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J. Butler to Thomas Gray, [c. 2 December 1757]

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This abrupt execution plunges the reader into that sudden fearful perplexity which is designed to predominate through the whole. the irresistible violence of the prophet's passions bears him away, who, as he is unprepared by a formal ushering in of the speaker, is unfortified against the impressions of his poetical phrenzy and overpowered by them, as sudden thunders strike the deepest.

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Here a vision of triumphant revenge is judiciously made to ensue, after the pathetic lamentation which precedes it. Breaks – double rhymes – an appropriated cadence – and an exalted ferocity of language forcibly picture to us the uncontroulable tumultuous workings of the prophet's stimulated bosom.

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Can there be an image more just, apposite, and nobly imagined than this tremendous tragical winding-sheet? In the rest of this stanza the wilderness of thought, expression, and cadence are admirably adapted to the character and situation of the speaker, and of the bloody spectres his assistants. It is not indeed peculiar to it alone, but a beauty that runs throughout the whole composition, that the historical events are briefly sketched out by a few striking circumstances, in which the Poet's office of rather exciting and directing, than satisfying the reader's imagination, is perfectly observed. Such abrupt hints, resembling the several fragments of a vast ruin, suffer not the mind to be raised to the utmost pitch, by one image of horror, but that instantaneously a second and a third are presented to it, and the affection is still uniformly supported.

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Letter ID: letters.0292 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Butler, J., Mr
Writer's age: [u
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 41


Date of composition: [c. 2 December 1757]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Andover, United Kingdom]


Language: English
Incipit: This abrupt execution plunges the reader into that sudden fearful perplexity...
Mentioned: Odes by Mr. Gray (1757)

Holding Institution

Availability: The original letter is unlocated, a copy, transcription, or published version survives

Print Versions

  • The Poems of Mr. Gray. To which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writings by W[illiam]. Mason. York: printed by A. Ward; and sold by J. Dodsley, London; and J. Todd, York, 1775, imitations, variations, and additional notes, 93-94
  • Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 256*, vol. ii, 540-541