Thomas Gray

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Gray, Thomas,

1716–71, English poet. He was educated at Eton and Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 1739 he began a grand tour of the Continent with Horace WalpoleWalpole, Horace or Horatio, 4th earl of Orford,
1717–97, English author; youngest son of Sir Robert Walpole.
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. They quarreled in Italy, and Gray returned to England in 1741. He continued his studies at Cambridge, and he remained there for most of his life, living in seclusion, studying Greek, and writing. In 1768 he was made professor of history and modern languages, but he did no real teaching. Although he was reconciled with Walpole, and formed other close relationships in his lifetime, his shy and sensitive disposition was ill adapted to the robust century in which he lived. He was offered the laureateship in 1757 but refused it. His first important poems, written in 1742, include "To Spring," "On a Distant Prospect of Eton College," and a sonnet on the death of his close friend Richard West. After years of revision he finished his great "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751), a meditative poem presenting thoughts conjured up by the sight of a rural graveyard; it is perhaps the most quoted poem in English. In 1757, Walpole published Gray's Pindaric odes, "The Progress of Poesy" and "The Bard." Gray's verse illustrates the evolution of English poetry in the 18th cent.—from the classicism of the 1742 poems to the romantic tendencies of "The Fatal Sisters" and "The Descent of Odin" (1768). He did not write a large amount of poetry. Much of his verse is tinged with melancholy, and even more of it reflects his extensive learning. His letters, which contain much humor, are among the finest in the English language.


See his collected works, ed. by E. Gosse (4 vol., rev. ed. 1902–6; repr. 1968); his correspondence, ed. by P. Toynbee and L. Whibley (1935, repr. 1971); selected letters, ed. by J. W. Krutch (1952); biographies by R. W. Ketton-Cremer (1955), M. Golden (1964), W. P. Jones (1937, repr. 1965); study by A. L. Sells (1980); A. T. McKenzie, Thomas Gray: A Reference Guide (1982).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Gray, Thomas


Born Dec. 26, 1716, in Cornhill, London; died July 30. 1771, in Cambridge. English poet.

Gray was educated at Cambridge University. His best work is the Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751). Its melancholy, its idea of death as the equalizer of rich and poor, and its idealization of patriarchal country life make the poem a vivid model of sentimentalism and lyricism. In Russia, the elegy is well known in V. A. Zhukovskii’s translation (1802, under the title A Country Churchyard). In his later works Gray showed an interest in the traditions of popular history and mythology, which was characteristic of the period of the emergence of preromanticism.


The Works in Prose and Verse, vols. 1–4. London-New York 1902–06.


Istoriia angliiskoi literatury, vol. 1, fasc. 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945. Pages 550–54.
Jones, W. P. Thomas Gray, Scholar. New York, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard, An Meditative poem written in iambic pentameter quatrains by Gray, Thomas, published in 1751.