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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [December 1736]

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You must know that I do not take degrees, and, after this term, shall have nothing more of college impertinencies to undergo, which I trust will be some pleasure to you, as it is a great one to me. I have endured lectures daily and hourly since I came last, supported by the hopes of being shortly at full liberty to give myself up to my friends and classical companions, who, poor souls! though I see them fallen into great contempt with most people here, yet I cannot help sticking to them, and out of a spirit of obstinacy (I think) love them the better for it; and indeed, what can I do else? Must I plunge into metaphysics? Alas, I cannot see in the dark; nature has not furnished me with the optics of a cat. Must I pore upon mathematics? Alas, I cannot see in too much light; I am no eagle. It is very possible that two and two make four, but I would not give four farthings to demonstrate this ever so clearly; and if these be the profits of life, give me the amusements of it. The people I behold all around me, it seems, know all this and more, and yet I do not know one of them who inspires me with any ambition of being like him. Surely it was of this place, now Cambridge, but formerly known by the name of Babylon, that the prophet spoke when he said, 'the wild beasts of the desert shall dwell there, and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and owls shall build there, and satyrs shall dance there; their forts and towers shall be a den for ever, a joy of wild asses; there shall the great owl make her nest, and lay and hatch and gather under her shadow; it shall be a court of dragons; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest'. You see here is a pretty collection of desolate animals, which is verified in this town to a tittle, and perhaps it may also allude to your habitation, for you know all types may be taken by abundance of handles; however, I defy your owls to match mine.

If the default of your spirits and nerves be nothing but the effect of the hyp, I have no more to say. We all must submit to that wayward Queen; I too in no small degree own her sway,

I feel her influence while I speak her power.

But if it be a real distemper, pray take more care of your health, if not for your own at least for our sakes, and do not be so soon weary of this little world: I do not know what refined friendships you may have contracted in the other, but pray do not be in a hurry to see your acquaintance above; among your terrestrial familiars, however, though I say it that should not say it, there positively is not one that has a greater esteem for you than

Yours most sincerely, &c.
Letter ID: letters.0036 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 20
Addressee: West, Richard, 1716-1742
Addressee's age: 20[?]


Date of composition: [December 1736]
Date (on letter): [December, 1736]
Calendar: Julian


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


Language: English
Incipit: You must know that I do not take degrees, and, after this term...
Mentioned: Cambridge

Holding Institution

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

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 iv, section i, 12-14
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section I, letter IV, vol. i, 143-144
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section I, letter IV, vol. ii, 7-9
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter IV, vol. i, 10-11
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section I, letter IV, vol. ii, 7-10
  • Gray and his Friends: Letters and Relics, in great part hitherto unpublished. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1890, section II, letter fragment, 84
  • 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. IV, vol. i, 3-4
  • The Correspondence of Gray, Walpole, West and Ashton (1734-1771), 2 vols. Chronologically arranged and edited with introduction, notes, and index by Paget Toynbee. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915, letter no. 48, vol. i, 112-114
  • 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. 33, vol. i, 56-57