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CHAPTER X.

POSTHUMOUS.

The earliest tribute to the mind and character of Gray was published in 1772 in the March number of a rather dingy periodical, issued under Dr. Johnson's protection, and entitled the London Magazine. This was written in the form of a letter to Boswell by a man who had little sympathy with Gray as a poet or as a wit, but was well fitted to comprehend him as a scholar, the Reverend William J. Temple, vicar of St. Gluvias. This gentleman, who had been a fellow of Trinity Hall during Gray's residence in Cambridge, and who is frequently mentioned in the poet's later letters, was almost the only existing link between the circles ruled respectively by Gray and Samuel Johnson, Cole being perhaps the one other person known to both these mutually repellent individuals. Temple's contribution to the London Magazine is styled “A Sketch of the Character of the Celebrated Poet Mr. Gray,” and is ushered in by the editor with some perfunctory compliments to the poems. But Temple's own remarks are very valuable, and may be reprinted here, especially as the careful Mitford and every succeeding writer seem to have been content to quote them from Johnson's inaccurate transcript :

Perhaps Mr. Gray was the most learned man in Europe : he was equally acquainted with the elegant and profound parts of Science, and not superficially, but thoroughly. He knew every branch of history, both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphysics, morals, politics, made a principal part of his plan of study. Voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusement: and he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture, and gardening. With such a fund of knowledge, bis conversation must have been equally instructing and entertaining. But he was also a good man, a well-bred man, a man of virtue and humanity. There is no character without some speck, some imperfection; and I think the greatest defect in his, was an affectation in delicacy or rather effeminacy, and a visible fastidiousness or contempt and disdain of his inferiors in science. He also had in some degree that weakness which disgusted Voltaire so much in Mr. Congreve. Though he seemed to value others chiefly according to the progress they had made in knowledge, yet he could not bear to be considered himself merely as a man of letters: and though with. out birth, or fortune, or station, his desire was to be looked upon as a private gentleman, who read for his amusement.”

Against the charge of priggishness which seems to be contained in these last lines, we may place Norton Nicholls' anecdote, that having in the early part of their acquaintance remarked that some person was “a clever man," he was cut short by Gray, who said, “Tell me if he is good for anything." Another saying of his, that genius and the highest acquirements of science were as nothing compared with “that exercise of right reason which Plato called virtue,” is equally distinct as evidence that he did not place knowledge above conduct. But the earlier part of Temple's article, which regards Gray's learning and acquisitions of every sort, is of great value. Another of the poet's contemporaries, Robert Potter, the translator of Æschylus, and one of the foremost scholars of the time, followed with a similar statement.

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“Mr. Gray was perhaps the most learned man of the age, but his mind never contracted the rust of pedantry. He had too good an understanding to neglect that urbanity which renders society pleasing: his conversation was instructing, elegant, and agreeable. Superior knowledge, an exquisite taste in the fine arts, and, above all, purity of morals, and an unaffected reverence for religion, made this excellent person an ornament to society, and an honour to human nature.”

Mason lost no time in giving out that he was collecting materials for a Life of Gray. His first literary act was to print for private circulation in 1772 the opening book of his didactic poem The English Garden, which he had written as early as 1767, but which Gray had never allowed him to print, speaking freely of it as being nonsense. But Mason loved the children of his brain, and could not support the idea that one of them should be withheld from the world. With great naïveté, he attempted to argue the matter with the shade of his great friend in a third book which he added in 1772.

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Clos'd is that curious ear, by Death's cold hand,
That mark'd each error of my careless strain
With kind severity; to whom my Muse
Still lov'd to whisper what she meant to sing
In louder accent; to whose taste supreme
She first and last appealed,

but still the departed friend may be invoked by the Muse,

and still, by Fancy sooth’d, Fain would she hope her GRAY attends the call.

Mason then refers, in the flat, particular manner native to eighteenth century elegy, to the urn and bust and sculptured lyre which he had placed to the memory of Gray in a rustic alcove in the garden at Aston, and then he ap proaches the awkward circumstance that Gray considered The English Garden trash :

Oft, "smiling as in scorn," oft would he cry,
“Why waste thy numbers on a trivial art
That ill can mimic even the humblest charms
Of all-majestic Nature ?” at the word
His eye would glisten, and his accents glow
With all the Poet's frenzy; “Sovereign Queen!
Behold, and tremble, while thou viewest her State
Thron’d on the heights of Skiddaw : trace her march
Amid the purple crags of Borrowdale.

Will thy boldest song
E'er brace the sinews of enervate art
To such dread daring? Will it e'en direct
Her hand to emulate those softer charms
That deck the banks of Dove, or call to birth
The bare romantic crags,” &c.

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It seems highly probable that, stripped of the charms of blank verse, this is precisely what Gray was constantly saying to Mason, who greatly preferred artificial cascades and myrtle grots to all the mountains in Christendom. On the fly-leaf of this private edition of The English Garden in 1772 appeared the first general announcement of the coming biography.

The work progressed very slowly. From the family of West, who had now been dead thirty years, Mason was fortunate enough to secure a number of valuable letters, but it was difficult to fill up the hiatus between the close of this correspondence and the beginning of Mason's personal acquaintance with Gray. Wharton and Horace Walpole came very kindly to his aid, and he was able to collect a considerable amount of material. It is distressing to think of the mass of papers, letters, verses,

and other documents which Mason possessed, and of the comparatively small use which he made of them. He conceived the happy notion, which does not seem to have been thought of by any previous writer, of allowing Gray to tell his own story by means of his letters; but he vitiated the evidence so put before the world by tampering grossly with the correspondence. He confessed to Norton Nicholls, who was angry at this, that “much liberty was taken in transposing parts of the letters," but he did not go on to mention that he allowed himself to interpolate and erase passages, to conceal proper names, to mutilate the original MSS., and to alter dates and opinions. He was very anxious that what he called his “fidelity” should not “ be impeached” to the public and the critics, but declared that he had only acted for the honour of Gray himself. It is probable that in his foolish heart Mason really did consider that he was respecting Gray in thus brushing his clothes and washing his hands for him before allowing the world to see him. He thought that a ruffled wig or a disordered shoe-tie would destroy his hero's credit with the judicious, and accordingly he removed all that was silly and natural from the letters. This determination to improve Gray has marred, also, the slender thread of biography by which the letters are linked together, yet to a less degree than might be supposed, and the student finds himself constantly returning to Mason's meagre and slipshod narrative for some fact which has been less exactly stated by the far more careful and critical Mitford. Mason had too much literary ability, and had known Gray too intimately and too long, to make his book other than valuable. It is faulty and unfinished, but it is a sketch from the life. It appeared, in two quarto volumes, in

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