JOHN GAY dedicated his poem Rural Sports to Alexander Pope; the title page commemorates the friendship, ‘A Georgic: Inscribed to Mr Pope’.1 This inscription, and the subsequent prefatory verses, indicate that Gay was following the tradition of Virgil’s Georgics and Windsor Forest (Pope’s own essay into the georgic genre): In Windsor groves your easie hours employ, And, undisturb’d, your self and Muse enjoy. … My muse shall rove through flow’ry meads and plains, And deck with Rural Sports her native strains, And the fame road ambitiously pursue, Frequented by the Mantuan swain, and you.2 Gay’s most recent editors point out some of his allusions to Pope and Virgil to strengthen the georgic connection.3 However, it appears that they did not catch them all, as this entry from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language suggests. Under the second definition of ‘prick’ (v.a.), we read: The fiery courser, when he hears from far The sprightly trumpets and the shouts of war, Pricks up his ears. Dryden’s Virgil’s Georg The tuneful noise the sprightly courser hears, Paws the green turf, and pricks his trembling ears. Gay4 Five other authorities are quoted under this definition, and the pair quoted above are separated by a quotation from Nehemiah Grew’s Musaeum Regalis Societatis. Despite this interruption, the resemblance between the two passages Johnson cites is prima facie evident. Note the repeated words (‘courser’, ‘sprightly’, ‘pricks’) and the paratactic isocolons (‘fiery courser’ / ‘sprightly courser’, ‘sprightly trumpets’ / ‘tuneful noise’, ‘pricks up his ears’ / ‘pricks his trembling ears’). These consonances indicate the tissue of a connective strand between Gay and Dryden’s translation evident in Johnson’s mind.5 This is not the only example. In Johnson’s Dictionary entry for ‘deep-mouthed’, we find these two passages set side-by-side: Then toils for beasts, and lime for birds were found, And deep-mouth’d dogs did forest walks surround. Dryden Hills, dales, and forests far behind remain While the warm scent draws on the deep-mouth’d train. Gay The first is from the translation of Georgics, I, 211–12; the second from Rural Sports, ll. 380–81. The deployment of this unusual word, ‘deep-mouthed’, applied to hunting dogs in both poems, constitutes a distinct ligature uniting the two passages. Apart from these suggestions recommended by the Dictionary, additional examples of Dryden’s influence may be discerned.6 Moreover, Dryden’s poetic diction appears to have pervasively flavoured the texture of Rural Sports; indeed, the very title of the poem itself might be traced to Dryden’s ‘Aesacus Transformed into a Cormorant’: ‘Lov’d the lone hills, and simple rural sport’.7 Clearly, we are now in a position to acknowledge more fully the extent of Dryden’s precursive shadow productively looming over Gay’s poem. As noted above, in addition to Dryden, Pope—Dryden’s poetic protégé—also influenced Gay’s poem. The latter perused the manuscript of Windsor Forest while finalizing the second 1713 version of Rural Sports, leading him to re-fashion some passages in light of Pope’s verses.8 See, for eaxmple, these lines from the Dictionary entry for ‘dispeopler’ (‘A depopulator; a waster.’): Nor drain I ponds, the golden carp to take; Nor trowle for pikes, dispeoplers of the lake. Gay This couplet is drawn from Rural Sports (ll. 263–64). The Oxford editors of John Gay: Poetry and Prose astutely note that this likely refers back to Windsor Forest (ll. 46–48). Yet it appears that Johnson made this connection more than two centuries earlier, for, immediately preceding the ‘dispeopler’ entry containing Gay as its sole authority, we find: Kings, furious and severe, Who claim’d the skies, dispeopled air and floods, The lonely lords of empty wilds and woods. Pope9 Observing necessary grammatical distinctions, Johnson separated the two passages; yet he also directly positioned them on the page so that the resemblance clearly emerges. The allusion is apt, for Pope’s verses denominate tyrants who despoil the landscape and, eventually, human cities, while Gay’s pike operates as analogue to the despotic ancient English kings, as this passage from The Compleat Angler (a work Gay most likely consulted in constructing the halieutic portion of his poem) makes clear: The luce or pike is the tyrant of the fresh waters; they are bred, some by generation, and some not; as of a weed called pickerel-weed, unless Gosner be mistaken. (Pt. 1, ch. 8; quoted in the Dictionary under ‘pickerel-weed’) Further perusal of the text reveals that, immediately preceding the Pope quotation in the ‘dispeople’ entry, Johnson interjects: His heart exalts him in the harm Already done, to have dispeopled heav’n. Milton This of course is from Paradise Lost (VII, 150–51), describing the original and defining type of the tyrant, Satan. Not only did Johnson discern the connection between Pope and Gay, he provides the careful reader an intertext for their passages. We are witness here to the intertextual richness that frequently subsists amongst the authorities that the Dictionary collates. For an example, see the entry for ‘whistle’ (v.n.) (def. 1), where we find this juxtaposition: While the plowman near at hand Whistles o’er the furrow’d land. Milton The ploughman leaves the task of day, And trudging homeward whistles on the way. Gay The similarities subsisting between ‘L’Allegro’ (ll. 63–64) and Rural Sports (ll. 91–92) indicate influence, apparently one that caught Johnson’s eye—and one that should catch ours as well. The two whistling plowmen and the context of the walk on a spring (or summer) day found in both couplets suggest that Gay models his couplet, at least in part, upon Milton’s. That both are immediately followed by dairy scenes (Milton’s ‘milkmaid … blithe’ [l. 65] and Gay’s ‘stroakings of the damsel’s hand’ [l. 93]), strongly supports the identification. It appears, then, that Milton joins Virgil, Dryden, and Pope in exerting significant pressure upon Rural Sports. In light of this, we might we consider the passage from ‘Il Penseroso’: Dissolve me into ecstasies, And bring all heaven before mine eyes. … Where I may sit and rightly spell Of every star that heaven doth shew, And every herb that sips the dew; Till old experience do attain To something like prophetic strain as informing Gay’s Millions of worlds hang in the spacious air, Which round their suns their annual circle steer. Sweet contemplation elevates my sense, While I survey the works of providence. O could the Muse in loftier strains rehearse, The glorious author of the universe, Who reins the winds, gives the vast ocean bounds, And circumscribes the floating worlds their rounds, My soul should overflow in songs of praise, And my Creator’s name inspire my lays!10 Maren-Sofie Røstvig has located Gay’s locus within the same ille beatus tradition as Milton’s companion poems; however, the verbal and topical affinities divulged above marks Milton’s influence upon Rural Sports as conclusive.11 Both passages find the poet seeking knowledge of the hidden workings of the universe, but Gay’s version of the muse modulates into a scientific mode characteristic of the climate of opinion in which he operated. In his 1755 Preface to the Dictionary, Johnson wrote, ‘I have sometimes, though rarely, yielded to the temptation of exhibiting a genealogy of sentiments, by showing how one authour copied the thoughts and diction of another …’ (Yale Works, VIII, 98). This is an important remark, one that is perhaps under-appreciated by many users of the Dictionary. The latter’s definitions serve as an invaluable reference resource to readers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British literature seeking to elucidate precise historical meanings of words. But its deployment of authorities considerably augments the value it otherwise possesses. Given the evidence submitted here, as well as additional work I have done elsewhere,12 I submit that Johnson’s adverb ‘rarely’ was a coy sleight; he in fact does so with a frequency we are only now beginning to realize. Footnotes 1 Poems on Several Occasions, 2 vols (London, 1720), I, 2. Gay originally published the poem in January 1713; it was republished later that year. He included a thoroughly revised version in his 1720 collection, the one followed here, per the modern Oxford edition. 2 Ll. 3–4, 27–30; John Gay: Poetry and Prose, ed. Vinton A. Dearing, with Charles E. Beck (Oxford, 1974), I, 41, 42. Notable to mention: the sole passage under Johnson’s Dictionary entry for ‘georgick’ (adj.) is from Gay’s Rural Sports (l. 67): ‘Here I peruse the Mantuan’s georgick strains’. 3 John Gay: Poetry and Prose, II, 493, passim. 4 According to my tabulation, Johnson quotes from Rural Sports at least thirty-seven times in the Dictionary: ‘arm’ (n.s.) (def. 2), (l. 59); ‘aspen’ (adj.) (l. 98); ‘beacon’ (def. 2) (l. 406); ‘boil’ (v.n.) (def. 2), (l. 238); ‘deep-mouthed’ (l. 381); ‘dewlapt’ (l. 79); ‘dint’ (n.s.) (def. 3) (l. 82); ‘dispeopler’ (l. 264), ‘draw in’ (l. 271); ‘furzy’ (l. 370); ‘georgick’ (l. 67); ‘heron’ (def. 2), (l. 353): ‘inundation’ (def. 1), (l. 125); ‘nibble’ (v.a.) (def. 2), (l. 154); ‘open’ (v.n.) (def. 2), (l. 348); ‘otter’ (l. 254); ‘over-hang’ (l. 62); ‘pathway’ (l. 56); ‘peacock’ (l. 181); ‘point’ (v.n.) (def. 3), (l. 314); ‘pointer’ (def. 2), (l. 337); ‘prick’ (v.a.) (def. 2), (l. 377); ‘range’ (v.a.) (def. 2), (l. 346); ‘ranger’ (def. 2), (l. 325); ‘reptile’ (l. 168); ‘rod’ (def. 3), (l. 134); ‘route’ (l. 370); ‘sable’ (n.s.) (l. 182), ‘shave’ (v.a.) (def. 2), (l. 42); ‘snap’ (v.a.) (def. 3), (l. 293); ‘spring’ (v.a.) (def. 1), (l. 338); ‘troll’ (v.n.) (def. 2), (l. 264); ‘uncaught’ (l. 146); ‘uncloudy’ (l. 108); ‘waxen’ (l. 88); ‘whistle’ (v.n.) (def. 1), (l. 92), and ‘wreath’ (v.a.) (def. 2), (l. 236). (He uses the 1720 edition.) Johnson also quotes from a letter by Pope to Gay (24 Dec. 1712) under ‘apparatus’. More than two decades later, he made this comment, in the ‘Life of Gay’: ‘His first performance, the Rural Sports, is such as was easily planned and executed; it is never contemptible nor ever excellent’, thus exemplifying his estimate of Gay as a poet of the middle rank, one who ‘cannot be rated very high’ (The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, gen. ed. Robert DeMaria, Jr., 23 vols [New Haven, CT, 1958–], XX, 802, 801). (For a nuanced analysis of Johnson’s assessment of Gay, see Adina Forsgren, John Gay: Poet of a Lower Order, 2 vols [Upsala, 1964–71], I, 11–19.) Yet, the volume of his quotations from Rural Sports—to say nothing of the many more appropriations from other works by Gay—perhaps should moderate something of the force of Johnson’s later claims. Lewis Freed, who found a total of 208 quotations from Gay in the first volume of the 1755 edition of the Dictionary, attributed only two to Rural Sports (‘The Sources of Johnsons Dictionary’ PhD diss., Cornell, 1939, 61); Roger Lonsdale has stated that 441 Gay quotations are found in the 1755 Dictionary, reduced to 437 in the revised edition of 1773 (The Lives of the English Poets, ed. Roger Lonsdale, 4 vols (Oxford, 2006], III, 343). 5 The editors of John Gay: Poetry and Prose do note one such example (I, 493, n54), which I omit from my list of other instances gathered below. 6 See, e.g., RS, ll. 39–40 and G, II, 253–5; RS, l. 55 and G, III, 21; RS, ll. 71–72 and G, II, 282–83; etc. My search has uncovered a number of suggestive correspondences (not mentioned by the Oxford editors) between Rural Sports and Dryden’s translation of Virgil’s Eclogues: see, e.g., ‘corn/adorn (RS, ll. 73–74 and E, IX, 66–7); ‘mossy/grassy couch’ (RS, ll. 65 and E, VII, 62); ‘snake’ (RS, ll. 55–56 and E, III, 105–6); ‘wood resound’ (RS, ll. 64 and E, V, 52); etc. With respect to Gay’s evident attention to the Georgics, we will wish to keep in mind Dryden’s assessment of it as ‘the best Poem of the best Poet’ (The Works of John Dryden, ed. Edward Niles Hooker, et al., 20 vols [Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1956–2000], V, 137), one that both Pope and Gay were likely aware of. 7 L. 18. (My emphasis.). This is not to say that the verse from Dryden necessarily informs Gay’s title, although it might; the point rather is that Dryden’s rich trove of poetic diction was available to and used by Gay. As Johnson wrote in ‘Life of Dryden’, ‘Perhaps no nation ever produced a writer that enriched his language with such variety of models’ (Yale Works, XXI, 494). For other examples, see, ‘dewy fields’ (RS, l. 36 and Aeneis, VII, 946); ‘early care’ (RS, l. 37 and ‘Sigismonda and Guiscardo’, l. 611); ‘equal rows’ (RS, l. 52 and Aeneis, V, 326); ‘gentle reign’ (RS, l. 33 and Second Part of Absalom and Achitophel, l. 700); ‘morning lark’ (RS, l. 35 and ‘Palamon and Arcite’, II, 37); ‘mounting sun’ (RS, l. 45 and ‘Britannia Rediva’, l. 5); ‘purple clouds’, (RS, l. 103 and Don Sebastian, IV, 1); ‘rising hills’ (RS, l. 51 and Georgics, II, 539); ‘sweet repose’, (RS, l. 24 and Aeneis, V, 1100); ‘steed curvet’, (RS, l. 77 and Aeneis, X, 1280), etc. 8 See John Gay: Poetry and Prose, II, 491. 9 The 1712 MS that Gay would have seen reads (l. 47): ‘Who Claim’d the Skies, unpeopled Air and Floods’: see Robert M. Schmirtz, Pope’s Windsor Forest, 1712, A Study of the Washington University Holograph (St Louis, MI, 1952), 20. Gay followed Pope’s printed version when making revisions for his 1720 edition (l. 264): see John Gay: Poetry and Prose, I, 51 and note. 10 Ll. 165–174; Milton: The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey 2nd edn (Harlow, 2007), 151; ll. 111–20; John Gay: Poetry and Prose, I, 45. 11 See The Happy Man, 2 vols (Oslo, 1958–64), I, 100–07, II, 229. 12 See, e.g., ‘ “We make the music which we imagine ourselves to hear”: Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and the Poetics of Intertextuality in Johnson’s Dictionary and Rambler’, in Jesse Swan (ed.), Reading the British Eighteenth Century: New Essays in Criticism (Lewisburg, PA, forthcoming, 2017) and ‘No Poem an Island: An Intertextual Reading of Samuel Johnson’s London’, in Anthony W. Lee (ed.), Revaluation: New Essays on Samuel Johnson (Newark, DE, forthcoming, 2018). © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. 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Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 16, 2018
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