An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard, the Martin copy
An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard, the Martin copy

THOMAS GRAY, 1751

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An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard, the Martin copy
Thomas Gray, 1751
[GRAY, Thomas (1716-1771).] An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard. London: for R. Dodsley, and sold by M. Cooper, 1751.

The very fine Bradley Martin copy of one of the best loved poems in English; in superb original condition, uncut and sewn. Begun in 1742, Gray's elegy had circulated freely in manuscript after being finished in 1750. However, through Horace Walpole it fell to the wrong hands and the threat of piracy (and use of Gray's name) led to it being rushed into print in no more than six days. Gray would write to Walpole on 11 February 1751 to arrange for its urgent printing, needed to beat out a magazine printing which was already underway: "As you have brought me into a little Sort of Distress, you must assist me, I believe, to get out of it, as well as I can ... I have but one Way left to escape the 'Honour' they would inflict upon me. and therefore am obliged to desire you would make Dodsley print it immediately (which may be done in less that a Week's time) from your Copy, but without my name in what form is most convenient to him, but on his best paper and character; he must correct the press himself, and print it without an interval between the stanzas, because the sense is in some places continued beyond them; and the Title must be, 'Elegy wrote in a Country Churchyard'" (qtd. in Weinfield, The Poet Without a Name, p.121).

Gray’s striking poem inspired many imitators and homages from not only his fellow poets, but visual artists including William Blake, Owen Jones, and John Constable. A tall, uncut copy. According to ABPC, the present copy is the only one in its original sewn state to appear at auction. Grolier English 49, Northup 492.

Quarto (275 x 223mm). Title between woodcut rules with emblems of death, the upper rule repeated at head of poem. Sewn as issued (first leaf with a few minor tears including a small loss at upper corner). Custom chemise and full morocco clamshell box. Provenance: H. Bradley Martin (bookplate; his sale, Sotheby’s New York, 30 April 1990, lot 2884).

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