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Thomas Gray to William Mason, [c. 31 August 1760]

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A Note

Having made many enquiries about the authenticity of these Fragments; I have got a letter from Mr David Hume (the Historian) wch is more satisfactory than any thing I have yet met with on that subject. he says,

Certain it is, that these poems are in every body's mouth in the High-lands, have been handed down from Father to Son, & are of an age beyond all memory & tradition. Adam Smith, the celebrated Professor in Glasgow, told me, that the Piper of the Argyleshire Militia repeated to him all those, wch Mr Macpherson has translated, & many more of equal beauty. Major Mackay (Ld Rae's Brother) told me, that he remembers them perfectly well; as likewise did the Laird of Macfarline (the greatest Antiquarian we have in this country) & who insists strongly on the historical truth, as well as the poetical beauty of these productions. I could add the Laird & Lady Macleod, with many more, that live in different parts of the highlands, very remote from each other, & could only be acquainted with what had become (in a manner) national works. there is a Country-Surgeon in Lochaber, who has by heart the entire Epic Poem mention'd by Mr Macpherson in his Preface, & as he is old; is perhaps the only person living, that knows it all; & has never committed it to writing; we are in the more hast to recover a Monument, wch will certainly be regarded as a curiosity in the Republick of Letters: we have therefore set about a subscription of a Guinea or two Guineas apiece in order to enable Mr Macpherson to undertake a Mission into the Highlands to recover this poem, & other fragments of antiquity.

I forgot to mention to you that the names of Fingal, Oscian, Oscur, &c: are still given in the Highlands to large Mastiffs, as we give to ours the names of C├Žsar, Pompey, Hector &c:

Letter ID: letters.0368 (Source: TEI/XML)

Correspondents

Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 43
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 36

Dates

Date of composition: [c. 31 August 1760]
Calendar: Gregorian

Places

Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]

Content

Language: English
Incipit: Having made many enquiries about the authenticity of these Fragments;...
Mentioned: Macpherson, James
Macpherson, James, 1736-1796
Smith, Adam

Holding Institution

Location:
(confirmed)
Henry W. And Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, New York Public Library , New York, NY, USA <https://www.nypl.org/about/divisions/berg-collection-english-and-american-literature>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes

Print Versions

  • 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, section iv, 285-286
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter XXXIX, vol. i, 387-390
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XCI, vol. ii, 363-366
  • 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. 319*, vol. ii, 694-696