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of bis 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, ruial life must be exhibited such as grossness and ignorance have nrade it. So far the pian was reasonable ; but the Pastorals are introduced by a Proeme, written with such imitation as they could attain 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 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 doze 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 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 envý appeared against it in the form of criticism ; and Griffin, a player, in conjunction with Mr. Theobald, a man afterwards more remarkable, produced a pamphlet called The Key to the What d'ye call ü; which, says Gay, “calls me a blockhead, and Mr. Pope a knave.”
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 pui pose 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 dia rectly and apparently ridiculed, by the introduction of a mumny 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 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 do 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, Mz, Pulteney took him to Aix; and in the following year lord Harcourt invited him to his seat, where, during his visit, 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 subscrip tion with such success, that lie raised a thousand pounds; and called bis friends to a consultation, what use might be best made of it. Lewis, the steward of lord Oxford, advised him to entrust it to the funds, and live upon the interest ; Arbuthnot bade him intrust it to Providence, and live upon the principali 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 his share; but he dreamed of dignity and splendour, and could not bear to obstruct his own fortune. He kras 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 sbirt 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 heaith 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 çame, 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 Japan screen, the princess started, the ladies screamed, and poor Gay, after all the disturbance, was still to read bis play.
The fate of The Capii pes, which was acied at Drury-Lane in 1723-4, 1 know not i; but he now thought himself in favour, and undertook (1726)
* Spenec. + It was acted seven nigins. The Autbor'a third nicht was by command of theis 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 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 neglect, or, as he perbaps termed it, the ingratitude of the court, may be supposed to have been driven away by the uncxampled success of the Beggar's Opera. This play, written in ridicule of the musical Italian Drama, was first offered to Cibber and his brethren ar 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 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 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, ce
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-bearing “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 discn-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 picce was received with greater applause than was ever known. “ Besides being acted in London sixty-three days without interruption, and “ renewed the next scason 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 Bath and Bristol fifty, &c. It made its progress into Wales I“ Scotland, and Ireland, where it was performed twenty-four days succes “ sively. The ladies carried about with them the favourite songs 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 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, cording 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 " the strongest and mosi odious light;" but others, and among them De Heiring, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, censured it as giving encom ragement oot only to vice but to crimes, by making a highwayman the hero and dismissing him at last unpunished. It has been even said, that, alte the exhibition of the Beggar's Opera, the gangs of robbers were evidenti multipliei,
Both these decisions are surely exaggerated. The play, like many other kas plainly written only to divert, without any moral purpose, and is there fore not likely to do good; nor can it be conceived; without more specula tion than life requires or admits, to be productive of much evil. High way men and house-breakers seldom frequent the play-house, or mingle any elegant diversion; nor is it possible for any one to imagine that he me rob with safety, because he secs Macheath reprieved upon the stage.
This cbjection however, or some other rather political than moral, a taimed such pievalence, that when Gay produced a second part under til name of Folly, it was prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain ; and he wa forced to recompense his repulse by a subscription, which is said to have been so liberally bestowed, ihat what he called cppression ended in profit. The publication was so much favoured, that though the first part gained him fuum hundred pounds, near thiice as much was profit of the second.
He received yet another recompense for this supposed hardship, in the affictionate attention of the duke and duchess of Queensberry, into whose house he was taken, and with whom he passed the remaining part of his lite * The duke, considering his want of æconomy, undertook the management cf his money, and gave it to him as he wanted it. But it is supposed that the discountenance of the Court sunk deep into his heart, and gave him more discontent than the applauses or tenderness of his friends could overpower. He'soon fell into his old distemper, an habitual cholick, a:id lan-. guished, though with many intervals of ease and cheerfulness, till a violent
fit at last seized him, and carried him to the grave, az Arbuthnot 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 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 gathered * thrée 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 timid temper, and fearful of giving offence to the "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 ar first was supposed to delight only by its novelty, but has now by tie 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 prais. 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 easily planned and 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
His Fables seem to have been a favourite work; for having published one volume, he left another behind him. Of this kind of Fables, the authors do not appear to have formed any distinct or settled notion. Phædrus ev's dently confounds them with Tales, and Gay both with Tales and Allegorical Prosopopæias. A Fable, 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 feræ, 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