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* In silent gaze the tuneful choir among,
And, lessening from the dazzled sight,
Yesterday the sullen year
Saw the snowy whirlwind fly;
Fixed by his touch, a lasting essence take; The herd stood drooping by;
No yesterday nor morrow know;
"T'is man alone that joy descries The tardy rhymes, that used to linger on,
With forward and reverted eyes.
Smiles on past misfortune's brow
And o'er the cheek of sorrow throw Ah! could they catch his strength, his easy grace,
A melancholy grace: His quick creation, his unerring line;
While hope prolongs our happier hour, The energy of Pope they might efface,
Or deepest shades, that dimly lour, And Dryden's harmony submit to mine.
And blacken round our weary way, But not to one in this benighted age
Gilds with a glearn of distant day. Is that diviner inspiration given,
Still where rosy pleasure leads, That burns in Shakspeare's or in Milton's page, See a kindred grief pursue, The pomp and prodigality of Heaven.
Behind the steps that misery treads As when conspiring in the diamond’s blaze,
Approaching comfort view; The meaner gems, that singly charm the sight,
The hues of bliss more brightly glow, Together dart their intermingled rays,
Chastised by sabler tints of wo; And dazzle with a luxury of light.
And blended form, with artful strife,
The strength and harmony of life. Enough for me, if, to some feeling breast
See the wretch, that long has tost My lines a secret sympathy impart,
On the thorny bed of Pain, And as their pleasing influence flows confessed,
At length repair his vigour lost. A sigh of soft reflection heave the heart.”
And breathe and walk again. It appears, by a letter to Dr. Wharton, that The meanest floweret of the vale, Gray finished his Ode on the Progress of Poetry
The simplest note that swells the gale, early in 1755; the Bard was also begun about the The common sun, the air, the skies, same time; and the following beautiful fragment To him are opening Paradise." on the pleasure arising from Vicissitude the
Our author's reputation, as a poet, was so high, next year. The merit of the two former pieces
that, on the death of Colley Cibber, in 1757, he was not immediately perceived, nor generally ac
had the honour of refusing the office of poet-lauknowledged. Garrick wrote a few lines in their praise. Lloyd and Colman wrote, in concert, two reat, to which he was probably induced by the Odes to “Oblivion” and “ Obscurity," in which disgrace brought upon it through the inability of
some who had filled it. they were ridiculed with much ingenuity.
His curiosity some time after drew him away Now the golden morn aloft
from Cambridge to a lodging near the British Weaves her dew-bespangled wing
Museum, where he resided near three years, readWith vermil cheek, and whisper soft,
ing and transcribing. She woos the tardy spring;
In 1762, on the death of Mr. Turner, professor Till April starts, and calls around
of modern languages and history at Cambridge, The sleeping fragrance from the ground,
he was, according to his own expression, "cockAnd lightly o'er the living scene
ered and spirited up" to apply to Lord Bute for Scatters his freshest tenderest green.
the succession. His lordship refused him with all
the politeness of a courtier, the office having been New-born flocks, in rustic dance,
previously promised to Mr. Brocket, the tutor of Frisking ply their feeble feet;
Sir James Lowther. Forgetful of their wintery trance,
His health being on the decline, in 1765, he The birds his presence greet;
undertook a journey to Scotland, conceiving he But chief the skylark warbles high
should derive benefit from exercise and change of His trembling, thrilling ecstasy;
situation. His account of that country, as far as it extends, is curious and elegant; for as his mind physicians, he removed from London to Kensing. was comprehensive, it was employed in the con- ton; the air of which place proved so salutary, templation of all the works of art, all the appear that he was soon enabled to return to Cambridge, ances of nature, and all the monuments of past whence he designed to make a visit to his friend, events,
Dr. Wharton, at Old Park, near Durham; inDuring his stay in Scotland he contracted a dulging a fond hope that the excursion would tend friendship with Dr. Beattie, in whom he found, as to the re-establishment of his health: but, alas ! he himself expresses it, a poet, a philosopher, and that hope proved delusive. On the 24th of July a good man. Through the intervention of his he was seized, while at dinner in the College-hall, friend the doctor, the Marischal College at Aber- with a sudden nausea, which obliged him to retire deen offered him the degree of doctor of laws, to his chamber. The gout had fixed on his stowhich he thought it decent to decline, having mach in such a degree as to resist all the powers omitted to take it at Cambridge.
of medicine. On the 29th he was attacked with In December, 1767, Dr. Beattie, still desirous a strong convulsion, which returned with increasthat his country should leave a memento of its re-ed violence the ensuing day; and on the evening gard to the merit of our poet, solicited his permis- of the 31st of May, 1771, he departed this life in sion to print, at the University of Glasgow, an the 55th year of his age. elegant edition of his works. Gray could not com- From the narrative of his friend, Mr. Mason, it ply with his friend's request, as he had given his appears, that Gray was actuated by motives of self promise to Mr. Dodsley. However, as a compli- improvement, and self gratification, in his applicament to them both, he presented them with a copy, tion to the Muses, rather than any view to pecucontaining a few notes, and the imitations of the niary emolument. His pursuits were in general old Norwegian poetry, intended to supplant the disinterested; and as he was free from avarice on Long Story, which was printed at first to illus- the one hand, so was he from extravagance on the trate Mr. Bently's designs.
other: being one of those few characters in the In 1768, our author obtained that office without annals of literature, especially in the poetical class, solicitation, for which he had before applied with- who are devoid of self interest, and at the same out effect. The professorship of languages and time attentive to economy: but Mr. Mason adds, history again became vacant, and he received an that he was induced to decline taking any advanoffer of it from the Duke of Grafton, who had suc- tage of his literary productions by a degree of pride, ceeded Lord Bute in office. The place was valua- which influenced him to disdain the idea of being ble in itself, the salary being 4001. a-year; but it thought an author by profession. was rendered peculiarly acceptable to Mr. Gray, It appears from the same narrative, that Gray as he obtained it without solicitation.
made considerable progress in the study of archiSoon after he succeeded to this office, the im- tecture, particularly the Gothic. He endeavoured paired state of his health rendered another journey to trace this branch of the science, from the period necessary; and he visited, in 1769, the counties of of its commencement, through its various changes, Westmoreland and Cumberland. His remarks on till it arrived at its perfection in the time of Henry the wonderful scenery which these northern re- VIII. He applied himself also to the study of gions display, he transmitted in epistolary jour- heraldry, of which he obtained a very competent nals to his friend, Dr. Wharton, which abound, knowledge, as appears from his Remarks on Saraccording to Mr. Mason's elegant diction, with on Churches, in the introduction to Mr. Bentham's all the wildness of Salvator, and the softness of History of Ely. Claude.
But the favourite study of Gray, for the last two He
appears to have been much affected by the years of his life, was natural history, which he raanxiety he felt at holding a place without discharg- ther resumed than began, as he had acquired some ing the duties annexed to it. He had always de- knowledge of botany in early life, while he was signed reading lectures, but never put it in practice; under the tuition of his uncle Antrobus. He wrote and a consciousness of this neglect, contributed copious marginal notes to the works of Linnæus, not a little to increase the malady under which he and other writers in the three kingdoms of nature: had long laboured: nay, the office at length be- and Mr. Mason further observes, that, excepting came so irksome, that he seriously proposed to re- pure mathematics, and the studies dependent on
that science, there was hardly any part of human Towards the close of May, 1771, he removed learning in which he had not acquired a compefrom Cambridge to London, after having suffered tent skill; in most of them a consummate mastery. violent attacks of an hereditary gout, to which he Mr. Mason has declined drawing any formal had long been subject, notwithstanding he had ob- character of him: but has adopted one from a letserved the most rigid abstemiousness throughout ter to James Boswell, Esq. by the Rev. Mr. Temthe whole course of his life. By the advice of his ple, rector of St. Gluvias, in Cornwall, first print
ed anonymously in the London Magazine, which, fastidious, and hard to please. His contempt, as we conceive authentic, from the sanction of Mr. however, is often employed, where I hope it will Mason, we shall therefore transcribe.
be approved, upon scepticism and infidelity. His "Perhaps he was the most learned man in Eu- short account of Shaftesbury I will insert. rope. He was equally acquainted with the elo- "You say you can not conceive how Lord quent and profound parts of science, and that not Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue: I superficially but thoroughly. He knew every branch will tell you; first, he was a lord; secondly, he was of history, both natural and civil; had read all the as vain as any of his readers; thirdly, men are original historians of England, France and Italy; very prone to believe what they do not understand; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphy- fourthly, they will believe any thing at all, prosics, morals, and politics, made a principal part of vided they are under no obligation to believe it; his study; voyages and travels of all sorts were fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when his favourite amusements; and he had a fine taste that road leads no where; sixthly, he was reckoned in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. a fine writer, and seems always to mean more than With such a fund of knowledge, his conversation he said. Would you have any more reasons ? An must have been equally instructing and entertain- interval of above forty years has pretty well deing; but he was also a good man, a man of virtue stroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks with comand humanity. There is no character without moners: vanity is no longer interested in the matsome speck, some imperfection, and I think the ter: for a new road is become an old one.'' greatest defect in his was an affectation of delica- As a writer, he had this peculiarity, that he did cy, or rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidious- 'not write his pieces first rudely, and then correct ness, or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in them, but laboured every line as it arose in the science. He also had, in some degree, that weak- train of composition, and he had a notion not very ness which disgusted Voltaire so much in Mr. peculiar, that he could not write but at certain Congreve: though he seemed to value others chief- times, or at happy moments; a fantastic foppery ly according to the progress they had made in to which our kindness for a man of learning and knowledge, yet he could not bear to be considered of virtue wishes him to have been superior. himself merely as a man of letters; and though As a poet, he stands high in the estimation of without birth, or fortune, or station, his desire was the candid and judicious. His works are not nuto be looked upon as a private independent gen- merous; but they bear the marks of intense applitleman, who read for his amusement. Perhaps it cation, and careful revision. The Elegy in the may be said, What signifies so much knowledge, Church-yard is deemed his master-piece; the subwhen it produced so little ? Is it worth taking so ject is interesting, the sentiment simple and pamuch pains to leave no memorial but a few poems? thetic, and the versification charmingly melodious. But let it be considered that Mr. Gray was, to This beautiful composition has been often selected others, at least innocently employed; to himself, by orators for the display of their rhetorical talents. certainly beneficially. His time passed agreeably; But as the most finished productions of the human he was every day making some new acquisition in mind have not escaped censure, the works of our science; his mind was enlarged, his heart soften- author have undergone illiberal comments. His ed, his virtue strengthened; the world and man- Elegy has been supposed defective in want of plan. kind were shown to him without a mask; and he Dr. Knox, in his Essays, has observed, " that it is was taught to consider every thing as trifling, and thought by some to be no more than a confused unworthy of the attention of a wise man, except heap of splendid ideas, thrown together without the pursuit of knowledge and practice of virtue, order and without proportion.” Some passages in that state wherein God hath placed us." have been censured by Kelly in the Babbler: and
In addition to this character, Mr. Mason has re- imitations of different authors have been pointed marked, that Gray's effeminacy was affected most out by other critics. But these imitations can not before those whom he did not wish to please : and be ascertained, as there are numberless instances that he is unjustly charged with making knowledge of coincidence of ideas; so that it is difficult to say, his sole reason of preference, as he paid his esteem with precision, what is or is not a designed or acto none whom he did not likewise believe to be cidental imitation. good.
Gray, in his Elegy in the Church-yard, has Dr. Johnson makes the following observation:- great merit in adverting to the most interesting “What has occurred to me, from the slight in- passions of the human mind, yet his genius is not spection of his letters, in which my undertaking marked alone by the tender sensibility so conspihas engaged me, is, that his mind had a large cuous in that elegant piece; but there is a subligrasp; that his curiosity was unlimited, and his mity which gives it an equal claim to universal judgment cultivated; that he was a man likely to admiration. love much where he loved at all, but that he was His Odes on The Progress of Poetry, and of
The Eard, according to Mr. Mason's account, mence; and his remarks betray, upon the whole, “ breathe the high spirit of lyric enthusiasm. The an unreasonable fastidiousness of taste, and an untransitions are sudden and impetuous; the lan- becoming illiberality of spirit. He appears to have guage full of fire and force; and the imagery car- turned an unwilling eye upon the beauties of Gray, ried without impropriety, to the most daring height. because his jealousy would not suffer him to see They ve been accused of obscurity; but the one such superlative merit in a cotemporary." These can be obscure to those only who have not read remarks of Mr. Wakefield appear to be well Pindar; and the other only to those who are unfounded: and it has been observed by another acquainted with the history of our own nation.” writer, that Dr. Johnson, being strongly influ
Of his other lyric pieces, Mr. Wakefield, a enced by his political and religious principles, was learned and ingenious commentator, observes, that, inclined to treat, with the utmost severity, some of though, like all other human productions, they are the productions of our best writers; to which may not without their defects, yet the spirit of poetry, be imputed that severity with which he censures and exquisite charms of the verse, are more than a the lyric performances of Gray. It is highly procompensation for those defects. The Ode on Eton bable that no one poetical realer will universally College abounds with sentiments natural, and con- subscribe to his decisions, though all may admire sonant to the feelings of humanity, exhibited with his vast intuitive knowledge, and power of discriperspicuity of method, and in elegant, intelligible, mination. and expressive language. The Sonnet on The Death of West, and the Epitaph on Sir William deviation from his general character, does him ho
In one instance, the doctor's inconsistency, and Williams, are as perfect compositions of the kind
After having commented with the most rias any in our language. Dr. Johnson was confessedly a man of great
gid severity on the poetical works of Gray, as if genius; but the partial and uncandid mode of cri- conscious of the injustice done him, he seems to
apologize by the following declaration, which conticism he has adopted in his remarks on the wri- cludes his criticism, and shall conclude the memoirs tings of Gray, has given to liberal minds great and
of our author. just offence. According to Mr. Mason's account, he has subjected Gray's poetry to the most rigor- “In the character of his Elegy (says Johnson) ous examination. Declining all consideration of I rejoice and concur with the common reader; for, the general plan and conduct of the pieces, he has by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted with confined himself solely to strictures on words and literary prejudices, all the refinements of subtility, forms of expression; and Mr. Mason very perti- and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally donently adds, that verbal criticism is an ordeal cided all claim to poetical honours. The Churchwhich the most perfect composition can not pass yard abounds with images which find a mirror in without injury.
every mind, and with sentiments to which every He has also fallen under Mr. Wakefield's se- bosom returns an echo. The four stanzas beginverest censure. This commentator aflirms, that ning, Yet, e'en these bones, are to me original; I "he thinks a refutation of his strictures upon Gray have never seen the notions in any other place: a necessary service to the public, without which yet he that reads them here, persuades himself that they might operate with a malignant influence he has always felt them. Had Gray written often upon the national taste.
His censure, however, thus, it had been vain to blame, and useless to is too general, and expressed with too much vehe-praise him.”
be called ingratitude, and I am obliged to your FROM MR. WEST* TO MR. GRAY.
goodness for softening so harsh an appellation.You use me very cruelly; you have sent me but When we meet, it will, however, be my greatest one letter since I have been at Oxford, and that of pleasures to know what you do, what you read, too agreeable not to make me sensible how great and how you spend your time, &c. &c. and to tell my loss is in not having more. Next to seeing you what I do not read, and how I do not, &c. for you is the pleasure of seeing your hand-writing; almost all the employment of my hours may be next to hearing you is the pleasure of hearing from best explained by negatives; take my word and you. Really and sincerely I wonder at you, that experience upon it, doing nothing is a most amusyou thought it not worth while to answer my lasting business; and yet neither something nor noletter. I hope this will have better success in be thing gives me any pleasure. When you have half of your quondam school-fellow; in behalf of seen one of my days, you have seen a whole year one who has walked hand in hand with you, like of my life; they go round and round like the blind the two children in the wood,
horse in the mill, only he has the satisfaction of Through many a flowery path and shelly grot, fancying he makes a progress, and gets some
Where learning lulled us in her private maze. ground; my eyes are open enough to see the same The very thought, you see, tips my pen with po- dull prospect, and to know that having made fouretry, and brings Eton to my view. Consider me and-twenty steps more, I shall be just where I was: very seriously here in a strange country, inhabited I may, better than most people, say my life is but a by things that call themselves doctors and masters span, were I not afraid lest you should not believe that of arts; a country flowing with syllogisms and ale, a person so short-lived could write even so long a where Horace and Virgil are equally unknown; letter as this; in short, I believe I must not send consider me, I say, in this melancholy light, and you a history of my own time, till I can send you then think if something be not due to
that also of the Reformation.* However, as the
Yours. most undeserving people in the world must surely Christ Church, Nov. 14, 1735.
have the vanity to wish somebody had a regard for P.S. I desire you will send me soon, and truly them, so I need not wonder at my own, in being and positively, a History of your own Time.t pleased that you care about me. You need not
doubt, therefore, of having a first row in the front
box of my little heart, and I believe you are not in TO MR. WEST.
danger of being crowded there; it is asking you Permit me again to write to you, though I have to an old play, indeed, but you will be candid so long neglected my duty, and forgive my brevi- enough to excuse the whole piece for the sake of
a few tolerable lines. ty, when I tell you, it is occasioned wholly by the hurry I am in to get to a place where I expect to with Statius; we yesterday had a game at quoits
For this little while past I have been playing meet with no other pleasure than the sight of you; together; you will. easily forgive me for having for I am preparing for London in a few days at furthest. I do not wonder in the least at your
broke his head, as you have a little pique to him.
I send you my translation, which I did not engage frequent blaming my indolence, it ought rather to
in because I liked that part of the poem, nor do I • Mr. West's father was lord chancellor of Ireland. His now send it to you because I think it deserves it, grandfather, by the mother, the famous bishop Burnet. He but merely to show you how I mispend my days. removed from Eton to Oxford, about the same time that Mr.
Third in the labours of the Disc came on, Gray lest that place for Cambridge. In April, 1738, he left
With sturdy step and slow, Hippomedon, &c. Christ Church for the Inner Temple, and Mr. Gray removed from Peterhouse to town the latter end of that year; intending Cambridge, May 3, 1736. also to apply himself w the study of the law in the same so ciety,
* Carrying on the allusion to the other history wrolo by Me 1 Alluding to his grandsather's history.