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Thomas Gray to James Beattie, 12 August 1767

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To Mr Professor Beattie of the Marischal College Aberdeen


I received from Mr Williamson that very obliging mark you were pleased to give me of your remembrance. had I not entertain'd some slight hopes of revisiting Scotland this summer, & consequently of seeing you at Aberdeen, I had sooner acknowledged by letter the favor you have done me. those hopes are now at an end: but I do not therefore despair of seeing again a country, that has given me so much pleasure; nor of telling you in person how much I esteem you, & (as you chuse to call them) your amusements. the specimen of them, wch you were so good to send me, I think excellent. the sentiments are such as a melancholy imagination naturally suggests in solitude & silence, & that (tho' light & business may suspend or banish them at times) return with but so much the greater force upon a feeling heart. the diction is elegant & unconstrain'd, not loaded with epithets & figures, nor flagging into prose. the versification is easy & harmonious. my only objection is to the first part of this line

Perfumed with fresh fragrance &c:

where the consonants are harsh & frequent, tho' the image is good & the words in all other respects well chosen. a Friend of mine, to whom I shew'd these verses, rather blames the choice of your measure, as appropriated to comic, or at most to pastoral subjects: but I do not think his criticism of much weight. you see, Sr, I take the liberty you indulged me in, when I first saw you, & therefore I make no excuses for it, but desire you would take your revenge on me in kind.

I have read over (but too hastily) Mr Ferguson's book. there are uncommon strains of eloquence in it, & I was surprised to find not one single idiom of his country (I think) in the whole work. he has not the fault you mention: his application to the heart is frequent, & often successful. his love of Montesquiou & Tacitus has led him into a manner of writing too short-winded & sententious, wch those great Men had they lived in better times & under a better government would have avoided.

I know no pretence, that I have, to the honor Lord Gray is pleased to do me: but if his Ldp chuses to own me, it certainly is not my business to deny it. I say not this merely on account of his quality: but because he is a very worthy & accomplish'd Person. I am truly sorry for the great loss he has had, since I left Scotland. if you should chance to see him, I will beg you to present my respectful humble service to his Lordship.

I gave Mr Williamson all the information I was able in the short time he stay'd with me. he seem'd to answer well the character you gave me of him: but what I chiefly envied in him was his ability of walking all the way from Aberdeen to Cambridge, & back again, wch if I possess'd, you would soon see

Your obliged & faithful humble Servant
Letter ID: letters.0508 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 50
Addressee: Beattie, James, 1735-1803
Addressee's age: 31


Date of composition: 12 August 1767
Date (on letter): 12 Aug: 1767
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: Durham, United Kingdom
Address (on letter): Old-Park, near Darlington, Durham
Place of addressee: [Aberdeen, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Addressed: To Mr Professor Beattie of the Marischal College Aberdeen (postmark: DUNDEE)


Language: English
Incipit: I received from Mr Williamson that very obliging mark you were pleased...
Mentioned: Aberdeen University
Beattie, James, 1735-1803
Ferguson, Adam
Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794

Holding Institution

AU MS 30/24/6/3, AU MS 30, Papers of James Beattie (1735-1803), Historic Collections, Special Libraries and Archives, King's College, University of Aberdeen Library , Aberdeen, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes; a photostat is in MS. Toynbee d.32, Bodleian Library, Oxford

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 lv, section iv, 325-327
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by Thomas James Mathias. London: William Bulmer, 1814, section IV, letter LV, vol. i, 424-426
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section IV, letter CXXX, vol. ii, 479-481
  • The Letters of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. in one. London: J. Sharpe, 1819, letter CXXXI, vol. ii, 108-110
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section IV, letter CXLI, vol. iv, 87-89
  • 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. CCCX, vol. iii, 156-157
  • 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, 282-283
  • 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. 452, vol. iii, 974-975