The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 13. Gray quits Peterhouse for Pembroke
Before this, in 1756, occurred an event which Gray describes only vaguely “as a sort of aera in a life so barren of events as” his. The affair has been treated with so much difference of opinion that we can only summarise the conclusion at which we have arrived. Gray had been much tormented by some young men, of whom two were certainly fellow-commoners residing on his staircase, and he had a nervous dread of fire, upon which they probably played. He accordingly got Wharton to bespeak him a rope-ladder, a strong temptation to the young men to make him put it to the proof. It is possible that, before the outrage, they had begun kindling fires of shavings on his staircase. At last, an early hunting party caused the huntsmen to shout “fire” under his window, some of them, perhaps, before joining the party, having made the usual blaze on the stairs. The poet put his night-capped head out of the window and, discovering the hoax, drew it in again. This was all that was known to Sharp, fellow of Corpus, who wrote only six days after Gray’s migration to Pembroke. The exaggerated form in which the story is still current was shaped in 1767 by a certain Archibald Campbell, a scribbler in a production called The Sale of Authors, who expressly confesses that he vouches for no details in what he describes as a harmless pleasantry. Suffice it to say that the master, Dr. Law, to whom Gray complained, made light of this “boyish frolic,” as he called it, and Gray, in consequence, changed his college.