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His next production (1750) was his far-famed Elegy in the Church-yard, which, finding its way into a Magazine, firft, I believe, made him known to the publick.
An invitation from lady Cobham about this time gave occafion to an odd compofition called a Long Story, which adds little to Gray's character.
Several of his pieces were published (1753), with defigns by Mr. Bentley, and, that they might in fome form or other make a book, only one fide of cach leaf was printed. I believe the poems and the plates recommended each other fo well, that the whole impreffion was foon bought. This year he loft his mother.
Some time afterwards (1756) fome young men of the college, whofe chambers were near his, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and, as is faid, by pranks yet more offenfive and contemptuous. This infolence, having endured it a while, he reprefented to the governors of the fociety, among whom perhaps he had no friends; and, finding his complaint little regarded, removed himself to Pembroke-hall.
In 1757 he published The Progrefs of Poetry and The Bard, two compofitions at which the readers of poetry were at first content to gaze in mute amazement. Some that tried them confeffed their inability to understand them, though Warburton faid that they were understood as well as the works of Milton and Shakfpeare, which it is the fashion to admire. Garrick wrote a few lines in their praife. Some hardy champions undertook to rescue them from neglect, and in
a fhort time many were content to be fhewn beauties which they could not fee.
Gray's reputation was now fo high, that, after the death of Cibber, he had the honour of refufing the laurel, which was then bestowed on Mr. Whitehead.
His curiofity, not long after, drew him away from Cambridge to a lodging near the Mufeum, where he refided near three years, reading and tranfcribing; and, fo far as can be difcovered, very little affected by two odes on Oblivion and Objcurity, in which his Lyrick performances were ridiculed with much contempt and much ingenuity.
When the Profeffor of Modern Hiftery at Cambridge died, he was, as he says, cockered and spirited up, till he afked it of lord Bute, who fent him a civil refufal; and the place was given to Mr. Brocket, the tutor of Sir James Lowther.
His conftitution was weak, and believing that his health was promoted by exercife and change of place, he undertook (1765) a journey into Scotland, of which his account, fo far as it extends, is very curious and elegant: for as his comprehenfion was ample, his curiofity extended to all the works of art, ali the appearances of nature, and all the monuments of paft events. He naturally contracted a friendship with Dr. Beattie, whom he found a poet, a philofopher, and a good man. The Marefchal College at Aberdeen offered him the degree of Doctor of Laws, which, having omitted to take it at Cambridge, he thought it decent to refufe.
What he had formerly folicited in vain, was at last given him without folicitation. The Profefforfhip of Hiftory 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 defigning lectures, but never reading them; uneafy at his neglect of duty, and appealing his uneafinefs with defigns of reformation, and with a refolution which he believed himfelf to have made of refigning the office, if he found himself unable to discharge it.
Ill health made another journey neceffary, and he vifited (1769) Weftmoreland and Cumberland. He that reads his epiftolary narration wishes, that to travel, and to tell his travels, had been more of his employment; but it is by ftudying at home that we muft obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.
His travels and his ftudies were now near their end, The gout, of which he had fuftained many weak attacks, fell upon his stomach, and, yielding to no medicines, produced ftrong convulfions, which (July 30, 1771) terminated in death.
His character I am willing to adopt, as Mr. Mafon has done, from a Letter written to my friend Mr. Bofwell, by the Rev. Mr. Temple, rector of St. Gluvias in Cornwall; and am as willing as his warmeft wellwifher to believe it true.
"Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. "He was equally acquainted with the elegant and "profound parts of fcience, and that not fuperfi"cially but thoroughly. He knew every branch of "hiftory, both natural and civil; had read all the "original hiftorians of England, France, and Italy;
and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphy"fics, morals, politics, made a principal part of his tudy; voyages and travels of all forts were his fa66 vourite
"vourite amusements; and he had a fine tafte in "painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. With "fuch a fund of knowledge, his converfation must “have been equally instructing and entertaining; but "he was also a good man, a man of virtue and hu"manity. There is no character without some speck, "fome imperfection; and I think the greatest defect "in his was an affectation in delicacy, or rather ef"feminacy, and a visible faftidioufnefs, or contempt "and difdain of his inferiors in fcience. He also
had, in fome degree, that weakness which difgufted Voltaire fo much in Mr. Congreve: though he "feemed to value others chiefly according to the pro"grefs they had made in knowledge, yet he could "not bear to be confidered himself merely as a man of "letters; and though without birth, or fortune, or "station, his defire was to be looked upon as a pri"vate independent gentleman, who read for his amufe"ment. Perhaps it may be faid, What fignifies fo "much knowledge, when it produced fo little? Is it "worth taking fo much pains to leave no memorial " but a few poems? But let it be confidered that Mr. "Gray was, to others, at least innocently employed; "to himself, certainly beneficially. His time paffed "agreeably; he was every day making fome new ac"quifition in fcience; his mind was enlarged, his "heart foftened, his virtue ftrengthened; the world "and mankind were fhewn to him without a mask;
and he was taught to confider every thing as trifling, "and unworthy of the attention of a wife man, except "the pursuit of knowledge and practice of virtue, in "that ftate wherein God hath placed us.'
To this character Mr. Mafon has added a more particular account of Gray's fkill in zoology. He has remarked, that Gray's effeminacy was affected moft before those whom he did not wish to please; and that he is unjustly charged with making knowledge his fole reafon of preference, as he paid his esteem to none whom he did not likewise believe to be good.
What has occurred to me from the flight inspection of his Letters in which my undertaking has engaged! me, is, that his mind had a large grafp; that his curiosity was unlimited, and his judgement cultivated; that he was a man likely to love much where he loved at all, but that he was faftidious and hard to please. His contempt however is often employed, where I hope it will be approved, upon fcepticism, and infidelity. His fhort account of Shaftesbury I will
"You fay you cannot conceive how lord Shaftesbury "came to be a philofopher in vogue; I will tell you:
firft, he was a lord; fecondly, he was as vain "as any of his readers; thirdly, men are very prone to believe what they do not underftand; "fourthly, they will believe any thing at all, pro"vided they are under no obligation to believe it; "fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when "that road leads no where; fixthly, he was reckoned "a fine writer, and feems always to mean more than "he faid. Would you have any more reasons? An "interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed "the charm. A dead lord ranks with commoners; "vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for a "new road is become an old one."