« AnteriorContinuar »
within a few years. His fables, the most popuJar of all his works, have the fault of many modern fable-writers,* the ascribing to the different animals and objects introduced, speeches and actions inconsistent with their several natures. · An elephant can have nothing to do in a bookseller's shop. They are greatly inferior to the fables of La Fontaine, which is perhaps the most unrivalled work in the whole French language. The Beggar's Opera has surely been extolled beyond its merits : I could never perceive that fine vein of concealed satire supposed to run through it; and though I should not join with a bench of Westminster Justices in forbidding it to be represented on the stage, yet I think pickpockets, strumpets, and highwaymen, may be hardened in their vices by this piece.; R 3
* The long and languid introductions to the fables in the second volume (which is indeed much inferior to the first) read like party pamphlets versified. Dione has not rescued us from the inputation of having no pastoral-comedy, that can be compared, in the smallest degree, to the Aminta or Pastor Fido. The pastorals were written to ridicule those of Philips, and consequently very acceptable to Pope. Polly, the second part of the Beggar's Opera, though it brought him a good deal of money, above 1200 pounds, being published by subscription, is not equal to the first.
and that Pope and Swift talked too highly of its moral good effects. One undesigned and accidental mischief attended its success : it was the parent of that most monstrous of all dramatic absurdities, the Comic Opera. The friendship of two such excellent personages as the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, did, in' truth, compensate poor Gay's want of pension * and preferment. They behaved to him constantly with that delicacy, and sense of seeming equality, as never to suffer him for a moment to feel his state of dependence. Let every man of letters, who wishes for patronage, read D'Alembert's Essay on living with the Great, before he enters the house of a. patron. And let him always remember the fate of Racine, who, having drawn up, at Madame Maintenon's secret request, a memorial
* I was informed by Mr. Spence, that Addison, in his last illness, sent to desire to speak with Mr. Gay, and told him he had much injured him; probably with respect to his gaining some appointment from the court:--but, said he, if I recover, I'will endeavour to recompense you."
1 + The most exact account of the occasion on which Racine wrote his excellent Esther and Athaliah, at the request of Madame Maintenon, for the use of the young ladies at St. Cyr,
that strongly painted the distresses of the French nation, the weight of their taxes, and the expences of the court, she could not resist the importunity of Lewis XIV. but shewed him her friend's paper; against whom the king immediately conceived a violent indignation, because a poet should dare to busy himself with politics. Racine had the weakness to take this anger of the king so much to heart, that it brought on a low fever, which hastened his death. The Duchess of Queensberry would not have so betrayed her poetical friend Gay.
24. Curs'd be the verse, how well soe'er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe,
M. DESPREAUX s'applaudissoit fort à l'age de soixante & onze ans, de n'avoir rien mis dans ses vers qui choquât les bonnes moeurs. C'est une consolation, disoit il, pour les vieux poetes, qui
is to be found in Les Souvenirs de Mad. De Caylus, p. 183. There also are some very interesting and authentic particulars of the life of Madame Maintenon.
doivent bientôt rendre compte à Dieu de leurs actions. L. 2. Tom. v. 4. P. 18.
Happy indeed was the poet, of whom his wor• thy and amiable * friend could so truly say, that in all his works was not to be discovered
One line, that dying, he could wish to blot!
“ Would to God,” said AVERROES, (regretting the libertinism of some verses which he had made in his youth,) “I had been born old !"
FONTAINE and Chaucer, dying, wisht unwrote
25. Let Sporus tremble-What! that thing of silk,
Sporus, that mere white curd of ass's milk!
* Lord Lyttelton, in the Prologue to Thomson's Coriolanus,
+ Young's Epistle to Authors.
So well-bred spaniels civilly delight
Language cannot afford more glowing or more forcible terms to express the utmost bitterness of
* It is but justice (said Pope in the first advertisement, since omitted) to own, that the hint of Eve and the Serpent was taken from the verses to the Imitator of Horace:
When God created thee, one would believe,
+ Ver. 305.