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Fathers the following Alcaic Ode,* with which I conclude this Section.
Oh Tu, severi Religio loci,
Numen habet, veteresque sylvas;
Inter aquas, nemorumque noctem;
Da placidam juveni quietem.
In medios violenta fluctus:
Surripias, hominumque curis.
* We saw in the eighth and eleventh Letters how much Mr. Gray was struck with the awful scenery which surrounds the Chartreuse, at a time his mind must have been in a far more tranquil state than when he wrote this excellent Ode. It is marked, I think, with all the finest touches of his melancholy Muse, and flows with such an originality of expression, that one can rdly lament he did not honour his own language by making it the vehicle of this noble imagery and pathetic sentiment.
When Mr. Gray returned from abroad, he found his father's constitution almost entirely worn out by the very severe attacks of the gout, to which he had been for many years subject; and indeed the next return of that distemper was fatal to him. *This happened about two months after his son reached London.
It has been before observed, that Mr. Philip Gray was of a reserved and indolent temper; he was also morose, unsocial, and obstinate ; defects which, if not inherent in his disposition, might probably arise from his bodily complaints. His indolence had led him to neglect the business of this profession; his obstinacy, to build a countryhouse at Wanstead, without acquainting either his wife or son with the design, to which he knew they would be very averse, till it was executed. This building, which he undertook late in life, was attended with very considerable expense; which might almost be called so much money thrown away: since, after his death, the house was 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.
* He came to town about the 1st of September, 1741. His father died the 6th of November following, at the age of sixty-five.
+ His business was that which at the time was called a money-scrivener ; and it may not be amiss to mention, for the singularity of the thing, that Milton's father was of the same profession : but he also had “ music in his soul,” and was esteemed a considerable master in that science. Some of his compositions are extant in Old Wilby's Set of Airs, and in Ravenscroft's Psalms. The great Poet alludes finely both to the musical genius, and the trade of his father in those beautiful hexameters, “ Ad Patrem,” which are inserted amongst his Latin Poems.
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.
* 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.
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:
It is from this place, and from the former date, that this third series of letters commences.
MR. WEST TO MR. GRAY.
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.
P.S. The new Dunciad! qu'en pensez vous ?
MR. GRAY TO MR. WEST.
I trust to the country, and that 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.