1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gay

Anonymous, in "The Augustan Age in England" The Album 1 (1822) 191-92.



The fame of GAY has continued to stand high up to this time. We ascribe this partly to the grateful recollection which we all retain of the delight his Fables afforded to our childhood, and partly to the real merit of the Beggars' Opera. It is strange bow the popularity of this piece keeps its ground, when its chief satire is totally lost sight of. The Beggars' Opera is admired by the lovers of music — by those who are fond of humorous representations of low life — and by others who delight in the less apparent humour of the piece, as a "Newgate pastoral." But these different classes of admirers all overlook that the play was originally designed as a satire on the Italian Opera; that it was meant to expose the absurdity of two wenches quarrelling in the quavers of a duet, and a highwayman dying, like a swan, to the melody of his own music. The numerous singers who make their debut in Polly always play it as if it were intended to be a serious and pathetic character; and lose sight completely of the sly mock-heroic of the part, in their anxiety to give touching interest to the simple ballads, and effect to the more bravura airs. If the Beggars' Opera were to be acted according to its original design, we can conceive few representations of more humorous power — though we are, perhaps, inclined to think that its moral benefit would be but small.