1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gay

Joseph Warton, in Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (1782) 2:251-53 & n.



The sweetness and simplicity of GAY'S temper and manners, much endeared him to all his acquaintance, and made them always speak of him with particular fondness and attachment. He wrote with neatness, and terseness, aequali quadam mediocritate, but certainly without any elevation; frequently without any spirit. TRIVIA appears to be the best of his poems, in which are many strokes of genuine humour and pictures of London-life, which are now become curious, because our manners as well as our dresses, have been so much altered and changed within a few years. His fables, the most popular of all his works, have the fault of many modern fable-writers, the ascribing to the different animals and objects introduced, speeches and actions inconsistent with their several natures. An elephant can have nothing to do in a bookseller's shop. They are greatly inferior to the fables of La Fontaine, which is perhaps the most unrivalled work in the whole French language. The Beggar's Opera has surely been extolled beyond it's merits; I could never perceive that fine vein of concealed satire supposed to run through it; and though I should not join with a bench of Westminster Justices in forbidding it to be represented on the stage, yet I think pickpockets, strumpets, and highwaymen, may be hardened in their vices by this piece; and that Pope and Swift talked too highly of it's moral good effects. One undesigned and accidental mischief attended it's success: it was the parent of that most monstrous of dramatic absurdities, the Comic Opera....

The long and languid introductions to the fables in the second volume (which is indeed much inferior to the first) read like party pamphlets versified. Dione has not rescued us from the imputation of having no pastoral comedy, that can be compared, in the smallest degree, to the Aminta or Pastor Fido. The pastorals were written to ridicule those of Philips, and consequently very acceptable to Pope. Polly, the second part of the Beggar's Opera, though it brought him a good deal of money, above 1200 pounds, being published by subscription, is not equal to the first.