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Thomas Gray to William Mason, [8 October 1763]

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Dear Mason

I rejoice. but has she common sense, is she a Gentlewoman? has she money? has she a nose? I know, she sings a little, & twiddles on the harpsichord, hammers at sentiment, & puts herself in an attitude, admires a cast in the eye, & can say Elfrida by heart: but these are only the virtues of a Maid. do, let her have some wifelike qualities, & a double portion of prudence, as she will have not only herself to govern, but you also, & that with an absolute sway. your Friends, I doubt not, will suffer for it: however we are very happy, & have no other wish than to see you settled in the world. we beg you would not stand fiddleing about it, but be married forthwith, & then take chaise, and come consummating all the way to Cambridge to be touch'd by Mr Brown, & so to London, where to be sure she must pass the first winter. if good reasons (& not your own, nor her Coquetry) forbid this: yet come hither yourself, for our Copuses and Welch Rabbets are impatient for you.

I have compared Helvetius & Elfrida, and find thirteen parallel passages, five of which at least are so direct & close, as to leave no shadow of a doubt, & therefore confirm all the rest. it is a Phænomenon, that you will be in the right to inform yourself about, & that I long to understand. another Phænomenon is, that I read it without finding it out. All I remember is, that I thought it not at all English, & did not much like it; and the reason is plain; for the lyric flights & choral flowers suited not at all with the circumstances or character, as he had contrived it.

I sent your letter to Algarotti directly. my Coserelle came a long while ago: from Mr Holles, I suppose; who sent me (without a name), a set of his engravings, when I was last in Town, wch (I reckon) is what you mean by your fine presents. the Congresso di Citera was not one of the books: that was my mistake. I like his treatises very well.

I hope in God the dedicatorial Sonnet has not staid for me. I object nothing to the 2d line, but like it the better for Milton, and with him I would read in penult: (give me a shilling) his ghastly smile, &c.: but if you won't put it in, then read wonted smile, & a little before secure from envy. I see nothing to alter. what I said was the best line is the best line still. do come hither, & I will read and criticize

Your amorous ditties all a winter's day.

Adieu! I am truly Yours. I hope her hair is not red tho'.

I have been abroad, or I had wrote sooner.

Letter ID: letters.0432 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 46
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 39


Date of composition: [8 October 1763]
Date (on letter): [Saturday. Oct:]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Pemb: Coll:


Language: English
Incipit: I rejoice. but has she common sense, is she a Gentlewoman? has she money?...
Mentioned: Algarotti, Francesco, Conte, 1712-1764
Algarotti, Francesco, Conte, 1712-1764
Brown, James, 1709-1784
Mason, William, 1724-1797

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, 296-299
  • 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 XCV, 351-353
  • 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. CCLXVIII, vol. iii, 68-69
  • 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, 275
  • 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. 379, vol. ii, 821-823