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In this year (1742) Gray feems first to have applied himself seriously to poetry; for in this year were produced the Ode to Spring, his Profpect of Eton, and his Ode to Adverfity. He began likewife a Latin poem, de Principiis cogitandi.
It may be collected from the narrative of Mr. Mafon, that his first ambition was to have excelled in Latin poetry: perhaps it were reasonable to wish that he had profecuted his defign; for though there is at prefent fome embarraffment in his phrafe, and fome harshness in his Lyrick numbers, his copioufnefs of language is fuch as, very few poffefs; and his lines, even when imperfect, discover a writer whom practice would quickly have made fkilful.
He now lived on at Peterhouse, very little folicitous what others did or thought, and cultivated his mind and enlarged his views without any other purpofe than of improving and amusing himself; when Mr. Mafon, being elected fellow of Pembroke-hall, brought him a companion who was after
wards to be his editor, and whose fondness and fidélity has kindled in him a zeal of admiration, which cannot be reasonably expected from the neutrality of a stranger and the coldness of a critick.
In this retirement he wrote (1747) an ode on the Death of Mr. Walpole's Cat; and the year afterwards attempted a poem of more importance, on Government and Education, of which the fragments which remain have many excellent lines.
His next production (1750) was his farfamed Elegy in the Church-yard, which, finding its way into a Magazine, first, I believe, made him known to the publick.
An invitation from lady Cobham about this time gave occafion to an odd compofition called a Long Story, which adds little to Gray's character.
Several of his pieces were published (1753), with defigns, by Mr. Bentley; and, that they might in fome form or other make a book, only one fide of each leaf was printed.: Gg 2 I believe
I believe the poems and the plates recommended each other fo well, that the whole impreffion was foon bought. This year he loft his mother.
Some time afterwards (1756) fome young men of the college, whofe chambers were near his, diverted themselves with disturbing him by frequent and troublesome noises, and, as is faid, by pranks yet more offenfive and contemptuous. This infolence, having endured it a while, he reprefented to the governors of the fociety, among whom perhaps he had no friends; and, finding his complaint little regarded, removed himself to Pembroke-hall.
In 1757 he published The Progress of Poetry and The Bard, two compofitions at which the readers of poetry were at first content to gaze in mute amazement. Some that tried them confeffed their inability to understand them, though Warburton faid that they were understood as well as the works of Milton and Shakspeare, which it is the fashion to admire. Garrick wrote a few lines in their praise. Some hardy champions
undertook to rescue them from neglect, and in a fhort time many were content to be shewn beauties which they could not fee.
Gray's reputation was now fo high, that, after the death of Cibber, he had the honour of refufing the laurel, which was then bestowed on Mr. Whitehead.
His curiofity, not long after, drew him away from Cambridge to a lodging near the Museum, where he refided near three years, reading and transcribing; and, so far as can be discovered, very little affected by two odes on Oblivion and Obfcurity, in which his Lyrick performances were ridiculed with much contempt and much ingenuity.
When the Profeffor of Modern History at Cambridge died, he was, as he fays, cockered and fpirited up, till he asked it of lord Bute, who sent him a civil refufal; and the place was given to Mr. Brocket, the tutor of Sir James Lowther.
His conftitution was weak, and believing that his health was promoted by exercife and Gg 3
change of place, he undertook (1765) a journey into Scotland, of which his account, fo far as it extends, is very curious and elegant; for as his comprehenfion was ample, his curiofity extended to all the works of art, all the appearances of nature, and all the monuments of past events. He naturally contracted a friendship with Dr. Beattie, whom he found a poet, a philofopher, and a good man. The Marefchal College at Aberdeen offered him the degree of Doctor of Laws, which, having omitted to take it at Cambridge, he thought it decent to refuse.
What he had formerly folicited in vain, was at laft given him without folicitation. The Profefforship of Hiftory became again vacant, and he received (1768) an offer of it from the duke of Grafton. He accepted, and retained it to his death; always defigning lectures, but never reading them; uneafy at his neglect of duty, and appeafing his uneafinefs with defigns of reformation, and with a refolution which he believed himfelf to have made of refigning the office, if he found himself unable to discharge it.