« PreviousContinue »
home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement'.
His travels and his studies were now near their end. The gout, 21 of which he had sustained many weak attacks, fell upon his stomach, and, yielding to no medicines, produced strong convulsions, which (July 30, 1771) terminated in death 3.
His character I am willing to adopt, as Mr. Mason has done, 22 from a letter written to my friend Mr. Boswell, by the Rev. Mr. Temple, rector of St. Gluvias in Cornwall; and am as willing as his warmest well-wisher to believe it true.
'Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe 5. He was
'JOHNSON. As the Spanish proverb says, "He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him." So it is in travelling; a man must carry knowledge with him if he would bring home knowledge.' Boswell's Johnson, iii. 302.
'They every scene with so much wit did store
That who brought any in went out with more.'
Epil. to The Rehearsal, ed. Arber, p. 136.
In 1765 he wrote to Walpole, who was ill of the gout:-"The pain in your feet I can bear; but I shudder at the sickness in your stomach.... I conjure you, as you love yourself, I conjure you by Strawberry [Walpole's house] not to trifle with these edge-tools. Mitford, iv. 68.
1b. pp. 204-7, 213. Mason (ii. 318) wrongly gives July 31 as the day of his death, as also Ann. Reg. 1771, i. 179. In both Gent. Mag. (1771, p. 378) and Ann. Reg. he is called Rev. Dr. Thomas Grey'three errors in four words in describing one of the first poets of the time.
Walpole wrote on Sept. 9:- One single paragraph is all that has been said on our friend; but when there are columns in every paper on Sir Francis Delaval [a wealthy baronet] ought we not to be glad?" Letters, v. 336.
Mason, ii. 321; Mitford, v. 164. In the first edition the character is adopted 'from a nameless writer.' On Aug. 24, 1782, Johnson wrote to
Boswell:- My Lives are reprinting, and I have forgotten the author of Gray's character; write immediately, and it may be perhaps yet inserted.' Boswell's Johnson, iv. 153.
Temple was Vicar of St. Gluvias; his grandson was Archbishop of Canterbury 1896-1903. Ib. i. 436 n. Some of Boswell's letters to him were published in 1857. In one of them (p. 185) Boswell recalls the time
when you and I sat up all night at Cambridge and read Gray with a noble enthusiasm.' 'Mr. Mason,' he adds, 'concludes his Life of Gray with a character of him, which he says he has taken from The London Magazine [1772, p. 140]. He mentions it as by an anonymous writer. What is it, think you, but a character of Gray written by you to me in a letter soon after his death, which I copied out for the Magazine, of which I am a proprietor?' lb. p. 184. See also ib. p. 206.
For Gray's kindness to Temple see his correspondence with Nicholls. Mitford, v. 62, 69, 85, 110, 119, 133, 137.
For his learning see Mason, ii. 236; Mitford, i. Preface, p.73. 'When (writes Nicholls) I expressed my astonishment at the extent of his reading, he said :-"Why should you be surprised, for I do nothing else." He said he knew from experience how much might be done by a person who did not fling away his time on middling or inferior authors, and read with method.' Ib. v. 42.
'Reading, he has often told me
equally acquainted with the elegant and profound parts of science, and that not superficially but thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both natural' and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphysicks, morals, politicks made a principal part of his study; voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusements; and he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. With such a fund of knowledge, his conversation must have been equally instructing and entertaining 3; but he was also a good man, a man of virtue and humanity. There is no character without some speck, some imperfection; and I think the greatest defect in his was an affectation in delicacy, or rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidiousness, or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science. He also had, in some degree, that weakness which disgusted Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve: though he seemed to value others chiefly according to the progress they had made in knowledge, yet he could not bear to be considered himself merely as a man of letters; and though without birth, or fortune, or station, his desire was to be looked upon as a private
(writes Mason), was much more agreeable to him than writing.' Mason, ii. 25
1 Ib. ii. 243. 'Gray said he learnt botany merely for the sake of sparing himself the trouble of thinking.' Mitford, i. Preface, p. 119.
'He often vexed me,' wrote Walpole, 'by finding him heaping notes on an interleaved Linnaeus instead of pranking on his lyre.' Letters, ix. 343. Prank in this sense is not in Johnson's Dict.
Mason, ii. 239. In 1765 he attacked 'the rage of repairing, beautifying, whitewashing, painting and gilding.... This well-meant fury has been, and will be, little less fatal to our ancient magnificent edifices than the Reformation and the Civil Wars.' Mitford, iv. 73.
Walpole, in Anecdotes of Painting, i. 195, speaking of architecture, says: If some parts of this work are more accurate than my own ignorance or carelessness would have left them, the reader and I are obliged to Mr. Gray, who condescended to correct what he never could have descended to write.'
From a melancholy turn, from living reclusely, and from a little too much dignity, he never converses easily; all his words are measured and chosen, and formed into sentences; his writings are admirable; he himself is not agreeable.' Letters, ii. 128. See also Mitford, i. Preface, p. 64. Bonstetten said of him:-'Il avait de la gaieté dans l'esprit, et de la mélancolie dans le caractère.' lb. v. 181.
* 'I wish I could say, 'writes Mr. Tovey, that Gray's mirth was always free from coarseness; but even his extant letters are sometimes marked by the bad taste of his time.' Mitford advised that some of his letters should be strictly preserved from inspection.' Letters of Gray, Preface, p. 22.
5 'I have no relish,' he wrote, 'for any other fame than what is conferred by the few real judges that are so thinly scattered over the face of the earth.' Mitford, iv. 19.
Gray says (very justly) that learning never should be encouraged; it only draws out fools from their obscurity.' WALPOLE, Letters, ii. 438. Ante, CONGREVE, 31.
6 Walpole wrote in 1748:- Gray is the worst company in the world.
independent gentleman, who read for his amusement1. Perhaps it may be said, What signifies so much knowledge, when it produced so little? Is it worth taking so much pains to leave no memorial but a few poems ?? But let it be considered that Mr. Gray was, to others, at least innocently employed; to himself, certainly beneficially 3. His time passed agreeably; he was every day making some new acquisition in science; his mind was enlarged, his heart softened, his virtue strengthened; the world and mankind were shewn to him without a mask; and he was taught to consider every thing as trifling, and unworthy of the attention of a wise man, except the pursuit of knowledge and practice of virtue, in that state wherein God hath placed us.'
To this character Mr. Mason has added a more particular 23 account of Gray's skill in zoology*. He has remarked that Gray's effeminacy was affected most before those whom he did not wish to please "'; and that he is unjustly charged with making knowledge his sole reason of preference, as he paid his esteem to none whom he did not likewise believe to be good. What has occurred to me, from the slight inspection of his 24 letters' in which my undertaking has engaged me, is that
''A certain degree of pride led him to despise the idea of being thought an author professed.' Mason, ii. 236.
'I have no notion of poor Mr. Gray's delicacy. I would not sell my talents, as orators and senators do [his father had enriched him with sinecures. Boswell's Johnson, iii. 19 n.]; but I would keep a shop, and sell any of my own works that would gain me a livelihood, whether books or shoes, rather than be tempted to sell myself.' H. WALPOLE, Letters, v. 339.
"Sainte-Beuve, after quoting Bonstetten's explanation of Gray's melancholy by his living enseveli dans une espèce de cloître,' continues :'Je ne sais si le secret de la mélancolie de Gray était dans ce manque d'amour; je le chercherais plutôt dans la stérilité d'un talent poétique si distingué, si rare, mais si avare.' Causeries, xiv. 430.
'I fancy Gray would have written and published more had his ideas been more copious, and his expression more easy to him.' E. FITZGERALD, More Letters, p. 216.
3 To find one's self business is the great art of life.' GRAY, Mitford, iii. 236. To be employed is to be happy.' Letters, i. 347.
Mason, ii. 321.
Wesley, after reading Mason's Memoirs of Gray, recorded on Dec. 4, 1776:-'He does not appear, upon the whole, to have been an amiable His picture, I apprehend, expresses his character; sharp, sensible, ingenious, but at the same time proud, morose, envious, passionate and resentful.' Journal, 1827, iv. 87.
According to the Rev. William Cole, 'in Gil Blas the print of Scipio in the arbour was so like the countenance of Mr. Gray that, if he sat for it, it could not be more so. It is in a 12mo edition printed at Amsterdam, 1735, vol. iv. p. 94.' Mitford, i. Preface, p. 101. The edition in the Museum is of 1755; the vol, and page are the same.
Mason, ii. 323 n.
Ante, GRAY, 8 n. 6. 'I find more people like the grave letters than those of humour, and some think the latter a little affected, which is as
his mind had a large grasp; that his curiosity was unlimited, and his judgement cultivated; that he was a man likely to love much where he loved at all, but that he was fastidious and hard to please. His contempt, however, is often employed, where I hope it will be approved, upon scepticism and infidelity 3. His short account of Shaftesbury I will insert *.
'You say you cannot conceive how lord Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue; I will tell you: first, he was a lord; secondly, he was as vain as any of his readers; thirdly, men are very prone to believe what they do not understand; fourthly, they will believe any thing at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when that road leads no where; sixthly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seems [seemed] always to mean more than he said. Would you have any more reasons? An interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks [but] with commoners 5: vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for a new road is [has] become an old one.'
wrong a judgment as they could
'I once thought Swift's letters the best that could be written; but I like Gray's better.' COWPER, Works, xv. 38.
'Were it not for Gray's Letters, which are full of warm exuberant power, we might almost doubt whether Gray was a man of genius; nay, was a living man at all.' CARLYLE, Goethe, Misc. (n. d.) i. 185.
'Mark Pattison,' writes Mr. Morley (Crit. Misc. 1886, iii. 162), ‘used to contend that in many respects the most admirable literary figure of the eighteenth century was the poet Gray. Gray, he would say, never thought that devotion to letters meant the making of books. He gave himself up for the most part to ceaseless observation and acquisition.'
'Jamais, disait-il [Bonstetten], je n'ai vu personne qui donnât autant que Gray l'idée d'un gentleman accompli.' Causeries du Lundi, xiv. 429.
See his letters to Bonstetten, Mitford, iv. 178, 185, 187.
'It was rather an affectation in delicacy and effeminacy than the
things themselves, and he chose to put on this appearance chiefly before persons whom he did not wish to please.' Mason, ii. 322 n.
Gray, in answer to a letter from Walpole, says of the French:-'I rejoice at their dulness and their nastiness.... Their atheism is a little too much, too shocking to rejoice at. I have been long sick at it in their authors, and hated them for it; but I pity their poor innocent people of fashion. They were bad enough when they believed everything.' Mitford, iv. 69. See also ib. p. 190.
He shows a liberal spirit in criticizing one of Middleton's unpublished works. The rest [of it],' he writes, 'is employed in exposing the folly and cruelty of stiffness and zealotism in religion.' Ib. iii. 85.
Ib. iii. 196.
5 Ante, HALIFAX, 15; SHEFFIELD, 22; GRANVILLE, 25. Pattison, after mentioning how the inferior fry of Deistical writers' were attacked, continues: The only exception to this is the case of Shaftesbury, to whom, as well after his death as in his lifetime, his privileges as a peer seem to have secured immunity from hangman's usage. He is simply "a late noble author." Essays, ii. 99.
Mr. Mason has added from his own knowledge that though 25 Gray was poor, he was not eager of money, and that out of the little that he had, he was very willing to help the necessitous 1.
As a writer he had this peculiarity, that he did not write his 26 pieces first rudely, and then correct them, but laboured every line as it arose in the train of composition, and he had a notion not very peculiar, that he could not write but at certain times, or at happy moments; a fantastick foppery 3, to which my kindness for a man of learning and of virtue wishes him to have been superior *.
GRAY'S poetry is now to be considered, and I hope not to 27 be looked on as an enemy to his name if I confess that I contemplate it with less pleasure than his life.
Mason, ii. 235. On the death of his aunt and mother he was no longer poor; his professorship made him still easier. He left about £6,000. He had, it was said, purchased an annuity. Mitford, iv. 213. He would accept no money for a reprint of his poems. 76. pp. 91, 104.
'I always maintained,' he wrote in 1753, 'that nobody has occasion for pride but the poor; and that everywhere else it is a sign of folly.' Ib. iii. 112. In 1769 he wrote:'Remember that "Honesta res est laeta paupertas." [SENECA, Epis. ii. 5.] I see it with respect, and so will every one whose poverty is not seated in their mind. There is but one real evil in it, ... that you have less the power of assisting others, who have not the same resources to support them.' Mitford, iv. 132.
He bought lottery tickets and won a £20 prize. lb. iii. 194, iv. 134.
2 Ante, POPE, 299; Mason, ii. 103. 'Mason, Gray said, never gave himself time to think, but imagined that he should do best by writing hastily in the first fervour of his imagination, and therefore never waited for epithets if they did not occur readily, but left spaces for them, and put them in afterwards. This, Mr. Gray said, enervated his poetry, "for nothing is done so well as at the first concoction."
LIVES OF POETS. III
He said, "We think in words."' Mitford, v. 39.
Johnson defines foppery as' affectation of show or importance; showy folly.'
Ante, MILTON, 118.
In Education and Government he mocks this weakness in a passage that begins (1. 72) :—
'Unmanly thought! what seasons can control,
What fancied zone can circumscribe the soul?'
'Sir Joshua used to work at all times, whether he was in the humour or not.' Northcote's Conversations, p. 311. But then, as Johnson said of him:-'Sir Joshua is the same all the year round.' Boswell's Johnson, iii. 5.
'Macaulay,' wrote Prescott, 'tells me he has his moods for writing. When not in the vein he does not press it. Johnson, you remember, ridiculed this in Gray.' TICKNOR'S Prescott, 1864, p. 294.
'Nothing,' wrote Jowett, seems to me more uncertain than composition. One month a good harvest is reaped, the next all barren. In these fits and starts, with much pain and melancholy I calculate that I accomplish somewhat less than half of what I always intend.' Life, i. 284. See also Boswell's Johnson, i. 203, 332.