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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: vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for a new road is [has] become an old one.'
wrong a judgment as they could make; for Gray never wrote anything easily but things of humour. Humour was his natural and original turn.' WALPOLE, Letters, vi. 206.
'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. Ib. 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.' lb. 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. 16. 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.
His Ode on Spring has something poetical, both in the language and the thought; but the language is too luxuriant, and the thoughts have nothing new. There has of late arisen a practice of giving to adjectives, derived from substantives, the termination of participles, such as the cultured plain, the daisied bank; but I was sorry to see, in the lines of a scholar like Gray, 'the honied Spring".' The morality is natural, but too stale; the conclusion is pretty.
The poem on the Cat 3 was doubtless by its author considered as a trifle, but it is not a happy trifle. In the first stanza 'the azure flowers that blow' shew resolutely a rhyme is sometimes made when it cannot easily be found. Selima, the Cat, is called a nymph, with some violence both to language and sense; but there is good use made of it when it is done; for of the two lines,
'What female heart can gold despise?
the first relates merely to the nymph, and the second only to the cat. The sixth stanza contains a melancholy truth, that 'a favourite has no friend,' but the last ends in a pointed sentence of no relation to the purpose; if what glistered had been 'gold,' the cat would not have gone into the water; and, if she had, would not less have been drowned.
30 The Prospect of Eton College suggests nothing to Gray which every beholder does not equally think and feel. His supplica
1 Ante, GRAY, 6.
* 'The insect youth are on the wing, Eager to taste the honied spring.' On the Spring, 1. 25; Shenstone has 'our cultur'd vales,' Elegies, xxv, and Goldsmith 'cultur'd walks,' Traveller, 1. 236. Shakespeare has 'the prettiest daisied plot,' Cymbeline, iv. 2. 398, and Gay entangled shades and daisy'd lawns,' Dione, i. 4. 4. Shakespeare has 'honied sentences,' Henry V, i. 1. 50, and Milton 'honied showers,' Lycidas, 1. 140.
For Lord Grenville's criticism of Johnson's position see Mitford, i. Preface, p. 17.
'I regret to see that vile and barbarous vocable talented stealing out of the newspapers into the leading
tion to father Thames', to tell him who drives the hoop or tosses the ball, is useless and puerile. Father Thames has no better means of knowing than himself". His epithet buxom health' is not elegant; he seems not to understand the word 3. Gray thought his language more poetical as it was more remote from common use: finding in Dryden 'honey redolent of Spring, an expression that reaches the utmost limits of our language, Gray drove it a little more beyond common apprehension, by making 'gales' to be 'redolent of joy and youth.'
Of the Ode on Adversity the hint was at first taken from 31 'O Diva, gratum quæ regis Antium ''; but Gray has excelled his original by the variety of his sentiments and by their moral
very large and noble, like the air that breathes upon one as one looks down along the view.' E. FITZGERALD, Letters, i. 63.
'Say, Father Thames,' is found in Matthew Green's Grotto, privately printed in 1732. It was inserted in Dodsley's Coll. 1758, v. 159. Gray wrote of this poem to Walpole in 1748:The thought on which my second Ode [Spring] turns is manifestly stolen from hence; not that I knew it at the time, but having seen this many years before, to be sure it imprinted itself on my memory, and, forgetting the author, I took it for my own.' Gray's Letters, i. 188.
Johnson makes the Princess in Rasselas, ch. 25, supplicate the Nile. Answer, great Father of Waters, thou that rollest thy floods through eighty nations. . . . Tell me if thou waterest, through all thy course, a single habitation from which thou dost not hear the murmurs of complaint. There is a dignity in Johnson's supplication that is wanting in Gray's.
Johnson defines buxom as 'I. obedient, obsequious; 2. gay, lively, brisk; 3. wanton, jolly.'
'The language of the age,' Gray wrote, 'is never the language of
poetry; except among the French, whose verse, where the thought or image does not support it, differs in nothing from prose.' Gray's Letters, i. 97. [See Appendix AA n. 1, p. 444.]
'Gray was at the head of those who, by their reasonings, have attempted to widen the space of separation betwixt prose and metrical composition.' WORDSWORTH, Works, vi. 331. See also Coleridge's Biog. Lit. 1847, i. 19.
5 'While kine to pails distended udders bring,
And bees their honey, redolent of spring.'
DRYDEN, Works, xii. 227. Gray refers to this passage in a note. Mason, i. 72. Redolent of youth' is found in one of Mrs. Manley's works (1716). Mitford, i. 11 n.
Beattie records that Gray told him, 'that if there was in his own numbers any thing that deserved approbation, he had learned it all from Dryden.' Beattie's Essays, p. 17. In a postscript to a letter to Beattie Gray wrote:-'Remember Dryden, and be blind to all his faults.' Mitford, iv.65.
'He could not patiently hear him criticised,' writes Nicholls. Ib. v. 35.
'He congratulated himself on not having a good verbal memory; for without it, he said, he had imitated too much.' lb. p. 42.
6 Ante, GRAY, 6.
'HORACE, Odes, i. 35. The motto is from Aeschylus, Agam. 1. 181. See also Mitford, i. 17 n.
Of this piece, at once poetical and rational, I will
not by slight objections violate the dignity.
My process has now brought me to the 'Wonderful Wonder of Wonders ',' the two Sister Odes 2; by which, though either vulgar ignorance or common sense at first universally rejected them, many have been since persuaded to think themselves delighted 3. I am one of those that are willing to be pleased, and therefore would gladly find the meaning of the first stanza of The Progress of Poetry.
Gray seems in his rapture to confound the images of 'spreading sound' and 'running water.' A'stream of musick' may be allowed 5; but where does Musick, however 'smooth and strong,' after having visited the 'verdant vales,' 'rowl down the steep amain,' so as that 'rocks and nodding groves rebellow to the roar'? If this be said of Musick, it is nonsense; if it be said of Water, it is nothing to the purpose.
The second stanza, exhibiting Mars's car and Jove's eagle, is unworthy of further notice. Criticism disdains to chase a schoolboy to his common-places".
To the third it may likewise be objected that it is drawn from Mythology, though such as may be more easily assimilated to real life. 'Idalia's velvet-green "' has something of cant. An
[This is clearly a familiar phrase: cf. Wright's Caricature History of the Georges, p. 595, in reference to Bull's Menagerie' (1803). Earlier instances might be quoted.] 2 Ante, GRAY, 14.
3 Gray, in 1752, described The Progress of Poesy as 'a high Pindaric upon stilts, which one must be a better scholar than Dodsley is to understand a line of, and the very best scholars will understand but a little matter here and there.' Gray's Letters, i. 219.
Soon after the publication of the two Odes Walpole wrote:-'They [the age] have cast their eyes over them, found them obscure, and looked no further.... I do not think that they ever admired Mr. Gray except in his Churchyard. Walpole's Letters, iii. 96, 98.
The Progress of Poesy.
5 'Mrs. Montagu,' said Johnson, has a constant stream of conversa
tion.' Boswell's Johnson, iv. 275.
6 Ante, PRIOR, 59; POPE, 326. 'The second strophe of the first Ode is inexcusable; ... even when one does understand it, perhaps the last line is too turgid.' WALPOLE, Letters, iii. 97.
'To make Prince Eugene a favourite of Mars, or to carry on a correspondence between Bellona and the Marshal de Villars, would be downright puerility, and unpardonable in a poet that is past sixteen.' ADDISON, The Spectator, No. 523. 7 'She rears her flowers and spreads her velvet-green.'
YOUNG, Sat. v. 230. 9 For Johnson's definition of can! see Boswell's Johnson, iv. 221 n.
Addison, in The Spectator, No. 421, speaking of the comparisons of different classes of writers, says:-'Your men of business are for leading the reader from shop to shop, in the cant of particular trades and employments.'