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As to any Papers left behind him, I dare say they can be but few; for this reason, he never wrote out of Vanity, or thought much of the Applause of men. I know an instance where he did his utmost to conceal his own merit that way; and if we join to this his natural Love of Ease, I fancy we must expect little of this sort; at least I hear of none except some few further remarks on Waller (wch his cautious integrity made him leave an order to be given to Mr. Tonson) and perhaps, tho' 'tis many years since I saw it, a Translation of ye first Book of Oppian. He had begun a tragedy of Dion, but made small progress in it.
As to his other Affairs, he dyed poor, but honest, leaving no Debts, or Legacies; except of a few pds to Mr. Trumbull 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, and wd rather shew their own Fine Parts, yn Report the valuable ones of any other man. So the Elegy I renouncè.
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 Dr. Sir
Aug. 29th, 1730.
& real Servant
JOHN GAY, descended from an old family that had been long in possession of the manor of Goldworthy,* in Devonshire, was born in 1688, at or near Barnstaple, where he was
Goldworthy does not appear in the Villare.-Dr. J.
educated by Mr. Luck, who taught the school of that town with good reputation, and, a little before he retired from it, published a volume of Latin and English verses. Under such a master he was likely to form a taste for poetry, Being born without prospect of hereditary riches, he was sent to London in his youth, and placed apprentice with a silk-mercer.
How long he continued behind the counter, or with what degree of softness and dexterity he received and accommo dated the ladies, as he probably took no delight in telling it, is not known. The report is, that he was soon weary of either the restraint or servility of his occupation, and easily persuaded his master to discharge him.
The Duchess of Monmouth, remarkable for inflexible perseverance in her demand to be treated as a princess, in 1712 took Gay into her service as secretary: by quitting a shop for such service he might gain leisure, but he cer tainly advanced little in the boast of independence. Of his leisure he made so good use, that he published next year a poem on Rural Sports,' and inscribed it to Mr. Pope, who was then rising fast into reputation. Pope was pleased with the honour; and, when he became acquainted with Gay, found such attractions in his manners and conversation, that he seems to have received him into his inmost confidence; and a friendship was formed between them which lasted to their separation by death, without any known abatement on either part. Gay was the general favourite of the whole association of wits; but they regarded him as a play-fellow rather than a partner, and treated him with more fondness than respect.
Next year he published 'The Shepherd's Week,' six English pastorals, in which the images are drawn from real life, such as it appears among the rustics in parts of Eng. land remote from London. Steele, in some papers of 'The Guardian,' had praised Ambrose Philips, as the pastoral writer that yielded only to Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser, Pope, who had also published pastorals, not pleased to be overlooked, drew up a comparison of his own compositions with those of Philips, in which he covertly gave himself the preference, while he seemed to disown it. Not content with this, he is supposed to have incited Gay to write The Shepherd's Week;' to shew, that if it be necessary to
copy nature with minuteness, rural life must be exhibited such as grossness and ignorance have made it. So far the plan was reasonable; but the pastorals are introduced by a proeme, written with such imitation as they could obtain of obsolete language, and by consequence in a style that was never spoken nor written in any age or in any place.
But the effect of reality and truth became conspicuous, even when the intention was to shew them grovelling and degraded. These Pastorals became popular, and were read with delight, as just representations of rural manners and occupations, by those who had no interest in the rivalry of the poets, nor knowledge of the critical dispute.
In 1713 he brought a comedy called The Wife of Bath' upon the stage, but it received no applause; he printed it, however, and seventeen years after, having altered it, and, as he thought, adapted it more to the public taste, he offered it again to the town: but, though he was flushed with the success of the Beggar's Opera,' had the mortification to see it again rejected.
In the last year of Queen Anne's life, Gay was made secretary to the Earl of Clarendon, ambassador to the court of Hanover. This was a station that naturally gave him hopes of kindness from every party; but the Queen's death put an end to her favours, and he had dedicated his 'Shepherd's Week' to Bolingbroke, which Swift considered as the crime that obstructed all kindness from the House of Hanover.
He did not, however, omit to improve the right which his office had given him to the notice of the royal family. On the arrival of the Princess of Wales, he wrote a poem, and obtained so much favour, that both the Prince and Princess went to see his What d'ye call it,' a kind of mock-tragedy, in which the images were comic, and the action grave; so that, as Pope relates, Mr. Cromwell, who could not bear what was said, was at a loss how to reconcile the laughter of the audience with the solemnity of the
Of this performance the value certainly is but little ; but it was one of the lucky trifles that give pleasure by novelty, and was so much favoured by the audience, that envy appeared against it in the form of criticism; and Griffin, a player, in conjunction with Mr. Theobald, a man afterward
more remarkable, produced a pamphlet called The Key to the What d'ye call it;' which, says Gay, 'calls me a blockhead, and Mr. Pope a knave.' But fortune has always been inconstant. Not long afterward (1717) he endeavoured to entertain the town with Three Hours after Marriage;' a comedy written, as there is sufficient reason for believing, by the joint assistance of Pope and Arbuthnot. One purpose of it was to bring into contempt Dr. Woodward, the Fossilist, a man not really or justly contemptible. It had the fate which such outrages deserve; the scene in which Woodward was directly and apparently ridiculed, by the introduction of a mummy and a crocodile, disgusted the audience, and the performance was driven off the stage with general condemnation.
Gay is represented as a man easily incited to hope, and deeply depressed when his hopes were disappointed. This is not the character of a hero; but it may naturally imply something more generally welcome, a soft and civil companion. Whoever is apt to hope good from others is diligent to please them; but he that believes his powers strong enough to force their own way, commonly tries only to please himself.
He had been simple enough to imagine that those who laughed at the 'What d'ye call it,' would raise the fortune of its Author; and, finding nothing done, sunk into dejection. His friends endeavoured to divert him. The Earl of Burlington sent him (1716) into Devonshire; the year after, Mr. Pulteney took him to Aix; and in the following year Lord Harcourt invited him to his seat, where, during his visit, the two rural lovers were killed with lightning, as is particularly told in Pope's Letters.
Being now generally known, he published (1720) his poems by subscription, with such success, that he raised a thousand pounds; and called his friends to a consultation, what use might be best made of it. Lewis, the steward of Lord Oxford, advised him to intrust it to the funds, and live upon the interest; Arbuthnot bade him to intrust it to Providence, and live upon the principal; Pope directed him, and was seconded by Swift, to purchase an annuity.
Gay in that disastrous year* had a present from young Craggs of some South-sea stock, and once supposed him. * Spence.
self to be master of twenty thousand pounds. His friends persuaded him to sell his share; but he dreamed of dignity and splendour, and could not bear to obstruct his own fortune. He was then importuned to sell as much as would purchase a hundred a year for life, 'which,' says Fenton, 'will make you sure of a clean shirt and a shoulder of mutton every day? This counsel was rejected; the profit and principal were lost, and Gay sunk under the calamity so low that his life became in danger.
By the care of his friends, among whom Pope appears to have shewn particular tenderness, his health was restored; and, returning to his studies, he wrote a tragedy called "The Captives,' which he was invited to read before the Princess of Wales. When the hour came, he saw the Princess and her ladies all in expectation, and advancing with reverence too great for any other attention, stumbled at a stool, and falling forwards, threw down a weighty ja pan 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 Drury Lane in 1723-4, I know not;* but he now thought himself in favour, and undertook (1726) to write a volume of Fables for the improvement of the young Duke of Cumber land. For this he is said to have been promised a reward, which he had doubtless magnified with all the wild expec ations 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 gen⚫ tleman 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 afterward in his favour; and diligent court was paid to Mrs. Howard, afterward 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
It was acted seven nights. The Author's third night was by command of their Royal Highnesses.-R.