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Collins lived nine years after this. Part of the time he was confined in a madhouse at Oxford, and his incarceration there in one of his attacks is sadly related by his friend Gilbert White: “How he got down to Oxford, I do not know; but I myself saw him under Merton wall, in a very affected situation, struggling and conveyed by force, in the arms of two or three men, towards the parish of St. Clement, in which was a house that took in such unhappy objects." Disraeli records a tradition that at Chichester "he would haunt the aisles and cloisters of the cathedral, roving days and nights together, loving their 'dim religious light.' And, when the choristers chanted their anthem, the listening and bewildered poet, carried out of himself by the solemn strains, and his own too susceptible imagination, moaned and shrieked, and awoke a sadness most affecting amid religious emotions.” The spells of violent madness, however, were relatively infrequent: for the most part he seems to have suffered from such physical weakness as to be unable to pursue any regular occupation. He passed so completely out of the lives and remembrance of the London world that he was deemed by Johnson to have died in 1756, whereas his unnoted death did not actually occur until June 12, 1759.
A few months before Collins's death, Goldsmith had recognized his genius and had sounded his praise. Under this sponsorship, his poetry began to be read and appreciated. Johnson's harsh verdict, “He affected the obsolete when it was not worthy of revival; and he puts his words out of the common order, seeming to think, with some later candidates for fame, that not to write prose is certainly to write poetry. His lines commonly are of slow motion, clogged and impeded with clusters of consonants," was revised forthwith. Langhorne, Drake, and Hazlitt contributed their share to raising Collins to the height where he rightly belongs, the lastnamed drawing the comparison with Gray: “I should conceive that Collins had a much greater poetical genius than Gray: he had more of that fine madness which is inseparable from it, of its turbid effervescence, of all that pushes it to the verge of agony or rapture." His position as one of our first lyric poets seems now secure.
THOMAS GRAY THOMAS GRAY was born in London, December 26, 1716. His father, Philip Gray, was a scrivener, or money-broker, in comfortable circumstances. He was a moody, irascible man, whose temper when aroused drove him to a condition bordering on insanity. It is conceivable that the lack of poise and balance of the father's character was reproduced in the physical lassitude and settled mental melancholy that oppressed the son through his whole life. Gray's mother, Dorothy Antrobus, belonged to a good middle-class English family. Robert and John Antrobus, her brothers, were Cambridge graduates and, later, tutors at Eton; Anna Antrobus, her sister, had married a prosperous lawyer, Jonathan Rogers.
The circumstances of Gray's childhood and youth were such as to confirm any tendencies toward melancholia which he might have inherited. His father took no interest in him, even refused to undertake the expense of his education. The father's attitude made it advisable to remove the child from the house, so that for a considerable part of his boyhood Gray resided at the Antrobus house with his uncle. His mother meanwhile remained with her husband until his death in 1741, although we have evidence that at one time she sought legal advice with respect to possible divorce alleging that her husband “hath used her in the most inhuman manner, by beating, kicking, punching, and with the most vile and abusive language, that she hath been in the utmost fear and danger of her life.”
A new and on the whole happier period opened for Thomas Gray when in 1727 he was entered for Eton, his mother paying all the charges. Two of the friendships which Gray formed at Eton had a marked influence on his whole life. Horace Walpole, the son of the Prime Minister, and Richard West, the son of a Lord Chancellor of Ireland, formed with Gray a little triumvirate bound together by mutual sympathies, tastes, and affection. The friendship with West lasted firmly until West died of consumption, June 1, 1742; the friendship with Walpole lasted, with one short interruption, through the whole of Gray's life.
In 1734, Gray went to Cambridge, where he was joined by Walpole a year later. He does not seem to have enjoyed his college career. As a matter of fact, the settled, passive melancholy which was the most common characteristic of all his later life, had already begun to oppress his spirits. In a letter to West, who was at Oxford, he writes: “... Yet neither something nor nothing gives me any pleasure. When you have seen one of my days you have seen a whole year of my life; they go round and round like a blind horse in the mill, only he has the satisfaction of fancying he makes a progress and gets some ground: my eyes are open enough to see the same dull prospect, and to know that having made four and thirty steps more, I shall be just what I was.”
The next important incident in Gray's life was his Continental tour with Horace Walpole. Gray had finished his college career at the age of twenty-two, in 1738, and at that time left Cambridge, apparently with no settled plans for the future. While he was thus drifting, Walpole asked him to go as a companion on a grand tour of the Continent, Walpole to pay all expenses but Gray to retain his entire independence of action. The two friends started on their tour at the end of March, 1739. For nearly two years and a half they ambled delightedly through the most interesting spots in France, Switzerland, and Italy. Grays seems to have been entirely lifted out of his melancholy moods by the pretty frivolities and the constant changes of scene. These months were unquestionably the happiest of his life. The trip was rudely interrupted by a quarrel between the two friends. Walpole has unselfishly assumed the blame, but the real reason probably lies in the too exclusively intimate companionship of two lads in their early twenties over so long a period of time. The quarrel was made up a few years later, in 1744, and the friendship between the two continued firm so long as Gray lived.
Gray reached London after his Continental tour September 1, 1741. Two months later his father died from gout, leaving his fortune seriously impaired by his extravagances. A year later his widowed mother and her sister Mary joined the widowed Mrs. Rogers at Stoke-Pogis in Buckinghamshire. Gray's life henceforward is intimately connected with this house at StokePogis. The three sisters lived there, and Gray, taking up his regular residence at Cambridge, visited them frequently.
Up to this time Gray's poetical talents had been known only to his few inftimate friends. He now, however, began seriously to devote himself to literature. The poets of the time were few. Pope, Swift, and Thomson had finished their greatest works and had only a few more years to live; Young was just beginning his Night Thoughts ; Collins had published his Persian Eclogues, but their value had not been recognized by any one.
The important poems of 1742 were the Ode to Spring, the Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, and the Hymn to Adversity. Probably during this same period, too, was begun the famous Elegy. The news of West's death had reached him during one of his visits at Stoke-Pogis and had, of course, a profound effect upon his feelings at the time. Possibly the note of sadness that continually recurs in these early poems was not only the result of his own melancholy temperament, but was increased by his sorrow at his friend's untimely death. The Eton ode has been the favorite of his odes, expressing, as Gosse puts it, “The regret that the illusions of boyhood, the innocence that comes not of virtue but of inexperience, the sweetness born not of a good heart but of a good digestion, the elation which childish spirits give, and which owes nothing to anger or dissipation, that these qualities cannot be preserved through life.” In the second stanza of this ode his sense of personal loss by the death of West is especially evident. The Hymn to Adversity in its cold purity of expression and its maintained elevation of style is truly Miltonic. To our retrospective glance, the Eton ode and the Hymn to Adversity established the fact at once that Gray was the compeer of all the poets of his day.
At Cambridge, Gray indulged his tastes for classical reading and study. He became more and more absorbed in his studies, living the life of a recluse, only vibrating between Cambridge and Stoke-Pogis. He planned great things, but his plans all came to naught. He studied the whole literature of ancient Greece; he planned a critical text of Strabo and actually made some notes for the purpose; he planned likewise a text of Plato, and made notes for it; he thought of a Greek anthology; he intended to publish a text of Aristotle; - all that we have of these projected
works are scattered and almost incoherent notes. He withdrew more and more into himself, wrapped up in his studies, but never arriving anywhere. He passed his thirtieth year; his Eton ode was published, but attracted no attention at the time; he was wholly unknown to fame and perfectly willing so to be.
The year 1750 is notable as the year in which he finished the Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. He seems to have laid it aside after beginning it in 1742, and then to have been startled into renewed activity in it by his sorrow upon the sudden death of his aunt, Miss Mary Antrobus, at Stoke-Pogis in November of 1749. After finishing it, he sent it off to Walpole: “Having put an end to a thing whose beginning you have seen long ago, I immediately send it to you. You will, I hope, look upon it in the light of a thing with an end to it: a merit that most of my writings have wanted, and are like to want.” The enthusiastic Walpole unintentionally caused its early publication by handing it around among his friends until a piratical publication was imminent. Its success was immediate. It went through four editions in two months and eleven within two years, not counting the numerous pirated reprints. Gray had a quixotic objection to earning any money by his poetry, so he gave the copyright to Dodsley, the printer, and never profited himself by the poem's popularity. The Elegy has come to be, more than any other one poem, the national English poem. Cheapened though many of its phrases and lines have been by constant quotation, it yet retains as a whole its freshness and appeal. An incident that occurred some years later — September 12, 1759 — tended further to endear it to the English: The young General Wolfe, being rowed along at night from post to post under the Heights of Abraham to see that all was ready for the attack the next morning, recited nearly all the Elegy and added, “I would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow.”
Gray's mother died March 11, 1753. Gray was with her from the first sign of her illness in January till the end came. The effect of her loss was acute. He had been accustomed to the little home at Stoke-Pogis where he loved and was beloved by its three inmates, but with the death of his mother, the chief prop of his affections was gone. Only one of his maternal aunts was now alive, and she, a few months later, was stricken with palsy.
Beginning about 1754, Gray interested himself in a different kind of poetry, namely, odes modeled after the Pindaric plan. These, he well knew, could never be popular as was the Elegy; they could appeal only to poets with an intimate appreciation of the classics. He sent the first of these, The Progress of Poesy, from Cambridge to his friend Dr. Wharton, December 26, 1754. A second, The Bard, grew gradually from 1755 until May of 1757, when the music of the blind harper, John Parry, seems to have given him the needful inspiration to finish it. Horace Walpole printed the two at his private printing-press at Strawberry Hill and Dodsley published them. Their novelty gained them immediate attention and their sustained dignity and beauty gained them applause from the discerning. The multitude took their cue from the reviews and eulogized without truly understanding or appreciating. With a finer insight to-day we recognize their originality and power. No English poet has so excellently adapted the Pindaric structure in English verse and in so doing maintained an equivalent richness in imagery, dignity of er. pression, and sounding harmony of verse.
Gray was now acknowledged the head of the living English poets, so that it was hardly more than fitting that, upon the death of Colley Cibber at the end of 1757, the laureateship should be offered to him. This honor he refused. Upon his mother's death his financial condition was so improved that the laureate's salary was no attraction and he seems to think that he would have felt "awkward” in the office.
In 1759 his Cambridge life was interrupted for three years by the opening of the British Museum. Gray moved to London and reveled in the riches of the collection. He was planning at the time a history of English poetry and, as usual, made copious notes for the work, but like other plans, all this came to naught. All his notes he gave in 1770 to Thomas Warton.
At the end of 1762, Gray applied for the professorship of Modern History and Modern Languages at Cambridge, but was unsuccessful. He returned to Cambridge, however, and resumed
his recluse life there. His only poetical work of note during this period consisted of the few romantic lyrics adapted from Gaelic and Icelandic sources. He seems to have been attracted to the Gaelic and Icelandic early literature in his researches for his projected history of English poetry. The poems are: The Fatal Sisters (Norse), The Descent of Odin (Norse), The Triumphs of Owen (Gaelic), The Death of Hoel (Gaelic). The most notable fact about this work of Gray's was his appreciation of these rude ancient originals in an age when such appreciation was гаге.
The subsequent years of Gray's life were wholly uneventful. The gout which he had inherited from his father laid him low from time to time; he took several short trips, “Lilliputian travels," he called them, once through the south of England, once to the Scottish Highlands, and once to the Cumberland lake region; he enjoyed his summer vacations in visits with his few friends and intimates; he received, in 1768, without application or endeavor on his part, the professorship he had previously wanted; he wrote, about 1769, his Installation Ode (now commonly entitled bis Ode for Music) for the ceremonies attending the elevation of the Duke of Grafton to the chancellorship of the University. He had become a notable man at Cambridge, but so completely did he withdraw himself from the life and activities of the University that he was scarcely ever seen. Tradition records that, on the rare occasions when Gray issued from his rooms, the students hastily left their dinners to gaze at him, and one time when courtesy compelled him to return a formal call, the college men gathered to see him pass, removing their bats in token of respect.
In 1771, Gray succumbed to the attacks of the gout. The last attack began about the middle of July. About eleven o'clock the night of July 30, he died. He was buried without pomp or circumstance in the vault beside his mother at Stoke-Pogis.
Walpole once wrote in a letter: “He (Gray) is the worst company in the world. From a melancholy turn, from living reclusely, and from a little too much dignity, he never converses easily; all his words are measured and chosen, and formed into sentences; his writings are admirable; he himself is not agreeable.” Temple called him “perhaps the most learned man in Europe,” and Taine terms him “the morose hermit of Cambridge.” He was in truth not an agreeable figure, not one of the well-loved poets of our literature. The complete withdrawal into the world of books forced a separation from the life of men, so that his poems, great as they are, commonly lack humanity and warmth. He was the finished artist in verse, writing ex cathedra down to his audience. He had elaborate learning and delicate finesse, but he was without passion. His poetry is the poetry of the intellect and not of the heart.
We are blessed with an unusual amount of biographical material about Goldsmith. Poor “Noll”! His ungainly figure and pock-marked face, his slow tongue, improvident habits, and thoughtless gayety have been ridiculed enough by his contemporaries. “He was such a compound of absurdity, envy, and malice, contrasted with the opposite virtues of kindness, generosity, and benevolence, that he might be said to consist of two distinct souls, and influenced by the agency of a good and bad spirit,” wrote Thomas Davies in his Life of Garrick. And yet, he was a member of the Club and consorted on familiar terms with such notables as Garrick, Reynolds, and Fox. The old Doctor was his stanch and loyal admirer, “Bozzy" recording on a number of occasions the high opinions Johnson expressed of Goldsmith's work.
Oliver Goldsmith was born in the village of Pallas (or Pallasmore), Ireland, November 10, 1728. His father, Charles Goldsmith, of English descent, was the Protestant clergyman in the poor little Irish village, and eked out his meager living by farming. His mother was the daughter of the Reverend Oliver Jones, a poor Protestant clergyman settled in a neighboring Irish community.
The Reverend Charles Goldsmith's prospects improved somewhat in 1731, for he was pre
sented to a living in Ireland worth about two hundred pounds a year. He removed to the village of Lissoy. It is with this village that all of the poet's youthful memories are connected. He attended the village school and gained the reputation of being “a stupid, heavy blockhead," but from the master's inexhaustible fund of stories of ghosts, fairies, witches, and banshees he imbibed a romance that fed his active imagination. His life was not happy, for his squat figure, pock-marked face, and tendency to make ridiculous blunders made him the butt of his schoolfellows. In after years he saw Lissoy through the softened haze of memory and it became idealized in The Deserted Village.
Goldsmith's father, unable to pay his son's tuition at college, was not inclined to encourage the boy's continuance in his education, but on the advice of an uncle he entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1745 as a sizar. A sizar performed in those days a few menial services, in return for which he was exempted from payment for food or tuition. His uncle aided him in paying for his poor lodgings. Whether by reason of laziness, incapacity for the studies of the curriculum, or offended pride at his position, Goldsmith did not make a good record in the college. He neglected his work, played the buffoon in the classroom, spent his time in squalid dissipation when he had the money, and was lowest on the list of those receiving the B.A. degree in 1749.
The question of what to do with this young man of twenty-one, with an education but without a profession, seems to have worried his family not a little. His father had died while the boy was wasting his time at college, and had left almost nothing for his widow's support. Goldsmith returned to his mother's house and passed the time in careless idleness, full of high spirits and practical jokes, haunting the village inn far too often for his own good. At the spur of his friends he was encouraged to try for holy orders, but his application was declined by the bishop. He was encouraged to use his university training in tutoring, and actually remained steadfast in this occupation until he had saved up thirty pounds. With this amount he set out to make his fortune only to return in a few days with nothing but an unlikely yarn of his adventures. His uncle forgave the scapegrace, gave him fifty pounds, and started him off to Dublin to study law. In no time at all he was back at home, his money gone in gambling, and his law career forgotten. Again forgiven by his uncle, he was equipped with funds and dispatched to Edinburgh, this time to study medicine. He stayed in Edinburgh eighteen months, and then proposed to his uncle that he be allowed to take a foreign tour to increase his knowledge of his profession. Funds were provided and he set forth for Leyden (1754).
Little is known of the incidents of his foreign tour. His money was soon gone, but for two years he subsisted on the Continent wandering from place to place. Boswell speaks of his having “disputed” his way, alluding to the custom in university and monastery circles of allowing a night's lodging and entertainment to any scholar who proved his mettle in upholding a thesis in debate. He did during this time, however, actually obtain somewhere, somehow, a medical degree, with which at last he returned to England.
His family seems to have washed its hands of this good-for-nothing scion at this time. No more funds were forthcoming, and even his letters remained unanswered. He was in London, February 1, 1756, fresh from his European travels, with a medical degree, but without money, friends, or influence. His situation was desperate. He was, it is true, a university man, but he had been the last on the list; he had successively tried the church, the law, the medical profession; he had failed in everything.
After having been submerged in London poverty for a few months, so completely submerged that no researches have filled up the details, he emerged as a tutor in the school of Mr. Milner, at Peckham. There at dinner one day he met Griffiths, the bookseller. On the strength of his university training alone, apparently, Griffiths invited him to become a reviewer for Griffiths's magazine. The emoluments were board and lodging at Griffiths's house and a small but regular salary; the duties consisted of reviews of current publications; the hours were long and the amount of work demanded was very great. Truly his initiation into the world of literature was a very hard one. Goldsmith endured the conditions less than six months, then quarreled with his employer and was again in want. He moved from garret to garret in the slum districts: how