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ferent scene, it must be confessed) till Michaelmas; but I fear I must come to town much sooner. Cambridge is a delight of a place, now there is nobody in it. I do believe you would like it, if you knew what it was without inhabitants. It is they, I assure you, that get it an ill name and spoil all. Our friend Dr. ** £ (one of its nuisances) is not expected here again in a hurry. He is gone to his grave with five fine mackarel (large and full of roe) in his belly. He eat them all at one dinner; but his fate was a turbot on Trinity Sunday, of which he left little for the company besides bones. He had not been hearty all the week; but after this sixth fish he never held up his head more, and a violent looseness carried him off.
They said he made a very good end.
Have you seen the Erse fragments since they were printed? I am more puzzled than ever about their antiquity, though I still incline (against every body's opinion) to believe them old. Those you have already seen are the best; though there are some others that are excellent too.
MR. GRAY TO MR. MASON.
Cambridge, Aug. 20, 1760. I HAVE sent Musæus* back as you desired me, scratched here and there. And with it also a
Vide Letter XI. of this Section. * I had desired Mr. Gray to revise my Monody on Mr. Pope's Death, in order that I might correct it for the edition I was then preparing of my Poems.
bloody satire,* written against no less persons than you and I by name. I concluded at first it was Mr. ***, because he is your friend and my humble servant; but then I thought he knew the world too well to call us the favourite minions of taste and of fashion, especially as to odes. For to them his ridicule is confined; so it is not he, but Mr. Colman, nephew to. Lady Bath, author of the Connoisseur, a member of one of the inns of court, and a particular acquaintance of Mr. Garrick. What have you done to him? for I never heard his name before ; he makes very tolerable fun with me where I understand him (which is not every where); but seems more angry with you. Lest people should not understand the humour of the thing (which indeed to do they must have our lyricisms at their finger ends) letters come out in Lloyd's Evening Post to tell them who and what it was that he meant, and says it is like to produce a great combustion in the literary world. So if you have any mind to combustle about it well and good; for me, I am neither so literary nor so combustible.f The Monthly Review, I see, just now has much stuff about us on this occasion. It says one of us at least has always borne his faculties meekly. I leave you to guess which of us that is; I think I know. You simpleton you! you must be meek, must you ? and see what you get by it.
* The parodies in question, entitled Odes to Obscurity and Oblivion, were written by Mess. Lloyd and Colman, and have been reprinted since in Mr. Lloyd's Poems.
+ Had Mr. Pope sat as easy to the sarcasms of the many writers that endeavoured to eclipse his poetical fame, as Mr. Gray here appears to have done, the world would not have been possessed of a Dunciad; but it would have been impressed with a more amiable idea of its author's temper. It is for the sake of shewing how Mr. Gray felt on such occasions, that I publish this letter.
I do not like your improvements at Aston, it looks so like settling: if I come I will set fire to it. I will never believe the B**s and the C**s are dead, though I smelt them; that sort of people always live to a good old age. I dare swear they are only gone to Ireland, and we shall soon hear they are bishops.
The Erse fragments have been published five weeks ago in Scotland, though I had them not (by a mistake) till the other day. As you tell me new things do not reach you soon at Aston, I inclose what I can; the rest shall follow, when you tell me whether you have not got the pamphlet already. I send the two to Mr. Wood which I had before, because he has not the affectation of not admiring. * I have another from Mr. Macpherson, which he has not printed; it is mere description, but excellent too in its kind. If you are good and will learn to admire, I will transcribe and send it.
As to their authenticity, I have made many inquiries, and have lately procured a letter from Mr. David Hume, (the historian) which is more satisfactory than any thing I have yet met with on that subject. He says,
“ Certain it is that these poems are in every body's mouth in the Highlands, have been handed down from father to son, and are of an age beyond all memory and tradition. Adam Smith, the celebrated professor in Glasgow, told me, that the piper of the Argyleshire militia repeated to him
• It was rather a want of credulity than admiration that Mr. Gray should have laid to my charge. I suspected that, whether the fragments were genuine or not, they were by no means literally translated. I suspect so still; and a former note gives a sufficient cause for that suspicion. Scc page 278.
all those which Mr. Macpherson had translated, and many more of equal beauty. Major Mackay (Lord Rae's brother) told me that he remembers them perfectly well; as likewise did the Laird of Macfarline, (the greatest antiquarian we have in this country) and who insists strongly on the historical truth, as well as the poetical beauty, of these productions. I could add the Laird and Lady Macleod, with many more, that live in different parts of the Highlands, very remote from each other, and could only be acquainted with what had become (in a manner) national works. * There is a country surgeon in Lochaber, who has by heart the entire epic poem mentioned by Mr. Macpherson in his preface; and,' as he is old, is perhaps the only person living that knows it all, and has never committed it to writing, we are in the more haste to recover a monument, which will certainly be regarded as a curiosity in the republic of letters: we have therefore set about a subscription of a guinea or two guineas apiece, in order to enable Mr. Macpherson to undertake a mission into the Highlands to recover this poem, and other fragments of antiquity.” He adds, too, that the names of Fingal, Ossian, Oscar, &c. are still given in the Highlands to large mastiffs, as we give to ours the names of Cæsar, Pompey, Hector, &c.
* All this external evidence and much more has since been collected and published by Dr. Blair (see his Appendix to his Critical Dissertation on the Works of Ossian); and yet notwithstanding a later Irish writer has been hardy enough to assert, that the poems in question abound with the strangest anachronisms : for instance, that Cucullin lived in the first, and Fingal in the third century; two princes who are said to have made war with the Danes, a nation never heard of in Europe till the ninth; which war could not possibly have lappened till five hundred years after the death of the supposed poet who sings it. (See O'Halloran's Introduction to the Study of the History and Antiquities of Ireland, quarto, 1772.) To whatever side of the question truth may lean, it is of little moment to me; my doubts arising (as I have said in the former note) from internal evidence only, and a want of proof of the fidelity of the translation. * In a letter to another friend, informing him that he had sent Fingal down to him, he says, “ For my part I will stick to my credulity, and if I am cheated, think it is worse for him (the translator) than for me. The epic poem is foolishly so called, yet there is a sort of plan and unity in it very strange for a barbarous age; yet what I more admire are some of the detached pieces, the rest I leave to the discussion of antiquarians and historians; yet my curiosity is
MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
London, 1761. I REJOICE to find that you not only grow reconciled to your northern scene, but discover beauties round you that once were deformities : I am persuaded the whole matter is to have always something going forward. Happy they that can create a rose-tree or erect a honey-suckle; that can watch the brood of a hen, or see a fleet of their own ducklings launch into the water: it is with a sentiment of envy I speak it, who never shall have even a thatched roof of my own, nor gather a strawberry but in Covent-garden. I will not, however, believe in the vocality of Old Park till next summer, when perhaps I may trust to my own ears.
The Nouvelle Heloise cruelly disappointed me, but it has its partisans, amongst which are Mason and Mr. Hurd; for me, I admire nothing but Fingal* (I conclude you have seen it, if not Ston