1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

Isaac Reed, in Biographia Dramatica; or, A Companion to the Playhouse (1782) 1:196-97.



THOMAS GRAY. This excellent writer was the son of Philip Gray, who followed the business of a scrivener in the city of London. His mother's name was Antrobus, and he was born in Cornhill, Dec. 26, 1716. He received his education at Eton school, under the care of his uncle Antrobus, then one of the assistant masters. At this seminary he became acquainted with Mr. Horace Walpole and Mr. West. From Eton he removed to St. Peter's College, Cambridge, where he was admitted a pensioner in the year 1734. He remained at the university until the latter end of the year 1738, when he took chambers in the Temple, with a design to apply himself to the study of the law; but on an invitation given him by Mr. Walpole to be his companion in his travels, he gave up this intention, and never after resumed it.

They began their travels on the 29th of April, 1739, and proceeded through France and Italy until July 1741, when a slight disagreement arising between them, Mr. Gray returned to England alone, about the 1st of September; and two months after his father died, leaving him in circumstances rather contracted. He now abandoned the study of the law, and being left to follow his own inclinations, determined to take up his residence at Cambridge, to which place we went soon after and took his degree of bachelor in civil law, but without any design of devoting himself to any profession.

He continued from this time at Cambridge with the usual uniformity of a college life, few incidents distinguishing it form that of other gentlemen, who relinquish all public scenes for the tranquility of academical retirement. In 1757, he had the offer of being appointed poet laureat, but declined it, nor had any honours or emoluments bestowed on him till the year 1768, when, without his own solicitation, or that of his friends, he was appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. He lived there three years after this promotion, and died on the 31st of July, 1772.

His excellence as a poet will be confessed by all who are entitled to judge of it, except now and then by a jealous critic educated at Oxford, and assiduous in depreciating the merit of every author who flourished at a rival university. We do not, however, pretend that Mr. Gray's performances are alike exempt from defects; for in his Odes he sometimes appears to have been more attentive to the glitter of words, than the distinctness of ideas. And yet, if these truly original pieces maintain their reputation till the critics who censure them can impair it by producing better, they may at least be satisfied with their present security. — The most unfavourable remarks that truth can suggest concerning our author as a man, are, that there was a reserve in his behaviour too nearly resembling fastidiousness, and that he was apt to indulge himself in such modish niceties of dress as did not always correspond with the sobriety of an academic gown.

He began a tragedy, of which he lived to finish only one scene, and part of a second. It is entitled,

Agrippina.

Printed in Mr. Mason's Life of him, 4to. 1775.