« AnteriorContinuar »
Our youth, all livery'd o'er with foreign gold,
GAY was descended of a respectable family of Devonshire,
and educated at Barnstaple. While very young he was put apprentice to a silk-mercer in London ; but found a more congenial employment in the suite of the Duchess of Monmouth, to whom he became secretary. In this situation he found leisure to cultivate his poetical talents; and a poem, entitled RURAL SPORTS, dedicated to Pope, obtained the patronage and personal friendship of the rising poet, by whom he was introduced to that bril.
liant circle of wits, of which he was the centre. Of this illustrious association Gay ever continued the favourite, though he probably owed his exemption from the jealousy and littleness by which it was degraded as much to his genuine simplicity of character, and sweetness and facility of temper, as to respect for his talents. Gay, after he became known and popular in the literary world, long indulged hopes of court preferment, and was even for a short while secretary to the ambassador at Hanover ; but his chief means of support were his own writings, which
were numerous and successful. Gay's well-known fables are the finest in the language : his
pastorals have all the beauty inseparable from truth and reality; so that his Cloddipoles and Bowzybeuses please far more than the swainish Damons and Strephons of the modern Arcadian muse. His Fan is a lively and even elegant piece of fancy; and Trivia only inferior to the Beggar's Opera. By this last performance Gay is now best known. It has been more admired and more abused than any other light dramatic piece on the English stage. Its original success was enough to have turned the head of any writer. Disappointed of court patronage, Gay, fortunately, obtained the friendship of the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, who treated him during the period he lived with them with the steady and consistent kindness which does not always attend alliances between patronizing rank and lettered indigence. He died under their roof after a short and violent illness, and was deeply and sincerely regretted by his literary friends. “ He was," says Pope, “ a natural man, without design, who spoke just what he thought, and as he thought it.” There appears a considerable similarity in many points of character between Goldsmith and Gay. Both were distinguished by a simplicity amounting to apparent idiocy. In this constitutional bon hommie Gay fell far short of his celebrated contemporary, the French fabu
list, Fontaine; whose singular absence of mind and seeming stupidity made a witty French lady term him “ The Fable Tree."
THE BIRTH OF THE SQUIRE. YE sylvan Muses, loftier strains recite : Not all in shades and humble cots delight. Hark! the bells ring ; along the distant grounds The driving gales convey the swelling sounds : Th' attentive swain, forgetful of his work, With gaping wonder, leans upon his fork. What sudden news alarms the waking morn ? To the glad Squire a hopeful heir is born. Mourn, mourn, ye stags, and all ye beasts of chase : This hour destruction brings on all your race : See, the pleased tenants duteous offerings bear, Turkeys and geese, and grocer's sweetest ware ; With the new health the ponderous tankard flows, And old October reddens every nose. Beagles and spaniels round his cradle stand, Kiss his moist lip, and gently lick his hand. He joys to hear the shrill horn's echoing sounds, And learns to lisp the names of all the hounds. With frothy ale to make his cup o'erflow, Barley shall in paternal acres grow; The bee shall sip the fragrant dew from flowers, To give metheglin for his morning hours ; For him the clustering hop shall climb the poles, And his own orchard sparkle in his bowls.
His sire's exploits he now with wonder hears, The monstrous tales indulge his greedy ears ; How, when youth strung his nerves and warm'd
his veins, He rode, the mighty Nimrod of the plains.
He leads the staring infant through the hall, Points out the horny spoils that grace the wall ; Tells how this stag through three whole counties
fled, What rivers swam, where bay'd, and where he
bled. Now he the wonders of the fox repeats, Describes the desperate chase, and all his cheats ; How in one day, beneath his furious speed, He tired seven coursers of the fleetest breed ; How high the pale he leap'd, how wide the ditch, When the hound tore the haunches of the witch ! These stories, which descend from son to son, The forward boy shall one day make his own.
Ah, too fond mother, think the time draws nigh, That calls the darling from thy tender eye ; How shall his spirit brook the rigid rules, And the long tyranny of grammar-schools ? Let younger brothers o'er dull authors plod, Lash'd into Latin by the tingling rod ; No, let him never feel that smart disgrace : Why should he wiser prove than all his race ? When ripening youth with down o'ershades his
chin, And every female eye incites to sin ; The milkmaid (thoughtless of her future shame) With smacking lip shall raise his guilty flame; The dairy, barn, the hay-loft, and the grove, Shall oft be conscious of their stolen love. When twice twelve times the reaper's sweeping
hand With levell’d harvests has bestrown the land ; On famed St Hubert's feast his winding horn Shall cheer the joyful hound, and wake the morn :
This memorable day his eager speed
The time shall come when his more solid sense
game. Assist me, Bacchus, and ye drunken powers, To sing his friendships and his midnight hours !
Why dost thou glory in thy strength of beer, Firm-cork'd and mellow'd till the twentieth year; Brew'd, or when Phæbus warms the fleecy sign, Or when his languid rays in Scorpio shine ? Think on the mischiefs which from hence have
sprung! It arms with curses dire the wrathful tongue; Foul scandal to the lying lip affords, And prompts the memory with injurious words.