1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Gray

Anonymous, in "Marginal Notes" Edinburgh Magazine NS 17 (July 1825) 38.



Matthiae estimates the genius of Gray "second to none;" and Dr. Currie pronounces it "equal to the loftiest attempts of the epic muse." But who does not see that these opinions are blindly extravagant? This "ultraism" of praise on one side has necessarily led to depreciation on the other; and thus Gray's greatest admirers have done him the greatest harm.

His poetry is by some styled "mosaic work." Nor is the expression inapplicable to the works themselves; though it involves a seeming misconception of the genius that produced them. Gray was not a common plagiary. Even Dr. Johnson never charged him as one. His fine spirit was retentive of the quintessence of expression and thought; and the gems that were not originally his own he poured forth and appropriated in the unconscious fervour of enthusiasm. Besides, what he has of his own is always equal to what he borrows.

It must, however, be confessed, that some of his borrowed images are so important that he ought to have expunged them on recollection. Such, for instance, as the "sleet of arrowy shower."

It is worthy of remark and of admiration, that Gray, with all his borrowings, is an original writer. His manner is his own.

Of his productions, the Elegy is the sweetest and the most affecting; the Fatal Sisters, perhaps, the most spirited, striking, and energetic. The impetus, in the opening of that ode, is very fine — preferable, I think, to that of the Bard.