1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Gay

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 75.



From a Picture by Dahl, in the Collection of the Dutchess of Dorset.

This poet has a sharp eye, full of observation, and a determined mouth. His dress is plain, and his cap is unadorned, and looks like a thistle he might have written under it the Scotch motto ("Nemo me impune lacessit") — for he was a smart and lively fabler, and could "point a moral," and trim the luxuriant folly of high and low life, as any reader of the "Beggar's Opera" can testify. That drama, indeed, is his great performance. It is full of wit and satire, and many of the songs are as sweet and soothing as a dream. Gay's pastorals are pleasant in parts, and his "Black-eyed Susan," and "The Hare with many Friends," in former times carried (with his opera) his popularity to an extent that has scarcely been surpassed in the literature of this or any other country. He is now in less request. His Fables have given way to more piquant things; his "Black-eyed Susan" has gone out of fashion with the sea-service; and his "Beggar's Opera" is condemned as vulgar. Whether all this be right or not, we will not undertake to determine.