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Thomas Gray to Horace Walpole, [January or February 1748]

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I am obliged to you for Mr. Dodsley's book, and, having pretty well looked it over, will (as you desire) tell you my opinion of it. He might, methinks, have spared the Graces in his frontispiece, if he chose to be œconomical, and dressed his authors in a little more decent raiment – not in whited-brown paper and distorted characters, like an old ballad. I am ashamed to see myself; but the company keeps me in countenance: so to begin with Mr. Tickell. This is not only a statepoem (my ancient aversion), but a state-poem on the peace of Utrecht. If Mr. Pope had wrote a panegyric on it, one could hardly have read him with patience: but this is only a poor short-winded imitator of Addison, who had himself not above three or four notes in poetry; sweet enough indeed, like those of a German flute, but such as soon tire and satiate the ear with their frequent return. Tickell has added to this a great poverty of sense, and a string of transitions that hardly become a schoolboy. However, I forgive him for the sake of his ballad, which I always thought the prettiest in the world. All there is of M. Green here has been printed before: there is a profusion of wit every where; reading would have formed his judgment, and harmonized his verse, for even his wood-notes often break out into strains of real poetry and music. The Schoolmistress is excellent in its kind, and masterly; and (I am sorry to differ from you, but) London is to me one of those few imitations, that have all the ease and all the spirit of an original. The same man's verses at the opening of Garrick's theatre are far from bad. Mr. Dyer (here you will despise me highly) has more of poetry in his imagination, than almost any of our number; but rough and injudicious.

I should range Mr. Bramston only a step or two above Dr. King, who is as low in my estimation as in yours. Dr. Evans is a furious madman; and Pre-existence is nonsense in all her altitudes. Mr. Lyttelton is a gentle elegiac person: Mr. Nugent sure did not write his own ode. I like Mr. Whitehead's little poems, I mean the Ode on a tent, the Verses to Garrick, and particularly those to Charles Townshend, better than any thing I had seen before of him. I gladly pass over H. Brown, and the rest, to come at you. You know I was of the publishing side, and thought your reasons against it none; for though, as Mr. Chute said extremely well, the still small voice of Poetry was not made to be heard in a crowd; yet Satire will be heard, for all the audience are by nature her friends; especially when she appears in the spirit of Dryden, with his strength, and often with his versification; such as you have caught in those lines on the royal unction, on the papal dominion, and convents of both sexes, on Henry VIII. and Charles II. for these are to me the shining parts of your Epistle. There are many lines I could wish corrected, and some blotted out, but beauties enough to atone for a thousand worse faults than these. The opinion of such as can at all judge, who saw it before in Dr. Middleton's hands, concurs nearly with mine. As to what any one says, since it came out; our people (you must know) are slow of judgement; they wait till some bold body saves them the trouble, and then follow his opinion; or stay till they hear what is said in town, that is at some bishop's table, or some coffee-house about the Temple. When they are determined, I will tell you faithfully their verdict. As for the Beauties, I am their most humble servant. What shall I say to Mr. Lowth, Mr. Ridley, Mr. Rolle, the reverend Mr. Brown, Seward, &c.? If I say, Messieurs! this is not the thing; write prose, write sermons, write nothing at all; they will disdain me, and my advice. What then would the sickly peer have done, that spends so much time in admiring everything that has four legs, and fretting at his own misfortune in having but two; and cursing his own politic head and feeble constitution, that won't let him be such a beast as he would wish? Mr. S. Jenyns now and then can write a good line or two – such as these –

Snatch us from all our little sorrows here,
Calm every grief, and dry each childish tear, &c.

I like Mr. Aston Hervey's fable; and an ode (the last of all) by Mr. Mason, a new acquaintance of mine, whose Musæus too seems to carry with it the promise at least of something good to come. I was glad to see you distinguished who poor West was, before his charming ode, and called it anything rather than a Pindaric. The town is an owl, if it don't like Lady Mary, and I am surprised at it: we here are owls enough to think her eclogues very bad; but that I did not wonder at. Our present taste is sir T. Fitz-Osborne's Letters. I send you a bit of a thing for two reasons: first, because it is one of your favourites, Mr. M. Green; and next, because I would do justice. The thought on which my second ode turns is manifestly stole from hence: – not that I knew it at the time, but, having seen this many Years before, to be sure it imprinted itself on my Memory, & forgetting the Author, I took it for my own. the Subject was the Queen's Hermitage.

Tho' yet no Palace grace the Shore
To lodge the Pair you should adore;
Nor Abbies great in Ruins rise,
Royal Equivalents for Vice:
Behold a Grott in Delphic Grove
The Graces & the Muses love,
A Temple from Vain-Glory free;
Whose Goddess is Philosophy;
Whose Sides such licensed Idols crown,
As Superstition would pull down:
The only Pilgrimage I know,
That Men of Sense would chuse to go.
Wch sweet Abode, her wisest Choice,
Urania cheers with heavenly Voice:
While all the Virtues gather round
To see her consecrate the Ground.
If Thou, the God with winged Feet,
In Council talk of this Retreat;
And jealous Gods Resentment shew
At Altars raised to Men below:
Tell those proud Lords of Heaven, 'tis fit
Their House our Heroes should admit.
While each exists (as Poets sing)
A lazy, lewd, immortal, Thing:
They must, or grow in Disrepute,
With Earth's first Commoners recruit.
Needless it is in Terms unskill'd
To praise, whatever Boyle shall build.
Needless it is the Busts to name
Of Men, Monopolists of Fame;
Four Chiefs adorn the modest Stone
For Virtue, as for Learning, known.
The thinking Sculpture helps to raise
Deep Thoughts, the Genii of the Place:
To the Mind's Ear, & inward Sight,
There Silence speaks, & Shade gives Light:
While Insects from the Threshold preach,
And Minds disposed to Musing teach;
Proud of strong Limbs & painted Hues
They perish by the slightest Bruise
Or Maladies begun within
Destroy more slow Life's frail Machine:
From Maggot-Youth thro' Change of State
They feel like us the Turns of Fate;
Some born to creep have lived to fly,
And changed Earth's Cells for Dwellings high:
And some, that did their six Wings keep,
Before they died, been forced to creep.
They Politicks, like ours, profess:
The greater prey upon the less.
Some strain on Foot huge Loads to bring,
Some toil incessant on the Wing:
Nor from their vigorous Schemes desist
Till Death; & then are never mist.
Some frolick, toil, marry, increase,
Are sick & well, have War & Peace,
And broke with Age in half a Day
Yield to Successors, & away.

Please to tell Mr Chute, that I never borrow'd any Life of Mahomet (if that be his Meaning) having read Boulainvillers long ago: but that I have Du Clos' Louis Onze, & will send it him, if you will be so good as to send me Directions both to Mr Whithed; & Mr Chute (per se) at his Lodgeings, wch I would be glad to know for more Reasons than this. I hear Lamb-Pye is dead, & could have wished to be told the Consequences: but both You & He, I doubt, will grow to regard me in the Light of a Miscellaneous Writer.

Adieu, I am
Yours ever
T G:

P:S: If You chance to see a Letter of mine in any body's Hand, this is the History of it. Dr Whalley, who has hated me ever since that Affair of Mr Turner, thought fit to intimate to a large Table full of People, that I was a Kind of Atheist. I wrote to him partly to laugh at, & partly to reprove him for his Malice; & (as what he said was publick) I shew'd my Letter to several of those, who had heard him; & threaten'd (not in earnest, you may imagine) to have it hawk'd about Streets. they took me literally, & by Way of Anticipation my Letter has been consign'd to one Etoffe (a Fiend of a Parson, that you know) to shew about here, & to carry to Town, if any one will read it. he makes Criticisms on it, & has found out a false Spelling, I'm told. Adieu!

Letter ID: letters.0163 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 31
Addressee: Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
Addressee's age: 30


Date of composition: [January or February 1748]
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]


Language: English
Incipit: I am obliged to you for Mr. Dodsley's book, and, having pretty well...
Mentioned: Pre-Existence, a Poem
Addison, Joseph
Aston, Hervey
Boulainvilliers, Henri de
Bramston, James
Brown, John
Browne, Isaac Hawkins
Chute, John, 1701-1776
Dodsley, Robert, 1703-1764
Dodsley, Robert, 1703-1764
Dryden, John
Duclos, Charles Pinot
Dyer, John
Evans, Dr. Abel
Green, Matthew
Hervey, John Hervey, Lord
Jenyns, Soame
Johnson, Samuel
King Dr. William
Lowth, Robert
Lyttelton, George Lyttelton, 1st Lord
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Melmoth, William
Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley
Nugent, Robert
Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College
Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes
Ode on the Spring
Pope, Alexander
Ridley, Glocester
Rolle, Mr.
Seward, Thomas
Shenstone, William
Tickell, Thomas
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
West, Richard, 1716-1742
Whalley, John, 1698 or 9-1748
Whitehead, William

Holding Institution

GBR/1058/GRA/3/4/47, College Library, Pembroke College, Cambridge , Cambridge, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; however, the MS is incomplete, it starts with "[…] this many Years before" and continues to the end of the postscript; the letter was first printed in full in Toynbee (1915)

Print Versions

  • The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, 5 vols. London: G. G. and J. Robinson and J. Edwards, 1798, vol. v, 393-397
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, appendix, letter IX, vol. i, 549-552
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XXX, vol. ii, 219-224
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter LXXXIII, vol. i, 172-177
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter XXXVII, vol. iii, 88-95
  • 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. LXXXIV, vol. i, 182-190
  • 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, 152-156
  • 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. 168, vol. ii, 89-99
  • The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence. Ed. by W. S. Lewis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP; London: Oxford UP, 1937-83, vols. 13/14: Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton i, 1734-42, Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray ii, 1745-71, ed. by W. S. Lewis, George L. Lam and Charles H. Bennett, 1948, vol. ii, 34-42
  • 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. 144, vol. i, 294-303