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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

VI. Gray

§ 2. His friends at Eton and Cambridge; His vacations at Burnham

His vacations were chiefly spent at Burnham, where, at Cant’s hall, he stayed with his uncle Rogers, his mother’s brother-in-law, a solicitor fond of sport, or of the habits of sport. Gray, however, had some little literary companionship:

  • We have old Mr. Southern, at a gentleman’s house a little way off, who often comes to see us; he is now seventy-seven years old, and has almost wholly lost his memory; but is as agreeable as an old man can be, at least I persuade myself so when I look at him, and think of Isabella and Oroonoko.
  • This interesting letter serves also to explain to us the lines towards the conclusion of the Elegy. He writes:
  • My comfort amidst all this is that I have at the distance of half-a-mile, through a green lane, a forest (the vulgar call it a common) all my own, at least as good as so, for I spy no human thing in it but myself. It is a little chaos of mountains and precipices; mountains, it is true, that do not ascend much above the clouds, nor are the declivities quite so amazing as Dover cliff; but just such hills as people who love their necks as well as I do may venture to climb, and craggs that give the eye as much pleasure as if they were dangerous: Both vale and hill are covered with the most venerable beeches, and other very reverend vegetables, that like most other ancient people, are always dreaming out their old stories to the winds,
  • And as they bow their hoary tops relate,
  • In murmuring sounds, the dark decrees of fate;
  • While visions, as poetic eyes avow,
  • Cling to each leaf, and swarm on every bow.
  • At the foot of one of these squats Me I (il penseroso) and there grow to the trunk for a whole morning.