Thomas Gray

Author: Thomas Gray

Profile: Thomas Gray was an English poet, professor, letter-writer, classical scholar and historian. He was born in Cornhill, London, England and died in Cambridge, England. He was professor at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Thomas is popularly known for his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751). Though he was very popular, he published just thirteen poems during his lifetime being an extremely self-critical writer. In 1757 he was offered the position of Poet Laureate, but he turned down the offer. His father was unwell mentally and abusive so his mother left him and took care of Thomas. He was the only one to survive infancy out of the twelve children born to his mother. Thomas a scholarly and delicate boy went to Eton College, made good friends from reputed families, avoided athletics and did a lot of reading. He lived and tutored with his uncle who worked at Eton College. He went to Peterhouse Cambridge in 1734 but didn’t find the curriculum interesting, but read modern and classical literature and for relaxation playing Scarlatti and Vivaldi on the harpsichord. He toured Europe with Walpole his school friend in 1738 who also published Thomas’s poetry later on.

After Richard West, his close friend died, Thomas Gray took up writing seriously in 1742. He went on to become the most learned men of his time after moving to Cambridge. First, he became a Fellow of Peterhouse and then of Pembroke College, Cambridge. He started travelling again after spending a major part of his scholarly life in Cambridge.

At one time he wrote that he was fearful that his collections would be ‘mistaken for the works of a flea’. His friend Walpole stated that, “he never wrote anything easily but things of Humour”.

Writing style: Thomas Gray’s writings are considered to be pre-Romantic, conventionally, however such teleological classification has been denied by critical developments in recent times.

Published Texts:



1742 – Ode on the Spring

1742 – On the Death of Richard West

1747 – Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tube of Goldfishes

1747 – Ode to a Distant Prospect of Eton College

1745-1750 – Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

1751-1754 – The Progress of Poesy: A Pindaric Ode

1755-1757 – The Bard: A Pindaric Ode

1761 – The Fatal Sisters: An Ode

Awards and Acknowledgements:

1778 – A monument was erected to Thomas Gray’s by biographer William Mason. It was designed by John Bacon the Elder, in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey

John Penn, ‘of Stoke’ had a memorial to Gray constructed near St. Giles’ churchyard and engraved with extracts from the ‘Elegy’.

His birthplace is marked by a plaque in Cornhill, London