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THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
MR. THOMAS GRAY.
OF a life so sedentary and retired as that passed by the gentleman whose works are here presented to the reader, the incidents can scarcely be expected to comprise any thing uncommon or remarkable: yet a reader, who is pleased with the productions of the poet, very naturally desires to know something of the man.
The parents of our author were respectable citizens of London. His grandfather had been a merchant of some eminence; his father, Mr. Philip Gray, exercised the. trade of a money-scrivener; but, being of a shy and indolent temper, rather diminished than increased his paternal fortune. He had many children, of whom Thomas, the subject of this narrative, was the fifth born. All, except himself, died in their infancy; and it has been said, that he narrowly escaped suffocation (owing to too great a fulness of blood, which destroyed the rest), and would certainly have been cut off as early, had not his mother, with a courage remarkable for one of her sex, and especially for so very tender a parent, ventured to open a vein with her own hand, which instantly removed the paroxysm.
According to Mr. Mason, our poet was born in Cornhill, December* 26,1716, and educated at Eton school, under the care of Mr. Antrobus, his maternal uncle, who was at that time assistant to Dr. George, and also a fellow of St. Peter's College, Cambridge, to which place Mr. Gray removed, and was there admitted a pensioner in the year 1734.
While at school he had contracted an intimacy with Mr. Horace Walpole||, and Mr. Richard West f.
* Dr. Johnson, I know not on what authority, gives as the date of Mr. Gray's birth, November 26, 1716.
|| The late Earl of Orford.
f Son of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His maternal grandfather was the famous Dr. Burnet.
The latter of these gentlemen removed from Eton to Christ Church, Oxford, about the same time that Mr. Gray left that place for Cambridge; and from this time an epistolary correspondence was carried on between them.
Mr. Gray's first attempt in English verse, as Mr. Mason tells us, was a Translation from Statius, in May 1736, which is much in the spirited manner of Dryden.
In April 1738, Mr. West left Chris* Church for the Inner Temple, to study the law; and Mr. Gray removed from Peterhouse to town in the September following, intending also to adopt that profession 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.
With Mr. Walpole he set out in March 1739. They wandered through France into Italy; and his letters, which were published by Mr. Mason, eontain a pleasing account of many parts of their journey, enlivened with such glowing descriptions and observations as might be naturally expected from such a genius o.n classic ground, and some highly-fiuished pieces of Latin poetry composed on the spot.
During his residence in Italy, Pope Clement XII. died, and the amiable Benedict XIV. -was elected, of whom, in one of Mr. Gray's letters, we find the following little speech to the Cardinals in the Conclave, while they were undetermined about an el«ction: "Most eminent Lords,here are three Bolognese, ofdif"ferent characters, but all equally proper for the Pope"dom. If it be your pleasure to pitch upon a saint, "there is CWtdinal Gotti; if upon a politician, there "is Aldrovftndi; if upon a booby (coglionij, here "am I." But to return: •
"Unequal friendships," says Dr. Johnson, " are easily dissolved." At Rheggio a disagreement arose between Gray and Mr. Walpole, originating, we are told, in the difference of their tempers (the foriner curious, pensive, and philosophical; the latter gay, lively, and, of course, inconsiderate); but the chief blame of this quarrel Mr. Walpole, who survived Mr. Gray, generously took to himself; and it gives us satisfaction to say, that a lasting reconciliation took place about three years a'fter the dispute. The contention, however, was at the time so sharp between them, that, like Paul and Barnabas, they defiarted asunder one from the other; and Mr. Gray