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for to a man who could not conveniently purchase even a small library, what situation so eligible as that which affords free access to a number of large ones? This reason also accounts for another singular fact. During his residence at Stoke, in the spring and summer of the year 1742, he wrote a considerable part of his more finished poems. Hence one would be naturally led to conclude that, on his return to Cambridge, when the ceremony of taking his degree was over, the quiet of the place would have prompted him to continue the cultivation of his poetical talents, and that immediately, as the Muse seems in this year to have peculiarly inspired him; but this was not the case. Reading, he has often declared, was much more agreeable to him than writing: He, therefore, now laid aside composition almost entirely, and applied himself with intense assiduity to the study of the best Greek authors; insomuch that, in the space of about six years, there were hardly any writers of note in that language which he had not only read but digested; remarking, by the mode of common-place, their contents, their difficult and corrupt passages; and all this with the accuracy of a critic added to the diligence of a student.
In the retirement of Peterhouse, Mr. Gray wrote, in 1747, An Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat*; and the year afterwards attempted a poem of more importance, On Education and Government t, of which the fragments that remain contain some exquisite lines. His next production (1750) was his far-famed Elegy in a Country Church Yard I, which was first communicated to Mr. Walpole, and passed from him into the hands of several persons of distinction g. After having for some time been privately transmitted from one hand to another, it at length found its way to the public eye in “ The Magazine of Magazines.” This
* See p. 7. + See p. 134. See p. 82.
& This brought him acquainted with Lady Cobham, and furnished an occasion for his Long Story.
disreputable mode of appearance subjected the author to the necessity of exhibiting it under a less disadvantageous form; and Mr. Bentley soon after wishing to supply every ornament that his pencil could contribute, drew not only for it, but also for the rest of Mr. Gray's productions, a set of designs, which were repaid by the Poet with some beautiful Stanzas, of which, however, only a fragment remains *.
In March, 1753, Mr. Gray lost that mother for whom, on all occasions, he showed a most tender regard.
She was buried in the same vault in Stoke Church-yard, where her sister's remains had been deposited more than three years before. As the inscription on the tombstone (at least the latter part of it) is undoubtedly of Mr. Gray's writing, it would here claim a place, even if it had not a peculiar pathos to recommend it, and, at the same time, a true inscriptive simplicity.
* See p. 150.
IN THE VAULT BENEATH ARE DEPOSITED,
THE REMAINS OF
MARY ANTROBUS. . SHE DIED, UNMARRIED, NOV. V. MDCCXLIX.
IN THE SAME PIOUS CONFIDENCE,
HERE SLEEP THE REMAINS OF
THE CAREFUL TENDER MOTHER OF MANY CHILDREN, ONE OF WHOM ALONE HAD THE MISFORTUNE TO SURVIVE HER. SHE DIED MARCH XI. MDCCLIII.
About three years afterward (1756) some young men of the College, whose chambers were near
Mr. Gray’s, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and, as is said, by pranks yet more offensive and contemptuous. This insolence, having endured it a while, he represented to the governors of the society; but, finding his complaint little attended to, he with becoming spirit removed himself to Pembroke Hall.
In 1757 he published The Progress of Poesy * and The Bardt, which have occasioned some sarcastic observations from the pen of Dr. Johnson, who calls them, “two compositions at which the 66 readers of poetry were at first content to gaze 66 in mute amazement. Some that tried them 66 confessed their inability to understand them, 6 though Warburton said that they were under“ stood as well as the works of Milton and Shake6í speare, which it is the fashion to admire. Garsi rick wrote a few lines in their praise , Some
* See p. 19. See p. 31.
These are inserted in p. 163 of this Volume.