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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Gray (1866-1934), poet and priest

John Gray (March 2, 1866 – June 14, 1934) was an English poet whose works include Silverpoints, The Long Road and Park: A Fantastic Story. It has often been suggested that he was the inspiration behind Oscar Wilde's fictional Dorian Gray.



Born in the working-class district of Bethnal Green, London, he was the first of nine children. He left school at the age of thirteen and began work as an apprentice metal-worker at the Arsenal.[1] He continued his education through attending a series of evening classes, studying French, German, Latin, music and art. In 1882 he passed the Civil Service exams and five years later passed the University of London matriculation exams. He joined the Foreign Office where he became a librarian.[2]

The Aesthetic Movement

Gray is best known today as an aesthetic poet of the 1890s and as a friend of Ernest Dowson, Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. He was also a talented translator, bringing works by the French Symbolists Mallarmé, Verlaine, Laforgue and Rimbaud into English, often for the first time. He is purported to be the inspiration behind the title character in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, but distanced himself from this rumor. His relationship with Wilde was initially intense, but had cooled for over two years by the time of Wilde's imprisonment. The relationship appears to have been at its height in the period 1891-1893.[3]

Literary Output

Gray's most notable publication was a collection of verse called Silverpoints (1893). In his review of it Richard Le Gallienne distinguished it from the output of many of the 'decadent' poets in its inability to accomplish "that gloating abstraction from the larger life of humanity that marks the decadent".[4] Gray's later works were mainly devotional and often dealt with various Christian saints. He produced one novel Park: A Fantastic Story (1932). His collected poems, with extensive notes, were printed in a 1988 edition edited by English professor and 1890s expert Ian Fletcher.


Like many of the artists of that period, Gray was a convert to Roman Catholicism. He was baptised on 14th February 1890, but soon lapsed. Wilde's trial appears to have prompted some intense soul-searching in Gray and he re-embraced Catholicism in 1895.[5] In 1896 he gave this reversion poetic form in his volume Spiritual Poems: Chiefly done out of other languages. He left his position at the Foreign Office and studied for the priesthood at the Scots College and later became a priest at Saint Patrick's and a rector at Saint Peter's in Edinburgh.

His most important supporter, and life partner, was Marc-André Raffalovich, a wealthy poet and early defender of homosexuality. Raffalovich himself became a Catholic in 1896 and joined the tertiary order of Dominicans. When Gray went to Edinburgh he settled nearby. He helped finance St Peter's Church in Morningside where Gray would serve as priest for the rest of his life.[6] The two maintained a chaste relationship until Raffalovich's sudden death in 1934. A devastated Gray died exactly four months later at St. Raphael's nursing home in Edinburgh after a short illness.

The critic, Valentine Cunningham, has described Gray as the "stereotypical poet of the nineties".[7]

His great nephew is the alternative rock musician, Crispin Gray.

External links


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  • Fletcher, Ian (ed.). The Poems of John Gray. Greensboro, North Carolina: ELT Press, 1988. ISBN 0-944318-00-2
  • Sewell, Brocard. In The Dorian Mode (A Life of John Gray: 1866 – 1934). Padstow, Cornwall: Tabb House, 1983. ISBN 0-907018-18-1


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