« PreviousContinue »
poetry, having neither the eafe and airinefs of the lighter, nor the vehemence and elevation of the grander ode. When he lays his ill-fated hand upon his harp, his former powers feem to defert him; he has no→ longer his luxuriance of expreffion, nor variety of images. His thoughts are cold, and his words inelegant. Yet fuch was his love of lyricks, that, having written with great vigour and poignancy his Epifle to Curio, he transformed it afterwards into an ode difgraceful only to its author,
Of his odes nothing favourable can be faid; the fentiments commonly want force, nature, or novelty; the diction is fometimes harsh and uncouth, the ftanzas ill-conftructed and unpleasant, and the rhymes dif fonant, or unfkilfully difpofed, too diftant from each other, or arranged with too little regard to established ufe, and therefore perplexing to the ear, which in a fhort compofition has not time to grow familiar with an innovation.
To examine fuch compofitions fingly, cannot be required; they have doubtless brighter and darker parts: but when they are once found to be generally dull, all further labour may be fpared; for to what pfe can the work be criticifed that will not be read?
GR A Y.
HOMAS GRAY, the fon of Mr. Philip Gray, a fcrivener 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 affiftant to Dr. George; and when he left fchool, in 1734, entered a penfioner at Peterhouse in Cambridge.
The tranfition from the fchool to the college is, to moft young fcholars, the time from which they date their years of manhood, liberty, and happiness; but Gray feems 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 fullenly on to the time when his attendance on lectures was no longer required. As he intended to profefs the Common Law, he took no degree.
When he had been at Cambridge about five years, Mr. Horace Walpole, whofe 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 con ain a very pleafing account of
many parts of their journey. But unequal friendships are easily diffolved: at Florence they quarrelled, 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 fhall find that men, whofe consciousness of their own merit fets them above the compliances, of fervility, are apt enough in their affociation with fuperiors to watch their own dignity with troublesome and punctilious jealoufy, and in the fervour of independance to exact that attention which they refufe to pay. Part they did, whatever was the quarrel; and the rest of their travels was doubtlefs more unpleasant to them both Gray continued his journey in a manner fuitable to his own little fortune, with only an occafional fervant 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 leffened his fortune, that Gray thought himself too poor to ftudy the law, He therefore re, tired to Cambridge, where he foon after became Bachelor of Civil Law; and where, without liking the place or its inhabitants, or profeffing to like them, he paffed, except a fhort refidence at London, the rest of his life,
About this time he was deprived of Mr. Weft, the fon of a chancellor of Ireland, a friend on whom he appears to have fet a high value, and who deferved his esteem by the powers which he fhews in his Letters, and in the Ode to May, which Mr. Mafon has preferved, as well as by the fincerity with which, when Gray fent him part of Agrippina, a tragedy that he had just begun, he gave an opinion which probably
intercepted the progrefs of the work, and which the judgement of every reader will confirm. It was certainly no lofs to the English ftage that Agrippina was never finished.
In this year (1742) Gray feems firft to have applied himself seriously to poetry; for in this year were produced the Ode to Spring, his Profpect of Eton, and his Ode to Adverfity. He began likewise a Latin Principiis cogitandi.
It may be collected from the narrative of Mr. Mafon, that his firft ambition was to have excelled in Latin poetry perhaps it were reafonable to wish that he had profecuted his defign; for though there is at prefent fome embarraffment in his phrafe, and some harshness in his Lyrick numbers, his copioufnefs of language is fuch as very few poffefs; and his lines, even when imperfect, difcover a writer whom practice would quickly have made skilful.
He now lived on at Peterhouse, very little folicitous what others did or thought, and cultivated his mind and enlarged his views without any other purpose than of improving and amufing himself; when Mr. Mason, being elected fellow of Pembroke-hall, brought him a companion who was afterwards to be his editor, and whofe fondness and fidelity has kindled in him a zeal of admiration, which cannot be reafonably expected from the neutrality of a stranger and the coldness of a critick.
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 Church-yard, which, finding its way into a Magazine, first, I believe, made him known to the publick,
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 defigns by Mr. Bentley, and, that they might in fome form or other make a book, only one fide of each leaf was printed. I believe the poems and the plates recommended each other fo well, that the whole impreffion was foon bought, This year he loft his mother,
Some time afterwards (1756) fome young men of the college, whofe chambers were near his, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and, as is faid, by pranks yet more offenfive and contemptuous. This infolence, having endured it a while, he reprefented to the governors of the fociety, among whom perhaps he had no friends; and, finding his complaint little regarded, removed himself to Pembroke-hall.
In 1757 he published The Progrefs of Poetry and The Bard, two compositions at which the readers of poetry were at first content to gaze in mute amazement. Some that tried them confeffed their inability to understand them, though Warburton faid that they were understood as well as the works of Milton and Shakfpeare, which it is the fashion to admire. Garrick wrote a few lines in their praife. Some hardy champions undertook to rescue them from neglect, and in