Monday, July 30, 2012

Thomas Gray

Roughly two weeks before Walter Scott was born, English poet Thomas Gray died.  The date was July 30, 1771, and Gray was 54 at the time.  Reading Gray was part of Scott’s education, as the following two passages from John Gibson Lockhart’s “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott” show.

‘…I have found, however, two note-books, inscribed "Walter Scott, 1792" containing a variety of scraps and hints which may help us to fill up our notion of his private studies during that year. He appears to have used them indiscriminately. We have now an extract from the author he happened to be reading; now a memorandum of something that had struck him in conversation; a fragment of an essay; transcripts of favorite poems; remarks on curious cases in the old records of the Justiciary Court; in short, a most miscellaneous collection, in which there is whatever might have been looked for, with perhaps the single exception of original verse. One of the books opens with: "Vegtam's Kvitha, or The Descent of Odin, with the Latin of Thomas Bartholine, and the English poetical version of Mr. Gray; with some account of the death of Balder, both as narrated in the Edda, and as handed down to us by the Northern historians—Auctore Gualtero Scott." The Norse original and the two versions are then transcribed; and the historical account appended, extending to seven closely written quarto pages, was, I doubt not, read before one or other of his debating societies. Next comes a page, headed "Pecuniary Distress of Charles the First," and containing a transcript of a receipt for some plate lent to the King in 1643. He then copies Langhorne's Owen of Carron; the verses of Canute, on passing Ely; the lines to a cuckoo, given by Warton as the oldest specimen of English verse; a translation "by a gentleman in Devonshire," of the death-song of Regner Lodbrog; and the beautiful quatrain omitted in Gray's Elegy,—
"There scattered oft, the earliest of the year," etc.’

'…Next morning, before breakfast, he carried his MS. to Miss Cranstoun, who was not only delighted but astonished at it; for I have seen a letter of hers to a common friend in the country, in which she says—"Upon my word, Walter Scott is going to turn out a poet—something of a cross, I think, between Burns and Gray."...’

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