AUTOGRAPH DRAFT OF PART OF HIS LATIN POEM 'DE PRINCIPIIS COGITANDI' OR AN ELEGY ON THE DEATH OF HIS FRIEND THE POET RICHARD WEST (1716-1742), some 34 lines written in red crayon and two lines in pencil, with revisions and deletions preserving reconsidered text, beginning with autograph pen and ink notes in English about human desires, 1 page, quarto, laid down, somewhat faint [Stoke, June 1742]
Hactenus haud segnis Naturae araona retexi
Musarum interpres, primusque Britanna per arva
Romano liquidum deduxi flumine rivum.
Cum Tu opere in medio, spes tanti et causa laboris,
Vidi egomet duro graviter concussa dolore
Pectorae, quae alterius semper miserita dolores...
This manuscript, an early draft, retaining numerous reconsidered readings otherwise unrecorded, is listed in two sales from Gray's library held by S. Leigh Sotheby and John Wilkinson on 28 August 1851m, lot 53, and 4 August 1854, lot 230. In the first sale the manuscript is described as '"De Principiis Cogitandi;" the fragment of Book IV. The Autograph of, apparently, the earliest sketch of that composition, as it differs very much from the printed copy. It is written with red crayon, except two lines in pencil.' The description in the second sale derives from the first. The cataloguers were in fact incorrect in identifying the passage as being from Book IV. It is in fact from Book II lines 1 to 27.
Starr and Hendrickson note that despite the title, this 'is really an elegy on the death of West, not part of De Principiis Cogitandi; Gray may have intended that it should be an introduction to a later book, but he never completed it'. Gray states that Book II was begun at Stoke in June 1742; he sent a copy to Horace Walpole in a letter of 8 February 1747. Starr and Hendrickson note two manuscripts of the poem: in Gray's Commonplace book and in the letter to Walpole; the present manuscript was unknown to them.
De Principiis Cogitandi was Gray's attempt to set his own reading of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Latin hexameters in much the same way that Lucretius used the Dogmas of Epicurus in his De Rerum Natura. It was to consist of four books but by 1744 Gray had abandoned this ambitious project.
Gray also wrote a poem in English on the occasion of West's death: 'In vain to me the smiling Mornings shine, / And reddening Phbus lifts his golden fire; / The birds in vain their amorous descant join; / Or cheerful fields resume their green attire...'
AUTOGRAPH POETICAL MANUSCRIPTS BY GRAY ARE RARE: only two others have been sold at auction. West, Gray and Walpole were three of the 'quadruple alliance' of friends at Eton. The single most important repository of Gray's autograph verse is in his Commonplace Book at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
See lot 317.
PROVENANCE: Thomas Gray; William Mason; Richard Stonehewer; John Bright, Prebendary of Salisbury; Granville Pegg of Stoke Poges; Leigh Sotheby and John Wilkinson, sales from Gray's library, 28 August 1851, lot 53 and 4 August 1854, lot 230 (sold for £1 17s.).
REFERENCES: The Complete Poems of Thomas Gray, edited by H.W. Starr and J.R. Hendrickson, 1966; Sale Catalogues of Libraries of Eminent Persons, edited by A.N.L. Munby, volume 2, Poets and Men of Letters. 1971, pp. 41 and 70; Index of English Literary Manuscripts, III, 1700-1800, compiled by Margaret M. Smith, 1989, GrT24.