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Norton Nicholls to Thomas Gray, [28 November 1770]

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God forbid that I should claim to myself the privilege you mention. That fool, young S—, at his return from Cambridge, told me that you had been perfectly well some time, which, of course, relieved me from all anxiety on that account. What a blessing it is to have a galloping imagination: I fancied you in town, with people whom you loved better, or who at least engrossed you for the time, hearing news, or bad operas, amused, in short, and quite thoughtless of me in my hermitage. But you was in flannel too, so I beg your pardon.

I have returned to reading a little since my pain left me; I have run through eight centuries of Christianity in Mosheim. I am pleased with the good sense, judgment, and impartiality of the author, and with his plain manly stile; but that this should be a history of religion, that Monothelites, and Monophysites, and Stylites should think they were doing God service is wonderful! Simeon, a Syrian, was founder of the last sect, he was first a shepherd and then a monk, and built himself five columns, one of six cubits high, the next twelve, the next twenty-two, another thirty-six, and the last forty; and on these he passed thirty-seven years of his life, advancing in a progressive state upwards towards heaven. Then the pride and power of bishops, growing out of an humble and laborious office, totally different in its nature and intention! Patriarchs lording it over these, and the 'gran verme' at last devouring all. New doctrines invented every day, and propagated like the religion of Mahomet. The passions of men hurrying them out of sight of the true object of contention. All this, and thousand times more that I forget (thank Heaven) as fast as I read it, makes me wish myself at the last page; when the Reformation commence à éclore, I shall apply myself to Burnet, in hopes of learning a little profane history to mix with my divine, which is really a bad mess by itself. I think that there is less inconvenience, after all, in believing as one's nurse bids one, than in resolving to understand and explain to all the world what reason was never meant to meddle with. 'Illa enim (says Mosheim, speaking of the fifth century,) primæ ætatis Christianæ sancta et veneranda simplicitas, quæ Deo loquenti credere, et mandanti obedire jubebat, præcipuis horum temporum doctoribus agrestis videbatur.' But Mosheim and Homer and all is at a stand now, or obliged at least to make room for Froissart. In the evening I read Rapin to my mother; so being come to Edward the Third, I took up Froissart, to keep pace with the other, and am so delighted that I read nothing else, 'et ay-je tant chevauché par mes journées,' that I am arrived at the peace of Bretigny. He is my historian, for he tells me all that he knows, and tells for the sake of telling, and forgets himself to talk of other people; which I believe is never the case for a single moment with our modern historians, who all write for vanity or profit, and betray their design; there is something so very appreté in all of them, and so very much the contrary in him. If it is owing to the simplicity of the age, and if it would not suit with the present times, I am sorry for it, for I like it much better. What a miserable state was France in when their king was a prisoner in England, when English garrisons lived at discretion in all parts of the kingdom, English armies spread desolation through every part of it, and the Jaquerie, to complete their misery, raged everywhere without control! I want to know whether you do not think Edward the First and Edward the Third's pretensions to Scotland very unjust, and a stain to their characters, when one considers the mischiefs they caused? and whether you think Edward the Third's pretensions to the crown of France, and the torrents of blood that were shed to support them, give a real lustre to his reign? and whether it was a worthy action to protest in private against the King of France and his title, and yet do him public homage? My brave Lord Herbert of Cherbury would have [ ]

My friend Dr. Warner, and his very amiable wife, with Miss Allin, are gone this day to attempt the London road. The Dr. is prudent, and will not willingly drown himself and them; but the Yarmouth coach, when it has gone at all, has gone with eight horses and four postilions. A waggon and coach were overset in the water at Ixworth near Bury, but no mischief done. The marshes which I see from my bedchamber window are become an ocean. I have heard from Clarke, who has been these five months at Kylmarnock in Ayrshire, and stays five more: from Wheeler, who has been at Bath with his old haridan again. I have besides received a silly letter from Mr. Wilson, and a polite one from Dr. Gisburne, apologizing for not seeing me before he left Richmond, &c. I have heard of Temple, who has sold some of his estate, got rid of some vexation, met with more, and is now returned to Mamhead.

Adieu! accept my mother's best compliments, and believe me always sincerely yours,
N. N.
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Letter ID: letters.0616 (Source: TEI/XML)


Writer: Nicholls, Norton, c. 1742-1809
Writer's age: 28[?]
Addressee: Gray, Thomas, 1716-1771
Addressee's age: 53


Date of composition: [28 November 1770]
Date (on letter): [Nov. 28]
Calendar: Gregorian


Place of composition: [Blundeston, United Kingdom]
Address (on letter): [Blundeston]


Language: English
Incipit: God forbid that I should claim to myself the privilege you mention....
Mentioned: Burnet, Gilbert
Clark, John
Froissart, John
Herbert of Cherbury, 1st Baron
Mosheim, Johann Lorenz von
Rapin de Thoyras, Paul

Holding Institution

Availability: The original letter is unlocated, a copy, transcription, or published version survives

Print Versions

  • The Works of Thomas Gray, 5 vols. Ed. by John Mitford. London: W. Pickering, 1835-1843, letter XXXIII, vol. v, 115-119
  • 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. 537, vol. iii, 1151-1154