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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

§ 8. Reconciliation with Walpole

In 1745, Gray and Walpole were reconciled. Of this consummation, Gray wrote a satirical account to Wharton, in which his contempt for Ashton was clearly enough expressed. After this strange pronouncement, the irony of fate brought it about that Gray’s next poetic effort was his Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, which has been discussed with a solemnity worthy of an epic. Walpole had two favourite cats; and has not told Gray which of these was drowned. One of them was a tortoiseshell, the other a tabby.

  • This is the famous Elegy, and Walpole appears to have circulated it somewhat freely in manuscript, with the result that the magazines got hold of it; and Gray, to protect himself, makes Walpole send it to Dodsley for immediate printing. Between The Magazine of Magazines and Dodsley, the Elegy, on its first publication, fared but badly: “Nurse Dodsley,” Gray says, “has given it a pinch or two in its cradle that I doubt it will bear the marks of as long as it lives”; and, together, these publishers, licensed and unlicensed, achieved some curious readings. The moping owl complained of those who wandered near her “sacred bow’r”: the young man went “frowning,” not “smiling” as in scorn: the rustic’s “harrow” oft the stubborn glebe had broke; and his frail memorial was decked with uncouth rhymes and shapeless “culture.” And the mangled poet writes, “I humbly propose for the benefit of Mr. Dodsley and his matrons, that take awake for a verb, that they should read asleep, and all will be right.”