Life And Letters Of John Gay (1685-1732)
by Lewis Melville
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"I passed five or six months this year at the Bath with the Duchess of Marlborough; and then, in the view of taking care of myself, writ this piece. If it goes on in case of success, I have taken care to make better bargains for myself."[5]

* * * * *

Gay was naturally greatly elated by the success of "The Beggar's Opera." This recompensed him for the neglect, or, as undoubtedly he regarded it, the ingratitude of the Court, and, what pleased him as much, it filled his purse, which he always liked to fill, apparently for the joy of emptying it as soon as possible. Also, it greatly enhanced his reputation: from a writer of minor importance, he now took his place as a personage. After a long apprenticeship, he had at length "arrived."

Thus encouraged, he promptly composed a sequel to "The Beggar's Opera," which he called by the name of the heroine of that piece, that is to say, "Polly." The best summary of "Polly" has been given by Mr. Paull, in his interesting paper on Gay[6]:—

"Macheath has been transported across the herring-pond ... He succeeds in escaping from the plantations, and has become the leader of a band of pirates, under an assumed name, and disguised as a black man. Jenny Driver is now his mistress (presumably he has forgotten her treachery in 'The Beggar's Opera'). Polly sails across the ocean to find him, but is entrapped by Mrs. Trapes, a procuress, who sells her to Ducat, a rich merchant. Mrs. Ducat, who is jealous, helps Polly to escape; she assumes a boy's dress and continues her search for Macheath. She is captured by the pirates, and she and Macheath meet, neither recognising the other. The pirates are attacking the English settlement; the Indians are helping the settlers. At first the pirates are successful, and the young Indian Prince is captured, but ultimately they are defeated, Polly herself capturing Macheath, who is condemned to death by the Indian Prince. Then she learns from Jenny Driver who the pirate chief is, and his life is promised her as her reward; but his execution has already taken place, and she has to console herself with the hand of the Indian Prince, who has fallen in love with her. Even this skeleton will show that the novelty and unity of design which counted for so much in 'The Beggar's Opera' are changed for intricacy of plot. There is no cohesion in the story: there is no reason why the catastrophe should be brought about in one way rather than another; what interest there is turns on an improbable story rather than on the development of character. Evidently Gay reckoned largely on the opportunities he had afforded himself for satire on the Court, and for contrasting the noble and untutored savage with the man tainted by the vices of civilisation."

"Polly" was accepted for production by Rich at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields: the subsequent proceedings are but told by the author himself in his Preface, dated March 25th, 1729, to the printed version of the book of the opera:—

"After Mr. Rich and I were agreed upon terms and conditions for bringing this piece on the stage, and that everything was ready for a rehearsal, the Lord Chamberlain sent an order from the country to prohibit Mr. Rich to suffer any play to be rehearsed upon his stage till it has been first of all supervised by his Grace. As soon as Mr. Rich came from his Grace's secretary (who had sent for him to receive the before-mentioned order) he came to my lodgings and acquainted me with the orders he had received.

"Upon the Lord Chamberlain's coming to town I was confined by sickness, but in four or five days I went abroad on purpose to wait upon his Grace, with a faithful and genuine copy of this piece, excepting the errata of the transcriber.

"As I have heard several suggestions and false insinuations concerning the copy, I take this occasion in the most solemn manner to affirm, that the very copy I delivered to Mr. Rich was written in my own hand, some months before at the Bath, from my own first foul blotted papers; from this, that for the playhouse was transcribed, from whence Mr. Steele, the prompter, copied that which I delivered to the Lord Chamberlain; and, excepting my own foul blotted papers, I do protest I know of no other copy whatsoever, than those I have mentioned.

"The copy which I gave into the hands of Mr. Rich had been seen before by several persons of the greatest distinction and veracity, who will do me the honour and justice to attest it; so that not only by them, but by Mr. Rich and Mr. Steele, I can (against all insinuation or positive affirmation) prove in the most clear and undeniable manner, if occasion required, what I have here upon my own honour and credit asserted. The Introduction, indeed, was not shown to the Lord Chamberlain, which, as I had not then settled, was never transcribed in the playhouse copy.

"It was on Saturday morning, December 7th, 1728, that I waited upon the Lord Chamberlain. I desired to have the honour of reading the Opera to his Grace, but he ordered me to leave it with him, which I did upon expectation of having it returned on the Monday following; but I had it not till Thursday, December 12th, when I received it from his Grace with this answer, 'that it was not allowed to be acted, but commanded to be suppressed.' This was told me in general, without any reason assigned, or any charge against me, of my having given any particular offence.

"Since this prohibition, I have been told, that I am accused, in general terms, of having written many disaffected libels and seditious pamphlets. As it hath ever been my utmost ambition (if that word may be used on this ocasion) to lead a quiet and inoffensive life, I thought my innocence in this particular would never have required a justification; and as this kind of writing is what I have ever detested, and never practised, I am persuaded so groundless a calumny can never be believed but by those who do not know me. But as general aspersions of this sort have been cast upon me, I think myself called upon to declare my principles; and I do, with the strictest truth, affirm that I am as loyal a subject, and as firmly attached to the present happy establishment, as any of those who have the greatest places or pensions. I have been informed too, that, in the following play, I have been charged with writing immoralities; that it is filled with slander, and calumny against particular great persons, and that Majesty itself is endeavoured to be brought into ridicule and contempt.

"As I knew every one of these charges was in every point absolutely false and without the least grounds, at first I was not at all affected by them; but when I found they were still insisted upon, and that particular passages, which were not in the play, were quoted, and propagated to support what had been suggested, I could no longer bear to lie under those false accusations; so, by printing it, I have submitted and given up all present views of profit which might accrue from the stage; which undoubtedly will be some satisfaction to the worthy gentlemen who have treated me with so much candour and humanity, and represented me in such favourable colours.

"But as I am conscious to myself, that my only intention was to lash, in general, the reigning of fashionable vices, and to recommend and set virtue in as amiable light as I could; to justify and vindicate my own character, I thought myself obliged to print the Opera without delay, in the manner I have done.

"As the play was principally designed for representation, I hope, when it is read, it will be considered in that light; and when all that hath been said against it shall appear to be entirely misunderstood or misrepresented; if, some time hence, it should be permitted to appear on the stage, I think it necessary to acquaint the public that, as far as a contract of this kind can be binding, I am engaged to Mr. Rich to have it represented upon his theatre."

* * * * *

It cannot be denied that there was adequate ground for the Lord Chamberlain's veto. In "The Beggar's Opera" Gay had beyond all question lampooned Walpole, and in "Polly" he returned to the attack, there being no doubt that in the opening scene, Ducat, the West Indian planter, was intended for the Minister. The production might well have led to disturbances if both political parties had been represented at the first performance. Walpole was the least vindictive of men, as witness his generous attitude towards Sunderland and the other ministers involved in the scandal of the South Sea "Bubble," but he may well have thought that Gay was going too far. Gay himself was harmless, but, as Walpole knew, the author, either consciously or unconsciously, was acting for the Opposition party; and Walpole, when he thought it worth while, had a short and effective way with his political enemies.

The prohibition being largely an affair of party, or at least being so regarded, a battle royal ensued. "Polly" could not be performed in public, but, there being no censorship of books, it could be printed. Gay's friends, therefore, decided that the Opera should be published by subscription. To a man and a woman the Opposition rallied round the author. The Duchess of Queensberry "touted" for him everywhere, even at Court. The King at a Drawing-room asked what she was doing. "What must be agreeable, I am sure," she replied, "to anyone so humane as your Majesty, for it is an act of charity, and a charity to which I do not despair of bringing your Majesty to contribute." This, of course, was a gratuitous piece of impertinence—for the Lord Chamberlain acts as the official mouthpiece of the Sovereign—and it could not be overlooked. Another story is: The Duchess was so vehement in her attempt to have the embargo removed from Gay's play, that she offered to read it to His Majesty in his closet, that he might be satisfied there was no offence in it. George II escaped from this dilemma by saying, he should be delighted to receive her Grace in his closet, but he hoped to amuse her better than by the literary employment she proposed.[7]

Whatever the true story, the day after the Duchess's interview with the King (February 27th, 1729), William Stanhope, the Vice-Chamberlain, carried to the Duchess a verbal message not to come to Court; whereupon she sat down and wrote a letter for him to take to his Majesty. "The Duchess of Queensberry," so ran her reply, "is surprised and well pleased that the King hath given her so agreeable a command as to stay from Court, where she never came for diversion, but to bestow a great civility on the King and Queen; she hopes by such an unprecedented order as this is, that the King will see as few as he wishes at his Court, particularly such as are to think or speak truth. I dare not do otherwise, and ought not, nor could have imagined that it would not have been the very highest compliment that I could possibly pay the King to endeavour to support truth and innocence in his house, particularly when the King and Queen both told me that they had not read Mr. Gay's play. I have certainly done right, then, to stand by my own words rather than his Grace of Grafton's, who hath neither made use of truth, judgment, nor honour, through this whole affair, either for himself or his friends."[8] Stanhope read this, and begged the Duchess to reflect before sending it. She consented to write another letter, did so, and handed it to him. He chose the first. The Duke of Queensberry supported his wife, and although the King pressed him to remain, resigned his office of Admiral of Scotland—though Gay wrote to Swift,[9] "this he would have done, if the Duchess had not met with this treatment, upon account of ill-usage from the Ministers," and that this incident "hastened him in what he had determined." The affair created an immense sensation in Court circles. "The Duchess of Queensberry is still the talk of the town. She is going to Scotland," Mrs. Pendarves wrote to Mrs. Anne Granville, March 14th, 1729.... "My Lady Hervey told her the other day that 'now she was banished, the Court had lost its chief ornament,' the Duchess replied, 'I am entirely of your mind.' It is thought my Lady Hervey spoke to her with a sneer, if so, her Grace's answer was a very good one."[10]

One of the immediate results of the campaign was that the apartments that had been granted to Gay in Whitehall, which belonged to the Crown, had, by order, to be surrendered. On the other hand, two large editions, amounting to 10,500 copies, of "Polly, An Opera: being the Second Part of 'The Beggar's Opera.' Written by Mr. Gay. With the Songs and Basses engraved on Copper-plates," were printed in 1729, and from the sale Gay derived between L1,100 and L1,200.[11] In 1777 Colman produced "Polly" in a revised version, but it failed to attract.

There was an end of Gay's hopes of Court preferment, that was clear to every one. It was not unexpected. "I wish John Gay success in his pursuit," Bolingbroke had written to Swift in June, 1727, "but I think he has some qualities which will keep him down in the world."[12] When the worst was known, Arbuthnot wrote to Swift on the following November 30th: "There is certainly a fatality upon poor Gay. As for hope of preferment [at St. James's], he has laid it aside. He has made a pretty good bargain (that is, a Smithfield one) for a little place in the Custom-house, which was to bring him in about a hundred a year. It was done as a favour to an old man, and not at all to Gay. When everything was concluded, the man repented, and said he would not part with his place. I have begged Gay not to buy an annuity upon my life; I am sure I should not live a week."[13]

* * * * *

It may be that Gay thought that he might in time live down the disfavour at Court in which he had been involved by the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry and his other partisans. He may even have had a momentary hope, in 1730, when the office of Poet-Laureate was vacant that the position might be offered to him, who had written "Fables" for a young Prince. When Colley Cibber was appointed, Gay probably had it brought home to him that his day as a courtier had passed for good and all. Certainly he is credited, though on what authority is not known, with a share in the burlesque, "Ode for the New Year [1731]. Written by Colley Cibber, Esq.," in which his disappointment is vented in somewhat coarse expression. This begins,

This is the day when, right or wrong, I, Colley Bays, Esquire, Must for my sack indite a song, And thrum my venal lyre.

The King is attacked, and there is a disgraceful reference to the Queen:—

O may she always meet success In every scheme and job, And still continue to caress That honest statesman Bob.

That Gay was furious there is no question, and he attacked Walpole in one of the second series of his "Fables" (which appeared posthumously in 1738), entitled "The Vulture, the Sparrow, and Other Birds," which concluded:

In days of yore (my cautious rhymes Always except the present times) A greedy Vulture, skill'd in game, Inured to guilt, unawed by shame, Approach'd the throne in evil hour, And, step by step, intrudes to power. When at the royal eagle's ear. He longs to ease the monarch's care. The monarch grants. With proud elate, Behold him, minister of state! Around him throng the feather'd rout; Friends must be served, and some must out: Each thinks his own the best pretension; This asks a place, and that a pension. The nightingale was set aside: A forward daw his room supplied.[14] This bird (says he), for business fit Has both sagacity and wit. With all his turns, and shifts, and tricks, He's docile, and at nothing sticks. Then with his neighbours, one so free At all times will connive at me. The hawk had due distinction shown, For parts and talents like his own. Thousands of hireling cocks attend him, As blust'ring bullies to defend him. At once the ravens were discarded, And magpies with their posts rewarded. Those fowls of omen I detest, That pry into another's nest. State lies must lose all good intent, For they foresee and croak th' event. My friends ne'er think, but talk by rote, Speak when they're taught, and so to vote. When rogues like these (a Sparrow cries) To honour and employment rise I court no favour, ask no place, From such, preferment is disgrace: Within my thatch'd retreat I find (What these ne'er feel) true peace of mind.

The animus is evident, and it is clear that Gay's sense of humour had entirely deserted him. A man who had been a hanger-on at Court for more than ten years, and bidding diligently all the time for a sinecure, could but arouse laughter when, discarded at length by those in power, he says proudly, "I court no favour, ask no place."

[Footnote 1: Swift: Works, XVII, p. 182.]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., XVII, p. 188.]

[Footnote 3: Ibid., XVII, p. 189.]

[Footnote 4: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 429.]

[Footnote 5: Swift: Works, XVII, p. 205]

[Footnote 6: Fortnightly Review, June, 1912]

[Footnote 7: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 228 (note).]

[Footnote 8: Hervey: Memoirs, I, p. 123.]

[Footnote 9: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 228.]

[Footnote 10: Mrs. Delany: Memoirs, I, p. 198.]

[Footnote 11: Nichol: Literary Anecdotes, I, p. 405.]

[Footnote 12: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 114.]

[Footnote 13: Ibid., XVII, p. 157.]

[Footnote 14: This appears to be a reference to the appointment of Cibber as Poet Laureate.]




With the composition of "Polly," the literary life of Gay came practically to an end, although he survived until December 4th, 1732. During these four years he worked not at all, save occasionally on the second series of "Fables."

After the prohibition of "Polly," Gay, who had been ill during 1728, had a severe attack of fever, during which he was attended by the faithful Arbuthnot, and carefully tended by the Duchess of Queensberry.


[circa December, 1728.]

"No words can tell you the great concern I feel for you; I assure you it was not, and is not, lessened by the immediate apprehension I have now every day lain under of losing my mother. Be assured, no duty less than that should have kept me one day from attending your condition. I would come and take a room by you at Hampstead, to be with you daily, were she not still in danger of death. I have constantly had particular accounts of you from the doctor [Arbuthnot], which have not ceased to alarm me yet. God preserve your life, and restore your health! I really beg it for my own sake, for I feel I love you more than I thought in health, though I always loved you a great deal. If I am so unfortunate as to bury my poor mother, and yet have the good fortune to have my prayers heard for you, I hope we may live most of our remaining days together. If, as I believe, the air of a better clime, as the southern part of France, may be thought useful for your recovery, thither I would go with you infallibly; and it is very probable we might get the Dean [Swift] with us, who is in that abandoned state already in which I shall shortly be, as to other cares and duties. Dear Gay, be as cheerful as your sufferings will permit: God is a better friend than a Court: even any honest man is a better. I promise you my entire friendship in all events."

* * * * *

Gay gradually got well. "I am glad to hear of your recovery, and the oftener I hear it, the better, when it becomes easy to you to give it," Pope, who remained a regular correspondent, wrote to him in January, 1729. But, though Gay was better in health, his spirits were low.


[Feb. or March, 1729.]

"My melancholy increases, and every hour threatens me with some return of my distemper, nay, I think I may rather say I have it on me. Not the divine looks, the kind favours, and the expressions of the divine Duchess, who, hereafter, shall be in the place of a queen to me—nay, she shall be my queen—nor the inexpressible goodness of the Duke, can in the least cheer me. The Drawing-room no more receives light from those two stars. There is now what Milton says is in hell—darkness visible. Oh, that I had never known what a Court was! Dear Pope, what a barren soil (to me so) have I been striving to produce something out of. Why did I not take your advice before my writing Fables for the Duke, not to write them! It is my very hard fate I must get nothing, write for them or against them. I find myself in such a strange confusion and depression of spirits that I have not strength enough even to make my will, though I perceive by many warnings I have no continuing city here. I begin to look upon myself as one already dead, and desire, my dear Mr. Pope, whom I love as my own soul, if you survive me, as you certainly will, that you will, if a stone should mark the place of my grave, see these words put upon it:—

Life is a jest, and all things show it, I thought so once, but now I know it,

with what more you may think proper. If anyone should ask how I could communicate this after death, let it be known, it is not meant so, but my present sentiment in life. What the bearer brings besides this letter, should I die without a will, which I am the likelier to do, as the law will settle my small estate much as I should do so myself, let it remain with you, as it has long done with me, the remembrance of a dead friend; but there is none like you, living or dead."

Both Swift and Pope remained faithful to Gay, and in their correspondence there are many allusions to him. "Mr. Gay," wrote Swift to Pope, "is a scandal to all lusty young fellows with healthy countenances; and, I think, he is not intemperate in a physical sense. I am told he has an asthma, which is a disease I commiserate more than deafness, because it will not leave a man quiet either sleeping or waking."[1]


From the Duke of Queensberry's, Burlington Gardens. March 18th, 1729.

"I am but just recovered from the severest fit of sickness that ever anybody had who escaped death. I was several times given up by the physicians, and everybody that attended me; and upon my recovery was judged to be in so ill a condition, that I should be miserable for the remainder of my life; but contrary to all expectation, I am perfectly recovered, and have no remainder of the distempers that attacked me, which were at the same time, fever, asthma, and pleurisy.

"I am now in the Duke of Queensberry's house, and have been so ever since I left Hampstead; where I was carried at a time that it was thought I could not live a day. Since my coming to town, I have been very little abroad, the weather has been so severe.

"I must acquaint you (because I know it will please you) that during my sickness I had many of the kindest proofs of friendship, particularly from the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, who, if I had been their nearest relation and nearest friend, could not have treated me with more constant attendance then; and they continue the same to me now.

"You must undoubtedly have heard, that the Duchess took up my defence with the King and Queen, in the cause of my play, and that she has been forbid the Court for interesting herself to increase my fortune, by the publication of it without being acted. The Duke, too, has given up his employment (which he would have done if the Duchess had not met with this treatment) upon account of ill-usage from the Ministers; but this hardened him in what he had determined.

"The play ['Polly '] is now almost printed, with the music, words, and basses, engraved on thirty-one copper-plates, which, by my friends' assistance, has a possibility to turn greatly to my advantage. The Duchess of Marlborough has given me a hundred pounds for one copy; and others have contributed very handsomely; but as my account is not yet settled, I cannot tell you particulars.

"For writing in the cause of virtue, and against the fashionable vices, I am looked upon at present as the most obnoxious person, almost, in England. Mr. Pulteney tells me I have got the start of him. Mr. Pope tells me that I am dead, and that this obnoxiousness is the reward for my inoffensiveness in my former life.

"I wish I had a book ready to send you; but I believe I shall not be able to complete the work till the latter end of next week....

"I am impatient to finish my work, for I want the country air; not that I am ill, but to recover my strength; and I cannot leave my work till it is finished.

"While I am writing this, I am in the room next to our dining-room, with sheets all around it, and two people from the binder folding sheets. I print the book at my own expense, in quarto, which is to be sold for six shillings, with the music.

"You see I do not want industry; and I hope you will allow that I have not the worst economy.

"Mrs. Howard has declared herself strongly, both to the King and Queen, as my advocate. The Duchess of Queensberry is allowed to have shown more spirit, more honour, and more goodness, than was thought possible in our times; I should have added, too, more understanding and good sense.

"You see my fortune (as I hope my virtue will) increases by oppression. I go to no Courts, I drink no wine; and am calumniated even by Ministers of State; and yet am in good spirits.

"Most of the courtiers, though otherwise my friends, refused to contribute to my undertaking. But the City, and the people of England, take my part very warmly; and, I am told, the best of the citizens will give me proofs of it by their contributions.

"I cannot omit telling you, that Dr. Arbuthnot's attendance and care of me showed him the best of friends. Dr. Hollins, though entirely a stranger to me, was joined with him, and used me in the kindest and most handsome manner."[2]

* * * * *

In consequence of this hubbub about "Polly," Gay became a notorious character, as Arbuthnot in a letter to Swift (March 19th, 1729) remarks very humorously. "John Gay, I may say with vanity, owes his life, under God, to the unwearied endeavours and care of your humble servant; for a physician who had not been passionately his friend could not have saved him," he wrote. "I had, besides my personal concern for him, other motives of my care. He is now become a public person, a little Sacheverell; and I took the same pleasure in saving him, as Radcliffe did in preserving my Lord Chief Justice Holt's wife, whom he attended out of spite to her husband, who wished her dead.

"The inoffensive John Gay is now become one of the obstructions to the peace of Europe, the terror of Ministers, the chief author of the Craftsmen, and all the seditious pamphlets which have been published against the Government. He has got several turned out of their places; the greatest ornament of the Court [the Duchess of Queensberry] banished from it for his sake; another great lady [Mrs. Howard] in danger of being chasee likewise; about seven or eight Duchesses pushing forward, like the ancient circumcelliones in the Church, who shall suffer martyrdom upon his account at first. He is the darling of the City. If he should travel about the country he would have hecatombs of roasted oxen sacrificed to him. Since he became so conspicuous, Will Pulteney hangs his head to see himself so much outdone in the career of glory. I hope he will get a good deal of money by printing his play ['Polly']; but I really believe he would get more money by showing his person; and I can assure you, this is the very identical John Gay whom you formerly knew, and lodged in Whitehall, two years ago."[3]

Gay was now the avowed protege of the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, so he spent the greater part of his closing years either at their country seat, Middleton Stoney, Amesbury, in Wiltshire, or at their London house in Burlington Gardens.

Gay, who really asked nothing better than to be a pet of the great in this world, was happy enough. In May, 1729, he went to Scotland with the Duke of Queensberry, and his only trouble was that the success of "Polly" made it attractive to unscrupulous booksellers. "He has about twenty lawsuits with booksellers for pirating his book,"[4] Arbuthnot wrote to Swift on May 8th. In the following month, the same correspondent, reports, "Mr. Gay is returned from Scotland, and has recovered his strength of his journey."[5]


August 9th, 1729.

"I desire you would send word whether white currants be proper to make tarts: it is a point that we dispute upon every day, and will never be ended unless you decide it.

"The Duchess would be extremely glad if you could come here this day se'nnight; but if you cannot, come this day fortnight at farthest, and bring as many unlikely people as you can to keep you company. Have you lain at Marble Hill since we left Petersham? Hath the Duchess an aunt Thanet[6] alive again? She says there are but two people in the world that love and fear me—and those are, Lord Drum[lanrig][7] and Lord Charles [Douglas].[8] If they were awake, I would make them love those that I love, and say something civil to you. The Duchess hath left off taking snuff ever since you have; but she takes a little every day. I have not left it off, and yet take none; my resolution not being so strong. Though you are a water-drinker yourself, I daresay you will be sorry to hear that your friends have strictly adhered to that liquor; for you may be sure their heads cannot be affected with that.

"General Dormer[9] refused to eat a wheat-ear, because they call it here a fern-knacker; but since he knew it was a wheat-ear, he is extremely concerned. You are desired to acquaint Miss Smith that the Duchess was upon the brink of leaving off painting the first week she came here, but hath since taken it up with great success. She hopes she will never think of her and my Lord Castlemaine[10] on the same day.

"The Duke hath rung the bell for supper, and says, 'How can you write such stuff?'

And so we conclude, As 'tis fitting we should. For the sake of our food; So don't think this rude. Would my name was 'Gertrude,' Or 'Simon and Jude.'"

It was an amusement of the Duchess of Queensberry and of Gay to write joint letters. They thoroughly loved fooling, and frequently indulged together in that pleasant pastime.

Middleton, August 27th, 1729.

"... What is blotted out was nonsense; so that it is not worth while to try to read it. It was well meant; the Duchess said it was very obscure, and I found out that it was not to be understood at all, nor by any alteration to be made intelligible; so out it went.

"We have this afternoon been reading Polybius. We were mightily pleased with the account of the Roman wars with the Gauls; but we did not think his account of the Achaians, and his remarks upon the historian Philarchus, so entertaining, as for aught we knew it might be judicious.

"I know you will be very uneasy unless I tell you what picture the Duchess hath in hand. It is a round landscape of Paul Brill, which Mr. Dormer[11] lent her, in which there are figures very neatly finished. It is larger than any she hath yet done; by the dead colouring I guess (though her Grace is not very sanguine) it will in the end turn out very well."


"I do not understand which of our correspondents this letter is fit for; for there is neither wit, folly, nor solid sense, nor even a good foundation for nonsense, which is the only thing that I am well versed in. There were all these good things in the delightful letter you sent us; but as all the different hands are not known, they are unanswerable: for the future, then, pray sign or come,—the latter is best; for whoever can write so well must speak so; but now I think we had better always write for the good of posterity."



Middleton Stoney, November 9th, 1729.

"I have been in Oxfordshire with the Duke of Queensberry for these three months, and have had very little correspondence with any of our friends.

"I have employed my time in new writing a damned play, which I wrote several years ago, called 'The Wife of Bath.' As it is approved or disapproved of by my friends, when I come to town, I shall either have it acted, or let it alone, if weak brethren do not take offence at it. The ridicule turns upon superstition, and I have avoided the very words bribery and corruption. Folly, indeed, is a word that I have ventured to make use of; but that is a term that never gave fools offence. It is a common saying, that he is wise that knows himself. What has happened of late, I think, is a proof that it is not limited to the wise....

"Next week, I believe, I shall be in town; not at Whitehall, for those lodgings were judged not convenient for me, and were disposed of. Direct to me at the Duke of Queensberry's, in Burlington Gardens, near Piccadilly.

"You have often twitted me in the teeth with hankering after the Court. In that you mistook me: for I know by experience that there is no dependence that can be sure, but a dependance upon one's-self. I will take care of the little fortune I have got.[12]"

[Footnote 1: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 215.]

[Footnote 2: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 232.]

[Footnote 3: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XIX, p. 232.]

[Footnote 4: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 244.]

[Footnote 5: Ibid., XVII, p. 245.]

[Footnote 6: The great-aunt (not aunt) was Elizabeth, daughter of Richard Boyle, first Earl of Burlington, who married Nicholas Tufton, third Earl of Thanet. Elizabeth's sister, Henrietta, who married Laurence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, was a grandmother of the Duchess of Queensberry.]

[Footnote 7: Henry Douglas (1723-1754), known by the style of Earl of Drumlanrig, the elder son of Charles Douglas, third Duke of Queensberry. He predeceased his father.]

[Footnote 8: Lord Charles Douglas (1726-1756), the younger son of the Duke, who also survived him.]

[Footnote 9: James Dormer (1678-1741), Colonel, 1720; Envoy-Extraordinary to Lisbon, 1725; Lieutenant-General, 1737; a friend of Pope.]

[Footnote 10: Sir Richard Child, Bart., of Wanstead (d. 1749), created Viscount Castlemaine, 1718; and Earl Tylney, 1731.]

[Footnote 11: Mr. Dormer, of Rowsham, elder brother of General Dormer.]

[Footnote 12: Swift: Works (ed Scott), XVII, p. 277.]




There are few or no details to be discovered about Gay at this time, except such deductions as can be drawn from his correspondence.


London, March 3rd, 1730.

"I am going very soon into Wiltshire with the Duke of Queensberry. Since I had that severe fit of sickness, I find my health requires it; for I cannot bear the town as I could formerly. I hope another summer's air and exercise will reinstate me. I continue to drink nothing but water, so that you cannot require any poetry from me. I have been very seldom abroad since I came to town, and not once at Court. This is no restraint upon me, for I am grown old enough to wish for retirement....

"I have left off all great folks but our own family; perhaps you will think all great folks little enough to leave off us, in our present situation. I do not hate the world, but I laugh at it; for none but fools can be in earnest about a trifle."[1]

* * * * *

Earlier in the year Gay had revised his earliest play "The Wife of Bath," which had been produced unsuccessfully at Drury Lane Theatre on May 12th, 1713, and the new version was staged on January 19 of this year at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields. "My old vamped play has got me no money, for it had no success," the author wrote to Swift in the letter of March 3rd; to which Swift replied from Dublin sixteen days later: "I had never much hopes of your vamped play, although Mr. Pope seemed to have, and although it were ever so good; but you should have done like the parsons, and changed your text—I mean, the title, and the names of the persons. After all, it was an effect of idleness, for you are in the prime of life, when invention and judgment go together."


March 31st, 1730.

"I expect, in about a fortnight, to set out for Wiltshire.... My ambition, at present, is levelled to the same point that you direct me to; for I am every day building villakins, and have given over that of castles. If I were to undertake it in my present circumstances, I should, on the most thrifty scheme, soon be straightened; and I hate to be in debt; for I cannot bear to pawn five pounds' worth of my liberty to a tailor or a butcher. I grant you this is not having the true spirit of modern nobility, but it is hard to cure the prejudice of education.

"I have been extremely taken up of late in settling a steward's account. I am endeavouring to do all the justice and service I can for a friend, so I am sure you will think I am well employed."[2]

* * * * *

From this letter it will be seen that Gay was endeavouring to make some return to his host and hostess for their kindness in looking after him by acting as a private secretary to the Duchess. But it may be taken for granted that his duties were merely nominal, and it may equally be taken for granted that his assistance was of little value, and only accepted nominally in order to lessen the weight of the obligation under which they thought—probably erroneously—he might be suffering. Why Gay should have led a life of dependence unless he liked it, it is not easy to see, for when he died about thirty months later, he left the then not inconsiderable sum of L6,000. Gay, who never did to-day what could by any possibility be postponed, neglected, of course, to make a will. As he died intestate, his fortune was divided between his surviving sisters, Katherine Bailer and Joanna Fortescue.

Gay until the end kept up his correspondence with Mrs. Howard, and his letters to her are often delightful reading, especially when he had nothing in particular to say, or when he was able to poke kindly fun at his hostess and protectress.


May 9th, 1730.

"It is what the Duchess never would tell me—so that it is impossible for me to tell you—how she does: but I cannot take it ill, for I really believe it is what she never really and truly did to anybody in her life. As I am no physician and cannot do her any good, one would wonder how she could refuse to answer this question out of common civility; but she is a professed hater of common civility, and so I am determined never to ask her again. If you have a mind to know what she hath done since she came here, the most material things that I know of is, that she hath worked a rose, and milked a cow, and those two things I assure you are of more consequence, I verily believe, than hath been done by anybody else.

"Mrs. Herbert was very angry with her Grace the night before she left the town, that she could part with her friends with such an indecent cheerfulness; she wishes she had seen you at the same time, that she might have known whether she could have carried this happy indifference through, or no. She is grown a great admirer of two characters in Prior's poems, that of "Sauntering Jack and Idle Joan"[3]; and she thinks them persons worthy imitation: at this very instant she herself is in their way. She had a mind to write to you, but cannot prevail with herself to set about it; she is now thinking of Mrs. Herbert, but is too indolent to tell me to make her compliments to her. Just this minute she is wishing you were in this very room; but she will not give herself the trouble to say so to me: all that I know of it is, she looks all this, for she knows I am writing to you.

"There is, indeed, a very good reason for her present indolence, for she is looking upon a book which she seems to be reading; but I believe the same page hath lain open before her ever since I began this letter. Just this moment she hath uttered these words: 'that she will take it as a very great favour if you will speak to Mrs. Herbert to speak to Lord Herbert, that he would speak to anybody who may chance to go by Mr. Nix's house, to call upon him to hasten his sending the piece of furniture, which, perhaps as soon as she receives it, may tempt her to write to somebody or other that very little expects it';—for she loves to do things by surprise. She would take it kindly if you write to her against this thing comes here; for I verily believe she will try whether or no it be convenient for writing, and perhaps she may make the trial to you; she did not bid me say this, but as she talks of you often, I think you have a fair chance.

"As soon as you are settled at Marble Hill, I beg you will take the widow's house for me, and persuade the Duchess to come to Petersham. But, wherever you are, at present I can only wish to be with you: do what you can for me, and let me hear from you till the Duchess writes to you. You may write to me, and if you express any resentment against her for not writing, I will let her know it in what manner you shall please to direct me."


Amesbury, July 4th, 1730.

"I have left off wine and writing; for I really think, that man must be a bold writer, who trusts to wit without it.

"I took your advice; and some time ago took to love, and made some advances to the lady you sent me to in Soho, but met no return; so I have given up all thoughts of it, and have now no pursuit or amusement.

"A state of indolence is what I do not like; it is what I would not choose. I am not thinking of a Court or preferment, for I think the lady I live with is my friend, so that I am at the height of my ambition. You have often told me there is a time of life that every one wishes for some settlement of his own. I have frequently that feeling about me, but I fancy it will hardly ever be my lot: so that I will endeavour to pass away life as agreeably as I can, in the way I am. I often wish to be with you, or you with me; and I believe you think I say true."[4]


Twickenham, July 21st, 1730.

"If you consider this letter splenetic, consider I have just received the news of the death of a friend, whom I esteemed almost as many years as you—poor Fenton. He died at Easthampstead, of indolence and inactivity; let it not be your fate, but use exercise. I hope the Duchess [of Queensberry] will take care of you in this respect, and either make you gallop after her, or tease you enough at home to serve instead of exercise abroad.

"Mrs. Howard is so concerned about you, and so angry at me for not writing to you, and at Mrs. Blount for not doing the same, that I am piqued with jealousy and envy at you, and hate you as much as if you had a place at Court, which you will confess a proper cause of envy and hatred, in any poet, militant or unpensioned."


Amesbury, August 20th, 1730.

"The Duchess says she cannot say a word more, if I would give her the world, and that her misery hath got the better of her pleasure in writing to you. She thanks you for your information, and says, that if she can bear herself, or think that anybody else can, she intends to make her visit next week. Now, it is my opinion that she need never have any scruples of this kind; but as to herself, you know she hath often an unaccountable way of thinking, and, say what you will to her, she will now and then hear you, but she will always think and act for herself. I have been waiting three or four minutes for what she hath to say, and at last she tells me she cannot speak one word more, and at the same time is so very unreasonable as to desire you would write her a long letter, as she knows you love it.

"I have several complaints to make to you of her treatment, but I shall only mention the most barbarous of them. She hath absolutely forbid her dog to be fond of me, and takes all occasions to snub her if she shows me the least civility. How do you think Lord Herbert would take such usage from you, or any lady in Christendom?

"Now she says I must write you a long letter; but to be sure I cannot say what I would about her, because she is looking over me as I write. If I should tell any good of her, I know she would not like it, and I have said my worst of her already."


"Do not think I am lazy, and so have framed an excuse, for I am really in pain (at some moments intolerable since this was begun). I think often I could be mighty glad to see you; and though you deserve vastly, that is saying much from me (for I can bear to be alone) and upon all accounts think I am much better here than anywhere else. I think to go on and prosper mighty prettily here, and like the habitation so well (that if I could in nature otherwise be forgetful) that would put me in mind of what I owe to those who helped me on to where I wished to be sooner than I feared I could be. Pray tell Miss Meadows that I was in hopes she would have made a dutiful visit to her father. If anyone else care for my respects, they may accept of them. I will present them to Lord Herbert, whether he care or not. I hope by this time he is able to carry himself and Fop wherever he pleases. If I had the same power over you I would not write you word that I am yours, etc.; but since I can only write, believe that I am to you everything that you have ever read at the bottom of a letter, but not that I am so only by way of conclusion."



[Amesbury] Saturday, September, 1730.

"I cannot neglect this opportunity of writing to you and begging you to be a mediator between my lady duchess and me; we having at present a quarrel about a fishing rod; and at the same time to give her your opinion whether you think it proper for her to stay here till after Christmas, for I find that neither place nor preferment will let me leave her; and when she hath been long enough in one place, prevail with her, if you can, to go to another. I would always have her do what she will, because I am glad to be of her opinion, and because I know it is what I must always do myself."


"To follow one's fancy is by much the best medicine; it has quite cured my face and left me no pain but the impossibility of being in two places at once, which is no small sorrow, since one of them would be near you. But the boys [Lord Drumlanrig and Lord Charles Douglas] are too lean to travel as yet. Compassion being the predominant fashion of the place, we are preserved alive with as much care as the partridges, which no one yet has had the heart to kill, though several barbarous attempts have been made. If I could write I would for ever, but my pen is so much your friend that it will only let me tell you that I am extremely so.

"I pray it may not be difficult for my dear Mrs. Howard to forgive, as to read this provocation. By the next I hope to write plain."



October, 1730.

"I continue, and ever shall, to wish you all good and happiness. I wish that some lucky event might set you in a state of ease and independency all at once, and that I might live to see you as happy as this silly world and fortune can make anyone. Are we never to live together more as once we did?"


October 3rd, 1730.

"I hear you have had a house full of courtiers, and, what is more extraordinary, they were honest people; but I will take care, agreeably to your desire, that you shall not increase the number. I wish I could as easily gratify you in your other request about a certain person [the Duchess of Queensberry]'s health; but, indeed, John, that is not in my power. I have often thought it proceeds from thinking better of herself than she does of anybody else; for she has always confidence to inquire after those she calls friends, and enough assurance to give them advice; at the same time, she will not answer a civil question about herself, and would certainly never follow any advice that was given her: you plainly see she neither thinks well of their heart or their head. I believe I have told you as much before; but a settled opinion of anything will naturally lead one into the same manner of expressing one's thoughts."


Dublin, November 10th, 1730.

"I hope you have now one advantage that you always wanted before, and the want of which made your friends as uneasy as it did yourself; I mean the removal of that solicitude about your own affairs, which perpetually filled your thoughts and disturbed your conversation. For if it be true, what Mr. Pope seriously tells me, you will have opportunity of saving every groat of the interest you receive; and so, by the time you and he grow weary of each other, you will be able to pass the rest of your wineless life in ease and plenty; with the additional triumphal comfort of never having received a penny from those tasteless, ungrateful people from which you deserved so much, and which deserve no better geniuses than those by whom they are celebrated."[5]


Amesbury, December 6th, 1730.

"The Duchess is a more severe check upon my finances than ever you were; and I submit, as I did to you, to comply to my own good. I was a long time before I could prevail with her to let me allow myself a pair of shoes with two heels; for I had lost one, and the shoes were so decayed that they were not worth mending. You see by this that those who are the most generous of their own, can be the most covetous for others. I hope you will be so good to me as to use your interest with her (for what ever she says, you seem to have some) to indulge me with the extravagance suitable to my fortune."[6]


December 17th [1730].

"You cannot imagine in what due time your letter came; for I had given you up, and with great pains had very near brought our friend Mr. Gay to own that nobody cared for us, and a few more thoughts which shall now be nameless. I am sincerely sorry that you have been ill, and very very glad that you are better and think of life; for I know none whom one could more wish to have life than yourself. I do not in the least approve of your changing your way of thinking of me, for I was convinced it was a good one, and when such opinions change, it is seldom for the better; if it could on my account, I declare you would be in the wrong, for to my knowledge I improve in no one thing. The best thing I can say for myself is, that I feel no alteration in the regard and inclination I have to you. I have no comprehension of what I said in my letter; but at that time my body was distempered, and very likely my mind also.... I know nothing of coming to town; I only know that when I do I shall not be sorry to see you; and this is knowing a great deal; for I shall not be glad to come, and shall only come if it be unavoidable: this is the blunt truth. I own it would look less like indifference if I had written some civil lie."


"Everything that is above written is so plain and clear that it needs no comment; the writer I know to be so strictly addicted to truth, that I believe every word of it; if it is not written in the fashionable expression, I conclude you will impute it to her manner. She was really concerned very much, that, after she knew you were ill, we were so long before we could get a letter from you: let her contradict this if she can. You tell her you are riding for your life; I fancy she would do it for yours, though she will not for her own. I believe that she will not like that I should say anything more about her; so that I shall leave you to your own thoughts about what she hath said herself; for I find she doth not much care to be talked to, and as little likes to be talked of: if she writes truth, I hope she will allow me the liberty to do the same.... I have sometimes a great mind to answer the above letter, but I know she will do what she will; and as little as she likes herself, she likes her own advice better than anybody's else, and that is a reason, in my opinion, that should prevail with her to take more care of herself. I just before said I would say no more upon this subject; but if I do not lay down the pen, I find I cannot help it. I have no desire to come to town at all; for if I were there I cannot see you; so that unless she turns me away I am fixed for life at Amesbury: so that, as to everything that relates to me, I refer you to her letters."


[Footnote 1: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 292.]

[Footnote 2: 'Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 295.]

[Footnote 3:

Neither good nor bad, nor fool nor wise, They would not learn nor could advise; Without love, hatred, joy, or fear, They led a kind of—as it were; Nor wish'd nor cared, nor laugh'd nor cried: And so they lived, and so they died.]

[Footnote 4: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 308.]

[Footnote 5: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 319.]

[Footnote 6: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 333]





Dublin, April 13th, 1731.

"Your situation is an odd one. The Duchess is your treasurer, and Mr. Pope tells me you are the Duke's. And I had gone a good way in some verses on that occasion, prescribing lessons to direct your conduct, in a negative way, not to do so and so, etc., like other treasurers; how to deal with servants, tenants, or neighbouring squires, which I take to be courtiers, parliaments, and princes in alliance, and so the parallel goes on, but grew too long to please me."[1]


April 21st, 1731.

"Since I have got over the impediment to a writer, of water drinking, if I can persuade myself that I have any wit, and find I have inclination, I intend to write; though, as yet, I have another impediment: for I have not provided myself with a scheme. Ten to one but I shall have a propensity to write against vice, and who can tell how far that may offend? But an author should consult his genius, rather than his interest, if he cannot reconcile them."[2]


Amesbury, April 27th, 1731.

"When I was in town (after a bashful fit, for having writ something like a love-letter, and in two years making one visit), I writ to Mrs. Drelincourt, to apologise for my behaviour, and received a civil answer, but had not time to see her. They are naturally very civil: so that I am not so sanguine as to interpret this as any encouragement. I find by Mrs. Barber that she interests herself very much in her affair; and, indeed, from everybody who knows her, she answers the character you first gave me....

"You used to blame me for over-solicitude about myself. I am now grown so rich, that I do not think myself worth thinking on."[3]


Dublin, June 29th, 1731.

"You are the silliest lover in Christendom. If you like Mrs. [Drelincourt], why do you not command her to take you? If she does not, she is not worth pursuing; you do her too much honour; she has neither sense nor taste, if she dares to refuse you, though she had ten thousand pounds.

"I cannot allow you rich enough till you are worth L7,000, which will bring you L300 per annum, and this will maintain you, with the perquisite of spunging, while you are young, and when you are old will afford you a pint of port at night, two servants, and an old maid, a little garden, and pen and ink—provided you live in the country. And what are you doing towards increasing your fame and your fortune? Have you no scheme, either in verse or prose? The Duchess should keep you at hard meat, and by that means force you to write."[4]


Hampton Court, June 29th, 1731.

"To prevent all further quarrels and disputes, I shall let you know that I have kissed hands for the place of Mistress of the Robes. Her Majesty did me the honour to give me the choice of Lady of the Bedchamber, or that, which I find so much more agreeable to me, that I did not take one moment to consider of it. The Duchess of Dorset resigned it for me; and everything as yet promises more happiness for the latter part of my life than I have yet had a prospect of. Seven nights' quiet sleep, and seven easy days have almost worked a miracle upon me; for if I cannot say I am perfectly well, yet it is certain even my pain is more supportable than it was. I shall now often visit Marble Hill; my time is become very much my own, and I shall see it without the dread of being obliged to sell it to answer the engagement I had put myself under to avoid a greater evil. Mr. H[oward] took possession of body and goods, and was not prevailed upon till yesterday to resign the former for burial. Poor Lord Suffolk took so much care in the will he made, that the best lawyers say it must stand good. I am persuaded it will be tried to the uttermost.

"I have at this time a great deal of business upon my hands, but not from my Court employment. You must take as a particular favour. The Duchess of Queensberry shall hear from me soon: she has a most extraordinary way of making her peace; but she does tell truth, and I told a lie when I said I hated her; for nothing is more true than that I love her most sincerely. However, I put it into your hands to tell her what you think proper; and if she can but feel half for me that I should for her under the same circumstances, it will be punishment sufficient for what I have suffered from her neglect of me. I shall certainly see Highclere this summer, and shall expect some people to meet me there. I hope the chairs will be done, for I do not know whether I ought to expect to be preferred before them. If you find her inclined to think me wrong in any particular, desire her to suspend her judgment till then; and if not to please me, to satisfy her own curiosity, she may come. I have taken care of what you desired me. I have done my best; I hope, for my sake, it will succeed well, for I shall be more concerned, I dare say, if it should not than you would be."


July 8th, 1731.

"Your letter was not ill-bestowed, for I found in it such an air of satisfaction that I have a pleasure every time I think of it. I fancy (though by her silence she seems to approve of your Ladyship's conduct) the Duchess will meet you at Highclere; for those that have a real friendship cannot be satisfied with real relations; they want to inquire into the minutest circumstances of life, that they may be sure things are as happy as they appear to be, and that is a curiosity that is excusable.

"I do not like lawsuits; I wish you could have your right without them, for I fancy there never was one since the world began, that, besides the cost, was not attended with anxiety and vexation. But as you descended from lawyers,[5] what might be my plague, perhaps may be only your amusement. Nobody but yourself hath let us know anything about you. Judge, then, how welcome your ladyship's letter was to me. I find this change of life of yours is a subject that I cannot so well write upon; it is a thing that one cannot so well judge of in general. But as for your Ladyship's conduct in this juncture, my approbation goes for nothing, for all the world knows that I am partial.

"When you have a mind to make me happy, write to me, for of late I have had but very little chance, and only chance, of seeing you. If ever you thought well of me, if ever you believed I wished you well, and wished to be of service to you, think the same of me, for I am the same, and shall always be so.

"Mr. Pope, I fear, is determined never to write to me. I hope he is well. If you see Miss Blount or Mr. Pope, I beg them to accept my compliments."


July 18th, 1731.

"Your friend Mrs. Howard is now Countess of Suffolk. I am still so much a dupe, that I think you mistake her. Come to Amesbury, and you and I will dispute this matter, and the Duchess shall be judge. But I fancy you will object against her; for I will be so fair to you, as to own that I think she is of my side; but, in short, you shall choose any impartial referee you please. I have heard from her; Mr. Pope has seen her; I beg that you would suspend your judgment till we talk over this affair together; for, I fancy, by your letter, you have neither heard from her, nor seen her; so that you cannot at present be as good a judge as we are. I will be a dupe for you at any time; therefore I beg it of you, that you would let me be a dupe in quiet.

"As to my being manager for the Duke, you have been misinformed. Upon the discharge of an unjust steward, he took the administration into his own hands. I own I was called in to his assistance, when the state of affairs was in the greatest confusion. Like an ancient Roman I came, put my helping hand to set affairs right, and as soon as it was done, I am retired again as a private man."[6]


Kensington, September 5th, 1731.

"I was never more peevish in my life than I have been about this journey of Bridgeman's. I am sure I took true pains that it should have been just as the Duchess wished. I find upon enquiry that he did not go as soon as I expected. He told me of the first letter which he wrote to you.

"I wish he had told me of Mr. Bloodworth's conversation, for that would have prevented all mistakes. It is not in my power to do anything more, for Bridgeman has been absent a week from hence; but if his servants tell truth, there is no occasion, for they say he is gone to the Duke of Queensberry's.

"I shall be very uneasy till I hear how this matter has ended. A letter from you was not necessary to make me remember you, but a letter was absolutely necessary to make me think you deserved one. The Duchess did not tell me why I did not see you at Highclere, but I do believe it was a good one; because she knows bringing of you there would have pleased us both. As I never knew what liberty was, I cannot tell you how much I was delighted with this summer's expeditions. I never see Mr. Pope nor Mrs. Blount, though I never go to Marble Hill without sending to them. She has been ill, but was well last time I sent; but you know she has a peculiar pleasure in refusing her friends.

"Let me hear often from you. I am glad you think of coming to Twickenham. I hope we shall meet at Marble Hill; but do not fail of letting me know as soon as possible whether the Duchess is convinced I was in no wise in fault, and that she does me the justice in believing I can never willingly be so to me. If you do not leave off ladyship, I shall complain to the Duchess, who shall make you go supperless to bed. Exercise agrees so well with me, that I cannot advise you not to use it; but if her Grace feeds you moderately, I should think your exercise ought to be so. God bless you."


December 1st, 1731.

"If your ramble was on horse back, I am glad of it on account of your health; but I know your arts of patching up a journey between stage-coaches and friends' coaches: for you are as arrant a cockney as any hosier in Cheapside, and one clean shirt with two cravats, and as many handkerchiefs, make up your equipage; and as for a nightgown, it is clear from Homer that Agamemnon rose without one.

"I have often had it in my head to put it into yours, that you ought to have some great work in scheme, that may take up seven years to finish, besides two or three under-ones, that may add another thousand pounds to your stock; and then I shall be in less pain about you.

"I know you can find dinners, but you love twelvepenny coaches too well, without considering that the interest of a whole thousand pounds brings you but half-a-crown a day."


December 1st, 1731

"You used to complain that Mr. Pope and I would not let you speak: you may now be even with me, and take it out in writing. If you do not send to me now and then, the post-office will think me of no consequence, for I have no correspondent but you. You may keep as far from us as you please; you cannot be forgotten by those who ever knew you, and therefore please me by sometimes showing I am not forgot by you. I have nothing to take me off from my friendship to you: I seek no new acquaintance, and court no favour; I spend no shillings in coaches or chairs to levees or great visits, and, as I do not want the assistance of some that I formerly conversed with, I will not so much as seem to seek to be a dependant.

"As to my studies, I have not been entirely idle, though I cannot say that I have yet perfected anything. What I have done is something in the way of those Fables I have already published.

"All the money I get is saving, so that by habit there may be some hopes (if I grow richer) of my becoming a miser. All misers have their excuses. The motive to my parsimony is independence."[7]

[Footnote 1: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 358]

[Footnote 2: Ibid., XVII, p. 342.]

[Footnote 3: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 370.]

[Footnote 4: Ibid., XVII, p. 382.]

[Footnote 5: Lady Suffolk's great-great-great-grandfather was Sir Henry Hobart, Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas.]

[Footnote 6: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 385.]

[Footnote 7: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVII, p. 436.]




As time passed Gay became less satisfied with his condition. It may have been that his health became worse; or it may be that, like to many men who are idle and make no effort to work, he became annoyed at the ennui which is so often the result of an unoccupied life. Anyhow, in his letters there crept in a note of irritability, which has not previously been sounded.


March 13th, 1732.

"I find myself dispirited for want of having some pursuit. Indolence and idleness are the most tiresome things in the world. I begin to find a dislike to society. I think I ought to try to break myself of it, but I cannot resolve to set about it. I have left off almost all my great acquaintance, which saves me something in chair hire, though in that article the town is still very expensive. Those who were your old acquaintance are almost the only people I visit; and, indeed, upon trying all, I like them best....

"If you would advise the Duchess to confine me four hours a-day to my own room, while I am in the country, I will write; for I cannot confine myself as I ought."[1]


Dublin, May 4th, 1732.

"It is your pride or laziness, more than chair-hire, that makes the town expensive. No honour is lost by walking in the dark; and in the day, you may beckon a blackguard boy under a gate [to clean your shoes] near your visiting place (experto crede), save eleven pence, and get half a crown's-worth of health ...

"I find by the whole cast of your letter, that you are as giddy and volatile as ever: just the reverse of Mr. Pope, who has always loved a domestic life from his youth. I was going to wish you had some little place that you could call your own, but, I profess I do not know you well enough to contrive any one system of life that would please you. You pretend to preach up riding and walking to the Duchess, yet from my knowledge of you after twenty years, you always joined a violent desire of perpetually shifting places and company, with a rooted laziness, and an utter impatience of fatigue. A coach and six horses is the utmost exercise you can bear; and this only when you can fill it with such company as is best suited to your taste, and how glad would you be if it could waft you in the air to avoid jolting; while I, who am so much later in life, can, or at least could, ride five hundred miles on a trotting horse. You mortally hate writing, only because it is the thing you chiefly ought to do, as well to keep up the vogue you have in the world, as to make you easy in your fortune: you are merciful to everything but money your best friend, whom you treat with inhumanity."[2]

* * * * *

In May was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre "Acis and Galatea," of which he wrote the "book" and Handel the music; but this was not work upon which he had been lately engaged—in fact, both words and music had been ready for ten years. Gay, however, did occasionally put in some time on literary work, and at his death left the "book" of an opera "Achilles," which was produced on February 10th, 1733, at the scene of his triumph with "The Beggar's Opera," the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields; "The Distrest Wife" and a farce, "The Rehearsal at Goatham," which last were printed, respectively, in 1743 and 1754. He was at this time composing very leisurely a second series of "Fables," which were ready for the press at the time of his death, but did not appear until 1738.


London, May 19th, 1732.

"You seemed not to approve of my writing more Fables. Those I am now writing have a prefatory discourse before each of them, by way of epistle, and the morals of them mostly are of the political kind; which makes them run into a greater length than those I have already published. I have already finished about fifteen or sixteen; four or five more would make a volume of the same size as the first. Though this is a kind of writing that appears very easy, I find it the most difficult of any I ever undertook. After I have invented one fable, and finished it, I despair of finding out another; but I have a moral or two more, which I wish to write upon.

"I have also a sort of a scheme to raise my finances by doing something for the stage: with this, and some reading, and a great deal of exercise, I propose to pass my summer.

"As for myself, I am often troubled with the colic. I have as much inattention, and have, I think, lower spirits than usual, which I impute to my having no one pursuit in life."[3]


Amesbury, July 24th, 1732.

"I shall finish the work I intended, this summer,[4] but I look upon the success in every respect to be precarious. You judge very right of my present situation, that I cannot propose to succeed by favour: but I do not think, if I could flatter myself that I had any degree of merit, much could be expected from that unfashionable pretension.

"I have almost done everything I proposed in the way of Fables; but have not set the last hand to them. Though they will not amount to half the number, I believe they will make much such another volume as the last. I find it the most difficult task I ever undertook; but have determined to go through with it; and, after this, I believe I shall never have courage enough to think any more in this way."[5]


October 2nd, 1732.

"Every man, and every boy, is writing verses on the royal hermitage: I hear the Queen is at a loss which to prefer; but for my own part I like none so well as Mr. Poyntz's[6] in Latin. You would oblige my Lady Suffolk if you tried your muse on this occasion. I am sure I would do as much for the Duchess of Queensberry, if she desired it. Several of your friends assure me it is expected from you. One should not bear in mind all one's life, any little indignity one receives from a Court, and therefore I am in hopes, neither her Grace of Queensberry will hinder you, nor you decline it."

* * * * *

The "royal hermitage" was a building erected by Queen Caroline in the grounds of Richmond Palace, and decorated with busts of her favourite philosophers. This letter of Pope seems extraordinary, and it is a little difficult to guess what inspired the suggestion contained in it. "This is but shabby advice," Croker has written, "considering the general tone of Pope's private correspondence, as well as his published satires, and seems peculiarly strange in the circumstances in which Gay himself and the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, on his account, stood with the Queen. If it were not for the introduction of Lady Suffolk's name, I should have thought Pope's advice sheer irony, and a hint for a libel on the Court. The Duchess and Gay were offended at the proposition." It may be, however, that Pope thought it possible that such a poetical effusion as he had in mind might restore Gay to favour at Court. Gay, who received Pope's letter while he was on a visit to Orchard Wyndham, the seat of Sir William Wyndham, in Somersetshire, would do nothing in the matter, as will be seen from his reply.


October 7th, 1732.

"I am at last returned from my Somersetshire expedition, but since my return I cannot boast of my health as before I went, for I am frequently out of order with my colical complaint, so as to make me uneasy and dispirited, though not to any violent degree. The reception we met with, and the little excursions we made, were in every way agreeable. I think the country abounds with beautiful prospects. Sir William Wyndham is at present amusing himself with some real improvements, and a great many visionary castles. We are often entertained with sea-views, and sea fish, and were at some places in the neighbourhood, among which I was mightily pleased with Dunster Castle, near Minehead. It stands upon a great eminence, and has a prospect of that town, with an extensive view of the Bristol Channel, in which are seen two small islands, called the Steep Holms and Flat Holms, and on the other side we could plainly distinguish the divisions of fields on the Welsh coast. All this journey I performed on horseback, and I am very much disappointed that at present I feel myself so little the better for it. I have indeed followed riding and exercise for three months successively, and really think I was as well without it: so that I begin to fear the illness I have so long complained of, is inherent in my constitution, and that I have nothing for it but patience.

"As to your advice about writing panegyric, it is what I have not frequently done. I have indeed done it sometimes against my judgment and inclination, and I heartily repent of it. And at present, as I have no desire of reward, and see no just reason of praise, I think I had better let it alone. There are flatterers good enough to be found, and I would not interfere in any gentleman's profession. I have seen no verses on these sublime occasions, so that I have no emulation. Let the patrons enjoy the authors, and the authors their patrons, for I know myself unworthy."


November 16th, 1732.

"I am at last come to London before the family, to follow my own inventions. In a week or fortnight I expect the family will follow me.

"If my present project[7] succeeds, you may expect a better account of my own fortune a little while after the holidays; but I promise myself nothing, for I am determined that neither anybody else, nor myself shall disappoint me."[8]

* * * * *

Neither the production of "Achilles," nor any other earthly project of Gay's, took place, for, within a few weeks, on December 4th, after three days' illness, he passed away in his forty-eighth year, at the Duke of Queensberry's town house in Burlington Gardens.

On the following day, Arbuthnot, who attended him, imparted the sad tidings to Pope: "Poor Mr. Gay died of an inflammation, and, I believe, at last a mortification of the bowels; it was the most precipitous case I ever knew, having cut him off in three days. He was attended by two physicians besides myself. I believed the distemper mortal from the beginning."[9] Pope, in his turn, immediately wrote to Swift, and his letter was found among Swift's papers, bearing the following endorsement: "On my dear friend Mr. Gay's death. Received December 15th, but not read till the 20th, by an impulse foreboding some misfortune."


December 5th, 1732.

"It is not a time to complain that you have not answered me two letters (in the last of which I was impatient under some fears). It is not now, indeed, a time to think of myself, when one of the longest and nearest ties I have ever had, is broken all on a sudden by the unexpected death of poor Mr. Gay. An inflammatory fever burned him out of this life in three days. He died last night at nine o'clock, not deprived of his senses entirely at last, and possessing them perfectly till within five hours. He asked of you a few hours before, when in acute torment by the inflammation in his bowels and breast. His effects are in the Duke of Queensberry's custody. His sisters, we suppose, will be his heirs, who are two widows; as yet it is not known whether or no he left a will ...

"I shall never see you now, I believe; one of your principal calls to England is at an end. Indeed, he was the most amiable by far, his qualities were the gentlest, but I love you as well and as firmly. Would to God the man we have lost had not been so amiable nor so good: but that's a wish for our own sakes, not for his. Surely, if innocence and integrity can deserve happiness, it must be his. Adieu! I can add nothing to what you will feel, and diminish nothing from it."[10]

* * * * *

Gay's body was removed from Burlington House on the morning of December 23rd, to Exeter Change, in the Strand, where it lay in state during the day. At nine o'clock in the evening, it was taken for burial to Westminster Abbey in a hearse with plumes of white and black feathers and appropriate escutcheons, attended by three coaches, each drawn by six horses. In the first coach was the principal mourner, Gay's nephew, the Rev. Joseph Bailer, who is responsible for the above account of the obsequies; in the second coach were the Duke of Queensberry and Arbuthnot. The pall-bearers were Lord Chesterfield, Lord Cornbury, the Hon. Mr. Berkeley, General Dormer, Mr. Gore, and Pope. The service was read by the Dean of Westminster, Dr. Wilcox, Bishop of Rochester. Gay's remains were deposited in the south cross aisle of the Abbey, over against Chaucer's tomb.[11] Later a monument was erected to his memory.

Here lie the ashes of Mr. John Gay, The warmest friend; The most benevolent man: Who maintained Independency In low circumstances of fortune; Integrity In the midst of a corrupt age And that equal serenity of mind, Which conscious goodness alone can give, Through the whole course of his life.

Favourite of the Muses, He was led by them to every elegant art; Refin'd in taste, And fraught with graces all his own; In various kinds of poetry Superior to many, Inferior to none, His words continue to inspire, What his example taught, Contempt of folly, however adorn'd; Detestation of vice, however dignified; Reverence of virtue, however disgrac'd.

Charles and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Queensbury, who loved this excellent man living, and regret him dead, have caused this monument to be erected to his memory. Pope, than whom no man loved him better, composed an epitaph for him:—

Of manners gentle, of affections mild, In wit a man, simplicity a child; With native humour, temp'ring virtuous rage, Form'd to delight at once, and lash the age. Above temptation in a low estate, And uncorrupted e'en among the great. A safe companion, and an easy friend, Unblam'd through life, lamented in thy end: These are thy honours! not that here thy bust Is mix'd with heroes, or with Kings thy dust; But that the worthy and the good shall say, Striking their pensive bosoms—Here lies Gay.

Of Gay's posthumous works, there are several references in the correspondence of his friends. The first mention is concerning "Achilles," in a letter written from Twickenham by Pope to Caryll: "Poor Gay has gone before, and has not left an honester man behind him; he has just put a play into the house, which the Duke of Queensberry will take care of, and turn to the benefit of his relations. I have read it, and think it of his very best manner, a true original; he has left some other pieces fit for the press." Quite in keeping with his character Gay had made no arrangements for the disposal of the manuscripts he left behind him. "As to his writings, he left no will, nor spoke a word of them, or anything else, during his short and precipitate illness, in which I attended him to his last breath," Pope informed Swift, February 16th, 1733. "The Duke has acted more than the part of a brother to him, and it will be strange if the sisters do not leave his papers totally at his disposal, who will do the same that I would with them. He had managed the comedy (which our poor friend gave to the playhouse a week before his death) to the utmost advantage for his relations; and proposes to do the same with some Fables he left unfinished."[12] The play was much discussed in advance of its representation.

"Mr. Gay has left a posthumous work, which is soon to be acted," Lady Anne Irvine wrote to Lord Carlisle on January 6th, 1733. "Tis in the manner of 'The Beggar's Opera,' interspersed with songs; the subject is Achilles among the women, where he is discovered choosing a sword. The design is to ridicule Homer's Odysses; 'tis much commended, and I don't doubt, from the nature of the subject, will be much approved."[13] Gay's play was put into rehearsal in December, 1732, about a fortnight after his death,[14] and it was produced at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields in February, 1723, when a contemporary account says it "met with a general applause the first night, when there was a noble and crowded audience,"[15] and Pope wrote to Swift on February 16th: "The play Mr. Gay left succeeds very well. It is another original of its kind."[16] It ran for eighteen nights. The cast was as follows:—

Lycomedes ... ... ... ... ... MR. QUIN Diphilus ... ... ... ... ... MR. ASTON Achilles ... ... ... ... ... MR. SALWAY Ulysses ... ... ... ... ... MR. CHAPMAN Diomedes ... ... ... ... ... MR. LAGUERRE Ajax ... ... ... ... ... ... MR. HALL Periphas ... ... ... ... ... MR. WALKER Agyrtes ... ... ... ... ... MR. LEVERIDGE Thetis ... ... ... ... ... MR. BUCHANAN Theaspe ... ... ... ... ... MRS. CANTREL Deidamia ... ... ... ... ... MISS NORSA Lesbia ... ... ... ... ... MISS BINKS Philoe ... ... ... ... ... MISS OATES Antemona ... ... ... ... ... MRS. EGLETON

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