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Cambridge before had been his residence from choice; it now became so from obligation, and the greater part of his time there was filled up by his old engagements or diverted to new ones. It has been suggested, that he once embraced the project of republishing Strabo; and there are reasons to believe that he meant it, as the many geographical disquisitions he left behind him appear to have been too minute for the gratification of general inquiry. The like observation may be transferred to Plato and the Greek Anthologia, as he had taken uncommon pains with both, and left a MS of the latter fit for the press. His design of favouring the public with the history of English poetry may be spoken of with more certainty, as in this he had not only engaged with Mr. Mason as a colleague, but actually paraphrased the Norse and Welch poems inserted in his Works for specimens of the wild spirit which animated the bards of ancient days. The extensive compass, however, of the subject, and the knowledge that it
was also in the hands of Mr. Warton, induced him I to relinquish what he had thus successfully begun. Nor did his love for the antiquities of his country confine his researches to its poetry alone: the structures of our ancestors and their various improvements, particularly engaged his attention. Of heraldry, its correlative science, he possessed the entire knowledge. But of the various pursuits which employed his studies for the last ten years of his life, none were so acceptable as those which explained the economy of Nature. For botany he acquired a taste of his uncle when young: and the exercise which, for the sake of improvement in this branch of the science, he induced himself to take, contributed not a little to the preservation of his health. How considerable his improvements in it were, those only can tell who have seen his additions to Hudson, and his notes on Linnæus. While confined to zoology, he successfully applied his discoveries to illustrate Aristotle and others of the Ancients.
From engagements of this kind Mr. Gray's attention was neither often nor long diverted. Excepting the time he gave up to experiments on
flowers, for the purpose of investigating the process of vegetation, (which can scarcely be called a relaxation from his stated employment) his only amusement was music; nor was his acquaintance with this art less than with others of much more importance. His skill was acquired from the productions of the best composers, out of whose works, when in Italy, he had made a selection. Vocal music he chiefly preferred. The harpsichord was his favourite instrument; but though far from remarkable for a finished execution, yet he accommodated his voice so judiciously to his playing as to give an auditor considerable pleasure. His judgment in statuary and painting was exquisite, and formed from an almost instinctive perception of those graces beyond the reach of art in which the divine works of the great masters abound.
As it was through the unsolicited favour of the Duke of Grafton that Mr. Gray was enabled to follow the bent of his own inclination in the choice of his studies, we shall not be surprised to find, that on his Grace's being elected Chancellor of the University, Mr. Gray, unasked, took upon him to write those verses which are usually set to music on this occasion*; and whatever the sarcastic Junius (notwithstanding his handsome compliment to the poet) might pretend, this was the offering of no venal Muse. The ode in its structure is dramatic, and it contains nothing of the complimentary kind which is not entirely suited to the characters employed.
Not long after the bustle of the installation was over, Mr. Gray made an excursion to the sequestered lakes of Westmoreland and Cumberland. The impressions he there received from the wonderful scenery that everywhere surrounded him he transmitted to his friend Dr. Warton, in epistolary journals, with all the wildness of Salvator and the softness of Claude. Writing, in May 1771, to the same friend, he complains of a violent cough which had troubled him for three months, and which he called incurable, adding, that till this year he never knew what (mechanical) low spirits were. One circumstance that without doubt contributed to the latter complaint, was the anxiety he felt from holding as a sinecure an office the duties of which he thought himself bound to perform. The object of his professorship being two-fold, and the patent allowing him to effect one of its designs by deputy, it is understood that he liberally rewarded for that purpose the teachers in the University of Italian and French. The other part he himself prepared to execute; but though the professorship was instituted in 1724, none of his predecessors had furnished a plan. Embarrassed by this and other difficulties, and retarded by ill health, the undertaking at length became so irksome, that he seriously proposed to relinquish the chair.
* See p. 49.