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lencies. Plato improves every day; so does my friendship with him. These three divide my whole time, though I believe you will guess there is no quadruple alliance; that is a happiness which I only enjoyed when you was at Eton.
The nick-name which gives us least difficulty here is that in which we are most interested. Orosmades was West's name for Gray, because he was such a chilly mortal, and worshipped the sun. West himself was known as Favonius. Tydeus is very clearly Walpole himself, and Almanzor is probably Ashton. I would hazard the conjecture that Plato is Henry Coventry, a young man then making some stir in the University with certain semi-religious Dialogues. He was a friend of Ashton's, and produced on Horace Walpole a very startling impression, causing in that volatile creature for the first and only time an access of fervent piety, during which Horace actually went to read the Bible to the prisoners in the Castle gaol. Very soon this wore off, and Coventry himself became a free-thinker, but Ashton remained serious, and taking orders very early, dropped out of the circle of friends. In all this the name of Gray is not mentioned, but one is justified in believing that he did not join the reading-parties at the Castle.
Early in 1736 the three Cambridge undergraduates appeared in print simultaneously and for the first time in a folio collection of Latin Hymeneals on the marriage of Frederic, Prince of Wales. Of these effusions, Gray's copy of hexameters is by far the best, and was so recognized from the first. Mason has thought it necessary to make a curious apology for this poem, and says that Gray "ought to have been above prostituting his powers" in "adulatory verses of this kind." But if he had glanced through the lines again, of which he must have
been speaking from memory, Mason would have seen that they contain no more fulsome compliments than were absolutely needful on the occasion. The young poet is not thinking at all about their royal highnesses, but a great deal about his own fine language, and is very innocent of anything like adulation. The verses themselves do not show much progress; there is a fine passage at the end, but it is almost a cento from Ovid. One line, melancholy to relate, does not scan. In every way superior to the Hymeneal is Luna Habitabilis, a poem in nearly one hundred verses, written by desire of the College in 1737, and printed in the Muse Etonenses. It is impossible to lay any stress on these official productions, mere exercises on a given text. At Pembroke, both in the library of the College, and in the Stonehewer MSS. at the master's lodge, I have examined a number of similar pieces, in prose and verse, copied in a round youthful handwriting, and signed "Gray." Among them a copy of elegiacs, on the 5th of November, struck me as particularly clever, and it might be well, as the body of Gray's works is so small, and his Latin verse so admirable, to include several of these in a complete edition of his writings. They do not, however, greatly concern us here.
As early as May 1736 it is curious to find the dulness of Cambridge already lying with a leaden weight on the nerves and energies of Gray, a youth scarcely in his twentieth year. In his letters to West he strikes exactly the same note that he harped upon ten years later to Wharton, twenty years later to Mason, thirty years later to Norton Nichols, and in his last months, with more shrill insistence than ever, to Bonstetten. The cloud
sank early upon his spirits. He writes to West: "when
we meet it will be my greatest of pleasures to know what you do, what you read, and how you spend your time, and to tell you what I do not read, and how I do not, &c., for almost all the employment of my hours may be best explained by negatives; take my word and experience upon it, doing nothing is a most amusing business; and yet neither something nor nothing gives me any pleasure. When you have seen one of my days, you have seen a whole year of my life; they go round and round like the blind horse in the mill, only he has the satisfaction of fancying he makes a progress and gets some ground; my eyes are open enough to see the same dull prospect, and to know that having made four-and-twenty steps more, I shall be just where I was." This is the real Gray speaking to us for the first time, and after a few more playful phrases, he turns again, and gives us another phase of his character. "You need not doubt, therefore, of having a first row in the front box of my little heart, and I believe you are not in danger of being crowded there; it is asking you to an old play, indeed, but you will be candid enough to excuse the whole piece for the sake of a few tolerable lines." Many clever and delicate boys think it effective to pose as victims to melancholy, and the former of these passages would possess no importance if it were not for its relation to the poet's later expressions. He never henceforward habitually rose above this deadly dulness of the spirits. His melancholy was passive and under control, not acute and rebellious, like that of Cowper, but it was almost more enduring. It is probable that with judicious medical treatment it might have been removed, or so far relieved as to be harmless. But it was not the habit of men in the first half of the eighteenth century to take any rational care of their
health. Men who lived in the country and did not hunt, took no exercise at all. The constitution of the generation was suffering from the mad frolics of the preceding age, and almost everybody had a touch of gout or scurvy. Nothing was more frequent than for men, in apparently robust health, to break down suddenly, at all points, in early middle life. People were not in the least surprised when men like Garth and Fenton died of mere indolence, because they had become prematurely corpulent and could not be persuaded to get out of bed. Gay, Thomson, and Gray are illustrious examples of the neglect of all hygienic precaution among quiet middle-class people in the early decades of the century. Gray took no exercise whatever; Cole reports that he said at the end of his life that he had never thrown his leg across the back of a horse, and this was really a very extraordinary confession for a man to make in those days. But we shall have to return to the subject of Gray's melancholy, and we need not dwell upon it here, further than to note that it began at least with his undergraduate days. He was considered effeminate at college, but the only proof of this that is given to us is one with which the most robust modern reader must sympathise, namely that he drank tea for breakfast, while all the rest of the university, except Horace Walpole, drank beer.
The letter from which we have just quoted goes on to show that the idleness of his life existed only in his imagination. He was, in fact, at this time wandering at will along the less-trodden paths of Latin literature, and rapidly laying the foundation of his unequalled acquaintance with the classics. He is now reading Statius, he tells West, and he encloses a translation of about one hundred and ten lines from the sixth book of the Thebaid.
This is the first example of his English verse which has been preserved. It is very interesting, as showing already the happy instinct which led Gray to reject the mode of Pope in favour of the more massive and sonorous versesystem of Dryden. He treats the heroic couplet with great skill, but in close discipleship of the latter master in his Fables. To a trained ear, after much study of minor English verse written between 1720 and 1740, these couplets have almost an archaic sound, so thoroughly are they out of keeping with the glib, satiric poetry of the period. Pope was a splendid artificer of verse, but there was so much of pure intellect, and of personal temperament, in the conduct of his art, that he could not pass on his secret to his pupils, and in the hands of his direct imitators the heroic couplet lost every charm but that of mere sparkling progress. The verse of such people as Whitehead had become a simple voluntary upon knittingneedles. Gray saw the necessity of bringing back melody and volume to the heroic line, and very soon the practice of the day disgusted him, as we shall see, with the couplet altogether. For the present he was learning the principles of his art at the feet of Dryden. West was delighted with the translation, and compared Gray contending with Statius to Apollo wrestling with Hyacinth. In a less hyperbolical spirit, he pointed out, very justly, the excellent rendering of that peculiarly Statian phrase, Summos auro mansueverat ungues, by
And calm'd the terrors of his claws in gold.
We find from Walpole that Gray spent his vacations in August, 1736, at his uncle's house at Burnham, in Buckinghamshire; and here he was close to the scene of so many of his later experiences, the sylvan parish of Stoke