Norton Nicholls to Thomas Gray, 14 June 1769
I know you think that I have entirely neglected botany, or you would have had twenty troublesome letters before now; but this is not entirely the case, as my journal will witness for me when you see it. I have indeed met with severe rebuffs and discouragements, and difficulties that almost reduced me to despair; but I believe it is because I ventured beyond my strength, and expected to make out readily every wild flower I found, instead of condescending to take my garden for a master, and learn gradually the botanical characters from flowers I know; which seems more reasonable than endeavouring to discover the others by characters I have not yet learnt. I have not writ to ask questions, because there would be no end of it, and I am sure I should never make you understand me except I enclosed the plant. But I have had innumerable to ask if you had been at my elbow. Having nothing to say myself, I waited for some time rather in expectation of hearing some news of the Ode, which I long most impatiently to see; Oh! whilst I remember it, (to set my conscience at ease) I must tell you that some time ago I received a letter from Woodyer the bookseller, (to acknowledge the receipt of some money I sent him) in which there was a postscript longer than the letter itself, to say how much obliged &c. he should be if, by my interposition, he (Woodyer) might be admitted to a share in the sale of the Ode said to be yours, if it should be printed, for that it would sell prodigiously. Unto which, his most humble request, I have so far graciously condescended as (not answering his letter, because that would divulge the secret which is already public) to make it known to you. Thus much I have done, because as he did me the honour of preferring me, I was not certain whether in justice I could suppress it entirely; how just or reasonable the request itself may be I know not, and so I wash my hands of him and ask pardon.
Why will you mention Skiddaw or any such insolent mountain to me who live within two miles of the sea and cannot see it till I come within two yards of it? think of me when you listen to the sound of Lawdoor waterfall, or wander among the rocks of Borrowdale, and send an eagle to fetch me from Dorsetshire and deliver me from the naked downs. Alas! alas! when shall we live among the Grisons? visit the Bishop of Coire? or pass a summer at Chiavenna?
I have been very idle (that you will not be surprised to hear) except in my garden, and there very diligent, very much amused, very much interested, and perfectly dirty with planting, transplanting &c. and with tolerable success. Besides I have now free access, and an open firm descent to my lake, and a very shady little walk that winds a little way close on its bank; and have planted weeping willows, and poplars, and alders, and sallows; and shall expect you next summer to come and find fault, and sit in the shade.
I am just reading Mémoires de Sully, which please me extremely, more than almost any thing; and particularly what I read a few minutes ago, the surprise of the fortress of Fescamp by Bois Rosé. You remember the fifty men hanging by a rope midway of a perpendicular rock six hundred feet high, and the sea at bottom rising till it set the boats that brought them adrift, and prevented the possibility of their returning. Fear seizing the foremost man, and Bois Rosé (who was last of the train) climbing over the backs of the fifty to lead them on. It is told with all its circumstances more like the surprise of Platæa or other such descriptions in Thucydides, than a French writer.
Dr. Marriott has not writ, and is, I hear, to have his house full of foreign ambassadors; so our Cambridge journey is at an end. We shall set out from hence about the middle of July for the west; but I beseech you let me hear first from you; and .... from Keswick it would really be cruel to refuse me a line, though you will not write from ..... or Cambridge.
I should be extremely obliged to you if you would once more lend me your book of Wilton, if you could send it by the fly, to be left at Payne's at the Meuse Gate for me till I call; and add necessary instructions for the country about Southampton, for that must be my Keswick this year.
Adieu! I really want to hear a little oftener from you; if I thought writing about nothing, on my part, would have any effect, that should not stand in the way.
My mother's compliments.
- The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, letter XIX, vol. v, 88-91
- 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. 498, vol. iii, 1062-1064