Page images
PDF
EPUB

bosoms susceptible of the same warmth of friendship. To these I address them ; in the pleasing hope that they may prompt them to emulate their elegant simplicity, and, of course, to study with more care the classic models from which it was derived. If they do this, I shall not be much concerned if graver readers think them unimportant, or even trifling.

[blocks in formation]

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 hand-writing; 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.

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 history t 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.

с

[blocks in formation]

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 good-
ness 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 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

my life;

* Carrying on the allusion to the other history written

by Mr. West's grandfather.

1

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 crowded 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 misspend my days.

Third in the labours of the Disc came on,
With sturdy step and slow, Hippomedon;
Artful and strong he pois’d the well-known weight,
By Phlegyas warn’d, and fir’d by Mnestheus' fate,
That to avoid, and this to emulate.
His vigorous arm he try'd before he fung,
Brac'd all his

nerves,

and
every

sinew strung;
Then with a tempest's whirl, and wary eye,
Pursu'd his cast, and huri'd the orb on high ;
The orh on high tenacious of its course,
True to the mighty arm that gave it force,
Far overleaps all bound, and joys to see
Its ancient lord secure of victory.
The theatre's green height and woody wall
Tremble ere it precipitates its fall,
The ponderous mass sinks in the cleaving ground,
While vales and woods and echoing hills rebound.
As when from Ætna's smoking summit broke,
The eyeless Cyclops heav'd the craggy rock;
Where Ocean frets beneath the dashing oar,
And parting surges round the vessel roar:
'Twas there he aim'd the meditated harm,
And scarce Ulysses 'scap'd his giant arm.

* 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.

A tiger's pride the victor bore away,
With native spots and artful labour gay,
A shining border round the margin roll’d,

And calm'd the terrors of his claws in gold.
Cambridge, May 8, 1736.

III.

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. In the meanwhile,

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

* 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 bis baving done it.

[ocr errors]

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 most enchanting thing in the world, ac dulce otium et pæne omni negotio pulchrius. I am, dear Sir, yours while I am,

R. W. 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,

« PreviousContinue »