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Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray: A Life

Robert L. Mack
Copyright Date: 2000
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 736
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    Thomas Gray
    Book Description:

    This major biography of Thomas Gray (1716-1771), the first in nearly half a century, expands our knowledge of the life of the English poet and our understanding of his personality and influential body of works. Robert L. Mack incorporates recent-and often radically revisionary-scholarship on Gray, drawing on developments in eighteenth-century studies and gender studies, as well as on extensive original archival research into the life of the poet and his family. The result is an eloquent and enlightening book, sure to be the definitive biography of this great poet, a forefather of the Romantic Movement.The book provides important new information on Gray's family and background and closely examines the domestic environment of his formative years. By investigating how his father's abuse affected the poet, Mack casts new light on Gray's personality-and on the way that personality consistently and invariably informed his writing. The author applies a revised understanding of the psychological and sexual tensions in Gray's life to a close reading of his poetry and correspondence and finds a homoerotic desire lying just beneath the surface of almost all of Gray's important writings, including his "Sonnet" on the death of Richard West, the "Eton Ode," and his masterpiece, "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19453-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. x-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  7. INTRODUCTION NEVER AND ALWAYS: Stoke Pages, Buckinghamshire
    (pp. 1-44)

    If, today, a traveller journeys west from central London toward the village of Stoke Pages in the southernmost corner of Buckinghamshire, the trip is unlikely to be a particularly enjoyable or relaxing one. Having perhaps first wound their way out of the increasingly embattled financial centre of the City, and having then cut through the seemingly interminable chaos of traffic that so often clogs the West End to the Marylebone Road, drivers are momentarily lifted by the Westway flyover above the no-man’s land of roads and tangled rail lines which insuperably divides the still genteel placidity of Maida Vale and...


    • CHAPTER ONE THE GLORY OF THE WORLD IN A MOMENT: London and Cornhill 1716–1725
      (pp. 47-87)

      By the morning of Monday, 3 September 1666 – a day that promised to be fair and very warm but still considerably windy – the Great Fire of London had begun to engulf the City in earnest. Since almost two o’clock the previous morning the blaze had steadily burnt its way from Pudding Lane, in the east, toward the warehouses that lined Upper Thames street; it soon encompassed the whole of Cannon street, to the northeast, and stretched as far south as the well-known waterside tavern of Three Cranes in the Vintry on the Thames itself. The fire threatened now, with the...

      (pp. 88-143)

      By the late autumn or early winter of 1725, just before his ninth birthday, Gray had already been permanently removed from his father’s home in Cornhill and placed under the supervision of his maternal uncle Robert Antrobus at Eton. Dorothy’s brother, who had first entered Eton as a pupil himself in 1692, had by the time of Thomas’s enrollment been teaching at the school for nearly twenty-five years. He had at one point, in about 1718, been joined in Windsor by his brother William, who had himself first been admitted to the school as a student in February, 1705, and...

    • CHAPTER THREE SARAG, THE DEAD CITY: Cambridge 1734–1738
      (pp. 144-219)

      Gray was admitted as a pensioner to Peterhouse, Cambridge, on 4 July 1734; he was nearly eighteen years old. Although Etonians more often went up to King’s College, Gray attended Peterhouse because his uncle Robert had been a Fellow there. The fact that another Eton Fellow, Thomas Richardson, had lately been Master at Peterhouse created a further connection to the college. Gray came into residence on 9 October and was just over one week later – on 17 October – elected to a Bible Clerkship or Cosin scholarship of £10 a year. The scholarship had been established by the school’s former master...

    • CHAPTER FOUR CREATION’S HEIRS: The Grand Tour 1739–1741
      (pp. 220-270)

      Walpole and Gray crossed the Channel at Dover on Easter Sunday, 29 March 1739. The sails of their packet-boat were filled by a brisk gale which carried them to Calais in just five hours. The crisp weather of the crossing cheered and excited most of the passengers; the pitch and roll of the small boat made Gray extremely sick from the moment the boat left the English port. By the time they came into Calais harbor and prepared to disembark for the smaller vessel which was to ferry them to shore a heavy snow had begun to fall. The clean...


    • CHAPTER FIVE THE LIQUID NOON: London, Stoke, and the Death of Richard West 1741–1742
      (pp. 273-329)

      A grey September evening in London – gloomy, close, and stale. As Gray sat in the window of Dick’s Coffee House and looked out upon the steady stream of carriages and foot passengers who were wearily making their way through Temple Bar from the City, he felt uncomfortably like a stranger in his own land. The incessant rain fell in slanting lines against the narrow houses that lined Fleet Street, forcing the pedestrians – men of business being spattered by the mud and dirt spun from the wheels of the passing coaches, servants half hidden from view by wet and oily coverings...

    • CHAPTER SIX A MILDER WARFARE: Return to Cambridge 1742–1749
      (pp. 330-376)

      The autumn of 1742 witnessed some important changes in the disposition and the circumstances of Gray’s immediate as well as his extended family. Toward the end of October the poet’s uncle, Jonathan Rogers, died at Stoke. Rogers’s widow, Anne, appears to have felt that after over thirty long years of marriage, she had earned the right to spend her remaining days precisely as she saw fit. She decided almost immediately to invite her two sisters to live with her permanently in Buckinghamshire. Dorothy Gray and Mary Antrobus promptly joined Anne Rogers at West End House by the end of the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN THE PATH OF GLORY: The Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard 1749–1752
      (pp. 377-434)

      Gray spent the late winter and early spring of 1749 quietly in Cambridge. Having for the immediate future resigned the fate of his ‘Ethical Essay’ into the trusted, metaphorical hands of Wharton’s judgement and criticism, he once again found the time to focus his attention more closely on College and University affairs. The on-going dispute between the Master and the Fellows of Pembroke College was only then drawing to a close. Matters had come to a head some time toward the end of February. By 9 March, Gray was able to write to Wharton, triumphantly announcing the achievement of what...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT EXPLORING THE LYRE: The Publication and Early Reception of the Pindaric Odes 1753–1759
      (pp. 435-503)

      Gray only very slowly reconciled himself to the fact of his mother’s death. With the exception of a few days’ visit to London, where he was consoled by Wharton, the poet remained at Stoke through the middle of April. He assisted his aunts in whatever arrangements needed to be made regarding the distribution of his mother’s property. The remaining members of the Antrobus family seem to have found only in each another the depth of sympathy that could carry them unbroken through such a loss. The practical details that needed to be taken care of in the face of Dorothy’s...

    • CHAPTER NINE INTERLUDE: Bloomsbury and Studies in Norse and Welsh Poetry 1759–1761
      (pp. 504-528)

      Some time toward the beginning of July 1759, having finally settled the details of his aunt’s estate, Gray decided abruptly to abandon the new chambers at Pembroke into which he had moved the previous year (and in which he had spent precious little time since) and take up temporary residence in London. He hired a set of rooms in Southampton Row, in a property owned by a Mr. Jauncey. The poet’s seemingly impulsive decision to forsake the seclusion of academic life – for however short or undetermined a period – and move to Bloomsbury was based on a fortuitous combination of circumstances....


    • CHAPTER TEN IN HARMLESS SOCIETY: Cambridge and Travels 1761–1768
      (pp. 531-590)

      On the morning of Monday, 26 October 1761, a large and heavily laden wagon slowly drew to a halt in front of the gates of Pembroke College. The vehicle was – to resident Cantabrigians, at least – a familiar one. Mr Gillam’s regularly scheduled stage wagons could be seen departing punctually for London every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and were just as surely to be heard rumbling into town, having completed the return journey to Cambridge, with even greater frequency – on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Traffic between the university town and the metropolis was increasingly busy, and the regular passage of...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN GILDED HORRORS: The Professorship of Modern Poetry, the Ode for Music, and the Tour of the Lake District 1768–1769
      (pp. 591-630)

      The Huntingdon road – the main artery leading northwest out of Cambridge since the Romans first set out the line of the Via Devana in the first and second centuries AD – is a route extraordinarily rich in local, literary, and even national history. Travellers seem no sooner to have left the outermost ring of the University colleges behind them (Fitzwilliam College, New Hall, and Girton College – all modern foundations – line the red-bricked outskirts here) before they are passing through the tiny town of Fenstanton, once home to the famous landscape gardener Capability Brown. Just a few miles beyond Fenstanton, a lesser...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE AMOROUS DELAY: Charles Victor de Bonstetten 1769–1770
      (pp. 631-663)

      Toward the end of November 1769, Gray received a letter from Norton Nicholls, who was then close to winding up his own, extended autumn vacation from his parish duties with a two-week visit to Bath. Nicholls’s progress towards the increasingly fashionable spa town from his rectory at Bedingfield had been a leisurely one. Having first travelled to Southampton, from which vantage he passed three days exploring the Isle of Wight, Nicholls then spent a relaxing six weeks with a cousin in Dorset before finally heading north into Somerset. The mild weather, which at the beginning of Nicholls’s rambles had only...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN CONVERSING WITH SHADOWS: Final Months and Death 1770–1771
      (pp. 664-680)

      Michaelmas Term began badly. A crippling attack of gout left Gray confined to his rooms for the first three weeks of October. He was compelled to spend much of the time resting on his couch or propped up in a sitting position in bed. Visits and physical disturbances of any kind were kept to a minimum. As in the past, the disease affected Gray primarily in the joints of the ankles and the feet, leaving his lower extremities extraordinarily sore and tender to the slightest touch. The mitigating ‘compliment’ conventionally extended to such sufferers – a saying which intimated that gout,...

    (pp. 681-683)

    A little less than two weeks after Gray was buried in the church-yard at Stoke Poges that August, Brown sat down to write a short note to Thomas Wharton, assuring him that all of their friend’s final requests had been attended to as best as possible. The poet’s set of rooms at Pembroke had within only a matter of days been emptied of his possessions; the parlour door stood open now as if to receive its new occupant. For Brown, the experience of such a swift transformation was itself disturbing. ‘Every thing is now dark and melancholly at Mr. Gray’s...

    (pp. 684-701)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 702-718)