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I have never understood that his knowledge of modern languages extended beyond the French and Italian: these, however, he studied when he was abroad with considerable diligence, and cultivated afterwards, in the leisure which he enjoyed at home. Indeed his acquaintance with the beautiful works of the Tuscan bards, has contributed, in no small degree, to enrich and adorn many passages of his English poetry: -
“ Dum vagus, Ausonias nunc per umbras,
Nunc Britannica per vireta lusit.” It remains now only to speak of an intended publication in English literature, mentioned by Gray in an advertisement to the Imitation of the Welsh Odes, and which was an · History of English Poetry. It appears that Warburton had communicated to Mason a paper of Pope's, containing the first sketch of a plan for a work of that nature, and which was printed in the Life of Pope by Ruffhead, and subsequently in many other works.
“Milton (says Dryden in the preface to his Fables) was the poetical son of Spenser, and Mr. Waller of Fairfax; for we have our lineal descents and clans as well as other families.” Upon this principle, Pope * drew up his little catalogue
* Pope observed to Spence that “ Michael Drayton was one of the imitators of Spenser, and Fairfax another. Milton, in his first pieces, is an evident follower of Spenser too, in his famous Allegro and Penseroso, and some others. Carew (a
of the English poets; * and Gray was so much pleased with the method of arrangement which Pope had struck out, that on Mr. Mason's agreeing to assist him, he examined and considerably enlarged the plan. He meant in the introduction to ascertain the Origin of Rhyme; to give specimens of the Provençal Scaldic, British, and Saxon poetry: and when the different sources of English poetry were ascertained, the history was
bad Waller), Waller himself and Lord Lansdown are all of one school ; as Sir John Suckling, Sir John Minnes, and Prior are of another. Crashaw is a coarse sort of Cowley; he was a follower too of Petrarch and Marino, but most of Marino. He and Cowley were good friends; and the latter has a good copy of verses on his death. About this pitch were Stanley (the author of the Opinions of Philosophers) ; Randolph, though rather superior ; and Sylvester, though rather of a lower form. Cartwright and Bishop Corbet are of this class of poets ; and Ruggle, the author of Counter-Seufile, might be admitted among them. Herbert is lower than Crashaw, Sir John Beaumont higher, and Donne a good deal so. [Spence's Anecdotes, quoted in] Malone's Dryden, vol. iv. 589.
* I have placed Pope's Catalogue of the Poets in the Appendix D. (with Gray's Letter on the same subject), with some observations upon it. It is singular that this sketch of Pope's should have been so often printed, without any of the editors, except Mr. Malone, pointing out its mistakes and inaccuracies. It disagrees also, in many points, with the account which he gave to Spence; printed in the preceding note. I must observe, that this catalogue is printed by Mr. Mathias, in a far more correct manner, than that in which it usually appears. It is published by him from Gray's own handwriting; and many of the inaccuracies pointed out by Mr. Malone, are only the blunders of printers and transcribers.
cited by the reflection on the skill and toil exerted in the construction of a magnificent palace. They can only be classed among the secondary pleasures of poetry, but they never can exist without a great degree of its higher excellencies. Almost all his poetry was lyrical — that species which, issuing from a mind in the highest state of excitement, requires an intensity of feeling which, for a long composition, the genius of no poet could support. Those who complained of its brevity and rapidity, only confessed their own inability to follow the movements of poetical inspiration.* Of the two grand attributes of the Ode, Dryden had displayed the enthusiasm, Gray exhibited the magnificence. He is also the only modern English writer whose Latin verses deserve general notice, but we must lament that such difficult trifles had diverted its genius from its natural objects. In his Letters he has shewn the descriptive powers of a poet, and in new combinations of generally familiar words, which he seems to have
* In another place, the same writer observes : " The obscurity of the Ode on the Progress of Poetry,' arises from the variety the subjects, the rapidity of the transitions, the boldness of the imagery, and the splendour of the language; to those who are capable of that intense attention, which the higher order of poetry requires, and which poetical sensibility always produces, there is no obscurity. In the · Bard’some of these causes of obscurity 'are lessened ; it is more impassioned and less magnificent, but it has more brevity and abrupt
It is a lyric drama, and this structure is a new source of obscurity.”
caught from Madame de Sevigné, (though it must be said he was somewhat quaint) he was eminently happy. It may be added, that he deserves the comparatively trifling praise of having been the most learned poet * since Milton.” †
In the short, and I am afraid, imperfect account which I have now given of the life and character of Gray, I may be permitted, before I close the narrative, to express my own sincere admiration of that splendid genius, that exquisite taste, that profound and extensive erudition, those numerous accomplishments, and those real and unassuming merits, which will preserve for him a very eminent reputation, exclusively of that which he so justly enjoys in his rank among the English poets. His life, indeed, did not abound with change of incident, or variety of situation; it was not blessed with the happiness of domestic endearments, nor spent in the bosom of social intercourse; but it was constantly and contentedly
* Gray and Mason first detected the imposition of Chatter. ton. See Archæological Epistle to Dean Milles, Stanza xi. It appears that Gray did not admire Hudibras.
“ Mr. Gray,” says Warburton, " has certainly a true taste. I should have read Hudibras with as much indifference as perhaps he did, were it not for a fondness of the transactions of those times, against which it is a satire.”. -Warburton's Letters, xxxi. p. 290. He appears highly to have praised some of W. Whitehead's poems. See Mason's Life of Whitehead, p. 40, &c., and he approved H. Walpole's Tragedy of the Mysterious Mother. See Lett. to G. Montagu, p. 406.
+ See Life of Sir J. Mackintosh, vol. ii. p. 172.
employed in the improvement of the various talents with which he was so highly gifted; in a sedulous cultivation both of the moral and intellectual powers; in the study of wisdom, and in the practice of virtue.
To present his poetry to the public, more correctly than it has yet appeared, has been the design of this edition. And I am willing to hope, that I have made no unacceptable present to the literary world, in enabling them for the first time to read the genuine correspondence of Gray, in an enlarged as well as authentic form. Assuredto
some, his letters will not be less interesting than his poetry;* and they will be read by all who are desirous of estimating, not only the variety of his learning, and the richness and playfulness of his fancy, but the excellence of his private character, the genuine goodness of his heart, his sound and serious views of life, and his warm and zealous affection towards his friends. †
* • I have been reading Gray's Works,' says Cowper, and think him sublime. . I once thought Swift's Letters the best that could be written, but I like Gray's better. His humour, or his wit, or whatever it is to be called, is never illnatured or offensive, and yet I think equally poignant with the Dean's.' Hayley's Ed. 4to. vol. ii. p. 231.
+ [The letters here referred to are contained in the Aldine edition of Gray's Works.]