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THE LIFE OF GAY.
Joan Gar was born at or near Barnstaple in Devonshire, in 1688. His fanvily was ancient, and had been long in poffeffion of the eftate of Guldworthy in that counts; but being much reduced, he was born, as he himself tells us in his Rural Sports, without prospect of hereditary riches.
But I, who ne'er was blest by fortune's hand,
Nor brighten'd ploughshares in paternal land. He was educated at the Free School of Barnstaple, by Mr. Luck, a master of good reputatiôn, and author of a volume of Latin and English verses, from whom he acquired a taste for classical litera, lure and poetry.
His fortune being infufficient to support the rank of a gentic:nan, and inadequate to the expence of a liberal education, he was sent to London, and placed apprentice with a lilk mercer iu the scrand.
The restraint and servility of his occupation soon became his averlion; and in a few years, his master, upon the offer of a small consideration, willingly consented to give up his indentures.
He was now at leisure to indulge his propensity to poetry; and as genius concurred with inclia nation, he foon produced his Rural Sports, a Georgic, printed in 1711, which he inscribed to Pope, who was then rising fast into reputation.
This performance procured him the acquaintance of Pope, who found such attradions in his manners and conversation, that he received him into his inmolt confidence; and a friendship was formed between them, which lasted till their Separation by death, without any known abatement on
The same year he published, in prose, The Present Stale of Wit, containing a character of the perio, dical papers of the cime. · His reputation was now so greatly advanced, that he attraded the notice of the Duchess of Mon. mouth, who, in 1912, appointed him her Secretary, with a handsome salary.
The kindness of the Duchess was very seasonable ; for it relieved him from the importunities of ware, occasioned by in provident thoughtlessness, and afforded him leisure to pursue his poctical ftudies; of which he niade so good use, that the same year he produced Trivia; or the Art of Welking tbe Streets of London, one of the happiest of his pretical performances.
The same year appeared The Mobocks, a tragi-comical Farce, as it was asle near the Watch-bouft in Covent-Garden, which is generally supposed to have proceeded from his pen. la 1713, when Steele began “ The Guardian," allisted by Addison and other wits, he contributed to it, Nos. 11
The fame year he brought on the fage, at Drury-Lane, his Wife of Bath, a Comedy, which was aded with very indifferent success; and on its revival, with some alterations, at Lincoln's Inn Fields, in 1730, he had the mortification to see it again rejected.
In 1714 he published The Sbepherd's Week, in fix paftorals, with a Proeme, in obsolete language, and a Predogue, addressed to Bolingbroke, who was then high in reputation árd influence among the Tories. It was written at the inftigation of Pope, and designed to degrade the compositions of A. Philips, his rival in pastoral poetry, by fewing, that if it be necessary to copy nature with mi, natenels, rural life mult be exhibited, such as grofiness and ignorance have made it. The execution of the plan exceeded the expectation of Pope, for the effed of reality and truth became conspicuous, Vol. VIII.
even when the intention was to show them groveling and degraded; and Tbe Sbepberd's Weed wz sead with delight, as a just representation of rural manners and occupations, by those who had no in terest in the rivalry of Pope and Philips.
The most promising views of preferment now opened to him at court. He was caressed by Bolingbroke, Swist, and the leading persons in the Tory Ministry, and his patroness rejoiced co fec him taken from her service to attend the Earl of Clarendon, as Secretary to his embally to the Court of Hanover, in the last year of Queen Anne's life.
This was a station that naturally gave him hopes of kindness from every party; but the Queen's death, which happened fifteen days after his arrival at Hanover, put an end to her favours, and the dedication of his Shepberd's Week to Bolingbroke, is supposed to have obstructed all kindness from the house of Hanover.
His office, however, made him personally known to the royal family; and his Epifle to a Lady mcafioned by the arrival of ber Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, procured him a favourable admittance at the new court.
In 1715, he brought on the stage his What-d'ye-Call-it, a tragi-comic-pastoral Farce, which was acted with great applause, and honoured with the attendance of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
The novelty of this mock tragedy, the images of which were comic, and the adion grave, and the favour with which it was received by the audience, produced a pamphlet against it, called, “ The Key to the What-d'ye-Call-it,” written by Griffin, a player, in conjunction with Theobald.
The exhibition of The Wbat-d'ye-Call it, pleased the town and the court, and advanced the repuCation of its author, buc failed to raise his fortune.
Places he found were daily given away,
And yet no friendly gazette mentioned Gay. The profits, however, recruited his finances; and his poetical merit being endeared by the fweetness and sincerity of his disposition, made him the general favourite of the whole association of wits, and the companion of persons of the highest distinction, both in rank and abilities.
In 1916, he made a visit to Devonshire, at the expence of the Earl of Burlington, whom he repaid with an Epifle, containing av humorous account of his journey. !
The year following, he made a similar return to the kindness of Mr. Pulteney, who, on resigning Ris place of Secretary at War, took him to Aix.
Soon after his return from France, he endeavoured to entertain the town with The Three Heurs after Marriage, 1 Comedy, written by the joint afistance of Pope and Arbuthnot, which was defervedly driven off the fage with general condemnation. It was printed under the name of Gay, but his hand is dot very discernible in any part of it. The character of Sir Tremendous, being appa. rently designed for Dennis, was probably introduced by Pope. Foffile, who was meant to ridicule Dr. Woodward, a man not really nor justly contemptible, might have been the production of Arbuthnot, whose knowledge in his profession would farnish a fufficient train of phyfical terms and oba fervations. Pbabe Clinket also frould seem to have been intended to ridicule one of the females, whose petulant attacks had irritated Pope. Cibber says, that his own quarrel with him was occa fioned by a joke thrown into the“ Rehearsal,” at the expence of this unfuccessful performance.
In 1718, he accompanied Pope on a visit to Lord Harcourt, at his seat in Oxfordshire, where he co:secrated to postérity the death of two rural lovers, unfortunately killed in the neighbouring fields by a Aroke of lightning, in his letter to Fentón, printed among Pope's Letters.
In 1720, he published a collection of his Poems; with Dioné, a pastoral-tragedy, in 4to, by subseription, which, as he was generally known, was fo successful, that he raised a thousand pounds, with which Pope advised him, and was feconded by Swift, to purchase an annuity; but the advice was thrown away.
Mr. Secretary Caggs having made him a present of some South Sea stock, he fell into the general infatuation of that disatrous year, and once fupposed himself to be madter of cweaty thousand pornds.
His friends endeavoured to persuade him to sell his share; but he could not bear to obftrud his own fortune. He was then importuned to fell as much as would purchase a
a hundred a-year
for lisz, « which," says Fenton, “ would make you fure of a clean shirt and á lhoulder of mue
mutton every day." This advice was reje&ed; the profit ánæp
principal were fort; and he funk' under the calamity lo low, that his life became in danger.
After languishing fome time, he removed to Hampstead, in 1722, where, by the care of his friends, among whom Arbuthnot and Pope appear to have shown particular tenderness, his health was restored; and returning to his studies, he wroté The Captives, a Tragedy, which he was invited to read to the Princess of Wales, at Leicester-house.
On this occafjon Mr. Victor relates, that when the hour came, and he saw the Princess and her ladies all in expe&ation, advancing with reverence, too great for any other attention," he did not see a low foot-ftool that happened to be near him, and stumbling over it, he féll against a large fcreen, which be overset, and threw the ladies into no small disorder."
The Captives was brought on the stage ai Drury-Lane, in 1723, and aded eleven nights withi great applause. The author's third night, was, by the express command of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
He now thought himself in favour ; and having promises made him of preferment, he undercook to write Fables for the improvement of the young Duke of Cumberland, which he published, with a dedication to that Prince, in 1726. In some of the Fubles " he svas thought to be something too bold with the court," and in The Hare with many Friends, he figuratively described his own depen. dence on the promises of the Great.
Upon the accession of George II., the year following, his patroness became Queen, and he expeded to be provided for in some office suitable to his inclination and abilities; but, on the secilement of the household, he found himself appointed Gentleman Osher to the Princess Lovísa. By this offer he thought himself insulted, and lene a message to the Queen, that he was too old for the place. Remonftrances and solicitations were afterwards employed in his favour, and verses and Hatteries were addressed to Mrs. Howard, afterwards Countess of Suffolk, who was much beloved by the King and Queen, to engage her interest in his promotion ; bue remontrances and solicita tions availed him nothing, and the verses and Aatteries were thrown away:
The public favour, however, made him ample amends for the neglect of the court; and the pain which he suffered from his private disappointment, may be supposed to have been driven away by the unprecedented, and almost incredible success of the Beggar's Opera, written in ridicule of the musical italian drama, and acted at Lincoln's Inn-fields, in 1727. li was firit offered to Cibber and his brethred at Drury-Lanc, and rejected; it being then carried Rich, had the effect, as was ludia woully said, of making Gay rich, and Rich gay.
of the original and progress of this new species of composition, Spence has given the relation in Pope's words.
Dr. Swift had been observing once io Mr. Gay, what an odd pretty sort of a thing a Newgate pastoral migħt make. Gay was inclined to try ae such a thing for some tinie, but afterwards thought it would be better to write a Comedy on the same plan. This was what gave rise to the Beggar's Opera. He began on it; and when firft he mentioned it to Swift, the Doctor did not much like the projed. As he carried it on, he showed it to both of us, and we now and then gave a correction, or a wori or two of advice; but it was wholly of his own writing.- When it was done, neither of us thought it would succeed—We showed it to Congreve, who, after reading it over, fuid, ić would either cake greatly, or be damned confoundedly.-We were all at the first night of is, in very great encertainty of the event; 'till we were very much encouraged, by overhearing the Duke of Argyle, who fat in the next box to us, say," It will do; it mult do; I see it in the eyes of themř.” This was a good while before the first aš was over, and so gave us cafe foon; for that Duke (besides his own good taste) has a particular knack, as any one living, in discovering the taste of the public. He wat osite right in this, as usual; the good nature of the audience appeared fronger and fronger ve ty ad, and ended in a clamour of applauis."
And, in the " Epiftle to Arbuthnot," he has this tender and indignant apokrophet
Of all thy blameless life the sole return,
My verse, and Queensb'ry weeping o'er thy urn! As a poet, he is characterised by variety, sprightliness, case, and elegance. His compofitions though original in some parts, are not of the highest kind. They are, in general, more distina guished by vivacity, penetration, good sense, and perspicuity of expresfion, than by sublimity, tea, derness, imagination, and Itrength or harniony of numbers. His Paftorals, Fables, and Beggar's Opera, are the chief foundation of his fame. His paftorals seem to have the highest finishing. They are perfe@ly Doric. The rural fimplicity neglected by Pope, and admired in Philips, appcars in its true guise in the Sbepberd's Week: “ There only nature is seen exactly such as the country affordeth, and the manner meetly copied from the rustical folk therein." His Fables have obtained more popularity. They are the favourites of the nursery and of she school, and the delight of persous of every rank and of cvery age. The vertification is polished, the apologues, in general, are corred; they possess originality, wit, and bumour; and to these is fuperadded, a conficrable portion of poetical fpirit. He is sometimes, however, deficient in that quality, and in the harigony of his numbers; but he is, upon the whole, the most agreeable metrical fabulift in our language. The merits of the Beggar's Opera are universally acknowledged. “We owe to Gay," says Dr. Johnson, " the Ealled Opera : a mode of Comedy, which at first was supposed to delight only by its novelty ; but has now, by the experience of half a century, been found so well accommodated to the disposition of a popular andience, that it is likely to keep long poffeflion of the stage. Whether this new drama was the produd of judgment or of luck, the praise of it must be given to the inventor: and there are many writers read with more reverepce, ļo whom fuch merit of originality cannot be attributed."
of his Țales, Epifles, Eclogues, Songs, &c. it would be fuperfluous to enumerate the brighter paffages.' Many.of these little compositions are favourites with the public. His Teles and Eclogues unice a considerable portion of the grace and ease of Prior, with the humour of Swift; but they are not remarkable for the beauty of their images, or the harmony of their numbers. His Pastoral Tragedy of Dione is claslical and elegant ; but will not greatly entertain without the proper embellishments, ading and music. His Contemplation on Night, and Thougbts on Eternity, merit the highest praise. His Şaveet William's Farewell, is one of the most popular ballads in the Englih language.
The estimate of his poetical character, as given by Dr. Johnson, is, in some instances, too severe to be approved by readers uncorrupted by literary prejudices.
“ As á poct, he cannot be rated very high. ' He was, as I once heard a female critiç remark, " of a lower order." He had not, in any great degree, the mens diyinior, the dignity of genius. His birlt performance, the Rural Sports, is such as was easily planned and executed : it is never concemptibie, nor ever excellent. The Fan is one of those mythological fitions which antiquity delivers ready to the hand, but which, like other things that lie open to every one's use, are of little value. His Fables seem to have been a favourite work. Of this kind of fables he does not appear to have formed any dilinët or feteled notion. For a Fable he gives now and then a Tale, or an abstracte Allegory; and from some, by whatever name they are called, it will be difficult to extract any mo ral principle. They are, however, told with liveliness; che versificacion is smooth, and the di&ion, though now and then a little conßrained by the measure or the rhyme, is generally happy. To Tri pin may be allowed all that it claims : it is sprightly, various, and pleasant. The subject is of that kind which Gay was, by nature, qualified to adorn; yet some of his decoracions may be juftly wished away. "The appearance of Cloacina is nauseoas and fuperfluous. Dione, is a counterpart to “ Amyuta” and “ Pastor Fido,'t' and other trifles of the same kind, easily imitated, and unworthy of imitation. What the Italians call Comedies, from a happy conclufion, Gay calls a Tragedy, from a mournful event; but the style of the Italians and of Gay is equally tragical
. • of his little poems the public judgnien: seems to be right ; they are neither much efteemed, por rotally despised. The Story of the 'spparition is borrowed from one of the tales of Poggio. Those that please leaft, are the pieces to which Gulliver ga ve escalon ; for wha caą wnucu deligaç a the ocho of an unnatural fiction ?