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Thomas Gray to Horace Walpole, [c. 19 February 1747]

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I have abundance of Thanks to return You for the Entertainment Mr Spence's Book has given me, wch I have almost run over already; & I much fear (see what it is to make a Figure) the Breadth of the Margin, & the Neatness of the Prints, wch are better done than one could expect, have prevail'd upon me to like it far better, than I did in Manuscript. for I think, it is not the very genteel Deportment of Polymetis, nor the lively Wit of Mysagetes, that have at all corrupted me.

There is one fundamental Fault, from whence most of the little Faults throughout the whole arise. he professes to neglect the Greek Writers, who could have given him more Instruction on the very Heads he professes to treat, than all the others put together. who does not know, that upon the Latine, the Sabine, & Hetruscan Mythology (wch probably might themselves at a remoter Period of Time owe their Origin to Greece too) the Romans ingrafted almost the whole Religion of Greece to make what is call'd their own? it would be hard to find any one Circumstance, that is properly of their Invention. in the ruder Days of the Republick the picturesque Part of their Religion (wch is the Province he has chose, & would be thought to confine himself too) was probably borrowed entirely from the Tuscans, who, as a wealthy & tradeing People, may be well supposed, & indeed are known, to have had the Arts flourishing in a considerable Degree among them. what could inform him here, but Dionysius Halic: (who expressly treats of those Times with great Curiosity & Industry) & the Remains of the first Roman Writers? the former he has neglected as a Greek; & the latter he says were but little acquainted with the Arts, & consequently are but of little Authority. in the better Ages, when every Temple & publick Building in Rome was peopled with imported Deities & Hero's, & when all the Artists of Reputation they made Use of were Greeks, what Wonder, if their Eyes grew familiarised to Grecian Forms & Habits (especially in a Matter of this kind, where so much depends upon the Imagination) & if those Figures introduced with them a Belief of such Fables, as first gave them Being, & dress'd them out in their various Attributes. it was natural then; & (I should think) necessary, to go to the Source itself, the Greek Accounts of their own Religion. but, to say the Truth, I suspect he was little conversant in those Books & that Language, for he rarely quotes any but Lucian, an Author that falls in every Bodie's Way, & who lived at the very extremity of that Period he has set to his Enquiries, later than any of the Poets he has meddled with, & for that Reason ought to have been regarded, as but an indifferent Authority, especially being a Syrian too. as he says himself; his Book, I think, is rather a Beginning than a perfect Work; but a Beginning at the wrong End: for if any body should finish it by enquireing into the Greek Mythology, as he proposes; it will be necessary to read it backward.

There are several little Neglects, that any one might have told him of, I minded in reading it hastily, as P: 311, a Discourse about Orange-Tree's occasion'd by Virgil's, inter odoratum lauri nemus. where he fancies the Roman Laurus to be our Laurel: tho' undoubtedly the Bay-tree, wch is odoratum, & (I believe) still call'd Lauro, or Alloro, at Rome. & that the Pomum Medicum in the Georgick is the Orange: tho' Theophrastus, whence Virgil borrow'd it, or even Pliny whom he himself quotes, might convince him, it is the Cedrato, wch he has often tasted at Florence. P: 144. is an Account of Domenichin's Cardinal Virtues, & a Fling at the Jesuits; neither of wch belong to them. the Painting is in a Church of the Barnabiti, dedicated to St Carlo Borroméo, whose Motto is Humilitas. P: 151. in a Note he says, the old Romans did not regard Fortune as a Deity. tho' Serv: Tullius (whom she was said to be in Love with; nay, there was actually an Affair between them) founded her Temple in Foro Boario. by the Way her Worship was Greek; & this King was educated in the Family of Tarquin: Priscus, whose Father was a Corinthian. so it is easy to conceive, how early the Religion of Rome might be mixed with that of Greece .. &c: &c:

Dr Midd:n has sent me to day a Book on the Roman Senate, the Substance of a Dispute between Ld Hervey & Him, tho' it never interrupted their Friendship, he says, & I dare say not ... Mrs Læt: Pilkington is a Name under certain recommendatory Verses in the Front of Cibber's Book, that seem designed to laugh at him. they were in a loose Sheet, not sow'd in. how does your Comedy succeed? I am told, very well.

Adieu! I am
Yours ever
T G:

My Respects to the Chutheds. I am much their's, tho' to no Purpose.

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Letter ID: letters.0150 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 30
Addressee: Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
Addressee's age: 29


Date of composition: [c. 19 February 1747]
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]


Language: English
Incipit: I have abundance of Thanks to return You for the Entertainment...
Mentioned: Chute, John, 1701-1776
Cibber, Colley
Dionysius Halicarnassus
Hervey, John Hervey, Lord
Middleton, Conyers
Spence, Joseph
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797

Holding Institution

GBR/1058/GRA/3/4/43, College Library, Pembroke College, Cambridge , Cambridge, UK <>
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 v, section iv, 185-187
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter V, vol. i, 299-301
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XII, vol. ii, 175-177
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter LXV, vol. i, 143-146
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter XVII, vol. iii, 35-38
  • 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. LXXVII, vol. i, 165-167
  • 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, 146-149
  • 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. 163, vol. ii, 75-79
  • The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence. Ed. by W. S. Lewis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP; London: Oxford UP, 1937-83, vols. 13/14: Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton i, 1734-42, Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray ii, 1745-71, ed. by W. S. Lewis, George L. Lam and Charles H. Bennett, 1948, vol. ii, 18-21
  • 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. 132, vol. i, 268-270