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G A Y.
possessioa of the manour of * Goldworthy in Devonshire, was born in 1688, at or near Barnstable, where he was educated by Mr. Luck, who taught the school of that town with good reputatior, 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 softnjess and dexterity he received and accommodated 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 dutchess of Monmouth, remarkable fur indexible 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 certainly advanced little in the boast of independence. Of his leisure he inade 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 in most confidence ; and a friendship was forined betv een 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 che images are drawn from real life, such as it appears among the rusticks in parts of England remote from London. Strele, in some papers of the Guardian, had praised Ambrose Philips, as the pastoral writer that yielded only 10 Theocritus, Virgil, and Spenser. Pope, who had also published Pastorals, not pleased to be overlooked, drew up a comparison
Goldeverihy does not appear in the Villare. Dr. J.
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 atrain of obsolete language, and by consequence in a style that was never spoken nor written in any language or in any place.
But the effect of reality and truth became conspicuous, even when the intention was to shew them groveling 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 faste, he offered it again to the town ; but, though he was flushed with the sixccess 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 ear! 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 redates, Mr. Cromwell, who could not hear what was said, was at a loss how to reconcile the laughter of the audience with the solemnity of the scene.
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 Grifin, à player, in conjunction with Mr. Theobald, a man afterward's more remarkable, produced a pamphlet called The Key to the What dose call it; which, says Gáy, “. calls me a blockhead, and Mr. Pope a k náve."
But Fortune has been always inconstant. Not long afterwards (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 Possilist, a man not really or justly contemptible. It had the fate which such outrages deserve: the scene in which Woodward was dia rectly and apparently ridiculed, by the introduction of a mummy and a 3 C 2
crocodile, disgusted the audience, and the performance was driven off the stage with general condemnation.
Gay is represented as a man casily incited to hope, and deeply dopressed when his hopes were disappointed. This is not the character of a hero; but it may naturally imply something more generaliy welcome, a soft and civil companion. Whoever is apt to hope good from others is diligeni ro 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 due 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 scat, where, during his visit, two rura) lovers were killed with lightning, as is particularly told in Pope's Letters.
Being now generally known, he published (1720) his Poems by subscrip tion 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 entruse it to the funds, and live upon the interest ; Arbuthnot bade him 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 himself to be master of twenty thousand pounds. His friends persuaded him to sell bis 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 an 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 shewr pasticular tenderness, his heaith was restored; and, returning to his studies, he wrote a tragedly called The Caprives, which he was invited to read before the princess of Wales. When the hour çame, he saw the princess and her ladies all in expectan, and advancing with reverence, too great for any other attention, stumbled ar a stool, and falling forwards, threw down a weighty Japan screen, the princess starred, the ladies screamed, and poor Gay, after all the disturbance, was still to read his play.
The fate of The Capives, which was acted ar Drury-Lane in 1723-4, I know not te but he now thought himself in favour, and undertook (1726)
* Spencc. of It was acted seven nights. The Author's third night was by command of tbeis Royal Highnesses, 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 on the settlement of the household he found bimself 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 neglect, or, as he perhaps termed it, the ingratitude of the court, may be supposed to have been driven away by the unexampled success of the Beggar's. Opera. This play, writren in ridicule of the musical Italian Drama, was first offered to Cibber and his breihren at Drury-Lane, and rejected; it being then carried to Rich, had the effect, as was ludicrously said, of making Gay rich, and Rich gay.
Of this lucky piece, as the reader cannot but wish to know tire 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 Beg"gar's 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 on, he shewed " 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 shewed it to Con, “greve; 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 un“ certainty of the event; till we were very much encouraged by over-hearing “ the duke of Argyle, who sat in the next box to us, say,
It will do-ic “ 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 disco" vering 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 sixty-three 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 for“ tieth time; at Barh and Bristol fifty, &c. It made its progress into Wales, “ Scotland, and Ireland, where it was performed twenty-four days succes“ sively. The ladies carried about with them the favourite songs of it in
a tieth * Spence.
sans, 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 sold in great numbers; her Life written, books of letters “ and verses to her published, 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, aecording to the different opinions 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 tight;" bet 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 Ofera, 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 theres, fore not likely to do good; nor can it be conceived, without more speculation than life requires or admits, to be productive of much evil. Highway men and house-breakers seldom frequent the play-house, or mingle in any elegant diversion ; nor is it possible for any one to imagine that he may rcb with safety, because he sees Macheath reprieved upon the stage.
This objection however, or some other rather political than moral, obtained such prevalence, that when Gay produced a second 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 so liberally bestowed, that what he called oppression ended in profit. The * publication was so much favoured, that though tbe first part gained him four hundred pounds, near thrice as much was profit of the second.
He received yet another recompense for this supposed hardship, in the affectionate attention of the duke and duchess of Queensberry, into whose House he was taken, and with whom he passed the remaining part of his life, * The duke, considering His want of economy, undertook the management cf bis money, and gave it to him as he wanted it. But it is supposed that the disccuntenance of the Court şunk deep into his heart, and gave him more discontent than the applauses or tenderness of his friends could overpower. He soon fell into his oid distemper, an habitual cholick, and languished, though with many intervals of ease and cheerfulness, till a violent