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Thomas Gray to Thomas Warton, 15 April 1770

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Our Friend Dr. Hurd having long ago desired me in your name to communicate any fragments, or sketches of a design, I once had to give a history of English poetry, you may well think me rude or negligent, when you see me hesitating for so many months, before I comply with your request, and yet (believe me) few of your friends have been better pleased than I to find this subject (surely neither unentertaining, nor unuseful) had fallen into hands so likely to do it justice, few have felt a higher esteem for your talents, your taste, & industry. in truth the only cause of my delay has been a sort of diffidence, that would not let me send you any thing so short, so slight, & so imperfect, as the few materials I had begun to collect, or the observations I had made on them. a sketch of the division & arrangement of the subject however I venture to transcribe, and would wish to know, whether it corresponds in any thing with your own plan, for I am told your first volume is already in the press.


On the poetry of the Galic (or Celtic) nations, as far back as it can be traced.

On that of the Goths: its introduction into these islands by the Saxons & Danes, & its duration. on the origin of rhyme among the Franks, the Saxons, & Provençaux. some account of the Latin rhyming poetry from its early origin down to the 15th Century.

P: 1

On the School of Provence, wch rose about the year 1100, & was soon followed by the French & Italians. their heroic poetry, or romances in verse, Allegories, fabliaux, syrvientes, comedies, farces, canzoni, sonnets, balades, madrigals, sestines, &c:

Of their imitators the French, & of the first Italian School (commonly call'd the Sicilian) about the year 1200 brought to perfection by Dante, Petrarch, Boccace, & others.

State of Poetry in England from the Conquest (1066) or rather from Henry 2d's time (1154) to the reign of Edward the 3d (1327).

P: 2

On Chaucer who first introduced the manner of the Provençaux improved by the Italians into our country. his character & merits at large; the different kinds in wch he excell'd. Gower, Occleve, Lydgate, Hawes, G: Douglas, Lindsay, Bellenden, Dunbar, &c:

P: 3

Second Italian School (of Ariosto, Tasso, &c:) an improvement on the first, occasion'd by the revival of letters the end of the 15th century. The lyric poetry of this & the former age introduced from Italy by Ld Surrey, Sr T. Wyat, Bryan, Ld Vaux, &c: in the beginning of the 16th century.

Spenser, his character. Subject of his poem allegoric & romantic, of Provençal invention: but his manner of [treating] it borrow'd from the Second Italian School. Drayton, Fairfax, Phin: Fletcher, Golding, Phaer, &c: this school ends in Milton.

A third Italian School, full of conceit, begun in Q: Elizabeths reign, continued under James, & Charles the first by Donne, Crashaw, Cleveland; carried to its height by Cowley, & ending perhaps in Sprat.

P: 4

School of France, introduced after the Restoration. Waller, Dryden, Addison, Prior, & Pope, wch has continued down to our own times.

You will observe, that my idea was in some measure taken from a scribbled paper of Pope, of wch (I believe) you have a copy. you will also see that I have excluded dramatic Poetry entirely wch if you have taken in, it will at least double the bulk & labour of your book.

[           ]

I am, sir, with great esteem, your most humble and obedient servant,
Letter ID: letters.0596 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Writer's age: 53
Addressee: Warton, Thomas, 1728-1790
Addressee's age: 42


Date of composition: 15 April 1770
Date (on letter): 15 April. 1770
Calendar: Gregorian


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


Language: English
Incipit: Our Friend Dr. Hurd having long ago desired me in your name to communicate...
Mentioned: Hurd, Dr. Richard
Hurd, Richard, 1720-1808
Mason, William, 1724-1797
Pope, Alexander
Warton, Thomas, 1728-1790

Holding Institution

Availability: The original letter is unlocated, a copy, transcription, or published version survives; a copy of the letter is in Add. MSS 42560, ff. 219-220, Manuscripts collection, British Library, London, UK

Print Versions

  • Gentleman's Magazine, Feb. 1783, vol. liii, 100
  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 2 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: J. Mawman, 1816, appendix D., vol. i, lxxxviii-xc
  • 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. CCCLXII, vol. iii, 276-279
  • 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. 518, vol. iii, 1122-1125