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Thomas Gray to William Mason, 19 December 1757

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Dear Mason

Tho' I very well know the bland emollient saponaceous qualities both of Sack & Silver, yet if any great Man would say to me, 'I make you Rat-Catcher to his Majesty with a salary of 300£ a-year & two Butts of the best Malaga; and tho' it has been usual to catch a mouse or two (for form's sake) in publick once a year, yet to You, Sr, we shall not stand upon these things'. I can not say, I should jump at it. nay, if they would drop the very name of the Office, & call me Sinecure to the Kg's majesty I should still feel a little awkward, & think every body, I saw, smelt a Rat about me: but I do not pretend to blame any one else, that has not the same sensations. for my part I would rather be Serjeant-Trumpeter, or Pin-Maker to the Palace. nevertheless I interest myself a little in the History of it, & rather wish somebody may accept it, that will retrieve the credit of the thing, if it be retrievable, or ever had any credit. Rowe was, I think, the last Man of character that had it. as to Settle, whom you mention, he belong'd to my Ld Mayor, not to the King. Eusden was a Person of great hopes in his youth, tho' at last he turned out a drunken Parson. Dryden was as disgraceful to the Office from his character, as the poorest Scribler could have been from his verses. [In sh]ort the office itself has always humbled the Pos[sess]or hitherto (even in an age, when Kings were somebody) if he were a poor Writer by making him more conspicuous, and if he were a good one, by setting him at war with the little fry of his own profession, for there are poets little enough to envy even a Poet-Laureat.

I am obliged to you for your news, pray send me some more, & better of the sort. I can tell you nothing in return, so your generosity will be the greater. only Dick is going to give up his rooms, & live at Ashwell. Mr Treasurer sets Sr M:w Lambe at naught, & says, he has sent him reasons half a sheet at a time; & Mr Brown attests his veracity, as an eye-witness. I have had nine pages of criticism on the Bard sent me in an anonymous letter, directed to the Revd Mr G: at Strawberry-Hill, & if I have a mind to hear as much more on the other Ode, I am told, where I may direct. he seems a good sensible Man, & I dare say, a Clergyman. he is very frank, & indeed much ruder, than he means to be.

Adieu, Dear Mason, & believe, that I am too.
Letter ID: letters.0298 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 41
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 33


Date of composition: 19 December 1757
Date (on letter): Dec: 19. 1757
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]


Language: English
Incipit: Tho' I very well know the bland emollient saponaceous qualities both of...
Mentioned: Butler, J., Mr
Dryden, John
Eusden, Laurence
Rowe, Nicholas
Settle, Elkanah

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, section iv, 258-259
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CXVI, vol. iv, 5-6
  • 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 XXVII, 112-115
  • 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. CLVI, vol. i, 372-375
  • 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. 259, vol. ii, 543-545