« PreviousContinue »
on the death of Colley Cibber, 1757, he had the honour of refusing the office of Poet Laureat, to which he was probably induced by the disgrace brought upon it through the inability of some who had filled it.
In 1762, on the death of Mr. Turner, Professor of Modern Languages and History, at Cambridge, he ; was, according to his own expression, “ cockered and spirited up”, to apply to Lord Bute for the succession. His Lordship refused him with all the politeness of a , courtier, the office having been previously promised to Mr. Brocket, the tutor of Sir James Lowther.
His health being on the decline, in 1765 lie undertook a journey to Scotland, conceiving he should derive benefit from exercise and change of situation. His account of that country, as far as it extends, is curious and elegant; for as his mind was compre. hensive, it was employed in the contemplation of all the works of art, all the appearances of nature, and all the monuments of past events.
During his stay in Scotland, he contracted a friendship with Dr. Beattie, in whom he found, as he himself expresses it, a poet, a philosopher, and a good man. The Marischal College at Aberdeen offered him the degree of Doctor of Laws, which he thought it deernt to decline, having omitted to take it at Cambridge.
In December 1767, Dr. Beattie still desirons that his country should leave a memento of its regard to the merit of our Poet, solicited his permission to print, at the University of Glasgow, an elegant edition of his works, but Gray could not comply with his friend's request, as he had given his promise to Mr. Dodsley. However, as a compliment to them both, he presented them with a copy, containing a few notes, and the imitations of the old Norwegian poetry, intended to supplant the Long Story, which was printed at first to illustrate Mr. Bentley's designs..
In 1768 our Author obtained that office without solicitation. The Professorship of Languages and History again became vaçant, and he received and
offer of it from the duke of Grafton, who had succeeded Lord Bute in office. The place was valuable in itself, the salary being 4001, a year; but it was rendered peculiarly acceptable to Mr. Gray, as he obtained it without solicitation.
Soon after he succeeded to this office, the impaired state of his health rendered another journey necessary; and he visited, in 1769, the counties of Westmoreland and Cumberland. His remarks on the wonderful scenery which these northern regions display, he transmitted in epistolary journals to his friend, Dr. Wharton, which abound, according to Mr. Mason's elegant diction, with all the wildness of Salvator, and the softness of Claude
Towards the close of May 1771, he removed from Cambridge to London, after having suffered violent attacks of an hereditary gout, to which he had long been subject, notwithstanding he had observed the most rigid abstemiousness throughout the whole course of his life. By the advice of his plıysicians, he removed from London to Kensington; the air of which place proved so salutary, that he was soon enabled to return to Cambridge, whence he designed to make a visit to his friend Dr.-Wharton, at Old Park, near Durham; indulging a fond hope that the excursion would tend to the re-establishment of his health: but, alas! that hope proved delusive. On the 24th of July he was seized, while at dinner in the college-hall, with a sudden nausea, which obliged him to retire to his chamber. The gout had fixed on his stomach in such a degree, as to resist all the powers of inedicine. On the 29th he was attacked with a strong convulsion, which returned with increased violence the ensuing day; and on the evening of the 31st of May 1771, he departed this life, in the 55th year of his age.
From the narrative of his friend, Mr. Mason, it appears, that Gray was actuated hy motives of self-improvement, and self-gratification, in his application to the Muses, rather than any view to pecuniary emolu.
ment. His pursuits were in general disinterested; and as he was free from avarice on the one hand, so was he from extravagance on the other. Mr. Mason adds, that he was induced to decline taking any advantage of his literary productions hy a degree of pride, which influenced him to disdain the idea of being thought an author by profession.
Gray made considerable progress in the study of architecture, particularly the Gothic. He endea. voured to trace this branch of the science, from the period of its commencement, through its various changes, till it arrived at its perfection in the time of Henry VIII. He applied himself also to the study of heraldry, of which he obtained a very competent knowledge.
But the favourite study of Gray for the last two years of his life was natural history, which he rather resumed than began, as he had acquired some knowledge of botany in early life, while he was under the tuition of his uncle Antrobus. He wrote copious marginal notes to the works of Linnæus, and other writers in the three kingdoms of nature: and Mr. Mason observes, that, excepting pure unatheipatics, and the studies dependent on that science, there was hardly any part of human learning in which he had not acquired a competent skill; in most of them a consuminate mastery.
Mr. Mason has declined drawing any formal character of him; but has adopted one from a letter to James Boswell, Esq. by the Rev. Mr.Temple, Rector of St. Glauvias, in Cornwall, first printed anonsmously in the London Magazine.
Perhaps he was the most learned man in Europe. He was equally acquainted with the elegant and profound parts of science, and 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 an. tiquarian. Criticism, inetaphysics, morals, and poli. ucs, made a principal part of his study; voyages, and
travels of all sorts, were his favourite amusements; and he had a fine taste in 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 humanity. There is no character without some speck, some imperfection; and I think the greatest defect in his was an affectation in delicacy, or rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidiousness, or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science. He also had, in some degree, that weakness which dissusted Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve : though he seemed to value others chiefly according to the progress they liad 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 private independent gentleman, who read for his amusement. Perhaps it may be said, What signifies so 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 acquisition in science; his mind was enlarged, his heart softened, his virtue strengthened; the world and mankind were shewn to him without a mask; and he was taught to consider every thing as trifiing, 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."
Mr. Mason bas 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 sole reason of preference, as he paid his esteem to none whom he did not likewise believe to be good.
Dr. Johnson makes the following observations: .... " What has occurred to me, from the slight inspec
hematics bere 78
I be had
tion of his letters, in which my undertaking has en. gaged me, is, that his mind had made a large grasp; that his curiosity was unlimited, and his judgment 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 say you cannot conceive how lord Shaftes. bury came to be a philosopher in vogue; I will tell you: first, he was a lord; secondly, 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, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when that road leads no where; sixthly, 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 the charm. A dead lord ranks with coinmoners: vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for a new road is become an old one."
As a writer he had this peculiarity, that he did not write his pieces first rudely, and then correct them, but laboured every line as it arose in the train of composition: and he had a notion not very peculiar, that he could not write but at certain times, or at happy moments.
As a Poet, he stands high in the estimation of the candid and judicious. His works are not numerous; but they bear the marks of intense application and careful revision. The Elegy in the Church-yard is deemed his master-piece; the subject is interesting, the sentiments simple and pathetic, and the versification charmingly melodious. This beautiful composition has been often selected by orators for the display of their rhetorical talents. But as the most finished productions of the human niind have not escaped