Life And Letters Of John Gay (1685-1732)
by Lewis Melville
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JOHN GAY(1685-1732)










* * * * *


THE BERRY PAPERS: Being the Life and Letters of Mary and Agnes Berry.









THE WINDHAM PAPERS. With an Introduction by the Earl of Rosebery, K.G.







John Gay was a considerable figure in the literary and social circles of his day. He was loved by Pope; Swift cared for him more than for any other man, and the letter in which Pope conveyed to him the sad tidings of Gay's death bears the endorsement: "On my dear friend Mr. Gay's death. Received December 15th [1732], but not read till the 20th, by an impulse foreboding some misfortune." Gay was on intimate terms with Arbuthnot and Lord Burlington, and Henrietta Howard, Lady Suffolk, was devoted to him and consulted him in the matter of her matrimonial troubles. He was the protege of the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry. His "Fables" and "The Beggar's Opera" have become classics; his play "Polly" made history. Though he persistently regarded himself as neglected by the gods, it is nevertheless a fact that the fates were unusually kind to him. A Cabinet Minister made him a present of South Sea stock; Walpole appointed him a Commissioner of Lotteries; he was granted an apartment in Whitehall; Queen Caroline offered him a sinecure post in her Household. Because he thought Gay ill-used, the greatest man of letters of the century quarrelled with Lady Suffolk; for the same reason a Duchess insulted the King and wiped the dust of the Court from her shoes, and a Duke threw up his employment under the Crown. All his friends placed their purses and their houses at Gay's disposal, and competed for the pleasure of his company. Never was there a man of letters so petted and pampered.

It is somewhat strange that there should be no biography of a man so well-known and so much beloved. It is true that no sooner was the breath out of his body than Curll published a "Life." "Curll (who is one of the new horrors of death) has been writing letters to everybody for memoirs of his (Gay's) life," Arbuthnot wrote to Swift, January 13th, 1733: "I was for sending him some, which I am sure might have been made entertaining, by which I should have attained two ends at once, published truth and got a rascal whipped for it. I was over-ruled in this."[1] Curll obtained no assistance from Gay's friends, and his book, issued in 1733, is at once inadequate and unreliable. Of Curll, at whose hands so many of Gay's friends had suffered, the poet had written in the "Epistle to the Right Honourable Paul Methuen, Esquire":—

Were Prior, Congreve, Swift, and Pope unknown, Poor slander-selling Curll would be undone.

Of some slight biographical value is the "Account of the Life and Writings of the Author," prefixed to the volume of "Plays Written by Mr. Gay," published 1760; but there is little fresh information in the "Brief Memoir" by the Rev. William (afterwards Archdeacon) Coxe, which appeared in 1797. More valuable is the biographical sketch by Gay's nephew, the Rev. Joseph Baller, prefixed to "Gay's Chair" (1820); but the standard authorities on Gay's life are Mr. Austin Dobson ("Dictionary of National Biography," Vol. XXI., 1890) and Mr. John Underwood ("Introductory Memoir" to the "Poems of John Gay" in the "Muses' Library," 1893).

Among Gay's correspondents were Pope, Swift, Lady Suffolk, Arbuthnot, the Duchess of Queensberry, Oxford, Congreve, Parnell, Cleland, Caryll and Jacob Tonson, the publisher. Unpublished letters to Caryll and Tonson, and to and from Lady Suffolk, are in the British Museum; letters which have appeared in print are to be found in the correspondence of Pope, Swift, and Lady Suffolk, in Nichols' "Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century," and in the Historical Commission's Report on the MSS. of the Marquis of Bath. Biographical information is also to be found, as well as in the works mentioned above, in Gribble's "Memorials of Barnstaple," Mrs. Delany's "Autobiography," Hervey's "Memoirs," Colley Cibber's "Apology," and Spence's "Anecdotes"; in the works and biographies of Pope, Swift, Steele, Addison, and Aaron Hill; in contemporary publications such as "A Key to 'The What D'ye Call It,'" "A Complete Key to the New Farce 'Three Hours After Marriage,'" Joseph Gay's "The Confederates"; and in numerous works dealing with dramatic productions and dramatic literature. A bibliography is printed in the "Cambridge History of English Literature" (Vol. IX., pp. 480-481; 1912); and a more detailed bibliography is being compiled by Mr. Ernest L. Gay, Boston, Mass., U.S.A., who has informed the present writer that he "has collected about five hundred editions of Gay's works, and also over five hundred playbills of his plays, running from the middle of the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century." The most valuable criticisms of Gay as a man of letters are by Johnson in the "Lives of the Poets" and Thackeray in the "English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century." An interesting article on Gay by Mr. H.M. Paull appeared in the Fortnightly Review, June, 1912.

I am much indebted for assistance given to me during the preparation of this work by Sydney Harper, Esq., of Barnstaple, the happy possessor of Gay's chair; Professor J. Douglas Brude, of the University of Tennessee; C.J. Stammers, Esq.; and Ernest L. Gay, Esq., of Boston, Mass., U.S.A. I am especially grateful to W.H. Grattan Flood, Esq., Mus.D., who has generously sent me his notes on the sources of the tunes in "The Beggar's Opera," which are printed in the Appendix to this volume. The extracts from Gay's poetical works in this volume have been taken, by permission of the publishers, Messrs. George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., from the "Poems of John Gay," edited by Mr. John Underwood, in "The Muses' Library." Mr. John Murray has kindly allowed me to quote correspondence to and from Gay printed in the standard edition of Pope's works, edited by the late Rev. Whitwell Elwin and Professor Courthope, and published by him.


[Footnote 1: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVIII, p. 65.]












IX.—"POLLY" 92












The Gays were an old family, who settled in Devonshire when Gilbert le Gay, through his marriage with the daughter and heiress of Curtoyse, came into possession of the manor of Goldsworthy, in Parkham. This they held until 1630, when it passed out of their hands to the Coffins.[1] Subsequently they were associated with the parish of Frittelstock, near Great Torrington. In the Parish Registers of Barnstaple the name appears from time to time: in 1544 is recorded the death of Richard Gaye, and later of John Gaye, "gentill man," and Johans Gay. From other sources it is known that Richard Gay was Mayor of the town in 1533, and Anthony Gay in 1638.[2] The records of the family have not been preserved, but at some time early in the seventeenth century there was at Frittelstock one John Gay, whose second son, William, was the father of the poet.

William Gay resided at Barnstaple, and since he lived in a large house, called the Red Cross, at the corner of Joy Street, facing Holland Street, it is reasonable to assume that he was in easy circumstances. He married a daughter of Jonathan Hanmer, the leading Nonconformist divine of the town, and by her had five children. The first-born was a girl, who died in 1685; then came Katherine, born in 1676, who married Anthony Baller, whose son Joseph issued in 1820 the slim volume bearing the title of "Gay's Chair";[3]in 1778, Jonathan; and three years later, Joanna, who married John Fortescue—possibly a relation of William Fortescue, afterwards Master of the Rolls, who is still remembered as a friend of Pope. The youngest child was John, the subject of this memoir, stated by his earlier biographers to have been born in 1688, but now known, from an entry in the Barnstaple Parish Register, to have been baptised in the Old Church on September 16th, 1685.

Mrs. Gay died in 1694, her husband a year later; and the custody of the four surviving orphaned children devolved upon their uncles. William Gay's brothers were John and Richard, who resided at Frittelstock; James, Rector of Meeth; and Thomas, who lived at Barnstaple. Mrs. Gay's only brother was John Hanmer, who succeeded to his father's pastoral office among the Congregational or Independent Dissenters at Barnstaple. Jonathan, the elder son of William Gay, who inherited the family property, was intended for the Church, but "severe studies not well suiting his natural genius, he betook himself to military pursuits,"[4] and, probably about the time of his father's death, entered the army. Who took charge of the two girls is not known; but it is on record that John, after his father's death, and then in his tenth year, went to live at Barnstaple with his paternal uncle, Thomas Gay. It is interesting to note that in 1882, "among the pieces of timber carted away from the Barnstaple Parish Church [which was then undergoing restoration] has been found a portion of a pew, with the name 'John Gay,' and the date, 1695, cut upon it.... No other John Gay appears in the Parish Register."[5]

Gay attended the Free Grammar School at Barnstaple, and among his schoolfellows there with whom he cemented an enduring friendship, were William Fortescue, to whom reference has been made above, and Aaron Hill.[6] William Raynor was the headmaster when Gay first went to the Grammar School, but soon he removed to Tiverton, and was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Luck. Luck subsequently claimed that Gay's dramatic instincts were developed by taking part in the amateur theatricals promoted by him, and when in April, 1736, he published a volume of verse, he wrote, in his dedication to the Duke of Queensberry.[7] Gay's patron and friend:—

"O Queensberry! could happy Gay This offering to thee bring, ''Tis he, my Lord' (he'd smiling say), 'Who taught your Gay to sing.'"

These lines suggest that an intimacy between Gay and Luck existed long after their relations as pupil and master had ceased, but it is doubtful if this was the case. It is certainly improbable that the lad saw much of the pedagogue when he returned to Barnstaple for a while as the guest of the Rev. John Hanmer, since Luck was a bitter opponent of the Dissenters and in open antagonism to John Hanmer.

How long Gay remained at the Grammar School is not known. There are, indeed, no records upon which to base a narrative of his early years. It is, however, generally accepted that, on leaving school, he was apprenticed to a silk-mercer in London. This was not so unaccountable a proceeding then as appears to-day, for we know from Gibbon's "Memoirs" that "our most respectable families have not disdained the counting-house, or even the shop;... and in England, as well as in the Italian commonwealths, heralds have been compelled to declare that gentility is not degraded by the exercise of trade": for example, the historian's great grandfather, son of a country gentleman, became a linen-draper in Leadenhall Street.

Gay had no taste for trade, and did not long remain in this employment. According to one authority, "he grew so fond of reading and study that he frequently neglected to exert himself in putting oft silks and velvets to the ladies";[8] while his nephew, the Rev. Joseph Bailer, says: "Young Gay, not being able to bear the confinement of a shop, soon felt a remarkable depression of spirits, and consequent decline of health; he was, therefore, obliged to quit that situation, and retire to Barnstaple, in the hope of receiving benefit from his native air."[9] No doubt the mercer was willing enough to cancel the indentures of an apprentice so unsatisfactory as Gay probably was. Anyhow, Gay returned to Barnstaple, and stayed awhile with his maternal uncle, the Rev. John Hanmer.

It has been said that it was during this visit to Barnstaple that Gay began to write verses; and as most men who take to poetry began to dabble in ink in their youth, this statement may well be accepted. Only, so far no bibliographer has traced any of these early writings. Some poems, said to have been written by him in these days have been printed in the volume to which reference has already been made, "Gay's Chair: Poems never before printed, written by John Gay.... With a Sketch of his Life from the MSS. of the Rev. Joseph Bailer, his nephew. Edited by Henry Lee ... 1820," but the authenticity of these cannot definitely be accepted. A chair, said to have been the property of Gay at Barnstaple, was sold early in the nineteenth century to Henry Lee, who sent it to be repaired. "On taking out the drawer in front, which was somewhat broken," so runs the story, "I found at the back part of the chair a concealed drawer, ingeniously fastened with a small wooden bolt;... it was full of manuscript papers, some of which appeared to have slipped over, as I found them stuck to the bottom or seat of the chair."[10] The poems in question are: "The Ladies' Petition to the Honorable the House of Commons," the longest and most ambitious of the pieces; "To Miss Jane Scott," "Prediction," "Comparisons," "Absence," "Fable," "Congratulation to a Newly-married Pair," "A Devonshire Hill," "Letter to a Young Lady," and "To My Chair." Of this small collection, Mr. John Underhill, who includes it in his admirable edition of Gay's poems in the "Muses' Library," writes: "The evidence in support of their authenticity is (1) the fact that they were found in a chair which was always spoken of by Gay's 'immediate descendants' as 'having been the property of the poet, and which, as his favourite easy chair, he highly valued'; and (2) that 'The Ladies' Petition' was printed nearly verbatim from a manuscript in the handwriting of the poet ... If really Gay's, they [the verses] may, we think, a great many of them, be safely regarded as the production of his youth, written, perhaps, during the somewhat extended visit to Devonshire which preceded his introduction to the literary world of Pope. The least doubtful piece, 'The Ladies' Petition' was probably 'thrown off' upon the occasion of his visit to Exeter in 1715."

If the verses are genuine, they have such biographical interest as is afforded by an allusion to a youthful love-affair. There are lines "To Miss Jane Scott":—

The Welsh girl is pretty. The English girl fair, The Irish deem'd witty, The French debonnaire;

Though all may invite me, I'd value them not; The charms that delight me I find in a SCOT.

It is presumedly to the same young lady he was referring in the verses written probably shortly after he returned to London after his visit to Devonshire:—


Augustus, frowning, gave command. And Ovid left his native land; From Julia, as an exile sent. He long with barb'rous Goths was pent.

So fortune frown'd on me, and I was driven From friends, from home, from Jane, and happy Devon! And Jane, sore grieved when from me torn away;— loved her sorrow, though I wish'd her—GAY.

That another girl there was may be gathered from the "Letter to a Young Lady," who was not so devoted as Jane Scott, for the poet writes:

Begging you will not mock his sighing. And keep him thus whole years a-dying! "Whole years!"—Excuse my freely speaking. Such tortures, why a month—a week in? Caress, or kill him quite in one day, Obliging thus your servant, JOHN GAY.

[Footnote 1: Risdon: Survey of Devon (1811), p. 243.]

[Footnote 2: Gribble: Memorials of Devonshire.]

[Footnote 3: Gay's Chair, p. 12.]

[Footnote 4: Gay's Chair, p. 13.]

[Footnote 5: Notes and Queries, N.S. VI, 488, December 16th, 1882, from the North Devon Herald of December 7th.]

[Footnote 6: Aaron Hill (1685-1750), dramatist and journalist.]

[Footnote 7: Charles Douglas, third Duke of Queensbury and second Duke of Dover (1698-1777), married Catherine, second daughter of Henry Hyde, Earl of Clarendon and Rochester.]

[Footnote 8: Ayre: Pope, pp. 11, 97.]

[Footnote 9: Gay's Chair, p. 13.]

[Footnote 10: Gay's Chair, p. 5.]




Gay's health was improved by his stay in his native town, and presently he returned to London, where, according to the family tradition, he "lived for some time as a private gentleman."[1] Mr. Austin Dobson has pointed out that this is "a statement scarcely reconcilable with the opening in life his friends had found for him";[2] but it may be urged against this view that Gay and his sisters had each a small patrimony.[3] If it is assumed that he returned to the metropolis after he came of age in September, 1706, he may have been possessed of a sum of money, small, no doubt, but sufficient to provide him with the necessaries of life for some little time. When his brother, Jonathan, who had been promoted lieutenant at Cologne by Marlborough, under whom he served at Hochstadt and elsewhere, and captain by Queen Anne, committed suicide in 1709, after a quarrel with his colonel, John may have inherited some further share of the paternal estate.

When Gay was one-and-twenty, ginger was hot in his mouth. Wine, woman, and song appealed to him. It is not on record that he had any love-affair, save those indicated in the verses in "Gay's Chair"; but the indelicacy of many passages in his writings suggests that he was rather intimately acquainted with the bagnios of the town. No man whose sense of decency had not been denied could possibly have written the verses "To a Young Lady, with some Lamphreys," and this, even after making allowance for the freedom of the early eighteenth century. He certainly frequented the coffee-houses of Covent Garden and Pall Mall. Also, he roamed about the metropolis, and became learned in the highways and byways, north and south, and east and west—a knowledge which bore excellent fruit in "Trivia."

But I, who ne'er was bless'd by Fortune's hand, Nor brighten'd plough-shares in paternal land. Long in the noisy town have been immured, Respired its smoke, and all its cares endured. Where news and politics divide mankind, And schemes of state involve th' uneasy mind.[4]

Gay was then, as ever, a great eater. "As the French philosopher used to prove his existence by cogito, ergo sum," Congreve wrote to Pope long after, "the greatest proof of Gay's existence is edit, ergo est."[5] He ate in excess always, and not infrequently drank too much, and for exercise had no liking, though he was not averse from a ramble around London streets. As the years passed, he became fat, but found comfort in the fact that some of his intimates were yet more corpulent. To this, he made humorous reference in "Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece":—

And wondering Maine so fat, with laughing eyes, (Gay, Maine and Cheney,[6] boon companions dear, Gay fat, Maine fatter, and Cheney huge of size).

Gay had a passion for finery. To this foible Pope, in the early days of his acquaintance with the young man, made reference in a letter to Swift, December 8th, 1713: "One Mr. Gay, an unhappy youth, who writes pastorals during the time of Divine Service, whose case is the more deplorable, as he hath miserably lavished away all that silver he should have reserved for his soul's health, in buttons and loops for his coat." Gay was not only well aware of this weakness, but he deplored it, though he could never contrive to overcome it. He made allusion to it in some lines known as the "Epigrammatical Petition," addressed to Lord Oxford,[7] in June, 1714, and also in the prologue to "The Shepherd's Week":—

I sold my sheep and lambkins too, For silver loops and garments blue: My boxen hautboy sweet of sound, For lace that edged mine hat around; For Lightfoot and my scrip I got A gorgeous sword, and eke a knot.

Gay now renewed his acquaintance with his old schoolfellow, Aaron Hill, who, it is said, though on doubtful authority, employed him as an amanuensis when setting on foot the project of answering questions in a paper, styled the British Apollo, or, Curious Amusements for the Ingenious.[8] The first number of this publication appeared on March 13th, 1708, and it was issued on Wednesdays and Fridays until March 16th, 1711. Gay referred to it in his pamphlet, "The Present State of Wit," published in May 1711: "Upon a review of my letter, I find I have quite forgotten the British Apollo, which might possibly have happened from its having of late retreated out of this end of the town into the country, where I am informed, however, that it still recommends itself by deciding wagers at cards and giving good advice to shopkeepers and their apprentices." Whether or no Gay ever contributed to the British Apollo, it seems likely that it was through the good offices of Hill that in May, 1708, Gay's poem, "Wine," was published by William Keble at the Black-Spread-eagle in Westminster Hall, who, about the same time, brought out a translation by Nahum Tate, the Poet Laureate, and Hill, of a portion of the thirteenth book of Ovid's "Metamorphoses."

"Wine," a subject on which Gay, even at the age of twenty-two, could write with some authority, secured a sufficient popularity to be paid the doubtful compliment of piracy in 1709, by Henry Hill, of Blackfriars, on whom presently the author neatly revenged himself in his verses, "On a Miscellany of Poems to Bernard Lintott," by the following reference:—

While neat old Elzevir is reckon'd better Than Pirate Hill's brown sheets and scurvy letter.

This blank-verse poem, which may have been suggested by John Philips' "Cider," published in 1708, is written in the mock-heroic strain, and although it has no particular value, shows some sense of humorous exaggeration, of which Gay was presently to show himself a master.

Of happiness terrestrial, and the source Whence human pleasures flow, sing, Heavenly Muse, Of sparkling juices, of th' enlivening grape, Whose quick'ning taste adds vigour to the soul. Whose sov'reign power revives decaying Nature, And thaws the frozen blood of hoary age, A kindly warmth diffusing—youthful fires Gild his dim eyes, and paint with ruddy hue His wrinkled visage, ghastly wan before— Cordial restorative to mortal man, With copious hand by bounteous gods bestow'd.

These are the opening lines. The concluding passage describing the tippling revellers leaving the tavern suggests, as has more than once been pointed out, the hand that afterwards wrote "Trivia."

Thus we the winged hours in harmless mirth And joys unsullied pass, till humid night Has half her race perform'd; now all abroad Is hush'd and silent, now the rumbling noise Of coach or cart, or smoky link-boy's call Is heard—but universal Silence reigns: When we in merry plight, airy and gay. Surprised to find the hours so swiftly fly. With hasty knock, or twang of pendent cord. Alarm the drowsy youth from slumb'ring nod; Startled he flies, and stumbles o'er the stairs Erroneous, and with busy knuckles plies His yet clung eyelids, and with stagg'ring reel Enters confused, and muttering asks our wills; When we with liberal hand the score discharge, And homeward each his course with steady step Unerring steers, of cares and coin bereft.

So far as is known, Gay preserved a profound silence for three years after his publication of "Wine," and then, on May 3rd, 1711, appeared from his pen, "The Present State of Wit, in a Letter to a Friend in the Country," sold at the reasonable price of three-pence. This attracted the attention of Swift. "Dr. Freind[9] ... pulled out a two-penny pamphlet just published, called 'The State of Wit', giving the characters of all the papers that have come out of late," he wrote in the "Journal to Stella," May 12: "The author seems to be a Whig, yet he speaks very highly of a paper called the Examiner, and says the supposed author of it is Dr. Swift. But, above all things, he praises the Tatlers and Spectators, and I believe Steele and Addison were privy to the printing of it. Thus is one treated by the impudent dogs." In this unambitious little sketch, as the author puts it, he gives "the histories and characters of all our periodical papers, whether monthly, weekly or diurnal," and it is, therefore, of value to the student of the early days of English journalism. He claimed to write without political bias: "I shall only promise that, as you know, I never cared one farthing either for Whig or Tory, so I shall consider our writers purely as they are such, without any respect to which party they belong." In "The Present State of Wit" most of the better-known periodical writers are introduced. Dr. William King is mentioned, not he who was the Archbishop of Dublin, nor he who was the Principal of St. Mary Hall, Oxford, but he of whom it was said that he "could write verses in a tavern three hours after he could not speak," who was the author of the "Art of Cookery" and the "Art of Love," and who in 1709 had fluttered the scientific dovecotes by parodying the "Philosophical Transactions" in the Useful Transactions in Philosophy and Other Sorts of Learning, of which, however, only three numbers were issued. John Ozell was pilloried as the author of the Monthly Amusement, which was not, as the title suggests, a periodical, but was merely a title invented to summarise his frequent appearances in print. "It is generally some French novel or play, indifferently translated, it is more or less taken notice of, as the original piece is more or less agreeable." Defoe takes his place in the gallery as the editor and principal contributor to the weekly Poor Review, that is, the Weekly Review (which was published weekly from February 19th, 1704, until 1712) which, says Gay, "is quite exhausted and grown so very contemptible, that though he has provoked all his brothers of the quill round, none of them will enter into a controversy with him."

The periodical publications of the day are passed under review: the Observer, founded in 1702 by John Tutchin, and after his death five years later, conducted by George Ridpath, editor of the Flying Post, until 1712, when it had almost entirely ceased to please, and was finally extinguished by the Stamp Tax; the weekly Examiner, set up in August, 1710, in opposition to the Whig Taller, numbering among its contributors Dr. King, St. John, Prior, Atterbury, and Freind, and managed by Swift from No. 14 (October 26th, 1710); the Whig Examiner, the first issue of which appeared on September 14th, 1710, its five numbers being written by Addison; the Medley, another Whig paper, which ran from August, 1710, to August, 1711, and was edited by Arthur Mainwaring, with the assistance of Steele, Oldmixon, and Anthony Henley (a wit and a man of fortune, to whom Garth dedicated "The Dispensary," and who distinguished himself by describing Swift as "a beast for ever after the order of Melchisedec"). The Tatter, which appeared three times a week from April 12th, 1709, to January 2nd, 1711, was of course mentioned, and well-deserved tributes were paid to Steele and Addison. Of Addison he wrote with appreciation, but briefly: "This is that excellent friend to whom Mr. Steele owes so much, and who refuses to have his pen set before those pieces which the greatest pens in England would be proud to own. Indeed, they could hardly add to this gentleman's reputation, whose works in Latin and English poetry long since convinced the world that he was the greatest master in Europe of those two languages." Of Steele, Gay wrote at greater length: "To give you my own thoughts of this gentleman's writings, I shall, in the first place, observe that there is a noble difference between him and all the rest of our polite and gallant authors. The latter have endeavoured to please the age by falling in with them, and encourage them in their fashionable views and false notion of things. It would have been a jest, some time since, for a man to have asserted that anything witty could be said in praise of a married state, or that devotion and virtue were any way necessary to the character of a fine gentleman. Bickerstaff ventured to tell the town that they were a parcel of fops, fools and coquettes; but in such a manner as even pleased them, and made them more than half-inclined to believe that he spoke truth. Instead of complying with the false sentiments and vicious tastes of the age—either in morality, criticism, or good breeding—he has boldly assured them that they were altogether in the wrong; and commanded them, with an authority which perfectly well became him, to surrender themselves to his arguments for virtue and good sense. It is incredible to conceive the effect his writings have had on the town; how many thousand follies they have either quite banished, or given a very great check to! how much countenance they have added to virtue and religion! how many people they have rendered happy, by showing them it was their own fault if they were not so! and, lastly, how entirely they have convinced our young fops and young fellows of the value and advantages of learning! He has indeed rescued it out of the hands of pedants and fools, and discovered the true method of making it amicable and lovely to all mankind. In the dress he gives it, it is a welcome guest at tea-tables and assemblies, and is relished and caressed by the merchants on the 'Change. Accordingly there is not a lady at Court, nor a banker in Lombard Street who is not verily persuaded that Captain Steele is the greatest scholar and best casuist of any man in England. Lastly, his writings have set all our wits and men of letters on a new way of thinking, of which they had little or no notion before: and, although we cannot say that any of them have come up to the beauties of the original, I think we may venture to affirm, that every one of them writes and thinks much more justly than they did some time since."

Gay's agreeable personality secured him many friends. Not later than the spring of 1711 he made the acquaintance of Henry Cromwell, whom he later described as "the honest hatless Cromwell with red breeches," by whom he was introduced to Pope, who was at this time a member of Addison's circle, and generally recognised as a rising man of letters. Pope evidently liked Gay, who was his senior by nearly three years, but was as a child in worldly wisdom. On July 15th, 1711, Pope wrote to Cromwell, "Pray give my service to all my friends, and to Mr. Gay in particular";[10] and again, nine days later, addressing the same correspondent, he said: "My humble services, too, to Mr. Gay, of whose paper ['The Present State of Wit'] I have made mention to [Erasmus] Lewis."[11] Gay, ever anxious to please those whom he liked and, perhaps, especially those who might be of use to him, when writing the verses, "On a Miscellany of Poems to Bernard Lintott" (which appeared in that publisher's Miscellany issued in May, 1712), eagerly took advantage to ingratiate himself with a number of people, in so far as he could do this by means of compliments. Gay tells the publisher that if he will only choose his authors from "the successful bards" praised by the author, then "praise with profit shall reward thy pains"; and—

So long shall live thy praise in books of fame, And Tonson yield to Lintott's lofty name;

but, since an author should not praise one publisher at the expense of another, he has already had a kindly word for that more celebrated publisher, Jacob Tonson—"Jacob's mighty name." It may be mentioned in passing that Gay's "Poems on Several Occasions" bear the joint imprint of Lintott and Tonson. Gay waxed eloquent in these verses, when writing of the other contributors to the Miscellany, and bestowed praise upon his brother-poets in no measured quantity:—

Where Buckingham will condescend to give That honour'd piece to distant times must live; When noble Sheffield strikes the trembling strings, The little loves rejoice and clap their wings. Anacreon lives, they cry, th' harmonious swain } Retunes the lyre, and tries his wonted strain, } 'Tis he,—our lost Anacreon lives again. } But when th' illustrious poet soars above The sportive revels of the god of love, Like Maro's muse he takes a loftier flight, And towers beyond the wond'ring Cupid's sight.

If thou wouldst have thy volume stand the test, And of all others be reputed best, Let Congreve teach the list'ning groves to mourn, As when he wept o'er fair Pastora's urn.[12]

Let Prior's muse with soft'ning accents move, Soft as the strain of constant Emma's love: Or let his fancy choose some jovial theme. As when he told Hans Carvel's jealous dream; Prior th' admiring reader entertains, With Chaucer's humour, and with Spenser's strains.[13]

Waller in Granville lives; when Mira sings With Waller's hands he strikes the sounding strings. With sprightly turns his noble genius shines, And manly sense adorns his easy lines.

On Addison's sweet lays attention waits, And silence guards the place while he repeats; His muse alike on ev'ry subject charms, Whether she paints the god of love, or arms: In him pathetic Ovid sings again, And Homer's "Iliad" shines in his "Campaign." Whenever Garth shall raise his sprightly song, Sense flows in easy numbers from his tongue; Great Phoebus in his learned son we see, Alike in physic, as in poetry.

When Pope's harmonious muse with pleasure roves, Amidst the plains, the murm'ring streams and groves. Attentive Echo, pleased to hear his songs, Thro' the glad shade each warbling note prolongs; His various numbers charm our ravish'd ears, } His steady judgment far out-shoots his years, } And early in the youth the god appears. }

It was in reference to these complimentary lines (which Pope saw in manuscript) that, on December 21st, 1711, Pope wrote to Cromwell: "I will willingly return Mr. Gay my thanks for the favour of his poem, and in particular for his kind mention of me."[14] That letter is interesting also as being the last exchanged between Pope and his old friend; and it is instructive, as showing how the acquaintance between the poets was already ripening, that Pope turned to Gay in his distress at the defection of his earlier friend. "Our friend, Mr. Cromwell, too, has been silent all this year. I believe he has been displeased at some or other of my freedoms, which I very innocently take, and most with those I think my friends," he wrote to Gay on November 13th, 1712. "But this I know nothing of; perhaps he may have opened to you, and if I know you right, you are of a temper to cement friendships, and not to divide them. I really very much love Mr. Cromwell, and have a true affection for yourself, which, if I had any interest in the world, or power with those who have, I should not be long without manifesting to you."[15]

If Pope had lost the friendship of Henry Cromwell, he was certainly anxious to strengthen the bond that was beginning to be forged between himself and Gay, to whom he wrote again: "I desire you will not, either out of modesty, or a vicious distrust of another's value for you—those two eternal foes to merit—imagine that your letters and conversation are not always welcome to me. There is no man more entirely fond of good-nature or ingenuity than myself, and I have seen too much of these qualities in Mr. Gay to be anything less than his most affectionate friend and real servant."[16] That the intimacy between the poets waxed apace is evident, for when Pope wrote "A Farewell to London in the year 1715," the concluding stanza was:—

Adieu to all but Gay alone. Whose soul, sincere and free. Loves all mankind, but flatters none. And so may starve with me.

[Footnote 1: Gay's Chair, p. 13.]

[Footnote 2: Dictionary of National Biography.]

[Footnote 3: Gay's Chair.]

[Footnote 4: Rural Sports.]

[Footnote 5: Spence: Anecdotes (ed. Singer), p. 13.]

[Footnote 6: George Cheyne (1671-1743), physician, practised first at London, and then at Bath.]

[Footnote 7: "The Epigrammatical Petition" is printed on p. 29 of this work,]

[Footnote 8: "Key to 'Three Hours after Marriage,'" p. 7.]

[Footnote 9: John Freind (1675-1728), physician.]

[Footnote 10: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VI, p. 123.]

[Footnote 11: Ibid., VI, p. 124.]

[Footnote 12: A reference to "The Mourning Muse of Alexis: A Pastoral Lamentary on the Death of Queen Mary." In this piece the Queen is spoken of as "Pastora."]

[Footnote 13: The references are to "Henry and Emma" and "Hans Carvel."]

[Footnote 14: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VI, p. 130.]

[Footnote 15: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 408.]

[Footnote 16: Ibid., VII, p. 409.]




There has been preserved a letter written by Aaron Hill to Richard Savage, June 23rd, 1766, which contains information concerning the life of the poet during the next two years. "I would willingly satisfy the curiosity of your friend, in relation to Mr. Gay, if it were not easy to get much further information than I am able to give, from Mr. Budgell or Mr. Pope; to the first of whom, the beginning of his life was best known, and to the last, its afternoon and evening," Hill wrote. "As to your question, whether Mr. Gay was ever a domestic of the Duchess of Monmouth, I can answer it in the affirmative; he was her secretary about the year 1713, and continued so, till he went over to Hanover, in the beginning of the following year, with Lord Clarendon, who was sent thither by Queen Anne. At his return, upon the death of that Queen, all his hopes became withered, but Mr. Pope (who you know, is an excellent planter) revived and invigorated his bays, and indeed, very generously supported him, in some more solid improvements; for remember a letter, wherein he invited him, with a very impoetical warmth that, so long as he himself had a shilling, Mr. Gay should be welcome to sixpence of it, nay, to eightpence, if he could but contrive to live on a groat."[1]

It is now happily possible to elaborate the information given in this letter. Owing to the kindly offices of one or other of his friends, Gay had secured the appointment of domestic secretary to the Duchess of Monmouth. Anne Scott, Duchess of Buccleuch in her own right, had in 1663 married the Duke of Monmouth. He was executed for high treason in 1683, and three years later his widow married Charles, third Baron Cornwallis. Though she had not long mourned her first husband, she did not forget that he was on his father's side of the blood royal, and to the end of her days she preserved a regal state, which, however, did not make her unpopular at Court. "The Princess," wrote Lady Cowper, "loved her mightily, and certainly no woman of her years ever deserved it so well. She had all the life and fire of youth, and it was marvellous to see that the many afflictions she had suffered had not touched her wit and good nature, but at upwards of three-score she had both in their full perfection." Upon this appointment Dr. Johnson commented: "By quitting a shop for such service Gay might gain leisure, but he certainly advanced little on the boast of independence." As has been seen, however, there was an interval of several years between Gay's apprenticeship and his taking up this position as the Duchess's amanuensis—for it is doubtful if he ever attained to an office more responsible than this—he secured board and lodging, a little pocket money, and no doubt ample leisure. It was necessary for Gay to earn his livelihood, for he had spent his patrimony, and the earnings of his pen were as yet negligible. Indeed, the situation was almost ideal for an impecunious young man of letters. Anyhow, Gay was delighted, and Pope not less so. "It has been my good fortune within this month past to hear more things that have pleased me than, I think, in all my time besides," Pope wrote to Gay, December 24th, 1712; "but nothing, upon my word, has been so homefelt a satisfaction as the news you tell me of yourself; and you are not in the least mistaken when you congratulate me upon your own good success, for I have more people out of whom to be happy, than any ill-natured man can boast of." Pope, now well aware of Gay's natural indolence, was careful in this same letter to urge him to devote himself to literary labours in his leisure hours. "I shall see you this winter with much greater pleasure than I could the last, and I hope as much of your time as your Duchess will allow you to spare to any friend will not be thought lost upon one who is as much so as any man," he added. "I must also put you in mind, though you are now secretary to this lady, you are likewise secretary to nine other ladies, and are to write sometimes for them too. He who is forced to live wholly upon those ladies' favours is indeed in as precarious a condition as any who does what Chaucer says for subsistence; but they are very agreeable companions, like other ladies, when a man only passes a night or so with them at his leisure, and away."[2]

Gay, the most amiable of men, never resented advice, perhaps because he so rarely followed it. In this case, however, he was surprisingly amenable. During the short time he was in the service of the Duchess of Monmouth, he drove his quill with some assiduity, and, indeed, at this period of his life he, who was presently distinguished as the laziest of men, worked diligently.

Before joining the household of the Duchess, he had written "Rural Sports: A Georgic," and this was published on January 13th, 1713, by Jacob Tonson, with an inscription to Pope:—

You, who the sweets of rural life have known, Despise th' ungrateful hurry of the town; In Windsor groves your easy hours employ, And, undisturb'd, yourself and Muse enjoy.

During 1713 Gay wrote such trifles as papers on "Reproof and Flattery," and "Dress," which were printed in the Guardian on March 24th and September 21st respectively; and some verses, "Panthea," "Araminta," "A Thought on Eternity," and "A Contemplation on Night," which appeared in Steele's "Poetical Miscellany." A more ambitious work was "The Fan," which had occupied him during the earlier part of the year. He was greatly interested in its composition, and corresponded with Pope while it was being written. "I am very much recreated and refreshed with the news of the advancement of 'The Fan,' which I doubt not will delight the eye and sense of the fair, as long as that agreeable machine shall play in the hands of posterity," Pope wrote to him, August 23rd, 1713: "I am glad your Fan is mounted so soon, but I would have you varnish and glaze it at your leisure, and polish the sticks as much as you can. You may then cause it to be borne in the hands of both sexes, no less in Britain than it is in China, where it is ordinary for a mandarin to fan himself cool after a debate, and a statesman to hide his face with it when he tells a grave lie."[3] Again, on October 23rd, Pope wrote: "I shall go into the country about a month hence, and shall then desire to take along with me your poem of 'The Fan.'" The most ambitious as yet of Gay's writings, there are few to-day, however, who will question the judgment of Mr. Austin Dobson, "one of his least successful efforts, and, though touched by Pope, now unreadable."

Gay had thus early a leaning to the theatre, where presently he was to score one of his greatest successes, and he wrote "The Wife of Bath," which was produced at Drury Lane on May 12th, 1713. Steele gave it a "puff preliminary" in No. 50 of the Guardian (May 8th).

Gay was now become known as a man of letters, and had made many friends. Johnson says: "Gay was the general favourite of the whole association of wits; but they regarded him as a playfellow rather than as a partner, and treated him with more fondness than respect."[4] There is some truth in this view, but of the affection he inspired there is no doubt. To know him was to love him. Wherein exactly lay his charm it is not easy now to say; but his gentle good-nature and his utter helplessness seems to have appealed to those of sterner mould. The extracts already given from Pope's correspondence show the affection with which he was inspired for his brother of the pen. Pope took him so completely under his massive wing that he remarked later, "they would call him one of my eleves."[5] Pope accepted the position, and introduced him to his circle. He made him known to Swift, and that great man loved him as he loved no other man; and to Parnell, Arbuthnot, Ford—the "joyous Ford" of "Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece"—and Bolingbroke, in all of whom he inspired an affection, which endured through life. Parnell and Pope wrote jointly to him, and while in 1714 Pope was still addressing him as "Dear Mr. Gay," Parnell had already thrown aside all formality and greeted him as "Dear Gay." His old schoolfellow, William Fortescue, cleaved to him, and they were in such constant communication that when Pope wanted to see Fortescue, it was to Gay he appealed to arrange a meeting. The terms on which Gay was with the set is shown in Pope's letter to him, written from Binfield, May 4th, 1714: "Pray give, with the utmost fidelity and esteem, my hearty service to the Dean, Dr. Arbuthnot, Mr. Ford, and to Mr. Fortescue. Let them also know at Button's that I am mindful of them."[6] Erasmus Lewis Gay knew now, and Caryll too, and the rest of the small literary set, who, with gusto, made him welcome among them. Indeed, when the "Memoirs of Scriblerus" were in contemplation, and, indeed, begun in 1713, Gay, then comparatively unknown, was invited to take a hand in the composition with the greatest men of the day. "The design of the Memoirs of Scriblerus was to have ridiculed all the false tastes in learning, under a character of a man of capacity enough, that had dipped into every art and science, but injudiciously in each," we have been told. "It was begun by a club of some of the greatest wits of the age. Lord Oxford, the Bishop of Rochester, Mr. Pope, Congreve, Arbuthnot, Swift, and others. Gay often held the pen; and Addison liked it well enough, and was not disinclined to come in to it."[7] It does not transpire whether Gay had at this time met Swift, but that soon after they were in correspondence, appears from a letter from Pope to Swift, June 18th, 1714: "I shall translate Homer by the by. Mr. Gay has acquainted you with what progress I have made in it. I cannot name Mr. Gay without all the acknowledgments which I shall owe you, on his account."[8]

[Footnote 1: Hill: Works (ed. 1754), I, p. 325.]

[Footnote 2: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 409.]

[Footnote 3: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 412.]

[Footnote 4: Johnson: Lives of the Poets (ed. Hill), III, p. 268.]

[Footnote 5: Spence: Anecdotes (ed. Singer), p. 145.]

[Footnote 6: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 415.]

[Footnote 7: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 123.]

[Footnote 8: Spence: Anecdotes (ed. Singer), p. 10.]




The outstanding literary event in Gay's career in 1714 was the pastoral, "The Shepherd's Week," which was published by R. Burleigh on April 15th, which contained a "Proeme to the Courteous Reader," and a "Prologue to the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Bolingbroke," which was, in fact, a dedication:—

Lo, I who erst beneath a tree Sung Bumkinet and Bowzybee, And Blouzelind and Marian bright, In apron blue or apron white, Now write my sonnets in a book, For my good lord of Bolingbroke.

The author then states that he had heard of the Queen's illness and how the skill of Arbuthnot had restored her to health:—

A skilful leech (so God him speed) They said had wrought this blessed deed, This leech Arbuthnot was yclept, Who many a night not once had slept; But watch'd our gracious Sov'reign still: For who could rest when she was ill? O may'st thou henceforth sweetly sleep! Shear, swains, oh shear your softest sheep To swell his couch; for well I ween, He saved the realm who saved his Queen.

Quoth I, please God, I'll his with glee To court, this Arbuthnot to see.

Such loyalty, of course, the hardest heart must touch, but loyalty in this case had its reward, and the journey to Court was well worth the pains:—

There saw I ladies all a-row Before their Queen in seemly show. No more I'll sing Buxoma brown, Like goldfinch in her Sunday gown; Nor Clumsilis, nor Marian bright, Nor damsel that Hobnelia hight. But Lansdown fresh as flowers of May, And Berkely lady blithe and gay, And Anglesea, whose speech exceeds The voice of pipe or oaten reeds; And blooming Hyde, with eyes so rare, And Montague beyond compare. Such ladies fair wou'd I depaint In roundelay or sonnet quaint.

But charming as were these ladies, there was still a better sight in store for the visitor:—

There saw I St. John, sweet of mien. Full steadfast both to Church and Queen. With whose fair name I'll deck my strain, St. John, right courteous to the swain.

For thus he told me on a day, Trim are thy sonnets, gentle Gay, And certes, mirth it were to see Thy joyous madrigals twice three, With preface meet and notes profound. Imprinted fair, and well y-bound. All suddenly then home I sped, And did ev'n as my Lord had said.

It was not Bolingbroke who inspired the pastorals, though he accepted the dedication. The true history of the origin of "The Shepherd's Week" is well set out by Mr. Underhill. "These pastorals, it should be explained, were written at the instigation of Pope," he has written. "The sixth volume of Tonson's 'Miscellany' had concluded with Pope's Pastorals and begun with those of Ambrose Philips. A few years after its publication a writer in the Guardian[1] (probably Tickell[2]) discussed the Pastoral in a series of papers, and gave the most extravagant praise to Philips. 'Theocritus,' he remarked, 'left his dominions to Virgil; Virgil left his to his son Spenser; and Spenser was succeeded by his eldest born, Philips.' Pope was not mentioned, and he set himself to redress the injustice by a device of characteristic subtlety. He wrote a sixth paper, in which he continued to illustrate the true principles of pastoral poetry from Philips' practice, but in such a way as to show the judicious reader by the examples given either the absurdity of Philips or the superior merit of Pope. The article was anonymously or pseudonymously forwarded to the Guardian, and was in due course published. Philips was furious, and providing himself with a birch rod, threatened to flog Pope. The latter, not content with his ingenious revenge, prevailed upon his friend Gay to continue the warfare and to burlesque Philips' performances in a series of realistic representations of country life."[3] Gay entered into the sport with joy—it was a game after his own heart, and one for which his talent was particularly fitted. He begins his "Proeme to the Gentle Reader" with a most palpable hit: "Great marvel hath it been (and that not unworthily) to diverse worthy wits, that in this our island of Britain, in all rare sciences so greatly abounding, more especially in all kinds of poesie highly flourishing, no poet (though other ways of notable cunning in roundelays) hath hit on the right simple eclogue after this true ancient guise of Theocritus, before this mine attempt. Other Poet travelling in this plain highway of Pastoral I know none." Presently comes an attack but little disguised on Philips: "Thou will not find my shepherdesses idly piping on oaten reeds, but milking the kine, tying up the sheaves, or if the hogs are astray driving them to their styes. My shepherd gathereth none other nosegays but what are the growth of our own fields, he sleepeth not under myrtle shades, but under a hedge, nor doth he vigilantly defend his flocks from wolves, because there are none, as maister Spenser well observeth:—

Well is known that since the Saxon King Never was wolf seen, many or some, Nor in all Kent nor in Christendom."

Yet a third extract from this satirical "Proeme" must be given, and this in connection with the language of these eclogues: "That principally, courteous reader, whereof I would have thee to be advertised (seeing I depart from the vulgar usage) is touching the language of my shepherds; which is soothly to say, such as is neither spoken by the country maiden or the courtly dame; nay, not only such as in the present times is not uttered, but was never uttered in times past; and, if I judge aright, will never be uttered in times future. It having too much of the country to be fit for the court, too much of the court to be fit for the country; too much of the language of old times to be fit for the present, too much of the present to have been fit for the old, and too much of both to be fit for any time to come. Granted also it is, that in this my language, I seem unto myself, as a London mason, who calculateth his work for a term of years, when he buildeth with old material upon a ground-rent that is not his own, which soon turneth to rubbish and ruins. For this point, no reason can I allege, only deep learned examples having led me thereunto."

All this is pretty fooling; but Gay, who in the beginning intended "The Shepherd's Week" to be merely a burlesque, according to the suggestion of Pope, was carried away by his interest in the subject-matter, and produced a poem of undoubted value as a picture of rural life in his own day. With it he won approval as an original poet in his own day, and three centuries after critics still write in praise of it.

"These Pastorals were originally intended, I suppose, as a burlesque on those of Philips'; but, perhaps without designing it, Gay has hit the true spirit of pastoral poetry," Goldsmith said; and Dr. Johnson wrote: "The effect of reality of truth became conspicuous, even when the intention was to show them grovelling and degraded. These pastorals became popular, and were read with delight, as just representations of rural manners and occupations, by those who had no interest in the rivalry of the poets, nor knowledge of the critical disputes."[4] Southey, too, had a kind word to say: "In attempting the burlesque Gay copied nature, and his unexpected success might have taught his contemporaries a better taste. Few poets seem to have possessed so quick and observing an eye"[5]; and, coming to the present critics, Mr. Austin Dobson utters commendation: "The object went far beyond its avowed object of ridicule, and Gay's eclogues abound with interesting folk-lore and closely studied rural pictures."[6]

With all his unworldliness Gay always had an eager, if not very keen, eye on the main chance, and finding himself surrounded by men of influence, he not unnaturally, in a day when men of letters often found their reward in Government places or in sinecures, looked to his acquaintances to further his interests. Great Britain was at this time represented at the Court of Hanover by a Mission which was from 1709 in charge of the Secretary, J. D'Alais, except when Special Missions were dispatched. Lord Rivers was Minister Plenipotentiary in 1710, and Thomas Harley went there as Ambassador Extraordinary in July, 1712, and again in the following February. Henry Paget, first Lord Burton, was appointed Ambassador in April, 1714, but resigned before he set forth, and Lord Clarendon was nominated in his stead.


London, June 8th, 1714.

"Since you went out of town, my Lord Clarendon was appointed Envoy-Extraordinary to Hanover in the room of Mr. Paget, and by making use of those friends, which I entirely owe to you, he has accepted me for his Secretary. This day, by appointment, I met his Lordship at Mr. Secretary Bromley's office; he then ordered me to be ready by Saturday. I am quite off from the Duchess of Monmouth. Mr. Lewis was very ready to serve me upon this occasion, as were Dr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Ford. I am every day attending my Lord Treasurer [Oxford] for his bounty, in order to set me out, which he has promised me upon the following petition, which I sent him by Dr. Arbuthnot:—

I'm no more to converse with the swains, But go where fine folk resort: One can live without money on plains. But never without it at Court.

If, when with the swains I did gambol, I array'd me in silver and blue: When abroad, and in Courts, I shall ramble, Pray, my Lord, how much money will do?

We had the honour of the Treasurer's company last Saturday, when we sat upon Scriblerus. Pope is in town and has brought with him the first book of Homer. I am this evening to be at Mr. Lewis's with [Dr. Benjamin Pratt] the Provost [of Dublin College], Mr. Ford, Parnell, and Pope."

"It is thought my Lord Clarendon will make but a short stay at Hanover. If it was possible that any recommendation could be procured to make me more distinguished than ordinary, during my stay at that Court, I should think myself very happy if you could contrive any method to prosecute it, for I am told that their civilities very rarely descend so low as to the Secretary. I have all the reason in the world to acknowledge this as wholly owing to you. And the many favours I have received from you, purely out of your love for doing good, assures me you will not forget me during my absence. As for myself, whether I am at home or abroad, gratitude will always put me in mind of the man to whom I owe so many benefits."[7]

* * * * *

These tidings were confirmed to Swift by Arbuthnot, who wrote from St. James's on June 12th: "You know that Gay goes to Hanover, and my Lord Treasurer has promised to equip him. Monday is the day of departure, and he is now dancing attendance for money to buy him shoes, stockings, and linen. The Duchess [of Monmouth] has turned him off, which I am afraid will make the poor man's condition worse instead of better."[8] As Arbuthnot reported fourteen days later, Gay received a hundred pounds from the Treasury, and "went away a happy man."[9] Lord Clarendon, whose mission it was formally to offer to the Elector George Lewis the condolences of Queen Anne on the death of his aged mother, the Electress Sophia, the heiress-presumptive to the British throne, who had passed away on June 8th, 1714, arrived at Hanover on July 16th.

Despite Gay's forebodings, the civilities of the Court of Hanover did happily "descend so low as to the Secretary." That he was presented to the royal circle and held converse with the highest in the land, is clear from a sentence in a letter from Arbuthnot to Swift, August 13th, 1714: "I have a letter from Gay, just before the Queen's death. Is he not a true poet, who had not one of his own books to give to the Princess that asked for one?"[10] Here it was that Gay first made the acquaintance of Henrietta Howard, afterwards Countess of Suffolk, with whom he was presently on a footing of intimate friendship.


Hanover, August 16th, 1714.

"You remember, I suppose, that I was to write you abundance of letters from Hanover; but as one of the most distinguished qualities of a publician is secrecy, you must not expect from me any arcanas of state. There is another thing that is necessary to establish the character of a politician, which is to seem always to be full of affairs of State; to know the consultations of the Cabinet Council when at the same time his politics are collected from newspapers. Which of these two causes my secrecy is owing to I leave you to determine. There is yet one thing more that is extremely necessary for a foreign minister, which he can no more be without than an artisan without his tools; I mean the terms of his art. I call it an art or a science because I think the King of France has established an academy to instruct the young Machiavelians of his country in the deep and profound science of politics. To the end I might be qualified for an employment of this nature, and not only be qualified myself, but (to speak in the style of Sir John Falstaff) be the cause of qualification in others, I have made it my business to read memoirs, treatises, etc. And as a dictionary of law-terms is thought necessary for young beginners, so I thought a dictionary of terms of State would be no less useful for young politicians. The terms of politics being not so numerous as to swell into a volume, especially in times of peace (for in times of war all the terms of fortifications are included), I thought fit to extract them in the same manner for the benefit of young practitioners as a famous author has compiled his learned treatise of the law, called the 'Doctor and Student.' I have not made any great progress in this piece; but, however, I will give you a specimen of it, which will make you in the same manner a judge of the design and nature of this treatise.

"Politician: What are the necessary tools for a Prince to work with?

"Student: Ministers of State.

"Politician: What are the two great qualities of a Minister of State?

"Student: Secrecy and despatch.

"Politician: Into how many parts are the Ministers of State divided?

"Student: Into two. First, Ministers of State at home; secondly, Ministers of State abroad, who are called Foreign Ministers.

"Politician: Very right. Now as I design you for the latter of these employments I shall waive saying anything about the first of these. What are the different degrees of Foreign Ministers?

"Student: The different degrees of Foreign Ministers are as follows: First, Plenipotentiaries; second, Ambassadors-Extraordinary; third, Ambassadors in ordinary; fourth, Envoys-Extraordinary; fifth, Envoys-in-ordinary; sixth, Residents; seventh, Consuls; and eighth, Secretaries.

"Politician: How is a Foreign Minister to be known?

"Student: By his credentials.

"Politician: When are a Foreign Minister's credentials to be delivered?

"Student: Upon his first admission into the presence of the Prince to whom he is sent, otherwise called his first audience.

"Politician: How many kinds of audience are there?

"Student: Two, which are called a public audience and a private audience.

"Politician: What should a Foreign Minister's behaviour be when he has his first audience?

"Student: He should bow profoundly, speak deliberately, and wear both sides of his long periwig before, etc.

"By these few questions and answers you may be able to make some judgment of the usefulness of this politic treatise. Wicquefort, it is true, can never be sufficiently admired for his elaborate treatise of the conduct of an Ambassador in all his negotiations; but I design this only as a compendium, or the Ambassador's Manual, or vade mecum.

"I have writ so far of this letter, and do not know who to send it to; but I have now determined to send it either to Dr. Arbuthnot, the Dean of St. Patrick's, or to both. My Lord Clarendon is very much approved of at Court, and I believe is not dissatisfied with his reception. We have not very much variety of divisions; what we did yesterday and to-day we shall do to-morrow, which is to go to Court and walk in the gardens at Herrenhausen. If I write any more my letter will be just like my diversion, the same thing over and over again."[11]

Lord Clarendon stayed at Hanover even a shorter time than he had expected. On July 30th Lord Oxford was dismissed, and the white staff was given to the Duke of Shrewsbury, one of whose first acts was to recall the Tory Ambassador. Two days later Queen Anne died, and the Elector George Lewis succeeded to her throne under the style of George I. Lord Clarendon returned at once to England, and with him came Gay, saddened by the blasting of his hopes of advancement.

He was welcomed back by his friends, and received in particular an enthusiastic greeting from Pope, who wrote on September 23rd: "Welcome to your native soil! Welcome to your friend! Thrice welcome to me! whether returned in glory, blessed with Court interest, the love and familiarity of the great, and filled with agreeable hopes, or melancholy with dejection, contemplative of the changes of fortune, and doubtful for the future—whether returned a triumphant Whig or a desponding Tory, equally all hail! equally beloved and welcome to me! If happy, I am to share in your elevation; if unhappy, you have still a warm corner in my heart and a retreat at Binfield in the worst of times at your service." In this same letter Pope, always anxious to assist Gay, added: "Pardon me if I add a word of advice in the practical way. Write something on the King, or Prince or Princess. On whatever foot you may be with the Court, this can do no harm."[12]

* * * * *

The change of Government having dashed to the ground his hopes of advancement in the diplomatic service, Gay thought that he could not do better than follow Pope's suggestion. Like the majority of men of letters of his day, and not having the independence of spirit of Swift and Pope, he hungered after a patron—a Minister might be good, but Ministers go out of office, and a member of the reigning family would be better. Remembering the kindly welcome given him at Hanover by the royal lady who was now Princess of Wales, he had indulged in a dream that a place would be offered him in her household. "Poor Gay is much where he was, only out of the Duchess [of Monmouth]'s family and service," Arbuthnot wrote to Swift, October 19th, 1714. "He has some confidence in the Princess and Countess of Picborough; I wish it may be significant to him. I advised him to make a poem upon the Princess before she came over, describing her to the English ladies; for it seems that the Princess does not dislike that. (She is really a person that I believe will give great content to everybody). But Gay was in such a grovelling condition as to the affairs of this world, that his Muse would not stoop to visit him."[13]

No proposal, however, being made to him, Gay, following the advice of Pope and Arbuthnot, proceeded to remind the new Court of his existence, and in November published "A Letter to a Lady, occasioned by the arrival of Her Royal Highness "—the "Lady" being, it is generally assumed, Mrs. Howard. In these verses he gave the assurance that he had desired the elements to arrange for the Princess an agreeable passage to England:—

My strains with Carolina's name I grace. The lovely parent of our royal race. Breathe soft, ye winds, ye waves in silence sleep; Let prosp'rous breezes wanton o'er the deep, Swell the white sails, and with the streamers play, To waft her gently o'er the wat'ry way.

With true poetic exaggeration he extolled Caroline's virtues, and then, so that there should be no excuse for misunderstanding, said in plain terms that he had desired a post at Court, and made it perfectly clear that he was still prepared to accept such employment, if so be as it was coupled with suitable remuneration:—

Since all my schemes were baulk'd, my last resort, I left the Muses to frequent the Court; Pensive each night, from room to room I walk'd, To one I bow'd, and with another talk'd; Inquir'd what news, or such a lady's name, And did the next day, and the next, the same. Places I found, were daily giv'n away, And yet no friendly Gazette mention'd Gay.

Gay's protestations of delight at the accession to the throne of the House of Hanover would probably have been regarded as more sincere if, unfortunately, he had not a few months before dedicated "The Shepherd's Week" to Bolingbroke. His very outspoken hint in the "Letter to a Lady" was ignored; but Caroline, who liked eulogy as much as anyone, received him kindly; and when in February, 1715, he produced "The What D'ye Call It" at Drury Lane Theatre, she and her consort attended the first performance. But still, no place was found for him at Court. "Tell me," Swift asked him so much later as 1723, "are you not under original sin by the dedication of your Eclogue to Lord Bolingbroke?"

[Footnote 1: The Guardian, No. 32; April 17th, 1713.]

[Footnote 2: Dr. Johnson in his "Lives of the Poets" attributes the authorship to Steele (Works, ed. Hill), III, p. 269.]

[Footnote 3: Introductory Memoir by John Underhill, in his edition of the Poems of John Gay ("The Muses' Library"), I, xxxi.]

[Footnote 4: Works (ed. Hill), III, p. 269.]

[Footnote 5: Specimens, I, p. 298.]

[Footnote 6: Dictionary of National Biography, article, Gay.]

[Footnote 7: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 113.]

[Footnote 8: Ibid., XVI, p. 117.]

[Footnote 9: Ibid., XVI, p. 123.]

[Footnote 10: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 193.]

[Footnote 11: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 204.]

[Footnote 12: Pope: Works (ed. Elwin and Courthope), VII, p. 415.]

[Footnote 13: Swift: Works (ed. Scott), XVI, p. 213.]



"The What D'ye Call It"—An Epistle to the Right Honourable the Earl of Burlington—"Trivia, or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London"—"Three Hours After Marriage."

Undismayed by the failure of his first play, "The Wife of Bath," Gay made another bid for theatrical success with "The What D'ye Call It," which was performed at Drury Lane Theatre in February, 1715, and published in March of that year. In the preface Gay wrote: "I have not called it a tragedy, comedy, pastoral, or farce, but left the name entirely undetermined in the doubtful appellation of 'The What D'ye Call It' ... but I added to it 'A Tragi-Comi-Pastoral Farce,' as it contained all these several kinds of drama." Pope saw the play and wrote about it to Congreve, March 19th, 1715: "The farce of 'The What D'ye Call It' has occasioned many different speculations in the town, some looking upon it as a mere jest upon the tragic poets, others as a satire upon the late war. Mr. Cromwell, hearing none of the words, and seeing the action to be tragical, was much astonished to find the audience laugh, and says the Prince and Princess [of Wales] must doubtless be under no less amazement on the same account. Several Templars and others of the more vociferous kind of critics went with a resolution to hiss, and confessed they were forced to laugh so much that they forgot the design they came with. The Court in general has come in a very particular manner into the jest, and the three nights, notwithstanding two of them were Court nights, were distinguished by very full audiences of the first quality. The common people of the pit and gallery received it at first with great gravity and sedateness, and some few with tears; but after the third day they also took the hint, and have ever since been very loud in their claps. There are still sober men who cannot be of the general opinion, but the laughers are so much the majority that one or two critics seemed determined to undeceive the town at their proper cost, by writing dissertations against it to encourage them in this laudable design. It is resolved a preface shall be prefixed to the farce, in vindication of the nature and dignity of this new way of writing."[1] The fact is that, as Johnson put it, "the images were comic and the action grave," and there were many mock-heroic passages which parodied tragedies, including Addison's "Cato" and Otway's "Venice Preserved," well-known in that day. Also it contained several ballads, of which perhaps the best is "'Twas when the seas were roaring" (Act II., Scene 8).

"The What D'ye Call It" was not a piece of much value, but it pleased the audience, and Gay was highly delighted. "Now my benefit night is over, it should be my first care to return my thanks to those to whom I am mostly obliged, and the civilities I have always received from you, and upon this occasion too, claims this acknowledgment," the author wrote to Caryll on March 3rd: "'The What D'ye Call It' met with more success than could be expected from a thing so out of the common taste of the town. It has been played already five nights, and the galleries, who did not know at first what to make of it, now enter thoroughly into the humour, and it seems to please in general better than at first. The parts in general were not so well played as I could have wished, and in particular the part of Filbert, to speak in the style of the French Gazette. Penkethman did wonders; Mrs. Bicknell performed miraculously, and there was much honour gained by Miss Younger, though she was but a parish child."[2] Filbert was played by Johnson, Jonas Dock by Penkethman, Joyce ("Peascod's daughter, left upon the parish") by Miss Younger, and Kitty by Mrs. Bicknell, mentioned by the author in "Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece":—

And frolic Bicknell, and her sister young.

The welcome given by the public to the play brought in its train some annoyance to the author: "I find success, even in the most trivial things, raises the indignation of scribblers," he wrote to Parnell on March 18th, "for I, for my 'What D'ye Call It' could neither escape the fury of Mr. Burnet or the German doctor. Then, where will rage end when Homer is to be translated? Let Zoilus hasten to your friend's assistance, and envious criticism shall be no more."[3] A more biting attack than that of Thomas Burnet's Grumbler (No. 1, February 14th, 1715) or that of Philip Horneck in "The High German Doctor" was the "Key to 'The What D'ye Call It,'" written by the actor Griffin in collaboration with Lewis Theobald. About this Gay wrote to Caryll in April: "There is a sixpenny criticism lately published upon the tragedy of 'The What D'ye Call It,' wherein he with much judgment and learning calls me a blockhead and Mr. Pope a knave. His grand charge is against 'The Pilgrim's Progress' being read, which, he says, is directly levelled at Cato's reading Plato. To back this censure he goes on to tell you that 'The Pilgrim's Progress' being mentioned to be the eighth edition makes the reflection evident, the tragedy of 'Cato' being just eight times printed. He has also endeavoured to show that every particular passage of the play alludes to some fine part of the tragedy, which he says I have injudiciously and profanely abused."[4]

Still, Gay could really afford to laugh at those who attacked or parodied him, for the play brought him, if not fame, at least notoriety. It also brought him some much-needed money. Pope told Caryll in March that Gay "will have made about L100 out of this farce"; and it is known that for the publishing rights Lintott gave him on February 14th L16 2s. 6d.

Gay, now a popular dramatist as well as an intimate friend of many of the leading men in literary circles, became known to people of high social rank, who, like his brethren of the pen, took him up and made a pet of him. In the summer of 1715 Lord Burlington, the "generous Burlington" of "Mr. Pope's Welcome from Greece," invited him to accompany him to Devonshire, and Gay repaid the compliment by describing his "Visit to Exeter" in a poetical "Epistle to the Right Honourable the Earl of Burlington," the first lines of which are:—

While you, my Lord, bid stately piles ascend, Or in your Chiswick bowers enjoy your friend; Where Pope unloads the boughs within his reach, The purple vine, blue plum, and blushing peach; I journey far.—You know fat bards might tire. And, mounted, sent me forth your trusty squire.

During his stay in Devonshire Gay began the composition of "Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London." It was to this that Pope made allusion when writing to Caryll, January 10th, 1716: "Gay's poem [is] just on the brink of the press, which we have had the interest to procure him subscription of a guinea a book to a tolerable number. I believe it may be worth L150 to him on the whole."[5] In addition to the subscriptions, Gay received from Lintott L43 for the copyright of the book, the copies of which were sold to the public at one shilling and sixpence each; and as, with humorous exaggeration, Arbuthnot wrote to Parnell: "Gay has got as much money by his 'Art of Walking the Streets' that he is ready to set up his equipage; he is just going to the bank to negotiate some exchange bills."[6] The "Advertisement" prefaced to the poem runs:—

"The world, I believe, will take so little notice of me that I need not take much of it. The critics may see by this poem that I walk on foot, which probably may save me from their envy. I should be sorry to raise that passion in men whom I am so much obliged to, since they allowed me an honour hitherto only shown to better writers: that of denying me to be author of my own works. I am sensible this must be done in pure generosity; because whoever writ them, provided they did not themselves, they are still in the same condition. Gentlemen, if there be any thing in this poem good enough to displease you, and if it be any advantage to you to ascribe it to some person of greater merit, I shall acquaint you for your comfort, that among many other obligations, I owe several hints of it to Dr. Swift. And if you will so far continue your favour as to write against it, I beg you to oblige me in accepting the following motto:—

—Non tu, in triviis, indocte, solebas Stridenti miserum stipula disperdere carmen?"

Whether Swift gave any direct assistance is doubtful. Mr. Austin Dobson thinks that it is not improbable that "Trivia" was actually suggested by the "Morning" and "City Shower" which Swift had previously contributed to Steele's Tatler. Probably these are among the "several hints" which Gay had in mind.

"Trivia" was published on January 26th, 1716, and was the one outstanding feature in the year in the biography of Gay. In the following March 26th there appeared a volume of "Court Poems," published by J. Roberts, who advertised them as from the pen of Pope, though the preface makes the authorship doubtful between Pope, Gay, and a Lady of quality, who was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. To the volume Lady Mary Wortley Montagu contributed "The Drawing Room," Pope "The Basset Table," and Gay "The Toilet." This last has been attributed to Lady Mary, and it has actually been printed among her poems; but, according to Pope, it is "almost wholly Gay's," there being "only five or six lines in it by that lady."

In 1716 Gay paid a second visit to Devonshire, and during the year he composed the "sober eclogue," "The Espousal," which probably arose out of a suggestion of Swift. "There is an ingenious Quaker[7] in this town, who writes verses to his mistress, not very correct, but in a strain purely what a poetical Quaker should do, commending her looks and habit, etc." Swift wrote to Pope on August 30th, 1716: "It gave me a hint that a set of Quaker pastorals might succeed if our friend Gay could fancy it, and I think it a fruitful subject. Pray hear what he says. I believe farther, the pastoral ridicule is not exhausted, and that a porter, footman, or chairman's pastoral might do well; or what think you of a Newgate pastoral, among the whores and thieves there?"[8] This letter is of especial importance in the biography of Gay, as it may well have sown in his mind the seed of "The Beggar's Opera."

About this time Gay was labouring on another play, "Three Hours After Marriage," which he wrote in collaboration with Pope and Arbuthnot. It is a sorry piece of work, and unworthy of any one, much less of the three distinguished men associated in the authorship. In the Epilogue it is written:—

Join then your voices, be the play excused For once, though no one living is abused;

but as a matter of fact one purpose of the play was, as Dr. Johnson said, "to bring into contempt Dr. Woodward, the fossilist, a man not really or justly contemptible." Woodward was the author of a "History of Fossils," and his name survives in the Woodwardian Professorship of Geology at Cambridge. He was introduced as Dr. Cornelius in "Martin Scriblerus":—

Who nature's treasures would explore, Her mysteries and arcana know. Must high as lofty Newton soar, Must stoop as delving Woodward low.

The bridegroom in the play is called Fossile, and there was no mistaking the intention. Dr. Woodward had many friends, and these made known their disgust in the most unmistakable manner when "Three Hours After Marriage" was produced on January 16th, 1717, at Drury Lane Theatre. It ran for seven nights. "It had the fate which such outrages deserved," Dr. Johnson has written; "the scene in which Woodward was directly and apparently ridiculed by the introduction of a mummy and a crocodile, disgusted the audience, and the performance was driven off the stage with general condemnation."[9] The farce was not only dull, it was vulgar. And the geologist (played by Johnson) was not the only person introduced for the purpose of ridicule. Dennis was brought in as Sir Tremendous, and it was believed that Phoebe Clinket (played by Mrs. Bicknell) was intended for Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea, who, says Mr. Austin Dobson, "was alleged to have spoken contemptuously of Gay." Of this farce, Mr. Dobson writes: "It is perhaps fairer to say that he bore the blame, than that he is justly charged with its errors of taste"; and it is very probable that, while Gay generously accepted responsibility, Pope and Arbuthnot were equally culpable. "Too late I see, and confess myself mistaken in relation to the comedy; yet I do not think had I followed your advice and only introduced the mummy, that the absence of the crocodile had saved it," Gay wrote to Pope. "I cannot help laughing myself (though the vulgar do not consider it was designed to look ridiculous) to think how the poor monster and mummy were dashed at their reception; and when the cry was loudest I thought that if the thing had been written by another I should have deemed the town in some measure mistaken; and, as to your apprehension that this may do us future injury, do not think it; the Doctor [Arbuthnot] has a more valuable name than can be hurt by anything of this nature, and yours is doubly safe. I will, if any shame there be, take it all to myself, as indeed I ought, the notion being first mine, and never heartily approved of by you.... I beg of you not to suffer this, or anything else, to hurt your health. As I have publicly said that I was assisted by two friends, I shall still continue in the same story, professing obstinate silence about Dr. Arbuthnot and yourself."[10]

The publication in book form of "Three Hours After Marriage" by Lintott, who paid L16 2s. 6d. for the copyright, a few days after the production, did nothing to arrest the torrent of abuse. "Gay's play, among the rest, has cost much time and long suffering to stem a tide of malice and party, that certain authors have raised against it," Pope wrote to Parnell. Amongst those foremost among the attackers was Addison, who perhaps had not forgotten or forgiven the parody of some of the lines in his play "Cato," which was introduced by Gay in "The What D'ye Call It." Gay, the most easy-going of men, was always stirred by criticism, and in this case he, with unusual energy, sat down to reply to his detractors. "Mr. Addison and his friends had exclaimed so much against Gay's 'Three Hours After Marriage' for obscenities, that it provoked him to write 'A Letter from a Lady in the City to a Lady in the Country' on that subject," so runs a passage in Spence's Anecdotes of Pope. "In it he quoted the passages which had been most exclaimed against, and opposed other passages to them from Addison's and Steele's plays. These were aggravated in the same manner that they served his, and appeared worse. Had it been published it would have made Addison appear ridiculous, which he could bear as little as any man. I therefore prevailed upon Gay not to print it, and have the manuscript now by me."[11] In Spence's Anecdotes there is another passage bearing on the same matter: "A fortnight before Addison's death, [12] Lord Warwick [13] came to Gay and pressed him in a very particular manner 'to go and see Mr. Addison,' which he had not done for a great while. Gay went, and found Addison in a very weak way. He received him in the kindest manner and told him, 'that he had desired this visit to beg his pardon, that he had injured him greatly, but that if he lived he should find that he would make it up to him.' Gay, on his going to Hanover, had great reason to hope for some good preferment; but all his views came to nothing. It is not impossible but that Mr. Addison might prevent them, from his thinking Gay too well with some of the great men of the former Ministry. He did not at all explain himself, in which he had injured him, and Gay could not guess at anything else in which he could have injured him so considerably."[14] It seems, however, more probable that Addison really had in mind the part he had taken in connection with "Three Hours After Marriage." Two critical publications, "A Complete Key to 'Three Hours After Marriage,'" and "A Letter to John Gay, Concerning his late Farce, entitled a Comedy," annoyed Gay; while Pope, too, and, in a minor degree, Arbuthnot, were attacked for their share in the farce. John Durand Breval, writing over the signature of Joseph Gay, published in 1717 "The Confederates: A Farce," in which he introduced a humorous caricature print of Pope, Gay and Arbuthnot, so that, says Professor Courthope, "Pope, at the height of his fame, found himself credited, though he seems to have had little to do with it, with the past paternity of a condemned play."[15] Another incident, recorded by Professor Courthope, further angered Pope: "While he was still sore at the mishap, Colley Cibber, playing in 'The Rehearsal,' happened to make an impromptu allusion to the unlucky farce, saying that he had intended to introduce the two kings of Brentford, 'one of them in the shape of a mummy, and t'other in that of a crocodile.' The audience laughed, but Pope, who was in the house, appeared (according to Cibber's account) behind the scenes and abused the actor in unmeasured terms for his impertinence. Cibber's only reply was to assure the enraged poet that, so long as the play was acted, he should never fail to repeat the same words. He kept his promise, thus committing the first of that series of offences which, in the poet's vindictive memory, marked him down for elevation to the throne of Dulness which was rendered vacant by the deposition of King Tibbald."[16] There is a rumour that Gay, in revenge for Cibber's banter of "Three Hours After Marriage," personally chastised the actor-dramatist,[17] but there is nothing definitely known about this. Anyhow, Gay was so irritated by the failure of this play that he did not produce anything at a theatre during the next seven years.

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