VOL. 11.



Eorn at Barnstaple, in Devonshire-Apprenticed to a silkmercer-Made Tecretary to the

Duchess of Monmouth-Publishes 'The Shepherd's Week'-Acquires tho Friendship of Pope-His Court Disappointments—His intimacy with Mrs. Howard and the Duchess of Queensberry-Writes 'The Beggar's Opera'-Its great success—His next Play probibited -His Fables-Death, Burial, and Monument in Westminster Abbey-Works and Cha


[ocr errors]


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 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 silkmercer.'

How long he continued behind the counter, or with what degree of softness 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 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 certainly advanced little in the boast

1 Goldworthy does not appear in the Villare.'_JOHNSON.

* John Gay was the second son of John Gay, Esq., of Frithelstock, near Great Torrington. His father and mother died in or about 1694, leaving two sons (Jonathan, in the army, d. 1709) and two daughters, who inherited the poet's property. (See 'Memotr of Gay,' by his nephew Baller, in 'Gay's Chair,' 12mo., 1820.)

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

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


known abatement on either part. Gay was the geue ral 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 (1714) 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 England 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


* In the same year in which, according to Johnson, he was made secretary to Monmouth's widow, he published in Lintot's first Miscellany (better known as Pope's) 'the Story of Arachne,' from Ovid, with his name to it.

• Rural Sports. A Poem. Inscribed to Mr. Pope. By Mr. Gay. London: Tonson, 1713,' fol.

6 I would willingly satisfy the curiosity of your friend, in relation to Mr. Gay, if it were not easy to get much fuller information than I am able to give, from Mr. Budgell or Mr. Pope; to the first of whom the beginning of his life was best known, and to the last its afternoon and evening. That poem you speak of, called 'WINB,' he printed in the year 1710, as I remember. I am sure I have one among my pamplets. . . . As to your question whether Mr. Gay was ever a domestic of the Duchess of Monmouth, I can answer it in the afirmative. He was her secretary about the year 1718, and continued so till be went over to Hanover, in the beginning of the following year, with Lord Clarendon, who was sent thither by Queen Anne. At his return, upon the death of that Queen, all his hopes became withered, till Mr. Pope (who you know is an excellent planter) revived and invigorated his bays, and indeed very generously supported him in some more solid improvements; for I remember a letter wherein he invited him to partake of his fortune (at that time but a small one), assuring him, with very unpoetical warmth, that as long as himself had a shilling, Mr. Gay should be wel. come to sixpence of it; nay to eightpence, if he could contrive to live on a groat.-AARON Hill to Savage, Jane 23, 1736 : Works, 1. 887. I have a copy of this poem, called " 'Wine,' printed by “ Pirate Hills," in 1708. It is written in Miltonian verse.

6 'The Shepherd's Week. In Six Pastorals. By Mr. J. Gay. London: printed and sold by R. Burleigh, in Amen Corner, 1714,' 8vo. In the same year appeared . The Fan. A Poem in Three Books. By Mr. Gay. London: printed for J. Tonson, 1714,' folio.

7 The Guardian, '15 and 17 April, 1718. The numbers in question were, I believe, written by Tickell.

• The Guardian,' 27th April, 1718.


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 show, 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 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 show 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 (1714) 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 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 (1714-15], 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


[ocr errors]

• It was acted at Drury Lane 12th May, 1718, and had a run of three nights.

16 It was acted, however, at Lincoln's-Inn-Fields 19th January, 1629-30, and was played for three nighta.

« ForrigeFortsett »