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J. Butler to Thomas Gray, [c. 23 January 1758]

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A poet is perhaps never more conciliating than when he praises favourite predecessors in his art. Milton is not more the pride than Shakespear the love of their country: It is therefore equally judicious to diffuse a tenderness and a grace through the praise of Shakespear, as to extol in a strain more elevated and sonorous the boundless soarings of Milton's epic imagination.

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I quit this Ode with the strongest conviction of its abundant merit; though I took it up, (for this last attentive perusal) persuaded that it was not a little inferior to the other. They are not the treasures of imagination only that have so copiously enriched it: It speaks, but surely less feelingly than the Bard, (still my favourite) to the heart. Can we in truth be equally interested, for the fabulous exploded Gods of other nations (celebrated in the first half of this Ode) as by the story of our own Edwards and Henrys, or allusions to it? Can a description, the most perfect language ever attained to, of tyranny expelling the muses from Parnassus, seize the mind equally with the horrors of Berkley Castle, with the apostrophe to the tower?

And spare the meek Usurper's holy head!

I do not mean, however, wholly to decry fabulous subjects or allusions, nor more than to suggest the preference due to historical ones, where happily the Poet's fertile imagination supplies him with a plentiful choice of both kinds, and he finds himself capable of treating both, according to their respective natures, with equal advantage.

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Letter ID: letters.0306 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Butler, J., Mr
Writer's age: [u
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 41


Date of composition: [c. 23 January 1758]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Andover, United Kingdom]


Language: English
Incipit: A poet is perhaps never more conciliating than when he praises...

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, imitations, variations, and additional notes, 88, 90-91
  • 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. 265*, vol. ii, 558-559