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Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton, [17 March 1747]

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Dr Thomas Wharton of

My Dear Wharton

You ask me, what I would answer in case any one should ask me a certain Question concerning You. In my Conscience, I should say, Yes; & the readier as I have had a Revelation about it: 'twas in a Dream that told me you had taken a Fancy to one of the four last Letters in the Alphabet. I think it can't be X, nor Z (for I know of no female Zeno, or Xenophon) it may be Y perhaps, but I have somehow a secret Partiality for W. am I near it, or no? by this Time I suppose, 'tis almost a done Thing. there is no struggling with Destiny, so I acquiesce. thus far only I should be glad to know with Certainty, whither it be likely [you] should continue in Statu Quo, till the Commencement (wch I dont conceive) for o[therwise] I should think it rather better for [T:] to give up his Pretensions with a good Grace, than to wait the Pleasure of those dirty Cubs, who will infallibly prefer the first that offers of their own People. but I submit this to your Judgement, who (as you first made him a Competitor) ought to determine at what Time he may most decently withdraw. I have some Uneasiness too on Brown's Account, who has sacrificed all his Interests with so much Frankness, & is still so resolute to do every Thing for us without Reserve, that I should see him with great Concern under the Paw of a fell Visitor, & exposed to the Insolence of that old Rascal, the Master. Tr:pe (if you remember) would engage himself no longer than the end of this Year? 'tis true he has never said any thing since, tending that Way; but he is not unlikely to remember it at a proper Time. and as to Sm:, he must necessarily be abîmé, in a very short Time. his Debts daily increase (you remember the State they were in, when you left us) Addison, I know, wrote smartly to him last Week; but it has had no Effect, that signifies. only I observe he takes Hartshorn from Morning to Night lately: in the mean time he is amuseing himself with a Comedy of his own Writeing, wch he makes all the Boys of his Acquaintance act, & intends to borrow the Zodiack Room, & have it performed publickly. our Friend Lawman, the mad Attorney, is his Copyist; & truly the Author himself is to the full as mad as he. his Piece (he says) is inimitable, true Sterling Wit, & Humour by God; & he can't hear the Prologue without being ready to die with Laughter. he acts five Parts himself, & is only sorry, he can't do all the rest. he has also advertised a Collection of Odes; & for his Vanity & Faculty of Lyeing, they are come to their full Maturity. all this, you see, must come to a Jayl, or Bedlam, & that without any help, almost without Pity. by the Way now I talk of a Jayl, please to let me know, when & where you would have me pay my own Debts.

Chapman (I suppose you know) is warm in his Mastership. soon after his Accession I was to see him: there was a very brillant (Cambridge) Assembly, Middleton, Rutherforth, Heberden, Robinson, Coventry, & various others. he did the Honours with a great Deal of comical Dignity, assisted by a Bedmaker in greasy Leather Breeches & a Livery, & now he is gone to Town to get Preferment. but what you'll wonder at & what delights me, Coventry is his particular Confident (tho' very disagreeably to himself) he can't open his Door, but he finds the Master there, who comes to set with him at all Hours, & brings his Works with him, for he is writeing a great Book on the Roman Constitution. well, upon the Strength of this I too am grown very great with Coventry, & to say the Truth (bateing his Nose, & another Circumstance, wch is nothing to me) he is the best Sort of Man in this Place. M:n has publish'd a small Oct:vo on the Roman Senate, well enough, but nothing of very great Consequence, & is now gone to be inducted into a Sine-Cure (not £100 a-Year) that Sr J: Frederick gave him. what's worse, for the Sake of this little nasty Thing (I am told) he is determined to suppress a Work, that would have made a great Noise, or publish it all mangled & disfigured, & this when he has (I am assured) near 700£ a-year of his own already, & might live independent, & easy, and speak his Mind in the Face of the whole World Clerical and Laïcal. such a Passion have some Men to lick the Dust, & be trampled upon. the Fellow-Com[mo]ners (the Bucks) are run mad, they set Women upon their Heads in the Streets at [noon] day, break open Shops, game in the Coffee-houses on Sundays, & in short act after my [own] Heart.

My Works are not so considerable as you imagine. I have read Pausania[s and Athe]næus all thro', & Æschylus again. I am now in Pindar & Lysias: for I take Verse and Prose together, like Bread & Cheese. the Chronology is growing daily. the most noble of my Performances latterly is a Pôme on the uncommon Death of Mr W:s Cat. wch being of a proper Size & Subject for a Gentleman in your Condition to peruse (besides that I flatter myself, Miss — will give her Judgement upon it too), I herewith send you. it won't detain you long.

On a favourite Cat, call'd Selima, that fell into a China Tub with Gold-Fishes in it & was drown'd

'Twas on a lofty Vase's Side,
Where China's gayest Art had dyed
The azure Flowers that blow:
Demurest of the Tabby Kind,
The pensive Selima reclined
Gazed on the Lake below.

Her conscious Tail her Joy declared.
The fair round Face, the snowy Beard,
The Velvet of her Paws,
Her Coat, that with the Tortoise vyes,
Her Ears of Jett, & Emerald Eyes
She saw, & purr'd Applause.

Still had she gazed, but 'midst the Tide
Two angel-Forms were seen to glide,
The Genii of the Stream:
Their scaly Armour's Tyrian Hue
Thro' richest Purple to the View
Betray'd a golden Gleam.

The hapless Nymph with Wonder saw.
A Whisker first, & then a Claw,
With many an ardent Wish,
She stretch'd in vain to reach the Prize.
What female Heart can Gold despise?
What Cat's averse to Fish?

Presumptuous Maid! with Eyes intent
Again she stretch'd, again she bent
Nor knew the Gulph between.
Malignant Fate sate by, & smiled.
The slippery Verge her Feet beguiled:
She tumbled headlong in.

Eight Times emergeing from the Flood
She mew'd to ev'ry watry God
Some speedy Aid to send
No Dolphin came, no Nereïd stirr'd,
Nor cruel Tom, nor Harry heard.
A Fav'rite has no Friend!

From hence, ye Beauties, undeceiv'd
Know, one false Step is ne'er retrieved,
And be with Caution bold.
Not all, that strikes your wand'ring Eyes,
And heedless Hearts is lawful Prize,
Nor all, that glisters, Gold.

[Adieu] my dear Sr, I am ever Yours,
T G:

Trollope is in Town still at his Lodgeings, & has been very ill. Brown wrote a month ago to Hayes & Christophn: but has had no Answer, whither or no, they shall be here at the Commencement. can you tell? Morley is going to be married to a grave & stayed Maiden of 30 Years old with much Pelf, & his own Relation. poor Soul!

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Letter ID: letters.0153 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 30
Addressee: Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794
Addressee's age: 30[?]


Date of composition: [17 March 1747]
Date (on letter): March. Tuesday-Night
Calendar: Julian


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

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.S.; 3 pages, 237 mm x 183 mm
Addressed: To / Dr Thomas Wharton of / Durham (postmark: CAMBRIDGE)


Language: English
Incipit: You ask me, what I would answer in case any one should ask me...
Mentioned: Athenæus
Brown, James, 1709-1784
Middleton, Conyers
Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes
Smart, Christopher
Stonhewer, Richard, 1728-1809
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797

Holding Institution

Egerton MS 2400, ff. 19-20, Manuscripts collection, British Library , London, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes

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, section iv, 206
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XIV, vol. ii, 179-182
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter XIX, vol. iii, 40-45
  • 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. LXXV, vol. i, 158-162
  • 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. 135, vol. i, 272-279