"The success of the Elegy was remarkable. The Monthly Review iv 309, for Feb. 1751 (published at the end of the month), commented that 'This excellent little piece is so much read, and so much admired by every body, that to say more of it would be superfluous'. John Hill, in the first of his series of contributions to the Daily Advertiser entitled 'The Inspector' on 5 March 1751 praised the Elegy enthusiastically, asserting that it 'comes nearer the manner of Milton than any thing that has been published since the time of that poet' and comparing it favourably with Lycidas. In 'The Inspector' No. 4 he printed a complimentary poem to the author of the Elegy by 'Musaphil'. The 4th quarto edn of G.'s poem had been published by 7 April and there was a 5th before the end of 1751. By 1763 twelve edns based on Dodsley's quarto had appeared. Inevitably the literary periodicals felt free to publish so celebrated a poem and, apart from the Magazine of Magazines, it had appeared in the London Mag., the True Briton and the Scots Mag. by April 1751. M. Rothkrug, in the article mentioned above, pointed out that the Elegy also appeared in Poems on Moral and Divine Subjects, by Several Celebrated English Poets (Glasgow, 1751); and confirmed that, as had been suspected but not established, it had been published in the Grand Magazine of Magazines in April 1751. Apart from these two publications, the frequent appearances of the Elegy in G.'s lifetime are described in detail by F. G. Stokes in his edn of the Elegy (Oxford, 1929). Stokes, Times Lit. Supp. 1937, p. 92, made an addition to his bibliography of the poem when he noted the inclusion of ll. 1-92 in the 4th edn of a volume of Miscellaneous Pieces, apparently published in 1752 by R. Goadby and W. Owen, the publisher of the Magazine of Magazines. See A. Anderson, The Library, 5th series, xx (1965) 144-8, for a refutation ofStokes's argument for the importance of this text, which was probably not printed in fact until late 1753.
In spite of, or perhaps because of, its popularity, G. rarely mentioned the Elegy after its publication. He made a few comments on it in a letter to Christopher Anstey, who published a Latin translation of the poem in 1762 (Corresp ii 748-9) but otherwise tended to be cynical about its celebrity. During a visit to Scotland in 1765, he spoke to Dr John Gregory of the Elegy: 'which he told me, with a good deal of acrimony, owed its popularity entirely to the subject, and that the public would have received it as well if it had been written in prose' (Sir William Forbes, Life of James Beattie (1806) i 83). Mason also believed this to be G.'s opinion, as he recalled in his 'Memoirs of William Whitehead', in Whitehead's Poems iii (1788) 84: 'It spread, at first, on account of the affecting and pensive cast of its subject, just like Hervey's Meditations on the Tombs. Soon after its publication, I remember that, sitting with Mr. Gray in his College apartment, he expressed to me his surprise at the rapidity of its sale. I replied: ''Sunt Lachrymae rerum, mentem mortalia tangunt.'' He paused awhile, and taking his pen, wrote the line on the title of a printed copy of it lying on his table. ''This,'' said he, ''shall be its future motto.'' ''Pity,'' cryed I, ''that Dr. Young's Night Thoughts have preoccupied it.'' ''So,'' replied he, ''indeed, it is.'' He had still more reason to think I had hinted at the true cause of its popularity, when he found how very different a reception his two odes at first met with.'
Yet if G. at times disliked being a popular author, the 'affecting and pensive' Mr Gray, he was not entirely indifferent to the Elegy's success. A marginal note (apparently added to from time to time) in the transcript of the poem in his Commonplace Book lists, with evident satisfaction, the various edns it passed through, as well as the two Latin translations by Lloyd and Anstey. And he can hardly have been unimpressed by the spate of imitations, parodies and translations into other languages which was already in full flow in his own lifetime; see Northup, Bibliography of G. (1917) pp. 123-45, H. W. Starr's continuation (1953) pp. 33-8, and W. P. Jones, 'Imitations of G.'s Elegy, 1751-1800', Bulletin of Bibliography xxiii (1963) 230-2. This aspect of the Elegy's popularity and influence can be illustrated by John Langhorne's remarks, in his review of An Elegy, Written among the Tombs in Westminster Abbey (Monthly Review xxvi (1762) 356-8), on the number of G.'s imitators: 'An Undertaker was never followed by a more numerous or a more ridiculous tribe of mourners, than he has been; nor is the procession yet over, for, behold, here is another Gentleman in black, with the same funereal face, and mournful ditty; with the same cypress in his hand, and affecting sentence in his mouth, viz. that we must all die! Hark! the Dirge begins.' Langhorne's next review was of Edward Jerningham's The Nunnery, an Elegy, in Imitation of the Elegy in a Churchyard."


Satisfied customers are saying