Thomas Gray to Edward Bedingfield, 31 October 1757
For the opinion of the South I refer you to the lordly conversation you were present at in the Bookseller's shop during York races. we are almost all Lords, & the commonest events of English History are to us impenetrable & inexplicable: however here were some different judgements. you saw the verses printed in the London Chronicle, & supposed to be Mr Garrick's; and (to make you friends with Dr Warburton) I must tell you, he says, the World never judged so justly of any thing new, as of these Odes, for other compositions they have affected to like & dislike, but these they own they do not understand; & he heartily believes them: yet he does not doubt but they understand them full as well as Milton or Shakespeare, wch Fashion forces them to admire, this is what my Correspondents tell me, & if they have put in a little more flattery, than belongs to the Doctor, I know you will excuse me for biting at it so readily. Dodsley, I find, has been as negligent with regard to several other Persons, as to you, but it is in vain to scold at a Bookseller, when your writings lie upon his hands by hundreds, as (I suppose) mine do. you see what my celebrity (that you promised me) is come to. pray, don't tell the People of Durham, to whom I am infinitely obliged, tho' they did not at all like me. there are some objections to the tradition you flatter me with: the Churchyard was publish'd Feb: 1751, & I did not go thither till Aug: 1753. I met with no weather, that would tempt me to sit under a tree; 3dly & lastly, they have no trees to sit under.
I have got the old Ballad, on wch Douglas is founded. it is in my eyes a miracle not only of ancient simplicity, but of ancient art. the great rules of Aristotle & Horace are observed in it by a Writer, who perhaps had never heard their names. what I say, is a great compliment to the Genius of the Scotch, but a still greater to Horace & Aristotle. as to the Play, the single Scene of Matilda's interview with the old Peasant was the thing, that inchanted me; if all the rest had been wrote by Aaron Hill, I should have been still inchanted. pray keep your—you know what—from interfering with your judgement in poetry. nothing belongs to this, but what Men say, & what they do in different situations of life; not what they ought to say or do. I wish to God, that no good Man, or even no good Christian, had ever known what despair was: but I fear they have too often been hurried to their own destruction. Providence may have interposed to prevent it, but whether it does always interpose, only that Providence can tell. however this is gratis dictum, for Matilda is distracted, before she executes her purpose. another quarrel I have with you about Q: Elizabeth. I know she was a Bitch; but it is clear, on what your animosity is founded. indeed it runs in the blood. I suppose your ancestor Sr H: B: many a time repented, that when he was her Keeper, he had not put a little in her cup of what she herself wish'd Sr Amias Paulet would put into that of Mary, Q: of Scots. before you offer to condemn her persecutions, let me know, what you think of those of her Sister Mary. believe me this topick of hanging & burning is a thing, that no good Catholick ought ever to open his mouth about, till the measure on our Side is as full, as it is on yours. if you tell your Confessor this, he will enjoin you never to write to me more.
Your Friend & humble Servant
My best respects to the Ladies. I shall return to Cambridge in a fortnight or less.
HM 21916, Huntington Manuscripts, Department of Manuscripts, The Huntington , San Marino, CA, USA <http://www.huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=554>
- 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. 256, vol. ii, 538-540 - view pages