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Thomas Gray to Horace Walpole, [20 February 1751]

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My dear Sir,

You have indeed conducted with great decency my little misfortune: you have taken a paternal care of it, and expressed much more kindness than could have been expected from so near a relation. But we are all frail; and I hope to do as much for you another time. Nurse Dodsley has given it a pinch or two in the cradle, that (I doubt) it will bear the marks of as long as it lives. But no matter: we have ourselves suffered under her hands before now; and besides, it will only look the more careless, and by accident as it were. I thank you for your advertisement, which saves my honour, and in a manner bien flatteuse pour moi, who should be put to it even to make myself a compliment in good English.

You will take me for a mere poet, and a fetcher and carrier of singsong, if I tell you that I intend to send you the beginning of a drama, not mine, thank God, as you'll believe, when you hear it is finished, but wrote by a person whom I have a very good opinion of. It is (unfortunately) in the manner of the ancient drama, with choruses, which I am, to my shame, the occasion of; for, as great part of it was at first written in that form, I would not suffer him to change it to a play fit for the stage, as he intended, because the lyric parts are the best of it, and they must have been lost. The story is Saxon, and the language has a tang of Shakespeare, that suits an old-fashioned fable very well. In short, I don't do it merely to amuse you, but for the sake of the author, who wants a judge, and so I would lend him mine: yet not without your leave, lest you should have us up to dirty our stockings at the bar of your house for wasting the time and politics of the nation.

Adieu, sir!
I am ever yours,
Letter ID: letters.0179 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 34
Addressee: Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797
Addressee's age: 33


Date of composition: [20 February 1751]
Date (on letter): Ash-Wednesday, 1751
Calendar: Julian


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


Language: English
Incipit: You have indeed conducted with great decency my little misfortune: ...
Mentioned: Dodsley, Robert, 1703-1764
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Mason, William, 1724-1797

Holding Institution

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

Print Versions

  • The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, 5 vols. London: G. G. and J. Robinson and J. Edwards, 1798, vol. v, 387
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, appendix, letter IV, vol. i, 543-544
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XXVI, vol. ii, 212-213
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter LXXVII, vol. i, 162-163
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter XXXIII, vol. iii, 80-81
  • 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. XCIII, vol. i, 209-210
  • 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, 164
  • 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. 172, vol. ii, 105-106
  • The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence. Ed. by W. S. Lewis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP; London: Oxford UP, 1937-83, vols. 13/14: Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray, Richard West and Thomas Ashton i, 1734-42, Horace Walpole's Correspondence with Thomas Gray ii, 1745-71, ed. by W. S. Lewis, George L. Lam and Charles H. Bennett, 1948, vol. ii, 46
  • 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. 158, vol. i, 342-343