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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

§ 20. Friendship with Mason: projected joint History of English Poetry

Of Gray’s most persistent friend and correspondent, Mason, it is difficult to speak with justice or moderation. Gray has described him with kindliness and sincerity, and it is, perhaps, the one redeeming trait in Mason’s edition of the correspondence that he has preserved this description with almost Boswellian self-sacrifice. According to Gray, he is a creature of childlike simplicity, but writes too much, and hopes to make money by it, reads very little, and is insatiable in the matter of preferment; the simplicity we may question, and it seems incompatible with the rest of the description. He garbled Gray’s letters ruthlessly; in their unmutilated form, they would have disposed for ever of his claims to be his friend’s compère. He may be excused for not wishing to figure before the public as “dear Skroddler”; but, when he pleads the boyish levity of some of the letters as an excuse for his expurgations, he knows better, and is simply posing, often substituting his own bombast for Gray’s plain speaking. Gray recognised merit in Mason’s Musaeus, a Monody on the death of Pope, spite of shells and coral floors; he liked, moderately, Elfrida and, immoderately, Caractacus, from which, in The Bard, he quotes an example of the sublime. His elegies and other verses it would be profitless to enumerate. They have no place in the history of our literature. He wrote political pasquinades of no great merit; but it may be reckoned to his credit that he was a consistent Whig, so that, on the accession of George III, he lost all chance of further preferment. He showed very little magnanimity in attacking, in his Isis, the university of Oxford, then (1746 sq.) out of favour with the court, the bulk of whose patronage went to Cambridge. He was answered in The Triumph of Isis by Thomas Warton, then a youth of twenty-one, with spirit and good temper; yet, such was his vanity that he believed he had inflicted a mortal wound, and, years after, congratulated himself on entering Oxford at night, without fear of a crowd of “booing undergraduates.” His superficial resemblance to the manner of Gray did the greater poet some harm. Their contemporaries, and certain critics of a later generation, did not see any difference between Mason’s frosty glare and constant falsetto and the balanced eloquence of Gray.