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Select Poems of Thomas Gray   By: (1716-1771)

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Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1876, by HARPER & BROTHERS, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.


Many editions of Gray have been published in the last fifty years, some of them very elegant, and some showing considerable editorial labor, but not one, so far as I am aware, critically exact either in text or in notes. No editor since Mathias (A.D. 1814) has given the 2d line of the Elegy as Gray wrote and printed it; while Mathias's mispunctuation of the 123d line has been copied by his successors, almost without exception. Other variations from the early editions are mentioned in the notes.

It is a curious fact that the most accurate edition of Gray's collected poems is the editio princeps of 1768, printed under his own supervision. The first edition of the two Pindaric odes, The Progress of Poesy and The Bard (Strawberry Hill, 1757), was printed with equal care, and the proofs were probably read by the poet. The text of the present edition has been collated, line by line, with that of these early editions, and in no instance have I adopted a later reading. All the MS. variations, and the various readings I have noted in the modern editions, are given in the notes.

Pickering's edition of 1835, edited by Mitford, has been followed blindly in nearly all the more recent editions, and its many errors (see pp. 84 and 105, foot notes) have been faithfully reproduced. Even its blunders in the "indenting" of the lines in the corresponding stanzas of the two Pindaric odes, which any careful proof reader ought to have corrected, have been copied again and again as in the Boston (1853) reprint of Pickering, the pretty little edition of Bickers & Son (London, n. d.), the fac simile of the latter printed at our University Press, Cambridge (1866), etc.

Of former editions of Gray, the only one very fully annotated is Mitford's (Pickering, 1835), already mentioned. I have drawn freely from that, correcting many errors, and also from Wakefield's and Mason's editions, and from Hales's notes ( Longer English Poems , London, 1872) on the Elegy and the Pindaric odes. To all this material many original notes and illustrations have been added.

The facts concerning the first publication of the Elegy are not given correctly by any of the editors, and even the "experts" of Notes and Queries have not been able to disentangle the snarl of conflicting evidence. I am not sure that I have settled the question myself (see p. 74 and foot note), but I have at least shown that Gray is a more credible witness in the case than any of his critics. Their testimony is obviously inconsistent and inconclusive; he may have confounded the names of two magazines, but that remains to be proved.[1]

[Footnote 1: Since writing the above to day, I have found by the merest chance in my own library another bit of evidence in the case, which fully confirms my surmise that the Elegy was printed in The Magazine of Magazines before it appeared in the Grand Magazine of Magazines . Chambers's Book of Days (vol. ii. p. 146), in an article on "Gray and his Elegy," says:

"It first saw the light in The Magazine of Magazines , February, 1751. Some imaginary literary wag is made to rise in a convivial assembly, and thus announce it: 'Gentlemen, give me leave to soothe my own melancholy, and amuse you in a most noble manner, with a full copy of verses by the very ingenious Mr. Gray, of Peterhouse, Cambridge. They are stanzas written in a country churchyard.' Then follow the verses. A few days afterwards, Dodsley's edition appeared," etc.

The same authority gives the four stanzas omitted after the 18th (see p... Continue reading book >>

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