« PreviousContinue »
respect, and an ingenuous diffidence in my own abilities. If you will not take this as an excuse, accept it at least as a wellturned period, which is always my principal concern.*
So I proceed to tell you, that my health is much improved by the sea. Not that I drank it, or bathed in it, as the common people do; no! I only walked by it, and looked upon it. The climate is remarkably mild, even in October and November ; no snow has been seen to lie there for these thirty years past; the myrtles grow in the ground against the houses, Guernsey lilies bloom in every window; the town, clean and well-built, surrounded by its old stone walls, with their towers and gateways, stands at the point of a peninsula, and
opens full south to an arm of the sea, which, having formed two beautiful bays on each hand of it stretches away in direct view, till it joins the British Channel. It is skirted on either side with gently rising grounds, clothed with thick wood; and directly across its mouth rise the high lands of the Isle of Wight at distance, but distinctly seen. In the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Nettley Abbey ; there may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow, under the shade of those old trees that bend into a half-circle about it, he is walking slowly (good man !) and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors, interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks that mask the building, and have excluded a view too garish and luxuriant for a holy eye; only on either hand they leave an opening to the blue glittering
you not observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself, to drive the tempter from him that had thrown that distraction in his way? I should tell you that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not for all the world pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it), though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge: but of these things I say no more. They will be published at the University press.
* A banter probably of some apologetical formality on the part of Nicholls.
P.S.-I must not close my letter without giving you one principal event of my history; which was, that (in the course of my late tour) I set out one morning before five o'clock, the moon shining through a dark and misty autumnal air, and got to the sea-coast time enough to be at the sun's levee. I saw the clouds and dark vapors open gradually to right and left, rolling over one another in great smoky wreaths, and the tide (as it flowed gently in upon the sands) first whitening, then slightly tinged with gold and blue, and all at once a little line of insufferable brightness that (before I can write these five words) was grown to half an orb, and now to a whole one too glorious to be distinctly seen. It is
odd it makes no figure on paper ; yet I shall remember it as long as the sun, or at least as long as I endure. I wonder whether anybody ever saw it before? I hardly believe it.
TO THE SAME.
[A MOTHER-SCENERY OF KENT.]
1765. is a long time since, that I heard you were gone in haste
into Yorkshire on account of your mother's illness; and the same letter informed me that she was recovered, otherwise I had then wrote to you only to beg you would take care of her, and to inform you that I had discovered a thing every day I
very little known, which is, that in one's whole life one can never have any more than a single mother. You
think this is obvious, and (what you call) a trite observation. You are a green gosling! I was at the same age (very near) as wise as you ; and yet I never discovered this (with full evidence and conviction, I mean) till it was too late. It is thirteen years ago, and seems but as yesterday, and live it sinks deeper into my heart. Many a corollary could I draw from this axiom for your use (not for my own), but I will leave you the merit of doing it for yourself. Pray tell me how your health is; I conclude it perfect, as I hear you offered yourself as a guide to Mr. Palgrave into the Sierra Morena of Yorkshire. For me, I passed the end of May, and all June, in Kent, not disagreeably. In the west part of it, from
every eminence, the eye catches some long reach of the Thames or Medway, with all their shipping: in the east, the sea breaks in upon you, and mixes its white transient sails, and glittering blue expanse, with the deeper and brighter green of the woods and corn. This sentence is so fine I am quite ashamed, but no matter! You must translate it into prose. Palgrave, if he heard it, would co'er his face with his pudding sleeve.* I do not tell you of the great and small beasts, and creeping things innumerable, that I met with, because you do not suspect that this world is inhabited by anything but men, and women, and clergy, and such twolegged cattle. Now I am here again, very disconsolate and all alone, for Mr. Brown is gone, and the cares of this world are coming thick upon me; you, I hope, are better off, riding and walking in the woods of Studley, &r &c. I must not wish for you here; besides, I am going to town at Michael mas, by no means for amusement.
* He was a clergyman; rector of Palgrave and Thrandeston, in Suffolk.
TO THE SAME.
(HAVING A GARDEN OF ONE'S OWN—SHENSTONE-SECOND BAN
TER ON FORMAL APOLOGIES.
Are not you
PEMBROKE COLLEGE, June 24th, 1769. AN
ND so you have a garden of your own, and you plant and
transplant, and are dirty and amused. ashamed of yourself? Why, I have no such thing, you monster; nor ever shall be either dirty or amused as long as I live.* My gardens are in my windows, like those of a lodger up three pair of stairs in Petticoat Lane, or Camomile Street, and they go to bed regularly under the same roof that I do. Dear! how charming it must be to walk out in one's own garding, and sit on a bench in the open air, with a fountain and leaden statue, and a rolling-stone, and an arbor ! Have a care of sore throats though, and the agoe.
However, be it known to you, though I have no garden, I have sold my estate,f and got a thousand guineas and fourscore pounds a-year for my old aunt, and a twenty-pound prize in the lottery, and Lord knows what arrears in the treasury, and am a rich fellow enough, go to; a fellow that bath had losses, and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him ;I and in a few days shall have new window-curtains : are you avized of that? Aye, and a new mattress
* This pleasantry becomes the more charming, when read in connection with some previous letters to Nicholls, which were in a strain of serious and somewhat remonstrating advice on carelessness in his affairs, though full of the most touching kindness.
† Some houses on the west side of Hand Alley, in Cornhill. # From Dogberry's speech in Much ado about Nothing, Act iv. sc. 2. My Ode* has been rehearsed again and again, and the scholars have got scraps by heart. I expect to see it torn piecemeal in the North Briton,t before it is born. If you will come, you shall see it, and sing in it amidst a chorus from Salisbury and Gloucester music-meeting, great names there, and all well versed in Judas Maccabæus. I wish it was once over, for then I immediately go for a few days to London, and so with Mr. Brown to Aston, though I fear it will rain the whole summer, and Skiddaw will be invisible and inaccessible to mortals.
I have got De la Lande's Voyage through Italy in eight volumes. He is a member of the Academy of Sciences, and pretty good to read. I have read, too, an octavo volume of Shenstone's Letters. Poor man! he was always wishing for money, for fame, and other distinctions; and his whole philosophy consisted in living against his will in retirement, and in a place which his taste had adorned, but which he only enjoyed when people of note came to see and commend it. His correspondence is about nothing else but this place and his own writings, with two or three neighboring clergymen who wrote verses too.
* "On the Installation of the Duke of Grafton as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge."
† A periodical publication now forgotten. # Handel's Oratorio of that name.
0 This is a true view of the weak side of Shenstone's character; and Gray, perhaps, confined himself to that side of it for some purpose connected with his correspondent. Otherwise Shenstone must inevitably have reaped great enjoyment from the lovely and surprising landscapes he created on his estate, which were the admiration of the best judges, and the site of his own gentle verse-making. Shenstone, like most people, was a different man under different phases of health. Gray was a warm admirer of the poem in these volumes, The School mistress. He pronounced it “excellent in its kind, and masterly."