« PreviousContinue »
Hit at last seized him, and carried him to the grave, as Arbathñot reported, with more precipitance than he had ever known. He died on the fourth of December 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 bis death, was published 2 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 gathered * shree thousand pounds. There have appeared likewise under his name a comedy called the Distrest 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 thought it;" and that “ he was of a tlmid temper, and fearful of giving offence to the 's great ;" which caution, however, says Pope, 'was of no avail.
As a poet, he cannot be rated very high. He was, as I once heard a female critic remark, “ of a lower order." He had not in any great degree the mens divinior, the dignity of genius. Much however must 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 long possession of the stage. Whether this new drama was the product of judgment 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 merit of originality cannot be attributed.
His first performance, the Rural Sports, is such as was casily planned an! executed; it is never contemptible, nor ever excellent. The Fan is one of those mythological fictions which antiquity delivers ready to the hand, but which, like other things that lie open to every one's use, are of little value. The attention naturally retires from a new tale of Venus, Diana, and Mi. nerva.
His Fables seem to have been a favourite work; for having published one volume, he left another behind hiin. Of this kind of Fables, the authors do not appear to have formed any distinct or settled notion. Phædrus evicently confounds them with Tales, and Gay both with Tales and Allegorical Prosopopæias. A Fible, or Apologue, such as is now under consideration, seems to be, in its genuine state, a narrative, in which beings irrational, and sometimes inanimate, arbores loquuntur, non tantum fere, are, for the purpose of moral instruction, feigned to act and speak with human interests and passions. To this description the compositions of Gay do not always con
form. For a Fable he gives now and then a Tale, or an abstracted Allegóty; and from some, by whatever name they may be called, it will be difficult to extract any moral principle. They are, however, told with liveliness; the versification is smooth; and the diction, though now-and-then a little constrained by the measure or the rhyme, is generally happy.
To Trivia 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 decorations may be justly wished away. An honest black-smith might have done for Patty what is performed by Vulcan. The appearance of Cloacina is nauseous and superfluous ; a shoeboy could have been produced by the casual cohabitation of mere mortals. Horace's rule is broken in both cases; there is no dignus vindice nodus, no difficulty that required any supernatural interposition. A patten may be made by the hammer of a mortal; and a bastard may be dropped by a human strumpet. On great occasions, and on small, the mind is repelled by useless and apparene falschood.
Of his little Poems the public judgment seems to be right; they are neither much esteemed, nor totally despised. The story of the Apparition is borrowed from one of the tales of Poggio. Those that please least are the pieces to which Gulliver gave occasion ; for who can much delight in the echo of an unnatural fiction?
Dione is a counterpart to Amynta, and Pastor Fido, and other trifles of the same kind, easily imitated, and unworthy of imitation. What the Italians call comedies from a happy conclusion, Gey calls, a tragedy from a mournful event; but the style of the Italians and of Gay is equally tragical. There is something in the poetical Areadia so remote from known reality and speculative possibility, that we can never support its representation through a long work. A Pastoral of an hundred lines may be endured; but who will hear of sheep and goats, and myrtle bowers, and purling rivulets, ihrough five acts ? Such scenes please barbarians in the dawn of literature, and children in th@dawn of life; but will be for the most part thrown away, as men grow wise, and nations grow learned.
F GEORGE GRANVILLE, or as others write Greenville, or
Grenville, afterwards lord Landsdowne of Piddeford in the county of Devon, less is known than his name and rank might give reason to expect. He was born about 1667, the son of Bernard Greenville, who was entrusted by Monk with the most private transactions of the Restoration, and the grandson of Sir Bevil Greenville, who died in the King's cause, at the bara tle of Landsdowne.
His early education was superintended by Sir William Ellis ; and his progress was such that before the age of twelve he was sent to Cambridge, where he pronounced a copy of his own verses to the princess Mary d'Estè of Modena, then dutchess of York, then she visited the university.
At the accession of king James, being now at eighteen, he again exerted his poetical powers, and addressed the new monarch in three short pieces, of which the first is profane, and the two others such as a boy might be expected to produce ; but he was commended by old Waller, who perhaps was pleased to find himself imitated, in six lines, which, though they begin with nonsense and end with dulness, excited in the young
rapture of acknowledgment,
In numbers such as Waller's self might use.
It was probably about this time that he wrote the poem to the earl of Peterborough, upon his accomplishment of the duke of York's marriage with the princess of Modena, whose charms appear to have gained a stror.g prevalence over his imagination, and upon whom nothing ever has been charged but iinprudent piety, an intemperate and misguided zeal for the piopagation of popery.
However faithful Granville might have been to the king, or however enamoured of the Queen, he has left no reason for supposing that he approved either the artifices or the violence with which the King's religion was insinuated or obtruded. He endeavoured to be true at once to the King and to the Church.
* To Trinity College. By the university Register, it appears, that he was admitted w.bie Master's Degree in 1679 : we roust, therefore, set the year of his birth some years back. K. Vol. I. 3 D
Of this regulated loyalty he has transmitted to posterity a sufficient proof, in the letter which he wrote to his father about a month before the prince of Orange landed.
“ Mar, near Doncaster, Oct. 6, 1688. " To the honourable Mr Barnard Granville, at the earl of Bathe's, St.
26 SI P., ** Your having no prospect of obtaining a commission for me, can no
way alter or cool my desire at this important juncture to venture my life, " in some manner or other, for my King and my Country:
" I cannot bear living under the reproach of lying obscure and idle in a " country retirement, when every man who has the least sense of honour “ should be preparing for the field.
“ You may remember, Sir, with what reluctance I submitted to your « commands upon Monmouth's rebellion, when no importunity could pre“ vail with you to permit me to leave the Academy: I' was too young to be “ Jazarded; but, give me leave to say, it is glorious at any age to die for " one's country, and the sooner the nobler the sacrifice.
" I am now older by three years. My uncle Bathe was not so old when " he was left among the slain at the battle of Newbury ; nor you yourself, “ Sir, when you made your escape from your tutor's, to join your brother " at the defence of Scilly.
“ The same cause is now come round about again. The king has been « misled; let those who have misled him be answerable for it. Nobody
can deny but he is sacred in his own person ; and it is every honest man's “ duty to defend it.
" You are pleased to say, it is yet doubtful if the Hollanders are rash " enough to make such an attempt; but, be that as it will, I beg leave to " insist upon it, that I may be presented to his Majesty, as one whose utmost « ambition it is to devote his life to his service, and my country's, after “ the example of all my ancestors.
" The gentry assembled at York, to agree upon the choice of represen- . « tatives for the county, have prepared an address, to assure his majesty 5.they are ready to sacrifice their lives and fortunes for him upon this and “ all other occasions; but at the same tiinc they humbly beseech him to
give them such magistrates as may be agrecable to the laws of the land; for, at present, there is no authority to which they can legally submit.
They have been beating up for volunteers at York, and the towns ad“ jacent, to supply the regiments at Hull; but nobody will list.
< By what I can hear, every body wishes well to the King; but they « would be glad his ministers were hanged.
" The winds continue so contrary, that no 'landing can be so soon as was
apprehended; therefore I may hope with your leave and assistance, to “ be in readiness before any action can begin. I beseech you, Sir, most « humbly and most earnestly, to add this one act of indulgence more to 'so many
other testimonies which I have constantly received of your good~ ness; and be pleased to believe me always with the utmost duty and sub“ mission, Sir,
« Your most dutiful son,
“ GIO. GRANVILLE."
Through the whole reign of king William he is supposed to have lived in literary retirement, and indeed hiad for some time few other pleasures but those of study in his power. He was, as the biographers observe, the younger son of a younger brother; a denomination by which our ancestors proverbially expressed the lowest state of penury and dependance. He is said, however, to have preserved himself at this time from disgrace and difficulties by æconomy, which he forgot or neglected in life more advanced, and in better fortune.
About this time he became enamoured of the countess of Newburgh, whom he has celebrated with so much ardour by the name of Mira. He wrote verses to her before he was three-and-twenty, and may be forgiven if he regarded the face more than the mind, Poets are sometimes in too much haste to praise.
In the time of his retirement it is probable that he composed his dramatick pieces, the She-Gallants (acted 1696), which he revised, and called Once a Lover, and always a Lover; The Few of Venice, altered from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice (1698); Heroic Love, a tragedy (1701); The British Enchanters (1706), a dramatick poem; and Peleus and Thelis, a masque, written to accompany The Jew of Venice.
The comedies, which he has not printed in his own edition of his works, I never saw. Once a Lover, and always a Lover, is said to be in a great dea gree indecent and gross. Granville could not admire without bigctry; he copied the wrong as well as the right from his masters, and may be supposed to have learned obscenity from Wycherley; as he learned mythology from Waller.
In his few of Venice, as Rowe remarks, the character of Shylock is made comick, and we are prompted to laughter instead of detestation.
It is evident that Heroic Love was written, and presented on the stage, before the death of Dryden. It is a mythological tragedy, upon the love of Agamemnon and Chryseis, and therefore easily sunk into neglect, though praised in verge by Dryden, and in prosc by Pope. 3D2