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"placed all kinds of vice in the strongest and most odious light;" but others, and among them Dr. Herring, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, censured it as giving encouragement not only to vice but to crimes, by making a highwayman the hero, and dismissing him at last unpunished. It has been even said, that after the exhibition of the "Beggar's Opera," the gangs of robbers were evidently multiplied.
Both these decisions are surely exaggerated. The play, like many others, was plainly written only to divert, without any moral purpose, and is therefore not likely to do good; nor can it be conceiv ed, without more speculation than life requires or admits, to be productive of much evil. Highwaymen and housebreakers seldom frequent the playhouse, or mingle in any elegant diversion; nor is it possible for any one to imagine that he may rob with safety, because he sees Mackheath reprieved upon the stage.
This objection, however, or some other, rather political than moral, obtained such prevalence, that when Gay produced a second part under the name of "Polly," it was prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain; and he was forced to recompense his repulse by a subscription, which is said to have been so liberally bestowed, that what he called oppression ended in profit. The publication was 60 much favoured, that though the first part gained him four hundred pounds, near thrice as much was the profit of the second.
He received yet another recompence for this supposed hardship in the affectionate attention of the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, into whose house he was taken, and with whom he passed the remaining part of his life, The Duke, considering his want of economy, undertook the management
of his money, and gave it to him as he wanted it. But it is supposed that the discountenance of the court sunk deep into his heart, and gave him more discontent than the applauses or tenderness of his friends could overpower. He soon fell into his old distemper, an habitual cholic, and languished, though with many intervals of ease and cheerfulness, till a violent fit at last seized him, and hurried him to the grave, as Arbuthnot reported, with more precipitance than he had ever known. He died on the 4th of December, 1732, and was bu ried in Westminster Abbey. The letter which brought an account of his death to Swift was laid by for some days unopened, because when he received it he was impressed with the preconception of some misfortune.
After his death, was published a second volume of "Fables," more political than the former. His opera of "Achilles" was acted, and the profits were given to two widow sisters, who inherited what he left, as his lawful heirs; for he died without a will, though he had gathered three thousand pounds. There have appeared likewise under his name a comedy called "The Distressed Wife," and "The Rehearsal at Gotham," a piece of hu
The character given him by Pope is this: that he was a natural man, without design, who spoke what he thought, and just as he thought it;" and that " he was of a timid temper, and fearful of giv ing offence to the great;" which caution, however, says Pope, was of no avail.
As a poet, he cannot be rated very high. He was, as I once heard a female critic remark, "of a lower order." He had not in any great degree the mens divinior, the dignity of genius. Much however must be allowed to the author of a new
species of composition, though it be not of the highest kind. We owe to Gay the ballad opera; a mode of comedy which at first was supposed to delight only by its novelty, but has now by the experience of half a century been found so well accommodated to the disposition of a popular audience, that it is likely to keep long possession of the stage. Whether this new drama was the product of judgment or of luck, the praise of it must be given to the inventor; and there are many wri. ters read with more reverence, to whom such merit of originality cannot be attributed.
His first performance, "The Rural Sports," is such as was easily planned and executed; it is never contemptible nor ever excellent. The" Fan" is one of those mythological fictions which antiquity delivers ready to the hand, but which, like other things that lie open to every one's use, are of little value. The attention naturally retires from a new tale of Venus, Diana, and Minerva.
His "Fables" seem to have been a favourite work; for, having published one volume, he left another behind him. Of this kind of fables, the authors do not appear to have formed any distinct or settled notion. Phædrus evidently confounds them with tales; and Gay both with tales and al legorical prosopopœias. A fable or apologue, such as is now under consideration, seems to be, in its genuine state, a narrative in which beings irrational, and sometimes inanimate, arbores loquuntur, non tantum feræ, are, for the purpose of moral instruction, feigned to act and speak with human interests and passions. To this description the compositions of Gay do not always conform. For a fable he gives now and then a tale, or an ab. stracted allegory; and from some, by whatever name they may be called, it will be difficult to extract any moral principle. They are, however, told with liveliness; the versification is smooth; and the diction, though now and then a little con
strained by the measure or the rhyme, is generally happy.
To "Trivia" may be allowed all that it claims; it is sprightly, various, and pleasant. The subject is of that kind which Gay was by nature qualified to adorn; yet some of his decorations may be justly wished away. An honest blacksmith might have done for Patty what is performed by Vulcan. The appearance of Cloacina is nauseous and superfluous; a shoe-boy could have been produced by the casual cohabitation of mere mortals. Horace's rule is broken in both cases; there is no dignus vindice nodus, no difficulty that required any supernatural interposition. A patten may be made by the hammer of a mortal; and a bastard may be dropped by a human strumpet. On great occa sions, and on small, the mind is repelled by use less and apparent falsehood.
Of his little poems the public judgment seems to be right; they are neither much esteemed nor totally despised. The story of the apparition is borrowed from one of the tales of Poggio. Those that please least are the pieces to which Gulliver gave occasion; for who can much delight in the echo of unnatural fiction?
"Dione" is a counterpart to "Amynta" and "Pastor Fido," and other trifles of the same kind, easily imitated, and unworthy of imitation. What the Italians call comedies from a happy conclusion, Gay calls a tragedy from a mournful event; but the style of the Italians and of Gay is equally tra gical. There is something in the poetical arcadia so remote from known reality and speculative possibility, that we can never support its representation through a long work. A pastoral of a hundred lines may be endured; but who will hear of sheep and goats, and myrtle bowers and purling rivulets, through five acts? Such scenes please barbarians in the dawn of literature, and children in the dawn of life; but will be for the most part
thrown away, as men grow wise, and nations grow learned.
GEORGE GRANVILLE, or, as others write Greenville, or Grenville, afterwards Lord Landsdown, of Bideford in the county of Devon, less is known than his name and high rank might give reason to expect. He was born about 1667, the son of Bernard Greenville, who was entrusted by Monk with the most private transactions of the Restoration, and the grandson of Sir Bevil Greenville, who died in the King's cause, at the battle of Landsdowne.
His early education was superintended by Sir William Ellis; and his progress was such, that before the age of twelve he was sent to Cambridge, where he pronounced a copy of his own verses to the Princess Mary d'Este of Modena, then duchess of York, when she visited the University.
At the accession of King James, being now at eighteen, he again exerted his poetical powers, and addressed the new monarch in three short pieces, of which the first is profane, and the two others such as a boy might be expected to produce; but he was commended by old Waller, who perhaps was pleased to find himself imitated in six lines,
*To Trinity College. By the University regis. ter it appears that he was admitted to his master's degree in 1679; we must, therefore, set the year of his birth some years back.-H.