1775 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

William Cole, Collectanea for Athenae Cantabrigienses, 1775 ca.; in Restituta or ... English Literature Revived 3 (1815) 231-33.



My most ingenious and lamented friend.

Mr. Tho. Warton of Oxford, in the preface, p. iv. of his History of English Poetry, gives no bad specimen of his vanity, by pretending to condemn it, when he tells us that Mr. Mason and Mr. Gray both, gave him their own, together with Mr. Pope's plan and scheme for such an History, but that he had rejected them, on finding them incompetent.

In 1778, Mr. Mason put up a monument for him in Westminster Abbey, and made these verses, to be inscribed on it.

No more the Grecian Muse unrivall'd reigns:
To Britain let the nations homage pay.
She felt a Homer's fire in Milton's strains,
A Pindar's rapture in the lyre of Gray.

I am apt to think that the characters of Voiture and Mr. Gray were very similar. They were both little men, very nice and exact in their persons and dress, most lively and agreeable in conversation, (except that Mr. Gray was apt to be satirical,) and both of them full of affectation. What gave occasion to the reflection was the following passage from the 2nd vol. of Melanges d'Historie, et de Litterature, by the Carthusian Dom. Bonaventure d'Argogrie, p. 416, a book that I bought on Mr. Gray's recommendation of it to me.

"Madame la Marquise de Sable avoit accoutume de reprocher Monsieur de Voiture en riant, qu'il avoit une vanite de femme: ce que marquoit fort bien son caractere. Il en rioit aussi lui meme, et ne croioit pas, que dans un procession qu'il faissoit d'aremer le monde, et toutes ses affectations, ce petit reproche lui fut desavantageuse."

Reading Gil Blas for the 10th, or possibly 15th time, April 29, 1780, the print of Scipio in the arbour, beginning to tell his own adventures to Gil Blas, Antonia and Beatrix, was so like the countenance of Mr. Gray, that if he had sat for it, it could not have been more so. It is in a 12mo edition, in 4 vols, printed at Amsterdam, chez Herman Vytwerf, 1735, in the 4th vol. p. 94. It is ten times more like him than his print before Mason's life of him, which is horrible, and makes him a fury. That little one done by Mr. Mason in like him, and placid: Mr. Tyson spoiled the other by altering it.

Tom Davies feebly attempts to ridicule Mr. Gray's delivery, in his being offended at Colley Cibber's Essay on the Character and Conduct of Cicero, in his Life of Mr. Garrick, vol. ii. p. 200.

Mr. Mainwaring of St. John's, in his dissertation at the head of his sermons, preached at Cambridge, and there printed in 1780, gently censures Mr. Gray for his commendations of Mr. Sterne's sermons, p. v. vi. vii. He also thus fairly strictures him at p. xcvi. "No writings perhaps were ever more laboured and studied than those of Mr. Gray. Even good judges have almost consented to admit this circumstance, as an objection, and it may be true, that they would have been more pleasing, had they been less perfect. But what quality should most predominate, depends no less on the character of the writer, than on the kind of writing: what quality is most to be admired, is not matter of reasoning, but of taste. However, as the labour of Phidias and Praxiteles, of Zeuxis and Apelles were directed by their genius to the happiest issue; in like manner, the uncommon learning and industry of Gray, far from clogging or incumbering his genius, assisted its efforts, and guided its exertions." I am a better judge of the truth of what he says further of him, and I wish I could aquit him of a spice of that "fatal jealousy of authorship," which he there mentions as having disunited Mr. Pope and Mr. Addison. I speak on certain knowledge, from Mr. Gray's own mouth, a year or two before his death. I knew Mr. Walpole's warmth of friendship was more genuine and lively: this appears by his letter to me from Paris, where he was at Mr. Gray's death: and though their unlucky parting in Italy might have somewhat cooled their original friendship, I am satisfied it never extinguished it in Mr. Walpole, whatever it might have done in Mr. Gray, who perhaps might think himself the injured person, and sufferer in his views for ever. Mr. Mainwaring's words are these, reciting some instances where rivalry of authorship has divided friends: — "It is more satisfactory to conclude these notes with a striking instance of a contrary kind, and perfectly in point. For the late Mr. Gray and his illustrious friend not only excelled greatly as poets, but precisely in the same species of poetry; a circumstance which, instead of impairing the early affection between them, served only to strengthen and cement it." Mr. Gray's foible was too much fastidiousness and sneering at those whom he called his friends, and I know Mr. Walpole came in for his share of it.

His verses on Lord Holland and epitaph on Mr. Clarke are printed in Mr. Nichols's Select Collection of Poems, vol. vii. p. 350, 351. Lond. 8vo. 1781.