Queer Places:
39 Cornhill, London EC3V 3ND, Regno Unito
Eton College, Windsor SL4 6DW, Regno Unito
University Of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2, Regno Unito
St Giles, Stoke Poges, Slough SL2, Regno Unito
Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yd, Westminster, London SW1P 3PA, Regno Unito

Thomas Gray (26 December 1716 – 30 July 1771) was an English poet, letter-writer, classical scholar, and professor at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He is widely known for his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, published in 1751.

Gray was an extremely self-critical writer who published only 13 poems in his lifetime, despite being extremely popular. He was even offered the position of Poet Laureate in 1757, though he declined.

Thomas Gray was born in Cornhill, London. His father, Philip Gray, was a scrivener and his mother, Dorothy Antrobus, was a milliner.[1] He was the fifth of twelve children, and the only one to survive infancy.[2] He lived with his mother after she left his abusive and mentally unwell father. [3]

Gray's mother paid for him to go to Eton College, where his uncles Robert and William Antrobus worked. Robert became Gray's first teacher and helped inspire in Gray a love for botany and observational science. Gray's other uncle, William, became his tutor.[4] He recalled his schooldays as a time of great happiness, as is evident in his "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College". Gray was a delicate and scholarly boy who spent his time reading and avoiding athletics. He lived in his uncle’s household rather than at college. He made three close friends at Eton: Horace Walpole, son of the Prime Minister Robert Walpole; Thomas Ashton; and Richard West, son of another Richard West who was briefly Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The four prided themselves on their sense of style, sense of humour, and appreciation of beauty. They were called the "quadruple alliance".[5]

In 1734, Gray went up to Peterhouse, Cambridge.[6] He found the curriculum dull. He wrote letters to friends listing all the things he disliked: the masters ("mad with Pride") and the Fellows ("sleepy, drunken, dull, illiterate Things"). Intended by his family for the law, he spent most of his time as an undergraduate reading classical and modern literature, and playing Vivaldi and Scarlatti on the harpsichord for relaxation.

In 1738, he accompanied his old school-friend Walpole on his Grand Tour of Europe, possibly at Walpole's expense. The two fell out and parted in Tuscany because Walpole wanted to attend fashionable parties and Gray wanted to visit all the antiquities. They were reconciled a few years later. It was Walpole who later helped publish Gray's poetry. When Gray sent his most famous poem, "Elegy," to Walpole, Walpole sent off the poem as a manuscript and it appeared in different magazines. Gray then published the poem himself and received the credit he was due.[1]

Gray began seriously writing poems in 1742, mainly after his close friend Richard West died. He moved to Cambridge and began a self-directed programme of literary study, becoming one of the most learned men of his time.[7] He became a Fellow first of Peterhouse, and later of Pembroke College, Cambridge. Gray moved to Pembroke after the students at Peterhouse played a prank on him.[8]

Gray spent most of his life as a scholar in Cambridge, and only later in his life did he begin traveling again. Although he was one of the least productive poets (his collected works published during his lifetime amount to fewer than 1,000 lines), he is regarded as the foremost English-language poet of the mid-18th century. In 1757, he was offered the post of Poet Laureate, which he refused. Gray was so self-critical and fearful of failure that he published only thirteen poems during his lifetime. He once wrote that he feared his collected works would be "mistaken for the works of a flea." Walpole said that "He never wrote anything easily but things of Humour."[9] Gray came to be known as one of the "Graveyard poets" of the late 18th century, along with Oliver Goldsmith, William Cowper, and Christopher Smart. Gray perhaps knew these men, sharing ideas about death, mortality, and the finality and sublimity of death.

In 1762, the Regius chair of Modern History at Cambridge, a sinecure which carried a salary of £400, fell vacant after the death of Shallet Turner, and Gray's friends lobbied the government unsuccessfully to secure the position for him. In the event, Gray lost out to Lawrence Brockett, but he secured the position in 1768 after Brockett's death.[10]


Westminster Abbey, London

Gray died on 30 July 1771 in Cambridge, and was buried beside his mother in the churchyard of St. Giles' church in Stoke Poges, the setting for his famous Elegy.[19] His grave can still be seen there.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/queerplaces/images/Thomas_Gray