Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Who was Thomas Gray?
Thomas Gray (1716-1771) was an English poet. He was born in London. His father was a scrivener, but was indolent and neglected his wife and children. The mother, Dorothy Antrobus Gray, supported the family by keeping a millinery shop. Of twelve children Thomas was the only one who lived to grow up. He entered Eton at the age of eleven, where his uncles, Robert and William Antrobus, were assistant masters. He spent several years at Cambridge, but left without taking a degree. He had intended to study law, but gave it up to travel with Horace Walpole. His letters while on the continent are of great interest, although they were not intended for publication. After two years abroad Gray returned to Cambridge. He spent his time reading Greek prose and verse and in writing, but was very slow to publish. In 1747 his first production to appear in print was published. It was the Ode to Eton College. Gray never wrote for money, but for his own pleasure and that of his friends. Thomas Gray published when friends and booksellers could persuade him to do so. In 1753 Walpole prepared a handsome edition of six of Gray's poems with drawings for head and tail pieces and initial letters by Bentley. Gray insisted that this be published under the title "Designs by Mr. R. Bentley for Six Poems by Mr. T. Gray." Gray's poems betoken a man of delicate thought and refined taste, fond of learning and art. His fame rests almost solely on his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea;
The plowman homeward plods his weary way
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.