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Thomas Gray to William Mason, [11 June 1757]

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Dear Mason

I send you enclosed the breast & merry-thought & guts & garbage of the chicken, wch I have been chewing so long, that I would give the world for neck-beef, or cow-heel. I thought, in spite of Ennui, that the ten last lines would have escaped untouch'd; for all the rest, that I sent you, I know is weakly, & you think so too, but you want them to be printed, & done with. not only Mr H:d, but Mr B:y too, & Neville, have seen them. both these like the first Ode (that has no Tout-Ensemble) the best of the two. and both somehow dislike the conclusion of the Bard, & mutter something about Antithesis & Conceit in To triumph, to die, wch I do not comprehend, & am sure, it is alterd for the better. it was before

Lo! to be free, to die, are mine.

if you like it better so, so let it be. it is more abrupt, & perhaps may mark the action better. or it may be, Lo! Liberty & Death are mine, wch ever you please. but as to breaking the measure, it is not to be thought of. it is an inviolable law of the Medes & Persians. pray, think a little about this conclusion, for all depends upon it. the rest is of little consequence. In bearded majesty was alter'd to of, only because the next line begins with In the midst &c: I understand what you mean about the Verse adorn again, but do not think it signifies much, for there is no mistaking the sense, when one attends to it. That chills the throbbing &c: I dislike, as much as you can do. Horror wild I am forced to strike out, because of wild dismay in the first Stanza. what if we read

With Horrour, Tyrant of the throbbing breast?

why you would alter lost in long futurity I do not see, unless because you think lost & expire are tautologous, or because it looks as if the end of the prophecy were disappointed by it, & that people may think Poetry in Britain was some time or other really to expire: whereas the meaning is only, that it was lost to his ear from the immense distance. I can not give up lost, for it begins with an L. I wish you were here, for I am tired of writing such stuff; & besides I have got the old Scotch ballad, on wch Douglas was founded. it is divine, & as long as from hence to Aston. have you never seen it? Aristotle's best rules are observed in it in a manner, that shews the Author never had heard of Aristotle. it begins in the fifth Act of the Play; you may read it two-thirds through without guessing, what it is about; & yet when you come to the end, it is impossible not to understand the whole story. I send you the two first verses

Gil Morrice was an Erle's Son.
His fame it wexed wide.
It was na for his grete riches,
Nae for his mickle pride:
But it was for a Ladie gay,
That lived on Carron's side.
'Where sall I get a bonny Boy,
'That will win hose & shoon,
'That will gae to Lord Barnard's Ha',
'And bid his Ladie come?
'Ye maun rin this errand, Willie,
'And Ye maun rin with pride:
'When other Boys gae on their feet,
'On horseback Ye sal ride
'Ah na, ah na, my Master dear, &c: &c:

You will observe in the beginning of this thing, I send you, some alterations of a few words, partly for improvement, & partly to avoid repetitions of like words & rhymes, yet I have not got rid of them all. the six last lines of the 5th Stanza are new. tell me, if they will do.

I have seen your friend, the Dean of S:y, here to-day in the Theatre, & thought I should have sp – w'd. I am very glad, you are to be a Court-Chaplain, nevertheless; for I don't think, you need be such a one, indeed I defy you ever to be.

I have now seen your first Chorus new-model'd, & am charmed with it. now I am coming with my hoe; of all things I like your Idea of the sober Sisters, as they meet & whisper, with their ebon & golden rods, on the top of Snowdon. the more, because it seems like a new mythology peculiar to the Druid superstition, & not borrow'd of the Greeks, who have another quite different Moon. but yet I can't allow of the word nod, tho' it pictures the action more livly, than another word would do. yet at the first blush, See the sober Sisters nod, taken alone without regard to the sense, presents a ridiculous image & you must leave no room for such Ideas. besides a word, that is not quite familiar to us in the sense it is used, should never form a rhyme. it may stand in any other part of a line. the rest is much to my palate, except a verse (I have it not now before me) towards the end. I think it is, Float your saffron vestments here. because one does not at once conceive, that float is let them float & besides it is a repetition of the Idea, as you speak of the rustling of their silken draperies before, & I would have every image varied, as the rest are. I do not absolutely like, Hist ye all, only because it is the last line. These are all the faults I have to find; the rest is perfect. I have wrote a long letter of poetry, wch is tiresome, but I could not help it. my service to Mr D:p. Adieu! do write soon. Loves & Compliments. D: For:r's Sister Dolly is dead, & he has got 1400£, & a Man, & two horses. I go to Town next week, if you could write directly, it would be clever: but however direct hither, it will be sent me, if you can't write so soon.

Letter ID: letters.0272 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 40
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 33


Date of composition: [11 June 1757]
Date (on letter): Saturday ... June
Calendar: Gregorian


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


Language: English
Incipit: I send you enclosed the breast & merry-thought & guts & garbage of the chicken,...
Mentioned: Aristotle
Delap, John
Home, John
Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808
Mason, William, 1724-1797
The Bard. A Pindaric Ode

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 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 xxv, section iv, 248-249
  • 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 XIX, 83-88
  • 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. CXLI, vol. i, 334-338
  • 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, 185-189
  • 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. 239, vol. ii, 503-507