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own statement, by Gray's being “ too serious a companion” for a dissipated young man, just let loose from the restraints of college. It is probable that Walpole's irregularities drew from his graver friend remonstrances in too indignantly severe, perhaps too authoritative a tone to be brooked with temper; and they were resented in terms which Gray could never quite forgive. A separation took place, and Gray pursued his travels alone to Venice, where he spent some weeks, and returned to England in September, 1741.
Two months after his arrival, his father died, and his widow, left with a scanty income, retired to the house of one of her sisters, Mrs. Rogers, at Stoke, near Windsor. Gray now returned to Cambridge, the conveniences of a college life being better suited than an independent establishment, to the narrowed state of his finances. Here, in 1742, he was admitted to the degree of bachelor in the civil law. Cambridge had as a residence no attractions for him beyond its literary advantages. In his Hymn to Ignorance, and in his private letters, he indulges his sarcastic vein much at the expense of the then general character of that University. About this period, he first sedulously applied himself to poetical composition. He had no serious pursuit to call forth the ardour of his mind; and,“ alas!” he says in a letter to his friend West, “ alas for one who
has nothing to do but to amuse himself!” His Ode to Spring was written early in June, during a visit to his mother at Stoke. He addressed it to that same accomplished correspondent; but it never reached him. West was at the time numbered with the dead, his tender frame having sunk beneath the pressure of sickness and domestic sor
The Ode on the Prospect of Eton, the Hymn to Adversity, and the Elegy in a Country Churchyard, were written soon after, evidently under the influence of the melancholy feelings inspired by the loss of his early friend. The Ode first appeared in 1747, published by Dodsley. The Elegy was not published till 1750, when, having found its way into the magazines, the author requested Mr. Walpole, with whom he now again corresponded on familiar terms, to put it into the hands of Dodsley.
The Ode on the Progress of Poesy, and the Bard, were written in 1755. The latter, however, remained for some time in an unfinished state, till his accidentally seeing a blind harper performing on a Welsh harp, “again,” as he tells us, “put his ode in motion, and brought it to a conclusion.” In 1757, Gray had the honour of declining the office of poet laureat on the death of Cibber.
“ The office," he says in a letter to Mason, “ has always humbled the possessor hitherto :-if he were a poor writer, by making him more conspicuous; and if he were a good one, by setting him at war with the little fry of his own profession; for there are poets little enough even to envy a poet laureat." The office was accepted by Whitehead.
In January, 1759, the British Museum was opened to the public, and Gray, during three subsequent years, continued to reside in London for the purpose of daily repairing to its library, employing the greater part of his time in reading and transcribing. He visited Scotland in the summer of 1765, where he became acquainted with Dr. Beattie, in whom he found, to use his own expression, “ a poet, a philosopher, and a good man.” In 1768, Gray received, without solicitation, through the favour of the Duke of Grafton, the appointment of Professor of Modern Languages and History at the University of Cam. bridge; a place of some emolument, for which, six years before, he had been“ spirited up” to apply to Lord Bute, on the death of Mr. Turner, but without
On the Duke's installation into the chancellorship of the University in the following year, Gray composed the Ode for Music, which was performed in the senate-house on the occasion.
It was his intention, on obtaining the professorship, to read lectures; but the declining state of his health, and his excessive fastidiousness with regard to his own compositions, concurred to prevent his ever realizing this design. His rigid abstemiousness could not avert the attacks of hereditary gout, to which he now became increasingly subject, and which left behind a painful degree of debility, and an habitual depression of spirits. The uneasiness he felt at holding the professorship without discharging its duties, had at one time made him resolve upon resigning the office. But he did not hold it long. On the 24th of July, 1771, while at dinner in the college hall, he was seized with a sudden nausea and faintness, symptomatic of an attack of gout in the stomach. A few days after, he suffered a repetition of the attack with aggravated violence, followed by frequent convulsion fits, and on the 30th of July, he expired in his fifty-fifth year.
The account of Gray, given by one of his contemporaries, to the general accuracy of which all his biographers have subscribed, represents him as “ perbaps the most learned man in Europe." He was equally acquainted with the elegant and the profound parts of science, and that not superficially, but thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquary. He was deeply read in Dugdale, Hearne, and Spelman, and was a complete master of heraldry. His skill in zoology and entomology was extremely accurate; and during the latter part of his life, he found time to resume the botanical studies of his early years. His taste in music, we are told, was excellent, being formed on the study of the great Italian masters contemporary with Pergolesi, and he performed on the harpsichord. In painting he was a connoisseur, and architecture at one time received a considerable portion of his studious attention. But classical literature was his favourite pursuit: to this he applied with constant, unwearied assiduity; and he is generally allowed the merit of having been a profound as well as an elegant scholar. The notes upon various Greek authors, which he has left behind him, bear the marks of patient labour and accurate judgment. His criticisms are replete with philosophical discrimination, and discover, like every thing else that proceeded from his pen, the most refined and delicate taste.
Gray is described as in person small, but well made, very nice and exact in his dress, in conversation lively, and possessing a singular facility of expression. By his intimate friends he appears to have been tenderly esteemed. To strangers he observed a reserve and precision of deportment which seemed to bespeak the reverse of sociability, while bis polished language, which might be mistaken by them for a studied style, together with his effeminate and what were thought finical manners, subjected him to the charge of affectation. His fastidi