1825 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

Joseph Cradock, 1825 ca.; Literary and Miscellaneous Memoirs (1828) 4:223-26.



As Mr. Gray was so very shy and distant, few guessed at his "peculiar humour," as Hurd was pleased to term it; he was generally seen through the melancholy medium of his own Churchyard Elegy. From recollection I am sure Lord Sandwich was aware of him; for, about the time he offered himself as High Steward, contrary to his usual maxim of not seeing an enemy on public occasions, he once said to me, I have my private reasons for knowing of his absolute inveteracy. Of this I have now seen proof in the poem of Jemmy Twitcher, published by Mr. Mitford, and directly applying to that contest. His Long Story indeed had been printed; but the world in general did not see the meaning of it, and it was every where disputed whether there was any humour or not. Many light satires perhaps have since been given to him that he did not write, but certainly very like him: take that for instance on the Cambridge Condolence and Congratulation on the Death of King George II. and the Accession of George III.

The Old One's dead,
And in his stead,
The New One takes his place;
Then sing and sigh,
And laugh and cry,
With dismal cheerful face.

After Mason had published his Life, his Letters and Satires on the University were apparent; and the reverend Biographer, by publishing them, gave no small offence. Being desirous of ascertaining who had dared to speak with high displeasure, he was informed, that the Right Reverend Dr. Keene had given his decided opinion against them. "Has he?" replied Mason, hastily; "I wish I had been aware of that sooner, for I purposely suppressed Gray's Epitaph on his Lordship:

Here lies Dr. Keene, the good Bishop of Chester,

Who eat up a fat goose, but could not digest her.

From my friend, the Rev. Mr. Sparrow, of Pembroke College, who died at Walthamstow, I obtained, at times, many specimens of Mr. Gray's "peculiar humour;" for, from his sense and modesty, he was a great favourite. Gray's satire on Lord Holland's seat at Kingsgate near Margate, was at first denied to be his. When stories were told of Gray by those who knew him, they were thought so unlike, that several were imputed to Dr. Johnson; nay, were even printed amongst the Johnsonia, which, Boswell says, the Doctor was much offended at. I can give one strong instance. Dr. Johnson is made to reply to some impudent man: "that in that face the northwest wind would have the worst of it." Now the truth was this: — Some friends of mine were educated at Christ's Hospital, and went from thence to Pembroke Hall, in Cambridge, where Gray then resided: one of them was rather a favorite of Gray; but to another he had taken a particular dislike. Standing by the fire in the hall, the offensive gentleman, who was then curate at Newmarket, thus addressed the celebrated poet: "Mr. Gray, I have just rode from Newmarket, and never was so cut in my life; the north-west wind was full in my face." Gray, turning to the Rev. Mr. Sparrow, said: "I think in that face the north-west wind would have the worst of it." This I had from Mr. Sparrow. Again: it was the custom at Cambridge, when a book was ordered at a coffeehouse, that four subscribers' names should be previously signed: the young men, knowing that Mr. Pigot particularly wished to be thought to be the intimate of Gray, and Mr. Gray equally wished not to be considered as the intimate of Mr. Pigot, so contrived it, that Gray expressed his anger that, wherever he wrote his name, the next was erased and Mr. Pigot's inserted in its stead; and, according to his "peculiar humour," he said to my friend: "That man's name, wherever I go, 'piget,' he Pigots me." This was true, but could not then be credited.