William Mason to Thomas Gray, 27 July 1767
To Thomas Gray Esqb at Old Park near Darlington
In hopes this may catch you before you set off for Hartlepool I answer yours the moment I receive it (Minster Vespers only intervening) The Dean has disapointed me & is not yet arrivd, the Robinsons I expect every hour. in the meanwhile I will resume the subject of the Epitaph.
Had you given me any hint any Lueur how the three first lines might have been alterd, it would have been charitable indeed. But you say nothing, only that I must alter them, Now in my Conscience to wch you appeal I cannot find fault with the Sentiment wch they contain, & yet in dispite of my Conscience if I thought that they implyd the least shadow of flattery to the ABp I would wipe them out with a spunge dipt in the mud of the kennel. But I cannot think they do. I think on the contrary they give the Composition that Unity of Thought wch ought always to run thro compositions of this kind, for in my mind a Perfect Epitaph is a Perfect Epigram without a sting. NB this sentence in our Epistolæ Familiares cum notis variorum will be explaind, in a Note of Dr Balguys, to the contentation of every reader; in the meantime if you dont understand it yourself, console yourself with the pleasing Idea that Posterity will, & that is enough in reason.
However to shew you my Complacency, & in dread that you should ever do as you threaten, & call whatever I send you the most perfect things in Nature, I will sacrifice the first Stanza on Your Critical Altar. & let it consume either in flame or Smudge as it chuses. Then we begin, Here sleeps a very poetical sort of Ci git, or here lies, & wch I hope will not lead the reader to imagine a sentence lost.
1 Here sleeps what once was Beauty once was Grace
2 Grace that with native Sentiment combind
3 To form that Harmony of Soul & face
4 Where Beauty shines the mirror of the mind
5 Such was the Maid that in the noon of youth,
6 In Virgin innocence in natures pride
7 Blest with each Art that taste supplies or Truth
8 Sunk in her Fathers fond embrace & died
9 He weeps O venerate the holy tear
10 Faith lends her aid to ease afflictions Load
11 The Parent mourns his child upon her bier
12 The Christian yeilds an Angel to his God.
Various Lections, pick, & chuse,
2 inborn sentiment.
3 displayd or diffusd that Harmony &c.
7 that springs from taste or Truth derivd from taste or Truth, that charms with taste & Truth. But, after all I dont know that she was a Metaphysician Blest with each art that owes its charms to Truth wch Painting does as well as Logic & Metaphysics.
10 Faith lends her lenient aid to Sorrows Load. Faith lends her Aid & eases or lightens Sorrows Load
11 Pensive he mourns or he views or Gives
12 Yet humbly yeilds or But humbly
Now if from all this you can pick out 12 Ostensible Lines, do, & Ill father them, or if you will out of that Lukewarm corner of your heart where you hoard up your poetical Charity, throw out a poor mite to my distresses, I shall take it kind indeed. But if not, Stat prior Sententia, for I will give myself no further trouble about it. I cannot in this uncomfortable place where my Opus Magnum sive didacticum has not advancd ten lines since I saw you.
God bless Dr Wharton & send him (for his Sympathy) never to feel what I feel. I will come to him the moment I can; write be sure you [do] when you return from your longer tour. But I hope to have an answer to this before you set out, because I shall not give the ABp any detirminate answer about the matter till I hear again from you. The Robinsons are just arrivd.
I must needs tell you, as an instance of my enjoyments here that Yesterday Mr Comber preachd again & dind with me & in the afternoon who but Billy Harvey should preach & drink tea with me! The said Billy enquird most Cordially after you & has got your directions how to come at you, by Kirksomething & Spinny moor house, for he is going into Scotland with a Scotch Captain, ten times duller than himself. youll have them at Old park almost as soon as this if you dont run away.
The Country Folks are firmly persuaded that the Storm (wch made us get up here) was raisd by the Devil out of revenge to Comber for preaching at him the day before in the minster.
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>
- The Correspondence of Thomas Gray and William Mason, with Letters to the Rev. James Brown, D.D. Ed. by the Rev. John Mitford. London: Richard Bentley, 1853, letter CXV, 400-404
- 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. CCCVIII, vol. iii, 152-154
- 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. 450, vol. iii, 970-973