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MR. WEST TO MR. GRAY.
You use me very cruelly: you have sent me but one letter since I have been at Oxford, and that too agreeable not to make me sensible how great my loss is in not having more. Next to seeing you is the pleasure of seeing your handwriting ; next to hearing you is the pleasure of hearing from you. Really and sincerely I wonder at you, that you thought it not worth while to answer my last letter. I hope this will have better success in behalf of your quondam school-fellow ; in behalf of one who has walked hand in hand with you, like the two children in the wood,
Through many a flowery path and shelly grot,
Where learning lull’d us in her private* maze. The very thought, you see, tips my pen with poetry, and brings Eton to my view. Consider me very seriously here in a strange country, inhabited by things that call themselves Doctors and Masters of Arts; a country flowing with syllogisms and ale, where Horace and Virgil are equally unknown; consider me, I say, in this melancholy light, and then think if something be not due to
Your's. Christ Church, Nov. 14, 1735. P.S. I desire you will send me soon, and truly and positively, a historyt of your own time.
* This expression prettily distinguishes their studies when out of the public school, which would naturally, at their age, be vague and desultory.
+ Alluding to his grandfather's history.
MR. GRAY TO MR. WEST.
Permit me again to write to you, though I have so long neglected my duty, and forgive my brevity, when I tell you it is occasioned wholly by the hurry. I am in to get to a place where I expect to meet with no other pleasure than the sight of you; for I am preparing for London in a few days at furthest. I do not wonder in the least at your frequent blaming my indolence, it ought rather to be called ingratitude, and I am obliged to your goodness for softening so harsh an appellation. When we meet it will, however, be my greatest of pleasures to know what you do, what you read, and how you spend your time, &c. &c. and to tell you what I do not read, and how I do not, &c. for almost all the employment of my hours may be best explained by negatives: take my word and experience upon it, doing nothing is a most amusing business; and yet neither something nor nothing gives me any pleasure. When you have seen one of my days, you have seen a whole year
of my life; they go round and round like the blind horse in the mill, only he has the satisfaction of fancying he makes a progress, and gets some ground; my eyes are open enough to see the same dull prospect, and to know that, having made four-and-twenty steps more, I shall be just where I was: I may, better than most people, say my life is but a span, were I not afraid lest you should not believe that a person so short-lived could write even so long a letter as this; in short, I believe I must not send you the history of my own time, till I can send you that also of the reformation.* However, as the most undeserving people in the world must sure have the vanity to wish somebody had a regard for them, so I need not wonder at my own, in being pleased that you care about me. You need not doubt, therefore, of having a first row in the front box of my little heart, and I believe you are not in danger of being crouded there; it is asking you to an old play, indeed, but you will be candid enough to excuse the whole piece for the sake of a few tolerable lines.
For this little while past I have been playing with Statius; we yesterday had a game at quoits together : you will easily forgive me for having broke his head, as you have a little pique to him. I send you my translation,t which I did not engage in because I liked that part of the poem, nor do I now send it to you because I think it deserves it, but merely to shew you how I mispend my days.
Third in the labours of the Disc came on,
Carrying on the allusion to the other history written by Mr. West's grandfather.
+ This consisted of about one hundred and ten lines, which were sent separately, and as I believe it was Mr. Gray's first attempt in English verse, it is a curiosity not to be entirely withheld from the reader; therefore, although it is not my intention to fill these Memoirs with much either of his or bis correspondent's productions in this way, yet as a few lines will shew how much Mr. Gray had imbibed of Dryden's spirited manner, at this early period, I insert at the end of the letter a specimen of the whole.
His vigorous arm he try'd before he ftung,
And calm'd the terrors of his claws in gold.
I AGREE with you that you have broke Statius's head, but it is in like manner as Apollo broke Hyacinth's—you have foiled him infinitely at his own weapon. I must insist on seeing the rest of your translation, and then I will examine it entire, and compare it with the Latin, and be very wise and severe, and put on an inflexible face, such as becomes the character of a true son of Aristarchus, of hyper-critical memory. mean while,
And calm’d the terrors of his claws in gold,
Is exactly Statius-Summos auro mansueverat ungues.
I never knew before that the golden fangs on hammercloths were so old a fashion. Your Hymenêal* I was told was the best in the Cambridge Collection before I saw it, and, indeed, it is no great compliment to tell you I thought it so when I had seen it; but sincerely it pleased me best. Methinks the college bards have run into a strange taste on this occasion. Such soft, unmeaning stuff about Venus and Cupid, and Peleus and Thetis, and Zephyrs and Dryads, was never read. As for my poor little eclogue it has been condemned and beheaded by our Westminster judges; an exordium of about sixteen lines absolutely cut off, and its other limbs quartered in a most barbarous manner. I will send it
my next as my true and lawful heir, in exclusion of the pretender, who has the impudence to appear under my name.
As yet I have not looked into Sir Isaac. Public disputations I hate; mathematics I reverence; history, morality, and natural philosophy have the greatest charms in my eye; but who can forget poetry? they call it idleness, but it is surely the
• Published in the Cambridge Collection of verses on the Prince of Wales's marriage. I have not thought it necessary to insert these hexameters, as adulatory verses of this kind, however well written, deserve not to be transmitted to posterity; and, indeed, are usually buried, as they ought to be, in the trash with which they are surrounded. Every person, who feels himself a poet, ought to be above prostituting his powers on such occasions, and extreme youth (as was the case with Mr. Gray) is the only thing that can apologize for his having done it.