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Thomas Gray to Norton Nicholls, 19 November 1764

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To Norton Nicholls Esq at Charles Floyer's Esq of Hollinclose-Hall near Rippon Yorkshire
20 NO


I received your letter at Southampton, & as I would wish to treat every body according to their own rule & measure of good-breeding, have against my inclination waited till now, before I answer'd it, purely out of fear & respect, & an ingenuous diffidence of my own abilities. if you will not take this as an excuse, accept it at least as a well-turn'd period, wch is always my principal concern.

So I proceed to tell you, that my health is much improved by the sea; not that I drank of it, or bathed in it, as the common people do: no! I only walk'd by it, & look'd upon it. the climate is remarkably mild, even in Octob: & November. no snow has been seen to lie there for these 30 years past. the myrtles grow in the ground against the houses, & Guernsey-Lillies bloom in every window. the Town clean & well-built, surrounded by its old stone-walls with their towers & gateways, stands at the point of a peninsula, & opens full south to an arm of the sea, wch having form'd two beautiful bays on each hand of it stretches away in direct view till it joins the British Channel. it is skirted on either side with gently-rising grounds cloath'd with thick wood, & directly cross its mouth rise the high lands of the Isle of Wight at distance, but distinctly seen. in the bosom of the woods (conceal'd from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netteleyabbey. there may be richer & greater houses of religion, but the Abbot is content with his situation. see there at the top of that hanging meadow under the shade of those old trees, that bend into a half-circle about it, he is walking slowly (good Man!) & bidding his beads for the souls of his Benefactors, interr'd in that venerable pile, that lies beneath him. beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks, that mask the building, & have excluded a view too garish, & too luxuriant for a holy eye, only on either hand they leave an opening to the blew glittering sea. did not you observe how, as that white sail shot by & was lost, he turn'd & cross'd himself, to drive the Tempter from him, that had thrown that distraction in his way. I should tell you, that the Ferryman, who row'd me, a lusty young Fellow, told me, that he would not for all the world pass a night at the Abbey, (there were such things seen near it,) tho' there was a power of money hid there. from thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, & Stone-Henge, but of these things I say no more: they will be publish'd at the University-Press.

I have been at London this month, that tiresome dull place! where all people under thirty find so much amusement. the Opera with Manzuoli in it opens on Saturday, & I go to C: the Wednesday preceding. the Ministry are all together by the ears, so are the Opposition: the only doubt is wch will be the weakest: I am afraid, I know. the sentence of Alma-Mater, of the North-Briton, & of D'Eon are defer'd. in the mean time Du-Vergy, the Adventurer, who enraged D'Eon almost to madness, & has been in jail (for debt) eversince December last, having regain'd his liberty by the help (he says) of his countrymen declares upon oath, that he was sent from France with a half-promise of being declared Secretary to the Embassy, that he might se servir de son epée, if occasion were, against D'Eon, or at least urge him to do something, that might for ever disgrace him. he gives a detail of all his private conversations with G: & others on this head. Mons: de G: is (I hear) much troubled, declares the whole a lye, but what is he to do? must he have another Plaidoyer in our Courts against this Scoundrel? and indeed from his own narrative he appears to be no better, tho' it is interlarded with fine French sentiment about justice & virtue, & honour, & such like.

I had prepared a finer period than the other to finish with, but d – mn it! I have somehow mislaid it among my papers. you shall certainly have it next summer. how can people subscribe such a devil of a name (I warrant) you call it a christian-name, to their letters as you do? I always thought at times I had a small matter of aversion for you mechanically arising in me, & doubtless this was the reason. fie, fie, put on a white satten-mantle, & be carried to church again. however, I forgive you for your Rippon-history's sake. Adieu! I shall almost be glad to see you again.

T G:

Your friend Dr. M: came very kindly to see me, as soon as he had taken possession of his new Mastership, & return'd me his thanks for my civilities to you. so never say any more on that head: you see I am paid.

Letter ID: letters.0449 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 47
Addressee: Nicholls, Norton, c. 1742-1809
Addressee's age: 22[?]


Date of composition: 19 November 1764
Date (on letter): Monday. 19 Nov: 1764
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [London, United Kingdom]
Place of addressee: [Ripon, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.S.; 3 pages
Addressed: To Norton Nicholls Esq at Charles Floyer's Esq of Hollinclose-Hall near Rippon Yorkshire (postmark: 20 NO)


Language: English
Incipit: I received your letter at Southampton, & as I would wish to treat...
Mentioned: North Briton
Isle of Wight
Netley Abbey

Holding Institution

College Library, Eton College , Windsor, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; bound into a copy of Mathias's Works of Thomas Gray (London, 1814), vol. II, part 2; a photocopy is at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, OSB MSS c 467, box 1, folder 45

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 vi, section v, 380-382
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section V, letter VI, vol. i, 473-475
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter CXV, vol. ii, 436-438
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXLVI, vol. ii, 167-170
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CXXVI, vol. iv, 36-39
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, letter I, vol. v, 57-60
  • 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. CCLXIV, vol. iii, 51-54
  • 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. 397, vol. ii, 851-855