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JOHN GAY, a well-known poet, was born at or near some South-sea stock presented to him by secretary Barnstaple, in Devonshire, in 1688. After an edu- Craggs, raised his hopes of fortune at one time to a cation at the free-school of Barnstaple, he was sent considerable height; but the loss of the whole of to London, where he was put apprentice to a silk- this stock affected him so deeply as to throw him mercer. A few years of negligent attendance on into a dangerous degree of languor, for his recovery the duties of such a station procured him a separa- from which he made trial of the air of Hampstead. tion by agreement from his master; and he not long He then wrote a tragedy called The Captives," afterwards addicted himself to poetical composition, of which was acted with applause; and in 1726, he which the first-fruits were his " Rural Sports," pub-composed the work by which he is best known, his lished in 1711, and dedicated to Pope, then first rising "Fables," written professedly for the young Duke to fame. In the following year, Gay, who possessed of Cumberland, and dedicated to him. In the manmuch sweetness of disposition, but was indolent and ner of narration there is considerable ease, together improvident, accepted an offer from the Duchess of with much lively and natural painting, but they will Monmouth to reside with her as her secretary. He hardly stand in competition with the French fables had leisure enough in this employment to produce of La Fontaine. Gay naturally expected a handin the same year his poem of "Trivia, or the Art of some reward for his trouble; but upon the accession Walking the Streets of London," which proved one of George II. nothing better was offered him than of the most entertaining of its class. It was much 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 deof proving, by a sort of caricature, the absurdity of rived from his former disappointments; and the rePhilips's system. The offer was accepted; and sult was a composition unique in its kind, of which Gay, who entitled his work "The Shepherd's the success could not with any certainty be foreseen. Week," went through the usual topics of a set of" It will either (said Congreve) take greatly, or be pastorals in a parody, which is often extremely damned confoundedly." Its fate was for some time humorous. But the effect was in one respect dif- in suspense; at length it struck the nerve of public ferent from his intended purpose; for his pictures taste, and received unbounded applause. It ran of rural life were so extremely natural and amusing, through sixty-three successive representations in the and intermixed with circumstances so beautiful and metropolis, and was performed a proportional numtouching, that his pastorals proved the most popular ber of times at all the provincial theatres. Its songs works of the kind in the language. This perform-were all learned by heart, and its actors were raised ance was dedicated to Lord Bolingbroke; and at to the summit of theatric fame. This success, inthis period Gay seems to have obtained a large share deed, seems to indicate a coarseness in the national of the favor of the Tory party then in power. He taste, which could be delighted with the repetition was afterwards nominated secretary to the Earl of of popular ballad-tunes, as well as a fondness for the Clarendon, in his embassy to the court of Hanover; delineation of scenes of vice and vulgarity. Gay but the death of Queen Anne recalled him from his himself was charged with the mischiefs he had thus, situation, and he was advised by his friends not to perhaps unintentionally, occasioned; and if the 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 the 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 of this work, entitled "Polly," but the Lord Cham
berlain refused to suffer it to be performed; and time he employed such intervals of health and spirits though the party in opposition so far encouraged it as he enjoyed, in writing his "Acis and Galatea," 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.
Gay, in the latter part of his life, received the kind patronage of the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, who took him into their house, and condescended to manage his pecuniary concerns. At this
forty-four, in consequence of an inflammation of the bowels. He was sincerely lamented by his friends; and his memory was honored by a monument in Westminster Abbey, and an epitaph in a strain of uncommon sensibility by Pope.
INSCRIBED TO MR. POPE, 1731.*
-Securi prælia ruris
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.
Thames listens to thy strains, and silent flows,
And no rude wind through rustling osiers blows,
While all his wondering nymphs around thee
To hear the Syrens warble in thy song.
But I, who ne'er was blest by Fortune's hand,
Nor brighten'd plowshares in paternal land,
Long in the noisy town have been immur'd,
Respir'd its smoke, and all its cares endur'd;
Where news and politics divide mankind,
And schemes of state involve th' uneasy mind:
Faction embroils the world; and every tongue
Is mov'd by flattery, or with scandal hung:
Friendship, for sylvan shades, the palace flies,
Where all must yield to interest's dearer ties:
Each rival Machiavel with envy burns,
And honesty forsakes them all by turns;
While calumny upon each party's thrown,
Which both promote, and both alike disown.
Fatigu'd at last, a calm retreat I chose,
And sooth'd my harass'd mind with sweet repose,
Where fields and shades, and the refreshing clime,
Inspire the sylvan song, and prompt my rhyme.
My Muse shall rove through flowery meads and
And deck with rural sports her native strains;
And the same road ambitiously pursue,
Frequented by the Mantuan swain and you.
"Tis not that rural sports alone invite,
But all the grateful country breathes delight;
Here blooming Health exerts her gentle reign,
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,
And high luxuriant grass o'erspreads the ground,
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;
While with the mounting Sun the meadow glows,
The fading herbage round he loosely throws:
But, if some sign portend a lasting shower,
Th' experienc'd swain foresees the coming hour;
His sun-burnt hands the scattering fork forsake,
And ruddy damsels ply the saving rake;
In rising hills the fragrant harvest grows,
And spreads along the field in equal rows. [gains,
Now when the height of Heaven bright Phobus
And level rays cleave wide the thirsty plains,
When heifers seek the shade and cooling lake,
And in the middle path-way basks the snake:
O lead me, guard me, from the sultry hours,
Hide me, ye forests, in your closest bowers,
Where the tall oak his spreading arms entwines,
And with the beach a mutual shade combines;
Where flows the murmuring brook, inviting dreams,
Where bordering hazel overhangs the streams,
Whose rolling current, winding round and round,
With frequent falls makes all the woods resound;
Upon the mossy couch my limbs I cast,
And e'en at noon the sweets of evening taste.
Here I peruse the Mantuan's Georgic strains,
And learn the labors of Italian swains;
In every page I see new landscapes rise,
And all Hesperia opens to my eyes;
I wander o'er the various rural toil,
And know the nature of each different soil:
This waving field is gilded o'er with corn,
That spreading trees with blushing fruit adorn:
Here I survey the purple vintage grow,
Climb round the poles, and rise in graceful row:
Now I behold the steed curvet and bound,
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,
the author, after it was first published.
And by the dint of war his mistress claims:
The careful insect 'midst his works I view,
Now from the flowers exhaust the fragrant dew;
With golden treasures load his little thighs,
And steer his distant journey through the skies;
Some against hostile drones the hive defend,
Others with sweets the waxen cells distend,
Each in the toil his destin'd office bears,
And in the little bulk a mighty soul appears.
Or when the plowman leaves the task of day,
And trudging homeward, whistles on the way;
When the big-udder'd cows with patience stand,
Waiting the strokings of the damsel's hand;
No warbling cheers the woods; the feather'd choir,
To court kind slumbers, to the sprays retire;
When no rude gale disturbs the sleeping trees,
Nor aspen leaves confess the gentlest breeze;
Engag'd in thought, to Neptune's bounds I stray,
To take my farewell of the parting day;
Far in the deep the Sun his glory hides,
A streak of gold the sea and sky divides:
The purple clouds their amber linings show,
And, edg'd with flame, rolls every wave below:
Here pensive I behold the fading light,
And o'er the distant billow lose my sight.
Now Night in silent state begins to rise,
And twinkling orbs bestrow th' uncloudy skies;
Her borrow'd lustre growing Cynthia lends,
And on the main a glittering path extends;
Millions of worlds hang in the spacious air,
Which round their suns their annual circles steer;
Sweet contemplation elevates my sense,
While I survey the works of Providence.
O could the Muse in loftier strains rehearse
The glorious Author of the universe,
Who reins the winds, gives the vast ocean bounds,
And circumscribes the floating worlds their rounds;
My soul should overflow in songs of praise,
And my Creator's name inspire my lays!
As in successive course the seasons roll,
So circling pleasures recreate the soul.
When genial Spring a living warmth bestows,
And o'er the year her verdant mantle throws,
No swelling inundation hides the grounds,
But crystal currents glide within their bounds:
The finny brood their wonted haunts forsake,
Float in the sun, and skim along the lake;
With frequent leap they range the shallow streams,
Their silver coats reflect the dazzling beams.
Now let the fisherman his toils prepare,
And arm himself with every watery snare;
His hooks, his lines, peruse with careful eye,
Increase his tackle, and his rod re-tie.
When floating clouds their spongy fleeces drain,
Troubling the streams with swift-descending rain;
And waters tumbling down the mountain's side,
Bear the loose soil into the swelling tide;
Then soon as vernal gales begin to rise,
And drive the liquid burthen through the skies,
The fisher to the neighboring current speeds,
Whose rapid surface purls unknown to weeds:
Upon a rising border of the brook
He sits him down, and ties the treacherous hook;
Now expectation cheers his eager thought,
His bosom glows with treasures yet uncaught;
Before his eyes a banquet seems to stand,
Where every guest applauds his skilful hand.
Far up the stream the twisted hair he throws, Which down the murmuring current gently flows; When, if or chance or hunger's powerful sway Directs the roving trout his fatal way,
He greedily sucks in the twining bait,
And tugs and nibbles the fallacious meat:
Now, happy fisherman, now twitch the line!
How thy rod bends! behold, the prize is thine!
Cast on the bank, he dies with gasping pains,
And trickling blood his silver mail distains.
You must not every worm promiscuous use,
Judgment will tell the proper bait to choose:
The worm that draws a long immoderate size,
The trout abhors, and the rank morsel flies;
And, if too small, the naked fraud's in sight,
And fear forbids, while hunger does invite.
Those baits will best reward the fisher's pains,
Whose polish'd tails a shining yellow stains:
Cleanse them from filth, to give a tempting gloss,
Cherish the sullied reptile race with moss;
Amid the verdant bed they twine, they toil,
And from their bodies wipe their native soil.
But when the Sun displays his glorious beams, And shallow rivers flow with silver streams, Then the deceit the scaly breed survey, Bask in the sun, and look into the day: You now a more delusive art must try, And tempt their hunger with the curious fly. To frame the little animal, provide All the gay hues that wait on female pride; Let Nature guide thee! sometimes golden wire The shining bellies of the fly require; The peacock's plumes thy tackle must not fail, Nor the dear purchase of the sable's tail. Each gaudy bird some slender tribute brings, And lends the growing insect proper wings; Silks of all colors must their aid impart, And every fur promote the fisher's art. So the gay lady, with excessive care, Borrows the pride of land, of sea, and air; [plays, Furs, pearls, and plumes, the glittering thing disDazzles our eyes, and easy hearts betrays.
Mark well the various seasons of the year,
How the succeeding insect race appear:
In this revolving Moon one color reigns,
Which in the next the fickle trout disdains.
Oft have I seen the skilful angler try
The various colors of the treacherous fly;
When he with fruitless pain hath skimm'd the brook,
And the coy fish rejects the skipping hook,
He shakes the boughs that on the margin grow,
Which o'er the stream a waving forest throw;
When, if an insect fall, (his certain guide,)
He gently takes him from the whirling tide;
Examines well his form with curious eyes,
His gaudy vest, his wings, his horns, and size,
Then round his hook the chosen fur he winds,
And on the back a speckled feather binds;
So just the colors shine through every part,
That Nature seems again to live in Art.
Let not thy wary step advance too near,
While all thy hopes hang on a single hair;
The new-form'd insect on the water moves,
The speckled trout the curious snare approves;
Upon the curling surface let it glide,
With natural motion from thy hand supplied;
Against the stream now gently let it play,
Now in the rapid eddy roll away.
The scaly shoals float by, and, seiz'd with fear,
Behold their fellows tost in thinner air:
But soon they leap, and catch the swimming bait,
Plunge on the hook, and share an equal fate.
When a brisk gale against the current blows,
And all the watery plain in wrinkles flows,
Then let the fisherman his art repeat,
Where bubbling eddies favor the deceit.
If an enormous salmon chance to spy
The wanton errors of the floating fly,
He lifts his silver gills above the flood,
And greedily sucks in th' unfaithful food;
Then downward plunges with the fraudful prey,
And bears with joy the little spoil away:
Soon in smart pain he feels the dire mistake,
Lashes the wave, and beats the foamy lake;
With sudden rage he now aloft appears,
And in his eye convulsive anguish bears;
And now again, impatient of the wound,
He rolls and wreathes his shining body round;
Then headlong shoots beneath the dashing tide,
The trembling fins the boiling wave divide.
Now hope exalts the fisher's beating heart,
Now he turns pale, and fears his dubious art;
He views the tumbling fish with longing eyes,
While the line stretches with th' unwieldy prize;
Each motion humors with his steady hands,
And one slight hair the mighty bulk commands;
Till, tir'd at last, despoil'd of all his strength,
The game athwart the stream unfolds his length.
He now, with pleasure, views the gasping prize
Gnash his sharp teeth, and roll his blood-shot eyes;
Then draws him to the shore, with artful care,
And lifts his nostrils in the sickening air:
Upon the burthen'd stream he floating lies,
Stretches his quivering fins, and gasping dies.
Would you preserve a numerous finny race;
Let your fierce dogs the ravenous otter chase
(Th' amphibious monster ranges all the shores,
Darts through the waves, and every haunt explores):
Or let the gin his roving steps betray,
And save from hostile jaws the scaly prey.
I never wander where the bordering reeds
O'erlook the muddy stream, whose tangling weeds
Perplex the fisher; I nor choose to bear
The thievish nightly net, nor barbed spear;
Nor drain I ponds, the golden carp to take,
Nor troll for pikes, dispeoplers of the lake;
Around the steel no tortur'd worm shall twine,
No blood of living insects stain my line.
Let me, less cruel, cast the feather'd hook
With pliant rod athwart the pebbled brook,
Silent along the mazy margin stray,
And with the fur-wrought fly delude the prey.
Now, sporting Muse, draw in the flowing reins, Leave the clear streams awhile for sunny plains. Should you the various arms and toils rehearse, And all the fisherman adorn thy verse; Should you the wide encircling net display, And in its spacious arch enclose the sea; Then haul the plunging load upon the land, And with the sole and turbot hide the sand; It would extend the growing theme too long, And tire the reader with the watery song.
Let the keen hunter from the chase refrain, Nor render all the plowman's labor vain, When Ceres pours out plenty from her horn, And clothes the fields with golden ears of corn. Now, now, ye reapers, to your task repair, Haste! save the product of the bounteous year: To the wide-gathering hook long furrows yield, And rising sheaves extend through all the field.
Yet, if for sylvan sports thy bosom glow,
Let thy fleet greyhound urge his flying foe.
With what delight the rapid course I view!
How does my eye the circling race pursue!
He snaps deceitful air with empty jaws;
The subtle hare darts swift beneath his paws;
She flies, he stretches, now with nimble bound
Eager he presses on, but overshoots his ground;
She turns, he winds, and soon regains the way,
Then tears with gory mouth the screaming prey.
What various sport does rural life afford!
What unbought dainties heap the wholesome board'
Nor less the spaniel, skilful to betray,
Rewards the fowler with the feather'd prey.
Soon as the laboring horse, with swelling veins,
Hath safely hous'd the farmer's doubtful gains,
To sweet repast th' unwary partridge flies,
With joy amid the scatter'd harvest lies;
Wandering in plenty, danger he forgets,
Nor dreads the slavery of entangling nets.
The subtle dog scours with sagacious nose
Along the field, and snuffs each breeze that blows;
Against the wind he takes his prudent way,
While the strong gale directs him to the prey;
Now the warm scent assures the covey near,
He treads with caution, and he points with fear;
Then (lest some sentry-fowl the fraud descry,
And bid his fellows from the danger fly)
Close to the ground in expectation lies,
Till in the snare the fluttering covey rise.
Soon as the blushing light begins to spread,
And glancing Phoebus gilds the mountain's head,
His early flight th' ill-fated partridge takes,
And quits the friendly shelter of the brakes;
Or, when the Sun casts a declining ray,
And drives his chariot down the western way,
Let your obsequious ranger search around,
Where yellow stubble withers on the ground;
Nor will the roving spy direct in vain,
But numerous coveys gratify thy pain.
When the meridian Sun contracts the shade,
And frisking heifers seek the cooling glade;
Or when the country floats with sudden rains,
Or driving mists deface the moisten'd plains;
In vain his toils th' unskilful fowler tries,
While in thick woods the feeding partridge lies.
Nor must the sporting verse the gun forbear,
But what's the fowler's be the Muse's care.
See how the well-taught pointer leads the way;
The scent grows warm; he stops: he springs the
The fluttering coveys from the stubble rise,
And on swift wing divide the sounding skies;
The scattering lead pursues the certain sight,
And death in thunder overtakes their flight.
Cool breathes the morning air, and Winter's hand
Spreads wide her hoary mantle o'er the land;
Now to the copse thy lesser spaniel take,
Teach him to range the ditch, and force the brake;
Not closest coverts can protect the game:
Hark! the dog opens; take thy certain aim.
The woodcock flutters; how he wavering flies!
The wood resounds: he wheels, he drops, he dies.
The towering hawk let future poets sing,
Who terror bears upon his soaring wing:
Let them on high the frighted hern survey,
And lofty numbers point their airy fray.
Nor shall the mounting lark the Muse detain.
That greets the morning with his early strain;
When, 'midst his song, the twinkling glass betrays, | No midnight masquerade her beauty wears,
While from each angle flash the glancing rays,
And in the Sun the transient colors blaze,
Pride lures the little warbler from the skies:
The light-enamour'd bird deluded dies.
But still the chase, a pleasing task, remains;
The hound must open in these rural strains.
Soon as Aurora drives away the night,
And edges eastern clouds with rosy light,
The healthy huntsman, with the cheerful horn,
Summons the dogs, and greets the dappled morn;
The jocund thunder wakes th' enliven'd hounds,
They rouse from sleep, and answer sounds for
Wide through the furzy field their route they take,
Their bleeding bosoms force the thorny brake:
The flying game their smoking nostrils trace,
No bounding hedge obstructs their eager pace;
The distant mountains echo from afar,
And hanging woods resound the flying war:
The tuneful noise the sprightly courser hears,
Paws the green turf, and pricks his trembling ears;
The slacken'd rein now gives him all his speed,
Back flies the rapid ground beneath the steed;
Hills, dales, and forests, far behind remain,
While the warm scent draws on the deep-mouth'd
Where shall the trembling hare a shelter find?
Hark! death advances in each gust of wind!
Now stratagems and doubling wiles she tries,
Now circling turns, and now at large she flies;
Till, spent at last, she pants, and heaves for breath,
Then lays her down, and waits devouring death.
But stay, adventurous Muse! hast thou the force
To wind the twisted horn, to guide the horse?
To keep thy seat unmov'd, hast thou the skill,
O'er the high gate, and down the headlong hill?
Canst thou the stag's laborious chase direct,
Or the strong fox through all his arts detect?
The theme demands a more experienc'd lay:
Ye mighty hunters! spare this weak essay.
O happy plains, remote from war's alarms, And all the ravages of hostile arms! And happy shepherds, who, secure from fear, On open downs preserve your fleecy care! Whose spacious barns groan with increasing store, And whirling flails disjoint the cracking floor! No barbarous soldier, bent on cruel spoil, Spreads desolation o'er your fertile soil; No trampling steed lays waste the ripen'd grain, Nor crackling fires devour the promis'd gain; No flaming beacons cast their blaze afar, The dreadful signal of invasive war; No trumpet's clangour wounds the mother's ear, And calls the lover from his swooning fair. What happiness the rural maid attends, In cheerful labor while each day she spends! She gratefully receives what Heaven has sent, And, rich in poverty, enjoys content. (Such happiness, and such unblemish'd fame, Ne'er glad the bosom of the courtly dame) : She never feels the spleen's imagin'd pains, Nor melancholy stagnates in her veins; She never loses life in thoughtless ease, Nor on the velvet couch invites disease; Her home-spun dress in simple neatness lies, And for no glaring equipage she sighs: Her reputation, which is all her boast, In a malicious visit ne'er was lost;
And health, not paint, the fading bloom repairs.
If love's soft passion in her bosom reign,
An equal passion warms her happy swain;
No homebred jars her quiet state control,
Nor watchful jealousy torments her soul;
With secret joy she sees her little race
Hang on her breast, and her small cottage grace;
The fleecy ball their busy fingers cull,
Or from the spindle draw the lengthening wool:
Thus flow her hours with constant peace of mind,
Till age the latest thread of life unwind.
Ye happy fields, unknown to noise and strife,
The kind rewarders of industrious life;
Ye shady woods, where once I us'd to rove,
Alike indulgent to the Muse and Love;
Ye murmuring streams that in meanders roll,
The sweet composers of the pensive soul!
Farewell!-The city calls me from your bowers:
Farewell, amusing thoughts, and peaceful hours!
Of the Implements for Walking the Streets, and Signs of the Weather.
THROUGH winter streets to steer your course aright,
How to walk clean by day, and safe by night;
How jostling crowds with prudence to decline,
When to assert the wall, and when resign,
I sing thou, Trivia, goddess, aid my song,
Through spacious streets conduct thy bard along;
By thee transported, I securely stray
Where winding alleys lead the doubtful way,
The silent court and opening square explore,
And long perplexing lanes untrod before.
To pave thy realm, and smooth the broken ways,
Earth from her womb a flinty tribute pays;
For thee the sturdy pavior thumps the ground,
Whilst every stroke his laboring lungs resound;
For thee the scavenger bids kennels glide
Within their bounds, and heaps of dirt subside.
My youthful bosom burns with thirst of fame,
From the great theme to build a glorious name,
To tread in paths to ancient bards unknown,
And bind my temples with a civic crown:
But more my country's love demands my lays;
My country's be the profit, mine the praise!
When the black youth at chosen stands rejoice,
And "clean your shoes" resounds from every voice;
When late their miry sides stage-coaches show,
And their stiff horses through the town move slow;
When all the Mall in leafy ruin lies,
And damsels first renew their oyster-cries:
Then let the prudent walker shoes provide,
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: