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“ 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 twen“ ty-four days successively. The ladies car“ ried about with them the favourite songs 6 of it in fans, and houses were furnished « with it in screens. The fame of it was
not confined to the author only. The “ person who acted Polly, till then obscure, « became all at once the favourite of the
town; her pictures were engraved, and “ fold in great numbers; her Life written, “ books of letters and verses to her pub“ lished, and pamphlets made even of her
sayings and jests. Furthermore, it drove out of England (for that season) the Italian Opera, which had carried all before it for ten years."
Of this performance, when it was printed, the reception was different, according to the different opinion of its readers. Swift, commended it for the excellence of its morality,
as a piece that placed all kinds of vice in the strongest and most odious light; but others, and among them Dr. Herring, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, censured it as giving encouragement not only to vice but to crimes, by making a highwayman the hero, and dismissing him at last unpunished. It has been even said, that after the exhibition of the Beggar's Opera the gangs of robbers were evidently multiplied.
Both these decisions are surely exaggerated. The play, like many others, was plainly written only to divert, without any moral purpose, and is therefore not likely to do good; nor can it be conceived, without more fpeculation than life requires or admits, to be productive of much evil. Highwaymen and house-breakers seldom frequent the playhouse, or mingle in any elegant diversion; nor is it possible for any one to imagine that he
may rob with safety, because he fees Macheath reprieved upon the stage.
This objection however, or some other rather political than moral, obtained fuch prevalence, that when Gay produced a fe
cond part under the name of Polly, it was prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain; and he was forced to recompense his repulse by a subscription, which is said to have been fa ļiberally bestowed, that what he called op, pression ended in profit. The* publication was so much favoured, that though the first part gained him four hundred pounds, near thrice as much was the profit of the second.
He received yet another recompense for this supposed hardship, in the affectionate attention of the duke and dutchefs of Queensberry, into whose house he was taken, and with whom he passed the remaining part of his life. The* duke, çonsidering his want of economy, undertook the management of his money, and gave it to him as he wảnted it, But it is supposed that the discountenance of the Court funk deep into his heart, and gave him more discontent than the applauses or tenderness of his friends could overpower, He foon fell into his old distemper, an habitual colick, and languished, though with many intervals of ease and cheerfulness, till a violent fit at last seized him, and hurried
him to the grave, as Arbuthnot reported, with more precipitance than he had ever known. He died on the fourth of Decem ber 1732, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The letter which brought an account of his death to Swift was laid by for some days unopened, because when he received it he was imprest with the preconception of some misfortune,
After his death was published a second volume of Fables more political than the former. His opera
of Achilles was acted, and the profits were given to two widow sisters, who inherited what he left, as his lawful heirs; for he died without a will, though he had gåthered * three thousand pounds. There have appeared likewise under his name a comedy called the Diftreft Wife, and the Rehearsal at Gotham, a piece of humour,
The character given him by Pope* is this, that he was a natural man, without design, who spoke what he thought, and just as he hought it; and that he was of a timid temper,
and fearful of giving offence to the great ; which caution however, says Pope, was of
· As a poet, he cannot be rated very high. He was, as I once heard a female critick remark, of a lower order. He had not in any great degree the mens divinior, the dignity of genius. Much however inust be allowed to the author of a new species of composition, though it be not of the highest kind. We owe to Gay the Ballad 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 audience, that it is likely to keep ļong possession of the stage. Whether this new drama was the product of judgement or of luck, the praise of it must be given to the inventor; and there are many writers read with more reverence, to whom such mer șit of originality cannot be attributed,
His first performance, the Rural Sports, is such as was easily planned and executed, it is never contemptible, nor ever excellent,