Thomas Gray

1716 (London) – 1771 (Cambridge)

Gray is regarded, after Pope, as the most important English 18th-century poet, despite being a severely self-censoring perfectionist (only thirteen pieces published in a lifetime). Walpole was a schoolfriend from the age of nine; they went on the Grand Tour together, quarrelled over their irreconcilable tastes, but made up later, Walpole’s influence helping Gray’s work get published, and Gray writing an ode to the death by drowning (in a goldfish bowl) of Walpole’s cat. Notoriously reserved, Gray had few other friends, though friends or acquaintances probably included Goldsmith, Cowper, and perhaps Boswell and Johnson; Smart was a university colleague.

Thomas Gray knew…