Richard West to Thomas Gray, [4 July 1737]
I have been very ill, and am still hardly recovered. Do you remember Elegy 5th, Book the 3d, of Tibullus, Vos tenet, &c. and do you remember a letter of Mr Pope's, in sickness, to Mr Steele? This melancholy elegy and this melancholy letter I turned into a more melancholy epistle of my own, during my sickness, in the way of imitation; and this I send to you and my friends at Cambridge, not to divert them, for it cannot, but merely to show them how sincere I was when sick: I hope my sending it to them now may convince them I am no less sincere, though perhaps more simple, when well.
Yes, happy youths, on Camus' sedgy side,
You feel each joy that friendship can divide;
Each realm of science and of art explore,
And with the antient blend the modern lore.
Studious alone to learn whate'er may tend
To raise the genius or the heart to mend;
Now pleas'd along the cloyster'd walk you rove,
And trace the verdant mazes of the grove,
Where social oft, and oft alone, ye chuse
To catch the zephyr and to court the muse.
Mean time at me (while all devoid of art
These lines give back the image of my heart)
At me the pow'r that comes or soon or late,
Or aims, or seems to aim, the dart of fate;
From you remote, methinks, alone I stand
Like some sad exile in a desert land;
Around no friends their lenient care to join
In mutual warmth, and mix their heart with mine.
Or real pains, or those which fancy raise,
For ever blot the sunshine of my days;
To sickness still, and still to grief a prey,
Health turns from me her rosy face away.
Just heav'n! what sin, ere life begins to bloom,
Devotes my head untimely to the tomb;
Did e'er this hand against a brother's life
Drug the dire bowl or point the murd'rous knife?
Did e'er this tongue the slanderer's tale proclaim,
Or madly violate my Maker's name?
Did e'er this heart betray a friend or foe,
Or know a thought but all the world might know?
As yet just started from the lists of time,
My growing years have scarcely told their prime;
Useless, as yet, through life I've idly run,
No pleasures tasted, and few duties done.
Ah, who, ere autumn's mellowing suns appear,
Would pluck the promise of the vernal year;
Or, ere the grapes their purple hue betray,
Tear the crude cluster from the mourning spray.
Stern Power of Fate, whose ebon sceptre rules
The Stygian deserts and Cimmerian pools,
Forbear, nor rashly smite my youthful heart,
A victim yet unworthy of thy dart;
Ah, stay till age shall blast my withering face,
Shake in my head, and falter in my pace;
Then aim the shaft, then meditate the blow,
And to the dead my willing shade shall go.
How weak is Man to Reason's judging eye!
Born in this moment, in the next we die;
Part mortal clay, and part ethereal fire,
Too proud to creep, too humble to aspire.
In vain our plans of happiness we raise,
Pain is our lot, and patience is our praise;
Wealth, lineage, honours, conquest, or a throne,
Are what the wise would fear to call their own.
Health is at best a vain precarious thing,
And fair-fac'd youth is ever on the wing;
'Tis like the stream, beside whose wat'ry bed
Some blooming plant exalts his flowry head,
Nurs'd by the wave the spreading branches rise,
Shade all the ground and flourish to the skies;
The waves the while beneath in secret flow,
And undermine the hollow bank below;
Wide and more wide the waters urge their way,
Bare all the roots and on their fibres prey.
Too late the plant bewails his foolish pride,
And sinks, untimely, in the whelming tide.
But why repine, does life deserve my sigh?
Few will lament my loss whene'er I die.
For those the wretches I despise or hate,
I neither envy nor regard their fate.
For me, whene'er all-conquering Death shall spread
His wings around my unrepining head,
I care not; though this face be seen no more,
The world will pass as chearful as before,
Bright as before the day-star will appear,
The fields as verdant, and the skies as clear;
Nor storms nor comets will my doom declare,
Nor signs on earth, nor portents in the air;
Unknown and silent will depart my breath,
Nor Nature e'er take notice of my death.
Yet some there are (ere spent my vital days)
Within whose breasts my tomb I wish to raise.
Lov'd in my life, lamented in my end,
Their praise would crown me as their precepts mend:
To them may these fond lines my name endear,
Not from the Poet but the Friend sincere.
- The Poems of Mr. Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W[illiam]. Mason. York: printed by A. Ward; and sold by J. Dodsley, London; and J. Todd, York, 1775, letter vii, section i, 18-22
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section I, letter VII, vol. i, 148-152
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section I, letter VII, vol. ii, 13-16
- The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter VII, vol. i, 15-19
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section I, letter VII, vol. ii, 15-18
- Gray and his Friends: Letters and Relics, in great part hitherto unpublished. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1890, section II, letter no. 14, 95-98
- The Correspondence of Gray, Walpole, West and Ashton (1734-1771), 2 vols. Chronologically arranged and edited with introduction, notes, and index by Paget Toynbee. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915, letter no. 58, vol. i, 139-142
- Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 38, vol. i, 61-64