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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [25 September 1740]

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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 Sandy's Travels for the history of Monte Barbaro, and Monte Nuovo.


Nec procul infelix se tollit in æthera Gaurus,
Prospiciens vitreum lugenti vertice pontum:
Tristior ille diu, & veteri desuetus olivâ
Gaurus, pampineæqb eheu jam nescius umbræ;
Horrendi tam sæva premit vicinia montis,
Attonitumqb urget latus, exuritqb ferentem.

Nam fama est olim, mediâ dum rura silebant
Nocte, Deo victa, & molli perfusa quiete,
Infremuisse æquor ponti, auditamqb per omnes
Latè tellurem surdùm immugire cavernas:
Quo sonitu nemora alta tremunt; tremit excita tuto
Parthenopæa sinu, flammantisqb ora Vesevi.
At subitò se aperire solum, vastosqb recessus
Pandere sub pedibus, nigrâqb voragine fauces;
Tum piceas cinerum glomerare sub æthere nubes
Vorticibus rapidis, ardentiqb imbre procellam.
Præcipites fugere feræ, perqb avia longè
Sylvarum fugit pastor, juga per deserta,
Ah, miser! increpitans saepè altâ voce per umbram
Nequicquam natos, creditqb audire sequentes.
Atque ille excelso rupis de vertice solus
Respectans notasqb domos, & dulcia regna,
Nil usquàm videt infelix præter mare tristi
Lumine percussum, & pallentes sulphure campos,
Fumumqb, flammasqb, rotataqb turbine saxa.

Quin ubi detonuit fragor, & lux reddita cælo;
Mæstos confluere agricolas, pafsuqb videres
Tandem iterum timido deserta requirere tecta:
Sperantes, si forte oculis, si fortè darentur
Uxorum cineres, miserorumve ossa parentum,
(Tenuia, sed tanti saltem solatia luctus)
Uná colligere, & justâ componere in urnâ.
Uxorum nusquam cineres, nusquam ofsa parentum
(Spem miseram!) assuetosve Lares, aut rura videbunt.
Quippe ubi planities campi diffusa jacebat;
Mons novus: ille supercilium, frontemqb favillâ
Incanum ostentans, ambustis cautibus, æquor
Subjectum, stragemqb suam, mæsta arva, minaci
Despicit imperio, soloqb in littore regnat.

Hinc infame loci nomen, multosqb per annos
Immemor antiquæ laudis, nescire labores
Vomeris, & nullo tellus revirescere cultu.
Non avium colles, non carmine matutino
Pastorum resonare; adeò undique dirus habebat
Informes latè horror agros, saltusqb vacantes.
Sæpius et longè detorquens navita proram
Monstrabat digito littus, sævæqb revolvens
Funera narrabat noctis, veteremqb ruinam.

Montis adhuc facies manet hirta atqb aspera saxis:
Sed furor extinctus jamdudum, & flamma quievit,
Quæ nascenti aderat, seu forté bituminis atri
Defluxere olìm rivi, atque effæta lacuna
Pabula sufficere ardori, viresqb recusat;
Sive in visceribus meditans incendia jam nunc
(Horrendùm) arcanis glomerat genti esse futuræ
Exitio, sparsos tacitusqb recolligit ignes.
Raro per clivos haud secius ordine vidi
Canescentem oleam: longum post tempus amicti
Vite virent tumuli; patriamqb revisere gaudens
Bacchus in assuetis tenerum caput exerit arvis
Vix tandem, infidoqb audet se credere cœlo.

There was a certain little ode set out from Rome, in a letter of recommendation to you, but possibly fell into the enemies' hands, for I never heard of its arrival. It is a little impertinent to enquire after its welfare; but you, that are a father, will excuse a parent's foolish fondness. Last post I received a very diminutive letter: It made excuses for its unentertainingness, very little to the purpose; since it assured me, very strongly, of your esteem, which is to me the thing; all the rest appear but as the petits agrémens, the garnishing of the dish. P. Bougeant, in his Langage des Bêtes, fancies that your birds, who continually repeat the same note, say only in plain terms, 'Je vous aime, ma chere; ma chere, je vous aime;' and that those of greater genius indeed, with various trills, run divisions upon the subject; but that the fond, from whence it all proceeds, is 'toujours je vous aime'. Now you may, as you find yourself dull or in humour, either take me for a chaffinch or nightingale; sing your plain song, or show your skill in music, but in the bottom let there be, toujours, toujours de l'Amitié.

As to what you call my serious letter; be assured, that your future state is to me entirely indifferent. Do not be angry, but hear me; I mean with respect to myself. For whether you be at the top of Fame, or entirely unknown to mankind; at the Council-table, or at Dick's coffee-house; sick and simple, or well and wise; whatever alteration mere accident works in you, (supposing it utterly impossible for it to make any change in your sincerity and honesty, since these are conditions sine quâ non) I do not see any likelihood of my not being yours ever.

Letter ID: letters.0107 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 23
Addressee: West, Richard, 1716-1742
Addressee's age: 24[?]


Date of composition: [25 September 1740]
Date (on letter): [Sept. 25, N.S. 1740]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Florence, Italy]
Address (on letter): [Florence]


Languages: English, Latin
Incipit: What I send you now, as long as it is, is but a piece of a poem....
Mentioned: Ad C: Favonium Zephyrinum
Bougeant, Guillaume-Hyacinthe
Sandys, George
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
[The Gaurus]

Holding Institution

Availability: The original letter is unlocated, a copy, transcription, or published version survives

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 xxvii, section ii, 105-109
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section II, letter XXVII, vol. i, 227-231
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section II, letter XXX, vol. ii, 111-113
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter XLV, vol. i, 100-104
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section II, letter XXX, vol. ii, 133-136
  • 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. XLV, vol. i, 81-83
  • 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. 127, vol. i, 333-337
  • 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. 94, vol. i, 175-178