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Scipiadae excuses, oro, si tardius utar
Atque iterum hesternomunere victor ades.
Immediately after writing the preceding Letter, Mr. Gray went upon a visit to his relations at Stoke; where he writ that beautiful little Ode which stands first in his collection of poems. He sent it as soon as written to his beloved friend; but he was dead” before it reached Hertfordshire. He diedfonly twenty days after he had written the letter to Mr. Gray, which concluded with “Wale, et vive paulisper cum vivis.” So little was the amiable youth then aware of the short time that he himself would be numbered amongst the living. But this is almost constantly the case with such persons as die of that most remediless, yet most flattering of all distempers, a consumption. Shall humanity be thankful or sorry that it is so 2 Thankful, surely. For as this malady generally attacks the young and the innocent, it seems the merciful intention of Heaven that, to these, death should come unperceived, and as it were by stealth; divested of one of his sharpest stings, the lingering expectation of their dissolution. As to Mr. Gray, we may assure ourselves that he felt much more than his dying friend, when the letter, which inclosed the Ode, was returned unopened. There seems to be a kind of presentiment in that patheticpiece, which readers of taste will feel when they learn this anecdote; and which will make them read it with redoubled pleasure. It will also throw a melancholy grace (to borrow one of his own expressions) on the Ode on a distant prospect of Eton, and on that to Adversity; both of them written the August following: for as both these poems abound with pathos, those who have feeling hearts will feel this excellence the more strongly, when they know the cause from whence it arose; and the unfeeling will, perhaps, learn to respect what they cannot taste, when they are prevented from imputing to a splenetic melancholy what in fact sprung from the most benevolent offill sensations. I am inclined to believe that the Elegy in a Country Church-yard was begun, if not concluded, at this time also: though I am aware that, as it stands at present, the conclusion is of a later date; how that was originally, I shall shew in my notes on the poem. But the first impulse of his sorrow for the death of his friend gave birth to a very tender sonnet in English, on the Petrarchian model; and also to a sublime Apostrophe in hexameters, written in the genuine strain of classical majesty, with which he intended to begin one of his books, “De Principiis Cogitandi.” This I shall shortly give the reader; but the sonnet, being completed, I reserve for publication amongst the rest of his poems. It may seem somewhat extraordinary, that Mr. Gray. never attempted any thing in English verse (except the beginning of Agrippina, and a few translations), before the first Ode lately mentioned. Shall we attribute this to his having been educated at Eton, or to what other cause? Certain it is, that when I first knew him, he seemed to set a greater value on his Latin poetry, than on that which he had composed in his native language; and had almost the same foible then, which I have since known him laugh at in Petrarch, when we read that most entertaining of all books, entitled “Memoires pour la vie de François Petrarque tirés de ses oeuvres,” &c. I am apt to think that the little popularity which M. de Polignac's Anti-Lucretius acquired, after it had been so long and so eagerly expected by the learned, induced Mr. Gray to lay aside his didactic plan. However this may be, he writ no Latin verse after this period; except perhaps some part of the first book of the poem just mentioned. This therefore seems the proper place to introduce that fragment; which being.
* There is so much of nature in the sentiment, as well as poetry in the description of this triumphal entry of young Massinissa, that it seems much to be regretted the author did not finish this Poem. But I believe he never proceeded further with it. I had therefore my doubts concerning the printing of so small a part; but as I thought it the best, because the only original specimen of Mr. Gray's Ovidian verse (the rest of his hexameters and pentameters being only translations either from English or Italian), I was willing to give it to the reader.
* This singular anecdote is founded on a marginal note in his common-place
book, where that Ode is transcribed, and the following memorandum annexed: “Written at Stoke the beginning of June 1742, and sent to Mr. West, not knowing he was then dead.” t He was buried at Hatfield (the house called Popes being in that parish). On a grave-stone in the chancel is the following plain inscription; “Here lieth the body of Richard West, Esq. only son to the Right Honourable Richard West, late
lord chancellor of Ireland, who died the first of June, 1742, in the twenty-sixth year of his age.”
the most considerable in itself of all his Latin compositions, and perhaps the most laboured of any of his poems, it were to be wished that I could give the reader more insight into his design, than the few scattered papers, which he has left, enable me to do. It is clear, however, from the exordium itself, that he meant to make the same use of Mr. Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding, which Lucretius did of the Dogmas of Epicurus. And the first six lines plainly intimate, that his general design was to be comprised in four books.
The 1st. On the origin of our ideas.
Unde Animus scire incipiat
The 2nd. On the distribution of these ideas in the memory.
The 3rd. On the province of reason and its gradual improvement.
Ratio unde, rudi sub pectore, tardum
The 4th. On the cause and effects of the passions.
et primum mortalibus aegris
But he has not drawn out any of the arguments of these books, except a part of the first; and that only so far as he executed of it. This it will be proper here to insert; and also, for the ease of the reader, to repeat the several parts at the bottom of the subsequent pages.
General plan of the Poem.—First, Invocation to Mr. Locke; Address to Favonius, shewing the use and importance of the design.—Beginning.—Connexion of the soul and body; Nerves, the instruments of sensation.— Touch, the first and most extensive sense, described.— Begins before the birth; pain, our first idea when born. Seeing, the second sense.—Digressive encomium of light. The gradual opening and improvement of this sense, and that of hearing, their connexion with the higher faculties of the mind; sense of beauty and order and harmony annexed to them. From the latter, our delight, in eloquence, poetry, and music derived.—Office of the taste and smell.—Internal sense of reflection, whereby the mind views its own powers and operations, compared to a young wood-nymph admiring herself in some fountain.—Admission of ideas, some by a single sense, some by two, others by every way of sensation and reflection. Instance in a person born blind, he has no ideas of light and colours; but he has those of figure, motion, extension, and space, (objects both of the sight and touch.) Third sort, those which make their entrance into the mind by every channel alike; as pleasure, and pain, power, existence, unity, and succession. Properties of bodies, whereby they make themselves known to us. Primary qualities: magnitude, solidity, mobility, texture, and figure. * * *
a UNDE Animus scire incipiat: quibus inchoet orsa
a Plan of the Poem. b Invocation to Mr. Locke.
* It has been already observed in the note on Letter XVII. p. 38, that Mr. Gray's hexameters, besides having the variety of Virgil's pauses, closed also with his elisions. For Virgil, as an attentive reader will immediately perceive, generally introduces one elision, and not unfrequently more, in those lines which terminate the sense. This gives to the versification its last and most exquisite grace, and leaves the ear fully satisfied. Mr. Gray could not fail to observe, and of course to aim at this happy effect of elisions in a concluding line: of which the present poem, in particular, affords indubitable and abundant proofs.