A passage from the book... Edmond Malone's Cursory Observations was the most timely publication in the Rowley controversy. His work appeared just as the debate over the authenticity of the poems attributed to a fifteenth-century priest was, after twelve years, entering its most crucial phase.1 These curious poems had come to the attention of the reading public in 1769, when Thomas Chatterton sent several fragments to the Town and Country Magazine. The suicide of the young poet in 1770 made his story of discovering ancient manuscripts all the more intriguing. When Thomas Tyrwhitt published the first collected edition in March of 1777,2 speculation about whether the poems were the work of Rowley or Chatterton began in earnest. Malone arrived in London two months later to take up permanent residence, and very likely he soon became in private "a professed anti-Rowleian."3 But during the late 1770's, although anonymous writers filled the periodicals with pronouncements on both sides of the question, there was no urgent need to demonstrate that the poems were spurious. The essay which Tyrwhitt appended to the third edition of Rowley poems in 17784 and Thomas Warton's chapter in his History of English Poetry5 seemed to show with sufficient authority that the poems could not have been written in the fifteenth century. The Rowleians, however, were diligently preparing their arguments,6 and late in 1781 they at last came forward with massive scholarly support for the Rowley story.
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