John Singleton Copley’s The Death of the Earl of Chatham has been discussed extensively by art historians, but little critical attention has been paid to written accounts of the debate between the Duke of Richmond and the Earl of Chatham nor the process by which they evolved into the strikingly uniform descriptions found in biographies of Chatham and in parliamentary histories both contemporary and modern. A letter from Walker King to Richard Burke, Jr., written within hours of the event, offers a compelling new perspective on what may have been said on the floor of Lords on 7 April 1778 and raises questions about the role of the London newspapers and journals in not only reporting parliamentary debates but also editorially controlling how they passed into history. The mysterious disappearance of inflammatory rhetoric found in more immediate newspaper reports suggests particular political reasons for such omissions and subsequent adjustments to the historical and visual record. Such findings in turn posit the desirability of an enhanced method for reconstructing parliamentary debates based on the accessibility of the digital Burney newspaper collection.

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