John Gay's verse prologue, addressed "To the Right Honourable the Ld. Viscount Bolingbroke," proved a major career blunder: the patron was shortly afterwards forced to flee the country under a charge of treason and Gay seems never afterwards to have had the complete trust of a Whig administration. The verses may have been at least partly in response to Samuel Croxall's Original Canto of Spencer (1713) and its sequel, Another Original Canto (1714), both Spenserian burlesques written in opposition to the Tory government.
Jonathan Swift to John Gay: "Tell me, are you not under original sin by the dedication of your eclogues to lord Bolingbroke? I am an ill- judge at this distance; and besides, am, for my ease, utterly ignorant of the commonest things that pass in the world; but if all courts have a sameness in them (as the parsons phrase it) things may be as they were in my time, when all employments went to parliament-men's friends, who had been useful in elections, and there was always a huge list of names in arrears at the treasury, which would at least take up your seven years expedient to discharge even one half" 8 January 1723; Works of Swift, ed. Nichols (1801) 12:93.
Whitwell Elwin: "The panegyric on Bolingbroke is confined to calling him 'St. John, sweet of mien, | Full steadfast both to church and queen'; but the general tenor of the piece is to magnify the persons in power, and applaud their policy, Gay soon after accepted an office from Lord Oxford, and when his friends, whose cause he had espoused, were turned out, he complained that he was not adopted by their opponents. Notwithstanding his want of claim to the patronage of the whigs, he was able to announce, Feb. 3, 1723, that they had made him a commissioner of the lottery" Pope, Correspondence, ed. Elwin (1871) 2:34-35n.
W. J. Courthope: "Pope, who was then meditating his campaign against Ambrose Philips, with a rapid perception of the peculiar gifts of his admirer, suggested to him the idea of ridiculing Philips' Pastorals by a representation of country manners as they really were. Gay, working upon the hint in his own style, produced in 1714 The Shepherd's Week. The Prologue, in which this poem with flattering compliments was dedicated to Bolingbroke, shows that the author had contrived to insinuate himself into the good graces of the 'abitrae elegantiarum'" History of English Poetry (1895-1910) 5:144.
Edmond Malone: "Mr. Burke told me a few days ago that the first Lord Lyttelton informed him, that Lord Bolingbroke never wrote down any of his works, but dictated them to a secretary. This may account for their endless tautology. In company, according to Lord Lyttelton, he was very eloquent, speaking with great fluency and authority on every subject, and generally in the form of harrangue rather than colloquial table talk. His company all looked up to him, and very few dared to interrupt or contradict him" 1787; Maloniana, in Sir James Prior, Life of Edmond Malone (1860) 375.
Lo, I who erst beneath a Tree
Sung Bumkinet and Bowzybee,
And Blouzelind and Marian bright,
In Apron blue or Apron white,
Now write my Sonnets in a Book,
For my good Lord of Bolingbroke.
As Lads and Lasses stood around
To hear my Boxen Haut-boy sound,
Our Clerk came posting o'er the Green
With doleful Tidings of the Queen;
That Queen, he said, to whom we owe
Sweet Peace that maketh Riches flow;
That Queen who eas'd our Tax of late,
Was dead, alas! — and lay in State.
At this, in Tears was Cic'ly seen,
Buxoma tore her Pinners clean,
In doleful Dumps stood ev'ry Clown,
The Parson rent his Band and Gown.
For me, when as I heard that Death
Had snatch'd Queen ANNE to Elzabeth,
I broke my Reed, and sighing swore
I'd weep for Blouzelind no more.
While thus we stood as in a stound,
And wet with Tears, like Dew, the Ground,
Full soon by Bonefire and by Bell
We learnt our Liege was passing well.
A skilful Leach (so God him speed)
They said had wrought this blessed Deed.
This Leach Arbuthnot was yclept,
Who many a Night not once had slept;
But watch'd our gracious Sov'raign still:
For who could rest when she was ill?
Oh, may'st thou henceforth sweetly sleep.
Sheer, Swains, oh sheer your softest Sheep
To swell his Couch; for well I ween,
He sav'd the Realm who sav'd the Queen.
Quoth I, please God, I'll hye with Glee
To Court, this Arbuthnot to see.
I sold my Sheep and Lambkins too,
For silver Loops and Garment blue:
My boxen Haut-boy sweet of sound,
For Lace that edg'd mine Hat around;
For Lightfoot and my Scrip I got
A gorgeous Sword, and eke a Knot.
So forth I far'd to Court with speed,
Of Soldier's Drum withouten Dreed;
For Peace allays the Shepherd's Fear
Of wearing Cap of Granadier.
There saw I Ladies all a-row
Before their Queen in seemly show.
No more I'll sing Buxoma brown,
Like Goldfinch in her Sunday Gown;
Nor Clumsilis, nor Marian bright,
Nor Damsel that Hobnelia hight.
But Lansdown fresh as Flow'r of May,
And Berkely Lady blithe and gay,
And Anglesey whose Speech exceeds
The Voice of Pipe, or oaten Reeds;
And blooming Hide, with Eyes so rare,
And Montague beyond compare.
Such Ladies fair wou'd I depaint
In Roundelay or Sonnet quaint.
There many a worthy Wight I've seen
In Ribbon blue and Ribbon green.
As Oxford, who a Wand doth bear,
Like Moses, in our Bibles fair;
Who for our Traffick forms Designs,
And gives to Britain Indian Mines.
Now, Shepherds, clip your fleecy Care,
Ye Maids, your Spinning-Wheels prepare,
Ye Weavers, all your Shuttles throw,
And bid broad Cloths and Serges grow,
For Trading free shall thrive again,
Nor Leasings leud affright the Swain.
There saw I St. John, sweet of Mien,
Full stedfast both to Church and Queen.
With whose fair Name I'll deck my Strain,
St. John, right courteous to the Swain;
For thus he told me on a Day,
Trim are thy Sonnets, gentle Gay,
And certes, Mirth it were to see
Thy joyous Madrigals twice three,
With Preface meet, and Notes profound.
Imprinted fair, and well y-bound.
All suddenly then Home I sped,
And did ev'n as my Lord had said.
Lo here, thou hast mine Eclogues fair,
But let not these detain thine Ear.
Let not th' affairs of States and Kings
Wait, while our Bowzybeus sings.
Rather than Verse of simple Swain
Should stay the Trade of France or Spain,
Or for the Plaint of Parson's Maid,
Yon Emp'ror's Packets be delay'd;
In sooth, I swear by holy Paul,
I'd burn Book, Preface, Notes and all.