Fifty Shades of Gray

Dalrymple actually has three pieces in this month’s New English Review, and the last one we’ll share with you is a long essay on the theme of pride in Thomas Gray’s great poem Elegy Written In a Country Churchyard, and on Doctor Johnson’s responses in his Life Of Gray and other works:

But one is never more than a few lines in Doctor Johnson from good sense, for his writing abounds, as he says that Gray’s Elegy abounds, ‘with images which find a mirrour in every mind, and with sentiments to which every bosom returns an echo… I have never seen the notions in any other place; yet he that reads them here, persuades himself that he has always felt them.’ This is the effect also of so many of Johnson’s own reflections, which are simultaneously obvious and revelatory. Referring to Gray’s various travels, both in Britain and in Europe, Dr Johnson says that ‘it is by studying at home that we must obtain the ability of travelling with intelligence and improvement.’ This is precisely so: travel should be a philosophical activity and not merely a manifestation of restlessness or boredom, though it may be those things as well. ‘Chance favours only the mind prepared,’ said Pasteur of scientific experiment; he might have said the same of travel.

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