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Thomas Gray to Richard West, [27 May 1742]

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Mine, you are to know, is a white Melancholy, or rather Leucocholy for the most part; which though it seldom laughs or dances, nor ever amounts to what one calls Joy or Pleasure, yet is a good easy sort of a state, and ça ne laisse que de s'amuser. The only fault of it is insipidity; which is apt now and then to give a sort of Ennui, which makes one form certain little wishes that signify nothing. But there is another sort, black indeed, which I have now and then felt, that has somewhat in it like Tertullian's rule of faith, Credo quia impossibile est; for it believes, nay, is sure of every thing that is unlikely, so it be but frightful; and, on the other hand, excludes and shuts its eyes to the most possible hopes, and every thing that is pleasurable; from this the Lord deliver us! for none but he and sunshiny weather can do it. In hopes of enjoying this kind of weather, I am going into the country for a few weeks, but shall be never the nearer any society; so, if you have any charity, you will continue to write. My life is like Harry the fourth's supper of Hens. 'Poulets a la broche, Poulets en Ragôut, Poulets en Hâchis, Poulets en Fricasées.' Reading here, Reading there; nothing but books with different sauces. Do not let me lose my desert then; for though that be Reading too, yet it has a very different flavour. The May seems to be come since your invitation; and I propose to bask in her beams and dress me in her roses.

Et Caput in vernâ semper habere rosâ.

I shall see Mr. [...] and his Wife, nay, and his Child too, for he has got a Boy. Is it not odd to consider one's Cotemporaries in the grave light of Husband and Father? There is my Lords [...] and [...], they are Statesmen: Do not you remember them dirty boys playing at cricket? As for me, I am never a bit the older, nor the bigger, nor the wiser than I was then: No, not for having been beyond sea. Pray how are you?

I send you an inscription for a wood joining to a park of mine; (it is on the confines of Mount Cithæron, on the left hand as you go to Thebes) you know I am no friend to hunters, and hate to be disturbed by their noise.

Ἁζόμενος πολυθήρον ἑκηβόλου ἄλσος ἀνάσσας
τᾶς δεινᾶς τεμένη λεῖπε, κυναγὲ, θεᾶς
Μουνοι ἄῤ ἔνθα κύνων ζαθέων κλαγγεῦσιν ὑλαγμοὶ,
ἀνταχεῖς Νυμφᾶν ἀγροτερᾶν κελάδῳ.

Here follows also the beginning of an Heroic Epistle; but you must give me leave to tell my own story first, because Historians differ. Massinissa was the son of Gala King of the Massyli; and, when very young at the head of his father's army, gave a most signal overthrow to Syphax, King of the Masæsylians, then an ally of the Romans. Soon after Asdrubal, son of Gisgo the Carthaginian General, gave the beautiful Sophonisba, his daughter, in marriage to the young prince. But this marriage was not consummated on account of Massinissa's being obliged to hasten into Spain, there to command his father's troops, who were auxiliaries of the Carthaginians. Their affairs at this time began to be in a bad condition; and they thought it might be greatly for their interest, if they could bring over Syphax to themselves. This in time they actually effected; and to strengthen their new alliance, commanded Asdrubal to give his daughter to Syphax. (It is probable their ingratitude to Massinissa arose from the great change of affairs, which had happened among the Massylians during his absence; for his father and uncle were dead, and a distant relation of the royal family had usurped the throne.) Sophonisba was accordingly married to Syphax: and Massinissa, enraged at the affront, became a friend to the Romans. They drove the Carthaginians before them out of Spain, and carried the war into Africa, defeated Syphax, and took him prisoner; upon which Cirtha (his capital) opened her gates to Lælius and Massinissa. The rest of the affair, the marriage, and the sending of poison, every body knows. This is partly taken from Livy, and partly from Appian.



Egregium accipio promissi Munus amoris,
Inque manu mortem jam fruitura fero:
Atque utinam citius mandasses, luce vel unâ;
Transieram Stygios non inhonesta lacus.
Victoris nec passa toros, nova nupta, mariti,
Nec fueram fastus, Roma superba, tuos.
Scilicet hæc partem tibi, Massinissa, triumphi
Detractam, hæc pompæ jura minora suæ
Imputat, atque uxor quod non tua pressa catenis,
Objecta & sævæ plausibus urbis eo:
Quin tu pro tantis cepisti præmia factis,
Magnum Romanæ pignus amicitiæ!
Scipiadæ excuses, oro, si tardius utar
Munere. Non nimiùm vivere, crede, velim.
Parva mora est, breve sed tempus mea fama requirit:
Detinet hæc animam cura suprema meam.
Quæ patriæ prodesse meæ Regina ferebar,
Inter Elisæas gloria prima nurus,
Ne videar flammæ nimis indulsisse secundæ,
Vel nimis hostiles extimuisse manus.
Fortunam atque annos liceat revocare priores,
Gaudiaque heu! quantis nostra repensa malis.
Primitiasne tuas meministi atque arma Syphacis
Fusa, & per Tyrias ducta trophæa vias?
(Laudis at antiquæ forsan meminisse pigebit,
Quodque decus quondam causa ruboris erit.)
Tempus ego certe memini, felicia Pœnis
Quo te non puduit solvere vota deis;
Mæniaque intrantem vidi: longo agmine duxit
Turba salutantum, purpureique patres.
Fæminea ante omnes longe admiratur euntem
Hæret & aspectu tota caterva tuo.
Jam flexi, regale decus, per colla capilli,
Jam decet ardenti fuscus in ore color!
Commendat frontis generosa modestia formam,
Seque cupit laudi surripuisse suæ.
Prima genas tenui signat vix flore juventas,
Et dextræ soli credimus esse virum.
Dum faciles gradiens oculos per singula jactas,
(Seu rexit casus lumina, sive Venus)
In me (vel certè visum est) conversa morari
Sensi; virgineus perculit ora pudor.
Nescio quid vultum molle spirare tuendo,
Credideramque tuos lentius ire pedes.
Quærebam, juxta æqualis si dignior esset,
Quæ poterat visus detinuisse tuos:
Nulla fuit circum æqualis quæ dignior esset,
Asseruitque decus conscia forma suum.
Pompæ finis erat. Totâ vix nocte quievi:
Sin premat invitæ lumina victa sopor,
Somnus habet pompas, eademque recursat imago;
Atque iterum hesterno munere victor ades.

[           ]

Letter ID: letters.0127 (Source: TEI/XML)


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


Date of composition: [27 May 1742]
Date (on letter): [May 27, 1742]
Calendar: Julian


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


Languages: English, Latin, Greek
Incipit: Mine, you are to know, is a white Melancholy, or rather Leucocholy...
Mentioned: Appian
Inscription for a Wood in a Park
[Sophonisba Masinissae. Epistola]

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 x, section iii, 151-155
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section III, letter X, vol. i, 268-272
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section III, letter X, vol. ii, 138-140
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter LVIII, vol. i, 127-130
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section III, letter X, vol. ii, 165-168
  • 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, 168-169
  • 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. LV, vol. i, 102-105
  • 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, 139-141
  • 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. 151, vol. ii, 42-47
  • 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. 110, vol. i, 209-213