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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [May 1740]

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Mater rosarum, cui teneræ vigent
Auræ Favonî, cui Venus it comes
Lasciva, Nympharum choreis
Et volucrum celebrata cantu!
Dic, non inertem fallere quâ diem
Amat sub umbrâ, seu sinit aureum
Dormire plectrum, seu retentat
Pierio Zephyrinus antro
Furore dulci plenus, & immemor
Reptantis inter frigora Tusculi
Umbrosa, vel colles amici
Palladiæ superantis Albæ.
Dilecta Fauno, & capripedum choris
Pineta, testor vos, Anio minax
Quæcunque per clivos volutus
Præcipiti tremefecit amne,
Illius altum Tibur, & Æsulæ
Audîsse sylvas nomen amabiles,
Illius & gratas Latinis
Naiasin ingeminâsse rupes:
Nam me Latinæ Naiades uvidâ
Vidêre ripâ, quà niveas levi
Tam sæpe lavit rore plumas
Dulcè canens Venusinus ales;
Mirum! canenti conticuit nemus,
Sacriqb fontes, et retinent adhuc
(Sic Musa jussit) saxa molles
Docta modos, veteresque lauri.
Mirare nec tu me citharæ rudem
Claudis laborantem numeris: loca
Amœna, jucundumque ver incompositum
docuere carmen;
Hærent sub omni nam folio nigri
Phœbea luci (credite) somnia,
Argutiusque & lympha & auræ
Nescio quid solito loquuntur.

I am to-day just returned from Alba, a good deal fatigued; for you know the Appian is somewhat tiresome. We dined at Pompey's; he indeed was gone for a few days to his Tusculan, but, by the care of his Villicus, we made an admirable meal. We had the dugs of a pregnant sow, a peacock, a dish of thrushes, a noble scarus just fresh from the Tyrrhene, and some conchylia of the Lake with garum sauce: For my part I never eat better at Lucullus's table. We drank half a dozen cyathi a-piece of ancient Alban to Pholoë's health; and, after bathing, and playing an hour at ball, we mounted our essedum again, and proceeded up the mount to the temple. The priests there entertained us with an account of a wonderful shower of birds eggs, that had fallen two days before, which had no sooner touched the ground, but they were converted into gudgeons; as also that the night past a dreadful voice had been heard out of the Adytum, which spoke Greek during a full half hour, but no body understood it. But quitting my Romanities, to your great joy and mine, let me tell you, in plain English, that we come from Albano. The present town lies within the inclosure of Pompey's Villa in ruins. The Appian way runs through it, by the side of which, a little farther, is a large old tomb, with five pyramids upon it, which the learned suppose to be the burying-place of the family, because they do not know whose it can be else. But the vulgar assure you it is the sepulchre of the Curiatii, and by that name (such is their power) it goes. One drives to Castel Gondolfo, a house of the Pope's, situated on the top of one of the Collinette, that forms a brim to the bason, commonly called the Alban lake. It is seven miles round; and directly opposite to you, on the other side, rises the Mons Albanus, much taller than the rest, along whose side are still discoverable (not to common eyes) certain little ruins of the old Alba longa. They had need be very little, as having been nothing but ruins ever since the days of Tullus Hostilius. On its top is a house of the Constable Colona's, where stood the temple of Jupiter Latialis. At the foot of the hill Gondolfo, are the famous outlets of the lake, built with hewn stone, a mile and a half under ground. Livy, you know, amply informs us of the foolish occasion of this expence, and gives me this opportunity of displaying all my erudition, that I may appear considerable in your eyes. This is the prospect from one window of the palace. From another you have the whole Campagna, the City, Antium, and the Tyrrhene sea (twelve miles distant) so distinguishable, that you may see the vessels sailing upon it. All this is charming. Mr. Walpole says, our memory sees more than our eyes in this country. Which is extremely true; since, for realities, Windsor, or Richmond Hill, is infinitely preferable to Albano or Frescati. I am now at home, and going to the window to tell you it is the most beautiful of Italian nights, which, in truth, are but just begun (so backward has the spring been here, and every where else, they say.) There is a moon! there are stars for you! Do not you hear the fountain? Do not you smell the orange flowers? That building yonder is the Convent of S. Isidore; and that eminence, with the cypress trees and pines upon it, the top of M. Quirinal. This is all true, and yet my prospect is not two hundred yards in length. We send you some Roman inscriptions to entertain you. The first two are modern, transcribed from the Vatican library by Mr. Walpole.

Pontifices olim quem fundavere priores,
Præcipuâ Sixtus perficit arte tholum;
Et Sixti tantum se gloria tollit in altum,
Quantum se Sixti nobile tollit opus:
Magnus honos magni fundamina ponere templi,
Sed finem cæptis ponere major honos.

Saxa agit Amphion, Thebana ut mœnia condat:
Sixtus & immensæ pondera molis agit.
Saxa trahunt ambo longè diversa: sed arte
Hæc trahit Amphion; Sixtus & arte trahit.
At tantum exsuperat Dircæum Amphiona Sixtus,
Quantum hic exsuperat cætera saxa lapis.

Mine is ancient, and I think not less curious. It is exactly transcribed from a sepulchral marble at the villa Giustiniani. I put stops to it, when I understand it.

DIS Manibus
Claudiæ, Pistes
Primus Conjugi
Optumae, Sanctae,
Et Piae, Benemeritate.
Non æquos, Parcae, statuistis stamina vitæ.
Tam bene compositos potuistis sede tenere.
Amissa est conjux. cur ego & ipse moror?
Si bella esse mî iste mea vivere debuit •
Tristia contigerunt qui amissâ conjuge vivo.
Nil est tam miserum, quam totam perdere vitam.
Nec vita enasci dura peregistis crudelia pensa, sorores,
Ruptaque deficiunt in primo munere fusi.
O nimis injustæ ter denos dare munus in annos,
Deceptus grautus fatum sic pressit egestas
Dum vitam tulero, Primus Pistes lugea conjugium.

Letter ID: letters.0099 (Source: TEI/XML)


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


Date of composition: [May 1740]
Date (on letter): [May 1740]
Calendar: Gregorian


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


Languages: English, Latin
Incipit: I am to-day just returned from Alba, a good deal fatigued;...
Mentioned: Ad C: Favonium Zephyrinum
Appian Way
Richmond (Surrey)
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797

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 xxi, section ii, 87-92
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section II, letter XXI, vol. i, 211-215
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section II, letter XXIII, vol. ii, 92-95
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter XXXIX, vol. i, 82-86
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section II, letter XXIII, vol. ii, 109-112
  • 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. XXXIX, vol. i, 68-70
  • 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. 119, vol. i, 302-307
  • 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. 87, vol. i, 158-162