Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

a

itself in a final outburst of mutiny, in which they rushed along the streets brandishing lighted links.

This scene of rebellion and confusion could not fail to excite ong emotion in the mind of a man like Gray, of orderly tastes and timid personal character, to whom a painted Indian would be scarcely a more formidable object that a noisy young buck, flushed with wine, Alinging his ash-stick against college windows, and his torch into the faces of passers-by. A life at the university given up to dice, and horses, and the loud coarse Georgian dissipation of that day, could not seem to a thinker to be one which brought glory either to the teacher or the taught, and in the midst of this sensual riot Gray sat down to write his poem on The Alliance of Education and Government. Of his philosophical fragments this is by far the best, and it is seriously to be regretted that it does not extend beyond one hundred and ten lines. The design of the poem, which has been preserved, is highly interesting, and the treatment at least as poetical as that of so purely didactic a theme could be. Short as it is, it attracted the warm enthusiasm of Gibbon, who ejaculates :-“instead of com

, piling tables of chronology and natural history, why did not Mr. Gray apply the powers of his genius to finish the philosophical poem of which he has left such an exquisite specimen ?" The heroic couplet is used with great skill; as an example may be cited the lines describing the invasion of Italy by the Goths :

As oft have issued, host impelling host,
The blue-eyed myriads from the Baltic coast ;
The prostrate South to the destroyer yields
Her boasted titles and her golden fields :
With grim delight the brood of winter view
A brighter day, and heavens of azure hue,
Scent the new fragrance of the breathing rose,
And quaff the pendant vintage as it grows.

while one line, at least, lives in the memory of every lover of poetry

When love could teach a monarch to be wise,
And gospel-light first dawn'd from Bullen's eyes.

On the 19th of August, 1748, Gray copied the first fiftyseven lines of this poem in a letter he was writing to Wharton, saying that his object would be to show that education and government must concur in order to produce great and useful men. But as he was pursuing his plan in the leisurely manner habitual to him, Montesquieu's celebrated work L'Esprit des Lois was published, and fell into his hands. He found, as he told Mason, that the Baron had forestalled some of his best thoughts, and from this time forth his interest in the scheme languished and soon after it entirely lapsed. Some years later he thought of taking it up again, and was about to compose a prefatory Ode to M. de Montesquieu when that writer died, on the 10th of February, 1755, and the whole thing was abandoned. Gray's remarks on L'Esprit des Lois are in his clearest and acutest vein :-" The

_ subject is as extensive as mankind; the thoughts perfectly new, generally admirable, as they are just; sometimes a little too refined ; in short there are faults, but such as an ordinary man could never have committed : the style very lively and concise, consequently sometimes obscure,—it is the gravity of Tacitus, whom he admires, tempered with the gaiety and fire of a Frenchman.” Gray was probably the only Englishman living capable of criticising a new French book with this delicate justice.

a

CHAPTER V.

THE ELEGY-SIX POEMS-DEATHS OF GRAY'S AUNT AND

MOTHER,

EARLY in 1748 Dodsley published the first three volumes of his useful miscellany, called A Collection of Poems, for the plan of which he claimed an originality that it scarcely deserved, since, like the earlier miscellanies of Gildon and Tonson, it merely aimed at embracing in one work the best scattered poetry of the day. In the second volume were printed, without the author's name, three of Gray's odes—those To Spring, On Mr. Walpole's Cat, and the Eton Ode. Almost all the poets of this age, and several of the preceding, were contributors to the collection. Pope, Green, and Tickell represented the past generation, while Collins, Dyer, and Shenstone, in the first volume ; Lyttelton, Gilbert West, I. H. Browne, and Edwards the sonneteer, in the second volume ; and Joseph Warton, Garrick, Mason, and Walpole himself in the third volume, showed to the best of their ability what English poetry in that age was capable of; while three sturdy Graces, bare and bold, adorned the title-page of each instalment, and gave a kind of visible pledge that no excess of refinement should mar the singing, even when Lowth, Bishop of London, held the lyre.

As in the crisis of a national history some young man, unknown before, leaps to the front by sheer force of character, and takes the helm of state before his elders, so in the confusion and mutiny at the University the talents of Dr. Edmund Keene, the new master of Peterhouse, came suddenly into notice, and from comparative obscurity he rose at once into the fierce light that beats upon a successful reformer. His energy and promptitude pointed him out as a fit man to become vice-chancellor in the troublous year 1749, although he was only thirty-six years of age, and it was practically owing to his quick eye and hard hand that order was reinstated in the university. With his mastership of the college Gray began to take an interest for the first time in Peterhouse, and cultivated the acquaintance of Keene, in whom he discovered an energy and practical power which he had never suspected. The reign of Mum Sharp, as the undergraduates nicknamed Keene, was as brief as it was brilliant. In 1752 the Government rewarded his action in the university with the see of Chester, and two years later he resigned his nominal headship of Peterhouse, dying Bishop of Ely nearly thirty years afterwards.

At Pembroke Hall, meanwhile, all was going well at last. In the spring of 1749 there was a pacification between the Master and the Fellows, and Pembroke, says Gray to Wharton, “is all harmonious and delightful.” But the rumours of dissension had thinned the ranks of the undergraduates; “they have no boys at all, and unless you can send us a hamper or two out of the north to begin with, they will be like a few rats straggling about a deserted dwelling-house.”

Gray was now about to enter the second main period of his literary activity, and he opens it with a hopeless protestation of his apathy and idleness. He writes (April

[ocr errors]

25, 1749), from Cambridge, this amusing piece of prophecy :-“The spirit of laziness, the spirit of this place, begins to possess even me, that have so long declaimed against it. Yet has it not so prevailed, but that I feel that discontent with myself, that ennui that ever accompanies it in its beginnings. Time will settle my conscience, time will reconcile my languid companion; we shall smoke, we shall tipple, we shall doze together, we shall have our little jokes, like other people, and our long stories. Brandy will finish what port began; and a month after the time you will see in some corner of a London Evening Post, yesterday, died the Rev. Mr. John Grey, Senior Fellow of Clare Hall, a facetious companion, and well respected by all that knew him. His death is supposed to have been occasioned by a fit of the apoplexy, being found fallen out of bed.” But this whimsical anticipation of death and a blundering mortuary inscription, was startled out of his thoughts by the sudden approach of death itself to one whom he dearly loved. Miss Mary Antrobus, died somewhat suddenly, at the age of sixty-six, at Stoke, on the 5th of November, 1749. The letter which Gray wrote to his mother on receiving news of this event is so characteristic of his wise and tender seriousness of character, and allows us to observe so much more closely than usual the real working of his mind, that no apology is needed for quoting it here. It was written from Cambridge, on the 7th of November, 1749:

His aunt,

The unhappy news I have just received from you equally surprises and afflicts me. I have lost a person I loved very much, and have been used to from my infancy; but am much more concerned for your loss, the circumstances of which I forbear to dwell upon, as you must be too sensible of them yourself ;

« AnteriorContinuar »