« PreviousContinue »
John Gay, a well-krown poet, was born at or near some South-sea stock presented to him by secretary Barnstaple, in Devonshire, in 1688. After an edu- Craggs, raised his hopes of fortune at one time to a cation at the free-school of Barnstaple, he was sent considerable height; but the loss of the whole of to London, where he was put apprentice to a silk- this stock affected him so deeply as to throw him
A few years of negligent attendance on into a dangerous degree of languor, for his recovery the duties of such a station procured him a separa- from which he made trial of the air of Hampstead. tion by agreement from his master; and he not long He then wrote a tragedy called “The Captives," afterwards addicted himself to poetical composition, of which was acted with applause ; and in 1726, he which the first-fruits were his “ Rural Sports," pub-composed the work by which he is best known, his ished in 1711, and dedicated to Pope, then first rising " Fables,” written professedly for the young Duke to fame. In the following year, Gay, who possessed of Cumberland, and dedicated to him. In the man. much sweetness of disposition, but was indolent and ner of narration there is considerable ease, together improvident, accepted an offer from the Duchess of with much lively and natural painting, but they will Monmouth to reside with her as her secretary. He hardly stand in competition with the French fables had leisure enough in this employment to produce of-La Fontaine. Gay naturally expected a handin the same year his poem of “Trivia, or the Art of some reward for his trouble ; but upon the accession Walking the Streets of London,” which proved one of George II. nothing better was offered him than of the most entertaining of its class. It was much the post of gentleman-usher to the young Princess admired; and displayed in a striking manner that Louisa, which he regarded rather as an indignity talent for the description of external objects which than a favor, and accordingly declined. peculiarly characterized the author.
The time, however, arrived when he had little In 1714, he made his appearance from the press occasion for the arts of a courtier to acquire a degree on a singular occasion. Pope and Ambrose Philips of public applause greater than he had hitherto exhad a dispute about the respective merits of their perienced. In 1727, his famous “ Beggar's Opera" pastorals ; upon which, Gay, in order to serve the was acted at Lincolns-inn-fields, after having been cause of his friend, undertook to compose a set of refused at Drury-lane. To the plan of burlesquing pastorals, in which the manners of the country should the Italian operas by songs adapted to the most be exhibited in their natural coarseness, with a view familiar tunes, he added much political satire de. of proving, by a sort of caricature, the absurdity of rived from his former disappointments; and the rePhilips's system. The offer was accepted ; and sult was a composition unique in its kind, of which Gay, who entitled his work “The Shepherd's the success could not with any certainty be foreseen. Week,” went through the usual topics of a set of " It will either (said Congreve) take greatly, or be pastorals in a parody, which is often extremely damned confoundedly.” Its fate was for some time humorous. But the effect was in one respect dif- in suspense; at length it struck the nerve of public ferent from his intended purpose ; for his pictures taste, and received unbounded applause. It ran of rural life were so extremely natural and amusing, through sixty-three successive representations in the and intermixed with circumstances so beautiful and metropolis, and was performed a proportional numtouching, that his pastorals proved the most popular ber of times at all the provincial theatres. Its songs works of the kind in the language. This perform- were all learned by heart, and its actors were raised ance was dedicated to Lord Bolingbroke ; and at to the summit of theatric fame. This success, inthis period Gay seems to have obtained a large share deed, seems to indicate a coarseness in the national of the favor of the Tory party then in power. He taste, which could be delighted with the repetition was afterwards nominated secretary to the Earl of of popular ballad-tunes, as well as a fondness for the Clarendon, in his embassy to the court of Hanover; delineation of scenes of vice and vulgarity. Gay but the death of Queen Anne recalled him from his himself was charged with the mischiefs he had thus, situation, and he was advised by his friends not to perhaps unintentionally, occasioned; and if tho neglect the opportunity afforded him to ingratiate Beggar's Opera delighted the stage, it encountered himself with the new family. He accordingly wrote more serious censure in graver places than has been a poetical epistle upon the arrival of the Princess of bestowed on almost any other dramatic piece. By Wales, which compliment procured him the honor making a highwayman ihe hero, he has incurred the of the attendance of the prince and princess at the odium of rendering the character of a freebooter an exhibition of a new dramatic piece.
object of popular ambition; and, by furnishing his Gay had now many friends, as well among per- personages with a plea for their dishonesty drawn sons of rank, as among his brother-poets ; but little from the universal depravity of mankind, he has was yet done to raise him to a state of independence. been accused of sapping the foundations of all A subscription to a collection of his poems pub- social morality. The author wrote a second part lished in 1720, cleared him a thousand pounds; and lof this work, entitled “ Polly," but the Lord Cham
berlain refused to suffer it to be performed ; and time he employed such intervals of health and spirits though the party in opposition so far encouraged it as he enjoyed, in writing his “ Acis and Galatea,” by their subscriptions that it proved more profitable an opera called “Achilles,” and a “Serenata." to him than even the first part, it was a very feeble His death took place in 1732, at the early age of performance, and has sunk into total neglect. forty-four, in consequence of an inflammation of
Gay, in the latter part of his life, received the the bowels. He was sincerely lamented by his kind patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Queens- friends; and his memory was honored by a monuberry, who took him into their house, and conde- ment in Westminster Abbey, and an epitaph in a scended to manage his pecuniary.concerns. At this strain of uncommon sensibility by Pope.
Here blooming Health exerts her gentle reign, RURAL SPORTS.
And strings the sinews of th' industrious swain.
Soon as the morning lark salutes the day,
Through dewy fields I take my frequent way,
Where I behold the farmer's early care
In the revolving labors of the year.
When the fresh Spring in all her state is crown'd. -Securi prælia ruris
And high luxuriant grass o'erspreads the ground, Pandimus.
The laborer with a bending scythe is seen,
Shaving the surface of the waving green;
Of all her native pride disrobes the land,
And meads lays waste before his sweeping hand; You, who the sweets of rural life have known, While with the mounting Sun the meadow glows, Despise th? ungrateful hurry of the town; The fading herbage round he loosely throws : In Windsor groves your easy hours employ, But, if some sign portend a lasting shower, And, undisturb’d, yourself and Muse enjoy. Th' experienc'd swain foresees the coming hour, Thames listens to thy strains, and silent flows, His sun-burnt hands the scattering fork forsake, And no rude wind through rustling osiers blows, And ruddy damsels ply the saving rake; While all his wondering nymphs around thee In rising hills the fragrant harvest grows, throng,
And spreads along the field in equal rows. [gains To hear the Syrens warble in thy song.
Now when the height of Heaven bright Phoebus But I, who ne'er was blest by Fortune's hand, And level rays cleave wide the thirsty plains, Nor brighten'd plowshares in paternal land, When heifers seek the shade and cooling lake, Long in the noisy town have been immur'd, And in the middle path-way basks the snake: Respir'd its smoke, and all its cares endur'd; O lead me, guard me, from the sultry hours, Where news and politics divide mankind, Hide me, ye forests, in your closest bowers, And schemes of state involve th' uneasy mind: Where the tall oak his spreading arms entwines, Faction embroils the world ; and every tongue And with the beach a mutual shade combines; Is mov'd by flattery, or with scandal hung : Where flows the murmuring brook, inviting dreams Friendship, for sylvan shades, the palace flies, Where bordering hazel overhangs the streams, Where all must yield to interest's dearer ties: Whose rolling current, winding round and round, Each rival Machiavel with envy burns,
With frequent falls makes all the woods resound; And honesty forsakes them all by turns ;
Upon the mossy couch my limbs I cast,
And learn the labors of Italian swains;
This waving field is gilded o’er with corn,
Here I survey the purple vintage grow, Frequented by the Mantuan swain and you. Climb round the poles, and rise in graceful row: "Tis not that rural sports alone invite,
Now I behold the steed curvet and bound, But all the grateful country breathes delight ; And paw with restless hoof the smoking ground
The dewlap'd bull now chafes along the plain,
While burning love ferments in every vein ; This poem received many material corrections from His well-arm'd front against his rival aims, lie author, after it was first published.
And by the dint of war his mistress claims :
The careful insect 'midst his works I'view, He greedily sucks in the twining bait,
You must not every worm promiscuous use, And in the little bulk a mighty soul appears. Judgment will tell the proper bait to choose :
Or when the plowman leaves the task of day, The worm that draws a long immoderate size, And trudging homeward, whistles on the way; The trout abhors, and the rank morsel flies; When the big-udder'd cows with patience stand, And, if too small, the naked fraud's in sight, Waiting the strokings of the damsel's hand; And fear forbids, while hunger does invite. No warbling cheers the woods; the feather'd choir, Those baits will best reward the fisher's pains, To court kind slumbers, to the sprays retire; Whose polish'd tails a shining yellow stains : When no rude gale disturbs the sleeping trees, Cleanse them from filth, to give a tempting gloss, Nor aspen leaves confess the gentlest breeze; Cherish the sullied reptile race with moss ; Engag'd in thought, to Neptune's bounds I stray, Amid the verdant bed they twine, they toil, To take my farewell of the parting day ;
And from their bodies wipe their native soil. Far in the deep the Sun his glory hides,
But when the Sun displays his glorious beams, A streak of gold the sea and sky divides :
And shallow rivers flow with silver streams,
You now a more delusive art must try,
And tempt their hunger with the curious fly. Now Night in silent state begins to rise,
To frame the little animal, provide And twinkling orbs bestrow th' uncloudy skies ; All the gay hues that wait on female pride ; Her borrow'd lustre growing Cynthia lends, Let Nature guide thee! sometimes golden wire And on the main a glittering path extends ; The shining bellies of the fly require ; Millions of worlds hang in the spacious air, The peacock's plumes thy tackle must not fail, Which round their suns their annual circles steer; Nor the dear purchase of the sable's tail. Sweet contemplation elevates my sense,
Each gaudy bird some slender tribute brings, While I survey the works of Providence.
And lends the growing insect proper wings; O could the Muse in loftier strains rehearse Silks of all colors must their aid impart, The glorious Author of the universe,
And every fur promote the fisher's art. Who reins the winds, gives the vast ocean bounds, So the gay lady, with excessive care, And circumscribes the floating worlds their rounds; Borrows the pride of land, of sea, and air ; [plays My soul should overflow in songs of praise, Furs, pearls, and plumes, the glittering thing disAnd my Creator's name inspire my lays !
Dazzles our eyes, and easy hearts betrays. As in successive course the seasons roll,
Mark well the various seasons of the year, So circling pleasures recreate the soul.
How the succeeding insect race appear: When genial Spring a living warmth bestowe, In this revolving Moon one color reigns, And o'er the year her verdant mantle throws, Which in the next the fickle trout disdains. No swelling inundation hides the grounds, Oft have I seen the skilful angler try But crystal currents glide within their bounds ; The various colors of the treacherous fly; The finny brood their wonted haunts forsake, When he with fruitless pain hath skimm'd the brook, Float in the sun, and skim along the lake ; And the coy fish rejects the skipping hook, With frequent leap they range the shallow streams, He shakes the boughs that on the margin grow, Their silver coats reflect the dazzling beams. Which o'er the stream a waving forest throw; Now let the fisherman his toils prepare,
When, if an insect fall, (his certain guide,) And arm himself with every watery snare; He gently takes him from the whirling tide; His hooks, his lines, peruse with careful eye, Examines well his form with curious eyes, Increase his tackle, and his rod re-tie.
His gaudy vest, his wings, his horns, and size, When floating clouds their spongy fleeces drain, Then round his hook the chosen fur he winds, Troubling the streams with swift-descending rain; And on the back a speckled feather binds; And waters tumbling down the mountain's side, So just the colors shine through every part, Bear the loose soil into the swelling tide;
That Nature seenas again to live in Art. Then soon as vernal gales begin to rise,
Let not thy wary step advance too near, And drive the liquid burthen through the skies, While all thy hopes hang on a single hair; The fisher to the neighboring current speeds, The new-form'd insect on the water moves, Whose rapid surface purls unknown to weeds : The speckled trout the curious snare approves ; Upon a rising border of the brook
Upon the curling surface let it glide, He sits him down, and ties the treacherous hook ; With natural motion from thy hand supplied ; Now expectation cheers his eager thought, Against the stream now gently let it play, His bosom glows with treasures yet uncaught; Now in the rapid eddy roll away. Before his eyes a banquet seems to stand,
The scaly shoals float by, and, seiz'd with fear, Where every guest applauds his skilful hand. Behold their fellows tost in thinner air:
Far up the stream the twisted hair he throws, But soon they leap, and catch the swimming bait, Which down the murmuring current gently flows; Plunge on the hook, and share an equal fate. When, if or chance or hunger's powerful sway When a brisk gale against the current blows, Directs the roving trout his fatal way,
And all the watery plain in wrinkles flows,
Then let the fisherman his art repeat,
Yet, if for sylvan sports thy bosom glow, Where bubbling eddies favor the deceit.
Let thy fleet greyhound urge his flying foe. If an enormous salmon chance to spy
With what delight the rapid course I view! The wanton errors of the floating fly,
How does my eye the circling race pursue ! He lifts his silver gills above the flood,
He snaps deceitful air with empty jaws; And greedily sucks in th' unfaithful food ; The subtle hare darts swift beneath his paws; Then downward plunges with the fraudful prey, She flies, he stretches, now with nimble bound And bears with joy the little spoil away:
Eager he presses on, but overshoots his ground; Soon in smart pain he feels the dire mistake, She turns, he winds, and soon regains the way, Lashes the wave, and beats the foamy lake; Then tears with gory mouth the screaming prey. With sudden rage he now aloft appears,
What various sport does rural life afford ! And in his eye convulsive anguish bears; What unbought dainties heap the wholesome board! And now again, impatient of the wound,
Nor less the spaniel, skilful to betray, He rolls and wreathes his shining body round; Rewards the fowler with the feather'd prey. Then headlong shoots beneath the dashing tide, Soon as the laboring horse, with swelling veins, The trembling fins the boiling wave divide. Hath safely hous'd the farmer's doubtful gains, Now hope exalts the fisher's beating heart, To sweet repast th' unwary partridge flies, Now he turns pale, and fears his dubious art; With joy amid the scatter'd harvest lies ; He views the tumbling fish with longing eyes, Wandering in plenty, danger he forgets, While the line stretches with th' unwieldy prize ; Nor dreads the slavery of entangling nets. Each motion humors with his steady hands, The subtle dog scours with sagacious nose And one slight hair the mighty bulk commands; Along the field, and snuffs each breeze that blows; Till, tir'd at last, despoil'd of all his strength, Against the wind he takes his prudent way, The game athwart the stream unfolds his length. While the strong gale directs him to the prey ; He now, with pleasure, views the gasping prize Now the warm scent assures the covey near, Gnash his sharp teeth, and roll his blood-shot eyes; He treads with caution, and he points with sear; Then draws him to the shore, with artful care, Then (lest some sentry-fowl the fraud descry, And lifts his nostrils in the sickening air :
And bid his fellows from the danger fly) Upon the burthen'd stream he floating lies, Close to the ground in expectation lies, Stretches his quivering fins, and gasping dies. Till in the snare the fluttering covey rise.
Would you preserve a numerous finny race; Soon as the blushing light begins to spread, Let your fierce dogs the ravenous otter chase And glancing Phoebus gilds the mountain's head, (Th' amphibious monster ranges all the shores, His early flight th' ill-fated partridge takes, Daris through the waves, and every haunt explores): And quits the friendly shelter of the brakes ; Or let the gin his roving steps betray,
Or, when the Sun casts a declining ray, And save from hostile jaws the scaly prey.
And drives his chariot down the western way, I never wander where the bordering reeds Let your obsequious ranger search around, O'erlook the muddy stream, whose tangling weeds Where yellow stubble withers on the ground; Perplex the fisher; I nor choose to bear
Nor will the roving spy direct in vain, The thievish nightly net, nor barbed spear; But numerous coveys gratify thy pain. Nor drain I ponds, the golden carp to take, When the meridian Sun contracts the shade, Nor troll for pikes, dispeoplers of the lake; And frisking heifers seek the cooling glade ; Around the steel no tortur'd worm shall twinc, Or when the country floats with sudden rains, No blood of living insects stain my line.
Or driving mists deface the moisten'd plains ; Let me, less cruel, cast the feather'd hook In vain his toils th'unskilful fowler tries, With pliant rod ath wart the pebbled brook, While in thick woods the feeding partridge lies. Silent along the mazy margin stray,
Nor must the sporting verse the gun forbear, And with the fur-wrought fly delude the prey. But what's the fowler's be the Muse's care.
See how the well-taught pointer leads the way ; Canto II.
The scent grows warm; he stops : he springs the
prey ; Now, sporting Musé, draw in the flowing reins, The fluttering coveys from the stubble rise, Leave the clear streams awhile for sunny plains. And on swift wing divide the sounding skies ; Should
the various arms and toils rehearse, The scattering lead pursues the certain sight, And all the fisherman adorn thy verse;
And death in thunder overtakes their flight. Should you the wide encircling net display, Cool breathes the morning air, and Winter's hand And in its spacious arch enclose the sea;
Spreads wide her hoary mantle o'er the land ; Then haul the plunging load upon the land, Now to the copse thy lesser spaniel take, And with the sole and turbot hide the sand ; Teach him to range the ditch, and force the brake It would extend the growing theme too long, Not closest coverts can protect the game : And tire the reader with the watery song. Hark! the dog opens ; take thy certain aim.
Let the keen hunter from the chase refrain, The woodcock flutters ; how he wavering flies! Nor render all the plowman's labor vain,
The wood resounds: he wheels, he drops, he dies When Ceres pours out plenty from her horn, The towering hawk let future poets sing, And clothes the fields with golden ears of corn. Who terror bears upon his soaring wing : Now, now, ye reapers, to your task repair,
Let them on high the frighted hern survey, Haste! save the product of the bounteous year: And lofty numbers point their airy fray. To the wide-gathering hook long furrows yield, Nor shall the mounting lark the Muse detain, And rising sheaves extend through all the field. That greets the morning with his early strain;
IN THREE BOOKS.
When, 'midst his song, the iwinkling glass betrays, No midnight masquerade her beauty wears,
No homebred jars her quiet stale control,
Hang on her breast, and her small cottage grace ;
The fleecy ball their busy fingers cull,
The kind rewarders of industrious life ;
Farewell The city calls me from your bowers :
Quo te Moeri pedes? an, quo via dacit, in urbem ?
Of the Implements for Walking the Streets, and Signs
of the Weather.
O happy plains, remote from war's alarms, I sing : thou, Trivia, goddess, aid my song,
Through spacious streets conduct thy bard along ;
To pave thy realm, and smooth the broken ways,
Earth from her womb a flinty tribute pays;
For thee the scavenger bids kennels glide
Within their bounds, and heaps of dirt subside.
What happiness the rural maid attends, To tread in paths to ancient bards unknown,
My country's be the profit, mine the praise !
When all the Mall in leafy ruin lies,
And damsels first renew their oyster-cries :
Not of the Spanish or Morocco hide ;
The wooden heel may raise the dancer's bound,
And with the scallop'd top his step be crown d: