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Thomas Gray to James Beattie, 2 October 1765

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To Mr Beattie, Professor in the Marischal-College Aberdeen


I must beg you would present my most grateful acknowledgements to your learned Society for the publick mark of their esteem, which you say they are disposed to confer on me. I embrace, with so deep & just a sense of their goodness the substance of that honour they do me, that I hope it may plead my pardon with them, if I do not accept the form. I have been, Sr, for several years a Member of the University of Cambridge, & formerly (when I had some thoughts of the profession) took a Batchelor of Laws degree there: since that time, tho' long qualified by my standing, I have always neglected to finish my course, & claim my Doctor's degree. judge therefore, whether it will not look like a slight & some sort of contempt, if I receive the same degree from a Sister-University. I certainly would avoid giving any offence to a set of Men, among whom I have pass'd so many easy, & (I may say) happy hours of my life: yet shall ever retain in my memory the obligations You have laid me under, & be proud of my connection with the University of Aberdeen.

It is a pleasure to me to find, that you are not offended with the liberties I took, when you were at Glames. you took me too literally, if you thought I meant in the least to discourage you in your pursuit of Poetry. all I intended to say was, that if either Vanity (that is, a general & undistinguishing desire of applause) or Interest, or Ambition has any place in the breast of a poet, he stands a great chance in these our days of being severely disappointed: and yet after all these passions are suppress'd, there may remain in the mind of one, ingenti perculsus amore (and such a one I take you to be), incitements of a better sort strong enough to make him write verse all his life both for his own pleasure, & that of all posterity.

I am sorry for the trouble you have had to gratify my curiosity & love of superstition, yet I heartily thank you. on Monday, Sr, I set forward on my way to England, where if I can be of any little use to you, or should ever have the good fortune to see you it will be a particular satisfaction to me. Ld Strathmore & the Family here desire me to make their compliments to You.

I am sincerely
Your Friend & Servant

P:S: – Remember Dryden, & be blind to all his faults.

Letter ID: letters.0467 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 48
Addressee: Beattie, James, 1735-1803
Addressee's age: 30


Date of composition: 2 October 1765
Date (on letter): Oct: 2. 1765
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Glamis Castle, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Glames-Castle
Place of addressee: [Aberdeen, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To Mr Beattie, Professor in the Marischal-College Aberdeen (postmark: DUNDEE)


Language: English
Incipit: I must beg you would present my most grateful acknowledgements to your learned...
Mentioned: Dryden, John

Holding Institution

AU MS 30/24/6/2, AU MS 30, Papers of James Beattie (1735-1803), Historic Collections, Special Libraries and Archives, King's College, University of Aberdeen Library , Aberdeen, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; a photostat is in MS. Toynbee d.32, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Print Versions

  • The Poems of Mr. Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W[illiam]. Mason. York: printed by A. Ward; and sold by J. Dodsley, London; and J. Todd, York, 1775, letter li, section iv, 318-320
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter LI, vol. i, 418-420
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter CXXII, vol. ii, 458-459
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXXV, vol. ii, 96-98
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CXXXIII, vol. iv, 63-65
  • 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. CCLXXVIII, vol. iii, 93-95
  • 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. 413, vol. ii, 895-896