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degree. If I should find any fault with the last act, it could only be with trifles and little expressions. If you make any alterations, I fear it will never improve it; I mean as to the plan. I send you back the two last sheets, because you bid me. I reserve my nibblings and minutiæ for another day.
MR. GRAY TO MR. MASON.
Cambridge, Dec. 19, 1757.
A Life spent out of the world has its hours of despondence, its inconveniencies, its sufferings, as numerous and as real, though not quite of the same sort, as a life spent in the midst of it. The power we have, when we will exert it over our own minds, joined to a little strength and consolation, nay, a little pride we catch from those that seem to love us, is our only support in either of these conditions. I am sensible I cannot return you more of this assistance than I have received from you; and can only tell you, that one who has far more reason than you, I hope, ever will have to look on life with something worse than indifference, is yet no enemy to it; but can look backward on many bitter moments, partly with satisfaction, and partly
with patience; and forward too, on a scene not very promising, with some hope, and some expectations of a better day. The cause, however, which occasioned your reflection, (though I can judge but very imperfectly of it) does not seem, at present, to be weighty enough to make you take any such resolution as you meditate. Use it in its season, as a relief from what is tiresome to you, but not as if it was in consequence of any thing you take ill; on the contrary, if such a thing had happened at the time of your transmigration, I would defer it merely to avoid that appearance.
As to myself, I cannot boast, at present, either of my spirits, my situation, my employments, or fertility. The days and the nights pass, and I am never the nearer to any thing, but that one to which we are all tending; yet I love people that leave some traces of their journey behind them, and have strength enough to advise you to do so while you can. I expect to see Caractacus compleated, and therefore I send you
the books you wanted. I do not know whether they will furnish you with any new matter; but they are well enough written, and easily read. I told you before that (in a time of dearth) I would borrow from the Edda, without entering too ininutely on particulars: but, if I did so, I would make each image so clear,
that it might be fully understood by itself; for in this obscure mythology we must not hint at things, as we do with the Greek fables, that every body is supposed to know at school. However, on second thoughts, I think it would be still better to graft any wild picturesque fable, absolutely of one's own invention, on the Druid-stock; I mean on those half dozen of old fancies that are known to be a part of their system. This will give you more freedom and latitude, and will leave no hold for the Critics to fasten on.
I send you back the Elegy
desired me to do. My advices are always at your service to take or to refuse, therefore you should not call them severe. You know I do not love, much less pique myself on Criticism; and think even a bad verse as good a thing or better than the best observation that ever was made
I like greatly the spirit and sentiment of it (much of which you perhaps owe to your present train of thinking); the disposition of the whole too is natural and elegiac; as to the expression, I would venture to say (did not you forbid me) that it is sometimes too easy. The last line I protest against (this, you will say, is worse than blotting out rhymes); the descriptive part is excellent.
Elegy in the Garden of a Friend.
Pray, when did I pretend to finish, or even insert passages into other people's works, as if it were equally easy to pick holes and to mend thein? All I can say is, that your Elegy must not end with the worst line in it *. It is flat; it is prose; whereas that, above all, ought to sparkle, or at least to shine. If the sentiment must stand, twirl it a little into an apothegm; stick a flower in it; gild it with a costly expression; let it strike the fancy, the ear, or the heart, and I am satisfied.
The other particular expressions which I object to, I mark on the manuscript. Now, I desire you would neither think me severe, nor at all regard what I say further than as it coincides with your own judgment, for the child deserves your partiality; it is a healthy well-made boy with an ingenuous countenance, and promises to live long. I would only wash its face, dress it a little, make it walk upright and strong, and keep it from learning puw words.
I hope you couched my refusal + to Lord John Cavendish in as respectful terms as possible, and with all
* An attempt was accordingly made to improve it; how it stood when this criticism upon it was written, I cannot now recollect.
† Of being Poet Laureat on the death of Cibber, which place the late Duke of Devonshire (then Lord Chamberlain) desired his
due acknowledgment to the Duke. If you hear who it is to be given to, pray let me know; for I interest myself a little in the history of it, and rather wish somebody may accept it that will retrieve the credit of the thing, if it be retrievable, or ever had any credit. Rowe was, I think, the last man of character that had it; Eusden was a person of great hopes in his youth, tho' at last he turned out a drunken parson; Dryden was as disgraceful to the office, from his character, as the poorest scribbler could have been from bis verses.
MR. GRAY TO DR. WUARTON.
February 21, 1758.,
WOULD you know what I am doing? I doubt you have been told already, and hold my employments cheap enough; but every one must judge of his own capability, and cut his amusements according to his disposition. The drift of my present studies is to know, wherever I am, what lies within reach that
be worth sccing, whether it be building, ruin, park, gar
brother to offer to Mr. Gray; and his Lordship hasi commissioned me, (then in town) to write to him concerning it.