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MR. GRAY TO MR. WALPOLE.
Cambridge, 1747. I have abundance of thanks to return you for the entertainment Mr. Spence's book has given me, which I have almost run over already; and I much fear (see what it is to make a figure) the breadth of the margin, and the neatness of the prints, which are better done than one could expect, have prevailed upon me to like it far better than I did in manuscript; for I think it is not the very genteel deportment of Polymetis, nor the lively wit of Mysagetes, that have at all corrupted me.
There is one fundamental fault, from whence most of the little faults throughout the whole arise. He professes to neglect the Greek writers, who could have given more instruction on the very heads he professes to treat, than all the others put together; who does not know, that upon the Latin, the Sabine, and Hetruscan mythology (which probably might themselves at a remoter period of time, owe their origin to Greece too) the Romans ingrafted almost the whole religion of Greece to make what is called their own? It would be hard to find any one circumstance that is properly of their invention. In the ruder days of the republic, the picturesque part of their religion (which is the province he has chose, and would be thought to confine himself to) was probably borrowed entirely from the Tuscans, who, as a wealthy and trading people, may be well supposed, and indeed are known, to have had the arts flourishing in a considerable degree among them. What could inform him here, but Dio. Halicarnassus (who expressly treats of those times with great curiosity and industry) and the remains of the first Roman writers? The former he has neglected as a Greek; and the latter, he says, were but little acquainted with the arts, and consequently are but
of small authority. In the better ages, when every temple and public building in Rome was peopled with imported deities and heroes, and when all the artists of reputation they made use of were Greeks, what wonder, if their eyes grew familiarized to Grecian forms and habits (especially in a matter of this kind, where so much depends upon the imagination); and if those figures introduced with them a belief of such fables, as first gave them being, and dressed them out in their various attributes, it was natural then, and (I should think) necessary, to go to the source itself, the Greek accounts of their own religion ; but to say the truth, I suspect he was little conversant in those books and that language; for he rarely quotes any but Lucian, an author that falls in every body's way, and who lived at the very extremity of that period he has set to his inquiries, later than any of the poets he has meddled with, and for that reason ought to have been regarded as but an indifferent authority; especially being a Syrian too. His book (as he says himself) is, I think, rather a beginning than a perfect work; but a beginning at the wrong end; for if any body should finish it by inquiring into the Greek mythology, as he proposes, it will be necessary to read it backward.
There are several little neglects, that one might have told him of, which I noted in reading it hastily; as page 311, a discourse about orange-trees, occasioned by Virgil's “inter odoratum lauri nemus," where he fancies the Roman laurus to be our laurel; though undoubtedly the bay-tree, which is odoratum, and (I believe) still called lauro, or alloro, at Rome; and that the "malum medicum” in the Georgic is the orange; though Theophrastus, whence Virgil borrowed it, or even Pliny whom he himself quotes, might convince him it is the cedratro which he has often tasted at Florence. Page 144, is an account of Domenichino's cardinal virtues,
and a fling at the Jesuits, neither of which belong to them: the painting is in a church of the Barnabiti, dem dicated to St. Carlo Borromeo, whose motto is HUMILITAS. Page 151, in a note, he says, the old Romans did not regard Fortune as a deity; though Servius Tullius (whom she was said to be in love with ; nay, there actually an affair between them) founded her temple in Foro Boario. By the way, her worship was Greek, and this king was educated in the family of Tarquinius Priscus, whose father was a Corinthian; so it is easy to conceive how early the religion of Rome might be mixed with that of Greece, &c. &c.
Dr. Middleton has sent me to-day, a book on the Roman Senate, the substance of a dispute between Lord Hervey and him, though it never interrupted their friendsays, and I dare say not.
Cambridge, March 1, 1747, As one ought to be particularly careful to avoid blunders in a compliment of condolence, it would be a sensible satisfaction to me (before I testify my sorrow, and the sincere part I take in your misfortune) to know for certain, who it is I lament. I knew Zara and Selima (Selima, was it? or Fatima), or rather I knew them both together; for I cannot justly say which was which. Then as to your handsome cat, the name you distinguish her by, I am no less at a loss, as well knowing one's handsome cat is always the cat one likes best ; or, if one be alive and the other dead, it is usually the latter that is the handsomest. Besides, if the point were never so clear, I hope you do not think me so ill-bred or so imprudent as to forfeit all my interest in the survivor: Oh no! I would rather seem to mistake, and imagine to be sure it must be the tabby one that had met with
this sad accident. Till this affair is a little better deter
will excuse me if I do not begin to cry:
"Tempus inane peto, requiem, spatiumque doloris.” Which interval is the more convenient, as it gives time to rejoice with you on your new honours.* This is only a beginning; I reckon next week we shall hear you are a Freemason, or a Gormogon at least—Heigh ho! I feel (as you to be sure have done long since) that I have very little to say, at least in prose. Somebody will be the better for it; I do not mean you, but your cat, feuë Mademoiselle Selime, whom I am about to immortalize for one week or a fortnight as follows ***** t. There's a poem
it is rather too long for an epitaph.
VII. MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
Stoke, June 5, 1748. Your friendship has interested itself in my affairs so naturally, that I cannot help troubling you a little with a detail of them. I * *
* * * And now, my dear Wharton, why must I tell you a thing so contrary to my own wishes and yours? I believe it is impossible for me to see you in the North, or to enjoy any of those agreeable hours I had flattered myself with. This business will oblige me to be in town several times during the summer, particularly in August, when half the money is to be paid ; besides the good people here wou think me the most ruinous and careless of mortals, if I should take such a journey at this time. The only satisfaction I can pretend to, is that of hearing from you,
* Mr.Walpole was about this time elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
+ The reader need bardly be told, that the 4th Ode in the collection of his poems was inserted in the place of these asterisks. This letter (as some other slight ones have been, is printed chiefly to mark the date of one of his compositions.
The paragraph here omitted contained an account of Mr. Gray's loss of a house by fire in Cornhill, and the expense he should be at in rebuilding it. Though it was insured, he could at this time ill bear to lay out the additional sum necessary for the purpose.
and particularly at this time when I was bid to expect the good news of an increase of your family. Your opinion of Diodorus is doubtless right: but there are things in him very curious, got out of better authorities now lost. Do you remember the Ægyptian history, and particularly the account of the gold mines? My own readings have been cruelly interrupted: what I have been highly pleased with, is the new comedy from Paris by Gresset, called le Mechant; if you have it not, buy his works altogether in two little volumes, they are collected by the Dutch booksellers, and consequently contain some trash ; but then there are the Ver-vert, the Epistle to P. Bougeant, the Chartreuse, that to his sister, an Ode on his country, and another on Mediocrity, and the Sidnei, another comedy, all which have great beauties : there is also a poem lately published by Thomson, called the Castle of Indolence, with some good stanzas in it. Mr. Mason is my acquaintance; I liked that ode* much, but have found no one else that did. He has much fancy, little judgment, and a good deal of modesty : I take him for a good and well meaning creature; but then he is really in simplicity a child, and loves every body he meets with: he reads little or nothing; writes abundance, and that with a design to make his fortune by it. My best compliments to Mrs. Wharton and your family: does that name include any body I am not yet acquainted with?
* Ode to a Water Nymph, published about this time in Dodsley's Miscellany. On reading wbat follows, many readers, I suspect, will think me as simple as ever, in forbearing to expunge the paragraph : but as I publish Mr. Gray's sentiments of authors, as well living as dead, without reserve, I should do them injustice, if I was more scrupulous with respect to myself. My friends, I am sure, will be much amused with this and another passage hereafter of a like sort. My enemies, if they please, may sneer at it; and say, which they will very truly, that twenty-five years had made a very considerable abatement in my general philanthropy. Men of the world will not blame me for writing from so prudent a motive, as that of making my fortune hy it; and yet the truth, I believe at the time was, that I was perfectly well satisfied, if my publications furnished me with a few guineas to see a play or an opera.