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Norton Nicholls to Thomas Gray, 27 November 1769

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I have two reasons for writing, one because it seems an age to me since I heard of you, the other to mention that I have taken the liberty of recommending to your notice Mr. de Bonstetten. I have given him a letter to you, but yet I thought it best to apprise you of it, that he might not come an entire stranger. I picked him out from among the mob in the rooms here, and like him very much; I shall be a little disappointed if you do not think him better than common for his age, and very little spoiled considering that he is the only son of the treasurer of Berne, and of one of the six noble families which bear the chief sway in the aristocracy. He was first at the university of Lausanne; afterwards his father sent for him home; then he went to Leyden, but thought Holland a most triste pays, and begged to be released, so he had leave to cross over to England; he seems to have read, and to be unwilling now to waste his time if he knew how to employ it; I think he is vastly better than any thing English (of the same age) I ever saw; and then, I have a partiality to him because he was born among mountains; and talks of them with enthusiasm–of the forests of pines which grow darker and darker as you ascend, till the nemorum nox is completed, and you are forced to grope your way; of the cries of eagles and other birds of prey adding to the horror; in short, of all the wonders of his country, which disturb my slumbers in Lovingland. I made Wheeler acquainted with him, who likes him as well as I, and has given him letters to Mr. Pitt and to Mrs. Hay, which have succeeded very well. When I go into Switzerland I am to be so directed! so recommended! and to travel with such advantages! but it is absolutely necessary to pass a month at Zurich to learn German; and the mountains must be traversed on foot; avec des Grimpons aux mains, and shoes of a peculiar construction. I'd give my ears to try.

So, because it would have given me infinite pleasure to have heard from the banks of Derwent Water, and because I gave you my direction, I was not to have a single line! for my part I would have told you long ago how I was pleased with the country about Southampton, delighted with Nettley Abbey, enchanted with the Isle of Wight, (where I passed three days alone searching every corner) how from thence I went to my cousin's in Dorsetshire, stayed six weeks, and came hither on my cousin Fanny's account; how pleased we were with Stour Head! how much more than pleased with Mr. Morris's (which we saw just when Autumn had begun to tinge the woods with a thousand beautiful varieties of colour) and with other scenes on the Severn. All this and more I would have told you; and if I had been as tedious as an Emperor, I could have found in my heart to have bestowed it all upon you, only you took care to secure yourself by leaving me without a direction.

We leave this place on Wednesday se'nnight and shall be in town the Saturday after. God knows where you are, but if in town I shall have a chance of seeing you. We shall depart for Blundeston the Wednesday after.

This place (Bath) surprised and pleased me extremely at first. It was so new a sight to see a town built of hewn stone, instead of ragged and dirty brick, and streets and parades on a regular plan, and above all the circus, instead of the confused heap of buildings of all shapes and sizes which compose every other town in England. The neighbouring country is very pretty– hills of some height with cultivated valleys running among them, the principal one (which leads to Bristol) watered by the Avon. There are many fine trees in the hedge-rows; and some woods clothing the sides of the hills. I have seen Mr. Mason's monument for his wife, and like it; but the medallion is I think too small; and the sculpture so small and delicate that it is seen to disadvantage at the height where it is placed.

Perhaps you will believe me if I say I long to see or hear from you! indeed I do most devoutly. I have a heart that would be much more at home at Pembroke Hall than it is at Bath.

Adieu! my dear Sir, I am ever most faithfully yours,
N. N.

My mother and cousin send their compliments to you.

Letter ID: letters.0568 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Nicholls, Norton, c. 1742-1809
Writer's age: 27[?]
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 52


Date of composition: 27 November 1769
Date (on letter): Nov. 27, 1769
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Bath, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Bath


Language: English
Incipit: I have two reasons for writing, one because it seems an age to me since I...
Mentioned: Bath
Bonstetten, Charles Victor de, 1745-1832
Derwent Water
Lausanne University
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Netley Abbey
Severn, River
Stour Head

Holding Institution

Availability: The original letter is unlocated, a copy, transcription, or published version survives

Print Versions

  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, letter XXIII, vol. v, 97-100
  • 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. CCCLV, vol. iii, 264-266
  • 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. 508, vol. iii, 1085-1087