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Thomas Gray to William Mason, 19 July 1767

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Dear Mason

I come forthwith to the epitaph, wch you have had the charity to write at the A:p's request. it will certainly do (for it is both touching & new) but yet will require much finishing. I like not the three first lines: it is the Party most nearly concern'd, at least some one closely connected, & bearing a part in the loss, that is usually supposed to speak on these occasions: but these lines appear to be written by the Chaplain, & have an air of flattery to his Patron. all that is good in them is better expressed in the four last verses. Where the cold ashes &c: these five verses are well, except the word benignant, & the thought (wch is not clear to me, besides that it is somewhat hardly express'd) of When Beauty only blooms &c: in gems, that want colour & perfection, a foil is put under them to add to their lustre: in others, as in diamonds, the foil is black; & in this sense when a pretty Woman chuses to appear in publick with a homely one, we say she uses her as a foil. this puzzles me, as you neither mean, that Beauty sets off Virtue by its contrast & opposition to it: nor that her Virtue was so imperfect, as to stand in need of Beauty to heighten its lustre. for the rest I read, That sweetest harmony of soul &c: Such was the Maid, &c: all this to the end I much approve, except–crown'd with truth, and lightens all their load. the first is not precise; in the latter you say too much. Spreads his child too is not the word. when you have corrected all these faults, it will be excellent.

I thank you for your Comments on my inaccurate metaphor. in return I will be sure to shew them to the Parties, who should have wrote them; & who doubtless, when they see them, will acknowledge them for their own. We are all much in want of you, & have already put off two journeys, because we thought you were to come on Mondays: pray tell us your mind out of hand, least we lose all our future Mondays. Mr Brown has not above another week to stay with us (for Ld St: comes on the 27th out of Scotland) & must go into the third heaven to see nothing-at-all, 'tall–all.

Adieu! I am truly

No news of Palgrave [ ]

Letter ID: letters.0504 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 50
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 43


Date of composition: 19 July 1767
Date (on letter): Sunday. July 19. 1767
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Durham, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Old-Park


Language: English
Incipit: I come forthwith to the epitaph, wch you have had the charity to write...
Mentioned: Brown, James, 1709-1784
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794

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 CXIII, 396-397
  • 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. CCCVI, vol. iii, 150-151
  • 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, 280-281
  • 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. 448, vol. iii, 968