Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, John

Today John Gay was born in Barnstaple, England, in 1685 - he wrote The Beggar's Opera. Although its sequel, Polly, was banned by then Prime Minister Walpole from being performed, sales of it made Gay rich. Unfortunately he then lost everything in the South Seas Bubble. He died in 1732 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His epitaph, written by Alexander Pope, is followed by two lines that Gay himself composed: "Life is a jest, and all things show it. I thought so once, and now I know it."

Against an elm a sheep was tied,
The butcher's knife in blood was dyed:
The patient flock in silent fright,
From far beheld the horrid sight.
A savage boar, who near them stood,
Thus mocked to scorn the fleecy brood.
"All cowards should be served like you.
See, see, your murderer is in view:
With purple hands and reeking knife,
He strips the skin yet warm with life;

Your quartered sires, your bleeding dams,
The dying bleat of harmless lambs,
Call for revenge. O stupid race!
The heart that wants revenge is base."
"I grant,"an ancient ram replies,
"We bear no terror in our eyes;
Yet think us not of soul so tame,
Which no repeated wrongs inflame;
Insensible of every ill,
Because we want thy tusks to kill.

Know, those who violence pursue,
Give to themselves the vengeance due;
For in these massacres we find
The two chief plagues that waste mankind:
Our skin supplies the wrangling bar,
It wakes their slumbering sons to war;
And well revenge may rest contented,
Since drums and parchment were invented."

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