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  Visit to the Lake country Gray’s death  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

VI. Gray.

§ 17. Gray and Bonstetten.


At the beginning of 1770, Gray, through Nicholls, found a strange young friend, to beguile for a short time his solitary days, and give his waning life a sort of Martin’s summer. Young Charles-Victor de Bonstetten came to him to fascinate, but, also, to perplex, him. The undergraduates puzzled the foreigner; he could not understand the young seigneurs traves tied as monks in the university glorified by Newton. He knew so little of the real life of these neophytes as never to suspect that their conduct and character were far from ascetic. It was a secret Gray prudently withheld from him, jealously keeping his disciple for himself. Bonstetten spent most of his time in Gray’s room, having, however, a young sizar to wake him in the morning and read Milton to him. He studied from morning to night and spent his evenings with Gray. His own experience was, in truth, already much wider than that of his now ageing friend. He had seen Rousseau, he had talked with Voltaire; he had even tried suicide, anticipating Werther under the spell of that Weltschmerz which the Briton imperfectly understood. All this, Gray never knew, or thought it best not to notice. He wrote to the young man, who relapsed for a time into melancholy on his return to Switzerland, as Fénelon’s Mentor might talk to Telemachus; and epitomises for his benefit the sixth book of Plato’s Republic. In the end, Bonstetten became an excellent magistrate, and served Switzerland well, until the revolution drove him into exile. He never forgot Gray, the old poet whose last days he had brightened, and who had parted from him with pathetic regret. 23    42

Note 23. See the story told more at length in the second volume of Gray’s Letters (1904). [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  Visit to the Lake country Gray’s death  
 
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