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No poem should be long of which the purpose is only to strike the fancy, without enlightening the understanding by precept, ratiocination, or narrative. A blaze first pleases, and then tires the sight.
Of Florelio it is sufficient to say, that it is an occasional pastoral, which implies something neither natural nor arti. ficial, neither comick nor serious.
The next ode is irregular, and, therefore, defective. As the sentiments are pious, they cannot easily be new; for what can be added to topicks on which successive ages have been employed!
Of the Paraphrase on Isaiah nothing very favourable can be said. Sublime and solemn prose gains little by a change to blank verse; and the paraphrast has deserted his original, by admitting images not Asiatick, at least not Judaical :
Returning peace, Dove-ey'd, and rob’d in white. Of his petty poems, some are very trifling, without any thing to be praised, either in the thought or expression. He is unlucky in his competitions ; he tells the same idle tale with Congreve, and does not tell it so well. He translates from Ovid the same epistle as Pope ; but, I am afraid, not with equal happiness.
To examine his performances, one by one, would be tedious. His translation from Homer into blank verse will find few readers, while another can be had in rhyme. The piece addressed to Lambarde is no disagreeable specimen of epistolary poetry; and his ode to the lord Gower was pronounced, by Pope, the next ode in the English language to Dryden's Cecilia. Fenton may be justly styled an excellent versifier and a good poet.
Whatever I have said of Fenton is confirmed by Pope in a letter, by which he communicated to Broome an ac, count of his death :
D' Sir, I intended to write to you on this melancholy subject, the death of Mr. Fenton, before yrs came; but stay'd to have inform'd myself & you of ye circumstances of it. All I hear is, that he felt a Gradual Decay, tho' so early in Life, & was declining for 5 or 6 months. It was not, as I apprehended, the Gout in his Stomach, but I believe rather a Complication first of Gross Humours, as he was naturally corpulent, not discharging themselves, as he used no sort of Exercise. No man better bore ye approaches ut' his Dissolution (as I am told) or with less ostentation Veldud up his Being. The great modesty wch you know Wody matural to him, and ye great Contempt he had for all Sula of Vanity and Parade, never appeared more than in his last moments : He had a conscious Satisfaction (no Houbo in acting right, in feeling himself honest, true, & m itending to more than was his own. So he dyed, as the land, with that secret, yet sufficient, Contentment.
ly to any Papers left behind him, I dare say they can miten; for this reason : He never wrote out of Vanity,
lucht much of the Applause of Men. I know an bi omoa where he did his utmost to conceal his own merit waxi and if we join to this his natural Love of Ease.
must expect little of this sort : at least I hear of on xoopt some few further remarks on Waller (wch his
inlognity made him leave an order to be given to risoul and perhaps, tho' 'tis many years since I saw
dion of y* first Book of Oppian. He had begun
Pion, but made small progress in it. other affairs, he died poor, but honest, leaving
begacies; except of a few pols to Mr. Trum
bull and my Lady, in token of respect, Gratefulness, and mutual Esteem. .
I shall with pleasure take upon me to draw this amiable, quiet, deserving, unpretending, Christian and Philosophical character, in his Epitaph. There Truth may be spoken in a few words : as for Flourish, & Oratory, & Poetry, I leave them to younger and more lively Writers, such as love writing for writing sake, & wd rather show their own Fine Parts, yo Report the valuable ones of any other man. So the Elegy I renounce.
I condole with you from my heart, on the loss of so worthy a man, and a Friend to us both. Now he is gone, I must tell you he has done you many a good office, and set your character in ye fairest light, to some who either mistook you, or knew you not. I doubt not he has done the same for me.
Adieu: Let us love his Memory, and profit by his example. I am very sincerely
A. POPE. Aug. 29th 1730.
with reverence, too great for any other attention, stumbled at a stool, and falling forward threw down a weighty japan screen. The princess started, the ladies screamed, and poor Gay, after all the disturbance, was still to read his play.
The fate of the Captives, which was acted at Drurylane in 1723-4, I know noth; but he now thought himself in favour, and undertook, 1726, to write a volume of fables for the improvement of the young duke of Cumberland. For this he is said to have been promised a reward, which he had, doubtless, magnified with all the wild expectations of indigence and vanity.
Next year the prince and princess became king and queen, and Gay was to be great and happy; but, upon the settlement of the household, he found himself appointed gentleman usher to the princess Louisa. By this offer he thought himself insulted, and sent a message to the queen, that he was too old for the place. There seem to have been many machinations employed afterwards in his favour; and diligent court was paid to Mrs. Howard, afterwards countess of Suffolk, who was much beloved by the king and queen, to engage her interest for his promotion; but solicitations, verses, and flatteries, were thrown away; the lady heard them, and did nothing.
All the pain which he suffered from the neglect, or, as he, perhaps, termed it, the ingratitude of the court, may be supposed to have been driven away by the unexampled Nuocess of the Beggars' Opera. This play, written in ridioule of the musical Italian drama, was first offered to Cibber and his brethren at Drury-lane, and rejected; it being then carried to Rich, had the effect, as was ludicrously suid, of making Gay rich, and Rich gay.
Of this lucky piece, as the reader cannot but wish to
* This mishap of Gay's is said to have suggested the story of the scholar's bashfulness in the 167th Rambler; and to similar stories in the Adventurer and Repton's Variety. Ev.
It was acted seven nighis. The author's third night was by command of their royal highnesses. R.
know the original and progress, I have inserted the relation which Spence has given in Pope's words.
“ Dr. Swift had been observing once to Mr. Gay, what an odd pretty sort of a thing a Newgate pastoral might make. Gay was inclined to try at such a thing, for some time; but afterwards thought it would be better to write a comedy on the same plan. This was what gave rise to the Beggars' Opera. He began on it; and when first he mentioned it to Swift, the doctor did not much like the project. As he carried it ou, he showed what he wrote to both of us, and we now and then gave a correction, or a word 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, said, it would either take greatly, or be damned confoundedly. We were all, at the first night of it, in great uncertainty of the event; till we were very much encouraged by overhearing the duke of Argyle, who sat in the next box to us, say, · It will do-it must do! I see it in the eyes of them. This was a good while before the first act was over, and so gave us ease soon; for that duke, besides his own good taste, has a particular knack, as any one now living, in discovering the taste of the publick. He was quite right in this, as usual; the good-nature of the audience appeared stronger and stronger every act, and ended in a clamour of applause.”
Its reception is thus recorded in the notes to the Dunciad.
“ This piece was received with greater applause than was ever known. Besides being acted in London sixtythree days, without interruption, and renewed the next season with equal applause, it spread into all the great towns of England ; was played in many places to the thirtieth and fortieth time ; at Bath and Bristol fifty, &c. It · made its progress into Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, where it was performed twenty-four days successively. The ladies carried about with them the favourite songs of it in fans,