150l. to him in the whole.’ This was scarcely bad pay for a poem which was sold to the public at 1s. 6d. But its popularity must have been confined to the first issues, for it was not until 1730 that it reached a third edition.
Gay's next production was the comedy entitled ‘Three Hours after Marriage,’ of which it is perhaps fairer to say that he bore the blame than that he is justly chargeable with its errors of taste. Although he signed the ‘advertisement,’ and was popularly credited with the authorship, he had Pope and Arbuthnot for active coadjutors. The piece was acted at Drury Lane, and published in January 1717. It ran feebly for seven nights. Dennis figured in it as Sir Tremendous, ‘the greatest critic of our age,’ while Woodward the geologist was burlesqued in Johnson's part of Fossile, to gain access to whose wife two suitors disguise themselves respectively as a mummy and a crocodile, expedients not at all to the taste of the stern censors of the pit. Another of the personages, Phœbe Clinket (played by Steele's friend, Mrs. Bicknell), was said to be intended for Anne Finch [q. v.], countess of Winchilsea, who was alleged to have spoken contemptuously of Gay (Biog. Dram. iii. 334). Like the ‘What-d'ye-Call-it,’ ‘Three Hours after Marriage’ was followed by ‘A Complete Key,’ which, however, was a criticism, and not a ‘puff oblique.’ It also prompted the farce of the ‘Confederates’ by Joseph Gay, the nom de guerre of John Durant Breval [q. v.]; and a pamphlet entitled ‘A Letter to Mr. John Gay, concerning his late Farce, entituled a Comedy,’ 1717.
In July 1717 William Pulteney, afterwards Earl of Bath, carried Gay with him to Aix, and (like Lord Burlington) was repaid by a rhymed epistle. The next year (1718) saw him in Oxfordshire at Lord Harcourt's seat of Cockthorpe, from which place he occasionally visited Pope, then working at the fifth volume of the ‘Iliad’ in another of Harcourt's country seats, an old gothic house and tower at Stanton Harcourt. Here occurred that romantic episode of the two lovers struck dead by lightning, of which Pope's ‘Correspondence’ contains so many versions, and which, from the fact that one of the earliest of these was printed in 1737 (Pope, Prose Works, i.), as written by Gay to his brother-in-law, Fortescue, has (by many people besides Sophia Primrose) been supposed to have been first chronicled by Gay. It is most probable, however, that the matrix (so to speak) of the story was a joint production sent by both writers to their friends, and colour is given to this conjecture by a passage in a letter from Lord Bathurst to Pope in August, in which he thanks his correspondent and Gay for the melancholy novel they have sent him of the unhappy lovers (Pope, Corr. iii. 325, and iv. 399 n.)
Nothing further of interest in Gay's life is recorded until 1720, when Tonson and Lintot published his poems in two quarto volumes, with a frontispiece by William Kent, the architect. Its subscription list rivals that to Prior's folio of 1718, and bears equal witness to the munificence of the Georgian nobility to the more fortunate of their minstrels. Lord Burlington and Lord Chandos are down for fifty copies each, Lord Bathurst and Lord Warwick for ten, and so forth. The second volume included a number of epistles, eclogues, and miscellaneous pieces, the majority of which were apparently published for the first time, as well as a pastoral tragedy entitled ‘Dione.’ One of the ballads, the still popular ‘Sweet William's Farewell to Black-ey'd Susan,’ is justly ranked among the best efforts of the writer's muse. By these two volumes he is alleged to have cleared 1,000l., no mean amount when it is remembered that one of them consisted wholly of pieces already in circulation. His friends clustered about him with kindly counsel in this unlooked-for good fortune. Swift and Pope recommended him to purchase an annuity with the money; Erasmus Lewis (Lord Bathurst's ‘proseman,’ as Prior was his ‘verseman’) wished him to put it in the funds and live upon the interest; Arbuthnot to entrust it to providence and live upon the principal. But the ‘most refractory, honest, good-natured man,’ as Swift called him, went his own refractory way. The younger Craggs had made him a present of some South Sea stock, and he seems to have sunk his poetical gains in the same disastrous speculation. He became speedily the master of a fabulous fortune of 20,000l. Again his advisers came to his aid, begging him to sell wholly or in part, at least as much, said Fenton, as will make you ‘sure of a clean shirt and a shoulder of mutton every day.’ But Gay was bitten by the South Sea madness. He declined to take either course, and forthwith lost both principal and profits (Biog. Brit. and Johnson, Lives, ed. Cunningham, ii. 288).
Among the other names chronicled in the subscription lists of the ‘Poems’ of 1720 were those of the Duke of Queensberry and his duchess, Catherine Hyde [see under Douglas, Charles, third Duke of Queensberry], henceforward Gay's kindest friends. The portrait of the duchess by Jervas as a milkmaid of quality is in the National Portrait Gallery. After her marriage (March 1720) she seems to have taken the poet entirely under