Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray, 1716–71, English poet. He was educated at Eton and Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 1739 he began a grand tour of the Continent with Horace Walpole. They quarreled in Italy, and Gray returned to England in 1741. He continued his studies at Cambridge, and he remained there for most of his life, living in seclusion, studying Greek, and writing. In 1768 he was made professor of history and modern languages, but he did no real teaching. Although he was reconciled with Walpole, and formed other close relationships in his lifetime, his shy and sensitive disposition was ill adapted to the robust century in which he lived. He was offered the laureateship in 1757 but refused it. His first important poems, written in 1742, include "To Spring," "On a Distant Prospect of Eton College," and a sonnet on the death of his close friend Richard West. After years of revision he finished his great "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751), a meditative poem presenting thoughts conjured up by the sight of a rural graveyard; it is perhaps the most quoted poem in English. In 1757, Walpole published Gray's Pindaric odes, "The Progress of Poesy" and "The Bard." Gray's verse illustrates the evolution of English poetry in the 18th cent.—from the classicism of the 1742 poems to the romantic tendencies of "The Fatal Sisters" and "The Descent of Odin" (1768). He did not write a large amount of poetry. Much of his verse is tinged with melancholy, and even more of it reflects his extensive learning. His letters, which contain much humor, are among the finest in the English language.

See his collected works, ed. by E. Gosse (4 vol., rev. ed. 1902–6; repr. 1968); his correspondence, ed. by P. Toynbee and L. Whibley (1935, repr. 1971); selected letters, ed. by J. W. Krutch (1952); biographies by R. W. Ketton-Cremer (1955), M. Golden (1964), W. P. Jones (1937, repr. 1965); study by A. L. Sells (1980); A. T. McKenzie, Thomas Gray: A Reference Guide (1982).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Thomas Gray: Selected full-text books and articles

FREE! The Works of Thomas Gray: In Prose and Verse By Thomas Gray; Edmund Gosse Worthington, vol.2, 1890
FREE! The Works of Thomas Gray, in Prose and Verse: Vol. 3, Letters. By Thomas Gray; Edmund Gosse Worthington Co., vol.3, 1890
The Poems of Gray and Collins By William Collins; Thomas Gray; Austin Lane Poole Oxford University Press, 1937 (3rd Rev. edition)
Thomas Gray By R. W. Ketton-Cremer Longmans, Green, 1958
Gray: Poetry & Prose, with Essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and Others By Oliver Goldsmith; Thomas Gray; Samuel Johnson; J. Crofts Clarendon Press, 1926
The Poet without a Name: Gray's Elegy and the Problem of History By Henry Weinfield Southern Illinois University Press, 1991
Poets and Story-Tellers: A Book of Critical Essays By David Cecil Macmillan Co., 1949
Librarian’s tip: "Thomas Gray" begins on p. 45
The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry By Cleanth Brooks Dennis Dobson, 1949
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Six "Gray's Storied Urn"
FREE! Naturalism in English Poetry By Stopford A. Brooke E. P. Dutton, 1920
Librarian’s tip: Chap. III "Collins and Gray"
Personification in Eighteenth-Century English Poetry By Chester F. Chapin King's Crown Press, 1955
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "The Values of Allegorical Personification: Collins and Gray"
Two Quiet Lives: Dorothy Osborne, Thomas Gray By Lord David Cecil The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1948
Elegy Unto Epitaph: Print Culture and Commemorative Practice in Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" By Sharp, Michele Turner Papers on Language & Literature, Vol. 38, No. 1, Winter 2002
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