« PreviousContinue »
obliged to be sold for two thousand pounds less than its original cost. Mr. Gray, therefore, at this time found his patrimony so small, that it would by no means enable him to prosecute the study of the law, without his becoming burthensome to his mother and aunt. These two sisters had for many years carried on a *trade separate from that of Mrs. Gray's husband; by which having acquired what would support them decently for the rest of their lives, they left off business soon after his death, and retired to Stoke, near Windsor, to the house of their other sister, Mrs. Rogers, lately become the widow of a gentleman tof that name. Both of them wished Mr. Gray to follow the profession for which he had been originally intended, and would undoubtedly have contributed all in their power to enable him to do it with ease and conveniency, He on his part, though he had taken his resolution of declining it, was too delicate to hurt two persons for whom he had so tender an affection, by peremptorily declaring his real intentions; and therefore changed, or pretended to change, the line of that study; and, accordingly, the latter end of the subsequent year went to Cambridge to take his bachelor's degree in civil law.
But the narrowness of his circumstances was not the only thing that distressed him at this period. He had, as we have seen, lost the friendship of Mr. Walpole abroad. He had also lost much time in his travels; a loss which application could not easily retrieve, when so severe and laborious a study as that of the common law was to be the object of it; and he well knew that, whatever improvement he might have made in this interval, either in taste or science, such improvement would stand him in little stead with regard to his present situation and exigencies. This was not all; his other friend, Mr. West, he found, on his return, oppressed by sickness, and a load of, family misfortunes; which, were I fully acquainted with them, it would not be my inclination here to dwell upon. These the sympathizing heart of Mr. Gray made his own. He did all in his power (for he was now with him in London) to soothe the sorrows of his friend, and to try to alleviate them by every office of the purest and most perfect affection : but his cares were vain. The distresses of Mr. West's mind had already too far affected a body, from the first, weak and delicate. His health declined daily, and, therefore, he left town in March 1742, and, for the benefit of the air, went to David Mitchell's, Esq. at Popes, near Hatfield, Hertfordshire; at whose house he died the 1st of June following.
* They kept a kind of India warehouse on Cornhill under the joint names of Gray and Antrobus.
+ Mr. Rogers had in the earlier part of his life followed the profession of the law, but retired from business many years before his death. I suppose he was the uncle mentioned in Letter ix. Sect. I.
I WRITE to make you write, for I have not much to tell you. I have recovered no spirits as yet ; but, as I am not displeased with my company, I sit purring by the fire-side in my armchair with no small satisfaction. I read too sometimes, and have begun Tacitus, but have not yet read enough to judge of him; only his Pannonian sedition in the first book of his annals, which is just as far as I have got, seemed to me a little tedious. I have no more to say, but to desire you will write letters of a handsome length, and always answer me within a reasonable space of time, which I leave to your discretion.
Popes, March 28, 1742.
MR. GRAY TO MR. WEST.
I trust to the country, and that easy indolence you say you enjoy there, to restore you your health and spirits; and doubt not but, when the sun grows warm enough to tempt you from your fire-side, you will like all other things) be the better for his influence. He is my old friend, and
* This letter is inserted as introductory only to the answer which follows.
an excellent nurse, I assure you. Had it not been for him, life had often been to me intolerable. Pray do not imagine that Tacitus, of all authors in the world, can be tedious. An annalist, you know, is by no means master of his subject; and I think one may venture to say, that if those Pannonian affairs are tedious in his hands, in another's they would have been insupportable. However, fear not, they will soon be over, and he will make ample amends. A man, who could join the brilliant of wit, and concise sententiousness peculiar to that age, with the truth and gravity of better times, and the deep reflection and good sense of the best moderns, cannot choose but have something to strike you. Yet what I admire in him above all this, is his detestation of tyranny, and the high spirit of liberty that every now and then breaks out, as it were, whether he would or no. I remember a sentence in his Agricola that (concise as it is) I always admired for saying much in a little compass. He speaks of Domitian, who upon seeing the last will of that general, where he had made him coheir with his wife and daughter, “ Satis constabat lætatum eum, velut honore, judicioque: tam cæca et corrupta mens assiduis adulationibus erat, ut nesciret a bono patre non scribi hæredem, nisi malum principem.”
As to the Dunciad, it is greatly admired: the genii of operas and schools, with their attendants, the pleas of the virtuosos and florists, and the yawn of dulness in the end, are as fine as any thing he has written. The metaphysician's part is to me the worst; and here and there a few ill-expressed lines, and some hardly intelligible.
I take the liberty of sending you a long speech of Agrippina; much too long, but I could be glad you would retrench it. Aceronia, you may remember, had been giving quiet counsels. I fancy, if it ever be finished, it will be in the nature of Nat. Lee's Bedlam Tragedy, which had twentyfive acts, and some odd scenes.
The speech herewith sent to Mr. West was the concluding one of the first scene of a tragedy, which I believe was begun the preceding winter. The Britannicus of M. Racine, I know, was one of Mr. Gray's most favourite plays; and the admirable manner in which I have heard him say that he saw it represented at Paris,* seems to have led him to choose the death of Agrippina for this his first and only effort in the drama. The execution of it also, as far as it goes, is so very much in Racine's taste, that I suspect, if that great poet had been born an Englishman, he would have written precisely in the same style and manner. However, as there is at present in this nation a general prejudice against declamatory plays, I agree with a learned friend, who perused the manuscript, that this fragment will be little relished by the many; yet the admirable strokes of nature and character with which it abounds, and the majesty of its diction, prevent me from withholding from the few, who I expect will relish it, so great a curiosity (to call it nothing more) as part of a tragedy written by Mr.
* By Mademoiselle Dumesnil.