Skip main navigation

Richard West to Thomas Gray, [22 December 1736]

Back to Letters page

I congratulate you on your being about to leave college, and rejoice much you carry no degrees with you. For I would not have had You dignified, and I not, for the world, you would have insulted me so. My eyes, such as they are, like yours, are neither metaphysical nor mathematical; I have, nevertheless, a great respect for your connoisseurs that way, but am always contented to be their humble admirer. Your collection of desolate animals pleased me much; but Oxford, I can assure you, has her owls that match yours, and the prophecy has certainly a squint that way. Well, you are leaving this dismal land of bondage, and which way are you turning your face? Your friends, indeed, may be happy in you, but what will you do with your classic companions? An inn of court is as horrid a place as a college, and a moot case is as dear to gentle dulness as a syllogism. But wherever you go, let me beg you not to throw poetry 'like a nauseous weed away': Cherish its sweets in your bosom, they will serve you now and then to correct the disgusting sober follies of the common law, misce stultitiam consiliis brevem, dulce est desipere in loco; so said Horace to Virgil, those sons of Anac in poetry, and so say I to you, in this degenerate land of pigmies,

Mix with your grave designs a little pleasure,
Each day of business has its hour of leisure.

In one of these hours I hope, dear sir, you will sometimes think of me, write to me, and know me yours,

'Εξαύδα, μὴ κεῦθε νόῳ, ἵνα εἴδομεν ἄμφω·

that is, write freely to me and openly, as I do to you, and to give you a proof of it I have sent you an elegy of Tibullus translated. Tibullus, you must know, is my favourite elegiac poet; for his language is more elegant and his thoughts more natural than Ovid's. Ovid excells him only in wit, of which no poet had more in my opinion. The reason I choose so melancholy a kind of poesie, is because my low spirits and constant ill health (things in me not imaginary, as you surmise, but too real, alas! and, I fear, constitutional) 'have tuned my heart to elegies of woe'; and this likewise is the reason why I am the most irregular thing alive at college, for you may depend upon it I value my health above what they call discipline. As for this poor unlicked thing of an elegy, pray criticise it unmercifully, for I send it with that intent. Indeed your late translation of Statius might have deterred me, but I know you are not more able to excell others, than you are apt to forgive the want of excellence, especially when it is found in the productions of

Your most sincere friend.
Letter ID: letters.0037 (Source: TEI/XML)


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


Date of composition: [22 December 1736]
Date (on letter): [Dec. 22, 1736]
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: [Oxford, United Kingdom]
Address (on letter): [Christ Church]


Language: English
Incipit: I congratulate you on your being about to leave college...
Mentioned: Homer

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 v, section i, 14-16
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section I, letter V, vol. i, 145-146
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section I, letter V, vol. ii, 9-11
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter V, vol. i, 12-13
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section I, letter V, vol. ii, 10-12
  • Gray and his Friends: Letters and Relics, in great part hitherto unpublished. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1890, section II, letter no. 11, 85-88
  • 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. 49, vol. i, 114-116
  • 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. 34, vol. i, 57-58