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Samuel Pepys, Daniel Defoe, & Thomas Gray


Samuel Pepys's Biography

(1633-1703), was an English writer and government official. His famous Diary provides an intimate self-portrait and a vivid picture of an exciting period in English history. Pepys also became known for his role in the development of the British Navy. Pepys served in Parliament several times, and he was president of the Royal Society in 1684 and 1685 (see Royal Society). He lost his post in the admiralty after the fall of King James II in 1688. Pepys then wrote Memoires of the Royal Navy, 1679-1688, which was published in 1690.
His diary covers the period from 1660 to 1669. It deals with an early part of Pepys's life, when he was clerk of the navy. He wrote the Diary in a code combination of shorthand, foreign words and phrases, and contractions of his own invention. Pepys meticulously recorded events of his daily life. He wrote frankly about his affairs with women and his desire to become wealthy. He described his enthusiasm for music and the theater, and his interest in collecting books and paintings. Pepys told of his public career and his pride in his success. The Diary documents his curiosity about everything, from science to the gossip at the court of King Charles II. Pepys did not intend to have the Diary read by the public, and he wrote about himself with unusual honesty.
Pepys recorded many of the important events of the 1660's as a witness and participant. The Diary colorfully describes the restoration of the king as ruler of England. The work also contains thrilling accounts of the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London, and England's naval war with the Netherlands. In an especially memorable entry, Pepys related his court defense of the navy board after the board came under attack by a parliamentary committee. Pepys stopped writing the Diary because his vision deteriorated. The work was first translated from 1819 to 1822 and was published in an abridged edition. The unabridged Diary was published in nine volumes from 1970 to 1976.

from The Diary of Samuel Pepys

The Coronation of Charles II

23rd. About four I rose and got to the Abbey, where I followed Sir J. Denham, the Surveyor, with some company that he was leading in. [Created at the Restoration K.B., and Surveyor-General of all the King's buildings; better know as the author of "Cooper's Hill." Ob. 1668.] And with much ado, by the favour of Mr. Cooper, his man, did get up into a great scaffold across the North end of the Abbey, where with a great deal of patience I sat from past four till eleven before the King come in. And a great pleasure it was to see the Abbey raised in the middle, all covered with red, and a throne (that is a chaire) and foot-stoole on the top of it; and all the officers of all kinds, so much as the very fidlers, in red vests.
At last comes in the Dean and Prebends of Westminster, with the Bishops, (many of them in cloth of gold copes,) and after them the Nobility, all in their Parliament robes, which was a most magnificent sight. Then the Duke and the King with a scepter (carried by my Lord Sandwich) and sword and wand before him, and the crowne too. The King in his robes, bare-headed, which was very fine. And after all had placed themselves, there was a sermon and the service; and then in the Quire at the high altar, the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronation, which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see. The crowne being put upon his head, a great shout begun, and he come forth to the throne, and there passed through more ceremonies: as taking the oath, and having things read to him by the Bishopp; and his lords (who put on their caps as soon as the King put on his crowne) and bishops come, and kneeled before him. But three times the King at Armes went to the three open places on the scaffold, and proclaimed, that if any one could show any reason why Charles Stewart should not be King of England, that now he should come and speak. And a Generall Pardon also was read by the Lord Chancellor, and meddalls flung up and down by my Lord Cornwallis, [Sir Frederick Cornwallis, Bart., had been created a Baron three days before the Coronation. He was Treasurer of His Majesty's Household, and a Privy Counsellor. Ob. Jan. 21, 1661-2.] of silver, but I could not come by any. But so great a noise that I could make butlittle of the musique; and indeed, it was lost to every body....
I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies, and went round the Abbey to Westminster Hall, all the way within rayles, and 10,000 people with the ground covered with blue cloth; and scaffolds all the way. Into the Hall I got, where it was very fine with hangings and scaffolds one upon another full of brave ladies; and my wife in one little one, on the right hand. Here I staid walking up and down, and at last upon one of the side stalls I stood and saw the King come in with all the persons (but the soldiers) that were yesterday in the cavalcade; and a most pleasant sight it was to see them in their several robes. And the King come in with his crowne on, and his sceptre in his hand, under a canopy borne up by six silver staves, carried by Barons of the Cinque Ports, and little bells at; every end. And after a long time, he got up to the farther end, and all set themselves down at their several tables; and that was also a brave sight: and the King's first course carried up by the Knights of the Bath. And many fine ceremonies there was of the Heralds leading up people before him, and bowing; and my Lord of Albemarle's going to the kitchin and eating a bit of the first dish that was to go to the King's table. But, above all, was these three Lords, Northumberland, and Suffolke, [James Howard, third Earl of Suffolk.] and the Duke of Ormond, coming before the courses on horseback, and staying so all dinner-time, and at last bringing up (Dymock) the King's Champion, all in armour on horseback, with his speare and targett carried before him. And a herald proclaims "That if any dare deny Charles Stewart to be lawful King of England, here was a Champion that would fight with him;" and with these words, the Champion flings down his gauntlet, and all this he do three times in his going up towards the King's table. To which when he is come, the King drinks to him, and then sends him the cup which is of gold, and he drinks it off, and then rides back again with the cup in his hand. I went from table to table to see the Bishops and all others at their dinner, and was infinitely pleased with it. And at the Lords' table, I met with William Howe, and he spoke to my Lord for me, and he did give him four rabbits and a pullet, and so Mr. Creed and I got Mr. Minshell to give us some bread, and so we at a stall eat it, as every body else did what they could get. I took a great deal of pleasure to go up and down, and look upon the ladies, and to hear the musique of all sorts, but above all,the 24 violins.
The London Fire

2nd (Lord's day). Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown, and went to her window; and thought it to be on the back-side of Marklane at the farthest, but being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again, and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was, and further off. So to my closet to set things to rights, after yesterday's cleaning.
By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson's little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down with my heart full of trouble to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King's baker's [His name was Faryner.] house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned down St. Magnes Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat, and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell's house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steele-yard, while I was there. Every body endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river, or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconys, till they burned their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour's time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high, and driving it into the City: and every thing after so long a drought proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things, the poor steeple [St, Lawrence Poultney, of which Thomas Elborough was Curate.] by which pretty Mrs. -- lives, and whereof my old schoolfellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, and there burned till it fell down; I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me, who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat): and there up to the King's closet in the Chapel, where people come about me, and I did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of York what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down, nothing could stop the fire, They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor [Sir Thomas Bludworth.] from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him, that if he would have any more soldiers, he shall: and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret. Here meeting with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul's, and there walked along Watling-street, as well as I could, every creature coming away loaded with goods to save, and here and there sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts-and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canning-street, like a man spent, with a handkercher about his neck. To the King's message, he cried, like a fainting woman, "Lord! what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it." That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night.
So he left me, and I him, and walked home; seeing people all almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses too so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oyle, and wines, and brandy, and other things. Here I saw Mr. Isaac Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brother's things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration. And to see the churches all filling with goods by people, who themselves should have been quietly there at this time.
By this time it was about twelve o'clock; and so home, and there find my guests, who were Mr. Wood and his wife Barbary Shelden, and also Mr. Moone; she mighty fine, and her husband, for aught I see, a likely man. But Mr. Moone's design and mine, which was to look over my closet, and please him with the sight thereof, which he hath long desired, was wholly disappointed; for we were in great trouble and disturbance at this fire, not knowing what to think of it. However, we had an extraordinary good dinner, and as merry as at this time we could be. While at dinner Mrs. Batelier come to enquire after Mr. Woolfe and Stanes, (who it seems are related to them,) whose houses in Fish-street are all burned, and they in a sad condition. She would not stay in the fright. Soon as dined, I and Moone away, and walked through the City, the streets full of nothing but people, and horses and carts loaden with goods, ready to run over one another, and removing goods from one burned house to another. They now removing out of Canning-street (which received goods in the morning) into Lumbard-street, and further: and among others I now saw my little goldsmith Stokes receiving some friend's goods, whose house itself was burned the day after. We parted at Paul's; he home, and I to Paul's Wharf, where I had appointed a boat to attend me, and took in Mr. Carcasse and his brother, whom I met in the street, and carried them below and above bridge too. And again to see the fire, which was now got further, both below and above, and no likelihood of stopping it. Met with the King and Duke of York in their barge, and with them to Queenhith, and there called Sir Richard Browne to them. Their order was only to pull down houses apace, and so below bridge at the water-side; but little was or could be done, the fire coming upon them so fast. Good hopes there was of stopping it at the Three Cranes above, and at Buttolph's Wharf below bridge, if care be used; but the wind carries it into the City, so as we know not by the water-side what it do there. River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water, and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in, but there was a pair of Virginalls [A sort of spinett, so called (according to Johnson) from young women playing upon it.] in it.
Having seen as much as I could now, I away to White Hall by appointment, and there walked to St. James's Park, and there met my wife and Creed and Wood and his wife, and walked to my boat; and there upon the water again, and to the fire up and down, it still encreasing, and the wind great. So near the fire as we could for smoke; and all over the Thames, with one's faces in the wind, you were almost burned with a shower of fire-drops. This is very true: so as houses were burned by these drops and flakes of fire, three or four, nay, five or six houses, one from another. When we could endure no more upon the water, we to a little ale-house on the Bankside, over against the Three Cranes, and there staid till it was dark almost, and saw the fire grow, and as it grew darker, appeared more and more, and in corners and upon steeples, and between churches and houses, as far as we could see up the hill of the City, in a most horrid malicious bloody flame, not like the fine flame of an ordinary fire. Barbary and her husband away before us. We staid till, it being darkish, we saw the fire as only one entire arch of fire from this to the other side the bridge, and in a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it. The churches, houses, and all on fire, and flaming at once; and a horrid noise the flames made, and the cracking houses at their ruine.
So home with a sad heart, and there find every body discoursing and lamenting the fire; and poor Tom Hater come with some few of his goods saved out of his house, which was burned upon Fish-street Hill. I invited him to lie at my house, and did receive his goods, but was deceived in his lying there, the news coming every moment of the growth of the fire; so as we were forced to begin to pack up our own goods, and prepare for their removal; and did by moonshine (it being brave dry and moonshine and warm weather) carry much of my goods into the garden, and Mr. Hater and I did remove my money and iron chests into my cellar, as thinking that the safest place. And got my bags of gold into my office, ready to carry away, and my chief papers of accounts also there, and my tallies into a box by themselves. So great was our fear, as Sir W. Batten hath carts come out of the country to fetch away his goods this night. We did put Mr. Hater, poor man, to bed a little; but he got but very little rest, so much noise being in my house, taking down of goods.
3rd. About four o'clock in the morning, my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things, to Sir W. Rider's at Bednall-greene. Which I did, riding myself in my night gown, in the cart; and, Lord! to see how the streets and the highways are crowded with people running and riding, and getting of carts at any rate to fetch away things. I find Sir W. Rider tired with being called up all night, and receiving things from several friends. His house full of goods, and much of Sir W. Batten's and Sir W. Pen's, I am eased at my heart to have my treasure so well secured. Then home, and with much ado to find a way, nor any sleep all this night to me nor my poor wife.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys Discussion Questions

1. Where does Pepys go to see the coronation of Charles II? When?
2. Describe the events and sights that Pepys records of his time in Westminster Hall.
3. When Pepys first views the fire burning in the distance, what does he do? Why?
4. When Pepys explores the burning city, what does he notice most people are doing? What does he notice about the pigeons?
5. How does Pepys describe the fire and the destruction it creates on the night of September 2?

6. In your opinion, what is Pepys's attitude toward the king's restoration? Support your answer with statements from the text.
7. Based on the details and activities that attract Pepys's attention at Westminster Hall, how would you describe his personality and interests? Explain.
8. Compare Pepys's initial reaction to the fire with his later attitude. What might account for this shift?
9. What do you suppose is Pepys's opinion of people's behavior in this crisis? Support your answer with observations from his diary.
10. How would you describe the mood (see page R1O) of Pepys's account of the night of September 2 and early the next morning?

Daniel Defoe's Biography

(1660-1731), was an English novelist and journalist. He wrote Robinson Crusoe, one of the first English novels and one of the most popular adventure stories in Western literature. Critics have debated what role Defoe played in the development of the English novel, but he was undoubtedly a great master of realistic narrative and had a remarkable sense of detail in his work.
Defoe was born in London. He was the son of a Protestant butcher and candle merchant. He started a business career, but he went bankrupt and turned to writing. Defoe's earliest writings dealt with such controversial subjects as politics and religion. A political pamphlet led to Defoe's imprisonment in 1703 for about 4 months.For about 25 years, Defoe earned his living as a journalist. Not much is known about his last years, but he continued to write much political journalism, as well as other kinds of work.
Defoe is unusual for the quantity and variety of his works. It is difficult to tell how many works he produced, because most were published anonymously. The latest estimate of his works is almost 550, including works of poetry, theology, economics, and geography. For most readers today, Defoe is known primarily as a novelist. However, he did not become a novelist until he was about 60 years old and this was really a minor part of his writing. Defoe's two most famous novels are Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722).
Defoe's novels reflect the growing power and wealth the new English merchant class developed through new business opportunities at home and abroad. Many members of this class were Puritans and they tended to glorify hard work and getting ahead through one's own efforts. The Puritans also stressed education, and therefore became a large part of the reading public. Defoe was one of the first writers to portray trade, capitalism, and business favorably. Robinson Crusoe is the story of a man marooned on a desert island. It is presented as though it is Crusoe's actual autobiography. Through his own hard work, inventiveness, and will to succeed, Crusoe turns his island into a thriving colony. See Robinson Crusoe.
Defoe's novels marked an important break with the fiction of the past. He offered the ordinary lives of real people who were the normal products of their social and economic surroundings. Defoe makes us believe in the reality of what we are reading by using concrete, realistic details. But he does not provide much psychological insight into his characters.

from Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year

I went all the first part of the time freely about the streets, though not so freely as to run myself into apparent danger, except when they dug the great pit in the churchyard of our parish of Aldgate. A terrible pit it was, and I could not resist my curiosity to go and see it. As near as I may judge, it was about forty feet in length, and about fifteen or sixteen feet broad, and at the time I first looked at it, about nine feet deep; but it was said they dug it near twenty feet deep afterwards in one part of it, till they could go no deeper for the water; for they had, it seems, dug several large pits before this. For though the plague was long a-coming to our parish, yet, when it did come, there was no parish in or about London where it raged with such violence as in the two parishes of Aldgate and Whitechappel.
I say they had dug several pits in another ground, when the distemper began to spread in our parish, and especially when the dead-carts began to go about, which was not, in our parish, till the beginning of August. Into these pits they had put perhaps fifty or sixty bodies each; then they made larger holes wherein they buried all that the cart brought in a week, which, by the middle to the end of August, came to from 200 to 400 a week; and they could not well dig them larger, because of the order of the magistrates confining them to leave no bodies within six feet of the surface; and the water coming on at about seventeen or eighteen feet, they could not well, I say, put more in one pit. But now, at the beginning of September, the plague raging in a dreadful manner, and the number of burials in our parish increasing to more than was ever buried in any parish about London of no larger extent, they ordered this dreadful gulf to be dug - for such it was, rather than a pit.
They had supposed this pit would have supplied them for a month or more when they dug it, and some blamed the churchwardens for suffering such a frightful thing, telling them they were making preparations to bury the whole parish, and the like; but time made it appear the churchwardens knew the condition of the parish better than they did: for, the pit being finished the 4th of September, I think, they began to bury in it the 6th, and by the 20th, which was just two weeks, they had thrown into it 1114 bodies when they were obliged to fill it up, the bodies being then come to lie within six feet of the surface. I doubt not but there may be some ancient persons alive in the parish who can justify the fact of this, and are able to show even in what place of the churchyard the pit lay betterthan I can. The mark of it also was many years to be seen in the churchyard on thesurface, lying in length parallel with the passage which goes by the west wall of the churchyard out of Houndsditch, and turns east again into Whitechappel, coming out near the Three Nuns' Inn.
It was about the 10th of September that my curiosity led, or rather drove, me to go and see this pit again, when there had been near 400 people buried in it; and I was not content to see it in the day-time, as I had done before, for then there would have been nothing to have been seen but the loose earth; for all the bodies that were thrown in were immediately covered with earth by those they called the buriers, which at other times were called bearers; but I resolved to go in the night and see some of them thrown in.
There was a strict order to prevent people coming to those pits, and that was only to prevent infection. But after some time that order was more necessary, for people that were infected and near their end, and delirious also, would run to those pits, wrapt in blankets or rugs, and throw themselves in, and, as they said, bury themselves. I cannot say that the officers suffered any willingly to lie there; but I have heard that in a great pit in Finsbury, in the parish of Cripplegate, it lying open then to the fields, for it was not then walled about, [many] came and threw themselves in, and expired there, before they threw any earth upon them; and that when they came to bury others and found them there, they were quite dead, though not cold.
This may serve a little to describe the dreadful condition of that day, though it is impossible to say anything that is able to give a true idea of it to those who did not see it, other than this, that it was indeed very, very, very dreadful, and such as no tongue can express.
I got admittance into the churchyard by being acquainted with the sexton who attended; who, though he did not refuse me at all, yet earnestly persuaded me not to go, telling me very seriously (for he was a good, religious, and sensible man) that it was indeed their business and duty to venture, and to run all hazards, and that in it they might hope to be preserved; but that I had no apparent call to it but my own curiosity, which, he said, he believed I would not pretend was sufficient to justify my running that hazard. I told him I had been pressed in my mind to go, and that perhaps it might be an instructing sight, that might not be without its uses. 'Nay,' says the good man, 'if you will venture upon that score, name of God go in; for, depend upon it, 'twill be a sermon to you, it may be, the best that ever you heard in your life. 'Tis a speaking sight,' says he, 'and has a voice with it, and a loud one, to call us all to repentance'; and with that he opened the door and said, 'Go, if you will.'
His discourse had shocked my resolution a little, and I stood wavering for a good while, but just at that interval I saw two links come over from the end of the Minories, and heard the bellman, and then appeared a dead-cart, as they called it, coming over the streets; so I could no longer resist my desire of seeing it, and went in. There was nobody, as I could perceive at first, in the churchyard, or going into it, but the buriers and the fellow that drove the cart, or rather led the horse and cart; but when they came up to the pit they saw a man go to and again, muffled up in a brown Cloak, and making motions with his hands under his cloak, as if he was in great agony, and the buriers immediately gathered about him, supposing he was one of those poor delirious or desperate creatures that used to pretend, as I have said, to bury themselves. He said nothing as he walked about, but two or three times groaned very deeply and loud, and sighed as he would break his heart.
When the buriers came up to him they soon found he was neither a person infected and desperate, as I have observed above, or a person distempered -in mind, but one oppressed with a dreadful weight of grief indeed, having his wife and several of his children all in the cart that was just come in with him, and he followed in an agony and excess of sorrow. He mourned heartily, as it was easy to see, but with a kind of masculine grief that could not give itself vent by tears; and calmly defying the buriers to let him alone, said he would only see the bodies thrown in and go away, so they left importuning him. But no sooner was the cart turned round and the bodies shot into the pit promiscuously, which was a surprise to him, for he at least expected they would have been decently laid in, though indeed he was afterwards convinced that was impracticable; I say, no sooner did he see the sight but he cried out aloud, unable to contain himself. I could not hear what he said, but he went backward two or three steps and fell down in a swoon. The buriers ran to him and took him up, and in a little while he came to himself, and they led him away to the Pie Tavern over against the end of Houndsditch, where, it seems, the man was known, and where they took care of him. He looked into the pit again as he went away, but the buriers had covered the bodies so immediately with throwing in earth, that though there was light enough, for there were lanterns, and candles in them, placed all night round the sides of the pit, upon heaps of earth, seven or eight, or perhaps more, yet nothing could be seen.
This was a mournful scene indeed, and affected me almost as much as the rest; but the other was awful and full of terror. The cart had in it sixteen or seventeen bodies; some were wrapt up in linen sheets, some in rags, some little other than naked, or so loose that what covering they had fell from them in the shooting out of the cart, and they fell quite naked among the rest; but the matter was not much to them, or the indecency much to any one else, seeing they were all dead, and were to be huddled together into the common grave of mankind, as we may call it, for here was no difference made, but poor and rich went together; there was no other way of burials, neither was it possible there should, for coffins were not to be had for the prodigious numbers that fell in such a calamity as this.

from a Journal of the Plague Year Discussion Questions

1. For what reasons was the great pit dug in the churchyard of the parish?
2. What reasons does the narrator give the sexton for visiting the great pit in the churchyard? What is the sexton's response to the narrator?
3. Why did the initial order forbidding people to see the pit become more necessary as time passed?
4. According to the narrator, what is the condition of the cloaked man who followed the cart into the churchyard?
5. Describe the type of burial that is given to plague victims in the churchyard.

6. Why might people have been upset to see such a large pit being dug?
7. What do you think the sexton means by his response to the narrator's request to see the pit?
8. What do the actions of the plague-infected people tell you about their state of mind?
9. Why might the cloaked man have wished to see his loved ones buried? Do you think he was comforted by the sight? Why or why not?
10. Explain the phrase "the common grave of mankind." In your opinion, what point is the narrator making? (See literary Terms Handbook, page R1O.)

Thomas Gray's Biography

(1716-1771), was an English poet. His masterpiece, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751), is one of the best-known poems in the English language. Its theme is the common fate of common people, who live and die unnoticed and unremembered. The poem includes the famous line "The paths of glory lead but to the grave." Although a shy man, Gray carried on a large correspondence. His letters to such friends as the author-politician Horace Walpole, are themselves examples of a minor art form of the period.
Gray was born in London and attended Eton College and Cambridge University. He spent much of his life as a scholar at Cambridge. Gray traveled through France and Italy from 1739 to 1741, and later made many trips through Scotland and the English Lake District. His journals of these travels reveal Gray's appreciation of nature. Gray's first published poem was "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College" (1747). It includes the famous line "... where ignorance is bliss/'Tis folly to be wise." Other major early poems are "Hymn to Adversity" and a sonnet on the death of a friend, Richard West. All were written at his mother's home in Stoke Poges, the village of the churchyard depicted in his famous elegy. The language reflects Gray's fondness for the artificial diction typical of poetry of his time. But he illustrated a new trend toward romanticism in his mood of melancholy moralizing. A romantic feeling appears in his odes "The Bard" (1757) and "The Progress of Poesy" (1757), written in the style of the Greek poet Pindar.

Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness, and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude Forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share,

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the Poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour:-
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye Proud, impute to these the fault
If Memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre:

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of time, did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbad: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbad to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Yet e'en these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd Muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Let the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
E'en from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who, mindful of th' unhonour'd dead,
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
'Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn;

'There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high.
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

'Hand by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Muttering his wayward fancies he would rove;
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or crazed with car, or cross'd in hopeless love.

'One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath, and near his favourite tree; A
nother came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

'The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow through the church-way path we saw him borne,-
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay
Graved on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.'

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A Youth, to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere;
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heaven, 'twas all he wish'd, a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose,)
The bosom of his Father and his God.

"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. At what time of day is the poem set? What mood (see page RIO) does this time of day evoke?
2. In lines 17-28, what sights, sounds, and feelings does the speaker say the dead have left behind? What do these images (see page R8) have in common?
3. In lines 45-64, what does the speaker speculate some of the country people might have become? What kept them from reaching these heights?
4. Summarize the speaker's feelings about the dead. How does the speaker hope readers will feel about the people buried in the churchyard?

Evaluate and Connect
5. What purpose does the speaker hope the elegy will fulfill? In your opinion, does the poem succeed in fulfilling this purpose? Use specific lines or phrases from the poem to support your answers.
6. Do you find Gray's elegy to be sad, hopeful, or both? Explain your response.
7. Return to the Reading Focus questionnaire you completed on page 599. In your opinion, how would the speaker of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" rate each factor?
8. If you were to rewrite the elegy for modern American readers, what famous people would you choose to take the place of Hampden, Milton, and Cromwell? Why?