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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, 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 his 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 flung,
The theatre's green height and woody wall
The ponderous mass sinks in the cleaving ground,
MR. WEST TO MR. GRAY.
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.
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 you in 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.
most enchanting thing in the world, ac dulce otium
et pæne omni negotio pulchrius.
I am, dear Sir, yours while I am
Christ Church, May 24, 1736.
The following letter seems to require some little preface, not so much as it expresses Mr. Gray's juvenile sentiments, concerning the mode of our academical education, as that these sentiments prevailed with him through life, and that he often declared them, with so little reserve, as to create him many enemies. It is certain that, at the time when he was admitted, and for some years after, Jacobitism, and its concomitant hard drinking, prevailed still at Cambridge, much to the prejudice not only of good manners, but of good letters; for, if this spirit was then on the decline, it was not extinguished till after the year 1745. But we see (as was natural enough in a young man) he laid the blame rather on the mode of education than the mode of the times; and to this error, the uncommon proficiency he had made at Eton in classical learning might contribute, as he found himself in a situation where that species of merit held not the first rank. However this be, it was necessary not to omit this feature of his mind, when employed in drawing a general likeness of it, and what colours could be found so forcible as his own to express its true light and shadow? I would further observe, that whatever truth there might be in his satire at the time it was written, it can by no means affect
the present state of the university. There is usually a much greater fluctuation of taste and manners in an academical, than a national body; occasioned (to use a scholastic metaphor) by that very quick succession of its component parts, which often goes near to destroy its personal identity. Whatever therefore may be true of such a society at one time, may be, and generally is, ten years after absolutely false.
MR. GRAY TO MR. WEST.
You must know that I do not take degrees, and, after this term, shall have nothing more of college impertinences to undergo, which I trust will be some pleasure to you, as it is a great one to me. I have endured lectures daily and hourly since I came last, supported by the hopes of being shortly at full liberty to give myself up to my friends and classical companions, who, poor souls! though I see them fallen into great contempt with most people here, yet I cannot help sticking to them, and out of a spirit of obstinacy (I think) love them the better for it; and, indeed, what can I do else? Must I plunge into metaphysics? Alas! I cannot see in the dark; nature has not furnished me with the optics of a cat. Must I pore upon mathematics? Alas! I cannot see in too much light; I am no eagle. It is very possible that two and two make four, but I would not give four farthings to demonstrate this ever so clearly; and if