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William Mason to Thomas Gray, 27 June 1755

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Dear Sir

Amongst the variety of rational entertainments that Travel affords to a thinking mind, I have always rankd with the principal that fund wch it presents of new Ideas, peculiarly proper to be thrown upon paper in order to form that wch we call a free Epistolary correspondence. An easy Communication of Sentiments neither obscurd by a cloud of reserve, wch is always dissagreable to an amicable reader nor embarrassd by a Burthen of terms recherchés wch is always full as unpleasing to a negligent writer, is the very thing wch I should always labor to attain in my productions of this kind, tho perhaps my aim is totally chimerical as the stile I speak of may be calld with the Poet

A faultless Monster wch the world neer saw.

Therefore without further apology I shall trust to the sincerity of your friendship for a plenary Absolution in this case And proceed in all the simplicity of Narration.

Germany is a country–But why should I tell my Friend who has seen France who has seen Italy what kind of a country is Germany. And yet perhaps he will not dispise me for it. For tho France is remarkable for its savoir-vivre and Italy for its Virtù. Yet Germany is the reservoir of solid Litterature & therefore not unworthy of the attention of a Person who unites all these qualifications in his own particular and may be calld without flattery a Microcosm of the talents both of his own Island & the continent. But Hard very hard is my fate that I cannot give him any satisfactory account of the state of Germanic Learning Having only as yet had a single Interview with MynHerr Shite the Royal Librarian of this place. MynnHerr Shite is of a roundish squab figure and of a face corresponding, that is as his Body is cylindrical, his face is rather circular than Oval, He apparells himself generally in a decent grass-green Suit. With a fair full Peruke not too full to break upon the spherical form of his cheeks & yet full enough to add a graceful squarness on each side of them. The Altitude of his square-toedshoe heels the breadth of his Milk and waterd Rollups and the size of his amber-headed Cane are all truly symbolical not only of his own Genius but of that of all his Compatriots. When I say that Mynheer Shite is the only erudite person whom I have yet seen, I must be understood to mean in this place, for when I lately made a tour to Hamburg, I met with another tho of a different Sex, her name Madam Belcht. Her person I will not attempt to describe But will endeavor to give you a morceau of Her Conversation, for I was honord with it, She askd me who was the famous Poet that writ the Nitt toats. I replyd Doctr Yonge. She begd leave to drink his Health in a Glass of sweet wine adding that he was her favrite English Author. We toasted the Doctor. Upon wch having a mind to give my Parnassian Toast, I askd Madame Belch if she had ever read La Petite Elegie dans La Cœmeterie Rustique, C'est Beaucoup Jolie je vous Assure! (for I had said fort jolie very often before). Oui Monsr (replyd Madame Belch) Je lu, & elle est bien Jolie & Melancholique mais elle ne touche point La Cœur comme mes tres cheres Nitt toats.

The Prudence you recommended to me at parting & wch you yourself are so remarkable for I shall strictly observe & therefore will say nothing of the Place I am in. Indeed I have nothing to say if I was not prudent, only that it is the noisiest Place I ever was in, & that I want to get out of it, wch I hope is no treason. I have sent Lord John Cavendish a list of the Noises & their times of beginning wch will give you some Idea if he shews you the Letter.

Oh Mr Gray! I bought at Hamburg such a piano Forte, and so cheap, it is a Harpsichord too of 2 Unisons & the Jacks serve as mutes (when the Piano Forte stop is playd) by the cleverest mechanism imaginable. Wont you buy my Kirkman?

Pray Mr Gray write soon (how strangly is my stile changd since the beginning!) and tell me about Rousseau or any thing. It's great Charity, I do assure you; I would have writ to you before but Hamburg & Reviews prevented me. Whitehead head is here with his two lordlings. You would delight in Lord Newnam, he's so peevish & hates things so much & has so much sense. Lord Villiers is Plumer exceedingly polishd. Whitehead talks rather too much of Princesses of the Blood in a way between jest & earnest that most people must mistake & take for Admiration. The rest of the English are Earl of Peterhouse, Sutton, & just now Bagnal of Trinity, With Grooms, Dogs, Tutors & all. Whitworth is also soon expected so that I think we shall soon have a pretty Partie enough. O the Duce take that confounded Drum & fife it plagues me past endurance.

I cannot write a word more adieu & beleive me Yours
with the greatest Sincerity
Letter ID: letters.0228 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Writer's age: 31
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 38


Date of composition: 27 June 1755
Date (on letter): June 27th 55
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Hanover, Germany
Address (on letter): Hanover


Language: English
Incipit: Amongst the variety of rational entertainments that Travel affords...
Mentioned: Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Whitehead, William
Young, Dr. Edward

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 Correspondence of Thomas Gray and William Mason, with Letters to the Rev. James Brown, D.D. Ed. by the Rev. John Mitford. London: Richard Bentley, 1853, letter IX, 29-34
  • 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. CXIX, vol. i, 263-267
  • 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. 197, vol. i, 422-425