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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [8 May 1736]

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Mr West of Christ Church

My Dear West

My letter enjoys itself, before its open'd, in imagining the Confusion you'll be in, when you hear, that a Coach & six is just stop'd at Christ-church Gates, & desires to speak with you, with a huddle of things in it, as different as ever met together in Noah's Ark; a fat one, and a lean one, and one, that can say a little with his mouth, & a great deal with his pen; & one that can neither speak, nor write; but you'll see 'em; joy be with you; I hope too, I shall shortly see you; at least in congratulatione Oxoniensi: my dear West, I more than ever regret you; it would be the greatest of pleasures to me, to know wht you do, wht you read, how you spend your time, &c: &c: & to tell you wht I do not do, not read, & how I do not, &c: &c: for almost all the employment of my hours may be best explained by Negatives; take my word & experience upon it, doing nothing is a most amusing business, & yet neither Something, nor nothing give me any pleasure; for this little while last past, I have been playing with Statius; we yesterday had a game at Quoits together, you'll easily forgive me for having broke his head, as you have a little Pique to him

Then thus the King, 'whoe'er the Quoit can wield,
And furthest send its weight athwart the field;
Let him stand forth his brawny arm to boast.'
Swift at the word, from out the gazing host
Young Pterelas with strength unequal drew
Labouring the Disc, & to small distance threw:
The Band around admire the mighty Mass,
A slipp'ry weight, & form'd of polish'd Brass;
The love of honour bad two Youths advance,
Achaians born, to try the glorious chance;
A third arose, of Acarnania he,
Of Pisa one, & three from Ephyre;
Nor more for now Nesimachus's Son,
By Acclamations roused, came towring on;
Another Orb upheaved his strong right hand,
Then thus, Ye Argive flower, ye warlike band,
Who trust your arms shall rase the Tyrian towers,
And batter Cadmus' Walls with stony Showers,
Receive a worthier load; yon puny Ball
Let Youngsters toss:
He said, & scornful flung th' unheeded weight
Aloof; the champions trembling at the sight
Prevent disgrace, the palm despair'd resign;
All, but two youths, th' enormous Orb decline,
These conscious Shame withheld, & pride of noble line:
As bright & huge the spatious circle lay
With doubled light it beam'd against the Day;
So glittering shews the Thracian Godheads shield,
With such a gleam affrights Pangæa's field,
When blazing 'gainst the Sun it shines from far,
And clash'd rebellows with the Din of war:

Phlegyas the long-expected play began,
Summon'd his strength, & call'd forth all the Man;
All eyes were bent on his experienced hand,
For oft in Pisa's sports his native land
Admired that arm, oft on Alpheus' Shore
The pond'rous brass in exercise he bore;
Where flow'd the widest Stream he took his stand;
Sure flew the Disc from his unerring hand;
Nor stop'd till it had cut the further strand:
And now in Dust the polish'd Ball he roll'd,
Then grasp'd its weight, elusive of his hold;
Now fitting to his gripe, & nervous Arm
Suspends the crowd with expectation warm;
Nor tempts he yet the plain, but hurl'd upright
Emits the mass, a prelude of his might;
Firmly he plants each knee, & o'er his head,
Collecting all his force, the circle sped;
It towers to cut the clouds; now thro' the Skies
Sings in its rapid way, & strengthens, as it flies;
Anon with slack'ned rage comes quivering down,
Heavy & huge, & cleaves the solid ground.

So from th'astonish'd Stars, her nightly train,
The Sun's pale sister, drawn by magic strain,
Deserts precipitant [her] darken'd Sphere;
In vain the Nations [wi]th officious fear
Their cymbals toss, & sounding brass explore;
Th' Æmonian Hag enjoys her dreadful hour,
And smiles malignant on the labouring Power.

I wont plague you too much, & so break the affair in the middle, & give you leave to resume your Aristotle, instead of

Your friend & Servt
T: Gray
Letter ID: letters.0023 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 19
Addressee: West, Richard, 1716-1742
Addressee's age: 20[?]


Date of composition: [8 May 1736]
Date (on letter): May: 8:-
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Cantabr:
Place of addressee: [Oxford, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To / Mr West of Christ Church / Oxford (postmark: CAMBRIDGE)


Language: English
Incipit: My letter enjoys itself, before its open'd, in imagining the Confusion...
Mentioned: Gratulatio Academiae Oxoniensis
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
[Translation from Statius, Thebaid IX 319-26]
[Translation from Statius, Thebaid VI 646-88, 704-24]

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, section i, 7-10
  • 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 I, 1-4
  • 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. II, vol. i, 2
  • The Correspondence of Gray, Walpole, West and Ashton (1734-1771), 2 vols. Chronologically arranged and edited with introduction, notes, and index by Paget Toynbee. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915, letter no. 30, vol. i, 69-74
  • 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. 22, vol. i, 38-41