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ment. His pursuits were in general disinterested; and as he was free from avarice on the one hand, so was he from extravagance on the other: being one of those few characters in the annals of literature, especially in the poetical class, who are devoid of self interest, and at the same time attentive to economy: but Mr. Mafon adds, that he was induced to decline taking any advantage of his literary productions by a degree of pride, which influenced him to disdain the idea of being thought an author by profession.
It appears from the fame narrative, that Gray made confiderable progress in the study of architecture, particularly the Gothic. Heendeavoured to trace this branch of the science, from the period of it's commencement, through it's various changes, till it arrived at it's perfection in the time of Henry VIII. He applied himself also to the study of heraldry, of which he obtained a very competent knowledge, as appears from his Remarks on Saxon Cburches, in the introduction to Mr. Bentham's Hiflory of Ely.
But the favourite sludy of Gray, for the last two years of his life, was natural history, which he rather resumed than began, as he had acquired some knowledge of botany in early life, while he was under the tuition of his uncle Antrobus. He wrote copious marginal notes to the works of Linnæus, and other writers in the three kingdoms of nature : and Mr. Mafon further obferves, that, excepting pure mathematics, and the studies dependent on that science, there was hardly any part of human learning in which he had not acquired a competent skill; in moft of them a consummate mastery.
Mr. Mason has declined drawing any formal character of him: but has adopted one from a letter to James Bofwell, Esq. by the Rev. Mr. Temple, Rector of St. Gluvias, in Cornwall, first printed anonymously in the London Magazine, which, as we conceive authentic, from the sanction of Mr. Mason, we shall therefore transcribe,
“ Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. He was equally acquainted with the elegant and profound parts of science, and that not superficially, but thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphysics, morals, and pulitics, made a principal part of his study; voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusements; and he had a fine tafte in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. With such a fund of knowledge, his conversation must have been equally instructing and entertaining; but he was also a good man, a man of virtue and humanity. There is no character without some speck, fome imperfection; and I think the greatest defect in his was an affectation in delicacy, or rather effeminaçy, and a visible faftidiousness, or contempt and disdain of his inferiore in science. He also had, in some degree, that weakness which disgusted Voltaire fo much in Mr. Congreye: though he seemed to value others chiefly according to the progress they had made in knowledge,
yet he could not bear to be considered himself merely as a man of letters; and though without birth, or fortune, or station, his desire was to be looked upon as a private independent gentleman, who read for his amusement. Perhaps it may be said, What fignifies so much knowledge, when it produced so little? Is it worth taking so much pains to leave no memorial but a few Poems ? But let it be confidered that Mr. Gray was, to others, at least innocently employed ; to himself, certainly beneficially. His time passed agreeably; he was every day making some new acquisition in science; his mind was enlarged, his heart softened, his virtue strengthened; the world and mankind were shewn to him without a mask; and he was taught to consider every thing as trifling, and unworthy of the attention of a wise man, except the pursuit of knowledge and practice of virtue, in that state wherein God hath placed us.”
In addition to this character, Mr. Mason has remarked, that Gray's effeminacy was affected most before those whom he did not wish to please ; and that he is unjuftly charged with making kuowledge his sole reason of preference, as he paid his efteem to none whom he did not likewise believe to be good.
Dr. Johnson makes the following observations: “ What has occurred to me, from the flight infpection of his letters, in which my undertaking has engaged me, is, that his mind had a large grasp ; thit bis curiosity was unlimited, and his judgment cultivated ; that he was a man likely to love much where he loved at all, but that he was fastidious, and hard
to please. His contempt, however, is often employed, where I hope it will be approved, upon scepticilin an infidelity. His short account of Shaftesbury I will insert.
“ You say you cannot conceive how lord Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue; I will tell you ; firft, he was a lord ; fecondly, he was as vain as any of his readers; thirdly, men are very prone to believe what they do not understand; foarthly, they will believe any thing at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when that road leads no where ; fixthly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seems always to mean more than he said. Would you have any more reasons? An interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks with commoners : vanity is no longer interefted in the matter : for a new road is become an old
As a writer he had this peculiarity, that he did not write his pieces first rudely, and then correct them, but laboured every line as it arose in the train of composition; and he had a notion not very peculiar, that he could not write but at certain times, or at happy moments; a fantastic foppery, to which our kindness for a man of learning and of virtue wishes him to have been superior.
As a Poet he stands high in the estimation of the candid and judicious. Ilis works are not numerous ; but they bear the marks of intense application, and careful revision. The Elegy in the Church-yard iş
deemed his master-piece; the subject is interesting, the sentiment simple and pathetic, and the versification charmingly melodious. This beautiful compofition has been often selected by orators for the display of their rhetorical talents. But as the most finished productions of the human mind have not escaped cenfure, the works of our Author have undergone illiberal comments. His Elegy has been supposed defective in want of plan. Dr. Knox, in his Essays, has observed, “ that it is thought by some to be no more than a confused heap of splendid ideas, thrown together without order and without proportion.” Some passages have been censured by Kelly in the Babbler ; and imitations of different Authors have been pointed out by other critics. But these imitations cannot be afcertained, as there are numberless instances of coincidence of ideas; so that it is difficult to say, with precision, what is or is not a designed or accidental imitation.
Gray, in his Elegy in the Church-yard, has great merit in adverting to the most interesting paffions of the human mind; yet his genius is not marked alone by the tender sensibility fo conspicuous in that elegant piece; but there is a sublimity which gives it an equal claim to universal admiration,
His Odes on The Progress of Poetry, and of The Bard, according to Mr. Mason's account, “ breathe the high spirit of lyric enthusiasm. The transitions are fudden and impetuous; the language full of fire and force; and the imagery carried, without improprie
v, to the most daring height. They have been ac