Imatges de pàgina



Born in Cornhill, London-Educated at Eton and Cambridge-Accompanies Horace Walpole

into Italy–His Quarrel with Pope-Publishes his ‘Elegy written in a Country Churchyard' -Its immediate popularity-Publishes his Odes-Refuses the Laurel-Made Professor of Modern History at Cambridge-Death and Burial at Stoke Pogeis in Buckinghamshire Works and Character.

Thomas Gray, the son of Mr. Philip Gray, a scrivener of London, was born in Cornhill, November 26, 1716. His grammatical education he received at Eton under the care of Mr. Antrobus, his mother's brother,' then assistant to Dr. George ; and when he left school, in 1734, entered a pensioner of Peterhouse in Cambridge.

The transition from the school to the college is, to most young scholars, the time from which they date their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness; but Gray seems to have been very little delighted with academical gratifications ; he liked at Cambridge

; neither the mode of life nor the fashion of study, and lived sullenly on to the time when his attendance on lectures was no longer required. As he intended to profess the Common Law, he took no degree.

When he had been at Cambridge about five years, Mr. Horace Walpole, whose friendship he had gained at Eton, invited him to travel with him as his companion. They wandered through France into Italy ; and Gray's letters contain a very pleasing account of many parts of their journey. But unequal friendships are easily dissolved : at Florence they quarrelled,' and parted ; and Mr. Walpole is now content to have it told that it was by his fault.' If we look, however, without prejudice on the world, we

1 Mr. William Antrobus died at Everden, Northamptonshire, 22nd May, 1742, and was buried in the chancel of that church, ? They quarrelled at Reggio. “I am conscious that in the beginning of tho difference between Gray and mo the fault

601 VOL. II.


shall find that men whose consciousness of their own merit sets them above the compliances of servility, are apt enough in their association with superiors to watch their own dignity with trouble some and punctilious jealousy, and in the fervour of independence to exact that attention which they refuse to pay. Part they did, whatever was the quarrel, and the rest of their travels was doubt. less more unpleasant to them both. Gray continued his journey in a manner suitable to his own little fortune, with only an occasional servant.

He returned to England in September, 1741, and in about two months afterwards buried his father ; who had, by an'injadicious waste of money upon a new house, so much lessened his fortune, that Gray thought himself too poor to study the law. He therefore

was mine. I was too young, too fond of my own diversions ; nay, I do not doubt, too much intoxicated by indulgence, vanity and the insolence of my situation as a Prime Minister's son, not to have been inattentive and insensible to the feelings of one I thought below me; of

one, I blush to say it, that I knew was obliged to me; of one whom presumption and folly perhaps, made me deem not my superior then in parts, though I have since felt my infinite inferiority to him. I treated him insolently: he loved me, and I did not think he did. I reproached him with the difference between us, when he acted from conviction of knowing be was my superior; I often disregarded his wishes of seeing places which I would not quit other amusements to visit, though I offered to send him to them without me. Forgive me if I say that his temper was not conciliating. At the same time that I will confess to you that he acted a more friendly part, had I had the sense to take advantage of it; he freely told me of my faults. I declared I did not desire to hear them, nor would correct them. You will not progder that with the dignity of his spirit, and the obstinate carelessness of mine, the breach mus have grown wider, till we became incompatible. After this confession, I fear you will think I full far short of the justice I promised him, in the words which I should wish to have substituted to some of yours. If you think them inadequate to the state of the case, as I owa they are, preserve this letter, and let some future Sir John Dalrymple produce it to load my memory."-WALPOLE to Mason, March 2, 1773.

“ The quarrel between Gray and me arose from his being too serious a companion. I had Just broke loose from the restraint of the University, with as much money as I could spend, and I was willing to indulge myself. Gray was for antiquities, &c., whilst I was for perpetual balls and plays: the fault was mine."—WALPOLE : Walpoliuna, vol. I. p. 95, art. cx.

Mr. Roberts, of the Pell Office, who was likely to be well informed, told me at Mr. Deacon's, 19th April, 1799, that the quarrel between Gray and Walpole was occasioned by a suspicioa Mr. Walpole entertained that Mr. Gray had spoken ill of him to some friends in England. To ascertain this he clandestinely opened a letter and re-sealed it, which Mr. Gray with great propriety resented: there seems to have been but little cordiality afterwards between them. - Iga AC REED: MS. Note in Wakefield's Life of Gray; Milford's Gray, il. 175. Compare Norton Nicholls's Reminiscences in Mitford's Gray,' v. 48.

• Philip Gray (the father) was born 27th July, 1676; died 6th November, 1741 ; and was buried in the church of St. Michael's, Cornhill, London. He was the son of Thomas and Alice Gray, and was baptized in the church of St. Olave, Hart Street, London. Dorothy Antrodas (the mother) made her will 23rd January, 1753. It commence

ences touchingly : “ In the name of God, Amen. This is the last will and desire of Dorothy Gray to her son Thomas Gray." She speaks of her “lining close," and desires to be buried in " lining” in a coffin of polished oak, with black pails, in the same vault with her sister, Mary Antrobus. The hearse was to be accompanied by one mourning coach. Gray's own request in his will is that he should be buried by the side of his mother " in a coffin of seasoned oak, neither lined nor covered." She died 11th March, 1753. The story of the wedded life of the father and mother of Gray is told in a Case submitted to counsel in 1735, when the poet was entering his twentieth year. See Appendix,




retired to Cambridge, where he soon after became Bachelor of Civil Law; and where, without liking the place or its inhabitants, or professing to like them, he passed, except a short residence in London, the rest of his life.

About this time (1742] he was deprived of Mr. West, the son of a chancellor of Ireland, a friend on whom he appears to have set a high value,' and who deserved his esteem by the powers which he shows in his letters and in the 'Ode to May' which Mr. Mason has preserved, as well as by the sincerity with which, when Gray sent him part of ' Agrippina,' a tragedy that he had just begun, he gave an opinion which probably intercepted the progress of the work, and which the judgment of every reader will confirm. It was certainly no loss to the English stage that ' Agrippina' was never finished.

In this year (1742) Gray seems first to bave applied bimself seriously to poetry; for in this year were produced the Ode to Spring,' his Prospect of Eton,' and his Ode to Adversity' He began likewise a Latin poem, ' De principiis cogitandi.''

It may be collected from the narrative of Mr. Mason, that his first ambition was to have excelled in Latin poetry; perhaps it were reasonable to wish that he had prosecuted bis design ; for though there is at present some embarrassment in his phrase, and some harshness in his lyric numbers, his copiousness of language is such as very few possess; and his lines, even when imperfect, discover a writer whom practice would quickly have made skilful.

He now lived on at Peterhouse, very little solicitous what others did or thought, and cultivated his mind and enlarged his views without any other purpose than of improving and amusing himself; when


• Richard West died in his 26th year. Mr. Mitford, I am glad to think, is collecting his works for publication.

• The Ode on Eton College was published in May, 1747, and was Gray's first English poem that was published.

When Gray published his exquisite Ode on Eton College-his first publication-little aotico was taken of it.-Jos. WARTON: Exsay on Pope, il. 230, ed. 1782.

* No; he began it at Florence in 1740.


Mr. Mason being elected Fellow of Pembroke Hall, brought aim a companion who was afterwards to be his editor, and whose fondness and fidelity has kindled in him a zeal of admiration which cannot be reasonably expected from the neutrality of a stranger, and the coldness of a critic.

In this retirement he wrote (1747) an ode on the 'Death of Mr. Walpole's Cat ;' and the year afterwards attempted a poem of more importance, on Government and Education, of which the frage ments which remain have many excellent lines.

His next production (1751) was his far-famed 'Elegy in the Church-yard,' which, finding its way into a Magazine, first, I believe, made him known to the public.''

An invitation from Lady Cobham about this time gave occasion to an odd composition called ' A Long Story,' which adds little to Gray's character.

Several of his pieces were published (1753), with designs by Mr. Bentley, and, that they might in some form or other make a book, only one side of each leaf was printed. I believe the poems and the plates recommended each other so well, that the whole impression was soon bought. This year he lost bis mother.

Some time afterwards (1756) some young men of the college, whose chambers were near his, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and, as is said, by pranks yet more offensive and contemptuous. This insolence, having endured it a while, he represented to the governors of the society, among whom perhaps he had no friends ; and finding his complaint little regarded, removed himself to Pembroke Hall.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

. Afterwards (1761) published in 4to. * An Elegy wrote in a Country Church Yard. Lone don : printed for R. Dodsley, in Pall-Mall; And sold by M. Cooper in Pater-noster-Row, 1731. Price Sixpence.' A fourth edition appeared the same year. • To Thomas Gray, Esq.

Sunday morning. SIR, - I am as much at a loss to bestow the commendations due to your Performance as any of our modern Poets wou'd be to imitate it. Ev'ry body that has seen it is charm'd, and Lady Cobham was the first (tho' not the last) that regretted the loss of the 500 stanzas. All that I can say is, your obliging intention in sending it has fully answer'd, as it not only gave u amusement the rest of the Evening, but always will upon reading it over. Lady Cobham and the rest of the Company hope to have yours tomorrow at din'er. I am, Sir, Your most obliged and obedient





In 1757 he published 'The Progress of Poetry' and 'The Bard, two compositions at which the readers of poetry were at first content to gaze in mute amazement." Some that tried them confessed their inability to understand them, though Warburton said that they were understood as well as the works of Milton and Shakespeare, which it is the fashion to admire. Garrick wrote a few lines in their praise. Some hardy champions undertook to rescue them from neglect, and in a short time many were content to be shown beauties which they could not see."

Gray's reputation was now so high, that, after the death of Cibber (1757], he had the honour of refusing the laurel, which was then bestowed on Mr. Whitehead.

His curiosity, not long after, drew him away (1759] from Cambridge to a lodging near the Museum, where he resided near three years, reading and transcribing ; and, so far as can be discovered, very little affected by two odes on 'Oblivion' and 'Obscurity' in which his lyric performances were ridiculed with much contempt and much ingenuity."

When [1762] the Professor of Modern History at Cambridge died, he was, as he says, “cockered and spirited up” till he asked it

[ocr errors]

10 Odes by Mr. Gray, "ANANTA SYNETOIEI.-Pindar, Olymp. ii. Printed at Straw berry Hill, for R. and J. Dodsley, in Pall-Mall, 1757, 4to. “The words of Pindar prefixed to them (Vocal to the Intelligent alone) were prophetic of their fate : very few understood them the multitude of all ranks called them unintelligible."-GRAY: MS. Note on his own copy, now (1854) in the possession of Mr. George Daniel of Canonbury.

11 Even my friends tell me that they (the Odes) do not succeed, and write me moving topics of consolation on that head. In short, I have heard of nobody but a player (Garrick) and a doctor of divinity (Warburton) that profess their esteem for them.”—GRAY to Dr. Hurd, Aug. 25, 1757.

" I yet reflect with pain upon the cool reception which those noble odes, 'The Progress of Poetry and The Bard,' met with at their first publication; it appeared that there were not twenty people in England who liked them."-WHARTON to Mason, May 29, 1781. (M8.)

“These two odes, it must be confessed, breathe much of the spirit of Pindar; but then they have caught the seeming obscurity, the sudden transition, and hazardous epithet of his mighty master, all which, though evidently intended for beauties, will probably be regarded as blemishes by the generality of his readers. In short, they are in some measure a representation of what Pindar now appears to be, though perhaps not what he appeared to the states of Greece, when they rivalled each other in his applause, and when Pan himself was seen danc. ing to his melody.”—GOLDSMITH: Monthly Reviow for Sept. 1757; Works by Cunningham, Iv. 316.

13 By Colman and Lloyd. The 'Ode to Obscurity' was directed chiefly against Gray; that to 'Oblivion against Mason.

“It was some time after publication before the 'Odes' of Gray were relished and admired. They were even burlesqued by two men of wit and genius, who, however, once owned to me that they repented of the attempt "-Jos. WARTON : Popo's Works, I. 286.

« AnteriorContinua »