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Thomas Gray to William Mason, 1 March 1759

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Dear Mason

Did I tell you I had been confined in Town with the Gout for a fortnight? well, & since I came hither, it is come again. yesterday I came abroad again for the first time in a great shoe, & very much out of humour; and so I must return again in three days to town about business, wch is not like to add much to the sweetness of my temper, especially while Stocks are so low.

I did not remember ever to have seen the joint-criticism from Prior-park, that you speak of; so little impression did it make: nor should I believe now, that I had ever seen it, did I not recollect, what a prejudice the Parsons express'd to human sacrifice, wch is quite agreeable to my way of thinking, since Caractacus convinced me of the propriety of the thing. it is certain, that their fancies did in no sort influence me in the use of my Tomahawk. now you must know, I do not much admire the Chorus of ye rocking-stone, nor yet much disapprove it. it is grave & solemn and may pass. I insist however, that deigns (tho' it be a rhyme) should be deign'st, & fills fill'st, & bids bid'st. do not blame me, but the English Tongue. the beginning of the Antistrophe is good: I do not like

m├Žandring way,
Where Vice & Folly stray.

nor the word sprite. the beginning too of ye Epode is well, but you have used the epithet pale before in a sense somewhat similar & I do not love repetitions. the line Or magic numbers interrupts the run of ye Stanza, & lets the measure drop too short. there is no beauty in repeating ponderous sphere. the two last lines are the best.

The sense of your simile about the distant thunder is not clear, nor well-expressed: besides it implies too strong a confession of guilt.

The Stanza you sent me for ye 2d Ode is very rude, & neither the Idea, nor verses touch me much. it is not the Gout, that makes me thus difficult, finish but your Death-Song as well as you imagined & begun it; & mind, if I won't be more pleased than any body

Adieu, dear Mason, I am ever
Truly Yours

Did I tell you, how well I liked Whithead's two Odes? they are far better than any thing he ever wrote.

Mr Brown & Jemmy Bickham lament your indolence, as to the degree, in Chorus. as to me, I should have done just so for all the World.

Letter ID: letters.0336 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 42
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 35


Date of composition: 1 March 1759
Date (on letter): March 1. 1759
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Cambridge


Language: English
Incipit: Did I tell you I had been confined in Town with the Gout for a fortnight?...
Mentioned: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Prior Park

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 XLIII, 176-179
  • 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. CLXXXV, vol. ii, 78-81
  • 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, 225-226
  • 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. 291, vol. ii, 617-618