Thomas Chatterton – suicide visionary. Bristol boy poet. Petulant
anti-hero. Dark angel. The marvellous boy, according to Wordsworth.
The poet's poet.
“Hey, Chatterton! What are you rebelling against?”
“What've you got?”
Thomas Chatterton, the poet whose death as immortalised in Henry
Wallis's painting is better known than any of his actual poems. The
poet whose statue stands (or rather, sits) at Bristol Harbourside,
though his works remain unread and unknown by most who pass by it.
Thomas Chatterton, one of Bristol's most famous sons though few know
very little about apart from him being a suicide.
'What is war and all its joys? Useless mischief, empty noise.
are arms and trophies won? Spangles glittering in the sun.
Rosy Bacchus, give me wine. Happiness is only thine.'
From Chatterton's poem A Bacchanalian, written in 1769 when he was
just 16 years of age. Make of these lines what you will but if
nothing else they tell us a little something about Chatterton that
pulls him away from the grip of academia.
And so too the following lines from his poem The Defence:
'If in myself I think my notion just, The Church and all her
arguments are dust.
but Opinion's bastard son, a perfect mystery, more than three in one.
the man whose reason bids him see, Mankind are by the state of nature
Who, thinking for himself despises those, that would upon his
better sense impose.'
Chatterton was a nonconformist. A dissenter, a freethinker, a free
spirit, a misfit, and an outsider. Chatterton was a rebel. Born into
poverty in 1752, at the age of 8 he was put into one of Edward
Colston's charity schools where by all accounts the pupils were
treated no better than criminals in a prison. At the age of 10 he
began to write poetry. At age 15 he left the school and was
apprenticed to a local attorney where he was tasked to copying legal
Chatterton had hated the oppression of the school and the teachers
there and likewise he hated the oppression of his workplace. No
wonder then that according to his biographers he felt something of a
grudge towards society and in particular towards figures of
His only solace was in reading and writing though being so young of
age and from an ill-educated background, nothing he ever wrote was
going to be taken seriously though it was plain to see he was in fact
in possession of a rare intelligence. Even perhaps, a rare genius? No
wonder then that he took to forgery, passing his writing off as being
written by a fictitious priest of the fifteenth century called Sir
And this, subsequently, is what Chatterton became known for: as being
the master faker. The forger supreme of poems.
At age 17, Chatterton set off for London to earn his living as a
writer. Six months later he was dead by his own hand, poisoned by
arsenic. His body found sprawled out on his bed in his attic room in
Holborn, torn up fragments of manuscripts strewn across the floor.
Nowadays there are two schools of thought regarding Chatterton's death, both
of which actually have very little foundation. Indeed, because the
records of the inquest have long been lost there is very little
evidence of anything. Even his unmarked grave has been lost to time.
One of the schools of thought says that Chatterton took his life due
to him not making any headway in London as a writer and him not
wanting to return to Bristol as a failure. It was pride that did for
him. The other school of thought says that Chatterton's death was in
actual fact an accident, brought about by him self-subscribing
arsenic to himself to help cure a dose of gonorrhoea.
To these, however, I would add a third thought: Chatterton's suicide
was intentional but committed as a final and ultimate act of defiance
against all that he'd been born into.
Chatterton would have known full well that suicide was viewed by the
Church, by his teachers at his school and by his employers, elders
and betters of Bristol as an act of wickedness. As blasphemy. As a
sin. An ultimate sin, even. All his life he had been mistreated by
authority, offering him nothing but drudgery, hypocrisy and
disrespect. Through his forgeries he had shown them all to be fools
and no better than him in any way; the difference being that they
were wealthy and he was penniless. Through his poems he had lambasted
the morals and beliefs of the day, as well as individuals such as
Horace Walpole whom Chatterton had once approached for patronage but
who had refused him in no uncertain terms.
What better way to cock a snook at the world than by removing himself
from it? What better way to express how little he cared for the
values of the world by refusing to take part in them?
Self-destruction – suicide – was the ultimate, big fuck off to
the world, to everyone in it and to everything held dear by everyone
“Hey, Chatterton! What are you rebelling against?”
“What've you got?”
Thomas Chatterton – suicide visionary. The marvellous boy...
A pale imitation of a shadow of the Bee Gees is better than no Bee
Gees at all, as they say. And like God, if the Bee Gees didn't exist
they would have to be invented. Which brings us neatly to Jive
Talkin' who, according to the Wakefield Express are the 'original
and best Bee Gees tribute act in the world'. And who would dare
argue with the Wakefield Express?
The Bee Gees, of course, were once anathema to a generation incubated
in the white heat of Punk Rock and suckled on the flaccid teats of
everything alternative when the word actually meant 'alternative' and
not just the same old shit covered in a layer of talcum powder.
Oh, how we laughed at those who took the Bee Gees seriously and who
saw them even as role models. Saturday Night Fever was in no way the
soundtrack to our lives as we vandalised the Council estates in which
we were born. Far from it. The Bee Gees were bereft of sex and drugs
and revolution and therefore held no meaning or appeal to us in the
When the mode of the music changes, however, the walls of the city
shake. The wheel of the world keeps on turning bringing everything
eventually full circle and here we all are now and just look where
we're at. Nowadays it seems the alternative to the 'alternative' is a
Bee Gees tribute act playing at the Exmouth Pavilion for £18.50 a
ticket. Who'd have thought?
And will I be there? You bet! With my Cuban heels, my feather boa and
my open-neck shirt I'll be dancing my clogs off and strutting my
stuff til the break of dawn and the sun is shining on the cow shed.
Seumas Milne's book starts in a somewhat surprising way: With a
telephone call to Arthur Scargill from Miles Copeland, the father of
Stewart Copeland, the drummer with The Police. Miles Copeland was a
retired senior CIA officer and he was warning Scargill that he was
being 'set up' by both MI5 and the CIA: “I don't like your views
and I never have,” said Copeland to Scargill “But I don't
agree with the way you're being treated.”
From her Downing Street bunker Thatcher had issued an order: 'Get
Scargill', and from this authorization a campaign had been launched
to destabilize and sabotage the NUM and destroy its elected leader.
The year was 1990 and led by the Daily Mirror under the editorship of
Robert Maxwell one of the most savage media and legal campaigns
against a public figure in Britain in recent times was being
launched. Scargill was being accused of stealing money meant for the
NUM donated by the Soviet Union and Libya. He had also apparently
asked Colonel Gaddafi if he could supply some guns to the NUM to help
during the great miners strike of 1984.
As has now been confirmed through the various memoirs of members of
the Thatcher government, the 1984 war against the miners was plotted,
planned and premeditated; born from a twenty year vendetta against
the NUM who had brought down past Tory governments. And indeed it was
a war - a class war, essentially. The world's most advanced mining
industry, billions of pounds of investment and one of the country's
most skilled and adaptable workforces was being sacrificed in the
service of a Tory vendetta and to remove a major obstacle in the road
to the privatisation of public utilities and the opening up of the
economy to market forces.
An interesting point that Milne raises early on in his book is in
regard to the notion that the miners strike was defeated. 'After the
defeat of the miners strike' is a phrase that every pundit uses
nowadays when referring to the period but where did it come from?
Yes, there was a stampede back to work in 1985 and yes, just as
Scargill had said would happen thousands upon thousands of miners
lost their jobs as coal mines were closed due to being – so the
Thatcher government insisted – uneconomic. Yes, the NUM was
decimated and the Conservatives won another election but in
Thatcher's eyes this didn't really constitute a defeat for the miners
and a victory for the Tories at all. The NUM was still there and
importantly, Arthur Scargill was still there which meant in
Thatcher's eyes 'the enemy within' was still there and though
wounded, had not actually been defeated.
Milne details the lengths the Conservatives went to in their war and
the way they utilized every tool in their box to ensure a victory,
from the mass mobilization of the police to the use of GCHQ and the
secret services. The miners strike may well have ended in 1985 but
come 1990 the war still wasn't over and though there was no longer
any need to physically take on the miners through the use of police
lines and baton charges, the war of attrition continued.
Looking back on it all now it's far easier to see the wood for the
trees and it's a pretty shameful sight. Arthur Scargill has been
vindicated and all the accusations levelled at him have been
disproved. In fact, he's come out as a man of great principle who
stood up for his class against those who would stamp it into
Shame, scorn and condemnation, however, upon all those who led the
chorus of denunciation and outrageous lies against Scargill and the
miners. How they live with themselves let alone sleep at night only
they can know. The newspaper columnists and pundits who slandered
Scargill mercilessly, one of them being Alistair Campbell who later
became, of course, Tony Blair's press secretary. The whole of the
Conservative government. The director-general of MI5 at the time,
Stella Rimington, and the rest of the intelligence services who
abused their powers and extended their remit no end. Roger Windsor,
the NUM's chief executive who in all likelihood was an MI5 spy. Roger
Cook, the investigative reporter who has never once apologised for
the outright lies he broadcast on his television show, The Cook
Report. Robert Maxwell, who himself stole £400 million from his own
companies' pension funds before entering a watery grave. And not
least of all, Neil Kinnock, the man whose finest hours consisted of
outbursts against members of his own Labour Party. The man who
presented the prizes at the British Press Awards in 1991 to the Daily
Mirror reporters whose winning story was an absolute pack of lies.
Shame, shame and shame again upon Kinnock.
The Enemy Within – The Secret War Against The Miners is
without any doubt an important book and the lessons to be learned
from it are equally as important, particularly in regard to Jeremy
Corbyn and the way the media these days constantly vilifies him. It
being, of course, a direct echo of the way it vilified Arthur
Scargill or indeed anyone it wishes to destroy. Subsequently, it
would be naïve to not believe the fingerprints of the intelligence
services are all over the Corbyn situation just as they were over the
There is indeed such a thing as 'the enemy within' but all the
evidence points to it not being the miners or Arthur Scargill or
anyone or anything the media presents it to be but the security
services of Great Britain and whatever government they're working
with at the time. Particularly if it's a Conservative one.