1816 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

William Wordsworth to Robert Pearse Gillies, 15 April 1816; Letters of the Wordsworth Family, ed. Knight (1907) 2:80-81.



Gray failed as a poet, not because he took too much pains, and so extinguished his animation; but because he had little of that fiery quality to begin with; and his pains were of the wrong sort. He wrote English verses, as he and other Eton schoolboys wrote Latin; filching a phrase now from one author, and now from another. I do not profess to be a person of very various reading; nevertheless if I were to pluck out of Gray's tail all the feathers which, I know, belong to other birds, he would be left very bare indeed. Do not let anybody persuade you that any quantity of good verses can be produced by mere felicity; or that an immortal style can be the growth of mere genius. "Multa tulit fecitque" must be the motto of all those who are to last. There are poems now existing which all the world ran after at their first appearance, and it will continue to run after their like, that do not deserve to be thought of as literary works; everything in them being merely skin-deep as to thought and feeling, the juncture or suture of the composition not being a jot more cunning or more fitted for endurance than the first fastening together of fig-leaves in Paradise. But I need not press you upon the necessity of labour, as you have avowed your conviction upon this subject.