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LIX. MR. GRAY TO MR. NICHOLLS.*
Jermyn-street, Aug. 3, 1768. THAT Mr. Brocket has broken his neck, by a fall from his horse, you will have seen in the newspapers; and also that I, your humble servant, have kissed the King's hand for his succession: they are both true, but the manner how you know not: only I can assure you that I had no hand at all in his fall, and almost as little in the second event. He died on the Sunday; on Wednesday following his Grace the Duke of Grafton wrote me a very polite letter to say, that his Majesty had commanded him to offer me the vacant professorship, not only as a reward of, &c. but as a credit to, &c. with much more too high for me to transcribe: so on Thursday the King signed the warrant, and next day, at his levee, I kissed his hand; he made me several gracious speeches, which I shall not repeat, because every body that goes to court does so: besides, the day was so hot, and the ceremony so embarrassing to me, that I hardly knew what he said.
Adieu! I am to perish here with heat this fortnight yet, and then to Cambridge; to be sure my dignity is a little the worse for wear, but, mended and washed, it will do for me.
LX. MR. GRAY TO MR. BEATTIE. Pembroke-hall, Oct. 31, 1768. IT is some time since I received from Mr. Foulis two copies of my Poems, one by the hands of Mr. T. Pitt, the other by Mr. Merrill, a bookseller of this town: it is indeed a most beautiful edition, and must certainly
* Rector of Lounde and Bradwell, in Suffolk. His acquaintance with Mr. Gray commenced a few years before the date of this, when he was a student of Trinityhall, Cambridge.
do credit both to him and to me: but I fear it will be of no other advantage to him, as Dodsley has contrived to glut the town already with two editions beforehand, one of fifteen hundred, and the other of seven hundred and fifty, both indeed far inferior to that of Glasgow, but sold at half the price. I must repeat my thanks, Sir, for the trouble you have been pleased to give yourself on my account; and through you I must desire leave to convey my acknowledgments to Mr. Foulis, for the pains and expense he has been at in this publication.
We live at so great a distance, that, perhaps, you may not yet have learned, what, I flatter myself, you will not be displeased to hear: the middle of last summer his Majesty was pleased to appoint me Regius Professor of Modern History in this University; it is the best thing the Crown has to bestow, on a layman, here; the salary is four hundred pounds per ann. but what enhances the value of it to me is, that it was bestowed without being asked. The person, who held it before me, died on the Sunday; and on Wednesday following the Duke of Grafton wrote me a letter to say, that the King offered me this office, with many additional expressions of kindness on his Grace's part, to whom I am but little known, and whom I have not seen either before or since he did me this favour. Instances of a benefit so nobly conferred, I believe are rare; and therefore I tell you of it as a thing that does honour, not only to me, but to the Minister.
As I lived here before from choice, I shall now continue to do so from obligation; if business or curiosity should call you southwards, you will find few friends that will see you with more cordial satisfaction, than, dear Sir, &c.
THE reader will have gathered, from the preceding series of letters, that the greatest part of Mr. Gray's life was spent in that kind of learned leisure, which has only self-improvement and self-gratification for its object: he will probably be surprised that, with so very strait an income, he should never have read with a view of making his researches lucrative to himself, or useful to the public. The truth was, Mr. Gray had ever expunged the word lucrative from his own vocabulary. He may be said to have been one of those very few personages in the annals of literature, especially in the poetical class, who are devoid of self-interest, and at the same time attentive to economy; and also, among mankind in general, one of those very few economists who possess that talent, untinctured with the slightest stain of avarice. Were it my purpose in this place to expatiate on his moral excellences, I should here add, that when his circumstances were at the lowest, he gave away such sums in private charity as would have done credit to an ampler purse: but it is rather my less-pleasing province at present to acknowledge one of his foibles; and that was a certain degree of pride, which led him, of all other things, to despise the idea of being thought an author professed. I have been told, indeed, that early in life he had an intention of publishing an edition of Strabo; and I find amongst his papers a great number of geographical disquisitions, particularly with respect to that part of Asia which comprehends Persia and India; concerning the ancient and modern names and divisions of which extensive countries, his notes are very copious. The indefatigable pains which he also took with the writings of Plato, and the quantity of critical, as well as explanatory, observations, which he has left upon almost
every part of his works, plainly indicate, that no man in Europe was better prepared to republish and illustrate that philosopher than Mr. Gray. Another work, on which he bestowed uncommon labour, was the " Anthologia." Amongst the books, which his friendship bequeathed to me, is Henry Stephens's edition of that collection of Greek Epigrams, interleaved; in which he has transcribed several additional ones that he selected in his extensive reading, has inserted a great number of critical notes and emendations, and subjoined a copious Index, in which every Epigram is arranged under the name of its respective author.* This manuscript, though written in that exact manner, as if intended for the press, I do not know that it was ever Mr. Gray's design to make public. The only work, which he meditated upon with this direct view from the beginning, was a history of English poetry. He has mentioned this himself in an advertisement prefixed to those three fine imitations of Norse and Welch poetry, which he gave the world in the last edition of his Poems. But the slight manner, in which he there speaks of that design, may admit here of some additional explanation. Several years ago was indebted to the friendship of the present learned Bishop of Gloucester fort a curious manuscript paper of Mr. Pope, which contains the first sketch of a plan for a work of this kind, and which I have still in my pos
* It should seem that Mr. Gray's pains were, on this occasion, very ill employed; for the late Lord Chesterfield, writing to his son, says, "I hope you are got out of the worst company in the world, the Greek Epigrams. Martial has wit, and is worth looking into sometimes; but I recommend the Greek Epigrams to your supreme contempt.”—See Lord Chesterfield's Letters, Lett. LXXIII. However, if what Mr. Gray says be true, p. 214, supra, that "a dead lord ranks but with commoners," there may come a time when Lord Chesterfield's dictum, in matters of taste, may not be held more infallible than that of his own and other dead lords, in points of religion and morality: nay, when his own plan of gentlemanly education may be thought less capable of furnishing his country with useful members of society, than the plain old-fashioned one which he wrote to explode. If this day does not quickly come, one may, without pretending to a gift of prophecy, pronounce that England will neither be, nor deserve to be, any thing better than a province of France.
A transcript of this paper is to be found printed in the Life of Mr. Pope, written by Mr. Ruffhead.
session. Mr. Gray was greatly struck with the method which Mr. Pope had traced out in this little sketch; and on my proposal of engaging with him in compiling such a history, he examined the plan more accurately, enlarged it considerably, and formed an idea for an introduction to it. In this was to be ascertained the origin of rhyme; and specimens not only of the Provençal poetry (to which alone Mr. Pope seemed to have adverted), but of the Scaldic, British, and Saxon, were to have been given; as, from all these different sources united, English poetry had its original: though it could hardly be called by that name till the time of Chaucer, with whose school (i. e. the poets who wrote in this manner) the history itself was intended to commence. The materials which I collected for this purpose are too inconsiderable to be mentioned; but Mr. Gray, besides versifying those odes that he published, made many elaborate disquisitions into the origin of rhyme, and that variety of metre, to be "found in the writings of our ancient poets. He also transcribed many parts of the voluminous Lidgate, from manuscripts which he found in the University Library and those of private colleges; remarking, as he went along, the several beauties and defects of this immediate scholar of Chaucer. He however soon found, that a work of this kind, pursued on so very extensive a plan, would become almost endless: and hearing at the same time that Mr. Thomas Warton, fellow of Trinity-college, Oxford (of whose abilities, from his observations on Spenser, we had each of us conceived the highest opinion), was engaged in a work of the same kind, we by mutual consent relinquished our undertaking; and, soon after, on that gentleman's desiring a sight of the plan, Mr. Gray readily sent him a copy of it.*
* This gentleman has just now politely acknowledged the favour in his preface to his first volume on this subject. A work which, as he proceeds in it through more enlightened periods, will undoubtedly give the world as high an idea of his critical taste, as the present specimen does of his indefatigable researches into antiquity.