Thomas Gray to Thomas Ashton, [21 April 1739]
You and West have made us happy to night in a heap of letters, & we are resolvd to repay you tenfold. Our English perhaps may not be the best in the World, but we have the Comfort to know that it is at least as good as our French. So to begin. Paris is a huge round City, divided by the Seine, a very near relation (if we may judge from the resemblance) of your old acquaintance, that ancient river, the river Cam. Along it on either side runs a key of perhaps as handsome buildings, as any in the World. the view down which on either hand from the Pont Neuf is the charming'st Sight imaginable. There are infinite Swarms of inhabitants & more Coaches than Men. The Women in general dressd in Sacs, flat Hoops of 5 yards wide nosegays of artificial flowers, on one shoulder, and faces dyed in Scarlet up to the Eyes. The Men in bags, roll-upps, Muffs and Solitaires. our Mornings have been mostly taken up in Seeing Sights: few Hotels or Churches have escapd us, where there is anything remarkable as to building, Pictures or Statues.
Mr Conway is as usual, the Companion of our travels, who, till we came, had not seen anything at all; for it is not the fashion here to have Curiosity. We had at first arrival an inundation of Visits pouring in upon us, for all the English are acquainted, and herd much together & it is no easy Matter to disengage oneself from them, so that one sees but little of the French themselves.
To be introduced to the People of high quality, it is absolutely necessary to be master of the Language, for it is not to be imagind that they will take pains to understand anybody, or to correct a stranger's blunders. Another thing is, there is not a House where they don't play, nor is any one at all acceptable, unless they do so too .. a professed Gamester being the most advantageous Character a Man can have at Paris. The Abbés indeed & Men of learning are a People of easy access enough, but few English that travel have knowledge enough to take any great Pleasure in their Company, at least our present Set of travellers have not. We are, I think to remain here no longer than Ld Conway stays, and then set out for Rheims, there to reside a Month or two, & then to return hither again. this is our present design & very often little hankerings break out, so that I am not sure, we shall not come back tomorrow.
We are exceedingly unsettled & irresolute, don't know our own Minds for two Moments together, profess an utter aversion for all Manner of fatigue, grumble, are ill natured & try to bring ourselves to a State of perfect Apathy in which [we] are so far advanced, as to declare we have no Notion of caring for any mortal breathing but ourselves. In short I think the greatest evil [that] could have happen'd to us, is our liberty, for we are not at all capable to determine our own actions.
April 21. N.S.
Misc. MSS, Manuscript Collections, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University Library , New Haven, CT (Beinecke)/Farmington, CT (Lewis Walpole), USA <http://www.library.yale.edu/>
- Gray and his Friends: Letters and Relics, in great part hitherto unpublished. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1890, section I, letter no. 2, 39-41
- The Letters of Thomas Gray, including the correspondence of Gray and Mason, 3 vols. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. London: George Bell and Sons, 1900-12, letter no. XVI, vol. i, 23-25
- 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. 89, vol. i, 211-213
- 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. 61, vol. i, 104-106