GRAY, Thomas (1716-1771). Autograph letter signed with initials ('T.G.') to Thomas Ashton 'at the Hon. the Mrs Lewis's in Hanover-Square, London', Cambridge, 30 June , 1¼ pages,4to with integral address leaf, black seal (address leaf torn, slight splits along fold marks). Provenance: Miss Avril Wood, sold Sotheby's, London, 21 July 1981, lot 500.
Gray writes when in his final year at Peterhouse and playfully rebukes Ashton, who had left King's the previous year, for forgetting 'the poor little tenement, in which you have so long lodged' and setting 'your heart upon some fine Castle in the Air.' The letter is peppered with questions about Ashton's experience of life as a tutor in London. 'The account W: gives of your way of life is better than I expected'; nevertheless, he is 'sure you must meet daily with little particulars enough to fill a letter,' and clearly has lines from Pope's Rape of the Lock in mind when he asks: 'has Mrs L[ewis] a pimple upon her nose? does her woman love Citron water? &c:'. Other questions concern palace gossip: 'have you seen -- Madame Valmote? [Amelia Sophia van Walmoden, mistress of George II, who had arrived in London on 12 June] naughty woman! was you at the christening? [of the future George III, christened at Norfolk House, St James's Square on 21 June] is the Princess [of Wales] with child again?' Then, thinking of Ashton's tutorial responsibilities, he queries: 'have you wrote e'er a Critique on the Accidence? is Despauterius or Linacer most in your favour? but perhaps you think this is tittle-tattle ....' In Cambridge 'Pot-fair is at its height ... Walpole is gone to Stamford, & to Lynn, but returns in a day or two; I am gone to the Carrier's with this letter.'
Gray, Thomas Ashton, Horace Walpole and Richard West spent nine years together at Eton where they formed the self-styled 'quadruple alliance'. West afterwards went to Oxford, the other three to Cambridge. This is the earliest letter from Gray to Ashton in the Correspondence of Thomas Gray, edited by Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley (Oxford, 1935, 3 vols., I, pp. 87-88); it was first printed from the Mitford transcript by Duncan Tovey in Gray and His Friends (Cambridge, 1890, pp. 37-38). While there is a hint of discord in the second paragraph, it is like Gray's earlier letters from Cambridge in bearing ample testimony to his affection for and reliance upon his closest friends. Through Walpole's influence, Ashton had been appointed tutor to Lord Plymouth and as such was comfortably settled in the house of Mrs Anne Lewis in fashionable Hanover Square. As Gray's biographer, Robert Mack, comments (Thomas Gray, New Haven and London, 2000, p. 212): 'Ashton would soon take orders, and his sights were set on a prosperous career within the church', which is presumably what Gray meant by 'some fine Castle in the Air.' For a letter from West to Ashton, see lot 203.