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any thing, but that one to which we are all tending; yet I love people that leave some traces of their journey behind them, and have strength enough to advise you to do so while you can. I expect to see Caractacus completed, and therefore I send you the books you wanted. I do not know whether they will furnish you with any new matter; but they are well enough written, and easily read. I told you before that in a time of dearth) I would borrow from the Edda, without entering too minutely on particulars : but, if I did so, I would make each image so clear, that it might be fully understood by itself; for in this obscure mythology we must not hint at things, as we do with the Greek fables, that every body is supposed to know at school. However, on second thoughts, I think it would be still better to graft any wild picturesque fable, absolutely of one's own invention, on the druid-stock; I mean on those half dozen of old fancies that are known to be a part of their system. This will give you more freedom and latitude, and will leave no hold for the critics to fasten on.
I send you back the Elegy* as you desired me to do. My advices are always at your service to take or to refuse, therefore you should not call them severe. You know I do not love, much less pique myself on criticism; and think even a bad verse as good a thing or better than the best observation that ever was made upon it. I like greatly the spirit and sentiment of it (much of which you perhaps owe to your present train of thinking); the disposition of the whole too is natural and elegiac ; as to the expression, I would venture to say (did not you forbid me) that it is sometimes too easy. The last line I protest against (this, you will say, is worse than blotting out rhymes); the descriptive part is excellent. Pray, when did I pretend to finish, or even insert
* Elegy in the Garden of a Friend.
passages into other people's works, as if it were equally easy to pick holes and to mend them ? All I can say is, that your Elegy must not end with the worst line in it.* It is flat; it is prose; whereas that, above all, ought to sparkle, or at least to shine. If the sentiment must stand, twirl it a little into an apophthegm; stick a flower in it; gild it with a costly expression ; let it strike the fancy, the ear, or the heart, and I am satisfied.
The other particular expressions which I object to, I mark on the manuscript. Now,
Now, I desire you would neither think me severe, nor at all regard what I say further than as it coincides with your own judgment; for the child deserves your partiality; it is a healthy well-made boy with an ingenuous countenance, and promises to live long. I would only wash its face, dress it a little, make it walk upright and strong, and keep it from learning paw words.
I hope you couched my refusalt to. Lord John Cavendish in as respectful terms as possible, and with all due acknowledgments to the Duke. If you hear who it is to be given to, pray let me know; for I interest myself a little in the history of it, and rather wish somebody may accept it that will retrieve the credit of the thing, if it be retrievable, or ever had any credit. Rowe was, I think, the last man of character that had it; Eusden was a person of great hopes in his youth, though at last he turned out a drunken parson ; Dryden was as disgraceful to the office, from his character, as the poorest scribbler could have been from his verses.
An attempt was accordingly made to improve it; how it stood when this criticism upon it was written, I cannot now recollect.
+ Of being poet laureate on the death of Cibber, which place the late Duke of Devonshire (then lord chamberlain) desired his brother to offer to Mr. Gray; and his Lordship had commissioned me (then in town) to write to him "concerning it.
MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
February 21, 1758. Would you know what I am doing? I doubt you have been told already, and hold my employments cheap enough : but every one must judge of his own capability, and cut his amusements according to his disposition. The drift of my present studies is to know, wherever I am, what lies within reach that may be worth seeing, whether it be building, ruin, park, garden, prospect, picture, or monument; to whom it does or has belonged, and what has been the characteristic and taste of different ages. You will say this is the object of all antiquaries; but
pray what antiquary ever saw these objects in the same light, or desired to know them for a like reason? In short, say what you please, I am persuaded when. ever my list* is finished you will approve it, and think it of no small use.. My spirits are very near the freezing point; and for some hours of the day this exercise, by its warmth and gentle motion, serves to raise them a few. degrees higher.
I hope the misfortune that has befallen Mrs. Cibber's canary bird will not be the ruin of Agis: it is probable you will have curiosity enough to see it, as it is by the author of Douglas.
MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
Cambridge, March 8, 1758. It is indeed for want of spirits, as you suspect, that my studies lie among the cathedrals, and the tombs, and the ruins. To think, though to little purpose, has been the
* He wrote it under its several divisions, on the blank pages of a pocket atlas. I printed lately a few copies of this catalogue for the use of some friends curious in such matters ; and, when I am sufficiently furnished with their observations and improvements upon it, shall perhaps reprint it and give it to the public, as a shorter and more useful pocket companion to the English traveller than has hitherto appeared.
chief amusement of my days; and when I would not, or cannot think, I dream. At present I feel myself able to write a catalogue, or to read the Peerage book, or Miller's Gardening Dictionary, and am thankful that there are such employments and such authors in the world. Some people, who hold me cheap for this, are doing perhaps what is not half so well worth while. As to posterity, I may ask (with somebody whom I have forgot) what has it ever done to oblige me?
To make a transition from myself to as poor a subject, the tragedy of Agis; I cry to think that it should be by the author of Douglas: why, it is all modern Greek; the story is an antique statue painted white and red, frizzed, and dressed in a negligée made by a Yorkshire mantua-maker. Then here is the Miscellany (Mr. Dodsley has sent me the whole set gilt and lettered, I thank him). Why, the two last volumes are worse than the four first; particularly Dr. Akenside is in a deplorable way.* What signifies learning and the ancients (Mason will say triumphantly), why should people read Greek to lose their imagination, their ear, and their mother tongue? But then there is Mr. Shenstone, who trusts to nature and simple sentiment, why does he do no better? he goes hopping along his own gravel-walks, and never deviates from the beaten paths for fear of being lost.
I have read Dr. Swift, and am disappointed.f There is nothing of the negociations that I have not seen better in M. de Torcy before. The manner is careless, and has little to distinguish it from common writers. I
* I have been told that this writer, unquestionably a man of great learning and genius, entertained, some years before his death, a notion, that poetry was only true eloquence in metre; and, according to this idea, wrote his Ode to the Country Gentlemen of England, and afterward made considerable alterations in that Collection of Odes which he had published in the earlier part of his life. in the second letter of this Section, that Mr. Gray thought highly of his descriptive talents at that time. We are not therefore to impute what he here says to any prejudice in the critic, but to that change of taste in the poet, which (if the above anecdote be true) would unavoidably flatten his descriptions, and divest them of all picturesque imagery: nay, would sometimes convert his verse into mere prose; or, what is worse, hard inflated prose.
† His History of the Four Last Years of Queen Anne.
We have seen
meet with nothing to please me but the spiteful characters of the opposite party and its leaders. I expected much more secret history.
Cambridge, August 18, 1758. I AM as sorry as you seem to be, that our acquaintance harped so much on the subject of materialism, when I saw him with you in town, because it was plain to which side of the long-debated question he inclined. That we are indeed mechanical and dependent beings, I need no other proof than my own feelings; and from the same feelings I learn, with equal conviction, that we are not merely such : that there is a power within that struggles against the force and bias of that mechanism, commands its motion, and, by frequent practice, reduces it to that ready obedience which we call habit; and all this in conformity to a preconceived opinion (no matter whether right or wrong), to that least material of all agents, a thought. I have known many in his case who, while they thought they were conquering an old prejudice, did not perceive they were under the influence of one far more dangerous ; one that furnishes us with a ready apology for all our worst actions, and opens to us a full licence for doing whatever we please; and yet these very people were not at all the more indulgent to other men (as they naturally should have been), their indignation to such as offended them, their desire of revenge on any body that hurt them, was nothing mitigated : in short, the truth is, they wished to be persuaded of that opinion for the sake of its convenience, but were not so in their heart; and they would have been glad (as they ought in common prudence) that nobody else should think the same, for fear of the mischief that might ensue to themselves. His French author I never saw, but