John Gay

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Life is a jest; and all things show it. I thought so once; and now I know it.

John Gay (30 June 16854 December 1732) was an English poet and dramatist. He is best remembered for The Beggar's Opera (1728), set to music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. The characters, including Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum, became household names.


  • 'Twas when the seas were roaring
    With hollow blasts of wind,
    A damsel lay deploring,
    All on a rock reclined.
    • The What D'ye Call It (1715), Act II, sc. viii
  • So comes a reckoning when the banquet's o'er,—
    The dreadful reckoning, and men smile no more.
    • The What d' ye call it (1715). Comparable to: "The time of paying a shot in a tavern among good fellows, or Pantagruelists, is still called in France a 'quart d'heure de Rabelais,'—that is, Rabelais's quarter of an hour, when a man is uneasy or melancholy", Life of Rabelais (Bohn's edition), p. 13
  • My lodging is on the cold ground,
    And hard, very hard, is my fare,
    But that which grieves me more
    Is the coldness of my dear.
    • My Lodging Is on the Cold Ground (1720), st. 1
  • No retreat. No retreat. They must conquer or die who’ve no retreat.
    • "We’ve Cheated the Parson" (song), Polly: an Opera (1729), Air 46, Act II, sc. x
  • Life is a jest; and all things show it. I thought so once; and now I know it.
    • My Own Epitaph, inscribed on Gay’s monument in Westminster Abbey; also quoted as "I thought so once; but now I know it".
  • All in the Downs the fleet was moor'd.
    • Sweet William's Farewell to Black-eyed Susan, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)
  • Adieu, she cried, and waved her lily hand.
    • Sweet William's Farewell to Black-eyed Susan, reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Fables (1727)[edit]

  • Remote from cities liv'd a swain,
    Unvex'd with all the cares of gain;
    His head was silver'd o'er with age,
    And long experience made him sage.
    • Introduction, "The Shepherd and the Philosopher"
  • Whence thy learning? Hath thy toil
    O'er books consumed the midnight oil?
    • Introduction, "The Shepherd and the Philosopher"; "Midnight oil" was a common phrase, used by Quarles, Shenstone, Cowper, Lloyd, and others.
  • Where yet was ever found a mother
    Who'd give her booby for another?
    • Fable III, "The Mother, the Nurse, and the Fairy"
  • When we risk no contradiction,
    It prompts the tongue to deal in fiction.
    • Fable X, "The Elephant and the Bookseller"
  • No author ever spar'd a brother.
    • Fable X, "The Elephant and the Bookseller"
  • In beauty faults conspicuous grow;
    The smallest speck is seen on snow.
    • Fable XI, "The Peacock, Turkey, and Goose"
  • A Wolf eats sheep but now and then;
    Ten thousands are devour'd by men.
    An open foe may prove a curse,
    but a pretend friend is worse.
    • Fable XVII, "The Shepherd's Dog and the Wolf"
  • In every age and clime we see
    Two of a trade can never agree.
    • Fable XXI, "The Rat-catcher and Cats". Comparable to: "Potter is jealous of potter, and craftsman of craftsman; and poor man has a grudge against poor man, and poet against poet", Hesiod, Works and Days, 24; "Le potier au potier porte envie" (translated: "The potter envies the potter"), Bohn, Handbook of Proverbs; also in Arthur Murphy, The Apprentice, act iii
  • Those who in quarrels intepose
    Must often wipe a bloody nose.
    • Fable XXXIV, "The Mastiffs"
  • Envy is a kind of praise.
  • I hate the man who builds his name
    On ruins of another's fame.
    Thus prudes, by characters o'erthrown,
    Imagine that they raise their own.
    Thus Scribblers, covetous of praise,
    Think slander can transplant the bays.
    • Fable XLV, "The Poet and the Rose"
  • And when a lady's in the case,
    You know all other things give place.
    • Fable L, "The Hare and many Friends"
  • Love, then, hath every bliss in store;
    'Tis friendship, and 'tis something more.
    Each other every wish they give;
    Not to know love is not to live.
    • Fable LXIII, "Plutus, Cupid, and Time"
  • Lest men suspect your tale untrue,
    Keep probability in view.
    • Fable, The Painter who pleased Nobody and Everybody
  • Is there no hope? the sick man said;
    The silent doctor shook his head.
    • Fable, The Sick Man and the Angel
  • While there is life there 's hope, he cried.
    • Fable, The Sick Man and the Angel
    • Comparable to: "For the living there is hope, but for the dead there is none", Theocritus (3rd century BC), Idyl iv, 42; "Ægroto, dum anima est, spes est" ("While the sick man has life, there is hope", Cicero (1st century BC), Epistolarum ad Atticum, ix, 10
  • That raven on yon left-hand oak
    (Curse on his ill-betiding croak!)
    Bodes me no good.
    • Fable, The Farmer's Wife and the Raven. Comparable to: "It wasn't for nothing that the raven was just now croaking on my left hand", Plautus, Aulularia, act iv. sc. 3

Fables, Part the Second (1738)[edit]

  • From wine what sudden friendship springs!
    • VI, "The Squire and His Cur"
  • By outward show let's not be cheated;
    An ass should like an ass be treated.
    • XI, "The Packhorse and Carrier"
  • Give me, kind Heaven, a private station,
    A mind serene for contemplation:
    Title and profit I resign;
    The post of honour shall be mine.
    • The Vulture, the Sparrow, and other Birds. Comparable to: "When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway, The post of honour is a private station", Joseph Addison, Cato, Act iv, scene 4

The Beggar's Opera (1728)[edit]

Full text online at University of Oxford Text Archive
  • If Poverty be a Title to Poetry, I am sure nobody can dispute mine. I own myself of the Company of Beggars; and I make one at their Weekly Festivals at St. Giles's. I have a small Yearly Salary for my Catches, and am welcome to a Dinner there whenever I please, which is more than most Poets can say.
    • "Beggar", Introduction
  • As we live by the Muses, it is but a Gratitude in us to encourage Poetical Merit wherever we find it. The Muses, contrary to all other Ladies, pay no Distinction to Dress, and never partially mistake the Pertness of Embroidery for Wit, nor the Modesty of Want for Dulness. Be the Author who he will, we push his Play as far as it will go. So (though you are in Want) I wish you success heartily.
    • "Player", Introduction
  • 'T is woman that seduces all mankind;
    By her we first were taught the wheedling arts.
    • Act I, scene i
  • Over the hills and far away.
    • Act I, scene i; comparable to: "O'er the hills and far away", D'Urfey, Pills to purge Melancholy (1628–1723).
  • You know, my Dear, I never meddle in matters of Death; I always leave those Affairs to you. Women indeed are bitter bad Judges in these cases, for they are so partial to the Brave that they think every Man handsome who is going to the Camp or the Gallows.
    • Mrs. Peachum, Act I, sc. iv
  • How the mother is to be pitied who hath handsome daughters! Locks, bolts, bars, and lectures of morality are nothing to them: they break through them all. They have as much pleasure in cheating a father and mother, as in cheating at cards.
    • Mrs. Peachum, Act I, sc. viii
  • Do you think your Mother and I should have liv'd comfortably so long together, if ever we had been married?
    • Peachum, Act I, sc. viii
  • Can you support the expense of a husband, hussy, in gaming, drinking and whoring? Have you money enough to carry on the daily quarrels of man and wife about who shall squander most? There are not many husbands and wives, who can bear the charges of plaguing one another in a handsome way.
    • Mrs. Peachum, Act I, sc. viii
  • O Polly, you might have toyed and kissed,
    By keeping men off, you keep them on.
    • Act I, sc. viii, air 9
  • Were I laid on Greenland’s Coast,
    And in my Arms embrac’d my Lass;
    Warm amidst eternal Frost,
    Too soon the Half Year’s Night would pass.
    • Act I, sc. xxxiii, air 16
  • Macheath: And I would love you all the day,
    Polly: Every night would kiss and play,
    Macheath: If with me you’d fondly stray
    Polly: Over the hills and far away.
    • Act I, sc. xxxiii, air 16
  • Fill ev'ry glass, for wine inspires us,
    And fires us
    With courage, love and joy.
    Women and wine should life employ.
    Is there ought else on earth desirous?
    • Matt, Act II, sc. i, air 19
  • The fly that sips treacle is lost in the sweets.
    • Act II, scene ii
  • Brother, brother! we are both in the wrong.
    • Act II, scene ii
  • How happy could I be with either,
    Were t' other dear charmer away!
    • Act II, scene ii
  • If the heart of a man is depressed with cares,
    The mist is dispell'd when a woman appears;
    Like the notes of a fiddle, she sweetly, sweetly
    Raises the spirits, and charms our ears.
    • Act II, sc. iii, air 21
  • I must have women—there is nothing unbends the mind like them.
    • Macheath, Act II, sc. iii
  • Youth's the season made for joys,
    Love is then our duty.
    • Act II, sc. iv, air 22
  • Before the Barn-Door crowing,
    The Cock by Hens attended,
    His Eyes around him throwing,
    Stands for a while suspended:
    Then One he singles from the Crew,
    And cheers the happy Hen;
    With how do you do, and how do you do,
    And how do you do again.
    • Act II, sc. iv, air 23
  • Man may escape from rope and gun;
    Nay, some have outlived the doctor's pill:
    Who takes a woman must be undone,
    That basilisk is sure to kill.
    The fly that sips treacle is lost in the sweets,
    So he that tastes woman, woman, woman,
    He that tastes woman, ruin meets.
    • Act II, sc. viii, air 26
  • You base man you,—how can you look me in the face after what hath passed between us?—See here, perfidious wretch, how I am forc'd to bear about the load of infamy you have laid upon me— -O Macheath! thou hast robb'd me of my quiet—to see thee tortur'd would give me pleasure.
    • Lucy, Act II, sc. ix
  • Sure men were born to lie, and women to believe them!
    • Lucy, Act II, sc. xiii
  • How happy could I be with either,
    Were t'other dear charmer away!
    • Macheath, Act II, sc. xiii, air 35
  • How happy I am, if you say this from your heart! For I love thee so, that I could sooner bear to see thee hang'd than in the Arms of another.
    • Lucy, Act II, sc. xv
  • If love be not his Guide,
    He never will come back!
    • Lucy, Act II, sc. xv, air 40
  • The charge is prepar'd, the lawyers are met,
    The judges all ranged,—a terrible show!
    • Act III, scene ii
  • Fill it up. I take as large draughts of liquor as I did of love. I hate a flincher in either.
    • Mrs. Trapes, Act III, sc. vi
  • I don't enquire after your Affairs-- --so whatever happens, I wash my hands on't---- It hath always been my Maxim, that one Friend should assist another-- --But if you please----I'll take one of the Scarfs home with me. 'Tis always good to have something in Hand.
    • Trapes, Act III, sc. vi
  • The charge is prepared; the lawyers are met;
    The judges all ranged (a terrible show!)
    I go, undismay'd.—For death is a debt,
    A debt on demand.—So take what I owe.
    • Macheath, Act III, sc. xi, air 57

External links[edit]