On the way from the house to the lavatories at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire there is a disconcerting moment when one comes upon a recumbent marble figure at the base of the garden wall. It appears that an eighteenth-century gent has fallen from the top of the wall and expired.
In fact, the statue is a reproduction of Henry Wallis’ painting ‘The Death of Chatterton’, which hangs in Tate Britain.
Thomas Chatterton (1752-70) was the sad, unregarded poet who passed off his work as “The Rowlie Poems”, the rediscovered work of a fifteenth-century monk.
He was found dead of arsenic poisoning in his London attic at the age of seventeen.
Horace Walpole took against what he saw as a literary fraud, but Keats dedicated his ‘Endymion’ to Chatterton’s memory, and Wordsworth thought well enough of his talent to describe him as “the marvellous boy”.
How his statue came to Kedleston – or who sculpted it – remains obscure. Apparently Lady Ottilie Scarsdale, wife of the second viscount, found it in pieces in the yard of a monumental mason, and bought it.
I admire her wit in positioning it where it startles passers-by. It’s something to chat about.
For visitor information about Kedleston Hall see http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kedleston-hall.