Addison's "Campaign" and Gray's "Elegy". (Joseph Addison)(Thomas Gray) Rodney Stenning Edgecombe.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 Heldref Publications
In the meditation set at the heart of the "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which he completed in 1750, Gray notes that deprivation curtails opportunities for evil as well as for good. Chief amongst these is violent individual ambition, which Gray deplores (in marked contrast to Addison's "Campaign" of 1704, which had celebrated the military success of the Duke of Marlborough):
The applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise.
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,
The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.
(Gray, Collins, and Goldsmith 129-30)
These strophes also figured in an earlier version of the "Elegy," the "Stanza's Wrote in a Country Church-yard" (ca. 1742), in which Gray chose figures from Roman rather than English history to make his points:
Some Village Cato [that] with dauntless Breast
The little Tyrant of his Fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Tully here may rest;
Some Caesar guiltless of his Country's Blood. (Gray and Collins 37)
Although at first glance the reference to "senates" in the later text might suggest an unedited carryover from the earlier, more Latinate one, it is clear that Gray was writing with the entire panorama of human history in mind. For although he let the culturally specific "senates" stand, he pluralized the noun to give it a general application to all significant bodies of government, the English Houses of Parliament amongst them. And once we accept that the senates in question are not only those of Rome but also those of England the historical reference opens up. When Gray wrote about Caesar in the first version of the "Elegy," he had in mind the military campaigns in Bithynia and Gaul by which the leader qualified himself for political office and by which he aspired to an oriental, absolute power, the "throne" that would displace the Senate in course of time. But when Gray altered the antonomasia, Cromwell did not tally with Caesar quite as neatly as Hampden did with Cato, for even though, like Caesar, Cromwell had triggered a civil war, he corresponded more closely to Brutus, while Caesar corresponded to Charles.
However, Gray seems to have had an additional candidate in mind for the category of people who "wade through...