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William Mason to Thomas Gray, 25 January 1759

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Dear Sir.

I sent an impatient letter to you (to use Mrs. Mincings Epithet to dinner) at Stoke, & the day after it went, recd yours from London, with its accompanyment of Criticisms; for wch a thank severally, & ten a peice for evry emendation, that is to say evry alteration. Yet I can't help thinking that if you had not seen the joint critique from Prior park, you would not have judgd so hardly of some of my new lines. True, I did not think evry thing that all my Criticks have remarkd necessary to be alterd, yet I alterd them for this reason, Criticks like Indians are proud of the number of scalps they make in a Manuscript, & if you dont let them scalp theyll do you no service. However it appears I have Scalp'd myself in some places particularly at the beginning. Yet I cannot help thinking that chills the pale plain beneath him is an improvement, yet I can unscalp if you bid me. there is one unfortunate thing wch attends shewing either a markd or an alterd Manuscript, & you yourself prove it to me; The person that reads it regards only the marks & alterations & considers whether they are right or wrong, & hence a number of faulty Passages in the gross escape his observation. I remember I shewd Caract: this summer to a certain Critick who read it all over, & returnd it me with this single Observation, "I have read it & I think those faults wch are markd with a pencil ought to be alterd." I was surprizd at this because I did not know the Ms was markd at all at that time. I examind it & found here & there about 7 or eight almost invisible little X X. I could not conceive who had done it; I askd Delap if he had, & he cryd peccavi, assuring me he only did it to remember to tell me of some minutiæ wch he thought inaccurate, but that he thought he had almost made them invisible. so quicksighted is the Eye of a Critic!

But to proceed – I agree to allmost all your Criticisms; however they make against me, your absolution from Madors song makes amends for all. Yet I am sorry about the scene between Evelina & Elidurus tis what the generality will think the principal scene, & wch yet is not as it should be. I am afraid of making it more pathetic & yet if it is not so it will not satisfy. I send you with this my third Ode you will find it must be inserted soon after the discription of the Rocking Stone, & the last line of the sheet I send you will connect with this

So certain that in our absolving tongues.

So that a few lines must be cancelld in the copy you have. my reason for this change is that I myself I thought (& no body else) that a Lustration Ode would take up too much time in the place first intended & that the action went on too slow there. I shall therefore shew more of Caractacus himself in the scene subsequent to the next I shall send you; & I am pretty sure that (toute ensembles considerd) this will be an improvement. As to this Ode, I do not expect you to like it so well as you do the 2d, yet I hope 'tis well enough, & will have some effect in the place it comes in. Explicit pars Poesiωs & incipit Pars Chitchatices. I dare not face Rutherforth that saintly Butcher in his purple Robes of Divinity, & therefore, sorely against good Mr Brown's Gizzard, I have given up my fellowship & this post carries my civilities to Dr Long concerning this great resignation. Indeed if I could dispute Black into white like my Uncle Balguy this act would have fallen out too unluckily for me to have thought of keeping it, for I am resolvd not to set my face southward these several Months, not evn if I publish this spring. For Ill either have the sheets sent down to me, or get somebody in town to correct the press, do you think either Dr Wharton or Stonehewer could be prevaild on to take this trouble. You are perpetually twitting me about my motive of Gain, could I write half as well as Rousseau I would prove to you that this is the only motive any reasonable Man should have in this matter, but pray distinguish the matter I mean Gain is not my only motive for writing, God forbid it should; I write for Fame, for Posterity, & all sort of fine things. But Gain is my only motive for Publishing for I publish to the present Age, whom I would fleece if I could like any Cossack Calmuck or Carcolspack. Now do you understand me, & if you do, don't you agree with me?

This resuscitation of Poor Smart pains me, I was in hopes he was safe in that state where the best of us will be better than we are & the worst I hope as little worse as infinite Justice can permit. But is he returnd to his senses? if so I fear that will be more terrible still, pray, if you can dispose of a Guinea so as it will in any sort benefit him (for tis too late for a ticket) give it for me. My best regard to Dr Wharton and Mrs if this finds you there.

You will find from my last letter that Hurd is disposd to gratify the Drs Humanity. Have you seen Jortins Life of Erasmus? Was there ever such a lumbering Slovenly Book? I shant send a pacquet till I hear again from you, dont be long first.

Letter ID: letters.0333 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Writer's age: 34
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 42


Date of composition: 25 January 1759
Date (on letter): Jan: 25th - 59
Calendar: Gregorian


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


Language: English
Incipit: I sent an impatient letter to you (to use Mrs. Mincings Epithet to dinner)...
Mentioned: Congreve, William
Delap, John
Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808
Jortin, John
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Prior Park
Rousseau, Jean Jacques
Smart, Christopher
Stonhewer, Richard, 1728-1809
Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794

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 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 XLII, 171-176
  • 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. CLXXXIV, vol. ii, 74-78
  • 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. 288, vol. ii, 611-614