Gray: Poetry & Prose, with Essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and Others

Gray: Poetry & Prose, with Essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and Others

Gray: Poetry & Prose, with Essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and Others

Gray: Poetry & Prose, with Essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and Others

Excerpt

'I hate a fellow', said Johnson, 'whom pride or cowardice or laziness drives into a corner, and who does nothing when he is there but sit and growl; let him come out as I do and bark.'

Gray never did that. 'In London', says Rogers, 'he saw little Society; had a nice dinner from the Tavern brought to his rooms, a glass or two of Sweet wine, and as he sipped it talked about great People.' Some such mental portrait of Gray must always have been in Johnson's mind.

'He attacked Gray,' says Boswell, 'calling him a dull fellow.

Boswell. I understood he was reserved and might appear dull in company; but sure he was not dull in poetry.

Johnson. Sir, he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere. He was dull in a new way, and that made people think him great.'

Nothing could be more perverse, and yet, no doubt, it was inevitable. For quite apart from superficial mannerisms, the very texture of Gray's thought and sentiment must always have been uncongenial to Johnson. The tender, shallow, and somewhat wilful melancholy of the Elegy, with its facile philosophy and gentle egotism, can never have appealed much to one who 'hated', as he told Hannah More, 'to hear people whine about metaphysical distresses when there is so much want and hunger in the world': a world, as he said on another occasion, 'bursting with sin and sorrow'.

If Gray had shown any real sense of this, even at the expense of his poetry; if his Elegy had been a poem like . . .

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