Context: Thomas Gray, fifth child of a London broker, and the only one of twelve children to survive, was educated at Eton and Cambridge. Leaving the university without earning a degree, he toured the continent with his friend Horace Walpole (1717–1797). Later at his own press at Strawberry Hill, Walpole published the first collection of Gray's poems. In December, 1754, Gray completed an "Ode in the Greek Manner," which under its other title "The Progress of Poesy," showed his art at its highest. With another ode, now called "The Bard," it was published at the Walpole Press. Not until 1768 did Gray print all the poems he wanted the world to see, a total of ten. Because of these, and despite his small total production, Gray was offered the post of Poet Laureate following the death of Colley Cibber in 1757. He refused it. He wrote only a little more before dying of the gout. While Gray loved to read Spenser, Milton, and Dryden, he considered Shakespeare high above all other poets in all countries and in all times, and naturally included him in the ode describing the history of poetry throughout the ages. Since in comparison with the university-trained poets before and contemporary with him, Shakespeare had little knowledge of Latin and Greek, which were considered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the chief source of learning, Ben Jonson, Milton, and others spoke of him as having been taught by Nature. In his history of poets from Pindar and his Aeolian lyre, through Greece to Italy, Gray comes in the first stanza of Part III to England and Shakespeare. The fact that Shakespeare was born in April, the Springtime, and in Stratford-on-Avon are expressed poetically by Gray.
Far from the sun and summer gale,In thy green lap was Nature's darling laid.What time, where lucid Avon strayed,To him the mighty Mother did unveilHer awful face.