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Thomas Gray to Thomas Wharton, [November 1769]

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(Journal continued).

Oct: 3. The hills here are cloth'd all up their steep sides with oak, ash, birch, holly, &c: some of it has been cut 40 years ago, some within these 8 years, yet all is sprung again green, flourishing, & tall for its age, in a place where no soil appears but the staring rock, & where a man could scarce stand upright.

Met a civil young Farmer overseeing his reapers (for it is oat-harvest here) who conducted us to a neat white house in the village of Grange, wch is built on a rising ground in the midst of a valley. round it the mountains form an aweful amphitheatre, & thro' it obliquely runs the Darwent clear as glass, & shewing under it's bridge every trout, that passes. beside the village rises a round eminence of rock cover'd entirely with old trees, & over that more proudly towers Castle-crag, invested also with wood on its sides, & bearing on its naked top some traces of a fort said to be Roman. by the side of this hill, wch almost blocks up the way, the valley turns to the left & contracts its dimensions, till there is hardly any road but the rocky bed of the river. the wood of the mountains increases & their summits grow loftier to the eye, & of more fantastic forms: among them appear Eagle's-cliff, Dove's-nest, Whitedale-pike, &c: celebrated names in the annals of Keswick. the dale opens about four miles higher till you come to Sea-Whaite (where lies the way mounting the hills to the right, that leads to the Wadd-mines ) all farther access is here barr'd to prying Mortals, only there is a little path winding over the Fells, & for some weeks in the year passable to the Dale's-men; but the Mountains know well, that these innocent people will not reveal the mysteries of their ancient kingdom, the reign of Chaos & old Night. only I learn'd, that this dreadful road dividing again leads one branch to Ravenglas, & the other to Hawkshead.

For me I went no farther than the Farmer's (better than 4 m: from Keswick) at Grange: his Mother & he brought us butter, that Siserah would have jump'd at, tho' not in a lordly dish, bowls of milk, thin oaten-cakes, & ale; & we had carried a cold tongue thither with us. our Farmer was himself the Man, that last year plunder'd the Eagle's eirie: all the dale are up in arms on such an occasion, for they lose abundance of lambs yearly, not to mention hares, partridge, grous, &c: he was let down from the cliff in ropes to the shelf of rock, on wch the nest was built, the people above shouting & hollowing to fright the old birds, wch flew screaming round, but did not dare to attack him. he brought off the eaglet (for there is rarely more than one) & an addle egg. the nest was roundish & more than a yard over, made of twigs twisted together. seldom a year passes but they take the brood or eggs, & sometimes they shoot one, sometimes the other Parent, but the surviver has always found a mate (probably in Ireland) & they breed near the old place. by his description I learn, that this species is the Erne (the Vultur Albicilla of Linnæus in his last edition, but in yours Falco Albicilla) so consult him & Pennant about it.

Walk'd leisurely home the way we came, but saw a new landscape: the features indeed were the same in part, but many new ones were disclosed by the mid-day Sun, & the tints were entirely changed. take notice this was the best or perhaps the only day for going up Skiddaw, but I thought it better employ'd: it was perfectly serene, & hot as midsummer.

In the evening walk'd alone down to the Lake by the side of Crow-Park after sunset & saw the solemn colouring of night draw on, the last gleam of sunshine fading away on the hill-tops, the deep serene of the waters, & the long shadows of the mountains thrown across them, till they nearly touch'd the hithermost shore. at distance heard the murmur of many waterfalls not audible in the day-time. wish'd for the Moon, but she was dark to me & silent, hid in her vacant interlunar cave.

Oct: 4. Wd E:, clouds & sunshine, & in the course of the day a few drops of rain. Walk'd to Crow-park, now a rough pasture, once a glade of ancient oaks, whose large roots still remain on the ground, but nothing has sprung from them. if one single tree had remain'd, this would have been an unparallel'd spot, & Smith judged right, when he took his print of the Lake from hence, for it is a gentle eminence, not too high, on the very margin of the water & commanding it from end to end, looking full into the gorge of Borodale. I prefer it even to Cockshut-hill, wch lies beside it, & to wch I walk'd in the afternoon: it is cover'd with young trees both sown & planted, oak, spruce, scotch-fir, &c: all wch thrive wonderfully. there is an easy ascent to the top, & the view far preferable to that on Castle-hill (wch you remember) because this is lower & nearer to the Lake: for I find all points, that are much elevated, spoil the beauty of the valley, & make its parts (wch are not large) look poor & diminutive. while I was here, a little shower fell, red clouds came marching up the hills from the east, & part of a bright rainbow seem'd to rise along the side of Castle-hill.

From hence I got to the Parsonage a little before Sunset, & saw in my glass a picture, that if I could transmitt to you, & fix it in all the softness of its living colours, would fairly sell for a thousand pounds. this is the sweetest scene I can yet discover in point of pastoral beauty. the rest are in a sublimer style.

(to be continued without end.)

P:S: I beg your pardon, but I have no franks. the quill arrived very safe, & doubtless is a very snug and commodious method of travelling, for one of the rarities was alive & hearty, & was three times plunged in spirits, before I could get it to die. you are much improved in observation, for a common eye would certainly take it for a pismire. the place of its birth, form of ye antennae, & abdomen, particularly the long aculeus under it, shew it to be a Cynips (look among the Hymenoptera) not yet compleat, for the 4 wings do not yet appear, that I see. it is not a species described by Linnæus, tho' he mentions others, that breed on the leaves, footstalks, buds, flowers & bark of the Oak. remember me to Mrs Wharton & the family. my love to Str, if he has not left Durham.

Letter ID: letters.0569 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 52
Addressee: Wharton, Thomas, 1717-1794
Addressee's age: 52[?]


Date of composition: [November 1769]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Cambridge, United Kingdom]

Physical description

Form/Extent: A.L.; 4 pages, 223 mm x 180 mm


Language: English
Incipit: Oct: 3. The hills here are cloth'd all up their steep sides with oak,...
Mentioned: Borrowdale
Crow Park
Derwent, River
Pennant, Thomas

Holding Institution

Egerton MS 2400, ff. 195-196, Manuscripts collection, British Library , London, UK <>
Availability: The original letter is extant and usually available for academic research purposes

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 iv, section v, 357-360
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, section V, journal 3, letter VII, vol. ii, 526-531
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, section V, letter VIII, vol. iv, 149-154
  • 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, journal 3, vol. iii, 239-243
  • 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. 508*, vol. iii, 1087-1091