John Gay Poems

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John Gay
John Gay (30 June 1685 - 4 December 1732) was an English poet and dramatist. He is best remembered for The Beggar's Opera (1728), set to music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. The characters, including Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum, became household names. Gay was born in Barnstaple, England and was educated at the town's grammar school. On leaving school he was apprenticed to a silk mercer in London, but being weary, according to Samuel Johnson, "of either the restraint or the servility of his occupation," he soon returned to Barnstaple, where he spent some time with his uncle, the Rev. John Hanmer, the Nonconformist minister of the town. He then returned to London. The dedication of his Rural Sports (1713) to Alexander Pope was the beginning of a lasting friendship. In 1714, Gay wrote The Shepherd's Week, a series of six pastorals drawn from English rustic life. Pope had urged him to undertake this task in order to ridicule the Arcadian pastorals of Ambrose Philips, who had been praised by The Guardian, to the neglect of Pope's claims as the first pastoral writer of the age and the true English Theocritus. Gay's pastorals completely achieved this goal, but his ludicrous pictures of the English country lads and their loves were found to be entertaining on their own account. Gay had just been appointed secretary to the British ambassador to the court of Hanover through the influence of Jonathan Swift when the death of Queen Anne three months later put an end to all his hopes of official employment. In 1715, probably with some help from Pope, he produced What d'ye call it?, a dramatic skit on contemporary tragedy, with special reference to Thomas Otway's Venice Preserved. It left the public so ignorant of its real meaning that Lewis Theobald and Benjamin Griffin published a Complete Key to what d'ye call it to explain it. In 1716 appeared his Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London, a poem in three books, for which he acknowledged having received several hints from Swift. It contains graphic and humorous descriptions of the London of that period. In January 1717 he produced the comedy, Three Hours after Marriage, which was grossly indecent without being amusing, and was a complete failure. He had assistance from Pope and John Arbuthnot, but they allowed it to be assumed that Gay was the sole author.

the beggar's opera
Through all the employments of life
Each neighbour abuses his brother;
Whore and rogue... [read poem]
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