Eton College Library is marking the centenary with the special exhibition Eton’s Bard: Thomas Gray and his Elegy, now available online with a physical exhibition to follow in the autumn. Through the poems that he published, the books that he annotated and the remarkable draft manuscripts that reveal the evolution of two of his greatest works, the exhibition tells the story of Thomas Gray from young Etonian to respected poet.
Gray’s education at Eton was steeped in the study of the classics, and he remained a scholar of Greek and Roman literature all his life. His own writings contain many of the hallmarks of neoclassicism. Yet Gray drew into his poetry the introspection, medieval allusions and sense of the sublime in nature which would come to define the poetry of the Romantic movement several decades later.
In his lifetime, Gray preferred anonymity for his writings, and might have been pleased that it would be one of his poems rather than himself which would enter the public consciousness. But without Gray and his writings, Romantic poetry – and English poetry as a whole – might now look very different.
Enter the exhibition now to experience it in full, or navigate the four sections individually below.