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my illness is in esse; no, it is only in posse; otherwise I should be scrupulous of bringing it home to you. I think I shall be with you in about a fortnight.
Stoke, July 25, 1756. I FEEL a contrition for my long silence; and yet perhaps it is the last thing you trouble your head about. Nevertheless I will be as sorry as if you took it ill. I am sorry too to see you so punctilious as to stand upon answers, and never to come near me till I have regularly left my name at your door, like a mercer's wife, that imitates people who go a visiting. I would forgive you this, if you could possibly suspect I were doing any thing that I liked better ; for then your formality might look like being piqued at my negligence, which has somewhat in it like kindness : but you know I am at Stoke, hearing, seeing, doing absolutely nothing. Not such a nothing as you do at Tunbridge, chequered and diversified with a succession of fleeting colours; but heavy, lifeless, without form and yoid; sometimes almost as black as the moral of Voltaire's Lisbon,* which angers you so. I have had no more muscular inflations, and am only troubled with this depression of mind. You will not expect therefore I should give you any account of my verve, which is at best (you know) of so delicate a constitution, and has such weak nerves, as not to stir out of its chamber above three days in a year. But I shall inquire after yours, and why it is off again? It has certainly worse nerves than mine, if your reviewers have frighted it. Sure I (not to mention a score of your other critics) am something a better judge than all the man-midwives and presbyterian parsonst that ever were born. Pray
* His poem sur la Destruction de Lisbon, published about that time.
give me leave to ask
you find yourself tickled with the commendations of such people? (for you have your share of these two) I dare say not ; your vanity has a better taste. And can then the censure of such critics move you? I own it is an impertinence in these gentry to talk of one at all either in good or in bad; but this we must all swallow : I mean not only we that write, but all the we's that ever did any thing to be talked of.
While I am writing I receive yours, and rejoice to find that the genial influences of this fine season, which produce nothing in me, have hatched high and unimaginable fantasies in you.* I see, methinks, as I sit on Snowdon, some glimpse of Mona and her haunted shades, and hope we shall be very good neighbours. Any druidical anecdotes that I can meet with, I will be sure to send you when I return to Cambridge; but I cannot pretend to be learned without books, or to know the druids from modern bishops at this distance. I can only tell you not to go and take Mona for the Isle of Man: it is Anglesey, a tract of plain country, very fertile, but picturesque only from the view it has of Caernarvonshire, from which it is separated by the Menas, a narrow arm of the sea. Forgive me for supposing in you such a want of erudition.
I congratulate you on our glorious successes in the Mediterranean. Shall we go in time, and hire a house together in Switzerland ? It is a fine poetical country to look at, and nobody there will understand a word we
say or write.
* I had sent him my first idea of Caractacus, drawn out in a short argument.
XXV. MR. GRAY TO MR. MASON.
Cambridge, May, 1757. You are so forgetful of me that I should not forgive it, but that I suppose Caractacus may be the better for it. Yet I hear nothing from him neither, in spite of his
promises : there is no faith in man, no not in a Welchman; and yet Mr. Parry* has been here, and scratched out such ravishing blind harmony, such tunes of a thousand years old, with names enough to choke you, as have set all this learned body a-dancing, and inspired them with due reverence for my old Bard, his countryman, whenever he
Mr. Parry, you must know, has put my Ode in motion again, and has brought it at last to a conclusion. 'Tis to him, therefore, that you owe the treat which I send you inclosed ; namely, the breast and merry-thought, and rump too of the chicken which I have been chewing so long, that I would give the world for neck-beef or cow-heel.
You will observe, in the beginning of this thing, some alterations of a few words, partly for improvement, and partly to avoid repetitions of like words and rhymes ; yet I have not got rid of them all; the six last lines of the fifth stanza are new, tell me whether they will do. I am well aware of many weakly things towards the conclusion, but I hope the end itself will do; give me your full and true opinion, and that not upon deliberation, but forth with. Mr. Hurd himself allows that Lion-port is not too bold for Queen Elizabeth.
I have got the old Scotch Ballad on which Douglast * A capital performer on the Welch harp, and who was either born blind, or had been so from his infancy.
+ He had a high opinion of this first drama of Mr. Home. In a letter to another friend, dated August 10, this year, he says, “ I am greatly struck with the tragedy of Douglas, though it has infinite faults: the author seems to me to have retrieved the true language of the stage, which had been lost for these hundred years; and there is one scene (between Matilda and the old peasant) so masterly, that it strikes me blind to all the defects in the world.” The Ballad, whicb he here applauds, is to be found in Mr. Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry, vol. III p. 89, a work published after the date of ihis letter.
was founded ; it is divine, and as long as from hence to Aston. Have you never seen it? Aristotle's best rules are observed in it, in a manner that shews the author had never read Aristotle. It begins in the fifth act of the play: you may read it two-thirds through without guessing what it is about; and yet, when you come to the end, it is impossible not to understand the whole story. I send you the two first stanzas.
MR, GRAY TO MR. HURD.*
Stoke, August 25, 1737. I do not know why you should thank me for what
you had a right and title to ;t but attribute it to the excess of your politeness ; and the more so, because almost no one else has made me the same compliment. As your acquaintance in the University (you say) do me the honour to admire, it would be ungenerous in me not to give them notice, that they are doing a very unfashionable thing; for all people of condition are agreed not to admire, nor even to understand. One very great man, writing to an acquaintance of his and mine, says that he had read them seven or eight times; and that now, when he next sees him, he shall not have above thirty questions to ask. Another' (a peer) believes that the last stanza of the second ode relates to King Charles the First and Oliver Cromwell. Even my friends tell me they do not succeed, and write me moving topics of consolation on that head. In short, I have heard of nobody but an actor and a doctor of divinity that profess their esteem for them. I Oh yes a lady of quality (a friend * Now Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry. + A present of his two Pindaric odes just then published.
# This was written August 25, 1757. An extract from a letter of Mr. Gray to Dr. Wharton, dated October 7, 1757, mentions another admirer, whom he knew how to value. “ Dr. Warburton is come to town, and I am told likes them extremely: he says the world never passed so just an opinion upon any thing as upon
of Mason's), who is a great reader. She knew there was a compliment to Dryden, but never suspected there was any thing said about Shakspeare or Milton, till it was explained to her; and wishes that there had been titles prefixed to tell what they were about.
: From this mention of Mason's name you may think, perhaps, we are great correspondents. No such thing; I have, not heard from him these two months. I will be sure to scold in my own name, as well as in yours. I rejoice to hear you are so ripe for the
press, and so voluminous; not for my own sake only, whom you flatter with the hopes of seeing your labours, both public and private, but for yours too ; for to be employed is to be happy. This principle of mine (and I am convinced of its truth) has, as usual, no influence on my practice. I am alone, and ennuyé to the last degree, yet do nothing. Indeed I have one excuse; my health (which you have so kindly inquired after), is not extraordinary, ever since I came hither. It is no great malady, but several little ones, that seem brewing no good to me. It will be a particular pleasure to me to hear whether Content dwells in Leicestershire, and how she entertains herself there. Only do not be too happy, nor forget entirely the quiet ugliness of Cambridge.
MR. GRAY TO MR. MASON.
Stoke, Sept. 28, 1757. I HAVE (as I desired Mr. Stonhewer to teil you) read over Caractacus twice, not with pleasure only, but with them ; for that in other things they have affected to like or dislike: whereas here they own they do not understand, which he looks upon to be very true; but yet thinks they understand them as well as Milton or Shakspeare, whom they are obliged, by fashion, to admire. Mr. Garrick's complimentary verses to me you have seen ; Î am told they were printed in the Chronicle of last Saturday. The Critical Review is in raptures; but mistakes the Æolian lyre for the harp of Æolus, and on this pleasant error founds both a compliment and a criticism. This is all I have heard that signifies any thing.”