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1 He subject of this confined narrative, has frequently been held up as a monument of the fallacies of Hope and the disappointments of Courts.
The commerce between the courtier and the poet seems not sufficiently understood—the aim of the one is imputed taste, and of the other reflected importance :—The patron is immediately a Meaenas—the poet a servile associate.
Gay conceived himself injured by the great and the powerful; as he expected much, so he considered much as equivalent to his fancied value.
Expectations, however, are generally unreasonable: the man who, for agreeable and tuneful trifling, hopes a mitre or an embassy, surely overrates his Talents; and, if he obtain his food for his Flattery, carries away its full uoorth.—The disappointment is too weak for sympathy.
Gay, the poet, was born at Exeter, in the year 1688, his family was ancient and respectable. What education he possessed, was received under the care of Rayner, in the free-school of Barnstaple. Of what extent then were these attainments there is no mention; and his works, wherein what he possessed, would most probably be displayed, discover little of classic thought or classic allusion. Perhaps his education had a reference to his intended profession—for that little was sufficient—he was bred a mercer.
For a man, upon whose cradle the Muses had dropt the seeds of Poesy, such an occupation could have but few charms :—Accordingly in 1712 he is known to have been house-steward to the dutchess of Monmouth, there he continued until the year 1714, when, upon lord Clarendon's going to Hanover, Gay accompanied him most probably as a private secretary. Such appointments for a young man are peculiarly honourable, they indicate assiduity and talents, and what are still better, fidelity and amiableness of manners.
About the end of that year, 1714, on the Queen's death, he returned to his native country. He was highly favor'd by the Princess of Wales, and had the honour, in the cold sweat of auhiuard reverence, to read to her, and the ladies of her court, his tragedy of the Captives in M. S. Gay, here, was nearly in the situation of that luckless play-wright described so ludicrously in the Ad-venturer.—His homage was prostration, for he stumbled as he advanced before her Royal Highness. He, nevertheless, read this play— certainly dull, unpoetical, and uninteresting.
In 1726 he dedicated, by permission, his Fables to the Duke of Cumberland—the year following he was offered the post of Gentleman Usher to one of the youngest Princesses. The pride of Talents revolted at the Indignity—He rejected it with anger—and remonstrated warmly through his Friends.
Gay's residue of life was entirely literary— Disappointing visions of Court-preferment broke his spirits, and gloom'd his solitary hours; yet the fate of that man cannot be much mourn'd, whose patron was Queensbury; who could leave a fortune of some Thousand Pounds at his death, and who, living, had the yet better fortune, to call Swift and Pope, and ArbuthNot and Concreve, his friends and intimate companions. He died December 1732, in Burlington-Gardens, and was interred in Westminster-Abbey.