Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

Description

Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, first published in 1751, is one of the most widely-quoted poems of the 18th century. It is a meditation on the inevitability of death; the vanity of ambition and the universal human desire to be loved. In particular the poem looks at death as a leveller, an indiscriminate force which makes no distinction between the famous on the one hand and, on the other, the anonymous – those who, in the words of the poem: 

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray

This copy of the poem is in Gray’s own hand and was included with a letter he sent to a friend, Thomas Wharton. 

The influence on Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy named his novel Far from the Madding Crowd after a line from Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.

The grave remains central to Hardy's novel. When Fanny Robin dies Sergeant Troy shows his devotion to her, which runs far deeper than his love for Bathsheba, by his lavish expenditure on a marble tombstone for her grave. His impetuous tending of the grave borders on the obsessive and yet it lacks any sense of practical planning. The grave is badly damaged by heavy rain when water spews from the mouth of a gargoyle on the church roof and cascades onto the site where Fanny lies buried. It is Gabriel Oak who makes the necessary repairs and thus ensures the grave survives. Troy is ultimately reunited with Fanny when, following his own death, he is interred by her side.

Full title:
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
Created:
estimated 1740-41
Format:
Manuscript
Creator:
Thomas Gray
Usage terms:
Public Domain
Held by:
British Library
Shelfmark:
Egerton MS 2400

Full catalogue details

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Writing, publishing and revising Far From The Madding Crowd

Article by:
Elizabeth James
Themes:
The novel 1832–1880, Fin de siècle

Elizabeth James traces the development of Thomas Hardy’s fourth novel, from inspiration to post-publication revisions.

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