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Thomas Gray to James Beattie, 24 December 1767

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To Mr Professor Beattie in the University of Aberdeen by Caxton-Bay


Since I had the pleasure of receiving your last letter, wch did not reach me, till I had left the North, & was come to London, I have been confined to my room with a fit of the gout: now I am recover'd & in quiet at Cambridge, I take up my pen to thank you for your very friendly offers, wch have so much the air of frankness & real good-meaning, that were my body as tractable & easy of conveyance as my mind, you would see me tomorrow in the chamber you have so hospitably laid out for me at Aberdeen. but, alas! I am a summer-bird, & can only sit drooping, till the sun returns: even then too my wings may chance to be clipp'd, & little in plight for so distant an excursion.

The proposal you make me about printing, what little I have ever written, at Glasgow does me honour. I leave my reputation in that part of the kingdom to your care, & only desire you would not let your partiality to me & mine mislead you. if you persist in your design, Mr Foulis certainly ought to be acquainted of what I am now going to tell you. when I was in London the last spring, Dodsley the Bookseller ask'd my leave to reprint, in a smaller form all I have ever publish'd, to wch I consented; & added, that I would send him a few explanatory notes, & if he would omitt entirely the Long Story (wch was never meant for the publick, & only suffer'd to appear in that pompous edition because of Mr Bentley's designs, wch were not intelligible without it) I promised to send him some thing else to print instead of it, least the bulk of so small a volume should be reduced to nothing at all. now it is very certain, that I had rather see them printed at Glasgow (especially as you will condescend to revise the press) than at London, but I know not how to retract my promise to Dodsley. by the way you perhaps may imagine, that I have some kind of interest in this publication: but the truth is, I have none whatever. the expence is his & so is the profit, if there be any. I therefore told him the other day in general terms, that I heard, there would be an edition put out in Scotland by a friend of mine, whom I could not refuse, & that if so, I would send thither a copy of the same notes & additions, that I had promised to send to him. this did not seem at all to cool his courage; Mr Foulis therefore must judge for himself, whether he thinks it worth while to print, what is going to be printed also at London. if he does I will send him (in a packet to you) the same things I shall send to Dodsley. they are imitations of two pieces of old Norwegian poetry, in wch there was a wild spirit, that struck me: but for my paraphrases I can not say much. you will judge. the rest are nothing but a few parallel passages; & small notes just to explain, what People said at the time was wrap'd in total darkness. you will please to tell me, as soon as you can conveniently, what Mr F:s says on this head, that (if he drops the design) I may save myself & you the trouble of this packet. I ask your pardon for talking so long about it: a little more & my letter would be as big as all my works.

I have read with much pleasure an Ode of yours (in wch you have done me the honour to adopt a measure, that I have used) on Ld Hay's birth-day. tho' I do not love panegyrick, I can not but applaud this, for there is nothing mean in it. the diction is easy & noble. the texture of the thoughts lyrick, & the versification harmonious. the fourth Stanza is particularly my favourite (the Muse with joy &c:) for the contrast of images; & the three follo[wing] are excellent: not so the last. it is rather sp[un out] & the thoughts repeated. I object a little too to (in St: 2d) All energy of mind. the word all weakens the verse; & again in St: 6, O yet e'er Luxury. that word can not be contracted to a dissyllable without harshness, tho' Mem'ry may. these indeed are MinutiƦ, but they weigh for something, as half a grain makes a difference in the value of a diamond.

Adieu! Dear Sr, & believe me
Your Friend & faithful Servant

I am forced to write without a frank, but I will do so no more.

Letter ID: letters.0513 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 51
Addressee: Beattie, James, 1735-1803
Addressee's age: 32


Date of composition: 24 December 1767
Date (on letter): Dec: 24. 1767
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Pembroke Hall Cambridge
Place of addressee: [Aberdeen, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To Mr Professor Beattie in the University of Aberdeen by Caxton-Bay (postmark: CAMBRIDGE)


Language: English
Incipit: Since I had the pleasure of receiving your last letter, wch did not reach...
Mentioned: Poems by Mr. Gray (1768)
Poems by Mr. Gray (1768)
A Long Story
Dodsley, Robert, 1703-1764

Holding Institution

AU MS 30/24/6/4, AU MS 30, Papers of James Beattie (1735-1803), Historic Collections, Special Libraries and Archives, King's College, University of Aberdeen Library , Aberdeen, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; a photostat is in MS. Toynbee d.32, Bodleian Library, Oxford

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 lvi, section iv, 327-329
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter LVI, vol. i, 426-428
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter CXXXI, vol. ii, 481-483
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXXXII, vol. ii, 110-112
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CXLII, vol. iv, 90-92
  • 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. CCCXIV, vol. iii, 161-163
  • 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, 284
  • 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. 457, vol. iii, 982-984