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ready to light it before the morning.” It is rather difficult to know what, even in so pastoral a Bloomsbury, Gray did with a sow, for which he thanks Wharton heartily in April 1760.
In the spring of this year Gray first met Sterne, who had just made an overwhelming success with Tristram Shandy, and who was sitting to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Gray's opinion of Sterne was not entirely unfavourable ; the great humorist was polite to him, and his works were not by nature so perplexing to Gray as those of Smollett and Fielding. The poet was interested in Stemne's newlydiscovered emotion, sensibility, and told Nicholls afterwards that in this sort of pathos Sterne never failed; for his wit he had less patience, and frankly disapproved his tittering insinuations. He said that there was good writing and good sense in Sterne's Sermons, and spoke of him, when he died in 1768, with some respect. A less famous but pleasanter man, whose acquaintance Gray began to cultivate about this time was Benjamin Stillingfleet, the Blue Stocking.
In April 1760 Lady Cobham was at last released from her sufferings. She left the whole of her property, 30,0001., to Harriet Speed, besides the house in Hanover Square, plate, jewels, and much blue and white china. Gray tells Wharton darkly that Miss Speed does not know her own mind, but that he knows his. The movements of this odd couple during the summer of 1760 are very dim to us and perplexing. Why they seem associated in some sort of distant intimacy from April to June, why in the latter month they go down together to stay with General Conway and Lady Ailesbury at Park Place, near Henley, and why Lady Carlisle is of the party, these are questions that now can only tantalize
us. Gray himself confesses that all the world expected him to marry Miss Speed, and was astonished that Lady Cobham only left him 207. for a mourning ring. It seems likely on the whole that had he been inclined to endow Harriet Speed with his gout, his poverty, his melancholy, and his fitful genius, she would have accepted the responsibility. When she did marry, it was not for money or position. He probably, for his part, did not feel so passionately inclined to her as to convince himself that he ought to think of marriage. He put an air of Geminiani to words for her, not very successfully, and he wrote one solitary strain of amatory experience :
With beauty, with pleasure surrounded, to languish,
To start from short slumbers, and wish for the morning
To close my dull eyes when I see it returning,
Words that steal from my tongue, by no meaning connected!
For a month in the summer of 1760 he lived at Park Place in the company of Miss Speed, Lady Ailesbury, and Lady Carlisle, who laughed from morning to night, and would not allow him to give way to what they called his "sulkiness." They found him a difficult guest to entertain. Lady Ailesbury told Walpole afterwards that one day when they went out for a pienic, Gray only opened his lips once, and then merely to say, "Yes, my Lady, I believe so." His own account shows that his nerves were in a very weary condition. "Company and cards at home, parties by land and water abroad, and what they call doing something, that is, racketing 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." Early in August he escaped to the quietness of Cambridge in the Long Vacation, and after this saw little of Miss Speed. Next January she married a poor man ten years younger than herself, a Baron de la Peyrière, and went to live at Viry, on the Lake of Geneva. Here, long after the death of the poet, she received a Mr. Leman, and gave into his hands the lines which Gray had addressed to her. So ended his one feeble and shadowy
Gray was not destined to come within the genial glow of any woman's devotion, except his mother's. He lived a life apart from the absorbing emotions of humanity, desirous to sympathize with but not to partake in the stationary affections and household pleasures of the
In the annals of friendship he is eminent; he did not choose to tempt fortune by becoming a husband and a father. There are some beautiful words of Sir Thomas Browne that come before the mind as singularly appropriate to Gray:—“I never yet cast a true affection on a woman; but I have loved my friend, as I do virtue, my soul, my God.”
In July 1760 there were published anonymously Two Odes, addressed to Obscurity and to Oblivion, which were attacks on Gray and on Mason respectively. It was not at first recognized that this was a salute fired off by that group
young satirists from Westminster, of whom Cowper, Lloyd and Churchill are now the best known. These odes, indeed, were probably a joint production, but the credit of them was taken by George Colman (the elder) and by Robert Lloyd, gay young wits of twenty-seven. The mock odes, in which the manners of Gray and Mason were fairly well parodied, attracted a good deal more notice than they were worth, and the Monthly Reviern
challenged the poets to reply. But Gray warned Mason not to do so. Colman was a friend of Garrick, while Lloyd was an impassioned admirer of Gray himself, and there was no venom in the verses. Lloyd, indeed, had the naïveté to reprint these odes some years afterwards, in a volume which bore his name, and which contained a
a Latin version of the Elegy in a Country Churchyard. Lloyd was a figure of no importance, a mere shadow cast before by Churchill.
In 1760 Gray became deeply interested in the Erse Fragments of Macpherson, soon to come before the world as the epic of Ossian. He corresponded with the young Scotchman of twenty-two, whom he found stupid and illeducated, and, in Gray's opinion, quite incapable of having invented what he was at this time producing. The elaborate pieces, the narratives of Croma, Fingal and the rest, were not at this time thought of, and it seems on the whole that the romantic fragments so much admired by the best judges of poetry were genuine. What is interesting to us in Gray's connexion with Ossian is partly critical and partly personal. Critically it is very important to see that the romantic tendency of his mind asserted itself at once in the presence of this savage poetry. He quotes certain phrases with high approbation. Ossian
of the winds, “Their songs are of other worlds:" Gray exclaims, “ Did you never observe 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.” These pieces produced on him just the same effect of exciting and stimulating mystery that had been caused by his meeting with the ballads of Gil Morice and Chevy Chase in 1757. He began to feel, just as the power
of writing verse was leaving him or seemed to be declining, that the deepest chords of his nature as a poet had never yet been struck. From this time forth what little serious poetry he wrote was distinctly romantic, and his studies were all in the direction of what was savage and archaic, the poetry of the precursors of our literature in England and Scotland, the runic chants of the Scandinavians, the war-songs of the primitive Gaels, everything, in fact, which for a century past had been looked upon as ungenteel and incorrect in literature. Personally what is interesting in his introduction to Ossian is his sudden sympathy with men like Adam Smith and David Hume, for whom he had been trained in the school of Warburton and Hurd to cultivate a fanatic hatred. In the summer of 1760 a variety of civilities on the absorbing question of the Erse Fragments passed between him and the great historian. Hume had written to a friend :-“It gives me pleasure to find that a person of so fine a taste as Mr. Gray approves of these fragments, as it may convince us that our fondness of them is not altogether founded on national prepossession,” and Gray was encouraged by this to enter into correspondence of a most friendly kind with the dangerous enemy of orthodoxy. He never quite satisfied himself about Ossian; his last word on that subject is :-“For me, I admire nothing but Fingal, yet I remain still in doubt about the authenticity of these poems, though inclining rather to believe them genuine in spite of the world. Whether they are the inventions of antiquity, or of a modern Scotchman, either case to me is alike unaccountable. Je m'y perds.” Modern scholarship has really not progressed much nearer to a solution of the puzzle.
Partly at the instance of Mason, Gray took a considerable interest in the exhibition of the Society of Arts at the