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Idle notes ! untimely green!
Why this unavailing liaste ?
Prove not always winter past,
The stings of Falsehood those shall try,
That mocks the tear it forced to flow;
Amid severest woe.
A griesly troop are seen,
More hideous than their queen:
Those in the deeper vitals rage:
And slow-consuming Age.
Condemn'd alike to groan;
Th' unfeeling for his own.
And happiness too swiftly flies?
'Tis folly to be wise.
The chief prose compositions of Gray are his letters, which are among the
Thyrsis, when we parted, swore
Ere the spring he would return-
And the bud that decks the thorn?
HOW HE SPENDS HIS TIME IN THE COUNTRY. 1. ME. WALPOLE.
I was hindered in my last, and so could not give you all the trouble I would have done. The description of a road, which your coach-wheels have so often honored, it would be needless to pive you; suffice it, I arrived safe at my uncle's, who is a great hunter in imagination ; his dogs take up every chair in the house, so I am forced to stand at this present writing; and though the gout forbids his galloping after them in the field, yet he continues stil to regale his ears and nose with their comfortable noise and stink. He holds me mightily cheap, I perceive, for walking when 1 should ride, and reading when I should hunt. My comfort amidst all this is, that I have, at the distance of half a mile, through a green lane, a forest, (the vulgar call it a common,) all my own, at least as good as so, for I spy no human thing in it but myself. It is a little chaos of mountains and precipices; mourtains, it is true, that do not ascend much above the clouds, nor are the declivities quite so amazing as Dover Cliff; but just such: hills as people who love their necks as well as I do, may veature to climb; and crags that give the eye as much pleasure as if they were more dangerous. Both vale and hill are covered with most renerable beeches, and other very reverend vegetables, that, like most other ancient people, are always dreaming out their old
1 A most lappy Idea; and the whole stanza is exquisitely beautiful, and will not be disgraced by appearing in the same view with a passage in "Paradise Lost," where description is carried to highest pitch of excellence :
“Immediately a place
Book xi. ver. 177.
tries to the winds .
And, as they bow their hoary tops, relate,
Idle notes! untimely green!
Why this unavailing haste?
Prove not always winter past.
The chief prose compositions of Gray are his letters, which are among the best in the language, full of just remarks, beautiful criticisms, and descriptions of natural scenery, u which a painter might study, and which a poet alone could have conceived;" and occasionally exhibit a genial humor which mark the author of the "Ode to a Favorite Cat." In 1798, before the letters of Cowper were published, Dr. Bcattie thus writes to a friend: «I am acquainted with many parts of your excursion through the north of England, and very glad that you had my old friend Mr. Gray's 1 Letters' with you, which are indeed so well written, that I have no scruple to pronounce them the best letters that have been printed in our language. Lady Montagu's are not without merit, but are too artificial and affected to be confided in as true, and Lord Chesterfield's have much greater faults; indeed, some of the greatest that letters can have: but Gray's letters are always sensible, and of classical conciseness and perspicuity. They very much resemble what his conversation was."
HOW HE SPENDS HIS TIME IN THE COUNTRY. To Mb. Wauoli.
I was hindered in my last, and so could not give you all the trouble I would have done. The description of a road, which your coach-wheels have so often honored, it would be needless to jive you; suffice it, I arrived safe at my uncle's, who is a great hunter in imagination; his dogs take up every chair in the house, so I am forced to stand at this present writing; and though the gout forbids his galloping after them in the field, yet he continues still to regale his ears and nose with their comfortable noise and stink. He holds me mightily cheap, I perceive, for walking when I should ride, and reading when I should hunt. My comfort amidst all this is, that I have, at the distance of half a mile, through a green lane, a forest, (the vulgar call it a common,) all my own, at least as good as so, for I spy no human thing in it but myself. It is a little chaos of mountains and precipices; mountains, it is true, that do not ascend much above the clouds, nor are the declivities quite so amazing as Dover Cliff; but just such hills as people who love their necks as well as I do, may venture to climb; and crags that give the eye as much pleasure as if they were more dangerous. Both vale and hill are covered with mosl venerable beeches, and other very reverend vegetables, that, like most otiier ancient people, are always dreaming out their old rtories to the winds,—
And, as they bow their hoary tops, relate,
In murmuring sounds, the dark decrees of fate;
While visions, as poetic eyes avow,
Cling to each leaf, and swarm on every bough.
At the foot of one of these squats me I,1 (II penseroso,) and there grow to the trunk for a whole morning. The timorous hare and sportive squirrel gambol around me like Adam in Paradise, before he had an Eve; but I think he did not use to read Virgil, as I commonly do there. In this situation I often converse with my Horace, aloud too, that is, talk to you, but I do not remember that I ever heard you answer me. I beg pardon for taking all the conversation to myself, but it is entirely your own fault. I shall be in town in about three weeks. Adieu.
NETLEY ABBEY AND SOUTHAMPTON. BEAUTIFUL SUNSET.
To Ma. Nicholls.2
I received your letter at Southampton, and as I would wish to treat everybody according to their own rule and measure of good breeding, have, against my inclination, waited till now before I answered it, purely out of fear and respect, and an ingenious diffidence of my own abilities. If you will not take this as an excuse, uccept it at least as a well-turned period, which is always my principal concern.
So I proceed to tell you that my health is much improved by the sea ; not that I drank it, or bathed in it, as the common people do: no! I only walked by it, and looked upon it. The climate is remarkably mild, even in October and November; no snow has been seen to lie there for these thirty years past; the myrtles grow in the ground against the houses, and Guernsey lilies bloom in every window; the town, clean and well-built, surrounded by its old stone walls, with their towers and gateways, stands at the point of a peninsula, and opens full south to an arm of the sea. which, having formed two beautiful bays on each hand of it, stretches away in direct view till it joins the British Channel: it is skirted on either side with gently-rising grounds, clothed with thick wood, and directly cross its mouth rise the high lands of the Isle of Wight at distance, but distinctly seen. In the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netley Abbey; there may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the Abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow, under the shade of those old trees ihat bend into a half circle about it, he is walking slowly,
'"The same ludicrous expression 1> net with In Foote's play of 'The Knights,• p. 37, from the uonUi or sir Fcnuriuus Trifle:—1 And what does mt I, but take a trip to a coffee-house In St- Martin's Lane,' Sc. See also 'Don Quixote' by 8raollct, vol. Iv. p. 30."—MUfbrd.
s Hector of Loundc find Bradwell, in Suffbllc. His acquaintance with Mr. Gray commenced a tew y-ars bvfun 'he date of this, when lie was a student In Cambridge
(good man !) and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors, interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks that mask the building, and have excluded a view too garish and luxuriant for a holy eye; only on either hand they leave an opening to the blue glittering sea. Did you not observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself to drive the tempter from him that had thrown that distraction in his way? I should tell you, that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not for all the world pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it) though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge; but of these I say no more; they will be published at the University press.
P. S.—I must not close my letter without giving you one principal event of my history; which was, that (in the course of my late tour) I set out one morning before five o'clock, the moon shining through a dark and misty autumnal air, and got to the sea-coast time enough to be at the sun's levee. I saw the clouds and dark vapors open gradually to right and left, rolling over one another in great smoky wreaths, and the tide, (as it flowed gently in upon the sand,) first whitening, then slightly tinged with gold and blue; and all at once a little line of insufferable brightness that (before I can write these five words) was grown to half an orb, and now to a whole one, too glorious to be distinctly seen.1 It is very odd it makes no figure on paper; yet I shall remember it as long as the sun, or at least as long as I endure. I wonder whether anybody ever saw it before? I hardly believe it.
TO MR. NICHOLLS, ON THE DEATH OF HIS MOTHER.
It is long since that I heard you were gone in haste into Yorkshire on account of your mother's illness, and the same letter informed me that she was recovered, otherwise I had then wrote to you only to beg you would take care of her, and to inform you that I had discovered a thing very little known, which is, that in one's whole life one can never have any more than a single mother You may think this is obvious, and (what you call) a trite observation. You are a green gosling! I was at the same age (very near) as wise as you, and yet I never discovered this (with full evidence and conviction I mean) till it was too late. It is thirteen years ago, and seems but as yesterday, and every day I live it
1 Bee R description of glmllur beauty hy Jeremy T;iylor, p. 223, under " Dawn and PrnKrets of Ueaton."
sinks deeper into my heart.1 Many a corollary could I draw from this axiom for your use, (not for my own,) but I will leave you the merit of doing it for yourself.
TO MR. MASON, ON THE DEATH OF HIS WIFE.
I break in upon ycu at a moment when we least of all are permitted to disturb our friends, (nly to say, that you are daily and hourly present to my thoughts. If the worst' be not yet past, you will neglect and pardon me: but if the last struggle be over; if the poor object of your long anxieties be no longer sensible to your kindness, or to her own sufferings, allow nie (at least in idea, for what could I do were I present more than this?) to sit by you in silence, and pity from my heart not her, who is at rest, but you, who lose her. May He, who made us, the Master of our pleasures and of our pains, preserve and support you! Adieu!
I have long understood how little you had to hope.
March 21, 1767.
TOBIAS SMOLLET. 1721—1771.
Torus Smollzt was descended of a family of some note in Dumbartonsh're, Scotland, and passed Ms earliest years nlong the banks of the Leven. He early showed a genius for poetry, but on finishing his academical education, he was put apprentice to a surgeon, and pursued his professional studies with diligence, till the death of his grandfather, on whom he had depended, It'll him without the means of support, and he went to London. Not being able lo get literary employment, he accepted an appointment as surgeon'suiate on l>onrd a manof-war. But his literary taste prevailed over his professional, and quitting the service he returned to London in 1746, and soon beL-ame one of the most successful authors of the day. Novels, plays, and a "History of England1' were produced in rapid succession, and added largely Io his income. After a life of most checkered character, having suffered long from ill health, he set out for Italy in 1770, in hopes to receive benefit from that climate; but after a short residence in the neighborhood of Leghorn in very distressed circumstances, he died October 21, 1771.
As a novelist, Smollet's reputation, once very high, is growing less every year with the best portion of the reading world, and must continue to do so as a love of moral purity shall continue to increase: lor u indecency and
1 "He seldom mentioned his mother without a siffb. After his denth her frowns end wearing sppa* i el were found in a trunk in his apartment* just as she had left tbt-m; tt seemed as if he couid never Ukc the resolution to open It, in order to distribute them to his female relations, to whom, by hia will, he bequeathed them."—Maton.
I "As this little billet (which I received at the Hot Wells at Bristol) then breathed, and nun serins to breathe, the very voice of friendship In its tenderest and most pathetic note, I cannot refrain n-jiu publishing It In this place. I opened It almost at the precise moment when it would necs-ssarQy be the most aoVctlne;."- -.vJK>,.