The English poet and playwright John Gay was born at Barnstaple, Devonshire, in June, 1685. He attended a free grammar school and served an apprenticeship to a cloth merchant in London. By 1712, at which time he was working as secretary to the duchess of Monmouth, he had written Wine, a poem in blank verse which argues that water-drinkers cannot be successful writers, and a pamphlet titled The Present State of Wit, which praises periodical authors. Gay subsequently published the poem Rural Sports, modeled after Alexander Pope’s Windsor Forest and dedicated to Pope. His next two poems were the result of Pope’s friendship: The Fan, a mock epic, and The Shepherd’s Week, a group of pastorals. In the summer of 1714 he went to Europe with Lord Clarendon as his secretary.
Gay’s The What D’ye Call It, a light farce making fun of the tragedies of the time, contains his popular lyric“’Twas When the Seas Were Roaring.” Another play, Three Hours After Morning, written with Pope and John Arbuthnot, was not successful. Trivia: Or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London provides minute and interesting descriptions of street scenes and happenings of the time and is a valuable source of information on eighteenth century manners. In 1720 a two-volume collection of his poems was published. This anthology contained the attractive lyric “Sweet Williams’s Farewell to...
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