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DEATH AND CHARACTER.
Swift was laid by for some days unopened, because when he received it he was impressed with the preconception of some misfortune.33
After his death was published a second volume of Fables, more political than the former. His opera of · Achilles' was acted,34 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.35 There have appeared likewise under his name a comedy called the • Distrest Wife,' and the • Rehearsal at Gotham,' a piece of humour. The character given him by Pope 36 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 fearfut of giving offence to the great ;" whieh caution however, says Pope,37 was of no avail. 38
As a poet he cannot be rated very high. He was, as I once heard a female critic 39 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 is most humbly inscribed by his servant B. Dickenson." He appears also to have sat to Zincke.
My portrait mezzotinto is published from Mrs. Howard's painting.--Gay to Srift, July 6, 1728. (Scott, xvii. 199, 2nd ed.)
There is a print of Hogarth representing Pope putting his hand into the pocket of a large fat personage, with a hornbook at his girdle. The fat fellow is Gay, and the hornbook refers to his Fables, written for the young Duke of Cumberland.- WARTON'S Pope, ix. 211.
33 On the letter itself Swift wrote “On my dear friend Mr. Gay’s death; received December 15th, but not read till the 20th, by an impulse foreboding some misfortune.” Note from ‘Dublin Edit.' in Pope's Works, vol. iv., part iii. p. 167, ed. 1742.
34 At Covent Garden 10th Feb. 1732-3, and ran about twenty nights.
35 Spence by Singer, p. 215. The amount was 60001., which was equally divided between his sisters (two widows) Katherine Baller and Joanna Fortescue. (See Memoir by Rev. Joseph Baller, before 'Gay's Chair,' 12mo., 1820.) 36 Spence by Singer, p. 214.
Singer, p. 160. 36 Gay was a great eater. “As the French philosopher used to prove his existence by cogito, ergo sum, the greatest proof of Gay's existence is edi, ergo est.” - (CONGREVE, in a letter to Pope.) Spence by Singer, p. 13.
30 Johnson's own wife.- Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 125.
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 writers 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 Allegorical Prosopopæias. 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 abstracted 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 constrained 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 shoeboy 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 pattern may be made by the hammer of a mortal; and a bastard may be dropped by a human strumpet. On great occasions, and on small, the mind is repelled by useless and apparent falsehood. 40
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 an 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 tragical. 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 an 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
40 Molly Mogg, one of Gay's celebrities, died in 1766. (See ‘Gent.'s Mag.' for 1766, p. 151.)
I What can be prettier than Gay's ballad, or rather Swift's, Arbuthnots, Pope's, and Gay's, in the “What d' ye call it'-" 'Twas when the seas were roaring"? I have been well informed that they all contributed.-COWPER to Unwin, 4th Aug. 1783.
The Duchess of Queensberry told me that Gay could play on the flute, and that this enabled him to adapt so happily some airs in the Beggar's Opera.'— JOSEPH WARTON: Pope, vol. i., p. 149, ed. 1797.
Mr. Pulteney and Mr. Pope were in the pit at Covent Garden playhouse on Saturday last at the representation of the opera of Achilles,' writ by the late
Mr. Gay. They were in the house before any one else was admitted. — The Daily Courant, Feb. 12, 1732-3.
It is well known that you have passed many a social evening with Steele and Addison ; you have joined in the rich humour of Arbuthnot; you have read the comedies of Congreve (my brother-student of the law) in manuscript; you have corresponded with Pope and Swift; and Gay lived and wrote in your house.-COLMAN : Dedication to Pulteney, Earl of Bath, of • The Jealous Wife,' 1761,
The best edition of Gay's Works' is that in six vols. 12m0., 1772-5.