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His next production (1750) was his far-famed Elegy in the Church-yard, which, finding its way into a Magazine, first, I belieye, made him known to the publick
An invitation from lady Cobham about this time gave occasion to an odd composition called a Long Story, which adds little to Gray's character.
Several of his pieces were published (1753), with designs by Mr. Bentley, and, that they might in some form or other make a book, only one side of cach leaf was printed. I believe the poems and the plates recommended each other so well, that the whole impression was soon bought. This year he lost his mother.
Some time afterwards (1756) fome young men of the college, whose chambers were near his, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and, as is said, by pranks yet more offensive and contemptuous. This infolence, having endured it a while, he represented to the governors of the society, among whom perhaps he had no friends; and, finding his complaint little regarded, removed himself to Pembroke-hall.
In 1757 he published Tbe Progress of Poetry and The Bard, two compositions at which the readers of
poetry were at first content to gaze in mute amazement. Some that tried them confessed their inability to understand them, though Warburton said that they were understood as well as the works of Milton and Shakspeare, 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 content to be shewn beauties wbich they could not see.
Gray's reputation was now so high, that, after the death of Cibber, he had the honour of refusing the laurel, which was then bestowed on Mr. Whitehead.
His curiosity, not long after, drew him away from Cambridge to a lodging near the Museum, where he resided near three years, reading and transcribing ; and, so far as can be discovered, very little affected by two odes on Oblivion and Objcurity, in which his Lyrick performances were ridiculed with much contempt and much ingenuity.
When the Professor of Modern History at Cambridge died, he was, as he says, cockered and spirited up, till he asked it of lord Bute, who sent him a civil refusal; and the place was given to Mr. Brocket, the tutor of Sir James Lowther.
His constitution was weak, and believing that his health was promoted by exercise and change of place, he undertook (1765) a journey into Scotland, of which his account, so far. as it extends, is very curious and elegant : for as his coinprehention was ample, his curiosity extended to all the works of art, ali · the appearances of nature, and all the monuments of past events. He naturally contracted a friendship with Dr. Beattie, whoin he found a poet, a philosopher, and a good man. The Marefchal College at Aberdeen offered him the degree of Doctor of Laws, which, having cmitted to take it at Cambridge, he thought it decent to refuse.
What he had formerly solicited in vain, was at last given hin withcut solicitation. The Professorship of History became again vacant, and he received (1768)
an offer of it from the duke of Grafton. He accepted, and retained it to his death ; always designing lectures, but never reading them; uncasy at his neglect of duty, and appealing his uneasiness with designs of reformation, and with a resolution which he believed himself to have made of resigning the office, if he found himself unable to discharge it.
Ill health made another journey neceffary, and he visited (1769) Westmoreland and Cumberland. He that reads his epistolary narration wishes, that to travel, and to tell his travels, had been more of his employment; but it is by studying at home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.
His travels and his studies were now near their end, The gout, of which he had sustained many weak at, tacks, fell upon his stomach, and, yielding to no medicines, produced strong convulsions, which (July 30, 1771) terminated in death,
His character I am willing to adopt, as Mr. Mason has done, from a Letter written to my friend Mr. Borwell, by the Rev. Mr. Temple, rector of St. Gluvias in Cornwall; and am as willing as his warmest wellwisher to believe it true.
“ Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. " He was equally acquainted with the elegant and is
profound parts of science, and that not fuperfi“ cially 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 antiquarian. Criticism, metaphy , ' fics, morals, politics, made a principal part of his Audy ; voyages and travels of all sorts were his fa
« vourite amusements; and he had a fine taste in s painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. With “ such a fund of knowledge, his conversation must “ have been equally instructing and entertaining; but « he was also a good man, a man of virtue and hu“ manity. There is no character without some speck, “ some imperfection ; and I think the greatest defect “ in his was an affectation in delicacy, or rather ef« feminacy, and a visible fastidiousness, or contempt “ and disdain of his inferiors in science. He also “ had, in some degree, that weakness which disgusted * Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve: though he 65 feemed to value others chiefly according to the pro“ gress they had made in knowledge, yet he could
not bear to be considered himself merely as a man of " letters; and though without birth, or fortune, or « station, his desire was to be looked upon as a pri“ vate independent gentleman, who read for his amuse, « ment. Perhaps it may be faid, What signifies fo “ much knowledge, when it produced so little ? Is it “ worth taking so much pains to leave no memorial « but a few poems ? But let it be considered that Mr. “ Gray was, to others, at least innocently employed; “to himself, certainly beneficially. His time passed “agreeably; he was every day making some new ac« quisition in science; his mind was enlarged, his “ heart softened, his virtue strengthened ; the world « and mankind were shewn to him without a malk; os and he was taught to consider every thing as trifling, “ and unworthy of the attention of a wise man, except " the pursuit of knowledge and practice of virtue, in “ that state wherein God hath placed us.”
To this character Mr. Mason has added a more particular account of Gray's skill in zoology. He has remarked, that Gray's effeminacy was affected most before those whom he did not wish to please ; and that he is unjustly charged with making knowledge his fole reason of preference, as he paid his esteem to none whom he did not likewise believe to be good.
What has occurred to me from the flight inspection of his Letters in which my undertaking has engaged me, is, that his mind had a large grasp; that his curiosity was unlimited, and his judgement cultivated; that he was a man likely to love much where he loved at all, but that he was fastidious and hard to please. His contempt however is often employed, where I hope it will be approved, upon scepticism, and infidelity. His short account of Shaftesbury I will insert.
“ You fay you cannot conceive how lord Shaftesbury “ came to be a philosopher in vogue ; I will tell you : “ first, he was a lord; fecondly, he was as vain “ as any of his readers ; thirdly, men are very
prone to believe what they do not understand ;
fourthly, they will believe any thing at all, pro“ vided they are under no obligation to believe it ; “ fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when “ that road leads no where; fixthly, he was reckoned
a fine writer, and seems always to mean more than “ he said. Would you have any more reasons ? An " interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed o the charm. A dead lord ranks with commoners; " vanity is no longer interested in the matter ; for a « new road is become an old one."