Poems on Several Occasions, vol. 1 (John Gay, 1720)

A collection of several long-form poems, mostly pastoral, several comic. “The Shepherd’s Week”, a poem in six parts (Monday through Saturday), is the centerpiece of the book. It deals with the loves and jealousies of country farmers in a humorous manner. Each day is handsomely illustrated by a full-page woodcut (1775 edition). The longest poem, however, is in three parts and is titled “Trivia”. It covers all the diverse people and events one might see when walking about London on foot, in summer and winter, day and night. This is the only non-pastoral piece and it’s also in an entirely serious tone, aside from a few satirical jabs at the wealthy. But my favorite was the last work, a “tragi-comi-pastoral farce” titled “The What D’Ye Call It”. It begins with a prose scene of the decidedly non-professional writer, director, and actors preparing to stage the play, which I first thought was only to lampshade the absurdities of the production (which at one point introduces an “embryo ghost”), but there’s a great twist at the end that ties it all together.

I have volume 2 as well and will read it eventually (and so I have), but not right now. I like to visit the 18th century from time to time, but I don’t care to stay long.

Inscription: An ex libris plate is pasted on the inside front cover. It’s the coat of arms of Sir G. Graham Montgomery, Baronet of Stanhope. There’s a shield on which stands a robed woman holding an anchor in one hand and a severed head in the other. Below it are the words “Garde Bien”.


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