Page images


educated at Westminster, and at St. John's College, Cambridge, where he formed a particular intimacy with Gray, who twice* visited him at Denton. He died Dec. 1803, aged about seventy-five. Mr. Robinson was an admirable classical scholar, to whose taste Gray paid great deference. He did not consider Mr. Mason as equal to the task of writing Gray's Life; and on that account when Mason (from his knowledge of Mr. R.'s intimacy with Gray) communicated his intention to him, Mr. Robinson declined returning him an answer, which produced a coolness between them which was afterwards made up. Mr. Robinson, however, owned that Mason had executed his task better than he had expected. The Lines on Lord Holland's House at Kingsgate,' were written when on a visit to Mr. Robinson, and found in the drawer of Gray's dressing table after he was gone. They were restored to him; for he had no other copy, and had forgotten them. What was the real ground of the quarrel between Gray and Walpole when abroad, I do not know; but have reason to believe that it was of too deep a nature ever to be eradicated from Gray's bosom; which I gather from certain expressions half dropped to Mr. Robinson. Mr. R. thought Gray not only a great poet, but an exemplary, amiable, and virtuous man. Gray's poem on Lord Holland first appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. xlvii. p. 624, and vol. xlviii. p. 88; that on Jemmy Twitcher,' in vol. lii. p. 39.


When he went to court to kiss the king's hand for his place, he felt a mixture of shyness and pride, which he expressed to one of his intimate friends in terms of strong illhumour.


The pleasantest morning that I passed at Cambridge, was in company with Mr. Gray, and some critics, at the rehearsal of the music for his ode, previous to its grand performance at the Senate House: and I thought that as he had so many directions to give, and such nice distinctions to make, it was as well he had to deal with the pliant Dr. Randall, rather than with some of the able composers in the metropolis. Mr. Gray was not at that time much more comfortable than the Chancellor himself; for the press was teeming with abuse,

* See the beautiful description of Kentish scenery, written on this tour, in Gray's Letters by Mason.

What if for nothing once you kist
Against the grain, a monarch's fist.'
Swift's Misc. vol. v. p. 162.

and a very satirical parody was then preparing, which soon afterwards appeared. His own delicious ode must always be admired, yet this envenomed shaft was so pointedly levelled at him, though he affected in his letter to Mason to disregard it, that with his fine feelings he was not only annoyed, but very seriously hurt by it. - v. Cradock's Mem. p. 107-8.

From time to time I had treasured up many bon-mots of Gray communicated by Mr. Tyson, and by the former fellowcollegian of Gray, the Rev. Mr. arrow, of Walthamstow, who was always attentive to his witty effusions. Some few of these have been printed incorrectly, and freely bestowed on others in the Johnsoniana. Johnson was highly displeased, that any should be attributed to him, as mentioned by Mr. Davies. When he was publishing his life of Gray, I gave him several anecdotes, but he was very anxious as soon as possible to get to the end of his labours. Not long since I received a very kind message from the Rev. Mr. Bright, Skeffington Hall, Leicestershire, to inform me that he had wished to deposit with me all the remaining documents and papers of Gray, as bequeathed to him by Mr. Stonehewer, but that he found that they all had been carried off to Rome inadvertently by a learned Editor. If recovered they should certainly be consigned to me.- - Id. p. 1834.


(See page xxix. *.)

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,'

Dr. Warton would read "The curfew tolls! - - the knell of parting day." The curfew-bell is the general expression of the old poets; the word 'toll' is not the appropriate verb; it was not a slow bell tolling for the dead; hence,

'Curfew was ronge―lyghts were set up in haste.'

And Shakespeare, None since the curfew rung,' — and 'the curfew bell hath rung, 'tis three o'clock.' But there is another error; a confusion of time. The curfew tolls, and the ploughman returns from work. Now the ploughman returns two or three hours before the curfew rings; and the glimmering landscape' has long ceased to fade before the curfew.

The parting day' is also incorrect; the day had long finished. But if the word curfew' is taken simply for the eveningbell,' then also is the time incorrect; and a knell is not tolled for the parting, but for the parted.

And leaves the world to darkness and to me.'
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight.'

Here the incidents, instead of being progressive, fall back, and make the picture confused and inharmonious; especially, as it appears soon after, that it was not dark; for The moping owl does to the moon complain.'

Molest her ancient solitary reign.'

This line would have been better without ancient; but Gray

The expletives does,' and 'do,' and 'did,' were, we considered, discarded from English poetry, by Pope's taste and skill; who proved that he could construct his musical lines without them. They have lately come to life again (or rather, appear only to have been banished, and not destroyed,) in our modern tragedies, of which Mr. Maturin's Bertram affords a good specimen, as pointed out by Mr. Coleridge.

The Lord and his small train do stand appall'd.
With torch and bell from their high battlements,
The monks do summon,' &c.

had the antiqua regna' of the Latin poets in his mind, and the deserta regna. Besides, to molest a reign,' is a very ungraceful and most unusual expression; and only endured for the rhyme's sake.

Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap.'

[ocr errors]

This is redundant.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn.'

If the hearth blazes, of course it must burn; but blazing hearth' Gray had from Thomson, and burn' was added for the rhyme, return."


'No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.'

Here the epithet lowly, as applied to bed, occasions an ambiguity, as to whether the poet meant the bed on which they sleep, or the grave in which they are laid, which is in poetry called a low or lowly bed. Of course the former is designed; but Mr. Lloyd, in his Latin translation, mistook it for the latter. There can be no greater fault in composition than a doubtful meaning, vitanda in primis ambiguitas.

'Or busy housewife ply her evening care.'

To ply a care, is an expression that is not proper to our language, and was probably formed for the rhyme -'share."

[ocr errors]

Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield;
How bent the woods beneath their sturdy stroke.'

This stanza is made up of various pieces inlaid. Stubborn glebe,' is from Gay; drive afield,' from Milton; sturdy stroke,' from Spenser. Such is too much the system of Gray's compositions, and therefore such the cause of his imperfections. Purity of language, accuracy of thought, and even similarity of rhyme - all give way to the introduction of certain poetical expressions; in fact, the beautiful jewel, when brought, does not fit into the new setting, or socket. Such is the difference between the flower stuck into the ground, and those that grow from it.

Their homely joys and destiny obscure;
The short and simple annals of the poor."

A very imperfect rhyme, such as Swift would not have allowed, and ought not to have appeared in such a poem, where the finishing is supposed to be high, and the expression said to be select.

[ocr errors]

And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave.'


This expression simply means beauty and wealth,' and is much weakened by the addition e'er gave, which was necessary for the rhyme grave.'


Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault.'

A prosaic and colloquial line.

[ocr errors]

Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust?'

An unusually bold expression, to say the least. Pope has, But when our country's cause provokes to arms.'


Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid

Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; Hands that the rod of empire might have sway'd,' &c. Incorrect in the syntax: -Some hands is laid.'

Hands that the rod of empire might have sway'd.'

The rod of empire' is rather a semi-burlesque expression, than a serious one, and degrades the image. Tickell has a better:

Proud names, that once the reins of empire held.’


But then the rhyme sway'd' would not have done. We see, while writing this, that reins' was in the original MS., and undoubtedly dispossessed of its place for the sake of the verb.

But knowledge to their eyes her ample page,

Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll,' &c.


It is necessary to go back six stanzas to find the subject to which the relative their refers; i. e.

The short and simple annals of the POOR.'

Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll.'’

This fine expression is taken from Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici-Rich with the spoils of Nature.'

Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage.'

The use of the word rage' for desire, if not introduced by Pope, was too much used by him.

So just thy skill, so regular thy rage;'

« PreviousContinue »