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Thomas Gray to William Mason, 5 October 1766

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Dear Mason

I was going to write to you, when I received your letter, and on the same subject. the first news I had was from St: on the 23d. of Sept: in these words:

'This morning Dr B: dispatch'd himself: he had been for several days past very low-spirited, & within the last two or three talk'd of the necessity of dying in such a manner as to alarm the people about him: they removed as they thought every thing, that might serve his purpose. but he had contrived to get at a razor unknown to them, & took the advantage of a minute's absence of his servants to make use of it.' I wrote to him again (I suspect, he knows our secret, tho' not from me) to make farther enquiries, & he says, 27 Sept:, 'I have tried to find out, whether there was any appearance or cause of discontent in B:, but can hear of none. a bodily complaint of the gouty kind, that fell upon his nerves & affected his spirits in a very great degree is all that I can get any information of; & I am told besides, that he was some years ago in the same dejected way, & under the care of proper attendants.' Mr. W: too in answer to a letter I had written to enquire after his health after giving an account of himself, while under the care of Pringle, adds, 'He (Pringle) had another Patient at the same time, who has ended very unhappily, that poor Dr B:. the unfortunate Man apprehended himself going mad, & two nights after cut his throat in bed.' this is all I know at present of the matter. I have told it you literally, & I conceal nothing. as I go to town tomorrow, if I learn any thing more, you shall soon hear from me. in the mean time I think we may fairly conclude, that if he had had any other cause added to his constitutional infirmity, it would have been uppermost in his mind: he would have talk'd or raved about it, & the first thing we should have heard of, would have been this, wch (I do assure you) I have never heard from any body. there is in this neighbourhood a Mr Wale, who once was in the Russia-trade & married a Woman of that country: he always maintain'd, that Dr B: would never go thither, whatever he might pretend; & that tho' fond of the glory of being invited thither, he would certainly find or make a pretence for staying at home. very possibly therefore he might have engaged himself so far, that he knew not how to draw back with honour; or might have received rough words from the Russian Minister offended with his prevarication. this supposition is at least as likely as yours; added to what I have said before, much more so: if it be necessary to suppose any other cause than the lunatick disposition of the Man. and yet I will not disguise to you, that I felt as you do on the first news of this sad accident, & had the same uneasy ideas about it.

I am sorry the cause you mention should be the occasion of your coming to London: tho' perhaps change of air may do more than medicine. in this length of time I should think you must be fully apprised, whether her looks or strength or embon-point have suffer'd by this cough: if not; surely there is no real danger. yet I do not wonder, she should wish to get rid of so troublesome a companion.

When I can meet with the book, I will transcribe what you mention from Mallet. I shall write again soon. do you know of any great, or at least rich, family that want a young Man worth his weight in gold to take care of their eldest hope. if you do, remember I have such a one, or shall have (I fear) shortly to sell: but they must not stand haggling about him, & besides they must be very good sort of people too, or they shall not have him.

Adieu! my respects to Mrs Mason. I am ever
Sincerely Yours.

Mr Brown desires his best compliments to you both.

Letter ID: letters.0483 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 49
Addressee: Mason, William, 1724-1797
Addressee's age: 42


Date of composition: 5 October 1766
Date (on letter): 5 Oct: 1766
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Cambridge, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): P: Hall


Language: English
Incipit: I was going to write to you, when I received your letter, and on the same subject....
Mentioned: Mallet, Paul Henri
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Nicholls, Norton, c. 1742-1809
Stonhewer, Richard, 1728-1809
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797

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 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 XCVIII, 359-362
  • 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. CCLXXXVII, vol. iii, 120-122
  • 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. 427, vol. iii, 938-940