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MR. GRAY TO MR. STONHEWER.
London, June 9, 1700
THOUGH you have had but a melancholy employ. ment, it is worthy of envy, and I hope will have all the success it deserves *. It was the best and most natural method of cure, and such as could not have been administered by any but your gentle hand. I thank you for communicating to me what must give you so much satisfaction.
I too was reading M. D'Alembert t, and (like you) am totally disappointed in his Elements. I could only taste a little of the first course: it was dry as a stick, hard as a stone, and cold as a cucumber. But then the letter to Rousseau is like himself; and the Discourses on Elocution, and on the Liberty of Music, are divine. He has added to his translations from Taçi
* Mr. Stonhewer was now at Houghton-le-Spring, in the Bishoprick of Durham, attending on his sick father, rector of that parish.
+ Two subsequent volumes of his “ Melanges de Literature & “ Philosophie.”
tas; and (what is remarkable) though that Author's manner more nearly resembles the best French Writers of the present age, than any thing, he totally fails in the attempt. Is it bis fault, or that of the language?
I have received another Scotch packet *, with a third specimen, inferior in kind, (because it is merely description) but yet full of nature and noble wild imagination. Five Bards pass the night at the Castle of a
* Of the fragments of Erse Poetry, many of which Mr. Gray saw in manuscript before they were published. In a letter to Dr. Wharton, written in the following month, he thus expresses himself on the same subject: “ If you have seen Mr. Stonhewer, he “ has probably told you of my old Scotch, (or rather Irish) Poetry, “ I am gone mad about them; they are said to be translations (li“ teral and in prose) from the Erse tongue, done by one Macpherson, a young clergyman in the Highlands : He means to publish
collection he has of these specimens of antiquity, if it be antiquity; but what perplexes me is, I cannot come at any certainty
on that head. I was so struck with their beauty, that I writ into “ Scotland to make a thousand inquiries; the letters I have in re
turn, are ill wrote, ill reasoned, unsatisfactory, calculated (one “ would imagine) to deceive, and yet not cunning enough to do it “ cleverly. In short, the whole external evidence would make one “ believe these fragments counterfeit; but the internal is so strong
on the other side, that I am resolved to believe them genuine, “ spite of the Devil and the Kirk: it is impossible to conceive that “ they were written by the same man that writes me these letters; “ on the other hand, it is almost as hard to suppose (if they are
original) that he should be able to translate them so admirably. “ In short, this man is the very damon of poetry, or he has lighted “ on a treasure hid for ages. The Welch Poets are also coming to
Chief (himself a principal Bard); each goes out in his turn to observe the face of things, and returns with an extempore picture of the changes he has seen (it is an October night, the harvest-month of the Highlands). This is the whole plan; yet there is a contrivance, and a preparation of ideas, that you would not expect. The oddest thing is, that every one of them sees Ghosts (more or less). The idea, that struck and surprised me most, is the following. One of them (descrbing a storm of wind and rain) says
Ghosts ride on the tempest to-night:
Did you never observe (while rocking winds are piping loud) that pause, as the gust is recollecting itself, and rising upon the ear in a shrill and plaintive note, like the swell of an Æolian harp? I do assure you there is nothing in the world so like the voice of a spirit, Thomson had an ear sometimes: he was not deaf to this; and has described it gloriously, but given it another different turn, and of more horrour. I cannot
light; I have seen a discourse in manuscript about them, by one “ Mr. Evans, a clergyman, with specimens of their writing, this is " in Latin; and though it does not approach the other, there are “ fine scraps among it."
repeat the lines: it is in his Winter. There is another very fine picture in one of them. It describes the breaking of the clouds after the storm, before it is settled into a calm, and when the moon is seen by short intervals.
The waves are tumbling on the lake,
* The whole of this descriptive piece has been since published in a note to a Poem, intitled Croma, (see Ossian's Poems, vol. 1st, p. 350, 8vo.) It is somewhat remarkable that the manuscript, in the translator's own hand, which I have in my possession, varies considerably from the printed copy. Some images are omitted, and others added. I will mention one which is not in the manuscript, the spirit of the mountain shrieks. In the tragedy of Douglas, published at least three years before, I always admired this fine line, the angry spirit of the water shriek'd.--Quere, Did Mr. Home take this sublime image from Ossian, or has the translator of Ossian since borrowed it from Mr. Home?
MR. GRAY TO DR. CLARKE *.
Pembroke-Hall, August 12, 1760. Not knowing whether you are yet returned from your sea-water, I write at random to you. I am come to my resting-place, and find it very necessary, after living for a month in a house with three women that laughed from morning to night, and would allow nothing to the sulkiness of my disposition. Company and cards at home, parties by land and water abroad, and (what they call) doing something, that is, racketting about from morning to night, are occupations, I find, that wear out my spirits, especially in a situation where one might sit still, and be alone with pleasure; for the place was a hill + like Clifden, opening to a very extensive and diversified landscape, with the Thames, which is navigable, running at its foot.
I would wish to continue here in a very different scene, it must be confessed) till Michaelmas; but I fear
* Physician at Epsom. With this gentleman Mr. Gray commenced an early acquaintance at College.
+ Near Henley.