John Gray (1866-1934). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Rev. John Henry Gray (2 March 1866 - 14 June 1934)[1] was an English poet. It has been suggested that he was the inspiration behind Oscar Wilde's fictional character Dorian Gray.

Life Edit

Youth and educationEdit

Gray was born in the working-class district of Bethnal Green, London, the oldest of 9 children. He left school at the age of 13, and began work as an apprentice metal-worker at the Arsenal.[2] He continued his education through attending evening classes, studying French, German, Latin, music and art. In 1882 he passed the Civil Service exams, and 5 years later passed the University of London matriculation exams. He joined the Foreign Office, where he became a librarian.[3]

Aesthetic poetEdit

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 1st time. He is purported to be the inspiration behind the title character in Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, but distanced himself from this rumor. (It should also be noted that Wilde's story was serialised in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine a year before their relationship began.) His relationship with Wilde was initially intense, but had cooled for over 2 years by the time of Wilde's imprisonment. The relationship appears to have been at its height in the period 1891-1893.[4]

Catholic priestEdit

Like many of the artists of that period, Gray was a convert to Roman Catholicism. He was baptised on 14 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 several languages.

He left his position at the Foreign Office and on 28 November 1898, at the age of 32, he entered the Scots College, Rome, to study for the priesthood. He was ordained by Cardinal Pietro Respighi at St. John Lateran on 21 December 1901.[6] He served as a priest in Edinburgh, first at Saint Patrick's and then as rector at Saint Peter's.

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, Raffalovich settled nearby. He helped finance St Peter's Church in Morningside where Gray would serve as priest for the rest of his life.[7] The couple maintained a chaste relationship until Raffalovich's sudden death in 1934. A devastated Gray died exactly 4 months later at St. Raphael's nursing home in Edinburgh after a short illness.

Literary critic Valentine Cunningham has described Gray as the "stereotypical poet of the nineties".[8]

Alternative rock musician, Crispin Gray is his great-nephew.


Gray's 1st notable publication was a collection of verse called Silverpoints (1893), consisting of 16 original poems and 13 translations from Verlaine (7), Mallarmé (1), Rimbaud (2), and Baudelaire (3). 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".[9]

Gray's 2nd volume, Spiritual Poems: Chiefly done out of several languages (1896), defined his developing identity as a Catholic aesthete. It contained 11 original poems and 29 translations from Jacopone da Todi, Prudentius, Verlaine, Angelus Silesius, Notker Balbulus, St John of the Cross, and other poets both Catholic and Protestant.

Gray's later works were mainly devotional and often dealt with various Christian saints. The Long Road (1926) contained his best-known poem, "The Flying Fish", an allegory which had originally appeared in The Dial in 1896.

Gray produced a novel, Park: A fantastic story (1932), a surreal futuristic allegory about Mungo Park, a priest who, in a dream, wakes up in a Britain which has become a post-industrial paradise inhabited by black people who are all Catholics, with the degenerate descendants of the white population living below ground like rats. The novel is characterised by a vein of dry humour, as when a Dominican prior wonders if Park could have met Aquinas.

Gray's collected poems, with extensive notes, were printed in a 1988 volume edited by Ian Fletcher.



  • Silverpoints. London: Elkin Mathews & John Lane, 1893; London: Minerva Press, 1973.
  • Spiritual Poems: Chiefly done out of several languages. London: Vale Press, 1896.
  • Ad Matrem: Fourteen scenes in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. London & Edinburgh: Sands, 1904; London: Catholic Truth Society, 1906.
  • Vivis. Ditchling, Sussex, UK: St. Dominic's Press, 1922.
  • Sound: A poem. London: privately printed by Curwen Press, 1926.
  • The Long Road. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1926.
  • Poems. London: Sheed & Ward, 1931.
  • Five Fugitive Poems (edited by Ian Fletcher). London: Eric & Joan Stevens, 1983.
  • The Poems of John Gray (edited by Ian Fletcher). Greensboro, NC: ELT Press, 1988. ISBN 0-944318-00-2
  • Silverpoints & Spiritual Poems. Oxford, UK, & New York: Woodstock Books, 1994.


  • On Hymn Writing (non-fiction). London: Cayme Press, 1925.
  • Park: A fantastic story. London: privately published by Sheed & Ward, 1932; Aylesford, UK: St. Albert's Press, 1966; Manchester, UK: Carcanet Press, 1985. ISBN 0-856355-38-0
  • Old Gough (fiction). Edinburgh: Tragara Press, 1990.
  • Selected Prose (edited by Jerusha Hull McCormack). Greenboro, NC: ELT Press, 1992. ISBN 0-944318-06-1


  • P.C.J. Bourget, A Saint, and others. London: J.R. Osgood, McIlvaine, 1892.[10]
  • L.M.A. Couperus, Ecstacy: A Study of happiness (translated with A.M. Teixeira de Mattos). London: Henry, 1892.[10]


  • The Blue Calendar (magazine). 1894-1897.


  • A Friendship of the Nineties: Letters between John Gray and Pierre Louys (edited by Allan Walter Campbell). Edinburgh: Tracara Press, 1984.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[11]

See alsoEdit



  1. "Notes on Life and Work," Selected Poetry of John Henry Gray (1866-1934), Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto,, Web, Nov. 25, 2011.
  6. Michael T. R. B. Turnbull (2006). St Peter's, Edinburgh, p. 7.
  10. 10.0 10.1 G.A. Cevasco, "John Gray (1866-1934): A Primary Bibliography and an Annotated Bibliography of Writings About Him," English Literature in Transition 19:1 (1976), 49.63. Project Muse, Web, Aug. 21, 2013
  11. Search results = au: John Gray 1866-1934, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 21, 2013.

External linksEdit

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.