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Richard West to Thomas Gray, [4 April 1742]

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I own in general I think Agrippina's speech too long; but how to retrench it, I know not: But I have something else to say, and that is in relation to the style, which appears to me too antiquated. Racine was of another opinion; he no where gives you the phrases of Ronsard: His language is the language of the times, and that of the purest sort; so that his French is reckoned a standard. I will not decide what style is fit for our English stage; but I should rather choose one that bordered upon Cato, than upon Shakespear. One may imitate (if one can) Shakespear's manner, his surprizing strokes of true nature, his expressive force in painting characters, and all his other beauties; preserving at the same time our own language. Were Shakespear alive now, he would write in a different style from what he did. These are my sentiments upon these matters: Perhaps I am wrong, for I am neither a Tarpa, nor am I quite an Aristarchus. You see I write freely both of you and Shakespear; but it is as good as writing not freely, where you know it is acceptable.

I have been tormented within this week with a most violent cough; for when once it sets up its note, it will go on, cough after cough, shaking and tearing me for half an hour together; and then it leaves me in a great sweat, as much fatigued as if I had been labouring at the plough. All this description of my cough in prose, is only to introduce another description of it in verse, perhaps not worth your perusal; but it is very short, and besides has this remarkable in it, that it was the production of four o'clock in the morning, while I lay in my bed tossing and coughing, and all unable to sleep. —

Ante omnes morbos importunissima tussis,
Quâ durare datur, traxitque sub ilia vires:
Dura etenim versans imo sub pectore regna,
Perpetuo exercet teneras luctamine costas,
Oraque distorquet, vocemque immutat anhelam:
Nec cessare locus: sed saevo concita motu
Molle domat latus, & corpus labor omne fatigat:
Unde molesta dies, noctemque insomnia turbant.
Nec Tua, si mecum Comes hic jucundus adesses,
Verba juvare queant, aut hunc lenire dolorem
Sufficiant tua vox dulcis, nec vultus amatus.

Do not mistake me, I do not condemn Tacitus: I was then inclined to find him tedious: The German sedition sufficiently made up for it; and the speech of Germanicus, by which he reclaims his soldiers, is quite masterly. Your New Dunciad I have no conception of. I shall be too late for our dinner if I write any more.

Letter ID: letters.0118 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: West, Richard, 1716-1742
Writer's age: 26[?]
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 25


Date of composition: [4 April 1742]
Date (on letter): [April 4, 1742]
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: [Pope's, United Kingdom]
Address (on letter): [Popes]


Languages: English, Latin
Incipit: I own in general I think Agrippina's speech too long;...
Mentioned: Agrippina, a Tragedy
Addison, Joseph
Pope, Alexander
Shakespeare, William

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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 iii, section iii, 136-137
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section III, letter III, vol. i, 255-257
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section III, letter III, vol. ii, 124-125
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter LI, vol. i, 114-115
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section III, letter III, vol. ii, 148-150
  • 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. 36, 157-159
  • 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. 142, vol. ii, 22-24
  • 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. 102, vol. i, 189-191