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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [23 April 1742]

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Richard West Esq,
at David Mitchell's Esq
of Popes near Hatfield Hartfordshire
24 AP

My Dear West

I should not have fail'd to answer your Letter immediately, but I went out of town for a little while, wch hinder'd me. its length (beside the Pleasure naturally accompanying a long letter from you) affords me a new one, when I think it is a kind of Symptom of the Recovery of your Health, & flatter myself that your bodily Strength returns in proportion. pray do not forget to mention the Progress you make continually. as to Agrippina, I begin to be of your opinion, & find myself (as Women are of their children) less enamour'd of my Productions the older they grow. she is laid up to sleep, till next Summer: so bid her Good night. I think you have translated Tacitus very justly, that is freely, & accommodated his thoughts to the Turn & Genius of our Language. which at the same time I commend your Judgement, is no commendation of the English tongue, which is too diffuse, & daily grows more & more enervate, & one shall never be more sensible of this, than in turning an Author like Tacitus. I have been trying it in some parts of Thucydides (who has a little resemblance of him in his Conciseness) & endeavour'd to do it closely, but found it produced mere Nonsense. if you have any inclination to see what figure he makes in Italian, I have a Tuscan translation of Davanzati, much-esteem'd in Italy; & will send you the same Speech you sent me: that is, if you care for it. in the mean time accept of Propertius.

LIB: 2: ELEG: 1:

To Mecænas

You ask, why thus my Loves I still rehearse?
Whence the soft Strain & ever-melting Verse?
From Cynthia all, that in my Numbers shines;
She is my Genius, she inspires the Lines,
No Phœbus else, no other Muse I know:
She tunes my easy Rhime, & gives the Lay to flow.
If the loose Curls around her Forehead play,
Or lawless o'er their Ivory Margin stray:
If the thin Coan Web her Shape reveal,
And half disclose the Limbs it should conceal.
Of those loose Curls, that ivory Front I write;
Of the dear Web whole Volumes I indite:
Or if to Musick she the Lyre awake,
That the soft Subject of my Song I make;
And sing, with what a careless Grace she flings
Her artful Hand across the sounding Strings.
If sinking into Sleep she seem to close
Her languid Lids, I favour her Repose
With lulling Notes, & thousand Beauties see,
That Slumber brings to aid my Poetry.
When less averse, & yielding to Desires
She half accepts, & half rejects my Fires:
While to retain the envious Lawn she tries,
And struggles to elude my longing Eyes:
The fruitful Muse from that auspicious Night
Dates the long Iliad of the amorous Fight.
In brief whate'er she do, or say, or look
'Tis ample Matter for a Lover's Book
And many a copious Narrative you'll see,
Big with th' important Nothing's History.

Yet would the Tyrant Love permit me raise
My feeble Voice to sing the Victor's Praise,
To paint the Hero's Toil, the Ranks of War,
The laurel'd Triumph, & the sculptured Car:
No Giant-Race, no Tumult of the Skies,
No Mountain-Structure in my Verse should rise;
No Tale of Thebes, or Ilium there should be,
Nor how the Persian trod th' indignant Sea,
Nor Marius' Cimbrian Wreaths would I relate,
Nor lofty Carthage struggleing with her Fate:
Here should Augustus great in Arms appear,
And thou, Mecænas, be my second Care:
Here Mutina from Flames & Famine free
And there th' ensanguin'd Wave of Sicily,
And sceptred Alexandria's captive Shore,
And sad Philippi red with Roman Gore.
Then, while the vaulted Skies loud Io's rend,
In golden Chains should loaded Monarchs bend;
And hoary Nile with pensive Aspect seem
To mourn the Glories of his sevenfold Stream:
The long-contended World's old Discords cease,
And Actium's Terrours grace the Pomp of Peace;
While Beaks, that late in fierce Encounter met,
Move thro' the sacred Way, & vainly threat.
Thee too the Muse should consecrate to Fame,
And with his Garlands weave thy ever-faithful Name.
But nor Callimachus' enervate Strain
May tell of Jove, & Phlegra's blasted Plain;
Nor I with unaccustom'd Vigour trace
Back to its Source divine the Julian Race.
Sailors to tell of Seas & Winds delight,
The Shepherd of his Flocks, the Soldier of the Fight,
A milder Warfare I in verse display,
Each in his proper Art should wast the Day:
Nor thou my gentle Calling disapprove,
To die is glorious in the Bed of Love.
Happy the Youth, & not unknown to Fame,
Whose heart has never felt a second Flame.
Oh, might that envied Happiness be mine,
To Cynthia all my Wishes I confine
Or if, alas! it be my fate to try
Another Love, the quicker let me die.
But she, the Mistress of my Faithful Breast,
Has oft the Charms of Constancy confest,
Condemns her fickle Sex'es fond Mistake,
And hates the Tale of Troy for Helen's Sake.
Me from myself the soft Enchantress stole,
Ah, let her ever my Desires controul,
Or if I fall, the Victim of her Scorn,
From her loved Doors may my pale Coarse be born.
The Power of Herbs can other Harms remove,
And find a Cure for every Ill, but Love.
The Lemnian's Hurt Machaon could repair,
Heal the slow Chief, & send again to War.
To Chiron Phœnix owed his long-lost Sight,
And Phœbus' Son restored Androgeon to the Light.
Here Skill is vain, even Magick here must fail,
The powerful Mixture, & the Midnight Spell.
The Hand, that can my captive Heart release,
And to this Bosom give its wonted Peace,
May the long Thirst of Tantalus allay,
And drive th' infernal Vulture from his Prey.
For Ills unseen what remedy is found,
Or who can probe the undiscover'd Wound?
The Bed avails not, or the Leeche's care,
Nor changeing Skies can hurt, nor sultry Air,
'Tis hard th' elusive Symptoms to explore,
Today the Lover walks, tomorrow is no more:
A Train of mourning Friends attend his Pall,
And wonder at the sudden Funeral.
When then my Fates, that breath they gave, shall claim,
When the short Marble shall preserve a Name,
A little Verse, my All that shall remain;
Thy passing Courser's slacken'd Speed detain,
(Thou envied Honour of thy Poet's Days,
Of all our Youth th' Ambition & the Praise!)
Then to my quiet Urn awhile draw near,
And say, (while o'er the place you drop a Tear)
Love & the Fair were of his Life the Pride,
He lived, while She was kind, & when she frown'd, he died.

Letter ID: letters.0121 (Source: TEI/XML)


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


Date of composition: [23 April 1742]
Date (on letter): [April, 23]
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: [London, United Kingdom]
Place of addressee: [Pope's, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To / Richard West Esq, / at David Mitchell's Esq / of Popes near Hatfield Hartfordshire (postmark: 24 AP)


Language: English
Incipit: I should not have fail'd to answer your Letter immediately,...
Mentioned: Agrippina, a Tragedy
Davanzati, Bernardo
Imitated from Propertius, Lib: 3: Eleg: 5:
[Imitated] From Propertius. Lib: 2: Eleg: 1.

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 vi, section iii, 145-146
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section III, letter VI, vol. i, 263-264
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section III, letter VI, vol. ii, 132-133
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter LIV, vol. i, 122-123
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section III, letter VI, vol. ii, 158-160
  • 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. LIII, vol. i, 100-101
  • Essays and Criticisms by Thomas Gray. Ed. with Introduction and Notes by Clark Sutherland Northup. Boston and London: D. C. Heath & Co., 1911, letter excerpt, 136
  • 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. 146, vol. ii, 33-34
  • 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. 105, vol. i, 196-199