Life And Letters Of John Gay (1685-1732)
by Lewis Melville
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How Gay managed to exist through the three years after the production of "Three Hours After Marriage" is one of the stumbling blocks for the biographer. Of literary achievement during this period his life was barren. It is true that when he was abroad or in the country he was a guest, but even with this his expenses must have amounted to something. As he earned nothing by his pen, unless his friends provided him with money as well as giving him hospitality, it looks as if some relative must have died and left him a small sum. "As for Gay," Pope wrote to Caryll, June 7th, 1717, "he is just on the wing for Aix-la-Chapelle, with Mr. Pulteney, the late Secretary (at War)."[18] Pulteney who had resigned office when there was a split in the Ministry, had in December, 1714, married a very beautiful woman, Anne Maria Gumley, daughter of a wealthy glass manufacturer. With them Gay went abroad for some months, and perhaps the solution of the problem above stated, is that while he went nominally as their guest, he was actually paid a salary as companion or secretary.

It is evident from Gay's "Epistle to the Right Honourable William Pulteney, Esq." (published in 1717) that the party stayed some while at Paris, for therein is an account of that city, an account in which the author betrays a sad insularity; and he was certainly at Aix in November. "I should not forget to acknowledge your letter sent from Aix. You told me that writing was not good with the waters, and I find since, you are of my opinion, that it is as bad without the waters. But, I fancy, it is not writing, but thinking, that is so bad with the waters; and then you might write without any manner of prejudice if you write like our brother poets of these days." Pope wrote to him on November 8th: "... That Duchess [of Hamilton],[19] Lord Warwick, Lord Stanhope, Mrs. Bellenden, Mrs. Lepell, and I cannot tell who else, had your letters ... I would send my services to Mr. Pulteney, but that he is out at Court, and make some compliment to Mrs. Pulteney, if she was not a Whig."[20]

From this letter it is evident that Gay was becoming well known in fashionable circles, and it is also clear that he had friends in the Court circle. "Gay is well at Court, and more than ever in the way of being served than ever.... Gay dines daily with the Maids of Honour," Pope had written to Martha Blount in December, 1716; and Gay, who would rather have had a place in the Household with nothing to do and no responsibility than anything else in the world, was not the man to refrain from endeavouring to improve the occasion. Mrs. Howard he had first met at Hanover, and in London contrived to turn the acquaintanceship into friendship. Knowing Gay's character and his ambition, it is probably doing him no injustice to say that he was first drawn to the lady by the belief that she might further his aims. However, it is only fair to say that he soon came to like her for herself, and long after he was convinced that she could be of no service to him he remained a very loyal and intimate friend. He was taken entirely into her confidence, as will presently be seen, and she even called him in to assist her when she was conducting an elaborate and stilted epistolatory flirtation with Lord Peterborough. It was most probably she who introduced him to Mrs. Bellenden, Mrs. Lepell, and the other ladies of the Court. Of Mrs. Howard and Gay, Dr. Johnson wrote: "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." This, however, is manifestly unfair, for it is now known that Mrs. Howard's influence was negligible.

To the ladies of the Court and others of Pope's friends, Gay paid tribute in "Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece":—

What lady's that to whom he gently bends? Who knows her not? Ah, those are Wortley's eyes. How art thou honour'd, number'd with her friends; For she distinguishes the good and wise. The sweet-tongued Murray near her side attends: Now to my heart the glance of Howard flies; Now Hervey, fair of face, I mark full well With thee, youth's youngest daughter, sweet Lepell.

I see two lovely sisters hand in hand, The fair-hair'd Martha and Teresa brown; Madge Bellenden, the tallest of the land; And smiling Mary, soft and fair as down. Yonder I see the cheerful Duchess stand, For friendship, zeal, and blithesome humours known: Whence that loud shout in such a hearty strain? Why all the Hamiltons are in her train. See next the decent Scudamore advance With Winchelsea, still meditating song, With her perhaps Miss Howe came there by chance. Nor knows with whom, nor why she comes along.

Gay was now on intimate terms with Lord Harcourt, whom he presently introduced into "Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece":—

Harcourt I see, for eloquence renown'd, The mouth of justice, oracle of law! Another Simon is beside him found, Another Simon like as straw to straw;

and early in 1718 he visited him, first at Cockthorpe and then at Stanton Harcourt, at which latter seat Pope was staying, working on the fifth volume of the "Iliad." In the following year Gay again crossed the Channel, possibly for the second time with the Pulteneys, but the only record of this trip is to be found in the following letter:—


Dijon, September 8th, 1719.

"If it be absolutely necessary that I make an apology for my not writing, I must give you an account of very bad physicians, and a fever which I had at Spa, that confined me for a month; but I do not see that I need make the least excuse, or that I can find any reason for writing to you at all; for can you believe that I would wish to converse with you if it were not for the pleasure to hear you talk again? Then why should I write to you when there is no possibility of receiving an answer? I have been looking everywhere since I came into France to find out some object that might take you from my thoughts, that my journey might seem less tedious; but since nothing could ever do it in England I can much less expect it in France.

"I am rambling from place to place. In about a month I hope to be at Paris, and in the next month to be in England, and the next minute to see you. I am now at Dijon in Burgundy, where last night, at an ordinary, I was surprised by a question from an English gentleman whom I had never seen before; hearing my name, he asked me if I had any relation or acquaintance with myself, and when I told him I knew no such person, he assured me that he was an intimate acquaintance of Mr. Gay's of London. There was a Scotch gentleman, who all supper time was teaching some French gentlemen the force and propriety of the English language; and, what is seen very commonly, a young English gentleman with a Jacobite governor. A French marquis drove an Abbe from the table by railing against the vast riches of the Church, and another marquis, who squinted, endeavoured to explain transubstantiation: 'That a thing might not be what it really appeared to be, my eyes,' says he, 'may convince you. I seem at present to be looking on you; but, on the contrary, I see quite on the other side of the table.' I do not believe that this argument converted one of the heretics present, for all that I learned by him was, that to believe transubstantiation it is necessary not to see the thing you seem to look at.

"So much I have observed on the conversation and manners of the people. As for the animals of the country, it abounds with bugs, which are exceedingly familiar with strangers; and as for plants, garlick seems to be the favourite production of the country, though for my own part I think the vine preferable to it. When I publish my travels at large I shall be more particular; in order to which, to-morrow I set out for Lyons, from thence to Montpelier, and so to Paris; and soon after I shall pray that the winds may be favourable, I mean, to bring you from Richmond to London, or me from London to Richmond; so prays, etc., JOHN GAY.

"I beg you, madam, to assure Miss Lepell and Miss Bellenden, that I am their humble servant."[21]

[Footnote 1: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), IV, p. 412.]

[Footnote 2: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VI, p. 223.]

[Footnote 3: Ibid., VII, p. 455.]

[Footnote 4: Ibid., VI, p. 227.]

[Footnote 5: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VI, p. 237.]

[Footnote 6: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 460.]

[Footnote 7: George Rooke, a Dublin linendraper.]

[Footnote 8: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 251.]

[Footnote 9: Johnson: Works (ed. Hill), II, p. 271.]

[Footnote 10: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 418.]

[Footnote 11: Spence: Anecdotes (ed. Singer), p. 202.]

[Footnote 12: Addison died on June 17th, 1719.]

[Footnote 13: Stepson of Addison.]

[Footnote 14: Spence: Anecdotes (ed. Singer), p. 149.]

[Footnote 15: Life of Pope, p. 126.]

[Footnote 16: Life of Pope, p. 126.]

[Footnote 17: Cibber's Apology (ed. Lowe).]

[Footnote 18: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VI, p. 244.]

[Footnote 19: Daughter of Lord Gerard, widow of the Duke of Hamilton, who in 1712 was killed in a duel with Lord Mohun.]

[Footnote 20: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope) VII. p. 420.]

[Footnote 21: B.M., Add MSS., 22626, f. 22.]



"Poems on Several Occasions"—Gay Invests His Earnings in the South Sea Company—The South Sea "Bubble" Breaks, and Gay Loses all His Money—Appointed a Commissioner of the State Lottery—Lord Lincoln Gives Him an Apartment in Whitehall—At Tunbridge Wells—Correspondence with Mrs. Howard.

Gay in 1720 was in his thirty-fifth year, and he had commenced author some twelve years before this date. During this period his output had been very small, and his success not conspicuous. As a dramatist he had been a complete failure—his first play, "The Wife of Bath," was still-born, and the others, "The What D'ye Call It" and "Three Hours After Marriage," had practically been hooted off the stage, and had brought him in their train a considerable degree of unpopularity. Of his poems, the only ones of any marked merit were "The Shepherd's Week," and "Trivia," and even these were unambitious, though not without merit. Gay now bethought him of collecting his poems, published and unpublished, and they were issued in two quarto volumes early in 1720, with the joint imprint of Jacob Tonson and his old publisher, Bernard Lintott, and with a frontispiece by William Kent.

The "Poems on Several Occasions," as the collection was styled, were issued by subscription. His friends supported him admirably. Lord Burlington and Lord Chandos each put down his name for fifty copies, Lord Bathurst for ten copies; in all Gay made more than L1,000 by the publication. To this success he alluded in his "Epistle to the Right Honourable Paul Methuen, Esq."[1]

Yet there are ways for authors to be great; Write ranc'rous libels to reform the State; Or if you choose more sun and readier ways, Spatter a minister with fulsome praise: Launch out with freedom, flatter him enough; Fear not, all men are dedication-proof. Be bolder yet, you must go farther still, Dip deep in gall thy mercenary quill. He who his pen in party quarrels draws, Lists an hired bravo to support the cause; He must indulge his patron's hate and spleen, And stab the fame of those he ne'er has seen. Why then should authors mourn their desp'rate case? Be brave, do this, and then demand a place. Why art thou poor? exert the gifts to rise, And vanish tim'rous virtue from thy eyes.

All this seems modern preface, where we're told That wit is praised, but hungry lives and cold: Against th' ungrateful age these authors roar, And fancy learning starves because they're poor. Yet why should learning hope success at Court? Why should our patriots virtue's cause support? Why to true merit should they have regard? They know that virtue is its own reward. Yet let me not of grievances complain. Who (though the meanest of the Muse's train) Can boast subscriptions to my humble lays, And mingle profit with my little praise.

What to do with the thousand pounds—a sum certainly far larger than any of which he had ever been possessed—Gay had not the slightest idea. He had just enough wisdom to consult his friends. Erasmus Lewis, a prudent man of affairs, advised him to invest it in the Funds and live upon the interest; Arbuthnot advised him to put his faith in Providence and live upon the capital; Swift and Pope, who understood him best, advised him to purchase an annuity. Bewildered by these divergent counsels, he did none of these things. Just when he was confronted with the necessity of making up his mind, Pope's friend, James Craggs the younger, of whom he wrote in "Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece":—

Bold, generous Craggs, whose heart was ne'er disguised,

made him a present of some stock of the South Sea Company, at the same time, no doubt, telling him that in all probability it would rise in value. Here was a chance, dear to the heart of this hunter after sinecures, of getting something for nothing—or next to nothing. With his thousand pounds he purchased more South Sea stock. At what price Gay bought it is impossible to say, but it is not unlikely that Craggs' present was made in April, 1720, when the first money-subscription was issued at the price of L300 for each L100 stock. The poet's good fortune was at this moment in the ascendant. A mania for speculation burst over the town, and everybody bought and sold South Sea stock. In July it was quoted at L1,000. If Gay had then sold out he would have realised a sum in the neighbourhood of L20,000. His friends implored him to content himself with this handsome profit, but in vain. As Dr. Johnson put it, "he dreamed of dignity and splendour, and could not bear to obstruct his own fortune."[2] He who a few months ago had been practically penniless, could not now bring himself to be satisfied with an income of about a thousand a year. Realising that it was impossible entirely to overcome his obduracy, his friends then begged him at least to sell so much as would produce even a hundred a year in the Funds, "which," Fenton said to him, "will make you sure of a clean shirt and a shoulder of mutton every day." Gay was not to be moved from his resolve to become a great capitalist. Arguments were of no avail. The wilful man finally had his way. Almost from the moment he refused to yield to his friends' entreaties the price of South Sea stock declined rapidly. The "Bubble" burst, and in October South Sea stock was unsaleable at any price. Gay lost not only his profit but his capital, and was again reduced to penury.

Gay spoke his mind about the "Bubble" in "A Panegyrical Epistle to Mr. Thomas Snow, Goldsmith, near Temple Bar: Occasioned by his Buying and Selling of the Third Subscriptions, taken in by the Directors of the South Sea Company, at a thousand per cent," which was published by Lintott in 1721:—

O thou, whose penetrative wisdom found The South-Sea rocks and shelves, where thousands drown'd, When credit sunk, and commerce gasping lay, Thou stood'st; nor sent one bill unpaid away. When not a guinea chink'd on Martin's boards, And Atwill's self was drain'd of all his hoards, Thou stood'st (an Indian king in size and hue) Thy unexhausted shop was our Peru.

Why did 'Change-Alley waste thy precious hours, Among the fools who gaped for golden showers? No wonder if we found some poets there, Who live on fancy, and can feed on air; No wonder they were caught by South-Sea schemes Who ne'er enjoy'd a guinea but in dreams; No wonder they their third subscription sold, For millions of imaginary gold: No wonder that their fancies wild can frame } Strange reasons, that a thing is still the same, } Tho' changed throughout in substance and in name. } But you (whose judgment scorns poetic flights) With contracts furnish boys for paper kites.

One of the immediate results of the disaster was Gay's inability to fulfil his obligations to one of the publishers of his "Poems on Several Occasions":—


Friday morning [circa October, 1720].

"Sir,—I received your letter with the accounts of the books you had delivered. I have not seen Mr. Lintott's account, but shall take the first opportunity to call on him. I cannot think your letter consists of the utmost civility, in five lines to press me twice to make up my account just at a time when it is impracticable to sell out of the stocks in which my fortune is engaged. Between Mr. Lintott and you the greatest part of the money is received, and I imagine you have a sufficient number of books in your hands for the security of the rest. To go to the strictness of the matter, I own my note engages me to make the whole payment in the beginning of September. Had it been in my power, I had not given you occasion to send to me, for I can assure you I am as impatient and uneasy to pay the money I owe, as some men are to receive it, and it is no small mortification to refuse you so reasonable a request, which is that I may no longer be obliged to you."[3]

* * * * *

The loss of his fortune was, of course, a very severe blow to Gay, but as ever, his friends gathered round him. Instead of being angry with him for his folly—but no one of his friends was ever angry with him—they looked upon him, and treated him, just as a spoilt child who had disobediently tried to get over a hedge and had scratched himself in the endeavour. They put their heads together to find "something" for him. Gay, of course, was not easy to deal with; it was difficult to make him listen to reason. He could not be brought to believe that it was not his due to receive something for nothing. He had been secretary to Lord Clarendon's brief Mission to Hanover; why had not diplomacy something to offer him? The Princess of Wales had asked for a copy of a set of his verses; was there no place for him at Court? He had praised members of the Royal Family in verse; was there somewhere—somehow—a sinecure in the Household for him? It seems that Gay really could not understand the position. Could not Mrs. Howard do something in his interest? Could not the friends of Pope do aught to secure that little post? Or Lord Burlington, or Lord Bathurst, or William Pulteney, or some one of the rest? He became petulant, and it is a tribute to his charm that not one of these persons was ever disgusted with him, but continued to feed him, keep him, and pet him, and made their friends and their friends' friends do likewise. In fact, this delightful, whimsical, helpless creature leant upon all who were stronger, and each one upon whom he leant loved him to his dying day.

Gay's health, which was never robust, gave way under his bitter disappointment, and in 1721 he went in the early autumn to Bath, where Mrs. Bradshaw wrote to Mrs. Howard, September 19th: "He is always with the Duchess of Queensberry." In the following year he was again ill, and went again to recuperate at the Somersetshire watering place.


London, December 22nd, 1722.

"After every post-day, for these eight or nine years, I have been troubled with an uneasiness of spirit, and at last I have resolved to get rid of it and write to you. I do not deserve you should think so well of me as I really deserve, for I have not professed to you that I love you as much as ever I did; but you are the only person of my acquaintance, almost, that does not know it. Whomever I see that comes from Ireland, the first question I ask is after your health ... I think of you very often; nobody wishes you better, or longs more to see you ... I was there [at Bath] for near eleven weeks for a colic that I have been troubled with of late; but have not found all the benefit I expected ... I lodge at present at Burlington House, and have received many civilities from many great men, but very few real benefits. They wonder at each other for not providing for me, and I wonder at them all. Experience has given me some knowledge of them, so that I can say, that it is not in their power to disappoint me."[4]

This was certainly ungrateful of Gay, but allowance may perhaps be made for him on the ground that he was, as Coxe has written, "of a sanguine disposition, was easily raised and as easily depressed. He mistook the usual civilities of persons of distinction for offers of assistance, and argued from the common promises of a Court certain preferment." He accordingly always suffered from mortification, about which he was prone to discourse. This was a foible well known to his friends, and even Pope could not refrain from gently chaffing him: "I wish you joy of the birth of the young Prince,[5] because he is the only prince we have from whom you have had no expectations and no disappointments."[6]


Dublin, January 8th, 1723.

"Although I care not to talk to you as a divine, yet I hope you have not been the author of your colic. Do you drink bad wine or keep bad company?... I am heartily sorry you have any dealings with that ugly distemper, and I believe our friend Arbuthnot will recommend you to temperance and exercise ...

"I am extremely glad he [Pope] is not in your case of needing great men's favour, and could heartily wish that you were in his.

"I have been considering why poets have such ill success in making their court, since they are allowed to be the greatest and best of all flatterers. The defect is, that they flatter only in print or in writing, but not by word of mouth; they will give things under their hand which they make a conscience of speaking. Besides, they are too libertine to haunt antechambers, too poor to bribe porters and footmen, and too proud to cringe to second-hand favourites in a great family.

"Tell me, are you not under original sin by the dedication of your Eclogues to Lord Bolingbroke?

"I am an ill judge at this distance, and besides am, for my case, utterly ignorant of the commonest things that pass in the world; but if all Courts have a sameness in them (as the parsons phrase it), things may be as they were in my time, when all employments went to Parliament-men's friends, who had been useful in elections, and there was always a huge list of names in arrears at the Treasury, which would at least take up your seven years' expedient to discharge even one-half.

"I am of opinion, if you will not be offended, that the surest course would be to get your friend [Lord Burlington] who lodgeth in your house to recommend you to the next Chief Governor who comes over here, for a good civil employment, or to be one of his secretaries, which your Parliament-men are fond enough of, when there is no room at home. The wine is good and reasonable; you may dine twice a week at the Deanery-house; there is a set of company in this town sufficient for one man; folks will admire you, because they have read you, and read of you; and a good employment will make you live tolerably in London, or sumptuously here; or, if you divide between both places, it will be for your health."[7]

* * * * *

Gay's friends, who had persistently been on the look-out to help him, at last met with some small measure of success. "I am obliged to you for your advice, as I have been formerly for your assistance in introducing me into business," Gay wrote to Swift from London, February 3rd, 1723. "I shall this year be Commissioner of the State Lottery, which will be worth to me a hundred and fifty pounds. And I am not without hopes that I have friends that will think of some better and more certain provision for me."[8] In addition to this post, the Earl of Lincoln was persuaded to give him an apartment in Whitehall. The Commissionship and the residence to some small extent soothed Gay's ruffled vanity, and were beyond question convenient.


London, February 3rd, 1723.

"As for the reigning amusements of the town, it is entirely music; real fiddles, bass-viols and hautboys; not poetical harps, lyres and reeds. There's nobody allowed to say, I sing, but an eunuch or an Italian woman. Everybody is grown now as great a judge of music, as they were in your time of poetry, and folks that could not distinguish one tune from another now daily dispute about the different styles of Handel, Bononcine, and Attilio. People have now forgot Homer and Virgil and Caesar, or at least they have lost their ranks. For in London and Westminster, in all polite conversations, Senesino is daily voted to be the greatest man that ever lived.

"Mr. Congreve I see often; he always mentions you with the strongest expressions of esteem and friendship. He labours still under the same affliction as to his sight and gout; but in his intervals of health he has not lost anything of his cheerful temper. I passed all the last season with him at Bath, and I have great reason to value myself upon his friendship, for I am sure he sincerely wishes me well. Pope has just now embarked himself in another great undertaking as an author, for of late he has talked only as a gardener. He has engaged to translate the Odyssey in three years, I believe rather out of a prospect of gain than inclination, for I am persuaded he bore his part in the loss of the South Sea. I supped about a fortnight ago with Lord Bathurst and Lewis at Dr. Arbuthnot's."[9]

* * * * *

During the summer of 1723 Gay, still troubled with the colic, went to Tunbridge Wells, where he carried on a vigorous correspondence with Mrs. Howard.


Richmond Lodge, July 5th, 1723.

"I was very sorry to hear, when I returned from Greenwich, that you had been at Richmond the same day; but I really thought you would have ordered your affairs in such a manner that I should have seen you before you went to Tunbridge. I dare say you are now with your friends, but not with one who more sincerely wishes to see you easy and happy than I do; if my power was equal to theirs the matter should soon be determined.

"I am glad to hear you frequent the church. You cannot fail of being often put in mind of the great virtue of patience, and how necessary that may be for you to practise I leave to your own experience. I applaud your prudence (for I hope it is entirely owing to it) that you have no money at Tunbridge. It is easier to avoid the means of temptation than to resist them when the power is in our own hands....

"The place you are in has strangely filled your head with cures and physicians; but (take my word for it) many a fine lady has gone there to drink the waters without being sick, and many a man has complained of the loss of his heart who has had it in his own possession. I desire you will keep yours, for I shall not be very fond of a friend without one, and I have a great mind you should be in the number of mine."


Tunbridge Wells, July 12th, 1723.

"The next pleasure to seeing you is hearing from you, and when I hear you succeed in your wishes I succeed in mine—so I will not say a word more of the house.

"We have a young lady, Mary Jennings, here that is very particular in her desires. I have known some ladies who, if ever they prayed and were sure their prayers would prevail, would ask an equipage, a title, a husband or matadores; but this lady, who is but seventeen and has but thirty thousand pounds, places all her wishes in a pot of good ale. When her friends, for the sake of her shape and complexion, would dissuade her from it, she answers, with the truest sincerity, that by the loss of shape and complexion she can only lose a husband, but that ale is her passion. I have not as yet drank with her, though I must own I cannot help being fond of a lady who has so little disguise of her practice, either in her words or appearance. If to show you love her you must drink with her she has chosen an ill place for followers, for she is forbid with the waters. Her shape is not very unlike a barrel, and I would describe her eyes, if I could look over the agreeable swellings of her cheeks, in which the rose predominates; nor can I perceive the least of the lily in her whole countenance. You see what L30,000 can do, for without that I could never have discovered all these agreeable particularities. In short, she is the ortolan, or rather wheat-ear, of the place, for she is entirely a lump of fat; and the form of the universe itself is scarce more beautiful, for her figure is almost circular. After I have said all this, I believe it will be in vain for me to declare I am not in love, and I am afraid that I have showed some imprudence in talking upon this subject, since you have declared that you like a friend that has a heart in his disposal. I assure you I am not mercenary and that L30,000 have not half so much power with me as the woman I love."


Richmond Lodge, July 22nd, 1723.

"I have taken some days to consider of your wheat-ear, but I find I can no more approve of your having a passion for that, than I did of your turning parson. But if ever you will take the one, I insist upon your taking the other; they ought not to be parted; they were made from the beginning for each other. But I do not forbid you to get the best intelligence of the ways, manners and customs of this wonderful phenomene, how it supports the disappointment of bad ale, and what are the consequences to the full enjoyment of her luxury? I have some thoughts of taking a hint from the ladies of your acquaintance who pray for matadores, and turn devotees for luck at ombre, for I have already lost above L100 since I came to Richmond.

"I do not like to have you too passionately fond of everything that has no disguise. I (that am grown old in Courts) can assure you sincerity is so very unthriving that I can never give consent that you should practise it, excepting to three or four people that I think may deserve it, of which number I am. I am resolved that you shall open a new scene of behaviour next winter and begin to pay in coin your debts of fair promises. I have some thoughts of giving you a few loose hints for a satire, and if you manage it right, and not indulge that foolish good-nature of yours, I do not question but I shall see you in good employment before Christmas."


Tunbridge Wells, August, 1723.

"I have long wished to be able to put in practice that valuable worldly qualification of being insincere. One of my chief reasons is that I hate to be particular, and I think if a man cannot conform to the customs of the world, he is not fit to be encouraged or to live in it. I know that, if one would be agreeable to men of dignity one must study to imitate them, and I know which way they get money and places. I cannot indeed wonder that the talents requisite for a great statesman are so scarce in the world, since so many of those who possess them are every month cut off in the prime of their life at the Old Bailey.

"Another observation I have made upon courtiers is that if you have any friendship with any particular one, you must be entirely governed by his friendship and resentments, not your own; you are not only to flatter him but those that he flatters, and, if he chances to take a fancy to any man whom you know that he knows to have the talents of a statesman, you are immediately to think both of them men of the most exact honour. In short, you must think nothing dishonest or dishonourable that is required of you, because, if you know the world, you must know that no statesman has or ever will require anything of you that is dishonest or dishonourable.

"Then you must suppose that all statesmen, and your friend in particular (for statesmen's friends have always seemed to think so) have been, are, and always will be guided by strict justice, and are quite void of partiality and resentment. You are to believe that he never did or can propose any wrong thing, for whoever has it in his power to dissent from a statesman, in any one particular, is not capable of his friendship. This last word, friendship, I have been forced to make use of several times, though I know that I speak improperly, for it has never been allowed a Court term. This is some part of a Court creed, though it is impossible to fix all the articles, for as men of dignity believe one thing one day and another the next, so you must daily change your faith and opinion; therefore the mood to please these wonderful and mighty men is never to declare in the morning what you believe until your friend has declared what he believes—for one mistake this way is utter destruction.

"I hope these few reflections will convince you that I know something of the art of pleasing great men. I have strictly examined most favourites that I have known, and think I judge right, that almost all of them have practised most of these rules on their way to preferment. I cannot wonder that great men require all this from their creatures, since most of them have practised it themselves, or else they had never arrived to their dignities.

"As to your advice that you give me in relation to preaching and marrying and ale, I like it extremely, for this lady [Mary Jennings] must be born to be a parson's wife, and I never will think of marrying her till I have preached my first sermon. She was last night at a private ball—so private that not one man knew it till it was over, so that Mrs. Carr was disturbed at her lodgings by only a dozen ladies, who danced together without the least scandal.

"I fancy I shall not stay here much longer, though what will become of me I know not, for I have not, and fear never shall have, a will of my own."


August, 1723.

"After you have told me that you hate writing letters, it would be very ungrateful not to thank you for so many as you have written for me. Acting contrary to one's inclinations, for the service of those one likes, is a strong proof of friendship; yet, as it is painful, it ought never to be exacted but in case of great necessity. As such I look upon that correspondence in which I have engaged you.

"Perhaps you think I treat you very oddly, that while I own myself afraid of a man of wit [Lord Peterborough] and make that a pretence to ask your assistance, I can write to you myself without any concern; but do me justice and believe it is that I think it requires something more than wit to deserve esteem. So it is less uneasy for me to write to you than to the other, for I should fancy I purchased the letters I received (though very witty) at too great an expense, if at the least hazard of having my real answers exposed.

"The enclosed[10] will discover that I did not make use of every argument with which you had furnished me; but I had a reason, of which I am not at this time disposed to make you a judge. Conquest is the last thing a woman cares to resign; but I should be very sorry to have you in the desperate state of my Knight-errant. No! I would spare you, out of self-interest, to secure to me those I have made by your assistance."


August 22nd [1723].

"I am very much pleased to find you are of my opinion. I have always thought that the man who will be nothing but a man of wit oftener disobliges than entertains the company. There is nothing tries our patience more than that person who arrogantly is ever showing his superiority over the company he is engaged in. He and his fate I think very like the woman whose whole ambition is only to be handsome. She is in continual care about her own charms and neglects the world; and he is always endeavouring to be more witty than all the world, which makes them both disagreeable companions.

"The warmth with which I attack wit will, I am afraid, be thought to proceed from the same motive which makes the old and ugly attack the young and handsome; but if you examine well all those of the character I have mentioned you will find they are generally but pretenders to either wit or beauty, and in justification of myself I can say, and that with great sincerity, I respect wit with judgment, and beauty with humility, whenever I meet it.

"I have sent the enclosed[11] and desire an answer. I make no more apologies, for I take you to be in earnest; but if you can talk of sincerity without having it, I am glad it is in my power to punish you, for sincerity is not only the favourite expression of my knight-errant, but it is my darling virtue.

"If I agree with you, that wit is very seldom to be found in sincerity, it is because I think neither wit nor sincerity is often found; but daily experience shows us it is want of wit, and not too much, makes people insincere."

[Footnote 1: Paul Methuen (1672-1757), diplomatist; Comptroller of the Household 1720-1725; K.B., 1725.]

[Footnote 2: Lives of the Poets (ed. Hill), III, p. 273.]

[Footnote 3: B.M., Add. MSS., 28275, f. 8.]

[Footnote 4: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 385.]

[Footnote 5: George William, born November 2nd, 1717, died February 6th, 1722.]

[Footnote 6: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 422.]

[Footnote 7: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, 390.]

[Footnote 8: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 398.]

[Footnote 9: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 297.]

[Footnote 10: Probably a letter from Lord Peterborough to Mrs. Howard.]

[Footnote 11: Probably a copy of a letter from Mrs. Howard to Lord Peterborough].




During 1723 Gay wrote a tragedy, "The Captives," which at the end of the year he read to the royal circle at Leicester House. "When the hour came," Johnson has recorded, "he saw the Princess [of Wales] and her ladies all in expectation, and, advancing with reverence, too great for any other attention, stumbled at a stool, and, falling forward, threw down a weighty Japanese screen. The Princess started, the ladies screamed, and poor Gay, after all the disturbance, was still to read his play."[1] "The Captives" was produced at Drury Lane Theatre in January, 1724, and according to the Biographica Dramatica was "acted nine nights with great applause," the third, or author's night, being by the command of the Prince and Princess of Wales. According, however, to Fenton, "Gay's play had no success. I am told he gave thirty guineas to have it acted on the fifth night."[2] When it was published, Gay prefaced it with the following dedication:—



"The honour I received from your Royal Highness in being permitted to read this play to you before it was acted, made me more happy than any other success that could have happened to me. If it had the good fortune to gain your Royal Highness's approbation, I have often been reflecting to what to impute it, and I think it must have been the catastrophe of the fall, the rewarding virtue and the relieving the distressed. For that could not fail to give some pleasure in fiction, which, it is plain, gives you the greatest in reality, or else your Royal Highness would not (as you always have done) make it your daily practice.

"I am, Madam, "Your Royal Highness's most dutiful and most humbly devoted servant, "JOHN GAY."

Of what Gay did, or where he went during 1724, next to nothing is known. Presumably he spent most of his time in his apartment at Whitehall, eating much and drinking more than was good for him, and, to judge by results, writing nothing. The only trace of him during 1724 is in the following letter:—


[Bath, 1724.]

"Since I came to the Bath I have written three letters; the first to you, the second to Mr. Pope, and the third to Mr. Fortescue. Every post gives me fresh mortification, for I am forgot by everybody. Dr. Arbuthnot and his brother went away this morning, and intend to see Oxford on their way to London. The talk of the Bath is the marriage of Lord Somerville and Mrs. Rolt. She left the Bath yesterday. He continues here but is to go away to-day or to-morrow; but as opinions differ I cannot decide whether they are married or no. Lord Essex gives a private ball in Hamson's great room to Mrs. Pelham this evening, so that in all probabilities some odd bodies being left out, we shall soon have the pleasure of being divided into fractions. I shall return to London with Lord Scarborough, who hath not as yet fixed his time of leaving the Bath. Lord Fitzwilliam this morning had an account that a ticket of his was come up L500. Lady Fitzwilliam wonders she has not heard from you, and has so little resolution that she cannot resist buttered rolls at breakfast, though she knows they prejudice her health.

"If you will write to me you will make me cheerful and happy, without which I am told the waters will have no good effect. Pray have some regard to my health, for my life is in your service."

* * * * *

There is no mention of Gay during the first nine months of the year 1724, after which it has been possible to gather scant information. Apparently, encouraged by the kindly interest displayed by the Princess of Wales, Gay, still obsessed with his desire for a place, went frequently to Court. "I hear nothing of our friend Gay, but I find the Court keep him at hard meat. I advised him to come over here with a Lord-Lieutenant,"[3] Swift wrote to Pope, September 29th, 1725. To this Pope replied on October 15th: "Our friend Gay is used as the friends of Tories are by Whigs, and generally by Tories too. Because he had humour he was supposed to have dealt with Dr. Swift; in like manner as when anyone had learning formerly, he was thought to have dealt with the devil. He puts his whole trust at Court in that lady whom I described to you."[4] "That lady," presumably was Mrs. Howard. But Gay, unable to secure the interest of the politicians, and getting weary of waiting on his friends, suddenly bethought himself of making a direct appeal to royalty. "Gay is writing tales for Prince William,"[5] Pope wrote to Swift on December 10th. "Mr. Philips[6] will take this very ill for two reasons, one that he thinks all childish things belong to him, and the other because he will take it ill to be taught that one may write things to a child without being childish." Than which last few prettier compliments have been paid to Gay.

Though they had long been in correspondence, Swift and Gay had not yet met. Swift, of course, had often in his mind a visit to London—he admitted the temptation, but resisted it. "I was three years reconciling myself to the scene, and the business to which fortune had condemned me, and stupidity was what I had recourse to,"[7] he had written to Gay from Dublin, January 8th, 1723. "Besides, what a figure should I make in London, while my friends are in poverty, exile, distress, or imprisonment, and my enemies with rods of iron?" At last, however, in March, 1726, he did come to London, and he was the guest of Gay, whom he subsequently referred to as "my landlord at Whitehall." He saw much of Gay. "I have lived these two months past for the most part in the country, either at Twickenham with Mr. Pope, or rambling with him and Mr. Gay for a fortnight together. Yesterday Lord Bolingbroke and Mr. Congreve made up five at dinner at Twickenham,"[8] Swift wrote to Tickell from London on July 7th. Like the rest, Swift came to love Gay dearly, and Gay was no whit less attracted to the great man, who promised on his next visit to stay again in Whitehall. "My landlord," he wrote in a letter addressed jointly to Pope and Gay, October 15th, 1726, "who treats me with kindness and domesticity, and says that he is laying in a double stock of wine."[9] Swift had been introduced to Mrs. Howard—it may be by Gay—and she too wished to entertain him. "I hope you will get your house and wine ready, to which Mr. Gay and I are to have access when you are at Court; for, as to Mr. Pope, he is not worth considering on such occasions,"[10] he wrote to her from Dublin, February 1st, 1727.

Gay had become more and more on good terms with the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, especially with the Duchess, who treated him as a sort of pet lap-dog. "Since I wrote last," Gay told Swift in a letter dated September 16th, 1726, "I have been always upon the ramble. I have been in Oxfordshire with the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, and at Petersham, and wheresoever they would carry me; but as they will go to Wiltshire[11] without me on Tuesday next, for two or three months, I believe I shall then have finished my travels for this year, and shall not go further from London than now and then to Twickenham."[12] It was as well that Gay remained in London, else probably his "Fables" would never have appeared. Gay, who had begun to compose the "Fables" in 1725, was, according to the habit of the man, not to be hurried. "I have of late been very much out of order with a slight fever, which I am not yet quite free from," he wrote to Swift in October, 1726. "If the engravers keep their word with me I shall be able to publish my poems soon after Christmas." But of course the engravers did not keep their word. Swift, a more energetic person, became almost fractious at the repeated delays in the publication, and wrote to Pope on November 17th: "How comes Gay to be so tedious? Another man can publish fifty thousand lies sooner than he can publish fifty fables."[13] And still there were delays. "My Fables are printed," he told Swift on February 18th, 1727; "but I cannot get my plates finished, which hinders the publication. I expect nothing and am likely to get nothing."[14] At last, in the spring, the volume appeared, with the imprint of J. Tonson and J. Watts, and with this dedication: "To His Highness William Duke of Cumberland these new Fables, invented for his amusement, are humbly dedicated by His Highness's most faithful and most obedient servant, John Gay."

* * * * *

Gay, of course, expected some reward for this courtier-like attention to the son of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the poet and his friends again believed that his future was assured when they heard that Her Royal Highness had said, or at least was reported to have said, that she should "take up the hare"—an allusion to the "Fable" of "The Hare and Many Friends":—

A Hare who in a civil way, Complied with ev'ry thing, like Gay, Was known by all the bestial train, Who haunt the wood, or graze the plain. Her care was never to offend. And ev'ry creature was her friend.

On June 12th, 1727, George I. died, and Gay felt sure that at last the hour had struck when the "place" so long and diligently sought, would be bestowed on him. The new Queen did not, indeed, forget him; she did what in his eyes was far worse, she offered him the sinecure post of Gentleman Usher to the Princess Louisa,[15] then two years old, with a salary of L200 a year. Gay's disappointment was bitter, and for a person usually so placid, his indignation tremendous. What ground for hope he had had, he, as Dr. Johnson has said, "had doubtless magnified with all the wild expectation and vanity,"[16] "The Queen's family is at last settled," Gay wrote bitterly to Swift on October 22nd, "and in the list I was appointed Gentleman Usher to the Princess Louisa, the youngest Princess, which, upon account that I am so far advanced in life, I had declined accepting, and have endeavoured, in the best manner I could, to make my excuses by a letter to her Majesty. So now all my expectations are vanished and I have no prospect, but in depending wholly upon myself and my own conduct. As I am used to disappointments I can bear them, but as I can have no more hopes I can no more be disappointed, so that I am in a blessed condition."[17] Pope, than whom no man loved Gay better, could not bring himself to sympathise with his irate brother poet.


October 6th, 1727.

"I have many years ago magnified, in my own mind, and repeated to you, a ninth beatitude, added to the eight in the Scripture: "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed. I could find in my heart to congratulate you on this happy dismission from all Court dependance. I dare say I shall find you the better and the honester man for it many years hence; very probably the healthfuller, and the cheerfuller into the bargain. You are happily rid of many cursed ceremonies, as well as of many ill and vicious habits, of which few or no men escape the infection, who are hackneyed and trammelled in the ways of a Court. Princes, indeed, and Peers (the lackies of Princes) and Ladies (the fools of Peers) will smile on you the less; but men of worth and real friends will look on you the better. There is a thing, the only thing which kings and queens cannot give you, for they have it not to give—liberty, which is worth all they have, and which as yet Englishmen need not ask from their hands. You will enjoy that, and your own integrity, and the satisfactory consciousness of having not merited such graces from Courts as are bestowed only on the mean, servile, flattering, interested and undeserving. The only steps to the favour of the great are such complacencies, such compliances, such distant decorums, as delude them in their vanities, or engage them in their passions. He is their greatest favourite who is the falsest; and when a man, by such vile graduations arrives at the height of grandeur and power, he is then at best but in a circumstance to be hated, and in a condition to be hanged for serving their ends. So many a Minister has found it."

"I can only add a plain uncourtly speech," Pope wrote again to Gay ten days later. "While you are nobody's servant you may be anybody's friend, and, as such, I embrace you in all conditions of life. While I have a shilling you shall have sixpence, nay, eightpence, if I can contrive to live upon a groat." But if Pope took the matter calmly, Swift, on the other hand, completely lost his temper and wrote as if voluntary attendance at Court made it obligatory upon the Queen to provide for the courtier.


Dublin, November 27th, 1727.

"I entirely approve your refusal of that employment, and your writing to the Queen. I am perfectly confident you have a firm enemy in the Ministry. God forgive him, but not till he puts himself in a state to be forgiven. Upon reasoning with myself, I should hope they are gone too far to discard you quite, and that they will give you something; which, although much less than they ought, will be (as far as it is worth) better circumstantiated; and since you already just live, a middling help will make you just tolerable. Your lateness in life (as you so soon call it) might be improper to begin the world with, but almost the eldest men may hope to see changes in a Court. A Minister is always seventy; you are thirty years younger; and consider, Cromwell did not begin to appear till he was older than you."[18]

* * * * *

Swift could not forgive the Court for the offer, Mrs. Howard for not exerting her influence to get a better post for her protege. "I desire my humble service to Lord Oxford, Lord Bathurst, and particularly to Miss Blount, but to no lady at Court. God bless you for being a greater dupe than I. I love that character too myself, but I want your charity," he wrote to Pope, August 11th, 1729; but Pope replying on October 9th said: "The Court lady[19] I have a good opinion of. Yet I have treated her more negligently than you would do, because you will like to see the inside of a Court, which I do not ... after all, that lady means to do good and does no harm, which is a vast deal for a courtier."

* * * * *

More than once Swift took up his pen to avenge his friend for the slight that he considered had been passed upon him. In "A Libel on the Rev. Mr. Delany and His Excellency Lord Cartaret," he wrote in 1729:—

Thus Gay, the hare with many friends. Twice seven long years the Court attends; Who, under tales conveying truth, To virtue form'd a princely youth; Who paid his courtship with the crowd, As far as modest pride allow'd; Rejects a servile usher's place, And leaves St. James's in disgrace.

Two years later he returned to the attack in "An Epistle to Mr. Gay ":—

How could you, Gay, disgrace the Muse's train, To serve a tasteless Court twelve years in vain! Fain would I think our female friend sincere, Till Bob,[20] the poet's foe, possess'd her ear. Did female virtue e'er so high ascend, To lose an inch of favour for a friend? Say, had the Court no better place to choose For thee, than make a dry-nurse of thy Muse? How cheaply had thy liberty been sold, To squire a royal girl of two years old: In leading strings her infant steps to guide, Or with her go-cart amble side by side!

It is a little difficult at this time of day to understand Swift's indignation. Gay was already in the enjoyment of a sinecure of L150 a year; he was offered another of L200 a year—for the post of Gentleman-Usher involved no duties save occasional attendance at Court, and to this the poet had shown himself by no means averse. A total gift of L350 a year for nothing really seems rather alluring to a man of letters, and it is difficult to understand why Gay refused the offer, unless it was, as the editors of the standard edition of Pope's Correspondence suggest: "The affluent friends who recommended Gay to reject the provisions were strangers to want, and with unconscious selfishness they thought less of his necessities than of venturing their spleen against the Court."

* * * * *

Swift, unable effectively to vent his anger on Caroline, chose to regard Mrs. Howard as the cause of the mortification of his friend. Mrs. Howard, however, not only had nothing to do with the offer of the place of Gentleman-Usher to Gay, the patronage being directly in the Queen's hands, but, as has been indicated, was unable to secure for him, or anyone else, a place at Court of any description. Certainly she was in blissful ignorance of having given offence, for as Gay wrote to the Dean so late as February 15th, 1728: "Mrs. Howard frequently asks after you and desires her compliments to you."

All the matters affected not a whit the relations between Mrs. Howard and Gay; against her he had no ill-feeling, and their correspondence continued on the same lines of intimacy as before.


October, 1727.

"I hear you expect, and have a mind to have, a letter from me, and though I have little to say, I find I don't care that you should be either disappointed or displeased. Tell her Grace of Queensberry I don't think she looked kindly upon me when I saw her last; she ought to have looked and thought very kindly, for I am much more her humble servant than those who tell her so every day. Don't let her cheat you in the pencils; she designs to give you nothing but her old ones. I suppose she always uses those worst who love her best, Mrs. Herbert excepted; but I hear she has done handsomely by her. I cannot help doing the woman this justice, that she can now and then distinguish merit.

"So much for her Grace; now for yourself, John. I desire you will mind the main chance, and be in town in time enough to let the opera[21] have play enough for its life, and for your pockets. Your head is your best friend; it could clothe, lodge and wash you, but you neglect it, and follow that false friend, your heart, which is such a foolish, tender thing that it makes others despise your head that have not half so good a one upon their own shoulders. In short, John, you may be a snail or a silk-worm, but by my consent you shall never be a hare again.

"We go to town next week. Try your interest and bring the duchess up by the birthday. I did not think to have named her any more in this letter. I find I am a little foolish about her; don't you be a great deal so, for if she will not come, do you come without her."

* * * * *

Gay was not the man to keep his feelings of disappointment to himself, and his feelings were so widely known that at the time the following copy of verses was handed about in manuscript [22]:—

A mother who vast pleasure finds, In forming of the children's minds; In midst of whom with vast delight, She passes many a winter's night; Mingles in every play to find, What bias nature gives her mind; Resolving there to take her aim. To guide them to the realms of fame; And wisely make those realms their way, To those of everlasting day; Each boist'rous passion she'd control, And early humanise the soul, The noblest notions would inspire, As they were sitting by the fire; Her offspring, conscious of her care, Transported hung around her chair. Of Scripture heroes would she tell, Whose names they'd lisp, ere they could spell; Then the delighted mother smiles, And shews the story in the tiles. At other times her themes would be, The sages of antiquity; Who left a glorious name behind, By being blessings to their kind: Again she'd take a nobler scope, And tell of Addison and Pope.

This happy mother met one day, A book of fables writ by Gay; And told her children, here's treasure, A fund of wisdom, and of pleasure. Such decency! such elegance! Such morals! such exalted sense! Well has the poet found the art, To raise the mind, and mend the heart. Her favourite boy the author seiz'd, And as he read, seem'd highly pleas'd; Made such reflections every page, The mother thought above his age: Delighted read, but scarce was able, To finish the concluding fable. "What ails my child?" the mother cries, "Whose sorrows now have fill'd your eyes?" "Oh, dear Mamma, can he want friends Who writes for such exalted ends? Oh, base, degenerate human kind! Had I a fortune to my mind, Should Gay complain; but now, alas! Through what a world am I to pass; Where friendship's but an empty name, And merit's scarcely paid in fame." Resolv'd to lull his woes to rest. She told him he should hope the best; That who instruct the royal race. Can't fail of some distinguished place. "Mamma, if you were queen," says he, "And such a book was writ for me; I know 'tis so much to your taste, That Gay would keep his coach at least." "My child, what you suppose is true, I see its excellence in you; Poets whose writing mend the mind, A noble recompense should find: But I am barr'd by fortune's frowns. From the best privilege of crowns; The glorious godlike power to bless, And raise up merit in distress."

"But, dear Mamma, I long to know. Were that the case, what you'd bestow?" "What I'd bestow," says she, "My dear, At least five hundred pounds a year."

[Footnote 1: Johnson: Lives of the Poets (ed. Hill), III, p. 274.]

[Footnote 2: Letter to Broome, January 30th, 1724 (Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope, VIII, p. 75.))]

[Footnote 3: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 6.]

[Footnote 4: Ibid., XVII, p. 8.]

[Footnote 5: William Augustus (1721-1765), third son of George III; created Duke of Cumberland, 1726.]

[Footnote 6: Ambrose Philips, the poet.]

[Footnote 7: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, 389.]

[Footnote 8: Ibid., XIX. p. 283.]

[Footnote 9: Ibid., XVII, p. 99.]

[Footnote 10: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 94.]

[Footnote 11: To Amesbury, the principal seat of the Duke of Queensberry.]

[Footnote 12: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 66.]

[Footnote 13: Ibid., XVII, p. 81.]

[Footnote 14: Ibid., XVII, p. 96.]

[Footnote 15: Louisa (1724-1751), the youngest of George II's children. She married in 1743, Frederick, Prince (afterwards King) of Denmark,]

[Footnote 16: Johnson: Lives of the Poets (ed. Hill), III, p. 274.]

[Footnote 17: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVIII, p. 42.]

[Footnote 18: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 161.]

[Footnote 19: Mrs. Howard.]

[Footnote 20: Sir Robert Walpole.]

[Footnote 21: An allusion to "The Beggar's Opera," which Gay was then writing.]

[Footnote 22: Printed for the first and only time in "An Account of the Life and Writings of the Author," in Plays Written by Mr. John Gay, 1760.]




The opera to which allusion is made in Mrs. Howard's letter of October, 1727, was "The Beggar's Opera," upon which Gay had been actively engaged for some time past, and which was then nearing completion. "You remember," Gay wrote to Swift, October 22nd, 1727, "you were advising me to go into Newgate to finish my scenes the more correctly. I now think I shall, for I have no attendance to hinder me; but my opera is already finished."[1] To which Swift replied from Dublin on November 27th: "I am very glad your opera is finished, and hope your friends will join the readers to make it succeed, because you are ill-used by others."[2]

It was natural that Swift should be especially interested in "The Beggar's Opera," because the first suggestion of it had come from Swift in a letter to Pope, written as far back as August 30th, 1716[3] "Dr. Swift had been observing once to Mr. Gay, what an odd pretty sort of thing a Newgate Pastoral might make," Pope once remarked. "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 Beggar'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 showed 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 showed it to Congreve, who, after reading it over, said: 'It would either take greatly or be damned confoundedly."[4]

Dilatory as Gay always was, he contrived to finish his opera by about the end of the year. "John Gay's opera is just on the point of delivery," Pope wrote to Swift in January, 1728. "It may be called, considering its subject, a jail-delivery. Mr. Congreve, with whom I have commemorated you, is anxious as to its success, and so am I. Whether it succeeds or not, it will make a great noise, but whether of claps or hisses I know not. At worst, it is in its own nature a thing which he can lose no reputation by, as he lays none upon it."[5] Not only Swift, Pope, and Congreve were doubtful as to the opera's chance of success. Colley Cibber refused it for Drury Lane Theatre, and even when it was accepted by John Rich for his theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Quin had such a poor opinion of it, that he refused the part of Captain Macheath. Very sound was the judgment of Rich, immortalised by Pope in "The Dunciad" (Book III, lines 261-264):—

Immortal Rich! how calm he sits at ease, 'Midst snows of paper, and fierie tale of pease; And proud his Mistress's orders to perform, Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm;

and the opera, to repeat a well-known mot of the day, "made Gay rich and Rich gay."

"The Beggar's Opera" was produced on January 29th, 1728, with the following cast:—

Peachum ... ... ... ... ... MR. HIPPISLEY Lockit ... ... ... ... ... MR. HALL Macheath ... ... ... ... ... MR. WALKER Filch ... ... ... ... ... MR. CLARK Jemmy Twitcher... ... ... ... MR. H. BULLOCK Mrs. Peachum ... ... ... ... MRS. MARTIN Polly Peachum ... ... ... ... Miss FENTON Lucy Lockit ... ... ... ... MRS. EGLETON Diana Trapes ... ... ... ... MRS. MARTIN

At the first performance the fate of the opera hung for some time in the balance. Quin is recorded as having said that there was a disposition to damn it, and that it was saved by the song, "O ponder well! be not severe!" the audience being much affected by the innocent looks of Polly, when she came to those two lines which exhibit at once a painful and ridiculous image—

O ponder well! be not severe! For on the Rope that hangs my Dear Depends poor Polly's Life.[6]

Pope, too, and the rest of Gay's friends were present. "We were all at the first night of it, in great uncertainty of the event; till we were very much encouraged by hearing the Duke of Argyll, who sat in the next box to us, say: "It will do—it must do!—I see it in the eyes of them," he said. "This was a good while before the first act was over, and so gave us ease soon; for the Duke (besides his own good taste) has a more particular knack than any one now living, in discovering the taste of the public. He was quite right in this, as usual, the good nature of the audience appeared stronger and stronger every set, and ended in a clamour of applause."[7]

The success of the opera was due to many causes. Some liked it for its barely veiled allusions on politicians. "Robin of Bagshot, alias Gorgon, alias Bluff Bob, alias Carbuncle, alias Bob Booty," was very obviously intended for Walpole and his "dear charmers" for his wife and Molly Skerrett. It may well be believed that the song, "How happy could I be with either" brought down the house; and the highwayman must have evoked a hearty laugh with—

And the statesman, because he's so great, Thinks his trade as honest as mine.

Certainly the songs had much to do in the matter of pleasing the audience. As a literary work, "The Beggar's Opera" has no great claims, but there is a spontaneous humour about it that has charm. But it was the milieu that, acting on the hint thrown out years before by Swift, Gay chose that appealed to the public taste. Highwaymen and women of the town are not romantic figures, but Gay made the highwaymen handsome and lively, and the women of the town beautiful and attractive, and over them all he cast a glamour of romance and sentimentalism. Even Newgate seemed a pleasing place, for in this fantasy the author was careful to omit anything of the horrors of a prison in the early eighteenth century. Gay, in fact, did for the stage with "The Beggar's Opera" what, a century later Bulwer Lytton and Harrison Ainsworth did for the reading public with "Ernest Maltravers," "Jack Sheppard," and the rest.

The morality of the opera was much discussed. Swift took the field, and wrote in its favour in the Intelligencer (No. 3):—

"It is true, indeed, that Mr. Gay, the author of this piece, has been somewhat singular in the course of his fortune, for it has happened that after fourteen years attending the Court, with a large stock of real merit, a modest and agreeable conversation, a hundred promises, and five hundred friends, he has failed of preferment, and upon a very weighty reason. He lay under the suspicion of having written a libel, or lampoon, against a great minister. It is true, that great minister was demonstratively convinced, and publicly owned his conviction, that Mr. Gay was not the author; but having lain under the suspicion, it seemed very just that he should suffer the punishment; because in this most reformed age, the virtues of a prime minister are no more to be suspected than the chastity of Caesar's wife.

"It must be allowed, that 'The Beggar's Opera' is not the first of Mr. Gay's works, wherein he has been faulty with regard to courtiers and statesmen. For, to omit his other pieces, even in his 'Fables,' published within two years past, and dedicated to the Duke of Cumberland, for which he was promised a reward, he has been thought somewhat too bold upon the courtiers. And although it be highly probable he meant only the courtiers of former times, yet he acted unwarily, by not considering that the malignity of some people might misinterpret what he said to the disadvantage of present persons and affairs.

"But I have now done with Mr. Gay as a politician and shall consider him henceforth only as the author of 'The Beggar's Opera,' wherein he has, by a turn of humour entirely new, placed vices of all kinds in the strongest and most odious light, and thereby done eminent service, both to religion and morality. This appears from the unparalleled success he has met with. All ranks, parties, and denominations of men, either crowding to see his opera, or reading it with delight in their closets; even Ministers of State, whom he is thought to have most offended (next to those whom the actors represented) appear frequently at the theatre, from a consciousness of their own innocence, and to convince the world how unjust a parallel, malice, envy, and disaffection to the Government have made.

"I am assured that several worthy clergymen in this city went privately to see 'The Beggar's Opera' represented; and that the fleering coxcombs in the pit amused themselves with making discoveries, and spreading the names of those gentlemen round the audience.

"I shall not pretend to vindicate a clergyman who would appear openly in his habit at the theatre, with such a vicious crew as might probably stand round him, at such comedies and profane tragedies as are often represented. Besides, I know very well, that persons of their function are bound to avoid the appearance of evil, or of giving cause of offence. But when the Lords Chancellors, who are Keepers of the King's Conscience; when the Judges of the land, whose title is reverend; when ladies, who are bound by the rules of their sex to the strictest decency, appear in the theatre without censure; I cannot understand why a young clergyman, who comes concealed out of curiosity to see an innocent and moral play, should be so highly condemned; nor do I much approve the rigour of a great prelate, who said, 'he hoped none of his clergy were there.' I am glad to hear there are no weightier objections against that reverend body, planted in this city, and I wish there never may. But I should be very sorry that any of them should be so weak as to imitate a Court chaplain in England, who preached against 'The Beggar's Opera,' which will probably do more good than a thousand sermons of so stupid, so injudicious, and so prostitute a divine.

"In this happy performance of Mr. Gay, all the characters are just, and none of them carried beyond nature, or hardly beyond practice. It discovers the whole system of that commonwealth, or that imperium in imperio of iniquity established among us, by which neither our lives nor our properties are secure, either in the highways, or in public assemblies, or even in our own houses. It shows the miserable lives, and the constant fate, of those abandoned wretches: for how little they sell their lives and souls; betrayed by their whores, their comrades, and the receivers and purchasers of those thefts and robberies. This comedy contains likewise a satire, which, without enquiring whether it affects the present age, may possibly be useful in times to come; I mean, where the author takes the occasion of comparing the common robbers of the public, and their various stratagems of betraying, undermining and hanging each other, to the several arts of the politicians in times of corruption....

"Upon the whole, I deliver my judgment, that nothing but servile attachment to a party, affectation of singularity, lamentable dulness, mistaken zeal, or studied hypocrisy, can have the least reasonable objection against this excellent moral performance of the celebrated Mr. Gay."

Of course, if "The Beggar's Opera" is taken as irony, there is really nothing at all to be said against it; but the majority of any audience do not understand irony, and to many the whole thing seemed vicious, an approval of vice, and even an incitement to wrong-doing. Dr. Herring, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, preached against the Opera in, it is said, Lincoln's Inn Chapel, and censured it as giving encouragement not only to vice but to crimes, by making a highwayman the hero and dismissing him at last unpunished. In the Preface to Dr. Herring's "Sermons," it is added that "several street-robbers confessed in Newgate that they raised their courage at the playhouse by the songs of Macheath."[8] Others certainly shared the views of the clergyman. When on September 15th, 1773, at the Old Bailey, fifteen prisoners were sentenced to death, forty to transportation, and eight to a whipping, it is recorded that the magistrate, Sir John Fielding, "informed the Bench of Justices that he had last year written to Mr. Garrick concerning the impropriety of performing 'The Beggar's Opera,' which never was represented without creating an additional number of real thieves,"[9] and that to this effect he not only wrote to Garrick at Drury Lane Theatre, but also to Colman at Covent Garden Theatre. "Mr. Colman's compliments to Sir John Fielding," the latter replied, "he does not think his the only house in Bow Street where thieves are hardened and encouraged, and will persist in offering the representation of that admirable satire, 'The Beggar's Opera.'"[10] Sir John Hawkins, Chairman of the Middlesex Bench of Justices, also held the view that the Opera was harmful, and in 1776, wrote: "Rapine and violence have been gradually increasing since its first representation."[11] Dr. Johnson took a saner view, and one that was subsequently supported by Sir Walter Scott, and is generally accepted to-day. "Both these decisions are surely exaggerated," he wrote in reference to the opinions expressed by Swift and Dr. Herring. "The play, like many others, was plainly written only to divert, without any moral purpose, and is therefore likely to do good; nor can it be conceived, without more speculation than life requires or admits, to be productive of much wit. Highwaymen and housebreakers seldom frequent the playhouse or mingle in any elegant diversion; nor is it possible for anyone to imagine that he may rob as safely because he sees Macheath reprieved upon the stage."[12] And again, he said: "I do not believe that any man was ever made a rogue by being present at its representation. At the same time I do not deny that it may have some influence by making the character of a rogue familiar and in some degree pleasing."[13]

The success of the piece was immense, and its vogue tremendous. "The famous 'Beggar's Opera' appeared upon the stage early in the ensuing season; and was received with greater applause than was ever known: besides being acted in London sixty-three nights 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 fortieth time; and at Bath and Bristol fifty times," wrote the anonymous editor of the 1760 edition of Gay's plays.

"The ladies carried about with them the favourite songs of it in fans, and houses were furnished with it in screens.... 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 several years."[14] According to Richard's account book, the opera ran at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields for sixty-two (not sixty-three) nights, of which thirty-two nights were in succession, and these thirty-two performances realised the total sum of L5,351, Gay's share amounting to L693.[15] Swift, who was always anxious that Gay should do as well as possible, wrote to Pope on March 5th: "I hope he [Gay] does not intend to print his Opera before it is acted; for I defy all your subscriptions to amount to eight hundred pounds, and yet I believe he lost as much more, for want of human prudence."[16] The advice, however, came too late, for Gay had already sold the copyright of the "Fables" and "The Beggar's Opera" for ninety guineas. The opera was published on February 14th, 1728.

Gay was in these days the happiest man in the world. His play was successful, he was making money, and he had had his little dig at Walpole. "John Gay ... is at present so employed in the elevated airs of his Opera ... that I can scarce obtain a categorical answer ... to anything," Pope wrote to Swift in February, "but the Opera succeeds extremely, to yours and my extreme satisfaction, of which he promises this post to give you a full account."[17]


Whitehall, February 15th, 1728.

"I have deferred writing to you from time to time, till I could give you an account of 'The Beggar's Opera.' It is acted at the playhouse in Lincoln's Inn Fields with such success that the playhouse has been crowded every night. To-night is the fifteenth time of acting, and it is thought it will run a fortnight longer. I have ordered Motte[18] to send the play to you the first opportunity. I have made no interest, neither for approbation or money: nor has anybody been pressed to take tickets for my benefit: notwithstanding which, I think I shall make an addition to my fortune of between six and seven hundred pounds. I know this account will give you pleasure, as I have pushed through this precarious affair without servility or flattery.

"As to any favours from great men, I am in the same state you left me, but I am a great deal happier, as I have no expectations. The Duchess of Queensberry has signalised her friendship to me upon this occasion in such a conspicuous manner, that I hope (for her sake) you will take care to put your fork to all its proper uses, and suffer nobody for the future to put their knives in their mouths. Lord Cobham says, I should have printed it in Italian over against the English, that the ladies might have understood what they read. The outlandish (as they now call it) Opera has been so thin of late, that some have called it the Beggar's Opera, and if the run continues, I fear I shall have remonstrances drawn up against me by the Royal Academy of Music."[19][20]


Dublin, February 26th, 1728.

"I wonder whether you begin to taste the pleasures of independency; or whether you do not sometimes leer upon the Court, sculo retorto? Will you now think of an annuity when you are two years older, and have doubled your purchase-money? Have you dedicated your opera, and got the usual dedication fee of twenty guineas? Does W[alpole] think you intended an affront to him in your opera? Pray God he may, for he has held the longest hand at hazard that ever fell to any sharper's share, and keeps his run when the dice are charged. I bought your Opera to-day for sixpence—a cussed print. I find there is neither dedication nor preface, both which wants I approve; it is the grand gout."


March 20th, 1728.

"'The Beggar's Opera' has been acted now thirty-six times, and was as full the last night as the first; and as yet there is not the least probability of a thin audience; though there is a discourse about the town, that the directors of the Royal Academy of Music design to solicit against its being played on the outlandish opera days, as it is now called. On the benefit day of one of the actresses, last week, they were obliged to give out another play, or dismiss the audience. A play was given out, but the people called for 'The Beggar's Opera'; and they were forced to play it, or the audience would not have stayed.

"I have got by all this success between seven and eight hundred pounds, and Rich (deducting the whole charge of the house) has cleared already near four thousand pounds. In about a month I am going to the Bath with the Duchess of Marlborough and Mr. Congreve; for I have no expectation of receiving any favours from the Court. The Duchess of Queensberry is in Wiltshire, where she has had the small-pox in so favourable a way that she had not above seven or eight on her face; she is now perfectly recovered.

"There is a mezzotinto print published to-day of Polly, the heroine of 'The Beggar's Opera,' who was before unknown, and is now in so high vogue that I am in doubt whether her fame does not surpass that of the Opera itself."[21]

* * * * *

Pope and Swift were keenly interested in Gay's triumph, and in their correspondence are many references to the piece. "Mr. Gay's Opera has been acted near forty days running, and will certainly continue the whole season," Pope wrote to Swift, March 23rd, 1728. "So he has more than a fence about his thousand pounds; he will soon be thinking of a fence about his two thousand. Shall no one of us live as we would wish each other to live? Shall he have no annuity, you no settlement on this side, and I no prospect of getting to you on the other?"[22]


Dublin, March 28th, 1728.

"We have your opera for sixpence, and we are as full of it pro modulo nostro as London can be; continually acting, and house crammed, and the Lord-Lieutenant several times there, laughing his heart out. I wish you had sent me a copy, as I desired to oblige an honest bookseller. It would have done Motte no harm, for no English copy has been sold, but the Dublin one has run prodigiously.

"I did not understand that the scene of Lockit and Peachum's quarrel was an imitation of one between Brutus and Cassius, till I was told it.

"I wish Macheath, when he was going to be hanged, had imitated Alexander the Great, when he was dying. I would have had his fellow-rogues desire his commands about a successor, and he to answer, 'Let it be the most worthy,' etc.

"We hear a million of stories about the Opera, of the encore at the song, 'That was levell'd at me,' when two great ministers were in a box together, and all the world staring at them.

"I am heartily glad your Opera has mended your purse, though perhaps it may spoil your Court.

"I think that rich rogue, Rich, should in conscience make you a present of two or three hundred guineas. I am impatient that such a dog, by sitting still, should get five times more than the author.

"You told me a month ago of L700, and have you not yet made up the eighth? I know not your methods. How many third days are you allowed, and how much is each day worth, and what did you get for copy?

"Will you desire my Lord Bolingbroke, Mr. Pulteney, and Mr. Pope, to command you to buy an annuity with two thousand pounds? that you may laugh at Courts, and bid Ministers 'hiss, etc.'—and ten to one they will be ready to grease you when you are fat.

"I hope your new Duchess will treat you at the Bath, and that you will be too wise to lose your money at play.

"Get me likewise Polly's mezzotinto.

"Lord, how the schoolboys at Westminster and university lads adore you at this juncture! Have you made as many men laugh as ministers can make weep."

* * * * *

Colley Cibber, in his "Apology" said that "Gay had more skilfully gratified the public taste than all the brightest authors that ever wrote before him," and although this was undoubtedly a piece of friendly exaggeration, it is a fact that John Gay was now a personage. "Mr. Gay's fame continues; but his riches are in a fair way of diminishing; he is gone to the Bath," Martha Blount wrote to Swift, May 7th;[23] and two months later, with great pride, Gay told Swift, "My portrait mezzotinto is published from Mrs. Howard's painting."[24] Indirectly, he secured further notoriety when, in the summer, Lavinia Fenton, who had played the heroine in the Opera, ran away with a Duke. "The Duke of Bolton, I hear," he wrote to Swift from Bath, "has run away with Polly Peachum, having settled L400 a year on her during pleasure, and upon disagreement L200 a year."[25] She had played in the whole sixty-three performances of the Opera, the forty-seventh performance being set aside for her benefit. The sixty-third performance took place on June 19th, and that was her last appearance on the boards of a theatre. In 1751, shortly after the death of his wife, the Duke married her, she being then about forty-three, and he sixty-six.[26]

[Footnote 1: Swift: Work (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 157.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., XVII, p. 162.]

[Footnote 3: See p. 41 of this work.]

[Footnote 4: Spence: Anecdotes (ed. Singer), p. 159.]

[Footnote 5: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 111.]

[Footnote 6: Boswell: Life of Johnson (ed. Hill), II, p. 368.]

[Footnote 7: Spence: Anecdotes, p. 159.]

[Footnote 8: Dr. Herring: Sermons (1763), p. 5.]

[Footnote 9: Annual Register (1773), I, p. 132.]

[Footnote 10: Genest: History of the Stage, III, p. 223.]

[Footnote 11: History of Music, V, p. 317.]

[Footnote 12: Lives of the Poets (ed. Hill), III, p. 278.]

[Footnote 13: Boswell: Life of Johnson (ed. Hill), II, p. 367.]

[Footnote 14: Plays Written by Mr. John Gay: With an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author (1760), VIII.]

[Footnote 15: Notes and Queries, First Series, I, 178.]

[Footnote 16: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 216.]

[Footnote 17: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 165.]

[Footnote 18: Benjamin Motte, the bookseller.]

[Footnote 19: The managers and patrons of the Italian Opera, with the King at their head, had formed themselves into an association under this title.]

[Footnote 20: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 176.]

[Footnote 21: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 180.]

[Footnote 22: Ibid., XVII, p. 183.]

[Footnote 23: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 176.]

[Footnote 24: Ibid., XVII, p. 189.]

[Footnote 25: Ibid., XVII, p. 188.]

[Footnote 26: "The Beggar's Opera" has been revived many times. The last and most successful revival was produced by Mr. Nigel Playfair in June, 1920. At the moment of going to press the first anniversary of the revival has just been celebrated. A copy of the programme of the first performance of this revival is printed, by kind permission of Mr. Playfair, on page 162 of this work.]




The success of "The Beggar's Opera" heartened Gay, as a first great success heartens any man. At once he conceived the idea of following up this triumph with another opera, but, before actually getting to work, he took things easily. In March he stayed at Cashiobury with Pulteney, visiting from there Lord Bathurst and the Bolingbrokes. Shortly after he went to Bath, where he found many friends, including Henrietta, Duchess of Marlborough.


Bath, May 16th, 1728.

"I have been at the Bath about ten days, and I have played at no game but once, and that at backgammon with Mr. Lewis, who is very much your humble servant. He is here upon account of the ill state of health of his wife, who has as yet found very little benefit from the waters. Lord and Lady Bolingbroke are here; and I think she is better than when I came; they stay, as I guess, only about a fortnight longer. They both desired me to make their compliments; as does Mr. Congreve, who is in a very ill state of health, but somewhat better since he came here.... I do not know how long I shall stay here, because I am now, as I have been all my life, at the disposal of others. I drink the waters, and am in hopes to lay in a stock of health, some of which I wish to communicate to you.... 'The Beggar's Opera' is acted here; but our Polly has got no fame, though the actors have got money. I have sent [you] by Dr. Delany, the Opera, Polly Peachum, and Captain Macheath. I would have sent you my own head (which is now engraving to make up the gang), but it is not yet finished. I suppose you must have heard that I have had the honour to have had a sermon preached against my works by a Court chaplain, which I look upon as no small addition to my fame."[1]


Bath, July 6th, 1728.

"In five or six days I set out upon an excursion to Herefordshire, to Lady Scudamore's, but shall return here the beginning of August.... The weather is extremely hot, the place is very empty; I have an inclination to study, but the heat makes it impossible."[2]

* * * * *

"I suppose Mr. Gay will return from the Bath with twenty pounds more flesh and two hundred pounds less in money," Swift wrote to Pope on July 16th. "Providence never designed him to be above two-and-twenty, by this thoughtlessness and cullibility. He has as little foresight of age, sickness, poverty, or loss of admirers, as a girl of fifteen."[3] From this it may be deduced that Gay, whenever he was free from an attack of colic, persevered in the pleasures of the table and of his favourite quadrille.


August 2nd, 1728.

"I have heard more than once from our friend at Court, who seemed, in the letter she writ, to be in high health and spirits. Considering the multiplicity of pleasures and delights that one is overrun with in those places, I wonder how anyone has health and spirits enough to support them. I am heartily glad she has, and whenever I hear so, I find it contributes to mine. You see, I am not free from dependence, though I have less attendance than I had formerly; for a great deal of my own welfare still depends upon hers. Is the widow's house to be disposed of yet? I have not given up my pretensions to the Dean. If it was to be parted with, I wish one of us had it. I hope you wish so too, and that Mrs. Blount and Mrs. Howard wish the same, and for the very same reason that I wish it."[4]


Hampton Court, August [1728].

"I am glad you have passed your time so agreeable. I need not tell you how mine has been employed; but as I know you wish me well, I am sure you will be glad to hear that I am much better; whether I owe it to the operation I underwent, or to my medicines, I cannot tell; but I begin to think I shall entirely get the better of my illness. I have written to Dr. Arbuthnot, both to give him a particular account, and to ask his opinion about the Bath. I know him so well that, though in this last illness he was not my physician, he is so much my friend, that he is glad I am better. Put him in mind to tell me what he would have me do in relation to Lady F.; and to send me a direction to write to her.

"I have made Mr. Nash governor to Lord Peterborough, and Lord Peterborough governor to Mr. Pope. If I should come to the Bath, I propose being governess to the Doctor [Arbuthnot] and you. I know you both to be so unruly, that nothing less than Lady P.'s spirit or mine could keep any authority over you. When you write to Lady Scudamore, make my compliments to her. I have had two letters from Chesterfield, which I wanted you to answer for me; and I have had a thousand other things that I have wanted you to do for me; but, upon my word, I have not had one place to dispose of, or you should not be without one.... My humble service to the Duchess of Marlborough and Mr. Congreve."


London, December 2nd, 1728.

"I have had a very severe attack of a fever, which, by the care of our friend, Dr. Arbuthnot, has, I hope, almost left me. I have been confined about ten days, but never to my bed, so that I hope soon to get abroad about my business; that is, the care of the second part of 'The Beggar's Opera,' which was almost ready for rehearsal; but Rich received the Duke of Grafton's commands (upon an information that he was rehearsing a play improper to be represented), not to rehearse any new play whatever, till his Grace has seen it. What will become of it I know not; but I am sure I have written nothing that can be legally suppressed, unless the setting vices in general in an odious light, and virtue in an amiable one, may give offence.

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