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Thomas Gray to James Brown, [1 or 8 October 1764]

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Dear Sr

I received your letter, before I left London, & sit down to write to you after the finest walk in the finest day, that ever shone, to Netley-Abbey, my old friend, with whom I long'd to renew my acquaintance. my Ferryman (for one passes over a little arm of the sea about 1/2 a mile) assured me, he would not go near it in the night-time for all the world, tho' he knew much money had been found there. the sun was all too glaring & too full of gauds for such a scene, wch ought to be visited only in the dusk of the evening. it stands in a little quiet valley, wch gradually rises behind the ruin into a half-circle crown'd with thick wood. before it on a descent is a thicket of oaks, that serves to veil it from the broad day & from profane eyes, only leaving a peep on both sides, where the sea appears glittering thro' the shade, & vessels with their white sails, that glide across & are lost again. concealed behind the thicket stands a little Castle (also in ruins) immediately on the shore, that commands a view over an expanse of sea clear & smooth as glass (when I saw it), with Southampton & several villages 3 miles off to the right, Calshot-Castle at 7 miles distance, & the high lands of the Isle of Wight to the left, & in front the deep shades of the New-Forest distinctly seen, because the water is no more than three miles over. the Abbey was never very large. the shell of its church is almost entire, but the pillars of the iles are gone, & the roof has tumbled in, yet some little of it is left in the transept, where the ivy has forced its way thro', & hangs flaunting down among the fretted ornaments & escutcheons of the Benefactors. much of the lodgings & offices are also standing, but all is overgrown with trees & bushes, & mantled here & there with ivy, that mounts over the battlements.

In my way I saw Winchester-Cathedral again with pleasure, and sup'd with Dr Balguy, who, I perceive, means to govern the Chapter. they give 200£ a year to the Poor of the City: his present scheme is to take away this, for it is only an encouragement to laziness. but what do they mean to do with it? that indeed I omitted to enquire, because I thought, I knew. I saw St Cross too, the almshouse of noble Poverty (so it was call'd), founded by Henry de Blois, & Cardinal Beaufort. it maintains 9 decay'd Footmen, & a Master (Chancellor Hoadley) who has 800£ a year out of it.

This place is still full of Bathers. I know not a Soul, nor have once been at the rooms. the walks all round it are delicious, & so is the weather. lodgings very dear & fish very cheap. here is no Coffeehouse, no Bookseller, no Pastry-Cook: but here is the Duke of Chandos. I defer my politicks. My service to Mr Talbot, Gould, &c., & to Mr Howe, if with you.

Letter ID: letters.0445 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 47
Addressee: Brown, James, 1709-1784
Addressee's age: 55[?]


Date of composition: [1 or 8 October 1764]
Date (on letter): Monday
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Southampton, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Southampton, at Mr Vining's, Plumber, in High-Steet - - - - -

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.; 2 pages, 226 mm x 188 mm


Language: English
Incipit: I received your letter, before I left London, & sit down to write to you...
Mentioned: Calshot Castle
How, William Taylor, d. 1777
Isle of Wight
Netley Abbey
New Forest
St. Cross Hospital
Talbot, William, d. 1811

Holding Institution

Add. MSS 19918, f. 17, Manuscripts collection, British Library , London, UK <>
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 LXXXVI, 328-330
  • 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. CCLX, vol. iii, 40-42
  • 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. 392, vol. ii, 843-844