This chronological table records landmark dates in Gray's life and work. It is intended as a means of contextualizing Gray's literary and scholarly efforts. It must be noted that some of the dates are approximate, and, unless indicated to the contrary, reference is to date of publication, not composition, of literary works. The chronology makes no claim to be exhaustive. The reader should consult the list of works cited and the bibliography section of full-length biographies for more detailed information. Please send your suggestions, corrections, and additions to the editor.
Early Years (1716 - 1741)
|Date||Age||Life and Works|
Thomas Gray born in Cornhill, London, where his mother, Dorothy (1685-1753, nee Antrobus), kept a milliner's shop in partnership with her sister, Mary (1683-1749). His father, Philip Gray (1676-1741), was a "money scrivener" by profession. Thomas was the only survivor of twelve children.
Gray sent to Eton College, under the care of his uncle, Robert Antrobus (1679-1729), who was assistant master there. He met and formed the 'Quadruple Alliance' with Richard West (1716-42), Horace Walpole (1717-97), and Thomas Ashton (1715-1775), his closest friends. A few Latin exercises date from the time at Eton.
Entered as pensioner at Peterhouse, Cambridge.
Thomas Ashton entered King's College, Cambridge.
Gray fully admitted at Peterhouse.
Gray met Thomas Wharton, a pensioner at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Gray had written his first extant English poem, "Lines Spoken by John Dennis at the Devil Tavern", and sent it to Walpole.
Gray joined in Cambridge by his friend Horace Walpole, who entered at King's College.
West entered at Christ Church, Oxford.
Gray admitted at Inner Temple.
Inherited the small property of his paternal aunt, Sarah Gray.
Gray's "Hymeneal" on the marriage of the Prince of Wales published in the Cambridge Gratulatio.
Wrote Tripos Verses, i.e. the Latin verses printed with the list of Cambridge Tripos candidates each year, Luna habitabilis.
Left Cambridge for his father's house in London without having taken a degree, intending to read for the Bar at the Inner Temple in London.
Accompanied Horace Walpole on a two-year Grand Tour through France and Italy.
April - June
Stayed in Paris.
June - September
Stayed at Reims.
September - October
On the way to Geneva, visited the Grande Chartreuse. Crossed the Mont Cenis.
Arrived at Turin.
By Genoa and Bologna to Florence, where he spent the winter at the house of Horace Mann.
March - July
Excursion to Naples.
Returned to Florence.
During this period sent several Latin poems to West.
Second half of the year
Began writing De Principiis Cogitandi in Florence.
Left Florence for Venice.
Quarrelled with Walpole at Reggio and proceeded to Venice.
May - July
Stayed at Venice with John Chute.
Returned to England alone through Padua, Verona, Milan, Turin, Lyon, and Paris.
Visited the Grande Chartreuse again and wrote an Alcaic Ode in the Visitors' Book of the Monastery.
Arrived back in England, went to London.
Gray's father, Philip, died, leaving the family financially insecure.
Gray began his only tragedy, the fragmentary Agrippina.
Middle Years (1742 - 1758)
|Date||Age||Life and Works|
Planned to study law in London with West. Regular correspondence with West, exchanging Latin verses and translations with him.
Wrote the "Hymn to Ignorance" (fragment).
28 May - 15 October
Visited his uncle Jonathan Rogers at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire.
Gray wrote the "Ode on the Spring", which he sent to Richard West on 3rd June.
Richard West, Gray's closest friend, died.
Mid-June - Mid-July
Gray briefly returned to London.
Gray wrote the "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College", "Sonnet on the Death of Richard West", and the "Ode to Adversity".
Returned to Peterhouse, as a Fellow-commoner, resided permanently at Cambridge, with a few protracted absences, for the rest of his life.
Gray's chief friends at Cambridge were Thomas Wharton, Fellow of Pembroke till his marriage in 1747, James Brown, afterwards Master of Pembroke, and William Mason (1724-97).
Gray's uncle Jonathan Rogers, died.
Gray's mother and her sister, Mary Antrobus, retired from Cornhill and settled with their third sister, Anne (1676-1758), the widow of Jonathan Rogers, at West End House at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire. Gray accordingly divided his summers between Stoke and London in the following decade.
Granted a Bachelor of Laws degree.
Spent the year in Cambridge, with summer visits to Stoke and London.
Reconciled with Horace Walpole.
Gray shared some of his earlier poetry and probably the beginning of the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", which he had recently started, with Horace Walpole who had begun living in an apartment within the precincts of Windsor Castle.
Sent the "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" to Walpole.
"Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" published anonymously by Robert Dodsley.
Walpole leased the estate in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, which he began turning into a Gothic castle.
"Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College", "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes", and "Ode on the Spring" published anonymously in R. Dodsley's Collection of Poems, vol. II
January / February
Met and befriended Rev. William Mason who was to become a fellow of Pembroke College in 1749 and eventually served as Gray's literary executor.
Gray's childhood home in Cornhill burned down.
William Mason elected Fellow of Pembroke, partly through Gray's influence.
Gray's aunt and his mother's former business partner, Mary Antrobus, died.
Completed the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" at Stoke Poges and sent it to Walpole who circulated it in MS among his friends and acquaintances.
August - October
Wrote "A Long Story" for Lady Cobham, a neighbour at Stoke Poges. Met Henrietta Jane Speed (1728-1783).
An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard published anonymously by Dodsley. Unauthorized versions appear almost immediately in a variety of publications.
Planned to collaborate with William Mason on a "History of English Poetry".
Began "The Progress of Poesy".
Gray's mother, Dorothy, died at Stoke Poges.
Designs by Mr. R. Bentley for Six Poems by Mr. T. Gray, the first authorized collected edition of Gray's poetry, published by Dodsley.
July - September
During this and the two following years Gray was engaged with the Pindaric Odes "The Progress of Poesy" and "The Bard".
Probably began "Ode on the Pleasure arising from Vicissitude".
June - September
Made a tour in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.
"The Progress of Poesy" finished.
Winter 1754 / 55
Declined offer to become Secretary to the Earl of Bristol at Lisbon.
Travelled in Hampshire, visited Portsmouth, Southampton, Winchester etc.
Moved from Peterhouse to Pembroke College.
Attended a concert by harper Mr. Parry. Completed "The Bard".
Odes by Mr. Gray ("The Progress of Poesy" and "The Bard") published by Walpole at his new Strawberry Hill press.
Was offered, but refused, the post of Poet Laureate, vacant through the death of Colley Cibber.
Wrote "[Epitaph on Mrs. Clerke]" for John Clerke.
June or July
Wrote "Epitaph on a Child" for Thomas Wharton.
Gray's aunt, Mrs. Jonathan Rogers, died in Stoke Poges.
Gray's connection with the place ended the following year. Hereafter Gray usually spent his summers visiting friends in different parts of the country.
Later Years (1759 - 1771)
|Date||Age||Life and Works|
Took lodgings in Southampton Row, London, in order to study at the British Museum, which was opened to the public in January. Collected materials for his planned "History of English Poetry".
Lady Cobham died.
28 June - 21 July
Visited Henrietta Jane Speed at the home of her friend Mrs Jennings at Shiplake, in Oxfordshire.
Read and studied the works of James Macpherson and later the Rev. Evan Evans.
Gray had completed "The Fatal Sisters", "The Descent of Odin", and the other imitations of Welsh and Norse poems (including "The Triumphs of Owen"), expression of his culminating interest in early Welsh and Icelandic poetry. Intended to include them in his "History of English Poetry", which he had first projected in 1752.
Wrote "Epitaph on Sir W. Williams".
Wrote "Song" for Miss Speed.
Henrietta Jane Speed married to Baron de la Perriere.
Gave up London residence and returned to Pembroke College.
Made the acquaintance of Norton Nicholls, an undergraduate at Cambridge, who became a close friend.
1 July - 11 November
Visited Mason in York and Wharton in Durham, and made a tour of places of interest in the north.
Gray made overtures for the post of Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, vacant through the death of Dr. Turner, but Lord Bute, George III's chief minister, gave it to Lawrence Brockett.
Spent the year in Cambridge, with brief excursions to Epsom, Boxhill, and London.
January - March
Gray wrote "The Candidate", a satire on the Earl of Sandwich's application for the High Stewardship of Cambridge University.
25 September - 22 October
Visited Southampton, Salisbury, etc.
27 May - 18 August
18 August - 17 October
Made a tour in the Scottish Highlands with Lord Strathmore. Met Robertson and "other literati" at Edinburgh. Stayed at Glamis castle, where he met James Beattie (1735-1803).
16 May - 4 July
Travelled in Kent.
15 June - 2 November
Stayed at Durham, Hartlepool, York. First visit to the Lake District.
Collected edition of Poems published by Dodsley in London.
Poems published by R. and A. Foulis in Glasgow.
7 April - 15 July
Stayed in Kent.
Wrote verses "On L[or]d H[olland']s Seat Near M[argat]e, K[en]t".
Appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, and made Fellow of Pembroke College.
Completed the "Ode for Music".
Ode for Music performed at the installation of the Duke of Grafton, Chancellor of the University.
18 July - 15 October
Visited York, Durham, and the Lakes. Wrote his Journal on his tour
Met and befriended Charles Victor de Bonstetten (1745-1832), a young Swiss scholar, in Cambridge.
De Bonstetten left England.
Gray made his will, left all his works to William Mason.
2 July - 3 August
Gray made an excursion through the Western Counties in company of Norton Nicholls.
Taken ill suddenly while dining at Pembroke College.
Gray died of suppressed gout.
He was buried beside his mother and aunt in the churchyard at Stoke Poges.
Publication of William Mason's The Poems of Mr Gray, to which are prefixed Memoirs of His Life and Writings.
- Gray: Poetry and Prose. With essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and others. With an Introduction and Notes by J. Crofts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1948 [1st ed. 1926].
- Golden, Morris: Thomas Gray. Updated edition. Twayne's English authors series, TEAS 6. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988 [1st ed. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964].
- The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith. Edited by Roger Lonsdale. Longman Annotated English Poets Series. London and Harlow: Longmans, 1969.
- Thomas Gray. Edited by Robert L. Mack. Everyman Paperback Classics. Everyman's Poetry Library. London: Everyman, 1996.
- The Poems of Gray and Collins. Edited by Austin Lane Poole. Revised by Leonard Whibley. Third edition. Oxford editions of standard authors series. London: Oxford UP, 1937, reprinted 1950 [1st ed. 1919].
- Correspondence of Thomas Gray. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, in 3 vols., v. 1 1734-1755, v. 2 1756-1765, v. 3 1766-1771. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935].
- Selected poems of Thomas Gray, Charles Churchill and William Cowper. Ed. with an introduction and notes by Katherine Turner. Penguin English poets series. London [etc.]: Penguin Books, 1997.
- Synopsis of British Literature and Culture 1000-2000, ed. by Hartmut Ilsemann, Englisches Seminar, Universität Hannover, 1994. Extract for the "long 18th century" (roughly 1660-1830) kindly provided by and used with permission of the author. Each page of the survey covers 20 years: 1660-1679, 1680-1699, 1700-1719, 1720-1739, 1740-1759, 1760-1779, 1780-1799, 1800-1819, 1820-1839. [PDFs]
- "Chronological Table (1716-1797)". Correspondence of Gray, Walpole, West and Ashton (1734-1771), in two volumes, chronologically arranged and edited with introduction, notes, and index by Paget Toynbee. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915, vol. ii, 327-336.
- "Literature in Context: A Chronology, c. 1660-1825" [PDF], part of the printed guide to Poetic Commonplace Books and Manuscripts of Thomas Gray, 1716-1771, from Pembroke College, Cambridge, published on microfilm by Adam Matthew Publications Ltd.
- A Time-Line of English Poetry: Early Modern English: Augustans (1667-1780) from Representative Poetry On-line, ed. by Ian Lancashire, University of Toronto
- Eighteenth-Century Chronology (1660-1800) by Jack Lynch, Rutgers University
- 18th-Century chronology (1700-1784) from the Romantic Chronology, ed. by Alan Liu, UCSB, and Laura Mandell, Miami University
- Chronology of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries at the Department of English, University of Pennsylvania