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From the winter of 1742, to the day of his death, : Mr. Gray's principal residence was at Cambridge. He indeed, during the lives of his mother and aunts, spent his summer vacation at Stoke; and, after they died, he made little tours on visits to his friends in 3 different parts of the country: But he was seldomā absent from college any considerable time, except between the years 1759 and 1762 ; when, on the opening of the British Museum, he took lodgings in Southampton-Row, in order to have recourse to the Harleian and other Manuscripts there deposited, from which he made several curious extracts*.
It may seem strange, that a person who had conceived an early dislike to Cambridge, and who was now returned to it with this prejudice rather augmented, should, when he was free to choose, make that very place his principal abode for near thirty years: But this Mr. Mason thinks may be easily accounted for from his love of books, (ever his ruling passion) and the straitness of his circumstances, which prevented the gratification of it ; for to a man who could not conveniently purchase even a small li
* These, amounting in all to a tolerably-sized folio, passed into Mr. Walpole's hands, who printed the Speech of Sir Thomas Wyatt from them in the second number of his Miscellaneous Antiquities.
brary, what situation so eligible as that which affords free access to a number of large ones? This reason also accounts for another singular fact. During his residence at Stoke, in the spring and summer of the year 1742, he wrote a considerable part of his more finished poems. Hence one would be naturally led to conclude, that on his return to Cambridge, when the ceremony of taking his degree was over, the quiet of the place would have prompted him to continue the cultivation of his poetical talents, and that immediately, as the Muse seems in this year to have peculiarly inspired him; but this was not the case. Reading, he has often declared, was much more agreeable to him than writing: He, therefore, now laid aside composition almost entirely, and applied himself with intense assiduity to the study of the best Greek authors; insomuch that, in the space of about six years, there were hardly any writers of note in that language which he had not only read but digested; remarking, by the mode of common-place, their contents, their difficult and corrupt passages; and all this with the accuracy of a critic added to the diligence of a student.
In the retirement of Peterhouse, Mr. Gray wrote, in 1747, An Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat ; and the year afterwards attempted a poem of more
importance, On Education and Government, of which the fragments that remain contain some exquisite lines. His next production (1750) was his far-famed Elegy in a Country Church Yard, which was first communicated to Mr. Walpole, and passed from him into the hands of several persons of distinction*. Af ter having for some time been privately transmitted from one hand to another, it at length found its way to the public eye in “ The Magazine of Magazines.” | This disreputable mode of appearance subjected the author to the necessity of exhibiting it under a less disadvantageous form; and Mr. Bentley soon after, wishing to supply every ornament that his pencil could contribute, drew not only for it, but also for the rest of Mr. Gray's productions, a set of designs, which were repaid by the Poet with some beautiful Stanzas, of which, however, only a fragment remains.
In March 1753, Mr. Gray lost that mother for whom, on all occasions, he showed a most tender regard.
She was buried in the same vault in Stoke Churchyard, where her sister's remains had been deposited
* This brought him acquainted with Lady Cobham, ‘and furnished an occasion for his Long Story.
more than three years before. As the inscription on
IN THE VAULT BENEATH ARE DEPOSITED,
THE REMAINS OF
IN THE SAME PIOUS CONFIDENCE,
HERE SLEEP THE REMAINS OF
THE CAREFUL TENDER MOTHER
About three years afterward (1756) some young men of the College, whose chambers were near Mr. Gray's, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and, as is said, by pranks yet more offensive and contemptuous. This insolence, having endured it a while, he represented to the governors of the society; but, finding his complaint little attended to, he, with becoming spirit, removed himself to Pembroke Hall.
In 1757, he published The Progress of Poesy, and The Bard, which have occasioned some sarcastic observations from the pen of Dr. Johnson, who calls them, “two compositions at which the readers of “ poetry were at first content to gaze in mute amaze“ ment. Some that tried them confessed their ina“ bility to understand them, though Warburton said « that they were understood as well as the works of “ Milton and Shakespeare, which it is the fashion to “ admire. Garrick wrote a few lines in their praise*. « Some hardy champions undertook to rescue them « from neglect; and in a short time many were con6 tent to be shown beauties which they could not 6 see.”
From this splenetic effusion I turn with pleasure to
* These are inserted in this Volume.