The Book of Sonnet Sequences

By Houston Peterson | Go to book overview

VII -- DAVID GRAY
[1838-1861]

THIS forgotten poet, whose short life was a pathetic promise rather than a great fulfilment, died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four. The first of eight children, he was born in a handloom-weaver's cottage on the banks of the Luggie, a few miles from Edinburgh. Early destined for the ministry by his parents, in spite of their poverty, he received a solid grounding at the parish school and then managed, under much hardship, to spend four terms at Glasgow University. But the plan for entering the church was given up as he became increasingly absorbed in poetry and almost obsessed with his dreams of poetic fame. While tutoring or teaching intermittently during his late teens he turned out quantities of verse which was quite good for his years but by no means a justification of the extreme self-confidence which he soon began to exhibit. To various prominent authors whom he had never even seen he wrote boldly to explain his genius and to request them to help him publish his poems. In a letter to Sydney Dobell he declared: "I tell you that, if I live, my name and fame shall be second to few of any age, and to none of my own. I speak thus because I feel power. Nor is this feeling an artificial disease, as it was in Rousseau, but a feeling which has grown with me since ever I could think."

Gray was particularly anxious to have his long descriptive idyll, The Luggie, (which contains some lovely passages) published, and when all efforts had failed, he and his young friend Robert Buchanan decided to take London by storm. But London did not prove submissive, and after several months of cold quarters and poor food David returned home, almost dead with tuberculosis. He re-

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