1712
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

On a Miscellany of Poems. To Bernard Lintott.

Miscellaneous Poems and Translations. By Several Hands.

John Gay


John Gay supplies a recipe for constructing an anthology much like the one (published by Lintot) in which the poem appears. The poem itself is a miscellany of verse characters, not very inspired, but notable for alluding to several recent Spenserian essays: William Congreve's Mourning Muse of Alexis, Matthew Prior's Ode to the Queen — ("With Chaucer's Humour, and with Spencer's Strains) and Alexander Pope's Pastorals ("His various Numbers charm our ravish'd Ears, | His steady Judgment far out-shoots his Years").

Alexander Pope to Henry Cromwell: "I would willingly return Mr. Gay my thanks for the favour of his poem, and in particular for his kind mention of me. I hoped, when I heard a new comedy had met with success upon the stage, that it had been his, to which I really I really wish no less; and, had it been any way in my power, should have been very glad to have contributed to its introduction in the world. His verses to Lintot have put a whim into my head, which you are like to be troubled with in the opposite page ['Verses to be prefixed before Bernard Lintot's New Miscellany']. Take it as you find it, the production of half an hour t'other morning" 21 December 1711; Correspondence, ed. Whitwell Elwin (1871) 1:130.

Isaac D'Israeli: "it was the want of money, chiefly to purchase books, as Pope tells us, which induced him to plunge into the translation of Homer. The truth is, he gained inconsiderable sums by his original poems; a circumstance which we were not made acquainted with till Mr. D'Israeli discovered Lintot's Book of Accounts. The great bards of our times would indignantly spurn at the mean remuneration of three five-pound notes for the labour of two or three years, for such was the price of 'The Art of Criticism'; or, about double that sum for 'Windsor Forest,' or 'The Temple of Fame.' Yet Pope — we are transcribing the confession of one of his calumniators — when he was apprehensive that the contract made with Lintot, of his Homer, might end in his ruin, endeavoured to persuade him to think no more of it; — but the bookseller was more sagacious than the bard" in "Spence's Anecdotes of Books and Men" Quarterly Review 23 (July 1820) 412.

Edmund Gosse: "There is a certain relation between Prior and John Gay (1685-1732). Each was successful mainly with the lighter lyre. Gay was perhaps the more important as a man of letters: Prior the more perfect in the work he did best, namely his 'vers de societe.' Gay was the friend of all the best writers of his time — an amiable, plump, indolent man, who liked to nestle into warm sinecures in the families of persons of quality. Pope used him as a cat's-paw in his quarrel with Ambrose Philips, and Gay's Shepherd's Week was published in 1714 to ridicule pastoral writing. But, in its gentle way, it was so excellent that it has survived not as a parody but as veritably the best collection of bucolics produced in the Augustan era, and none the worse for its humour. In 1716 Gay brought out Trivia, a sprightly poem on the art of walking the streets of London. In 1727 appeared the first series of his famous Fables, in 1728 the no less famous Beggar's Opera, suggested by Swift's remark, what 'an odd, pretty sort of thing a Newgate pastoral might make,' and in 1729 another opera, Polly, which enjoyed the advertisement of political persecution, and brought 'poor inoffensive Gay' £1200. During these three golden years Gay's reputation, for the moment, almost equalled Pope's. He roused no jealousy, however, and Pope seems to have loved him best and longest among his immediate contemporaries. Gay's finest poetical work is his 'Alexander Pope, his safe Return from Troy,' written, in ottava-rima, on occasion of Pope's completion of his Iliad, but not published till 1776" History of Eighteenth-Century Literature (1889) 135.



As when some skilful Cook, to please each Guest,
Would in one Mixture comprehend a Feast,
With due Proportion and judicious Care
He fills each Dish with diff'rent sorts of Fare,
Fishes and Fowl deliciously unite,
To feast at once the Taste, the Smell, and Sight.

So, Bernard, must a Miscellany be
Compounded of all kinds of Poetry;
The Muses O'lio, which all Tastes may fit,
And treat each Reader with his darling Wit.

Wouldst thou for Miscellanies raise thy Fame;
And bravely rival Jacob's mighty Name,
Let all the Muses in the Piece conspire,
The Lyrick bard must strike th' harmonious Lyre;
Heroick Strains must here and there be found,
And Nervous Sense be sung in Lofty Sound;
Let Elegy in moving Numbers flow,
And fill some Pages with melodious Woe;
Let not your am'rous Songs too num'rous prove,
Nor glut thy Reader with abundant Love;
Satyr must interfere, whose pointed Rage
May lash the Madness of a vicious Age;
Satyr, the Muse that never fails to hit,
For if there's Scandal, to be sure there's Wit.
Tire not our Patience with Pindarick Lays,
Those swell the Piece, but very rarely please:
Let short-breath'd Epigram its Force confine,
And strike at Follies in a single Line.
Translations should throughout the Work be sown,
And Homer's Godlike Muse be made our own;
Horace in useful Numbers should be Sung,
And Virgil's Thoughts adorn the British Tongue;
Let Ovid tell Corinna's hard Disdain,
And at her Door in melting Notes complain:
His tender Accents pitying Virgins move,
And charm the list'ning Ear with Tales of Love.
Let ev'ry Classick in the Volume shine,
And each contribute to thy great Design:
Through various Subjects let the Reader range,
And raise his Fancy with a grateful Change;
Variety's the Source of Joy below,
From whence still fresh revolving Pleasures flow.
In Books and Love, the Mind one End pursues,
And only Change th' expiring Flame renews.

Where Buckingham will condescend to give,
That honour'd Piece to distant Times must live;
When noble Sheffield strikes the trembling Strings,
The little Loves rejoyce, and clap their Wings,
Anacreon lives, they cry, th' harmonious Swain
Retunes the Lyre, and tries his wonted Strain,
'Tis He, — our lost Anacreon lives again.
But when th' illustrious Poet soars above
The sportive Revels of the God of Love,
Like Maro's Muse he takes a loftier flight,
And towres beyond the wond'ring Cupid's Sight.

If thou wouldst have thy Volume stand the Test,
And of all others be reputed Best,
Let Congreve teach the list'ning Groves to mourn,
As when he wept o'er fair Pastora's urn.

Let Prior's Muse with soft'ning Accents move,
Soft as the strains of constant Emma's Love:
Or let his Fancy chuse some jovial Theme,
As when he told Hans Carvel's jealous Dream;
Prior th' admiring Reader entertains,
With Chaucer's Humour, and with Spencer's Strains.

Waller in Granville lives; when Mira sings
With Waller's Hand he strikes the sounding Strings,
With sprightly Turns his noble Genius shines,
And manly Sense adorns his easie Lines.

On Addison's sweet Lays Attention waits,
And Silence guards the Place while he repeats;
His Muse alike on ev'ry Subject charms,
Whether she paints the God of Love, or Arms:
In him, Pathetick Ovid sings again,
And Homer's Iliad shines in his Campaign.

Whenever Garth shall raise his sprightly Song,
Sense flows in easie Numbers from his Tongue;
Great Phoebus in his learned Son we see,
Alike in Physick, as in Poetry.

When Pope's harmonious Muse with pleasure roves,
Amidst the Plains, the murm'ring Streams, and Groves,
Attentive Eccho pleas'd to hear his Songs,
Thro' the glad Shade each warbling Note prolongs;
His various Numbers charm our ravish'd Ears,
His steady Judgment far out-shoots his Years,
And early in the Youth the God appears.

From these successful Bards collect thy Strains,
And Praise with Profit shall reward thy Pains:
Then, while Calves-leather Binding bears the Sway,
And Sheep-skin to its sleeker gloss gives way;
While neat old Elzevir is reckon'd better
Than Pirate Hill's brown Sheets, and scurvy Letter;
While Print admirers careful Aldus chuse
Before John Morphew, or the weekly News:
So long shall live thy Praise in Books of Fame,
And Tonson yield to Lintott's lofty Name.

[pp. 168-74]