Skip main navigation

Thomas Gray to Edward Bedingfield, 27 August 1756

Back to Letters page

Edward Bedingfield Esq
at the Lady Swinburne's in
28 AV


Upon my return hither after an absence of about three weeks, I find a letter, & a present inclosed in it from you. I receive, & shall wear it, with pleasure both as a mark of your kindness, & as it is in itself excessively pretty: but yet I have some little scruples of conscience. I own, it feels to me like a robbery of Mrs Bedingfield. the crime is chiefly yours, but I am the Receiver. you indeed may make your peace on easy terms, but what attonement can I make her?

I accept too with pleasure the marks of approbation you bestow on my two fragments, but here I have still greater scruples. I will not enter into a discussion of them; but only tell you, that admiration is a word, that has no place between two people, that ever mean to come together. besides (believe me) there is but one thing in life, that deserves it, & that is not Poetry. I leave it to time, & to our nearer acquaintance to abate your fervour (tho' setting aside my present interest in it, I do think it is the best of faults) & demand of you a little more severity, than I have hitherto experienced. here is the continuation of the British Ode, on wch you may exercise it.

[           ]

'Hark, how each giant Oak, & desert cave,
'Sighs to the Torrent's aweful voice beneath!
'O'er thee, oh King, their hundred arms they wave,
'Revenge on thee in hoarser murmurs breath,
'Vocal no more, since Cambria's fatal day,
'To high-born Hoël's harp, or soft Llewellyn's lay.


'Cold is Caswallo's tongue,
'That hush'd the roaring main.
'Great Urien sleeps upon his craggy bed.
'Mountains, ye mourn in vain
'Modred, whose magic song
'Made huge Plinlimmon bow his cloud-topt head.
'On dreary Arvon's shore they lie
'Smear'd with gore, & ghastly-pale.
'Far, far aloof th' affrighted Ravens sail,
'The famish'd Eagle screams, & passes by.
'Dear lost Companions of my tuneful art,
'Dear, as the light, that visits these sad eyes,
'Dear, as the ruddy drops, that warm my heart,
'Ye died amidst your dieing Country's cries.—
'No more I weep. ye do not sleep.
'On yonder cliffs, a griesly band,
'I see them sit. they linger yet,
'Avengers of their native land:
'With me in dreadful harmony they join,
'And weave with bloody hands ye tissue of thy line.


"Weave the warp, & weave the woof,
"The winding-sheet of Edward's race.
"Give ample room, & verge enough
"The Characters of Hell to trace.
"Mark the year, & mark the night,
"When Severn shall reecchoe with affright
"The shrieks of death, thro' Berkley's roofs that ring,
"Shrieks of an agonizing King!

[           ]

It is true, as you have been told, that Mr Bentley (of whose taste & invention the Prints you have seen may give you some Idea, tho' not at all of his spirit or execution) has made a sketch or two of this story, but I have never seen them myself. the thought, wch you applaud, in those lines, Loose his beard &c: is borrow'd from painting. Rafael in his Vision of Ezekiel (in the Duke of Orleans' Collection) has given the air of head, wch I tried to express, to God the Father; or (if you have been at Parma) you may remember Moses breaking the Tables by the Parmeggiano, wch comes still nearer to my meaning. the words you see are almost stoln from Milton, speaking of Azazel's Standard

—wch full high advanced        
Shone, like a Meteor, streaming to the wind.

I must tell you too, that Thoughts that breath, &c: is an imitation of Cowley

Words, that weep, & Tears, that speak.

The Knell of parting day is taken from Dante, who describing a Pilgrim listening to the evening-bell says

—par, che pianga il di, che muore.

That about the Banners of K: Edward has a near affinity to a line in Shakespeare's King John,

Mocking the air with colours idly spread.

& there are two lines together in the Epode here pilfer'd from his Julius Cæsar. do not wonder therefore, if some Magazine or Review call me Plagiary: I could shew them a hundred more instances, wch they never will discover themselves. I lay no injunctions of secrecy upon you with regard to verses, but leave them to your prudence. only I should be very sorry, they were transcribed, or retain'd in any one's memory. and one thing I must say, (but this is sacred, & under the seal of confession) there is no Woman, that can take pleasure in this kind of composition. if Parts only & Imagination & Sensibility were required, one might (I doubt not) find them in that Sex full as easily as in our own: but there is a certain measure of learning necessary, & a long acquaintance with the good Writers ancient & modern, wch by our injustice is denied to them. and without this they can only catch here & there a florid expression, or a musical rhyme, while the Whole appears to them a wild obscure unedifying jumble. after saying this, I leave you at liberty.

I am so unfix'd, when absent from Cambridge, that I can hardly hope to receive the visit you flatter me with in any other place. I shall return thither the beginning of November at farthest, when if any thing should call you to London, I shall not lie a great deal out of your road. at your own peril be it. I am not capable of doing the honours en homme admirable, but shall be as glad to see you, as any man can be in plain Prose, & am

Sr, Your most obedt Servant

My Respects to the Ladies.

Letter ID: letters.0253 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 39
Addressee: Bedingfield, Edward, b. 1730
Addressee's age: 26


Date of composition: 27 August 1756
Date (on letter): Aug: 27. 1756
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Stoke Poges, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Stoke
Place of addressee: [York, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To / Edward Bedingfield Esq / at the Lady Swinburne's in / York (postmark: 28 AV)


Language: English
Incipit: Upon my return hither after an absence of about three weeks,...
Mentioned: Cowley, Abraham
Milton, John
Shakespeare, William
The Bard. A Pindaric Ode
The Progress of Poesy. A Pindaric Ode

Holding Institution

HM 21912, Huntington Manuscripts, Department of Manuscripts, The Huntington , San Marino, CA, USA <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; a photostat is in MS. Toynbee c.2, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Print Versions

  • 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. 222, vol. ii, 474-478