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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

§ 3. His continental tour with Horace Walpole

It seems that Gray’s first destination, so far as it was definite, was the law (as was also West’s); for, so early as December, 1736, he writes to his friend: “You must know that I do not take degrees.” He lingered at Cambridge, somewhat aimlessly. However, this inertia was dispelled by a journey abroad which he undertook in company with Walpole. His first extant letter from Amiens is written to his mother and tells how, on 29 March, N. S., 1739, the friends left Dover. At Paris, Walpole goes out to supper with his cousin Lord Conway; but Gray, though invited too, stops at home and writes to West. He was, however, delighted to dine “at my Lord Holdernesse’s” with the abbé Prévost, whom he knows as the author of L’Histoire de M. Cleveland, fils naturel de Cromwel, while omitting to mention Manon Lescaut. He saw in tragedy MacGaussin who had been Voltaire’s Zaïre; saw, also, with Walpole, Racine’s Britannicus, and, in 1747, reminded him of the grand simplicity of diction and the undercurrent of design which they had admired in the work. His own fragmentary Agrippina (1747 c.) is, structurally, borrowed from this tragedy.

From Paris, the travellers went to Rheims. Gray’s grand tour is illustrated by him in a double set of notes, sometimes “bones exceeding dry” of quotations from Caesar in France, or Livy on the Alps; he draws less frequently than Addison from Latin poets, but still frequently enough; and records his impressions of architecture, and especially of painting; and we note among other evidences of his independence of judgment that he finds Andrea del Sarto anything but “the faultless painter.” In this adverse judgment, he is seconded by Walpole, who comes nearer to Gray in artistic than in any other tastes.

On their way into Piedmont, Gray received, from his first view of mountain scenery, impressions which, on his return to England, remained for a while dormant, but had been wakened again when he wrote in The Progress of Poesy of scenes

  • Where each old poetic mountain
  • Inspiration breath’d around.