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the poem. This deficiency is amply supplied by the masterly pencil of Dr. Young, who, like a good philosopher, has invincibly proved the immortality of man, from the grandeur of his conceptions and the meanness and misery of his state ; for this reason, a few passages are selected from the Night Thoughts, which, with those from Akenside, seem to form a complete view of the powers, situation, and end of man.' Exercises for Improvement in Elocution, p. 66.
His other poems are now to be considered, but a short consideration will despatch them. It is not easy to guess why he addicted himself so diligently to lyric poetry, having neither the ease and airiness of the lighter nor the vehemence and elevation of the grander ode. When he lays his ill-fated hand upon his harp, his former powers seem to desert him : he has no longer his luxuriance of expression nor variety of images. His thoughts are cold and his words inelegant. Yet such was his love of lyrics that, having written with great vigour and poignancy his Epistle to Curio, he transformed it afterwards into an ode, disgraceful only to its author.
Of his odes nothing favourable can be said ; the sentiments commonly want force, nature, or novelty; the diction is sometimes harsh and uncouth; the stanzas ill-constructed and unpleasant, and the rhymes dissonant, or unskilfully disposed, too distant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to established use, and therefore perplexing to the ear, which in a short composition has not time to grow familiar with an innovation.
To examine such compositions singly, cannot be required, they have doubtless brighter and darker parts; but when they are once found to be generally dull, all further labour may
be spared, for to what use can the work be criticised that will not be read?
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 at 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 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 troublesome 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 doubtless 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 injudicious waste of money upon a new house, so much lessened his fortune that Gray thought himself too poor to study the law. He therefore 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, Jexcept a short residence at London, the rest of his life.
About this time 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 will confirm. It was certainly no loss to the English stage that Agrippina was never finished.
In this year (1742) Gray seems first to have applied himself 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. 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 his 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
purpose than of improving and amusing
himself, when Mr. Mason, being elected fellow of Pembroke Hall, brought him 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 his 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 fragments which remain have many excellent lines.
His next production (1750) was his far-famed Elegy in the Churchyard, 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 his 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 he 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.
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, he had the honour of refusing the laurel, which was then bestowed on Mr. Whitehead.
His curiosity, not long after, drew him away 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 the Professor of Modern History at Cambridge died, he was, as he says, cockered and spirited up, till he asked it of Lord Bute, who sent him a civil refusal ; and the place was given to Mr. Brocket, the tutor of Sir James Lowther.
His constitution was weak, and believing that his health was promoted by exercise and change of place, he undertook (1765) a journey into Scotland, of which his account, so far as it extends, is very curious and elegant; for, as his comprehension was ample, his curiosity extended to all the works of art, all the appearances of nature, and all the monuments of past events. He naturally contracted a friendship with Dr. Beattie, whom he found a poet, a philosopher, and a good man. The Mareschal College at Aberdeen offered him the degree of Doctor of Laws, which, having omitted to take it at Cambridge, he thought it decent to refuse.
What he had formerly solicited in vain, was at last given him without solicitation. The Professorship of History became again vacant, and he received (1768) an offer of it from the Duke of Grafton. He accepted, and retained it to his death, always designing lectures but never reading them, uneasy at his neglect of duty and appeasing his uneasiness with designs of reformation, and with a resolution which he believed himself to have made of resigning the office if he found himself unable to discharge it.
Ill health made another journey necessary, and he visited (1769) Westmoreland and Cumberland. He that reads his