Thomas
Gray
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Chronology

This chronological table records landmark dates in Gray's life and work. It is intended as a means of contextualizing Gray's literary and scholarly efforts. It must be noted that some of the dates are approximate, and, unless indicated to the contrary, reference is to date of publication, not composition, of literary works. The chronology makes no claim to be exhaustive. The reader should consult the list of works cited and the bibliography section of full-length biographies for more detailed information. Please send your suggestions, corrections, and additions to the editor.

Early Years (1716 - 1741)

Date Age Life and Works
1716

26 December

Thomas Gray born in Cornhill, London, where his mother, Dorothy (1685-1753, nee Antrobus), kept a milliner's shop in partnership with her sister, Mary (1683-1749). His father, Philip Gray (1676-1741), was a "money scrivener" by profession. Thomas was the only survivor of twelve children.

1725 8

Gray sent to Eton College, under the care of his uncle, Robert Antrobus (1679-1729), who was assistant master there. He met and formed the 'Quadruple Alliance' with Richard West (1716-42), Horace Walpole (1717-97), and Thomas Ashton (1715-1775), his closest friends. A few Latin exercises date from the time at Eton.

1734 17

4 July

Entered as pensioner at Peterhouse, Cambridge.

11 August

Thomas Ashton entered King's College, Cambridge.

9 October

Gray fully admitted at Peterhouse.

Gray met Thomas Wharton, a pensioner at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

8 December

Gray had written his first extant English poem, "Lines Spoken by John Dennis at the Devil Tavern", and sent it to Walpole.

1735 18

11 March

Gray joined in Cambridge by his friend Horace Walpole, who entered at King's College.

22 May

West entered at Christ Church, Oxford.

22 November

Gray admitted at Inner Temple.

1736 19

12 February

Inherited the small property of his paternal aunt, Sarah Gray.

May

Gray's "Hymeneal" on the marriage of the Prince of Wales published in the Cambridge Gratulatio.

1737 20

March

Wrote Tripos Verses, i.e. the Latin verses printed with the list of Cambridge Tripos candidates each year, Luna habitabilis.

1738 21

14 September

Left Cambridge for his father's house in London without having taken a degree, intending to read for the Bar at the Inner Temple in London.

1739 22

29 March

Accompanied Horace Walpole on a two-year Grand Tour through France and Italy.

April - June

Stayed in Paris.

June - September

Stayed at Reims.

September - October

Was at Lyon, via Dijon.

October

On the way to Geneva, visited the Grande Chartreuse. Crossed the Mont Cenis.

7 November

Arrived at Turin.

Winter

By Genoa and Bologna to Florence, where he spent the winter at the house of Horace Mann.

1740 23

March - July

Visited Rome.

June

Excursion to Naples.

7 July

Returned to Florence.

During this period sent several Latin poems to West.

Second half of the year

Began writing De Principiis Cogitandi in Florence.

1741 24

April

Left Florence for Venice.

3 May

Quarrelled with Walpole at Reggio and proceeded to Venice.

May - July

Stayed at Venice with John Chute.

Returned to England alone through Padua, Verona, Milan, Turin, Lyon, and Paris.

21 August

Visited the Grande Chartreuse again and wrote an Alcaic Ode in the Visitors' Book of the Monastery.

1 September

Arrived back in England, went to London.

6 November

Gray's father, Philip, died, leaving the family financially insecure.

Winter

Gray began his only tragedy, the fragmentary Agrippina.

Middle Years (1742 - 1758)

Date Age Life and Works
1742 25

Planned to study law in London with West. Regular correspondence with West, exchanging Latin verses and translations with him.

March

Wrote the "Hymn to Ignorance" (fragment).

28 May - 15 October

Visited his uncle Jonathan Rogers at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire.

Gray wrote the "Ode on the Spring", which he sent to Richard West on 3rd June.

1 June

Richard West, Gray's closest friend, died.

Mid-June - Mid-July

Gray briefly returned to London.

August

Gray wrote the "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College", "Sonnet on the Death of Richard West", and the "Ode to Adversity".

15 October

Returned to Peterhouse, as a Fellow-commoner, resided permanently at Cambridge, with a few protracted absences, for the rest of his life.

Gray's chief friends at Cambridge were Thomas Wharton, Fellow of Pembroke till his marriage in 1747, James Brown, afterwards Master of Pembroke, and William Mason (1724-97).

21 October

Gray's uncle Jonathan Rogers, died.

December

Gray's mother and her sister, Mary Antrobus, retired from Cornhill and settled with their third sister, Anne (1676-1758), the widow of Jonathan Rogers, at West End House at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire. Gray accordingly divided his summers between Stoke and London in the following decade.

1743 26

December

Granted a Bachelor of Laws degree.

1744 27

Spent the year in Cambridge, with summer visits to Stoke and London.

1745 28

8 November

Reconciled with Horace Walpole.

1746 29

Autumn

Gray shared some of his earlier poetry and probably the beginning of the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", which he had recently started, with Horace Walpole who had begun living in an apartment within the precincts of Windsor Castle.

1747 30

1 March

Sent the "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" to Walpole.

30 May

"Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" published anonymously by Robert Dodsley.

Walpole leased the estate in Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, which he began turning into a Gothic castle.

1748 31

15 January

"Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College", "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes", and "Ode on the Spring" published anonymously in R. Dodsley's Collection of Poems, vol. II

January / February

Met and befriended Rev. William Mason who was to become a fellow of Pembroke College in 1749 and eventually served as Gray's literary executor.

25 March

Gray's childhood home in Cornhill burned down.

August

Began "The Alliance of Education and Government".

1749 32

William Mason elected Fellow of Pembroke, partly through Gray's influence.

5 November

Gray's aunt and his mother's former business partner, Mary Antrobus, died.

1750 33

12 June

Completed the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" at Stoke Poges and sent it to Walpole who circulated it in MS among his friends and acquaintances.

August - October

Wrote "A Long Story" for Lady Cobham, a neighbour at Stoke Poges. Met Henrietta Jane Speed (1728-1783).

1751 34

15 February

An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard published anonymously by Dodsley. Unauthorized versions appear almost immediately in a variety of publications.

1752 35

Planned to collaborate with William Mason on a "History of English Poetry".

July

Began "The Progress of Poesy".

1753 36

11 March

Gray's mother, Dorothy, died at Stoke Poges.

29 March

Designs by Mr. R. Bentley for Six Poems by Mr. T. Gray, the first authorized collected edition of Gray's poetry, published by Dodsley.

July - September

Accompanied Stonhewer to Durham, visited Wharton.

1754 37

During this and the two following years Gray was engaged with the Pindaric Odes "The Progress of Poesy" and "The Bard".

Probably began "Ode on the Pleasure arising from Vicissitude".

June - September

Made a tour in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.

December

"The Progress of Poesy" finished.

1755 38

Winter 1754 / 55

Declined offer to become Secretary to the Earl of Bristol at Lisbon.

July

Travelled in Hampshire, visited Portsmouth, Southampton, Winchester etc.

1756 39

5 March

Moved from Peterhouse to Pembroke College.

1757 40

May

Attended a concert by harper Mr. Parry. Completed "The Bard".

8 August

Odes by Mr. Gray ("The Progress of Poesy" and "The Bard") published by Walpole at his new Strawberry Hill press.

15 December

Was offered, but refused, the post of Poet Laureate, vacant through the death of Colley Cibber.

1758 41

January

Wrote "[Epitaph on Mrs. Clerke]" for John Clerke.

June or July

Wrote "Epitaph on a Child" for Thomas Wharton.

1 September

Gray's aunt, Mrs. Jonathan Rogers, died in Stoke Poges.

Gray's connection with the place ended the following year. Hereafter Gray usually spent his summers visiting friends in different parts of the country.

Later Years (1759 - 1771)

Date Age Life and Works
1759 42

9 July

Took lodgings in Southampton Row, London, in order to study at the British Museum, which was opened to the public in January. Collected materials for his planned "History of English Poetry".

1760 43

March

Lady Cobham died.

28 June - 21 July

Visited Henrietta Jane Speed at the home of her friend Mrs Jennings at Shiplake, in Oxfordshire.

Autumn

Read and studied the works of James Macpherson and later the Rev. Evan Evans.

1761 44

5 May

Gray had completed "The Fatal Sisters", "The Descent of Odin", and the other imitations of Welsh and Norse poems (including "The Triumphs of Owen"), expression of his culminating interest in early Welsh and Icelandic poetry. Intended to include them in his "History of English Poetry", which he had first projected in 1752.

August

Wrote "Epitaph on Sir W. Williams".

October

Wrote "Song" for Miss Speed.

12 November

Henrietta Jane Speed married to Baron de la Perriere.

19 November

Gave up London residence and returned to Pembroke College.

1762 45

11 June

Made the acquaintance of Norton Nicholls, an undergraduate at Cambridge, who became a close friend.

1 July - 11 November

Visited Mason in York and Wharton in Durham, and made a tour of places of interest in the north.

November

Gray made overtures for the post of Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, vacant through the death of Dr. Turner, but Lord Bute, George III's chief minister, gave it to Lawrence Brockett.

1763 46

Spent the year in Cambridge, with brief excursions to Epsom, Boxhill, and London.

1764 47

January - March

Gray wrote "The Candidate", a satire on the Earl of Sandwich's application for the High Stewardship of Cambridge University.

25 September - 22 October

Visited Southampton, Salisbury, etc.

1765 48

27 May - 18 August

Visited York and Durham.

18 August - 17 October

Made a tour in the Scottish Highlands with Lord Strathmore. Met Robertson and "other literati" at Edinburgh. Stayed at Glamis castle, where he met James Beattie (1735-1803).

1766 49

16 May - 4 July

Travelled in Kent.

1767 50

15 June - 2 November

Stayed at Durham, Hartlepool, York. First visit to the Lake District.

1768 51

12 March

Collected edition of Poems published by Dodsley in London.

4 May

Poems published by R. and A. Foulis in Glasgow.

7 April - 15 July

Stayed in Kent.

July

Wrote verses "On L[or]d H[olland']s Seat Near M[argat]e, K[en]t".

28 July

Appointed Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, and made Fellow of Pembroke College.

October

Poems published in a new edition by Dodsley.

1769 52

April

Completed the "Ode for Music".

1 July

Ode for Music performed at the installation of the Duke of Grafton, Chancellor of the University.

18 July - 15 October

Visited York, Durham, and the Lakes. Wrote his Journal on his tour

December

Met and befriended Charles Victor de Bonstetten (1745-1832), a young Swiss scholar, in Cambridge.

1770 53

March

De Bonstetten left England.

2 July

Gray made his will, left all his works to William Mason.

2 July - 3 August

Gray made an excursion through the Western Counties in company of Norton Nicholls.

1771 54

24 July

Taken ill suddenly while dining at Pembroke College.

30 July

Gray died of suppressed gout.

6 August

He was buried beside his mother and aunt in the churchyard at Stoke Poges.

1775

March

Publication of William Mason's The Poems of Mr Gray, to which are prefixed Memoirs of His Life and Writings.

Works cited

  • Gray: Poetry and Prose. With essays by Johnson, Goldsmith and others. With an Introduction and Notes by J. Crofts. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1948 [1st ed. 1926].
  • Golden, Morris: Thomas Gray. Updated edition. Twayne's English authors series, TEAS 6. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988 [1st ed. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1964].
  • The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collins, Oliver Goldsmith. Edited by Roger Lonsdale. Longman Annotated English Poets Series. London and Harlow: Longmans, 1969.
  • Thomas Gray. Edited by Robert L. Mack. Everyman Paperback Classics. Everyman's Poetry Library. London: Everyman, 1996.
  • The Poems of Gray and Collins. Edited by Austin Lane Poole. Revised by Leonard Whibley. Third edition. Oxford editions of standard authors series. London: Oxford UP, 1937, reprinted 1950 [1st ed. 1919].
  • Correspondence of Thomas Gray. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, in 3 vols., v. 1 1734-1755, v. 2 1756-1765, v. 3 1766-1771. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935].
  • Selected poems of Thomas Gray, Charles Churchill and William Cowper. Ed. with an introduction and notes by Katherine Turner. Penguin English poets series. London [etc.]: Penguin Books, 1997.

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