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Thomas Gray to Charles Victor de Bonstetten, [19 April 1770]

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Alas! how do I every moment feel the truth of what I have somewhere read: Ce n'est pas le voir que de s'en souvenir, and yet that remembrance is the only satisfaction I have left. My life now is but a perpetual conversation with your shadow.–The known sound of your voice still rings in my ears.–There, on the corner of the fender you are standing, or tinkling on the Pianoforte, or stretch'd at length on the sofa.–Do you reflect, my dearest Friend, that it is a week or eight days, before I can receive a letter from you and as much more before you can have my answer, that all that time (with more than Herculean toil) I am employ'd in pushing the tedious hours along, and wishing to annihilate them; the more I strive, the heavier they move and the longer they grow. I can not bear this place, where I have spent many tedious years within less than a month, since you left me. I am going for a few days to see poor Nicholls invited by a letter, wherein he mentions you in such terms, as add to my regard for him, and express my own sentiments better than I can do myself. 'I am concern'd (says he) that I can not pass my life with him, I never met with any one that pleased and suited me so well: the miracle to me is, how he comes to be so little spoil'd, and the miracle of miracles will be, if he continues so in the midst of every danger and seduction, and without any advantages, but from his own excellent nature and understanding. I own, I am very anxious for him on this account, and perhaps your inquietude may have proceeded from the same cause. I hope, I am to hear, when he has pass'd that cursed sea, or will he forget me thus in insulam relegatum? If he should, it is out of my power to retaliate.'

Sure you have wrote to him, my dear Bonstetten, or sure you will! he has moved me with these gentle and sensible expressions of his kindness for you. Are you untouch'd by them?

You do me the credit (and false or true, it goes to my heart) of ascribing to me your love for many virtues of the highest rank. Would to heaven it were so; but they are indeed the fruits of your own noble and generous understanding, that has hitherto struggled against the stream of custom, passion, and ill company, even when you were but a Child, and will you now give way to that stream, when your strength is increased? Shall the Jargon of French Sophists, the allurements of painted women comme il faut, or the vulgar caresses of prostitute beauty, the property of all, that can afford to purchase it, induce you to give up a mind and body by Nature distinguish'd from all others to folly, idleness, disease, and vain remorse? Have a care, my ever-amiable Friend, of loving, what you do not approve, and know me for your most faithful and most humble Despote.

Letter ID: letters.0598 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 53
Addressee: Bonstetten, Charles Victor de, 1745-1832
Addressee's age: 24


Date of composition: [19 April 1770]
Date (on letter): [19 April 1770]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]


Language: English
Incipit: Alas! how do I every moment feel the truth of what I have somewhere read:...
Mentioned: Nicholls, Norton, c. 1742-1809

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

Print Versions

  • Letters written from various parts of the Continent, between the years 1785 and 1794: containing a variety of anecdotes relative to the present state of literature in Germany, ... With an appendix. In which are included, three letters of Gray's, ... By Frederick Matthisson, translated from the German ..., by Anne Plumptre. London: printed for T. N. Longman and O. Rees, 1799, 533-535
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section V, letter XII, vol. ii, 554-556
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section V, letter XII, vol. iv, 185-186
  • 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. CCCLXIV, vol. iii, 281-282
  • 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. 520, vol. iii, 1127-1128