Images de page
PDF
ePub

THE

LIFE OF THOMAS GRAY.

BY

DR. JOHNSON.

THOMAS GRAY, the son of Mr. Philip Gray, a scrivener of London, was born in Cornhill, November 26, 1716. His grammatical education he received at Eton under the care of Mr. Antrobus, his mother's brother, then assistant to Dr. George; and when he left school, in 1734, entered a pensioner at Peterhouse in Cambridge.

The transition from the school to the college is, to most young scholars, the time from which they date their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness ; but Gray seems to have been very little delighted with academical gratifications; he liked at Cambridge neither the mode of life nor the fashion of study, and lived sullenly on to the time when his attendance on lectures was no longer required. As he intended to profess the Common Law, he took no degree.

When he had been at Cambridge about five years, Mr. Horace Walpole, whose friendship he had gained at Eton, invited him to travel with him as his companion. They wandered through France into Italy; and Gray's Letters contain a very pleasing account of many parts of their journey. But unequal friend

ships are easily dissolved: at Florence they quarreled, and parted : and Mr. Walpole is now content to have it told that it was by his fault. If we look, however, without prejudice on the world, we shall find that men, whose consciousness of their own merit sets them above the compliances of servility, are apt enough in their association with superiors to watch their own dignity with troublesome and punctilious jealousy, and in the fervour of independence to exact that attention which they refuse to pay. Part they did, whatever. was the quarrel; and the rest of their travels was doubtless more unpleasant to them both. Gray continued his journey in a manner suitable to bis own little fortune, with only an occasional servant.

He returned to England in September, 1741, and in about two months afterwards buried his father, who had, by an injudicious waste of money upon a new house, so much lessened his fortune, that Gray thought himself too poor to study the law. He therefore retired to Cambridge, where he soon after became Bachelor of Civil Law, and where, without liking the place or its inhabitants, or professing to like them, he passed, except a short residence at London, the rest of his life.

About this time he was deprived of Mr. West, the son of a chancellor of Ireland, a friend on whom he appears to have set a bigh value, and who deserved his esteem by the powers which he shows in his Letters, and in the ‘Ode to May,' which Mr. Mason has preserved, as well as by the sincerity with which, when Gray sent him part of Agrippina,' a tragedy that he had just begun, he gave an opinion which probably intercepted the progress of the work, and which the judgment of every reader will confirm. It was certainly no loss to the English stage that Agrippina' was never finished.

In this year (1742) Gray seems to have applied

himself seriously to poetry; for in this year were produced the 'Ode to Spring,' his 'Prospect of Eton,' and his 'Ode to Adversity.' He began likewise a Latin poem, 'De principiis cogitandi.'

It may be collected from the narrative of Mr. Mason, that his first ambition was to have excelled in Latin poetry: perhaps it were reasonable to wish that he had prosecuted his design; for though there is at present some embarrassment in his phrase, and some harshness in his lyric numbers, his copiousness of language is such as very few possess; and his lines, even when imperfect, discover a writer whom practice would have made skilful.

He now lived on at Peterhouse, very little solicitous what others did or thought, and cultivated his mind and enlarged his views without any other purpose than of improving and amusing himself; when Mr. Mason, being elected Fellow of Pembroke Hall, brought him a companion who was afterwards to be his editor, and whose fondness and fidelity has kindled in him a zeal of admiration which cannot be reasonably expected from the neutrality of a stranger, and the coldness of a critic.

In this retirement he wrote (1747) an ode on the 'Death of Mr. Walpole's Cat;' and the year afterwards attempted a poem, of more importance, on 'Government and Education,' of which the fragments which remain have many excellent lines.

His next production (1750) was his far famed 'Elegy in the Churchyard,' which, finding its way into a Magazine, first, I believe, made him known to the public.

An invitation from Lady Cobham about this time gave occasion to an odd composition, called ‘A Long Story,' which adds little to Gray's character.

Several of his pieces were published (1753) with designs by Mr. Bentley; and, that they might in

« PrécédentContinuer »