In this article, I examine how notions of charity shaped eighteenth-century literature. I begin by examining Horace Walpole’s philanthropy, which I argue belied his posthumous reputation for miserliness, and proceed to trace the theme of charity in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), looking closely at the role of St. Nicholas, patron saint of gift-giving, who intervenes at crucial moments in the plot. I then reexamine Chatterton’s approach to Walpole in 1769 seeking patronage for his pseudo-medieval “Rowley” poems. Walpole’s infamous rejection stemmed in large part, I suggest, from his view that Chatterton, as a paid apprentice, was simply not entitled to a handout. Chatterton disagreed. A major revaluation of Chatterton’s “Rowley” poem, “An Excelente Balade of Charitie” (1769), follows. The poem, traditionally seen as a cry of despair, should rather be understood as a vigorous, indignantly satirical reworking of the Good Samaritan parable at Walpole’s expense. I conclude with reflections on how Walpole and Chatterton’s disagreement affected later ideas of charity for impoverished authors, and on the ways in which individual charitable practices might be said to influence literary form.

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