March 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Mostly his time was filled with un-urgent study. The long days of classical reading sometimes produced projects that absorbed Gray in a way that reminds one a little of Casaubon. His researches in Greek literature and history were put to the compilation of a huge chronology – an elaborate table of the dates of writings and public events. It was, of course, never completed.

Even Mack sometimes seems dispirited at the months his subject seems to have spent in ‘the stasis of a hopeless melancholy’, reading gardening dictionaries or a reference guide to English peerages. In 1759 he moved to London, but this did not speed the pulse of things. He stayed in Bloomsbury and spent much of each day in the newly opened British Museum. ‘I live in the Museum,’ he told Thomas Wharton. He described to another friend how the hours seeped agreeably away ‘in the stillness & solitude of the reading room’, where he was ‘uninterrupted by anything but Dr Stukeley the Antiquary, who comes there to talk nonsense, & Coffee-house news’. Even in the metropolis, he found seclusion. […]

he did not put himself to much, and the Elegy now remains his claim to fame. Some who knew him, knowing also his talents, regretted this. Walpole, in other places an advocate of dilettante attitudes, complained, after Gray’s death, that his friend would spend hours annotating his copy of Linnaeus’ Systema Natura rather than composing English verse. ‘Mr Gray often vexed me by finding him heaping notes on an interleaved Linnaeus, instead of pranking on his lyre.’”

John Mullan on Thomas Gray


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