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You will observe, in the beginning of this thing, some alterations of a few words, partly for improvement, and partly to avoid repetitions of like words and rhymes; yet I have not got rid of them all; the six last lines of the fifth stanza are new, tell me whether they will do. I am well aware of many weakly things towards the conclusion, but I hope the end itself will do; give me your full and true opinion, and that not upon deliberation, but forthwith. Mr. Hurd himself allows that Lyon port is not too bold for Queen Elizabeth.
I have got the old Scotch Ballad on which Douglas * was founded; it is divine, and as long as from hence to Aston. Have you never seen it? Aristotle's best rules are observed in it, in a manner that shews the Author had never read Aristotle. It begins in the fifth act of the play: you may read it two thirds thro’ withont guessing what it is about; and yet, when you come
He had a high opinion of this first Drama of Mr. IIome. In a fetter to another friend, dated August 10, this year, he says, “ I am “ greatly struck with the Tragedy of Douglas, though it has infi"nite faults: The Author seems to me to have retrieved the true
Language of the stage, which had been lost for these hundred years; and there is one scene (between Matilda and the old Pea" sant) so masterly, that it strikes me blind to all the defects in the “ world.” The Ballad, which he here applauds, is to be found in Mr. Percy's Reliques of ancient Poetry, vol. III. p. 89, a work published after the date of this letter.
to the end, it is impossible not to understand the whole story. I send you the two first stanzas.
MR. GRAY TO * MR. HURD.
Stoke, August 25, 1757.
I Do not know why you should thank me for what you had a right and title to t; but attribute it to the excess of your politeness; and the more so, because almost no one else has made me the same compliment. As your acquaintance in the University (you say) do me the honour to admire, it would be ungenerous in me not to give them notice, that they are doing a very unfashionable thing; for all People of Condition are agreed not to admire, nor even to understand. One very great Man, writing to an acquaintance of his and mine, says that he had read them seven or eight times; and that now, when he next sees him, he shall not have above thirty questions to ask. Another (a Peer) believes that
* Now Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry.
the last Stanza of the second Ode relates to King Charles the First and Oliver Cromwell. friends tell me they do not succeed, and write me moving topics of consolation on that head. In short, I have heard of no body but an Actor and a Doctor of Divinity that profess their esteem for them *. Oh yes, a Lady of quality, (a friend of Mason's) who is a great reader. She knew there was a compliment to Dryden, but never suspected there was any thing said about Shakespeare or Milton, till it was explained to her; and wishes that there had been titles prefixed to tell what they were about.
From this mention of Mason's name you may think, perhaps, we are great correspondents. No such thing;
* This was written August 25, 1757. An extract from a letter of Mr. Gray to Dr. Wharton, dated October 7, 1757, mentions another admirer, whom he knew how to value. “ Dr. Warbur“ ton is come to town, and I am told likes them extremely; he says
the world never passed so just an opinion upon any thing as upon them; for that in other things they have affected to 6 like or dislike: whereas here they own they do not understand, " which he looks upon to be very true; but yet thinks they un“ lerstand them as well as Milton or Shakespeare, whom they
are obliged, by fashion, to admire. Mr. Garrick's compli
mentary verses to me you have seen; I am told they were “printed in the Chronicle of last Saturday. The Critical Re“ view is in raptures; but mistakes the Æolian Lyre for the IIarp “ of Æolus, and on this pleasant error founds both a compli“ ment and a criticism. This is all I heard that signifies any " thing."
I have not heard from him these two months. I will
be sure to scold in my own name, as well as in yours. I rejoice to hear you are so ripe for the press, and so voluminous; not for my own sake only, whom
flatter with the hopes of seeing your labours both public and private, but for yours too; for to be employed is to be happy. This principle of mine (and I am convinced of its truth) has, as usual, no influence on my practice. I am alone, and ennuyé to the last degree, yet do nothing. Indeed I have one excuse; my health (which you have so kindly inquired after) is not extraordinary, ever since I came hither. It is no great malady, but several little ones, that seem brewing no good to me. It will be a particular pleasure to me to hear whether Content dwells in Leicestershire, and how she entertains herself there. Only do not be too happy, nor forget entirely the quiet ugliness of Cambridge.
MR. GRAY TO MR. MASON.
Stoke, Sept. 28, 1751.
I Have (as I desired Mr. Stonhever to tell you) read over Caractacus twice, not with pleasure only, but with emotion. You may say what you will; but the contrivance, the manners, the interests, the passions, and the expression, go beyond the dramatic part * of your Elfrida, many many leagues. I even say (though you will think me a bad judge of this) that the World will like it better. I am struck with the Chorus, who are not there merely to sing and dance, but bear through
* In the manuscript now before him, Mr. Gray had only the first Ode, the others were not then written; and although the dramatic part was brought to a conclusion, yet it was afterwards in many places altered. He was mistaken with regard to the opinion the world would have about it. That world, which usually loves to be led in such matters, rather than form an opinion for itself, was taught a different sentiment; and one of its leaders went so far as to declare, that he never knew a second work fall so much below a first from the same hand. To oppose Mr. Gray's judgment to his, I must own gives me some satisfaction; and to enjoy it I am willing to risk that imputation of vanity, which may probably fall to my share for having published this Letter. I must add, however, that some of my friends advised it for the sake of the more general criticisms which they thought too valuable to be suppressed.