Thomas Gray Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Thomas Gray was born in Cornhill (London) on December 26, 1716. Of twelve children born to Philip and Dorothy Gray, only Thomas survived childhood. The family was fairly prosperous; Philip was a scrivener and exchange broker, and Dorothy operated a millinery. Dorothy was a loving parent, but Philip was an ill-tempered wife-beater who was responsible for making young Thomas’s childhood less than happy. It may well have been to remove the child from his father’s influence that Dorothy arranged for her eight-year-old son to go off to school at Eton, where her brothers were masters. At Eton, Gray met Richard West and Horace Walpole, who became his closest friends, but with the exception of the happiness resulting from these friendships, the studious and solitary Gray found little pleasure in the company of the rowdy young men of Eton. In 1734, Gray and Walpole left Eton for Cambridge University. The death of his aunt, Sarah Gray, provided an income sufficient for his modest needs. Gray left Cambridge in 1738 with the intention of studying law at the Inner Temple. In 1739, however, his friend Walpole was ready to put the finishing touch on his own education by taking the traditional Grand Tour of Europe. Walpole’s father, the famous prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, believed that his son might benefit from the company of a good, sober companion and offered to pay all of Gray’s expenses to take the Tour with Horace. For two years, Gray and Walpole traveled through France, Italy, and Switzerland. Gray was...

(The entire section is 618 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In judging the poetic output of Thomas Gray, two schools of thought have gradually developed. One holds that he is the most distinguished of the minor poets; the other, that he is assuredly the least prolific of the major ones. Whichever view finally prevails, it is certainly true that Gray was concerned with the quality rather than the quantity of his verse. Essentially a scholar, with scholarly instincts, Gray had a vast knowledge of history, philosophy, politics, languages, and literature; he also had an avid interest in painting, architecture, and gardening. While writing his poetry, he shaped and reshaped his lines with a patience and discipline almost unmatched in the annuals of English literature. To call his best work the ultimate expression of neoclassical art would be only half accurate; it also contains, sometimes half-hidden, the seeds of a momentous change in English poetry.

Born at Cornhill in London in 1716, Gray was the only one of a family of twelve children to survive infancy. His father, like John Milton’s, was a money scrivener; he was also a brutal, neglectful parent and something of a ne’er-do-well. As a result Gray’s parents separated, and Gray’s mother joined her sister in a millinery establishment, which prospered sufficiently to allow Gray to begin attending Eton College at the age of eight. His years at Eton were idyllic. Here he became close friends with Richard West, son of the lord chancellor of Ireland, and with Horace Walpole, the prime minister’s son. Gray was a member of the “Quadruple Alliance,” a group of intellectual students dedicated to classical poetry. A career at Cambridge followed, which, with minor interruptions, continued to the end of his life.

Gray interrupted his studies...

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(Poetry for Students)

Born in the Cornhill district of London in 1716, Gray was the son of Dorothy Antrobus Gray, a milliner, and Philip Gray, a scrivener. Gray's...

(The entire section is 354 words.)