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JOHN GAY, a well-known poet, was born at or near some South-sea stock presented to him by secretary Barnstaple, in Devonshire, in 1688. After an edu-Craggs, raised his hopes of fortune at one time to a cation at the free-school of Barnstaple, he was sent considerable height; but the loss of the whole of to London, where he was put apprentice to a silk- this stock affected him so deeply as to throw him mercer. A few years of negligent attendance on into a dangerous degree of languor, for his recovery the duties of such a station procured him a separa- from which he made trial of the air of Hampstead. tion by agreement from his master; and he not long He then wrote a tragedy called "The Captives," afterwards addicted himself to poetical composition, of which was acted with applause; and in 1726, he which the first-fruits were his " Rural Sports," pub-composed the work by which he is best known, his .ished in 1711, and dedicated to Pope, then first rising Fables," written professedly for the young Duke to fame. In the following year, Gay, who possessed of Cumberland, and dedicated to him. In the manmuch sweetness of disposition, but was indolent and ner of narration there is considerable ease, together improvident, accepted an offer from the Duchess of with much lively and natural painting, but they will Monmouth to reside with her as her secretary. He hardly stand in competition with the French fables had leisure enough in this employment to produce of La Fontaine. Gay naturally expected a handin the same year his poem of "Trivia, or the Art of some reward for his trouble; but upon the accession Walking the Streets of London," which proved one of George II. nothing better was offered him than of the most entertaining of its class. It was much admired; and displayed in a striking manner that talent for the description of external objects which peculiarly characterized the author.
the post of gentleman-usher to the young Princess Louisa, which he regarded rather as an indignity than a favor, and accordingly declined.
The time, however, arrived when he had little In 1714, he made his appearance from the press occasion for the arts of a courtier to acquire a degree on a singular occasion. Pope and Ambrose Philips of public applause greater than he had hitherto ex had a dispute about the respective merits of their perienced. In 1727, his famous "Beggar's Opera” pastorals; upon which, Gay, in order to serve the was acted at Lincolns-inn-fields, after having been cause of his friend, undertook to compose a set of refused at Drury-lane. To the plan of burlesquing pastorals, in which the manners of the country should the Italian operas by songs adapted to the most be exhibited in their natural coarseness, with a view familiar tunes, he added much political satire deof proving, by a sort of caricature, the absurdity of rived from his former disappointments; and the rePhilips's system. The offer was accepted; and sult was a composition unique in its kind, of which Gay, who entitled his work "The Shepherd's the success could not with any certainty be foreseen. Week," went through the usual topics of a set of" It will either (said Congreve) take greatly, or be pastorals in a parody, which is often extremely damned confoundedly." Its fate was for some time humorous. But the effect was in one respect dif- in suspense; at length it struck the nerve of public ferent from his intended purpose; for his pictures taste, and received unbounded applause. It ran of rural life were so extremely natural and amusing, through sixty-three successive representations in the and intermixed with circumstances so beautiful and metropolis, and was performed a proportional numtouching, that his pastorals proved the most popular ber of times at all the provincial theatres. Its songs works of the kind in the language. This perform-were all learned by heart, and its actors were raised ance was dedicated to Lord Bolingbroke; and at to the summit of theatric fame. This success, inthis period Gay seems to have obtained a large share deed, seems to indicate a coarseness in the national of the favor of the Tory party then in power. He taste, which could be delighted with the repetition was afterwards nominated secretary to the Earl of of popular ballad-tunes, as well as a fondness for the Clarendon, in his embassy to the court of Hanover; delineation of scenes of vice and vulgarity. Gay but the death of Queen Anne recalled him from his himself was charged with the mischiefs he had thus, situation, and he was advised by his friends not to perhaps unintentionally, occasioned; and if th neglect the opportunity afforded him to ingratiate himself with the new family. He accordingly wrote a poetical epistle upon the arrival of the Princess of Wales, which compliment procured him the honor of the attendance of the prince and princess at the exhibition of a new dramatic piece.
Gay had now many friends, as well among persons of rank, as among his brother-poets; but little was yet done to raise him to a state of independence. A subscription to a collection of his poems published in 1720, cleared him a thousand pounds; and
Beggar's Opera delighted the stage, it encountered more serious censure in graver places than has been bestowed on almost any other dramatic piece. By making a highwayman the hero, he has incurred the odium of rendering the character of a freebooter an object of popular ambition; and, by furnishing his personages with a plea for their dishonesty drawn from the universal depravity of mankind, he has been accused of sapping the foundations of all social morality. The author wrote a second part of this work, entitled "Polly," but the Lord Cham
berlain refused to suffer it to be performed; and time he employed such intervals of health and spirits though the party in opposition so far encouraged it as he enjoyed, in writing his "Acis and Galatea," "Serenata." by their subscriptions that it proved more profitable an opera called "Achilles," and a to him than even the first part, it was a very feeble His death took place in 1732, at the early age of performance, and has sunk into total neglect. forty-four, in consequence of an inflammation of Gay, in the latter part of his life, received the the bowels. He was sincerely lamented by his kind patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Queens- friends; and his memory was honored by a monuberry, who took him into their house, and conde- ment in Westminster Abbey, and an epitaph in a scended to manage his pecuniary concerns. At this strain of uncommon sensibility by Pope.
INSCRIBED TO MR. POPE, 1731.*
-Securi prælia ruris
You, who the sweets of rural life have known,
To hear the Syrens warble in thy song.
But I, who ne'er was blest by Fortune's hand,
And sooth'd my harass'd mind with sweet repose,
And deck with rural sports her native strains;
Here blooming Health exerts her gentle reign,
When the fresh Spring in all her state is crown'd
I wander o'er the various rural toil,
* This poem received many material corrections from His well-arm'd front against his rival aims,
the author, after it was first published.
And by the dint of war his mistress claims:
The careful insect 'midst his works I view,
Or when the plowman leaves the task of day,
Now Night in silent state begins to rise, And twinkling orbs bestrow th' uncloudy skies; Her borrow'd lustre growing Cynthia lends, And on the main a glittering path extends; Millions of worlds hang in the spacious air, Which round their suns their annual circles steer; Sweet contemplation elevates my sense, While I survey the works of Providence. O could the Muse in loftier strains rehearse The glorious Author of the universe, Who reins the winds, gives the vast ocean bounds, And circumscribes the floating worlds their rounds; My soul should overflow in songs of praise, And my Creator's name inspire my lays!
As in successive course the seasons roll, So circling pleasures recreate the soul. When genial Spring a living warmth bestows, And o'er the year her verdant mantle throws, No swelling inundation hides the grounds, But crystal currents glide within their bounds: The finny brood their wonted haunts forsake, Float in the sun, and skim along the lake; With frequent leap they range the shallow streams, Their silver coats reflect the dazzling beams. Now let the fisherman his toils prepare, And arm himself with every watery snare ; His hooks, his lines, peruse with careful eye, Increase his tackle, and his rod re-tie.
When floating clouds their spongy fleeces drain,
He sits him down, and ties the treacherous hook;
Far up the stream the twisted hair he throws, Which down the murmuring current gently flows; When, if or chance or hunger's powerful sway Directs the roving trout his fatal way,
He greedily sucks in the twining bait,
You must not every worm promiscuous use,
But when the Sun displays his glorious beams, And shallow rivers flow with silver streams, Then the deceit the scaly breed survey, Bask in the sun, and look into the day: You now a more delusive art must try, And tempt their hunger with the curious fly. To frame the little animal, provide All the gay hues that wait on female pride; Let Nature guide thee! sometimes golden wire The shining bellies of the fly require; The peacock's plumes thy tackle must not fail, Nor the dear purchase of the sable's tail. Each gaudy bird some slender tribute brings, And lends the growing insect proper wings; Silks of all colors must their aid impart, And every fur promote the fisher's art. So the gay lady, with excessive care, Borrows the pride of land, of sea, and air; [plays Furs, pearls, and plumes, the glittering thing dis Dazzles our eyes, and easy hearts betrays.
Mark well the various seasons of the year,
The scaly shoals float by, and, seiz'd with fear,
When a brisk gale against the current blows,
Then let the fisherman his art repeat,
I never wander where the bordering reeds
Now, sporting Muse, draw in the flowing reins, Leave the clear streams awhile for sunny plains.. Should you the various arms and toils rehearse, And all the fisherman adorn thy verse; Should you the wide encircling net display, And in its spacious arch enclose the sea; Then haul the plunging load upon the land, And with the sole and turbot hide the sand; It would extend the growing theme too long, And tire the reader with the watery song.
Let the keen hunter from the chase refrain, Nor render all the plowman's labor vain, When Ceres pours out plenty from her horn, And clothes the fields with golden ears of corn. Now, now, ye reapers, to your task repair, Haste! save the product of the bounteous year: To the wide-gathering hook long furrows yield, And rising sheaves extend through all the field.
Yet, if for sylvan sports thy bosom glow, Let thy fleet greyhound urge his flying foe. With what delight the rapid course I view! How does my eye the circling race pursue! He snaps deceitful air with empty jaws; The subtle hare darts swift beneath his paws; She flies, he stretches, now with nimble bound Eager he presses on, but overshoots his ground; She turns, he winds, and soon regains the way, Then tears with gory mouth the screaming prey. What various sport does rural life afford! What unbought dainties heap the wholesome board! Nor less the spaniel, skilful to betray, Rewards the fowler with the feather'd prey. Soon as the laboring horse, with swelling veins, Hath safely hous'd the farmer's doubtful gains, To sweet repast th' unwary partridge flies, With joy amid the scatter'd harvest lies; Wandering in plenty, danger he forgets, Nor dreads the slavery of entangling nets. The subtle dog scours with sagacious nose Along the field, and snuffs each breeze that blows; Against the wind he takes his prudent way, While the strong gale directs him to the prey; Now the warm scent assures the covey near, He treads with caution, and he points with fear; Then (lest some sentry-fowl the fraud descry, And bid his fellows from the danger fly) Close to the ground in expectation lies, Till in the snare the fluttering covey rise. Soon as the blushing light begins to spread, And glancing Phoebus gilds the mountain's head, His early flight th' ill-fated partridge takes, And quits the friendly shelter of the brakes; Or, when the Sun casts a declining ray, And drives his chariot down the western way, Let your obsequious ranger search around, Where yellow stubble withers on the ground; Nor will the roving spy direct in vain, But numerous coveys gratify thy pain. When the meridian Sun contracts the shade, And frisking heifers seek the cooling glade; Or when the country floats with sudden rains, Or driving mists deface the moisten'd plains; In vain his toils th' unskilful fowler tries, While in thick woods the feeding partridge lies. Nor must the sporting verse the gun forbear, But what's the fowler's be the Muse's care. See how the well-taught pointer leads the way; The scent grows warm; he stops: he springs the
The fluttering coveys from the stubble rise,
When, 'midst his song, the twinkling glass betrays,
But still the chase, a pleasing task, remains;
Wide through the furzy field their route they take,
Where shall the trembling hare a shelter find?
But stay, adventurous Muse! hast thou the force
O happy plains, remote from war's alarms, And all the ravages of hostile arms! And happy shepherds, who, secure from fear, On open downs preserve your fleecy care! Whose spacious barns groan with increasing store, And whirling flails disjoint the cracking floor! No barbarous soldier, bent on cruel spoil, Spreads desolation o'er your fertile soil; No trampling steed lays waste the ripen'd grain, Nor crackling fires devour the promis'd gain ; No flaming beacons cast their blaze afar, The dreadful signal of invasive war; No trumpet's clangour wounds the mother's ear, And calls the lover from his swooning fair. What happiness the rural maid attends, In cheerful labor while each day she spends! She gratefully receives what Heaven has sent, And, rich in poverty, enjoys content. (Such happiness, and such unblemish'd fame, Ne'er glad the bosom of the courtly dame): She never feels the spleen's imagin'd pains, Nor melancholy stagnates in her veins; She never loses life in thoughtless ease, Nor on the velvet couch invites disease; Her home-spun dress in simple neatness lies, And for no glaring equipage she sighs: Her reputation, which is all her boast, In a malicious visit ne'er was lost;
No midnight masquerade her beauty wears,
Ye happy fields, unknown to noise and strife,
Of the Implements for Walking the Streets, and Signs of the Weather.
THROUGH Winter streets to steer your course aright,
I sing thou, Trivia, goddess, aid my song,
When the black youth at chosen stands rejoice,
The wooden heel may raise the dancer's bound, And with the scallop'd top his step be crown d: