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it was necessary not to omit this feature of his mind, when employed in drawing a general likeness of it; and what colours could be found so forcible as his own to express its true light and shadow? I would further observe, that whatever truth there might be in his satire at the time it was written, it can by no means affect the present state of the university. There is usually a much greater fluctuation of taste and manners in an academical, than a national body; occasioned (to use a scholastic metaphor) by that very quick succession of its component parts, which often goes near to destroy its personal identity. Whatever therefore may be true of such a society at one
may be, and generally is, ten years after absolutely false. ]-Mason.
MR. GRAY TO MR. WEST.
You must know that I do not take degrees, and, after this term, shall have nothing more of college impertinences to undergo, which I trust will be some pleasure to you, as it is a great one to
I have endured lectures daily and hourly since I came last, supported by the hopes of being shortly at full liberty to give myself up to my friends and classical companions, who, poor
souls! though I see them fallen into great contempt with
most people here, yet I cannot help sticking to them, and out of a spirit of obstinacy (I think) love them the better for it; and indeed, what can I do else? Must I plunge into metaphysics ? Alas, I cannot see in the dark; nature has not furnished me with the optics of a cat. Must I pore upon mathematics ?* `Alas, I cannot see in too much light; I am no eagle. It is very possible that two and two make four, but I would
* The reader must consider the spirit of humour in which this letter is written, before he regards these sentiments familiarly thrown out to his correspondent, as the mature or settled opinions of Gray, on the science of mathematics. “ Mr. Gray (says Mr. Mathias) much regretted that he had never applied his mind to the study of the mathematics; and once, rather late in life, he hinted to his friend an intention to undertake it. No one was ever more convinced of its dignity and its importance. He wished, however, to appreciate it with discreet approbation, not considering it as the only mode by which the understanding could be matured : as he conceived that a fixed attention to any works of close and of deep reasoning might produce the same accurate precision of thought. But he felt, and he owned it too, the commanding power of those speculations, to which the mathematician alone can conduct the patient inquirers into
And he could not but admire the strong and animated expressions of Halley,
-“ Nubem pellente Mathesi, Claustra patent Cæli, rerumque immobilis ordo.” While he contemplated, with reverence,
the laws and the system of the universe fixed by a sublime geometry.” See Mathias's Observations on Gray's Writings, page 68, 8vo.- Ed.
not give four farthings to demonstrate this ever so clearly; and if these be the profits of life, give me the amusements of it. The people I behold all around me, it seems, know all this and more, and yet I do not know one of them who inspires me with any ambition of being like him. Surely it was of this place, now Cambridge, but formerly known by the name of Babylon, that the prophet spoke when he said, “ the wild beasts of the desert shall dwell there, and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and owls shall build there, and satyrs shall dance there ; their forts and towers shall be a den for ever, a joy of wild asses; there shall the great owl make her nest, and lay and hatch and gather under her shadow; it shall be a court of dragons ; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.” You see here is a pretty collection of desolate animals, which is verified in this town to a tittle, and perhaps it may also allude to your habitation, for you know all types may be taken by abundance of handles; however, I defy your owls to match mine.
If the default of your spirits and nerves be nothing but the effect of the hyp, I have no more
We all must submit to that wayward queen; I too in no small degree own her
I feel her influence while I speak her power.
But if it be a real distemper, pray take more care of your health, if not for your own at least for our sakes, and do not be so soon weary of this little world: I do not know what* refined friendships you may have contracted in the other, but pray do not be in a hurry to see your acquaintance above; among your terrestrial familiars, however, though I say it, that should not say it, there positively is not one that has a greater esteem for you than
yours most sincerely, &c. Peterhouse, December, 1736.
MR. WEST TO MR. GRAY.
I CONGRATULATE you on your being about to leave college,t and rejoice much you carry no degrees with you. For I would not have you dignified, and I not, for the world, you would have insulted
My eyes, such as they are, like yours, are neither metaphysical nor mathematical ; I have, nevertheless, a great respect for your con
* This thought is very juvenile, but perhaps he meant to ridicule the affected manner of Mrs. Rowe's letters o the dead to the living; a book which was, I believe, published about this time.-Mason.
+ I suspect that Mr. West mistook his correspondent; who, in saying he did not take degrees, meant only to let his friend know that he should soon be released from lectures and disputations. It is certain that Mr. Gray continued at college near two years after the time he wrote the preceding letter.—Mason.
noisseurs that way, but am always contented to be their humble admirer. Your collection of desolate animals pleased me much; but Oxford, I can assure you, has her owls that match yours,
and the prophecy has certainly a squint that way. Well, you are leaving this dismal land of bondage, and which way are you turning your face? Your friends, indeed, may be happy in you, but what will you do with your classic companions ? An inn of court is as horrid a place as a college, and a moot case is as dear to gentle dulness as a syllogism. But wherever you go, let me beg you not to throw poetry “ like a nauseous weed away:” cherish its sweets in your bosom, they will serve you now and then to correct the disgusting sober follies of the common law, misce stultitiam consiliis brevem, dulce est desipere in loco; so said Horace to Virgil, those two sons of Anak in poetry, and so say I to you, in this degenerate land of pigmies,
Mix with your grave designs a little pleasure,
Each day of business has its hour of leisure. In one of these hours I hope, dear Sir, you will sometimes think of me, write to me, and know me yours,
'Εξαύδα, μη κεύθε νόφ, ίνα έιδομεν άμφω.* that is write freely to me and openly, as I do to
* Hom. Il. lib. A, v. 363.