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Norton Nicholls to Thomas Gray, [16 March 1771]

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Yesterday I received a letter from De Bonstetten, crammed fuller than it could hold, and containing besides two little after-thoughts, one three inches by two, the other two by one, which flew out when I opened the letter like the oracles of the Sybil. But I like this much better than any I have received; he intreats us a deux genoux to come, and I you in the same posture and with equal earnestness; if he does not esteem me he is an idiot to take so much pains to persuade me to believe it, because, if he were false, I see no end that it could answer to make a dupe of me at the expense of so much labour and unnecessary dissimulation. He promises, if we come, that he will visit us in England the summer following. Let us go then, my dear Mr. Gray, and leave low thoughted care at the foot of the mountains, for the air above is too pure for it. During the winter, my wandering inclinations are quiet in their hybernacula; but these two or three last glorious days succeeding the rigour of such an unusual season, have awakened them; the animal and vegetable world rejoice, and every thing that has life in it begins to shew it. I have lived in the air (being fortunately compelled to attend my garden myself) except during dinner, &c. The effect of this and De Bonstetten's letter is, that I find something 'che mi sprona' invincibly to go to Switzerland this summer. A deux genoux, I again intreat you to go with me. To-day, as I sat at breakfast in a room without sun, I felt myself in prison, and the world abroad appeared to me not a reality, but some golden vision raised by enchantment. The moment the windows were flung up, an earthly smell came in, exhaled by the sun from the loose and fermenting mould of the garden and fields. 'In those vernal seasons of the year, when the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing with heaven and earth.' I am not so sullen; I do partake with her, and feel that this is a natural joy, which confesses its origin by being sincere and unmixed, and by leaving no bitterness on the palate behind it; but, on the contrary, opens, dilates, and warms the heart. I really find myself as inclined to pray, in such a day as this, as Petrarch was on the summit of the mountain. Pardon this rant, which, though I felt, I ought perhaps to have repressed. The burthen of the song is, 'Go to Switzerland with me, I beseech you.' In the mean time, for I have not a moment to lose, I shall venture to bespeak a curate from the first of June to the last of October, and consider of ways and means for a supply adequate to my great occasions: but I will go, though twenty St. Gothards were in the way. The geometra fasciaria, I think (ignorant, alas! that I was an enemy of the Linnæan faction) flew against me in the twilight yesterday evening; otherwise I have found but few insects yet. I have some larvæ in boxes, that I met with under the roots of plants. The mosses require too painful an attention without an instructor, so I shall wait for one. I have looked at a few common birds, and this is all. The rest of my time has been taken up with Froissart, Guicciardini, &c. I am still reading the latter, and extracting from the former. A thousand thanks for your letter, full of information, but giving me a curiosity to see books that I cannot get here. Pray what were the heralds, who seem to have been so liberally rewarded, and called in with the minstrels at great entertainments, as well as employed in carrying defiances, &c. What is the difference between bannière and pennon? each principal commander (but these are vague words) seems to have marched with a bannière peculiar to him, on which his arms were painted, and a pennon seems inferior. I have put the story of the Irish Kings, from Froissart, into English; and am now gathering many scattered curiosities relating to the manners of the Scotch in that age. I am besides reading at odd times Hall's Chronicle, and my mother and I have just begun the second volume of Robertson's Charles the Fifth, because we know something about him already from Rapin and Lord Herbert, and I from Guicciardin. I long for a book often quoted by Lord Herbert, and that should be curious; Sandoval especially, as I can now read Spanish pretty easily, for I have finished Don Quixote. Temple desires a plan for modern history, not confined to any particular period, but beginning as early as you think proper, and continued as late;– if you think this an immodest request, you may do as much or as little of it as you please; but whatever you may do will be a kindness to him (whose only consolation consists in his books and a few friends who wish him well, without being able to do more) and received with great joy and gratitude. I believe my house will be continued to me on the present footing. De Bonstetten in one of the flying scraps says, 'M. Freundenrich mon ami qui est dans votre pays cherche quelque homme de Lettres qui veuille le prendre en pension pour cet Eté.–Vous ferez quelque chose de ce pauvre homme, il a des talens, son education a été négligé. Je vous supplie de vous interesser à cette affaire.' But by what means? For he has not told me where he is to be found; nor do I perfectly understand what le prendre en pension means. Is it that he would board with some one who would instruct him in English and other matters? Perhaps M. Freundenrich is a person that he has mentioned to you, and thinks I know him of course. Do you know a book that De Bonstetten recommends to me, Danielis Eremitæ Vita, &c. with a voyage to Switzerland at the end? Pray let me hear soon. My mother's compliments. The post is forbid to send letters cross.

N. N.
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Letter ID: letters.0625 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Nicholls, Norton, c. 1742-1809
Writer's age: 29[?]
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 54


Date of composition: [16 March 1771]
Date (on letter): [March 16, 1771]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Blundeston, United Kingdom]
Address (on letter): [Blundeston]


Language: English
Incipit: Yesterday I received a letter from De Bonstetten, crammed fuller than it...
Mentioned: Bonstetten, Charles Victor de, 1745-1832
Eremita, Daniel
Froissart, John
Guicciardini, Francesco
Hall, Edward
Herbert of Cherbury, 1st Baron
Rapin de Thoyras, Paul
Robertson, Dr. William
Sandoval, Prudencio de

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 XXXVII, vol. v, 130-134
  • 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. 545, vol. iii, 1172-1174