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[Gray's letters were chiefly addressed to his friends Richard West, Thomas Wharton, Horace Walpole, William Mason, and Norton Nichols. Some were published (in very imperfect form) by Mason in 1775; others in 1816, 1843, etc.]

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May 27, 1742.

MINE, you are to know, is a white melancholy, or rather leucocholy for the most part, which, though it seldom laughs or dances, nor ever amounts to what one calls joy or pleasure, yet is a good easy sort of state, and ça ne laisse que de s'amuser. The only fault is its insipidity, which is apt now and then to give a sort of ennui, which makes one form certain little wishes that signify nothing. But there is another sort, black indeed, which I have now and then felt, that has somewhat in it like Tertullian's rule of faith, Credo quia impossibile est; for it believes, nay, is sure of everything that is unlikely, so it be but frightful; and on the other hand excludes and shuts its eyes to the most possible hopes, and everything that is pleasurable. From this the Lord deliver us! for none but He and sunshiny weather can do it. In hopes of enjoying this kind of weather, I am going into the country for a few weeks, but shall be never the nearer any society; so, if you have any charity, you will continue to write. My life is like Harry the Fourth's supper of hens, "poulets à la broche, poulets en ragoût, poulets en hâchis, poulets en fricassées." Reading here, reading there; nothing but books with different sauces. Do not let me lose my dessert, then; for though that be reading too, yet it has a very different flavor.


Feb. 11, 1751.

As you have brought me into a little sort of distress, you must assist me, I believe, to get out of it as well as I can. Yesterday I had the misfortune of receiving a letter from certain

gentlemen (as their bookseller expresses it) who have taken the Magazine of Magazines into their hands. They tell me that an "ingenious" poem, called "Reflections in a Country Churchyard," has been communicated to them, which they are printing forthwith; that they are informed that the "excellent" author of it is I by name, and that they beg not only his "indulgence," but the "honor" of his correspondence, etc. As I am not at all disposed to be either so indulgent or so correspondent as they desire, I have but one bad way left to escape the honor they would inflict upon me; and therefore am obliged to desire you would make Dodsley print it immediately (which may be done in less than a week's time) from your copy, but without my name, in what form is most convenient for him, but on his best paper and character. He must correct the press himself, and print it without any interval between the stanzas, because the sense is in some places continued beyond them; and the title must be, "Elegy, written in a Country Church-yard." If he would add a line or two to say it came into his hands by accident, I should like it better. If you behold the Magazine of Magazines in the light that I do, you will not refuse to give yourself this trouble on my account, which you have taken of your own accord before now. If Dodsley do not do this immediately, he may as well let it alone.


January, 1753

I am at present at Stoke, to which place I came at half an hour's warning upon the news I received of my mother's illness, and did not expect to have found her alive; but when I arrived she was much better, and continues so. I shall therefore be very glad to make you a visit at Strawberry Hill, whenever you give me notice of a convenient time. I am surprised at the print,' which far surpasses my idea of London graving; the drawing itself was so finished that I suppose it did not require all the art I had imagined to copy it tolerably. My aunts, seeing me open your letter, took it to be a burying ticket, and asked whether anybody had left me a ring; and so they still conceive it to be, even with all their spectacles on. Heaven forbid they should suspect it to belong to any verses of mine,

1 The proof of a print designed for the Elegy, representing a funeral scene.

they would burn me for a poet. . . . This I know, if you suffer my head to be printed, you will infallibly put me out of mine. I conjure you immediately to put a stop to any such design. Who is at the expense of engraving it, I know not; but if it be Dodsley, I will make up the loss to him. The thing as it was, I know, will make me ridiculous enough; but to appear in proper person, at the head of my works, consisting of half a dozen ballads in thirty pages, would be worse than the pillory. I do assure you, if I had received such a book, with such a frontispiece, without any warning, I believe it would have given me a palsy. Therefore I rejoice to have received this notice, and shall not be easy till you tell me all thoughts of it are laid aside. . .


Sept. 18, 1754.

I rejoice to find you at last settled to your heart's content, and delight to hear you talk of giving your house some "Gothic ornaments" already. If you project anything, I hope it will be entirely within doors; and don't let me (when I come gaping into Coleman Street) be directed to the gentleman's at the Ten Pinnacles, or with the church porch at his door. I am glad you enter into the spirit of Strawberry Castle.1 It has a purity and propriety of Gothicism in it (with very few exceptions) that I have not seen elsewhere. The eating-room and library were not completed when I was there, and I want to know what effect they have. My Lord Radnor's vagaries, I see, did not keep you from doing justice to his situation, which far surpasses everything near it; and I do not know a more laughing scene than that about Twickenham and Richmond. . . .


Dec. 19, 1757.

Though I very well know the bland, emollient, saponaceous qualities of both sack and silver, yet if any great man would say to me, "I make you rat-catcher to his Majesty, with a salary of £300 a year and two butts of the best Malaga; and though it has been usual to catch a mouse or two, for form's sake, in pub

1 Walpole's country-seat. See his letter, page 469, below.

2 At the time when Gray's name had been mentioned for the vacant post of Poet Laureate.

lic once a year, yet to you, sir, we shall not stand upon these things," I cannot say I should jump at it. Nay, if they would drop the very name of the office, and call me Sinecure to the King's Majesty, I should still feel a little awkward, and think everybody I saw smelt a rat about me. But I do not pretend to blame any one else that has not the same sensations; for my part I would rather be sergeant trumpeter or pinmaker to the palace. Nevertheless I interest myself a little in the history of it, and rather wish somebody may accept it that will retrieve the credit of the thing, if it be retrievable, or ever had any credit. Rowe was, I think, the last man of character that had it. As to Settle, whom you mention, he belonged to my Lord Mayor, not to the king. Eusden was a person of great hopes in his youth, though at last he turned out a drunken parson. Dryden was as disgraceful to the office, from his character, as the poorest scribbler could have been from his verses. The office itself has always humbled the professor hitherto (even in an age when kings were somebody), if he were a poor writer by making him more conspicuous, and if he were a good one by setting him at war with the little fry of his own profession,- for there are poets little enough to envy even a poet laureate. . .


August 18, 1758.

You say you cannot conceive how Lord Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue. I will tell you. First, he was a lord; 2dly, he was as vain as any of his readers; 3dly, men are very prone to believe what they do not understand; 4thly, they will believe anything at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; 5thly, they love to take a new road, even when that road leads nowhere; 6thly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seemed always to mean more than he said. Would you have any more reasons? An interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks but with commoners; vanity is no longer interested in the matter, for the new road has become an old one. The mode of freethinking is like that of ruffs and farthingales, and has given place to the mode of not thinking at all. Once it was reckoned graceful half to discover and half conceal the mind, but now we have been long accustomed to see it quite naked; primness

and affectation of style, like the good breeding of Queen Anne's court, has turned to hoydening and rude familiarity. ..



I am so charmed with the two specimens of Erse poetry,1 that I cannot help giving you the trouble to enquire a little farther about them, and should wish to see a few lines of the original, that I may form some slight idea of the language, the measures, and the rhythm.

Is there anything known of the author or authors, and of what antiquity are they supposed to be? Is there any more to be had of equal beauty, or at all approaching to it? I have been often told that the poem called "Hardicanute"2 (which I always admired and still admire) was the work of somebody that lived a few years ago. This I do not at all believe, though it has evidently been retouched in places by some modern hand. But however, I am authorized by this report to ask whether the two poems in question are certainly antique and genuine. I make this inquiry in quality of an antiquary, and am not otherwise concerned about it; for if I were sure that any one now living in Scotland had written them, to divert himself and laugh at the credulity of the world, I would undertake a journey into the Highlands only for the pleasure of seeing him.

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If you have seen Stonehewer he has probably told you of my old Scotch (or rather Irish) poetry. I am gone mad about them. They are said to be translations (literal and in prose) from the Erse tongue, done by one Macpherson, a young clergyman in the Highlands. He means to publish a collection he has of these specimens of antiquity, if it be antiquity; but what plagues me is, I cannot come at any certainty on that head. I was so struck, so extasié with their infinite beauty, that I writ into Scotland to make a thousand inquiries. The letters I have in return are ill wrote, ill reasoned, unsatisfactory, calculated (one would imagine) to deceive one, and yet not cunning enough

1 Some of Macpherson's Ossianic papers, still unpublished.

Made public by Lady Elizabeth Wardlaw, and published in 1719 as an ancient poem; supposed to be largely her own work.

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