Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
By Thomas Gray (17161771)
From the Letters
To the Rev. N. Nichols.
Monday, 19th November 1764.
SIRI received your letter at Southampton, and as I would wish to treat everybody according to their own rule and measure of good-breeding, have against my inclination waited till now before I answered it, purely out of fear and respect and an ingenuous diffidence of my own abilities. If you will not take this as an excuse, accept it at least as a well-turned period, which is always my principal concern.
So I proceed to tell you, that my health is much improved by the sea; not that I drank it, or bathed in it, as the common people do. No! I only walked by it and looked upon it. The climate is remarkably mild, even in October and November. No snow has been seen to lie there for these thirty years past, the myrtles grow in the ground against the houses, and Guernsey lilies bloom in every window. The town, clean and well built, surrounded by its old stone walls, with their towers and gateways, stands at the point of a peninsula, and opens full south to an arm of the sea, which having formed two beautiful bays on each hand of it, stretches away in direct view till it joins the British Channel. It is skirted on either side with gently rising grounds, clothed with thick wood; and directly across its mouth rise the high lands of the Isle of Wight, at distance, but distinctly seen. In the bosom of the woods (concealed from profane eyes) lie hid the ruins of Netley Abbey. There may be richer and greater houses of religion, but the abbot is content with his situation. See there, at the top of that hanging meadow under the shade of those old trees that bend into half a circle about it, he is walking slowly (good man!) and bidding his beads for the souls of his benefactors interred in that venerable pile that lies beneath him. Beyond it (the meadow still descending) nods a thicket of oaks, that mask the building and have excluded a view too garish and too luxuriant for a holy eye: only, on either hand, they leave an opening to the blue glittering sea. Did not you observe how, as that white sail shot by and was lost, he turned and crossed himself to drive the tempter from him that had thrown distraction in his way. I should tell you, that the ferryman who rowed me, a lusty young fellow, told me that he would not, for all the world, pass a night at the Abbey (there were such things seen near it), though there was a power of money hid there. From thence I went to Salisbury, Wilton, and Stonehenge; but of these things I say no more, they will be published at the University press.