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Thomas Gray to William Mason, 23 July 1756

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The Revd Mr Mason

Dear Mason

I feel a contrition for my long silence; & yet perhaps it is the last thing you trouble your head about. nevertheless I will be as sorry, as if you took it ill. I am sorry too to see you so punctilious, as to stand upon answers, & never to come near me, till I have regularly left my name at your door, like a Mercer's Wife, that imitates People, who go a-visiting. I would forgive you this, if you could possibly suspect I were doing any thing, that I liked better. for then your formality might look like being piqued at my negligence; wch has somewhat in it like kindness: but you know I am at Stoke, hearing, seeing, doing, absolutely nothing. not such a nothing, as you do at Tunbridge, chequer'd & diversified with a succession of fleeting colours; but heavy, lifeless, without form, & void; sometimes almost as black, as the Moral of Voltaire's Lisbon, wch angers you so. I have had no more pores & muscular inflations, & am only troubled with this depression of mind. you will not expect therefore I should give you any account of my Verve, wch is at best (you know) of so delicate a constitution, & has such weak nerves, as not to stir out of its chamber above three days in a year. but I shall enquire after yours, & why it is off again? it has certainly worse nerves than mine, if your Reviewers have frighted it. sure I (not to mention a score of your Uncles and Aunts) am something a better Judge, than all the Man-Midwives & Presbyterian Parsons, that ever were born. pray give me leave to ask you. do you find yourself tickled with the commendations of such People? (for you have your share of these too) I dare say not. Your Vanity has certainly a better taste. and can then the censure of such Criticks move you? I own, it is an impertinence in these Gentry to talk of one at all either in good or in bad, but this we must all swallow, I mean not only we, that write, but all the we's that ever did any thing to be talk'd of. I canot pretend to be learned without books, nor to know the Druids from the Pelasgi at this distance from Cambridge, I can only tell you not to go & take the Mona for the Isle of Man. it is Anglesey, a tract of plain country, very fertile, but picturesque only from the view it has of Caernarvonshire, from wch it is separated by the Menai, a narrow arm of the Sea. forgive me for supposing in you such a want of erudition.

I congratulate you on our glorious successes in the Mediterranean. shall we go in time, & hire a house together in Switzerland? it is a fine poetical country to look at, & no body there will understand a word we say or write. pray, let me know what you are about, what new acquaintances you have made at Tunbridge, how you do in body & in mind?

believe me ever sincerely

Have you read Mad: Maintenon's Letters. When I saw Ld John in Town, he said if his Brother went to Ireland, you were to go second Chaplain. but it seem'd to me not at all certain, that the Duke would return thither. you probably know by this time.

Letter ID: letters.0249 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 39
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 32


Date of composition: 23 July 1756
Date (on letter): July, 23. 1756
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Stoke Poges, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Stoke

Physical description

Addressed: To / The Revd Mr Mason


Language: English
Incipit: I feel a contrition for my long silence; & yet perhaps it is the last thing...
Mentioned: Anglesey
Isle of Man
Maintenon, Mme de
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Menai Straits

Holding Institution

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 <>
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, letter xxiv, section iv, 245-247
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter XXIV, vol. i, 354-355
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter LIII, vol. ii, 273-275
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter XCII, vol. ii, 12-14
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter LXI, vol. iii, 151-153
  • 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 XIV, 48-53
  • 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. CXXXI, vol. i, 300-303
  • 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. 218, vol. ii, 466-467