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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [8 May 1742]

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I rejoice to see you putting up your prayers to the May: She cannot choose but come at such a call. It is as light and genteel as herself. You bid me find fault; I am afraid I cannot; however I will try. The first stanza (if what you say to me in it did not make me think it the best) I should call the worst of the five (except the fourth line). The two next are very picturesque, Miltonic, and musical; her bed is so soft and so snug that I long to lie with her. But those two lines 'Great Nature' are my favourites. The exclamation of the flowers is a little step too far. The last stanza is full as good as the second and third; the last line bold, but I think not too bold. Now, as to myself and my translation, pray do not call names. I never saw Broukhusius in my life. It is Scaliger who attempted to range Propertius in order; who was, and still is, in sad condition. [...] You see, by what I sent you, that I converse, as usual, with none but the dead: They are my old friends, and almost make me long to be with them. You will not wonder therefore, that I, who live only in times past, am able to tell you no news of the present. I have finished the Peloponnesian war much to my honour, and a tight conflict it was, I promise you. I have drank and sung with Anacreon for the last fortnight, and am now feeding sheep with Theocritus. Besides, to quit my figure, (because it is foolish) I have run over Pliny's Epistles and Martial ἐκ παρέργου; not to mention Petrarch, who, by the way, is sometimes very tender and natural. I must needs tell you three lines in Anacreon, where the expression seems to me inimitable. He is describing hair as he would have it painted.

Ἕλικας δ' ἐλευθέρους μοι
Πλοκάμων ἄτακτα συνθεὶς
'Αφὲς ὡς θέλουσι κεῖσθαι.

Guess, too, where this is about a dimple.

Sigilla in mento impressa Amoris digitulo
Vestigio demonstrant mollitudinem.

Letter ID: letters.0123 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 25
Addressee: West, Richard, 1716-1742
Addressee's age: 26[?]


Date of composition: [8 May 1742]
Date (on letter): [May 8, 1742]
Calendar: Julian


Place of composition: [London, United Kingdom]
Address (on letter): [London]


Languages: English, Latin, Greek
Incipit: I rejoice to see you putting up your prayers to the May:...
Mentioned: Anacreon
Imitated from Propertius, Lib: 3: Eleg: 5:
Nonius Marcellus
Scaliger, Joseph Justus
[Imitated] From Propertius. Lib: 2: Eleg: 1.

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, letter viii, section iii, 148-150
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section III, letter VIII, vol. i, 266-267
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section III, letter VIII, vol. ii, 136-137
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter LVI, vol. i, 125-126
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section III, letter VIII, vol. ii, 162-164
  • Gray and his Friends: Letters and Relics, in great part hitherto unpublished. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1890, section II, letter fragment, 166
  • 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. LIV, vol. i, 101-102
  • Essays and Criticisms by Thomas Gray. Ed. with Introduction and Notes by Clark Sutherland Northup. Boston and London: D. C. Heath & Co., 1911, letter excerpt, 136-138
  • The Correspondence of Gray, Walpole, West and Ashton (1734-1771), 2 vols. Chronologically arranged and edited with introduction, notes, and index by Paget Toynbee. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915, letter no. 149, vol. ii, 40-41
  • 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. 107, vol. i, 201-202