Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton, [18 October 1753]
Dr Thomas Wharton, M:D:
You will wonder not to have heard sooner of me. the reason has been the instability of my own situation. as soon as I arrived at Cambridge, I found a letter informing me my Aunt Rogers had had a stroke of the Palsy, so that I stay'd only a single day, & set out for this place. I found her recover'd surprisingly from the greatest danger. her speech only is not yet quite restored; but it is easily intelligible to such as are used to her. is not this something extraordinary at seventy seven?
I met Mason at York, & pass'd that evening with him. [ ] he has absolutely no support at present but his fellowship; yet he looks more like a Hero, than ever I knew him, like one that can stare poverty in the face without being frighted, & instead of growing little & humble before her, has fortified his Spirit & elevated his brow to meet her like a Man. in short if he can hold it, I shall admire him, for I always maintain'd, that no body has occasion for Pride but the Poor, & that every where else it is a sign of folly. my journey was not so bad as usual in a Stage-Coach. there was a Lady Swinburne, a Roman-Catholick, not young, that had been much abroad, seen a great deal, knew a great many people, very chatty & communicative, so that I pass'd my time very well; & on the third day left them at Stilton, & got to Cambridge that night. as I know, & have heard mighty little to entertain you with, I can only tell you my observations on the face of the Country & the Season in my way hither, that you may compare them with what you see at Durham. till I came to York I thought the face of every thing rather alter'd for the worse, certainly not better than that corner of the Bishoprick about Darlington. at Topcliff I saw a large Vine full of black Grapes, that seemd ripe. at Helperby met a flock of Geese in full song. if their person had not betray'd them, one might have taken them for Nightingales. at York Walnuts ripe, 20 for a penny. from thence, especially South of Tadcaster, I thought the Country extremely beautiful, broke into fine hills cover'd with noble woods, (particularly toward the East) & every thing as verdant almost, as at Midsummer. this continued to Doncaster; the Hazle & White-thorn were turning yellow in the hedges, the Sycamore, Lime, & Ash (where it was young, or much exposed) were growing rusty, but far greener than in your County. The old Ash, the Oak, & other Timber shew'd no signs of winter. some few of the Lands were in stubble, but for the most part they were plough'd up, or cover'd with Turneps. I find Mr Evelyn in his book of Forest-trees publish'd in Q: Anne's time takes notice 'That Shropshire & several other Counties, and rarely any beyond Stamford to Durham, have the Vernacula, (or French Elm) or the Mountain-Elm, (wch is what you call the English Elm,) growing for many miles together.' I cannot say I saw any, but about Scrubey in Nottinghamshire, & they were young ones newly planted near a hedge-row. he also mentions 'the Elm of a more scabrous Leaf, harsh, & very large, wch [ ] for my part, [ ] o sort [ ] at least of any size, or growing in a wild way, till I came into Northamptonshire. I thought the winter more advanced in Lincolnshire, & so on, till I had pass'd Huntingdon, than it was in the W: Riding of Yorkshire. in Northamptonshire I first observed the appearances of a long drougth, wch continued quite hither. the Turf is every where brown & burnt up, as in Italy, even the low Meadows want their usual verdure. at Cambridge the finest Grapes I ever saw there; the Lime-trees were only changing colour, but had drop'd few of their leaves. in the smoke of London they had almost lost their old leaves, but made fresh shoots, as green as in April. & here before my window are two young Sycamores, wch have done the same, but still retain all their old leaves too without any change of colour. at Trompington the new Rye was green in the fields, & three inches high. it is the same in this County. we are here upon a Loam with a bed of Gravel below, & Ragstone beneath that. the Hay is usually all in by old Midsummer this year it was all cut by new Mids:r, but a great deal of it lost for want of rain, wch likewise spoil'd the Tares & Peas. in the beginning of August was rain for near three weeks, wch saved the Corn. Oats were in some places cut before the wheat, wch was all got in by the 20th of August. Barley, Beans, &c; by the 7th of Septr. I came hither the 6th of October, & they had then within a mile of the Thames (where the soil is better, than here) begun to sow wheat. for six weeks before my arrival it had been continued fine weather, & the air till Sunset was like July. never almost was such a year known for fruit. the Nectarines & best Peaches had been all gather'd three weeks before. the Grapes were then perfectly ripe, & still continue the best I ever eat in England. Oct: 9th it began to rain, & we have had showers every day since, with brisk winds in the S: & S:W:; today it is in the North, clear sunshine, but cold & a little wintry: & so ends my Georgick in prose. excuse me, if I had nothing better to send you. it is partly from my own eyesight, & partly from the report of such as have no prejudices in favour of their county, because they hardly know, there is any other.
I write chiefly to draw on a letter from you, for I am impatient to know many things; but remember, this election time letters are apt to be open'd at the offices. pray, make my sincere acknowledgements to my kind Hostess: I trust, she was not the worse for her journey.
P:S: Every thing resounds with the Wood-Lark, & Robin; & the voice of the Sparrow is heard in our land. remember me to all, that remember there is such a person. Adieu!
At Mrs Rogers's of Stoke near Windsor, Bucks
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Egerton MS 2400, ff. 56-57, Manuscripts collection, British Library , London, UK <http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/bldept/manuscr/>
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XL, vol. ii, 239-242
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter XLVII, vol. iii, 111-115
- 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. CXI, vol. i, 241-245
- 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. 183, vol. i, 385-388