Page images
PDF
EPUB

within a few years. His fables, the most popular 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

and

* 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 imputation 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 pot 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, wlio 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 t secret request, a memorial

that

* 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.

+ The most exact account of the occasion on which Racine wrote his excellent Esther and Atholiah, at the request of Madame Maintenon, for the use of the young ladies at St. Cyr,

friend's páper

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 inportunity of Lewis XIV. but shewed Irim her

páper; 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,
Give virtue scandal, innocence a fear,
Or from the soft-ey'd virgin steal a tear!*

M. DESPREAUX s'applaudissoit fort à l'age de soixante & onze ans, de n'avoir rien mis dans ses vers qui choquât les bonnes mæurs. consolation, disoit il, pour les vieux poetes, qui

R 4

C'est une

doivent

is to be found in Les Soupenirs de Mad, De Caylus, p. 183. There also are some very interesting and authentic particulars of the life of Madame Maintenon.

* Ver, 283.

doivent bientôt rendre compte à Dieu de leurs actions. L. 2. Tom. v. 4. P. 18.

Happy indeed was the poet, of whom his worthy 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
The sprightliest effort of their wanton thought:
SIDNEY and Waller, brightest sons of fame,
Condemn'd the charm of ages to the flame.t

25. Let Sporus tremble-What! that thing of silk,

Sporus, that mere white curd of ass's milk!
Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel ?
Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?
Yet let me flap this bug with gilded wings,
This painted child of dirt, that stinks and stings;
Whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys,
Yet wit ne'er tastes, and beauty ne'er enjoys ;

So

* Lord Lyttelton, in the Prologue to Thomson's Corio. lanus,

+ Young's Epistle to Authors.

So well-bred spaniels civilly delight
In mumbling of the game they cannot bite.
Eternal smiles his emptiness betray,
As shallow streams run dimpling all the way.
Whether in florid impotence he speaks,
And as the prompter breathes the puppet squeaks,
Or at the ear of Eve, familiar toad,*
Half froth, half venom, spits himself abroad,
In puns, or politics, or tales, or lyes,
Or spite, or smut, or rhymes, or blasphemies.
Amphibious thing! that acting either part,
The trifling head, or the corrupted heart;
Fop at the toilet, flatt'rer at the board,
Now trips a lady, and now struts a lord.
Epe's tempter thus, the rabbins have exprest,
A cherub's face, a reptile all the rest ;.
Beauty that shocks you, pride that none will trust,
Wit that can creep, and pride that licks the dust.t

Language cannot afford more glowing or more forcible terms to express the utmost bitterness of

contempt.

* 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,
He said the same as to the snake of Eve;
To human race antipathy declare,
"Twixt them and thee be everlasting war.
But oh! the sequel of the sentence dread,
And whilst you bruise their heel, beware your head.

f Ver. 305.

« PreviousContinue »