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MR. GRAY TO DR. WHARTON.
Stoke, August 9, 1750.
ARISTOTLE says (one may write Greek to you without scandal) that Οι τοποι ου διαλύουσι την Φιλίαν απλώς, αλλά την ενέργειαν· έαν δε χρόνιος η απουσία γένηται και της Φιλίας δοκεί λήθην ποιείν. όθεν είρηται
Πολλάς δή Φιλίας απροσηγορία διέλυσιν. . But Aristotle may say whatever he pleases, I do not find myself at all the worse for it. I could indeed wish to refresh my 'Evéqysia a little at Durham by the sight of you, but when is there a probability of my being so happy? It concerned me greatly when I heard the other day that your asthma continued at times to afflict you, and that you were often obliged to go into the country to breathe; you cannot oblige me more than by giving me an account both of the state of your body and mind: I hope the latter is able to keep you chearful and easy in spite of the frailties of its companion. As to my own, it can neither do one nor the other; and I have the mortification to find my spiritual part the most infirm thing about me. You have doubtless heard. of the loss I have had in Dr. Middleton, whose house was the only easy place one could find to converse in
at Cambridge: For my part I find a friend so uncommon a thing, that I cannot help regretting even an old acquaintance, which is an indifferent likeness of it; and though I do not approve the spirit of his books, methinks 'tis pity the world should lose so rare a thing as a good writer *
My studies cannot furnish a recommendation of many new books to you. There is a defence « de l'Esprit des Loix,” by Montesquieu himself; it has some lively things in it, but is very short, and his adversary appears to be so mean a bigot that he deserved no
There are 3 vols. in 4to. of “ Histoire du Cabinet du Roy, by Messrs. Buffons and d’Aubenton;" the first is a man of character, but I am told has hurt it by this work. It is all a sort of introduction to natural history; the weak part of it is a love of system which runs through it; the most contrary thing in the world to a science entirely grounded upon experiments, and which has nothing to do with + vivacity of imagination. However I cannot help commending the general view which he gives of the face of the earth, fol
* Mr. Gray used to say, that good writing not only required great parts, but the very best of those parts.
† One cannot therefore help lamenting, that Mr. Gray let his imagination lie dornyant so frequently, in order to apply himself to this very science.
lowed by a particular one of all the known nations, their peculiar figure and manners, which is the best epitome of geography I ever met with, and written with sense and elegance; in short, these books are well worth turning over.
The Memoirs of the Abbé de Mongon, in 5 vols. are highly commended, but I have not seen them. He was engaged in several embassies to Germany, England, &c. during the course of the late war. The President Henault's “ Abregé Chronologique de l'Histoire de France," I believe I have before mentioned to you as a very good book of its kind.
About this time Mr. Gray had put his last hand to his celebrated Elegy in the Country Church-yard, and had communicated it to his friend Mr. Walpole, whose good taste was too much charmed with it to suffer him to withhold the sight of it from his acquaintance; accordingly it was shewn about for some time in manuscript, (as Mr. Gray intimates in the subsequent letter to Dr. Wharton) and received with all the applause it so justly merited. Amongst the rest of the fashionable world, for to these only it was at present communicated, Lady Cobham, who now lived at the mansionhouse at Stoke-Pogis, had read and admired it. She wished to be acquainted with the author; accordingly
her relation Miss Speed and Lady Schaub, then at her house, undertook to bring this about by making him the first visit. He happened to be from home, when the Ladies arrived at his Aunt's solitary mansion; and, when he returned, was surprised to find, written on one of his papers in the parlour where he usually read, the following note: “ Lady Schaub's compliments to “ Mr. Gray; she is sorry not to have found him at “ home, to tell him that Lady Brown is very well.” This necessarily obliged him to return the visit, and soon after induced him to compose a ludicrous account of this little adventure, for the amusement of the Ladies in question. He wrote it in ballad measure, and intitled it a Long Story: when it was handed. about in manuscript, nothing could be more various than the opinions concerning it; by some it was thought a master-piece of original humour, by others a wild and fantastic farrago; and when it was published, the sentiments of good judges were equally divided about it. How it came to be printed I shall mention hereafter; and also inform the reader why Mr. Gray rejected it in the collection which he himself made of his Poems: In the meanwhile, as I think it ought to have a place in these Memoirs, for reasons too obvious to insist upon, I shall beg leave to preface it with my own idea of the author's peculiar vein of humour; which, with my notes on the piece itself, may
perhaps account in some sort for the variety of opinions which people of acknowledged taste have formed concerning it.
Mr. Gray had not (in my opinion) either in his conversation or writing much of what is called pure humour; it was always so much blonded either with wit, fancy, or his own peculiar character, that it became equivocal, and hence not adapted to please generally: It had more of the manner of Congreve than Addison; and we know where one person relishes my Lady Wishfort, there are thousands that admire Sir Roger de Coverley: It will not however from hence follow, that Lady Wishfort is ill drawn; for my own part I think it one of the most entertaining characters that ever was written. I know, however, that it is commonly thought extravagant and unnatural; and I believe it is true, that no woman ever existed who had much folly and affectation, and at the same time so much wit and fancy; yet erery one sees that were this fancy and wit taken away, her character would become insipid, in proportion as it became more natural; so that, in this and other instances, if Congrete's fools were fools indeed, they would, by being true characters, cease to be entertaining ones. It may be further observed on the subject of humour, that it may and ought to be divided into several species: there is one sort, that of