Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 21.djvu/90

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Library at South Kensington a large-paper copy of Maittaire's ‘Horace,’ copiously annotated in his beautiful handwriting, it must be assumed that subsequent to 1715, the date of the volume, he still preserved a love of the classics. His friends found no better career for him than that of apprentice to a mercer in London. With this vocation he was soon dissatisfied. Mr. Baller's account is that, ‘not being able to bear the confinement of a shop,’ he became depressed in spirits and health, and returned to his native town, where he was received at the house of another uncle, the Rev. John Hanmer, a nonconformist minister.

After a short stay at Barnstaple, his health, says Mr. Baller, became reinstated, and he returned to town, ‘where he lived for some time as a private gentleman,’ a statement scarcely reconcilable with the opening in life his friends had found for him. His literary inclinations were no doubt already developed, and it is probable that the swarming coffee-houses and taverns speedily supplied his ‘fitting environment.’ Rumour assigns to him, as his earliest employment, that of secretary to Aaron Hill [q. v.] His first poem, mentioned by Hill, was ‘Wine,’ which is said to have been published in 1708, and was certainly pirated by the notorious Henry Hills of Blackfriars (see Epistle to Bernard Lintot) in that year. Its motto is

Nulla placere diu, nec vivere carmina possunt,
Quæ scribuntur aquæ potoribus—

a contested theory, which seems to have exercised Gay nearly all his lifetime; for he is still debating it in his latest letters. He pretends in this production to draw ‘Miltonic air,’ but the atmosphere is more suggestive of the ‘Splendid Shilling’ of John Philips [q. v.] The concluding lines, which describe the breaking up of a ‘midnight modern conversation’ at the Devil Tavern, already disclose the minute touch of ‘Trivia.’

‘Wine’ was not included in Gay's collected poems of 1720, perhaps because it was in blank verse. His next effort, which exhibits a considerable acquaintance with London letters, was the now rare ‘twopenny pamphlet’ entitled ‘The Present State of Wit,’ addressed ‘to a Friend in the Country.’ It is dated May 1711, and gives a curious account of periodical literature, especially of the recently completed ‘Tatler’ and the newly commenced ‘Spectator.’ ‘The author,’ says Swift (Journal to Stella, 14 May), ‘seems to be a whig, yet he speaks very highly of a paper called “The Examiner,” and says the supposed author of it is Dr. Swift. But above all things he praises the Tatlers and Spectators, and I believe Steele and Addison were privy to the printing of it. Thus is one treated by these impudent dogs.’ Swift, however, was wrong as to Gay's opinions. Such as they were—and he disclaims politics—he was a tory.

From a letter from Pope to Henry Cromwell, bearing date a few weeks later, it is plain he had already become slightly acquainted with Pope, whose ‘Essay on Criticism’ had been published just four days after the above-mentioned pamphlet. ‘My humble service to Mr. Gay,’ says Pope. They appeared together in Lintot's ‘Miscellany’ of May 1712 (the so-called ‘Rape of the Lock’ volume), to which Gay contributed a translation of one of Ovid's ‘Metamorphoses.’ But he must have been still practically unknown, as his name is not mentioned in the contemporary advertisements, although they duly announce even such ignes minores as Cromwell, Broome, and Fenton. A few weeks before had been advertised ‘The Mohocks,’ ‘a tragi-comical farce, as it was acted near the Watch-house in Covent Garden,’ notwithstanding which ambiguous statement it was never performed. ‘This,’ says the ‘Biographia Dramatica,’ iii. 55, ‘has been attributed in general, and truly, to Mr. Gay.’ It was dedicated to Mr. D***** (Dennis). In the same year (1712), and probably towards the close of it—since Pope's congratulations are dated December—he was appointed ‘secretary or domestic steward’ to the Duchess of Monmouth, whose husband had been beheaded in 1685. Early in 1713 (January) he published another poem, ‘Rural Sports,’ a georgic, which he dedicated to Pope. It is a performance of the ‘toujours bien, jamais mieux’ order, but nevertheless contains a good deal of unconventional knowledge of country life, especially of hunting and fishing. In September he contributed a clever paper on the art of dress to Steele's ‘Guardian,’ and it is possible that other pages of that periodical are also from his pen, while he is represented in the ‘Poetical Miscellanies’ of the same writer, which appeared in December, by two elegies (‘Panthea’ and ‘Araminta’) and a ‘Contemplation on Night.’

At the beginning of 1714 Gay brought out the ‘Fan,’ one of his least successful efforts, and, though touched by Pope, now unreadable. This was succeeded by the ‘Shepherd's Week,’ a series of eclogues into which Pope had decoyed him in order to reinforce his own war with Ambrose Philips [q. v.], and sham pastoral. Gay was to depict rustic life with the gilt off, ‘after the true ancient guise of Theocritus.’ ‘Thou wilt not find my Shepherdesses,’ says the author's proem, ‘idly