1720
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Birth of the Squire. An Eclogue. In imitation of the Pollio of Virgil.

Poems on Several Occasions. By Mr. John Gay.

John Gay


A burlesque of Virgil's Pollio eclogue, the renewal of the golden age in here prophesied from a rural birth: "What sudden news alarms the waking morn? | To the glad Squire a hopeful heir is born. | Mourn, mourn, ye stags, and all ye beasts of chase, | This hour destruction brings on all your race." The hunting theme is obviously georgic rather than pastoral (not least in the moral precepts offered), though John Gay cleverly manages his style heights so that the events celebrated are perceived as lowering rather than elevation. Moreover, so far from initiating a new age, the infant squire bids fair to carry on country ways with no change whatsoever, as when the led is imagined listening greedily to his father's exploits in the field: "These storys which descend from son to son, | The forward boy shall one day make his own." John Gay spent his youth in the west country, described with the attention to detail characteristic of all his pastorals.

William Somerville would expand on Gay's themes in the century's most notable account of rural field sports, The Chace, a Poem (1735).



Ye sylvan Muses, loftier strains recite,
Not all in shades, and humble cotts delight.
Hark! the bells ring; along the distant grounds
The driving gales convey the swelling sounds;
Th' attentive swain, forgetful of his work,
With gaping wonder, leans upon his fork.
What sudden news alarms the waking morn?
To the glad Squire a hopeful heir is born.
Mourn, mourn, ye stags, and all ye beasts of chase,
This hour destruction brings on all your race:
See the pleas'd tenants duteous off'rings bear,
Turkeys and geese and grocer's sweetest ware;
With the new health the pond'rous tankard flows,
An old October reddens ev'ry nose.
Beagles and spaniels round his cradle stand,
Kiss his moist lip and gently lick his hand;
He joys to hear the shrill horn's ecchoing sounds,
And learns to lisp the names of all the hounds.
With frothy ale to make his cup o'erflow,
Barley shall in paternal acres grow;
The bee shall sip the fragrant dew from flow'rs,
To give metheglin for his morning hours;
For him the clusting hop shall climb the poles,
And his own orchard sparkle in his bowles.

His Sire's exploits he now with wonder hears,
The monstrous tales indulge his greedy ears;
How when youth strung his nerves and warm'd his veins,
He rode the mighty Nimrod of the plains:
He leads the staring infant through the hall,
Points out the horny spoils that grace the wall;
Tells, how this stag thro' three whole Countys fled,
What rivers swam, where bay'd, and where he bled.
Now he the wonders of the fox repeats,
Describes the desp'rate chase, and all his cheats;
How in one day beneath his furious speed,
He tir'd seven coursers of the fleetest breed;
How high the pale he leapt, how wide the ditch,
When the hound tore the haunches of the witch!
These storys which descend from son to son,
The forward boy shall one day make his own.

Ah, too fond mother, think the time draws nigh,
That calls the darling from thy tender eye;
How shall his spirit brook the rigid rules,
And the long tyranny of grammar schools?
Let younger brothers o'er dull authors plod,
Lash'd into Latin by the tingling rod;
No, let him never feel that smart disgrace:
Why should he wiser prove than all his race?

When rip'ning youth with down o'ershades his chin,
And ev'ry female eye incites to sin;
The milk-maid (thoughtless of her future shame)
With smacking lip shall raise his guilty flame;
The dairy, barn, the hay-loft and the grove
Shall oft' be conscious of their stolen love.
But think, Priscilla, on that dreadful time,
When pangs and watry qualms shall own thy crime;
How wilt thou tremble when thy nipple's prest,
To see the white drops bathe thy swelling breast!
Nine Moons shall publickly divulge thy shame,
And the young Squire forestall a father's name.

When twice twelve times the reaper's sweeping hand
With levell'd harvests has bestrown the land,
On fam'd St. Hubert's feast, his winding horn
Shall cheer the joyful hound and wake the morn:
This memorable day his eager speed
Shall urge with bloody heel the rising steed.
O check the foamy bit, nor tempt thy fate,
Think on the murders of a five-bar gate!
Yet prodigal of life, the leap he tries,
Low in the dust his groveling honour lies,
Headlong he falls, and on the rugged stone
Distorts his neck, and cracks the collar bone;
O vent'rous youth, thy thirst of game allay,
Mayst thou survive the perils of this day!
He shall survive; and in late years be sent
To snore away Debates in Parliament.

The time shall come, when his more solid sense
With nod important shall the laws dispense;
A Justice with grave Justices shall sit,
He praise their wisdom, they admire his wit.
No greyhound shall attend the tenant's place,
No rusty gun the farmer's chimney grace;
Salmons shall leave their covers void of fear,
Nor dread the thievish net or triple spear;
Poachers shall tremble at his awful name,
Whom vengeance now o'ertakes for murder'd game.

Assist me, Bacchus, and ye drunken Pow'rs,
To sing his friendships and his midnight hours!

Why dost thou glory in thy strength of beer,
Firm-cork'd, and mellow'd till the twentieth year;
Brew'd or when Phoebus warms the fleecy sign,
Or when his languid rays in Scorpio shine.
Think on the mischiefs which from hence have sprung!
It arms with curses dire the wrathful tongue;
Foul scandal to the lying lip affords,
And prompts the mem'ry with injurious words.
O where is wisdom, when by this o'er power'd?
The State is censur'd, and the maid deflower'd!
And wilt thou still, O Squire, brew ale so strong?
Hear then the dictates of prophetic song.

Methinks I see him in his hall appear,
Where the long table floats in clammy beer,
'Midst mugs and glasses shatter'd o'er the floor,
Dead-drunk his servile crew supinely snore;
Triumphant, o'er the prostrate brutes he stands,
The mighty bumper trembles in his hands;
Boldly he drinks, and like his glorious Sires,
In copious gulps of potent ale expires.

[(1731) 2:73-78]