Thursday, 17 August 2017

John J. Kelly and Matthew Arnold on Thomas Gray


It has been said that the whole piece is so “inevitable” that it is interesting to know it caused Gray immense trouble. Many lines and phrases have become household expressions. It has made and still makes a personal and direct appeal because of the truth, the sincerity, and the dignity of the poet’s matter and the expression of the matter. Gray was a born poet, a man of immense learning. His style is graceful, vivid, harmonious.

In a much owned copy of The English Parnassus this is written across the fold of pages separating Gray’s Elegy and his The Progress of Poesy. Going by the names of the previous owners and its writing in headline copy cursive with a fine nib dip pen in the unmistakable ink that was used in National Schools back in the time of the Barmecides I take it to be the reflection of John J. Kelly, Boys N. School, Mohill, Co. Leitrim. I can still smell it. Whether there was gall in its concocting or gall only in its use it remains with me. “That was the queer smell”. Sit down Joyce.

Like the plays of Shakespeare the poem has been mined:

“The short and simple annals of the poor”
“The Paths of glory lead but to the grave”. (great film)
“Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood”.
“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife”
Said to those daytime nappers:
“His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.”

True for you J.J.

Matthew Arnold in his essay on Grey (Second Series of Essays in Criticism writes:

We will begin with his acquirements. "Mr. Gray was," writes his friend Temple, "perhaps the most learned man in Europe. He knew every branch of history both natural and civil; had read all the original historians of England, France, and Italy; and was a great antiquarian. Criticism, metaphysics, morals, politics, made a principal part of his study. Voyages and travels of all sorts were his favourite amusements; and he had a fine taste in painting, prints, architecture and gardening." The notes in his interleaved copy of Linnaeus remained to show the extent and accuracy of his knowledge in the natural sciences, particularly its botany, zoology, and entomology. Entomologists testified that his account of English insects was more perfect than any that had then appeared. His notes and papers, of which some have been published, others remain still in manuscript, give evidence, besides, of his knowledge of literature ancient and modern, geography and topography, painting, architecture and antiquities, and of his curious researches in heraldry. He was an excellent musician. Sir James Mackintosh reminds us, moreover, that to all the other accomplishments and merits of Gray we are to add this: "that he was the first discoverer of the beauties of nature in England, and has marked out the course of every picturesque journey that can be made in it."
find it at:
Thomas Gray



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