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Title/Paratext] "The letter to West in [...]" J. Bradshaw, 1891.
"The letter to West in which this was sent begins thus:—"What I send you now, as long as it is, is but a piece of a poem. It has the advantage of all fragments to need neither introduction nor conclusion; besides, if you do not like it, it is but imagining that which went before and came after, to be infinitely better. Look in Sandys' 'Travels' for the history of Monte Barbaro and Monte Nuovo."
The passage in Sandys' "Travels" is as follows:—
"West of Cicero's Villa stands the eminent Gaurus, a stony and desolate mountain, in which there are divers obscure caverns, choked almost with earth, where many have consumed much fruitless industry in searching for treasure. The famous Lucrine Lake extended formerly from Avernus to the aforesaid Gaurus, but is now no other than a little sedgy plash, choked up by the horrible and astonishing eruption of the new mountain; whereof as oft as I think, I am easy to credit whatsoever is wonderful. For who here knows not, or who elsewhere will believe, that a mountain should arise (partly out of a lake and partly out of the sea) in one day and a night, unto such a height as to contend in altitude with the high mountains adjoining?
In the year of our Lord 1538, on the 29th of September, when for certain days foregoing the country here about was so vested with perpetual earthquakes, as no one house was left so entire as not to expect an immediate ruin; after that the sea had retired two hundred paces from the shore (leaving abundance of fish, and springs of fresh water rising in the bottom) this mountain visibly ascended, about the second hour of the night, with an hideous roaring, horribly vomiting stones, and such store of cinders as overwhelmed all the building thereabout and the salubrious baths of Tripergula, for so many ages celebrated, consumed the vines to ashes, killing birds and beasts; the fearful inhabitants of Puzzol flying through the dark with their wives and children, naked, defiled, crying out and detesting their calamities. Manifold mischiefs have they suffered by the barbarous, yet none like this which nature inflicted.
The new mountain, when newly raised, had a number of issues; at some of them smoking and sometimes flaming; at others disgorging rivulets of hot water; keeping within a terrible rumbling; and many miserably perished that ventured to descend into the hollowness above. But that hollow on the top is at present an orchard, and the mountain throughout is bereft of its terrors."—Bk. iv. p. 275.
There is a translation of this poem in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for July, 1775."
Title/Paratext] "[Prose translation by J. R. [...]" H.W. Starr/J.R. Hendrickson, 1966.
"[Prose translation by J. R. Hendrickson:]
And not far away the ill-fated Gaurus lifts its heights into the upper air, looking forth from its grieving summit at a sea of glass: Famous Gaurus, sad for a long time and no longer accustomed to the ancient olive tree, now, alas, ignorant of the shade of vines: so cruelly the frightful neighbouring mountain assails it and overwhelms its blasted side and has burnt (the vegetation that) it bore.
For the story is that once, while the fields lay silent in the middle of the night, overcome by the god and drenched in soft slumber, the waters of the deep roared and the mute earth was heard to bellow far and wide through all its caverns. At the sound the lofty forests tremble, and Parthenope, roused from sleep, trembles in her snug harbour, as did the shore of flaming Vesuvius. Suddenly the earth gaped and beneath the feet opened vast chasms and the yawning jaws of a black whirlpool. Then pitch-black clouds of ashes gathered in the air in swift whirling masses and there was a gale-driven rain of fire.
The wild animals fled headlong, and the herdsman fled far through the pathless forest and along the deserted ridges, often calling loudly through the darkness to his children, in the belief that they hear him and are following him; but he was wasting his breath, unhappy man. At last, all alone, looking back from the lofty summit of a cliff to see the familiar homes and sweet countryside, he descries not a thing, ill-starred man, except the sea suffused with gloomy light and fields whitened by sulphur, and smoke and flames and rocks tossed about by the whirlwind.
Even worse, when the thundering crashes had ceased and the light of day had returned to the sky, you could see the grieving farmers assembling and seeking out with fearful steps their desolated homes. They hope, if by any chance they should find the ashes of their wives or the bones of their unfortunate parents (slight solaces, but at least some comfort for their great sorrow), to gather them up and inter them decently in a proper urn. But no ashes of their wives were they fated to see, nor bones of parents (sad hope!), nor familiar Lares, nor even their farms. Indeed, where the level surface of the plain used to lie in a broad sweep, a new mountain rose. Flaunting a face and crest white with still-warm ashes and covered with fire-scorched rocks, it looks down like a menacing tyrant upon the sea lying at its feet, upon the destruction it has wrought, upon the sorrowing fields, and lords it over the desolate shore.
Hence the evil name of the place, and for many years, forgetful of its ancient glory, the land has not known the labours of the plough nor responded to cultivation with fresh green. The slopes have not echoed to the morning song of birds or of shepherds. Everywhere, indeed, ominous horror broods over the distorted fields and lifeless swamps. Many a time some sailor, turning his ship far out from the coast, would point at the shore with his finger and recall and tell the deaths of that savage night and the destruction of long ago.
To this day the face of the mountain remains shaggy and bristling with rocks, but the fury has been calmed for a long time now, and the flame which aided the birth of the mountain has subsided. Perhaps the streams of black asphalt have long since dried up and the exhausted crater refuses to furnish fuel and strength for the fire; perhaps (horrible thought) it is biding its time and is even now amassing fires in its secret bowels to be the destruction of some future race, and is silently gathering up its scattered fires once more.
However, I have seen hoary olive trees in a sparse line along the slopes; after a long time the vine-clad mounds are green; glad to see his home again, Bacchus is at last, with difficulty, raising his tender head in the familiar fields and daring to entrust himself to the sky that once betrayed him."
- The Poetical Works of Thomas Gray: English and Latin. Edited with an introduction, life, notes and a bibliography by John Bradshaw. The Aldine edition of the British poets series. London: George Bell and sons, 1891.
- The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray: English, Latin and Greek. Edited by Herbert W. Starr and J. R. Hendrickson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966.
Contractions, italics and initial capitalization have been largely eliminated, except where of real import. Initial letters of sentences have been capitalized, all accents have been removed. The editor would like to express his gratitude to library staff at Pembroke College, Cambridge, at the British Library, and at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for their invaluable assistance.