"Leave Us Leisure To Be Good"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: After returning from two years in France and Italy, where he wrote only a few poems in Latin, Gray began in 1742 to write poetry in English. In the spring, he completed "Hymn to Adversity," and in the fall began "An Elegy Wrote in a Country Churchyard," for which he is best known. It was not completed until 1750. His noble friend Horace Walpole issued the "Elegy" in a quarto pamphlet in 1751. Walpole was also responsible for the publication the next year of "Hymn to Adversity," with illustrations by Richard Bentley. The poem bears a motto in Greek from Aeschylus: "It profits to learn discretion through suffering," which is reminiscent of Shakespeare's "Sweet are the uses of adversity," from As You Like It. Gray's ambitions in life, he says at its conclusion, are to examine himself, learn about others, and "to feel and know myself as a Man." Paradise Lost by Milton seems to be the inspiration of part of this Hymn. Addressing the daughter of Jove, who gives a taste of pain to even the proud and frightens away frivolity and temptation which so involve a man that he has little time to practice goodness, Gray writes in the third stanza:

Scared at thy frown terrific, fly
Self-pleasing Folly's idle brood,
Wild Laughter, Noise, and thoughtless Joy,
And leave us leisure to be good.
Light they disperse, and with them go
The summer friend, the flattering foe;
By vain Prosperity received
To her they vow the truth, and are again believed.