John Gay


Life is a jest, and all things show it;
I thought so once, and now I know it.


John Gay is buried in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, London, England. (However, his monument was moved to the triforium when a medieval fresco was discovered beneath it.)

Poets' Corner

Gay's first mature poem - The Shepherd's Week (1714) was written in the mock-heroic style of Pope. It parodied the pastoral poems of Ambrose Philips (Pope's arch rival) and involved the exploits of various yokels with names such as Bumkinet and Boobyclod.

In 1720 Gay published Poems on Several Occasions which proved to be popular and profitable. Unfortunately, he invested the money he made from them in the South Sea Company and subsequently lost everything when the bubble burst.

Along with Swift, Pope and Arbuthnot, Gay was a member of the Scriblerus Club. Gay was a gifted satirist but his poetry was overshadowed by that of Pope and Swift.

Gay is chiefly remembered today for his satirical play The Beggar's Opera. In it he rewrote the lyrics of many traditional folk songs and ballads. He also created a memorable cast of witty low life characters. The sequel to The Beggar's Opera, entitled Polly, was banned by Walpole. However, when the play was published in 1729 it earned Gay large amounts of money.

John Gay

Gay died of an intestinal disorder on the 4th December 1732 in the house of his patrons the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry. He was only 46 years old. Arbuthnot remarked that Gay's funeral was: 'as splendid as if he had been a peer of the realm'.

Gay, a very well liked man, had a passion for good company, good food and blue ribbons. (Both Pope and Swift teased him about the latter.)

Pope wrote an epitaph for Gay's monument which contained the following lines: ' Of manner gentle, of affections mild; In wit, a man; simplicity a child: With native humour tempering virtuous rage, Formed to delight at once and lash the age:'

Youth's the season made for joys,
   Love is then our duty,
She alone who that employs,
   Well deserves her beauty.
      Let's be gay
      While we may,
Beauty's a flower despised in decay.

                        from Youth and Love






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