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Thomas Gray to Christopher Anstey, [c. September 1761]

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Every language has its idiom, not only of words and phrases, but of customs and manners, which cannot be represented in the tongue of another nation, especially of a nation so distant in time and place, without constraint and difficulty; of this sort, in the present instance, are the curfew bell, the Gothic Church, with its monuments, organs and anthems, the texts of Scripture, &c. There are certain images, which, though drawn from common nature, and every where obvious, yet strike us as foreign to the turn and genius of Latin verse; the beetle that flies in the evening, to a Roman, I guess, would have appeared too mean an object for poetry; 'that leaves the world to darkness and to me', is good English, but has not the turn of a Latin phrase, and therefore, I believe, you were in the right to drop it.


Might not the English characters here be romanized? Virgil is just as good as Milton, and C├Žsar as Cromwell, but who shall be Hampden?

Letter ID: letters.0392 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 44
Addressee: Anstey, Christopher, 1724-1805
Addressee's age: 36


Date of composition: [c. September 1761]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [unknown]


Language: English
Incipit: Every language has its idiom, not only of words and phrases, but of customs...
Mentioned: Anstey, Christopher, 1724-1805
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Milton, John
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797

Holding Institution

Availability: The original letter is unlocated, a copy, transcription, or published version survives

Print Versions

  • The Poetical Works of the late Christopher Anstey, Esq, with some account of the life and writings of the author. Ed. by John Anstey, Esq. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1808, biographical notice
  • 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. 341, vol. ii, 748-749