The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 6. Lyrics written at Stoke
A very brief period of efflorescence in verse preceded Gray’s return to Cambridge. From Stoke, to which, after the death of his father in 1741, his mother and his aunt Mary Antrobus had gone to live with their widowed sister Mrs. Rogers, he had sent (early in June, 1742) the Ode on the Spring; he wrote there in August his Sonnet on the Death of Richard West, his cento the Hymn to Adversity, his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College and a very splenetic Hymn to Ignorance (which, happily, remains a fragment), on his projected return to Cambridge. But we must refer to the same date the most touching of all his tributes to the memory of West, in which the sad thoughts of his English poems on the same theme are combined and concealed in a Latin dress. His ambitious fragment De Principiis Cogitandi, begun at Florence in 1740, and dubbed by him “Tommy Lucretius” is, after all, so far as it goes, only a résumé of Locke; but, in June, so soon as he heard of his loss, he added, apparently without effort, a lament prompted by the keen stimulus of grief, which seems to be more spontaneous than his sonnet or the Eton Ode, and is, in fact, the first source of these familiar verses. It will bear comparison with Milton’s Epitaphium Damonis—Charles Diodati, the friendship between whom and Milton, in many ways, is an exact counterpart to that between West and Gray. Nor can it be denied that Gray’s effort is without a certain artificiality, which, pace Masson, renders Milton’s poem more passionless, and more self-centred and discursive.