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Thomas Gray to William Mason, 24 March 1758

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Dear Mason

I have full as much ennui as yourself, tho' much less dissipation, but I can not make this my excuse for being silent, for I write to you pour me desennuyer, tho' I have little enough to say. I know not, whether I am to condole with you on this Canterbury Business, for it is not clear to me, that You or the Church are any great Losers by it. if you are; be so good to inform me, & I will be sorry. however there is one good thing in it: it proves the Family are mortal.

You do not seem to discover, that Mons: Mallet is but a very small Scholar, except in the erudition of the Goths. there are a-propos two Dissertations on the Religion & Opinions of the Gauls, publish'd in the Memoires de l'Acad. des Belles-Lettres & des Inscriptions, Vol. 24me. 4to. one by the Abbé Fenel, in wch he would shew, that about Tiberius, and Claudius times the Druids, persecuted & dispersed by the Romans, probably retired into Germany & propagated their doctrines there. this is to account for some similitude to the Gaulish notions wch the religion of Germany seems to bear, as Tacitus has described it, whereas J: Cæsar makes them extremely different, who lived before this supposed dispersion of ye Druids. the other by Mons:r Freret is to shew the reverse of all this, that there was no such dispersion, no such similitude, and that if Cæsar & Tacitus disagree, it is because the first knew nothing but of those Nations that border'd on the Rhine, & the other was acquainted with all Germany. I do not know, whether these will furnish you with any new matter, but they are well enough wrote & easily read. I told you before (that in a time of dearth) I would venture to borrow from the Edda without entering too minutely on particulars: but if I did so, I would make each image so clear, that it might be fully understood by itself, for in this obscure mythology we must not hint at things, as we do with the Greek Fables, that every body is supposed to know at school. however on second thoughts I think it would be still better to graft any wild picturesque fable absolutely of one's own invention upon the Druid-Stock, I mean upon those half-dozen of old fancies, that are known to have made their system. this will give you more freedom & latitude, & will leave no hold for the Criticks to fasten on.

Pray, when did I pretend to finish, or even insert passages into other people's works? as if it were equally easy to pick holes, & to mend them. all I can say is, that your elegy must not end with the worst line in it. it is flat, it is prose, whereas that above all ought to sparkle, or at least to shine. if the sentiment must stand, twirl it a little into an apophegm, stick a flower in it, gild it with a costly expression, let it strike the fancy, the ear, or the heart, & I am satisfied.

Hodges is a sad Fellow, so is Dr Akenside, & Mr Shenstone, our friends & companions. your story of G:ck is a good one; pray, is it true, & what came of it? did the tragic Poet call a Guard?

It was I, that hinder'd Mr Brown from sending the Pamphlet. it is nonsense, & that nonsense all stole from Dr Stukely's book about Abury & Stone-henge. yet if you will have it, you may.

Adieu, & let me hear soon from you.
I am ever

I wish you may come with Mr H:d, but I don't expect it.

Letter ID: letters.0311 (Source: TEI/XML)


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


Date of composition: 24 March 1758
Date (on letter): Good Friday 1758
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]


Language: English
Incipit: I have full as much ennui as yourself, tho' much less dissipation,...
Mentioned: Akenside, Dr. Mark
Fréret, Nicholas
Fénel, Jean-Baptiste
Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808
Mallet, Paul Henri
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Shenstone, William
Stukeley, Dr. William

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, section iv, 257-258
  • 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 XXXIV, 144-147
  • 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. CLXV, vol. ii, 26-29
  • 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, 206-208
  • 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. 269, vol. ii, 567-569