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Thomas Gray to William Mason, [August 1761]

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To The Revd Mr Mason

Dear Mason

Be assured he never will die, so the better the thing is in value, the worse for you. the true way to immortality is to get you nominated one's Successor: Age & Diseases vanish at your name, Fevers turn to radical heat, & Fistulas to issues: it is a judgement that waits on your insatiable Avarice. you could not let the poor old Man die at his ease, when he was about it, & all his family (I suppose) are cursing you for it.

I should think your motions, if you are not perverse, might be so contrived as to bring you hither for a week or two in your way to the Coronation, & then we may go together to Town, where I must be early in September. do, & then I will help you to write a bawdy Sermon on this happy occasion. our friend Jemmy Bickham is going off to a living (better than 400£ a-year) somewhere in the neighbourhood of Mr Hurd; & his old Flame, that he has nursed so many years, goes with him: I tell you this to make you pine.

I wrote to Ld John on his recovery, & he answers me very chearfully, as if his illness had been but slight, & the Pleuresy were no more than a hole in one's stocking. he got it (he says) not by scampering, & racketing, & heating his blood, as I had supposed: but by going with Ladies to Vauxhall. he is the picture (& pray so tell him, if you see him) of an old Alderman, that I knew, who after living 40 years on the fat of the land, (not milk & honey, but arrack-punch & venison) & losing his great toe with a mortification, said to the last, that he owed it to two grapes, wch he eat one day after dinner. he felt them lie cold at his stomach the minute they were down.

Montagu (as I guess, at your instigation) has earnestly desired me to write some lines to be put on a Monument, wch he means to erect at Bellisle. it is a task I do not love, knowing Sr W: W: so slightly as I did: but he is so friendly a Person, & his affliction seem'd to me so real, that I could not refuse him. I have sent him the following verses, wch I neither like myself, nor will he, I doubt. however I have shew'd him, that I wish'd to oblige him. tell me your real opinion.

Here foremost in the dang'rous paths of fame
Young Williams fought for England's fair renown:
His mind each Muse, each Grace adorn'd his frame,
Nor Envy dared to view him with a frown.
At Aix uncall'd his maiden-sword he drew
(There first in blood his infant-glory seal'd)
From fortune, pleasure, science, love, he flew,
And scorn'd repose, when Britain took the field.
With eyes of flame & cool intrepid breast
Victor he stood on Bellisle's rocky steeps:
Ah gallant Youth!–this marble tells the rest,
Where melancholy Friendship bends, & weeps.

(3 words below to say, who set up the Monument)

Letter ID: letters.0390 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 44
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 37


Date of composition: [August 1761]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To The Revd Mr Mason


Language: English
Incipit: Be assured he never will die, so the better the thing is in value,...
Mentioned: Belleisle
Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808
Vauxhall Gardens
[Epitaph on Sir William Williams]

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, letter xlii, section iv, 291-292
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter XLII, vol. i, 394-395
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XCIX, vol. ii, 390-391
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXIII, vol. ii, 60-61
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CVII, vol. iii, 286-288
  • 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 LXIX, 266-268
  • 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. CCXXV, vol. ii, 220-223
  • 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. 339, vol. ii, 745-746