Bankim Chandra Chatterji's lifetime the Bande M alaram, though its dangerous tendency was recognized, was not used as a party war-cry; it was not raised, for instance, during the Ilbert Bill agitation, nor by the students who flocked round the court during the trial of Surendra Nath Banerji in 1883. It has, however, obtained an evil notoriety in the agitations that followed the partition of Bengal. That Bankim Chandra himself foresaw or desired any such use of it is impossible to believe. According to S. M. Mitra, he composed it “in a fit of patriotic excitement after a good hearty dinner, which he always enjoyed. It was set to Hindu music, known as the Mallar-Kawali-Tal. The extraordinarily stirring character of the air, and its ingenious assimilation of Bengali passages with Sanskrit, served to make it popular.”

Circumstances have made the Bande M alaram the most famous and the most widespread in its effects of Bankim Chandra's literary works. More permanent, it may be hoped, was the wholesome influence he exercised on the number of literary men he gathered round him, who have left their impress on the literature of Bengal. In his earlier years he served his apprenticeship in literature under Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, the chief poet and satirist of Bengal during the earlier half of the 19th century. Bankim Chandra's friend and colleague, Dina Bandhu Mitra, was virtually the founder of the modern Bengali drama. Another friend of his, Hem Chandra Banerji, was a poet of recognized merit and talent. And among the younger men who venerated Bankim Chandra, and benefited by his example and advice, may be mentioned two distinguished poets, Nalein Chandra Sen and Rabindra Nath Tagore.

Of Bankim Chandra's novels some have been translated into English by H. A. D. Phillips and by Mrs M. S. Knight.

CHATTERTON, THOMAS (1752-1770), English poet, was born at Bristol on the 20th of November 1752. His pedigree has a curious significance. The office of sexton of St Mary Redcliffe, at Bristol, one of the most beautiful parish churches in England, had been transmitted for nearly two centuries in the Chatterton family; and throughout the brief life of the poet it was held by his uncle, Richard Phillips. The poet's father, Thomas Chatterton, was a musical genius, somewhat of a poet, a numismatist, and a dabbler in occult arts. He was one of the sub chanters of Bristol cathedral, and master of the Pyle Street free school, near Redcliffe church. But whatever hereditary tendencies may have been transmitted from the father, the sole training of the boy necessarily devolved on his mother, who was in the fourth month of her widowhood at the time of his birth. She established a girls' school, took in sewing and ornamental needlework, and so brought up her two children, a girl and a boy, till the latter attained his eighth year, when he was admitted to Colston's Charity. But the Bristol blue-coat school, in which the curriculum was limited to reading, Writing, arithmetic and the Church Catechism, had little share in the education of its marvellous pupil. The hereditary race of sextons had come to regard the church of St Mary Redcliffe as their own peculiar domain; and, under the guidance of his uncle, the child found there his favourite haunt. The knights, ecclesiastics and civic dignitaries, recumbent on its altar tombs, became his familiar associates; and by and by, when he was able to spell his way through the inscriptions graven on their monuments, he found a fresh interest in certain quaint oaken chests in the muniment room over the porch on the north side of the nave, where parchment deeds, old as the Wars of the Roses, long lay unheeded and forgotten. They formed the child's playthings almost from his cradle. He learned his first letters from the illuminated capitals of an old musical folio, and learned to read out of a black-letter Bible. He did not like, his sister said, reading out of small books. Wayward, as it seems, almost from his earliest years, and manifesting no sympathy with the ordinary pastimes of children, he was regarded for a time as deficient in intellect. But he was even then ambitious of distinction. His sister relates that on being asked what device he would like painted on a bowl that was to be his, he replied, “Paint me an angel, with wings, and a trumpet, to trumpet my name over the wor1d.” From his earliest years he was liable to fits of abstraction, sitting for hours in seeming stupor, or yielding after a time to tears, for which he would assign no reason. He had no one near him to sympathize in the strange world of fancy which his imagination had already called into being; and circumstances helped to foster his natural reserve, and to beget that love of mystery which exercised so great an influence on the development of his genius. 'When the strange child had attained his sixth year his mother began to recognize his capacity; at eight he was so eager for books that he would read and write all day long if undisturbed; and in his eleventh year he had become a contributor to Felix Farley's Bristol Journal. The occasion of his confirmation inspired some religious poems published in this paper. In 1763 a beautiful cross of curious workmanship, which had adorned the churchyard of St Mary Redcliffe for upwards of three centuries, was destroyed by a churchwarden. The spirit of veneration was strong in the boy, and he sent to the local journal on the 7th of January 1764 a clever satire on the parish Vandal. But his delight was to lock himself in a little attic which he had appropriated as his study; and there, with books, cherished parchments, saved from the loot of the muniment room of St. Mary Redcliffe, and drawing materials, the child lived in thought with his 15th-Century heroes and heroines. The first of his literary mystification's, the duologue of “Elinoure and Inga,” was written before he was twelve years old, and he showed his poem to the usher at Colston's hospital, Thomas Phillips, as the work of a 15th-century poet.

Chatterton remained an inmate of Colston's hospital for upwards of six years, and the slight advantages gained from this scanty education are traceable to the friendly sympathy of Phillips, himself a writer of verse, who encouraged his pupils to write. Three of Chatterton's companions are named as youths whom Phillips's taste for poetry stimulated to rivalry; but Chatterton held aloof from these contests, and made at that time no confidant of his own more daring literary adventures. His little pocket-money was spent in borrowing books from a circulating library; and he early ingratiated himself with book collectors, by whose aid he found access to Weever, Dugdale and Collins, as well as to Speght's edition of Chaucer, Spenser and other books.

His “Rowleian” jargon appears to have been chiefly the result of the study of John Kersey's Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum, and Prof. W. W. Skeat seems to think his knowledge of even Chaucer was very slight. His holidays were mostly spent at his mother's house; and much of them in the favourite retreat of his attic study there. He had already conceived the romance of Thomas Rowley, an imaginary monk of the 15th century, and lived for the most part in an ideal world of his own, in that elder time when Edward IV. was England's king, and Master William Canynge-familiar to hin1 among the recumbent effigies in Redcliffe church-still ruled in Bristol's civic chair. Canynge is represented as an enlightened patron of literature, and Rowley's dramatic interludes were written for