History

Thomas Gray

History

A memorial to poet Thomas Gray is in the east aisle of Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey, below that to John Milton. The monument of various coloured marbles is by John Bacon and was erected (1778) by Gray's friend and biographer the poet William Mason (whose memorial is adjacent). He also wrote the inscription:

"No more the Graecian Muse unrival'd reigns: to Britain let the nations homage pay; she felt a HOMER'S fire in MILTON'S strains, a PINDAR's rapture in the lyre of GRAY"

On the basement:

"He died July 30th 1771 aged 54"

The Lyric Muse is seated almost at floor level and holds a medallion portrait of the poet which is lettered "THOMAS GRAY". Her finger (now broken, as is most of her lyre) points upwards to Milton's memorial.

He was born in London on 26 December 1716, one of twelve children of Philip Gray and his wife Dorothy (Antrobus). He was educated at Eton and Cambridge and then took a tour of Europe with Horace Walpole, the son of the Prime Minister. In 1742 while staying at Stoke Poges in Buckinghamshire he composed his Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College and his Elegy written in a country churchyard several years later helped his reputation as a poet grow. In 1768 he was elected professor of modern history at Cambridge and he died unmarried and was buried in his mother's grave at Stoke Poges.

A photo of the memorial can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

Thomas Gray. A Life by Robert L.Mack, 2000

Thomas Gray, A biography. by R.W.Ketton-Cremer, 1955