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THE LIFE OF THOMAS GRAY.
BY JOHN MITFORD.
Thomas Gray, the subject of the present narrative, was the fifth child of Mr. Philip Gray, a respectable citizen and money-scrivener in London. His grandfather was also a considerable merchant in that place. The maiden name of his mother was Dorothy Antrobus. Thomas was born in Cornhill, the 26th of December, 1716; and was the only one of twelve children who survived. The rest died in their infancy, from suffocation, produced by a fullness of blood; and he owed his life to a memorable instance of the love and courage of his mother, who removed the paroxysm, which attacked him, by opening a vein with her own hand: an instance of affection that seems to have been most tenderly preserved by him through his after life, repaid with care and attention, and remembered when the object of his filial solicitudes could no longer claim them. Mason informs us, “ that Gray seldom mentioned his mother without a sigh.”
He was educated at Eton, under the protection of Mr. Antrobus, his maternal uncle, who was at
that time assistant to Dr. George, and also a fellow of Pembroke College, at Cambridge, where Gray was admitted as a pensioner in 1734, in his nineteenth year. I should be unwilling to pass over this period of his life, without mentioning that while at Eton, as well as at Cambridge, he depended for his entire support on the affection and firmness of his mother; who, when his father had refused all assistance, cheerfully maintained him on the scanty produce of her separate industry. At Eton his friendship with Horace Walpole, and more particularly with Richard West,* commenced. In him he met with one, who, from the goodness of his heart, the sincerity of his friendship, and the excellent cultivation of his mind, was worthy of his warmest attachment. The purity of taste, indeed, as well as the proficiency in literature which the letters of West display, were re
* Richard West was the son of the right honourable Richard West, lord chancellor of Ireland; who died in 1727 or 1728, aged 36; and his grandfather, by the mother's side, was Bishop Burnet. His father was the maternal uncle of Glover the poet, and is supposed to be the author of a tragedy called · Hecuba,' published in 1726. Mason says that, when at school, West's genius was thought to be more brilliant than his friend's. A portrait of the father is in the hall of the Inner Temple, given by Richard Glover. He was appointed Lord Chancellor in the reign of George the First, in 1725. He wrote on Treasons and Bills of Attainder, also on the Manner of Creating Peers. See this last tract highly praised in Quarterly Review, No. lxxxiv. p. 303. See King's poem, The Toast, p. 117.
markable at his age; and his studious and pensive habits of mind, his uncertain health, and his early and untimely death, have all contributed to throw "a melancholy grace" over the short and interesting narrative of his life. With him, for the period of eight years, Gray enjoyed what the moralist calls “the most virtuous as well as the happiest of all attachments the wise security of friendship: * Par studiis, ævique modis.?” Latterly, when West's health was declining, and his prospects in life seemed clouded and uncertain, Gray's friendship was affectionate and anxious, and only terminated by the early death of his friend in his twenty-sixth year.
When Gray removed to Peter House, Horace Walpole* went to King's College in the same university, and West to Christ Church at Oxford. From this period the life of Gray is conducted by his friend and biographer Mr. Mason, through the
* In H. Walpole's Works are some letters between West and Walpole at College (vol. iv. p. 411). The intimacy between Gray, Walpole, West, and Asheton, was called the quadruple alliance; and they passed by the names of Tydeus, Orosmades, Almanzor, and Plato. Thomas Asheton was afterwards fellow of Eton College, rector of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Street, and preacher to the Society of Lincoln's Inn. He wrote an answer to a work of Dr. Conyers Middleton. Walpole addressed a poetical epistle from Florence to him. See Gray's Letters; and Walpole's Works, vol. v. p. 386. Asheton died in 1775. His niece of the same name married Dr. William Cleaver, Bishop of St. Asaph. See an account of him in Sir Egerton Brydges's Restituta, vol. iv. p. 249.
medium of his Letters ;* concerning which it may be said, that from the humour, the elegance, and the classical taste displayed in them; from the alternate mixture of serious argument, animated description, just criticism, and playful expression; notwithstanding the incidents of his life were peculiarly few in number, nor any of them remarkable, yet a more interesting publication of the kind never appeared in English literature.
Gray's Letters commence, as I have said, from the time when he left Eton for Cambridge ; but from them it is difficult to trace the line of study which he pursued at College. His letters treat chiefly of his poetry, and other private pursuits ; and he seems to have withdrawn himself entirely from the severity of mathematical studies, and to have confined his inquiries to classical literature, to the acquisition of modern languages, to history, and other branches of what is called polite learning. West describes himself and his friend as walking hand in hand,
“ Through many a flow'ry path and shelly grot,
Where Learning lull'd us in her private maze.
During Gray's residence at College, from 1734 to September, 1738, his poetical productions were – A Copy of Latin verses,' inserted in the Muse
* Mason followed the plan of C. Middleton in his Life of Cicero, and of Quirini in his Life of Cardinal Pole. See Pye's Life of Pole, p. 177.