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Thomas Gray to William Mason, 22 January 1761

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Dear Mason

I am delighted with F: H:s letter, & envy you his friendship: for the foundation of it (I am persuaded) was pure friendship, as far as his Idea of the thing extended, & if one could see his little heart, one should find no vanity there for over-reaching you, & artfully gilding so dirty a pill; but only a degree of self-applause for having done one of the genteelest & handsomest things in the world. I long to see the originals, & (if you have any gratitude) you will publish them in your just volume. alas! there was a time, when he was my Friend, & there was a time (he own'd) when he had been my greatest Enemy. why did I lose both one & the other of these advantages, when at present I could be so happy with either, I care not which? tell him, he may take his choice. it is not from interest I say this, tho' I know he will some time or other be Earl of B:, but purely because I have long been without a Knave & Fool of my own. here is a Bishoprick (St Davids) vacant. can I any how serve him? I hear Dr Ayscough & Dean Squire are his Competitors. God knows, who will go to Ireland: it ought to be somebody, for there is a prodigious to-do there. the cause I have been told, but as I did not understand or attend to it, no wonder if I forgot it. it is somewhat about a Money-bill: perhaps you may know. the Lords-Justices absolutely refuse to comply with what the Government here do insist upon, & even offer to resign their posts. in the mean time none of the Pensions on that establishment are paid. nevertheless two such pensions have been bestow'd within this few weeks, one on your Friend Mrs Anne Pitt (of 500£ a-year) wch she ask'd, & Ld B: got it done immediately: she keeps her place with it. the other (of 400£) to Lady Harry Beauclerc, whose Husband died suddenly, & left her with six or seven children very poorly provided for. the grant was sent her without being asked at all by herself, or any Friend. I have done with my news, because I am told, that there is an Express just set out for Yorkshire, whom you are to meet on the road. I hope, you will not fail to inform him, who is to be his first Chaplain. perhaps you will think it a piece of treachery to do so; or perhaps you will leave the thing to itself in order to make an experiment.

I can not pity you: au contraire I wish I had been at Aston, when I was foolish enough to go thro' the six volumes of the Nouvelle Eloïse. all I can say for myself is, that I was confined for three weeks at home by a severe cold, & had nothing better to do. there is no one event in it, that might not happen any day of the week (separately taken) in any private family. yet these events are so put together, that the series of them is more absurd & more improbable than Amadis de Gaul. the Dramatis Personæ (as the Author says) are all of them good Characters. I am sorry to hear it, for had they been all hang'd at the end of the 3d volume, no body (I believe) would have cared. in short I went on & on in hopes of finding some wonderful denouement that would set all right, & bring something like Nature & Interest out of absurdity & insipidity. no such thing: it grows worse & worse, & (if it be Rousseau, wch is not doubted) is the strongest instance I ever saw, that a very extraordinary Man may entirely mistake his own talents. by the Motto & Preface it appears to be his own story, or something similar to it.

The Opera House is crowded this year like any ordinary Theatre. Elisi is finer than any thing, that has been here in your memory: yet, as I suspect, has been finer than he is. he appears to be near forty, a little pot-bellied & thick-shoulder'd, otherwise no bad figure; his action proper & not ungraceful. we have heard nothing, since I remember Operas, but eternal passages, divisions, & flights of execution. of these he has absolutely none, whether merely from judgement, or a little from age, I will not affirm. his point is expression, & to that all the graces, & ornaments he inserts (wch are few & short) are evidently directed. he goes higher (they say) than Farinelli, but then this celestial note you do not hear above once in a whole Opera; & he falls from this altitude at once to the mellowest, softest, strongest tones (about the middle of his compass) that can be heard. the Mattei (I assure you) is much improved by his example, & by her great success, this winter. but then the Burlettas, & the Paganina – I have not been so pleased with any thing these many years. she too is fat, & about forty, yet handsome withall, & has a face, that speaks the language of all nations. she has not the invention, the fire, & the variety of action, that the Spiletta had, yet she is light, agile, ever in motion, & above all graceful: but then her voice, her ear, her taste in singing! good God – as Mr Richardson the painter says. pray, ask my Lord, for I think I have seen him there once or twice, as much pleased as I was.

I have long thought of reading Jeremy Taylor, for I am persuaded, that chopping Logick in the Pulpit, as our Divines have done eversince the Revolution, is not the thing; but that Imagination & Warmth of expression, are in their place there as much as on the Stage, moderated however & chastised a little by the purity & severity of Religion.

I send you my Receipt for Caviche (Heaven knows, against my conscience) pray, Doctor, will the weakness of one's appetite justify the use of provocatives? in a few years (I suppose) you will desire my receipt for Tincture of Cantharides! I do this the more unwillingly, because I am sensible, that any Man is rich enough to be an Epicure, when he has nobody to entertain but himself.

I am a jamais Yours.
Letter ID: letters.0380 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 44
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 36


Date of composition: 22 January 1761
Date (on letter): Jan: 22. 1761
Calendar: Gregorian


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


Language: English
Incipit: I am delighted with F: H:s letter, & envy you his friendship:...
Mentioned: Amadis de Gaul
Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808
Rousseau, Jean Jacques
Taylor, Jeremy
Verrall, William

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 xli, section iv, 289-290
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter XLI, vol. i, 392-393
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter XCIV, vol. ii, 374-375
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXII, vol. ii, 58-60
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CII, vol. iii, 267-269
  • 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 LXIII, 245-252
  • 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. CCXVII, vol. ii, 191-199
  • 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, 245-247
  • 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. 330, vol. ii, 720-724