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to make it necessary I should enlarge upon this subject; but as the latter died before he could exert his uncommon abilities, it seems requisite to premise somewhat concerning him; especially as almost every anecdote which I have to produce, concerning the juvenile part of Mr. Gray's life, is included in his correspondence with this gentleman: a correspondence which continued, with very little interruption, for the space of about eight years, from the time of their leaving school to the death of the accomplished youth in question. His father was Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His grandfather, by the mother, the famous Bishop Burnet. He removed from Eton to Oxford, about the same time that Mr. Gray left that place for Cambridge. Each of them carried with him the reputation of an excellent classic scholar, though I have been told that, at the time, Mr. West's genius was reckoned the more brilliant of the two: a judgment which, I conceive, was not well founded; for though Mr. West's part of that correspondence, which I shall speedily give the reader,” will undoubtedly shew that he possest very extraordinary talents, yet, on Mr. Gray's side, there seems superadded to these, such a manly precision of taste, and maturity of judgment, as would induce one to believe Mr. Walpole's phrase not very hyperbolical, who has often asserted to me that “Gray never was a boy.” In April, 1738, Mr. West left Christ Church for the Inner Temple, and Mr. Gray removed from Peterhouse to town the latter end of that year; intending also to apply himself to the study of the law in the same society, for which purpose his father had already either hired or bought him a set of chambers: but on an invitation which Mr. Walpole gave him to be his companion in his travels, this intention was laid aside for the present, and never after put in execution. According to the plan which I have formed for arranging these papers, a part of the letters which I have already mentioned will here find their proper place. They will give a much clearer idea both of Mr. Gray and his friend, at this early period, than any narrative of mine. They will include also several specimens of their juvenile compositions, and, at the same time, mark the progress they had made in literature. They will ascertain, not only the scope and turn of their genius, but of their temper. In a word, Mr. Gray will become his own biographer, both in this and the rest of the Sections, into which I divide this work. By which means, and by the assistance of a few notes which I shall occasionally add, it may be hoped that nothing will be omitted which may tend to give a regular and clear delineation of his life and character. But as this is the earliest part of their correspondence, and includes only the time which passed between Mr. Gray's admission into the university and his going abroad, it may be reasonably expected, that the manner rather than the matter of these letters must constitute their principal merit; they will therefore be chiefly acceptable to such ingenuous youths, who, being about the same age, have a relish for the same studies, and
* I am well aware that I am here going to do a thing which the cautious and courtly Dr. Sprat (were he now alive) would highly censure. He had, it seems, a large collection of his friend Mr. Cowley's letters, “a way of writing in which he peculiarly excelled, as in these he always exprest the native tenderness and innocent gaiety of his heart: yet the Doctor was of opinion, that nothing of this nature should be published, and that the letters that pass between particular friends (if they are written as they ought to be) can scarce ever be fit to see the light.” What! not when they express the native tenderness and innocent gaiety of a heart like Mr. Cowley's 2 No, by no means, “for in such letters the souls of men appear undrest, and in that negligent habit they may be fit to be seen by one or two in a chamber, but not to go abroad in the street.” See Life of Cowley, page 38, Hurd's Edition.
Such readers as believe it incumbent on every well-bred soul never to appear but in full dress, will think that Dr. Sprat has reason on his side; but I suspect that the generality will, notwithstanding, wish he had been less scrupulously delicate, and lament that the letters in question are not now extant. Of one thing I am fully confident, that, had this been the case, the judicious Dr. Hurd would have found his critical labour much lessened, when, in pure charity to this amiable writer, he lately employed himself in separating,
His pleasing moral from his pointed wit.
bosoms susceptible of the same warmth of friendship. To these I address them; in the pleasing hope that they may prompt them to emulate their elegant simplicity, and, of course, to study with more care the classic models from which it was derived. If they do this, I shall not be much concerned if graver readers think them unimportant, or even trifling.
I. M. R. W. EST TO M R. GRAY.
YoU use me very cruelly: you have sent me but one letter since I have been at Oxford, and that too agreeable not to make me sensible how great my loss is in not having more. Next to seeing you is the pleasure of seeing your hand-writing ; next to hearing you is the pleasure of hearing from you. Really and sincerely I wonder at you, that you thought it not worth while to answer my last letter. I hope this will have better success in behalf of your quondam school-fellow; in behalf of one who has walked hand in hand with you, like the two children in the wood,
Through many a flowery path and shelly grot,
The very thought, you see, tips my pen with poetry, and brings Eton to my view. Consider me very seriously here in a strange country, inhabited by things that call themselves Doctors and Masters of Arts; a country flowing with syllogisms and ale, where Horace and Virgil are equally unknown; consider me, I say, in this melancholy light, and then think if something be not due to Your's. Christ Church, Nov. 14, 1735. P. S. I desire you will send me soon, and truly and positively, a historyt of your own time.
• This expression prettily distinguishes their studies when out of the public school, which would naturally, at their age, be vague and desultory. t Alluding to his grandfather's history.
II. M.R. GRAY TO M R. W. EST.
PERMIT me again to write to you, though I have so long neglected my duty, and forgive my brevity, when I tell you it is occasioned wholly by the hurry I am in to get to a place where I expect to meet with no other pleasure than the sight of you; for I am preparing for London in a few days at furthest. I do not wonder in the least at your frequent blaming my indolence, it ought rather to be called ingratitude, and I am obliged to your goodness for softening so harsh an appellation. When we meet it will, however, be my greatest of pleasures to know what you do, what you read, and how you spend your time, &c. &c. and to tell you what I do not read, and how I do not, &c. for almost all the employment of my hours may be best explained by negatives: take my word and experience upon it, doing nothing is a most amusing business: and yet neither something nor nothing gives me any pleasure. When you have seen one of my days, you have seen a whole year of my life ; they go round and round like the blind horse in the mill, only he has the satisfaction of fancying he makes a progress, and gets some ground; my eyes are open enough to see the same dull prospect, and to know that, having made four-and-twenty steps more, I shall be just where I was . I may, better than most people, say my life is but a span, were I not afraid lest you should not believe that a person so short-lived could write even so long a letter as this ; in short, I believe I must not send you the history of my own time, till I can send you that also of the reformation.” However, as the most undeserving people in the world must sure have the vanity to wish somebody had a regard for them, so I need not
t * Carrying on the allusion to the other history written by Mr. West's grandfather.
wonder at my own, in being pleased that you care about me. You need not doubt, therefore, of having a first row in the front box of my little heart, and I believe you are not in danger of being crowded there: it is asking you to an old play, indeed, but you will be candid enough to excuse the whole piece for the sake of a few tolerable lines.
For this little while past I have been playing with Statius; we yesterday had a game at quoits together: you will easily forgive me for having broke his head, as you have a little pique to him. I send you my translation,” which I did not engage in because I liked that part of the poem, nor do I now send it to you because I think it deserves it, but merely to shew you how I misspend my days.
Third in the labours of the Disc came on,
* This consisted of about one hundred and ten lines, which were sent separately, and as I believe it was Mr. Gray's first attempt in English verse, it is a curiosity not to be entirely withheld from the reader; therefore, although it is not my intention to fill these Memoirs with much either of his or his correspondent's productions in this way, yet as a few lines will shew how much Mr. Gray had imbibed of Dryden's spirited manner, at this early period, I insert at the end of the letter a specimen of the whole.