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William Mason to Thomas Gray, 15 July 1767

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To Thomas Gray Esqr at Doctor Whartons at Old Park near Darlington

Dear Sr

My Old Aunt is dead but she has not left me so much money that I can come and make ducks & drakes in the Minikin. You will say I need not, I have only to teach Dr Wharton how to make them. Perhaps my metaphor was not well chosen, tis however as good as yours where you say Old Park must die a maid if I dont come & lay her out. When Mr Hurd comes to publish our correspondence I know what will be his Note upon this passage, "To have made the allusion appear with due congruity the Poet should have written lay her down for to lay her out supposes her to be already dead wch the premises inform us this old Maid was not, & therefore only wanted to be laid down. As the Passage now stands there is an impropriety in it wch evn the freedom of the Epistolary mode of writing will not Justify." Take another Note from Dr Balguy: "There are two Vernacular Phrases wch we apply seperately, & wch indeed will not admit of a reciprocal usage in our tongue. the one we apply constantly where any thing is predicated concerning Gardening & the other we as constantly use as a term in Agriculture. Thus we lay out pleasure Grounds but we lay down feild Lands. Now had the writer deliverd the above sentiment without a figure he would have simply said Old Park wants to be laid out, & here as Old Park means a pleasure ground or Garden, the Phrase would have been just & pertinent. But he chose to personify Old park & to speak of her under the figure of an Old Maid, & hence arose the incongruity which the Critic has so justly stigmatizd, & wch would not have appeard so had Old Park been a common feild; but unhappily for the writer, Old Park was (as we have seen) a pleasure ground, or garden and as such requird to be laid out not to be laid down, hence it would not admit of the Metaphor in quæstion, & I know no way of reducing this passage into the rules of chast Composition but by supposing Old Park arable; then the figure will be in its place, & the Maid will be laid down in a natural & even elegant manner."

Explicit Nonsense–& now what remains must be serious. I dined lately at Bishopthorpe when the Archbishop took me into his Closet & with many tears, begd me to write an Epitaph on his daughter. In our conversation he touchd so many unison Strings of my heart (for we both of us wept like childern) that I could not help promising him that I would try if possible to oblige him. The result you have on the opposite page, if it either is, or can be made a decent thing assist me with your Judgment immediatly, for what I do about it I would do quickly, & I can do nothing neither, if this will not do with correction. It cannot be expected, neither would I wish it, to be equal to what I have written from my heart, upon my Hearts heart –Give me I beg your sentiments upon it as soon as possible. to conclude I wish heartily to be with you but cannot fix a time For I was obligd to invite Mr Robinson & the Wordsworths hither, & I have not recd their answer. In my next perhaps I can speak more detirminately. My best Compliments to Dr & Mrs Wharton & best wishes for the continuance of Mr Browns beatifications.

yours cordially


Hence stoic Apathy to hearts of Stone!
A Christian Sage with dignity can weep.
See mitred Drummond heave the heartfelt groan,
Where the cold ashes of his daughter sleep;
Here sleep what once was beauty, once was grace,
Grace that expresst, in each benignant smile,
*That dearest harmony of soul, & face,
When beauty glories to be virtue's foil.

Such was the Maid, that, in the noon of youth,
In virgin innocence, in natures pride,
Grac'd with each liberal art, & crownd with truth,
Sunk in her fathers fond embrace, & died.
He weeps. O venerate the holy tear!
Faith sooths his sorrows, lightens all their load;
Patient he spreads his child upon her bier,
And humbly yeilds an Angel to his God.

* Or thus:

That sweetest Sympathy of soul & face,
When beauty only blooms as virtue's foil.

Letter ID: letters.0503 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Writer's age: 43
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 50


Date of composition: 15 July 1767
Date (on letter): July 15th 1767
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: York, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): York
Place of addressee: Durham, United Kingdom

Physical description

Addressed: To Thomas Gray Esqr at Doctor Whartons at Old Park near Darlington (postmark: YORK)


Language: English
Incipit: My Old Aunt is dead but she has not left me so much money that I can come...
Mentioned: 'Minikin'
Brown, James, 1709-1784
Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Old Park
Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794

Holding Institution

Henry W. And Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, New York Public Library , New York, NY, USA <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes

Print Versions

  • The Correspondence of Thomas Gray and William Mason, with Letters to the Rev. James Brown, D.D. Ed. by the Rev. John Mitford. London: Richard Bentley, 1853, letter CXII, 391-395
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, including the correspondence of Gray and Mason, 3 vols. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. London: George Bell and Sons, 1900-12, letter no. CCCV, vol. iii, 147-149
  • 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. 447, vol. iii, 965-967