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Thomas Gray to William Mason, [3 February 1758]

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The Revd Mr Mason

Dear Mason

A life spent out of the World has its hours of despondence, its inconveniences, its sufferings, as numerous, & as real (tho' not quite of the same sort) as a life spent in the midst of it. the power we have, when we will exert it, over our own minds, join'd to a little strength & consolation, nay, a little pride, we catch from those, that seem to love us, is our only support in either of these conditions. I am sensible I can not return to you so much of this assistance as I have received from you. I can only tell you, that one, who has far more reason, than you (I hope) will ever have, to look on life with something worse than indifference, is yet no enemy to it, and can look backward on many bitter moments partly with satisfaction & partly with patience, and forward too on a scene not very promising with some hope & some expectations of a better day. the conversation you mention seems to me to have been in some measure the cause of your reflection. as you do not describe the manner (wch is very essential & yet can not easily be described) to be sure I can judge but very imperfectly of it. but if (as you say) it ended very amicably, why not take it as amicably? in most cases I am a great Friend to Eclaircissements: it is no pleasant task to enter upon them, therefore it is always some merit in the Person, who does so. I am in the dark too as to what you have said of —; to whom, where, before whom, how did it come round? for you certainly would not do it indiscriminately, nor without a little reserve. I do not mean on your own account, (for he is an object of contempt, that would naturally tempt any one to laugh, or bepiss himself,) but for the Person's sake, with whom you so often are, who (merely from his situation) must neither laugh, nor bepiss himself, as you & I might do. who knows? any little imprudence (wch it is so pleasant to indulge) might really be disagreable in its consequences to him, for it would be said infallibly, tho' very unjustly, that you would not dare to take these liberties without private encouragement, at least that he had no aversion to hear in secret, what you ventured to say in publick. you do not imagine, that the World (wch always concludes wrong about the motives of such minds, as it has not been used to) will think you have any sentiments of your own, & tho' you (if you thought it worth while) might wish to convince them of their mistake, yet you would not do it at the expence of another, especially of this other. in short I think (as far as I know) you have no reason from this to take any such resolution as you meditate. make use of it in its season, as a relief from what is tiresome to you, but not as if it was in consequence of something you take ill. on the contrary if such a conference had happen'd about the time of your transmigration, I would defer it, to avoid that appearance merely. for the frankness of this proceeding has to me an appearance of friendliness, that one would by no means wish to suppress.

I am ashamed not to have return'd Mr Hurd my thanks for his book, pray do it for me in the civilest manner & tell him I shall be here till April, when I must go for a short time to Town, but shall return again hither: I rejoice to hear he is again coming out, & had no notion of his being so ready for ye Press.

I wrote to the Man (as you bid me) & had a second criticism: his name (for I desired to know it) is Butler. he is, he says, of the number of those, who live, less contented than they ought, in an independent indolence, can just afford himself a horse for airings about Harewood-Forest (the Scene of Elfrida) half-a-score new books in a season, & good part of half an acre of garden-ground for honeysuckles & roses. did you know that Harewood was near Andover? I think, that you had some Friend in that neighbourhood. is it not Mr Bourne? however don't enquire, for our correspondence is to be a profound secret.

Adieu! I am ever
Truly Yours
Letter ID: letters.0308 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 41
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 34


Date of composition: [3 February 1758]
Date (on letter): Jan: 3. 1758
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To / The Revd Mr Mason


Language: English
Incipit: A life spent out of the World has its hours of despondence, its inconveniences,...
Mentioned: Andover
Butler, J., Mr
Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808

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, letter xxviii, section iv, 256
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter XXVIII, vol. i, 363-366
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter LXX, vol. ii, 302-305
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter XCIX, vol. ii, 26-29
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter LXXVIII, vol. iii, 183-187
  • 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 XXVIII, 116-119
  • 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. CLVIII, vol. ii, 2-5
  • 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. 266*, vol. ii, 561-563