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I AGREE with you that you have broke Statius's head, but it is in like manner as Apollo broke Hyacinth's— you have foiled him infinitely at his own weapon. I must insist on seeing the rest of your translation, and then I will examine it entire, and compare it with the Latin, and be very wise and severe, and put on an inflexible face, such as becomes the character of a true son of Aristarchus, of hyper-critical memory. In the meanwhile,
And calm'd the terrors of his claws in gold,
Is exactly Statius—Summos auro mansueverat ungues. I never knew before that the golden fangs on hammercloths were so old a fashion. Your Hymeněal* I was told was the best in the Cambridge Collection before I saw it, and, indeed, it is no great compliment to tell you I thought it so when I had seen it; but sincerely it pleased me best. Methinks the college bards have run into a strange taste on this occasion. Such soft, unmeaning stuff about Venus and Cupid, and Peleus and Thetis, and Zephyrs and Dryads, was never read. As for my poor little eclogue, it has been condemned and beheaded by our Westminster judges; an exordium of about sixteen lines absolutely cut off, and its other limbs quartered in a most barbarous manner. I will send it you in my next as my true and lawful heir, in exclusion of the pretender, who has the impudence to appear under my name. As yet I have not looked into Sir Isaac. Public disputations I hate; mathematics I reverence; history, morality, and natural philosophy have the greatest charms in my eye; but who can forget poetry : they call it idleness, but it is surely the most enchanting thing in the world, ac dulce otium et pane omni negotio
* Published in the Cambridge Collection of verses on the Prince of Wales's marriage. I have not thought it necessary to insert these hexameters, as adulatory verses of this kind, however well written, deserve not to be transmitted to posterity; and, indeed, are usually buried, as they ought to be, in the trash with which they are surrounded. Every person, who feels himself a poet, ought to be above prostituting his powers on such occasions, and extreme youth (as was
. case with Mr. Gray) is the only thing that can apologize for his having One it.
pulchrius. I am, dear Sir, yours while I am, R. W.
Christ Church, May 24, 1736.
The following letter seems to require some little preface, not so much as it expresses Mr. Gray's juvenile sentiments, concerning the mode of our academical education, as that these sentiments prevailed with him through life, and that he often declared them, with so little reserve, as to create him many enemies. It is certain that, at the time when he was admitted, and for some years after, Jacobitism, and its concomitant hard drinking, prevailed still at Cambridge, much to the prejudice not only of good manners, but of good letters; for, if this spirit was then on the decline, it was not extinguished till after the year 1745. But we see (as was natural enough in a young man) he laid the blame rather on the mode of education than the mode of the times; and to this error, the uncommon proficiency he had made at Eton in classical learning might contribute, as he found himself in a situation where that species of merit held not the first rank. However this be, it was necessary not to omit this feature of his mind, when employed in drawing a general likeness of it, and what colours could be found so forcible as his own to express its true light and shadow' I would further observe, that whatever truth there might be in his satire at the time it was written, it can by no means affect the present state of the university. There is usually a much greater fluctuation of taste and manners in an academical, than a national body; occasioned (to use a scholastic metaphor) by that very quick succession of its component parts, which often goes near to destroy its personal identity. Whatever therefore may be true of such a society at one time, may be, and generally is, ten years after, absolutely false.
You must know that I do not take degrees, and, after this term, shall have nothing more of college impertinences to undergo, which I trust will be some pleasure to you, as it is a great one to me. I have endured lectures daily and hourly since I came last, supported by the hopes of being shortly at full liberty to give myself up to my friends, and classical companions, who, poor souls though I see them fallen into great contempt with most people here, yet I cannot help sticking to them, and out of a spirit of obstinacy (I think) love them the better for it; and, indeed, what can I do else? Must I plunge into metaphysics? Alas! I cannot see in the dark; nature has not furnished me with the optics of a cat. Must I pore upon mathematics? Alas! I cannot
see in too much light; I am no eagle. It is very pos
sible that two and two make four, but I would not give four farthings to demonstrate this ever so clearly; and if these be the profits of life, give me the amusements of it. The people I behold all around me, it seems, know all this and more, and yet I do not know one of them who inspires me with any ambition of being like him. Surely it was of this place, now Cambridge, but formerly known by the name of Babylon, that the prophet spoke when he said, “the wild beasts of the desert shall dwell there, and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and owls shall build there, and satyrs shall dance there; their forts and towers shall be a den for ever, a joy of wild asses; there shall the great owl make her nest, and lay and hatch and gather under her shadow ; it shall be a court of dragons; thes creech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.” You see here is a pretty collection of desolate animals, which is verified in this town to a tittle, and perhaps it may also allude to your habitation, for you know all types may be taken by abundance of handles; however, I defy your owls to match mine. If the default of your spirits and nerves be nothing but the effect of the hyp, I have no more to say. We all must submit to that wayward queen; I too in no small degree own her sway. **
I feel her influence while I speak her power.
But if it be a real distemper, pray take more care of your health, if not for your own, at least for our sakes, and do not be so soon weary of this little world: I do not know what” refined friendships you may have contracted in the other, but pray do not be in a hurry to see your acquaintance above; among your terrestrial familiars, however, though I say it that should not say it, there positively is not one that has a greater esteem for you than, Yours most sincerely, &c. Peterhouse, Dec. 1736.
* This thought is very juvenile, but perhaps he meant to ridicule the affected manner of Mrs. Rowe's Letters of the Dead to the Living; a book which was, I believe, published about this time.
I cox GRATULATE you on your being about to leave college,” and rejoice much you carry no degrees with you: for I would not have had You dignified, and I not, for the world—you would have insulted me so. My eyes, such as they are, like yours, are neither metaphysical nor mathematical : I have, nevertheless, a great respect for your connoisseurs that way, but am always contented to be their humble admirer. Your collection of desolate animals pleased me much ; but Oxford, I can assure you, has her owls that match yours, and the prophecy has certainly a squint that way. Well, you are leaving this dismal land of bondage, and which way are you turning your face : Your friends, indeed, may be happy in you, but what will you do with your classic companions ! An inn of court is as horrid a place as a college, and a moot case is as dear to gentle dulness as a syllogism. But wherever you go, let me beg you not to throw poetry “like a nauseous weed away:” cherish its sweets in your bosom, they will serve you now and then to correct the disgusting sober follies of the common law, Misce stultiliam consiliis brevem, Dulce est desipere in loco ; so said Horace to Virgil, those two sons of Anac in poetry, and so say I to you, in this degenerate land of pigmies,
* I suspect that Mr. West mistook his correspondent; who, in saying he did not take degrees, meant only to let his friend know that he should soon be released from lectures and disputations. It is certain, that Mr. Gray continued at college near two years after the time he wrote the preceding letter.