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Thomas Gray to Thomas Ashton, [29 May 1739]

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My Dear Ashton

I shall not make you any excuses, because I can't: I shall not try to entertain you with descriptions, for the same reason; & moreover, because I believe you don't care for them. so that you can have no occasion to wonder at my brevity, when you consider me, as confined to the narrow bounds of the history of We, quatenus We. which I continue.

Our tête à tête conversations, that you enquire after, did consist less in words, than in looks & signs, & to give you a notion of them, I ought to send you our pictures; tho' we should find it difficult to set for 'em in such attitudes, as we very naturally fall into, when alone together. at present Mr Conway, who lives with us, joins to make them a little more verbose, & every thing is mighty well. on Monday next we set out for Rheims, (where we expect to be very dull;) there to stay a month or two; then we cross Burgundy, & Dauphiny, & so go to Avignon, Aix, Marseilles, &c: the weather begins to be violently hot already even here, & this is our ingenious contrivance, as the summer increases, to seek out cool retreats among the scorch'd rocks of Provence; I will not promise, but that if next winter bid fair for extreme cold, we shall take a trip to Muscovy. you in the mean time will be quietly enjoying the temperate air of England under your own vine, & under your own (at least under Mrs Lewis's) Fig-tree; & I don't doubt but the fruits of your leisure will turn to more account, than those of our laborious peregrination, and while our thoughts are rambling about, & changeing situation oftener than our bodies, you will be fixing your attention upon some weighty truth, worthy a Sage of your honour's magnitude. the end of your researches, I mean whatever your profound contemplation brings to light, I should be proud to be acquainted with; whither it please to be invoked under the appellation of Sermon, Vision, Essay, or discourse: in short, on whatever head you chuse to be loquacious (Wall on Infant-Baptism excepted) a dissertation will be very acceptable, & received with a reverence due to the hand it comes from.

We have seen here your Gustavus Vasa, that had raised the general expectation so high long ago. a worthy piece of prohibited marchandise in truth! the town must have been extreme mercifully disposed; if, for the sake of ten innocent lines, that may peradventure be pick'd out, it had consented to spare the lives of the ten thousand wicked ones, that remain. I don't know what condition your Stage is in, but the French is in a very good one at present; among the rest they have a Madlle Duminie, whose every look & gesture is violent Nature; she is Passion itself incarnate: I saw her the other night do the Phædra of Racine in a manner; which affected me so strongly, that, as you see, I can't help prattling about her even to you, that do not care two-pence.

You have got My Ld Conway there among ye; what do people think about him, & his improvements? you possibly see him sometimes, for he visits at Mrs Conduit's. is he charming, & going to be married, like Mr Barrett? pray, write to me, & persuade West to do the same, who unless you rouse him, & preach to him, what a sin it is to have the vapours, & the dismals, will neglect himself; I won't say, his friends; that I believe him incapable of. I again recommend him to your care, that you may nourish him, & cherish him, & administer to him some of that cordial spirit of chearfulness, that you used to have the Receipt of. my Compliments to my Lord. Good night,

Yours ever
T: G:
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Letter ID: letters.0071 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 22
Addressee: Ashton, Thomas, 1715-1775
Addressee's age: 24


Date of composition: [29 May 1739]
Date (on letter): May 29. N:S: Friday-night
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Paris, France
Address (on letter): Paris


Language: English
Incipit: I shall not make you any excuses, because I can't: I shall not try...
Mentioned: Conway, Henry Seymour, 1721-1795
Wall, William
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
West, Richard, 1716-1742

Holding Institution

HM 7417, Huntington Manuscripts, Department of Manuscripts, The Huntington , San Marino, CA, USA <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; a photograph is at Pembroke College, Cambridge, GBR/1058/GRA/5/4; a photocopy is at the Bodleian Library, MS. Facs. b. 77, fol. 90b; a MS transcript is at the British Library, Add. MSS 32562, ff. 144-147

Print Versions

  • Gray and his Friends: Letters and Relics, in great part hitherto unpublished. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1890, section I, letter no. 3, 41-45
  • 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. XVIII, vol. i, 28-30
  • Essays and Criticisms by Thomas Gray. Ed. with Introduction and Notes by Clark Sutherland Northup. Boston and London: D. C. Heath & Co., 1911, letter excerpt, 124-125
  • 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. 92, vol. i, 221-224
  • 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. 63, vol. i, 109-111