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Person, Habits, and Private Character of Swift--His
Conversation-His Reading-Apparent Inconsistencies in his Character–His Charity-His Talents for Criticism-Character of the Dean as a PoetAs a Prose Author.
Swift was in person tall, strong, and well made, of a dark complexion, but with blue eyes, black and bushy eyebrows, nose somewhat acquiline, and features which remarkably expressed the stern, haughty, and dauntless turn of his mind. He was never known to laugh, and bis smiles are happily characterized by the well-known lines of Shakespeare. Indeed, the whole description of Cassius might be applied to Swift:
He reads much,
The features of the Dean have been preserved in several paintings, busts, and medals.* In youth, he was
* There is an excellent portrait of Dean Swift at the Deanery House, Dublin, painted by Bindon. A genius appears in the piece displaying a scroll, containing a Latin inscription, partly undecypherable, but which refers to the Dean's exertions in procuring for the church the grant of the first fruits and tenths. At the bottom of the canvass is the following inscription :
EFFIGIEM HUJUS REV. ADMODUM VIRI JONATH. SWIFT, S. T.P.
ECCLESIÆ CATH. S. PAT. DUB. DECANI. IN PERPETUUM HARUM,
PRÆSENTI TIBI MATUROS LARGIMUR HONORES,
In the back distance, through the window, is seen in perspective the great western door of the cathedral of St. Patrick's, leading imreckoned handsome; Pope observed, that though his face had an expression of dulness, his eyes were very particular. They were as azure, he said, as the hear. ens, and had an unusual expression of acuteness. In old age, the Dean's countenance conveyed an expres. sion which, though severe, was noble and impressive.
mediately to that aisle in which the illustrious patriot is interred. The tower, or steeple, is pre-eminently conspicuous, however minute this part of the drawing be. It is to be observed, that at the period the original painting was taken, the spire, which now come pletes that fine Gothic structure, had not been erected.
The frame is of black Irish oak, curiously and tastefully carved with a variety of emblematical figures, having at the bottom the arms of the Deanery and of Swift quartered in one scutcheon. The unifortunate taste of one of his successors caused this frame to be gilded. This picture should not be mentioned without recording the patriotic disinterestedness of Dean Cradoc, who, when a fire broke out at the Deanery-house, commanded those who assisted to leave their exertions to save his own property and books, until they had secured the picture of his renowned predecessor.
Another portrait, supposed to be one of the best likenesses in existe ence, and also painted by Bindon, is the property of Dr. Hill of Dublin. The expression of the features differ in some respects from the picture in the Deanery, being rather of a deep and melancholy cast, than of the stern, harsh, and imperative character.
There is a portrait of Dean Swift at Howth Castle. It is a full length, painted by Bindon. He is represented in the clerical cos. tume. To the left of the figure is seen the Temple of Fame in the back ground; on the Dean's right appears the genius of Ireland, extending a laurel-wreath, as about to crown the patriot; in his left hand he holds forth a scroll, on which is written, “ The fourth Dra. pier's Letter.” At his feet, on the right of the picture, lies bound the famous patentee Woods; he is depicted in agony. On a scroll is written - Woods' patent."
A full-length painting of the Dean, in his clerical habit, is placed in the theatre, or examination-hall, of Trinity College, Dublin. The head and figure, with some variation of attitude, appear to be copi. ed from the oil painting at the Deanery-house. He is here represented as standing between two pillars ; in the space between, in the back-ground, is given a view of the steeple and spire of St. Patrick's.
In the museum of Trinity College, Dublin, there is a dark plaster bust, or cast, of Dean Swift. It is an impression taken from the mask, applied to the face after death. The expression of countenance is most unequivocally inaniacal, and one side of the mouth (the left,) horribly contorted downwards, as if convulsed by pain. It is engraved for Mr. Barrett's Essay.
There is a marble bust of Dean Swift in the possession of Dr. Duke, Stephen's-green, Dublia,
He spoke in public with facility and impressive energy; and as his talents for ready reply were so well calculated for political debate, it must have increased the mortification of Queen Anne's ministers, that they found themselves unable to secure him a seat on the bench of Bishops. The government of Ireland dreaded his eloquence as much as bis pen.
His manners in society were, in his better days, free, lively, and engaging, not devoid of peculiarities, but bending them so well to circumstances, that his company was universally courted. When age and infirmity had impaired the elasticity of his spirits and the equality of his temper, his conversation was still valued, not only on account of the extended and various acquaintance with life and manners, of which it displayed an inexhaustible fund, but also for the shrewd and satirical humour which seasoned his observations and anecdotes. This, according to Orrery, was the last of his powers which decayed; but the Dean himself was sensible that, as his memory failed, his stories were too often repeated. His powers of conversation and of humorous repartee were in his time regarded as unrivalled ; but, like most who have assumed a despotic sway in conversation, he was sometimes silenced by unexpected resist
He was very fond of puns. Perhaps the application of the line of Virgil to the lady who threw down
* At an inn, seeing the cook.maid scraping a piece of mutton, he asked how many maggots she had got out of it? “Not so many as are in your head," answered the wench smartly. The Dean was angry, and complained to her mistress. On another occasion, he was silenced by a worthy citizen, Alderman Brown, wbo, having undergone his raillery in silence during the time of dinner, all of a suddeu raised his head from the plate, on observing Swift take apple-sauce to the wing of a duck, and exclaimed, “Mr. Dean, you oat your duck like a goose.” At another time, he asked Kenny, a Carmelite priest, whom he met at Mrs. Whiteway's, “Why the Catholic church used pictures and images, when the church of England did not ?"_" Because," answered the priest readily, “we are old housekeepers, and you are new beginners.” Swift was so sur. prised and incensed that he left the room, and would not stay din. ner, though he had come to Mrs. Whiteway's with that intention. But these instances of irritability occurred during the latter years of his life, when he could not endure contradiction.
with her mantua a Cremona fiddle, is the best ever was made :
Mantua, væ miseræ nimiumi vicina Cremona ! The comfort which he gave an elderly gentleman who had lost his spectacles, was more grotesque.
" If this rain continues all night, you will certainly recover them in the morning betimes:
Nocte pluit tota-redeunt spectacula mane. His pre-eminence in more legitimate wit is asserted by many anécdotes. A man of distinction not remarkable for regularity in his private concerns, chose for his motto, Eques haut male notus. 6 Better known than trusted” was the Dean's translation, when some one related the circumstance.
Swift had an odd humour of making extempore proverbs. Observing that a gentleman, in whose garden he walked with some friends, seemed to have no intention to request them to eat any of the fruit, Swift observed, “ It was a saying of his dear grandmother,
Always pull a peach
When it is within your reach ;" and belping himself accordingly, his example was followed by the whole company. At another time, he framed an “old saying and true” for the benefit of a person who had fallen from his horse into the mire :
The more dirt,
The less hurt. The man rose much consoled; but as he was a collector of proverbs hitoself, be wondered he had never before heard that used by the Dean upon the occasion. He threw some useful rules into rhyming adages;* and
Sheridan quotes two of them. One of them was a direction to those who ride together through the water:
When through the water you do ride,
Keep very close, or very wide,
First rack slow, and then rack quick,
indeed, as his Journal to Stella proves, had a facility in putting rhymes together on any trifling occasion, which must bave added considerably to the flow and facility of his poetical compositions.
In his personal habits he was cleanly, even to scrupulousness. At one period of his life he was said to lie in bed till eleven o'clock, and think of wit for the day;* but latterly he was an early riser. fond of exercise, and particularly of walking. And although modern pedestrians may smile at his proposing to journey to Chester, by walking ten miles a day; yet he is said to have taken this exercise too violently, and to a degree prejudicial to his health. He was also a tolerable horseman, fond of riding, and a judge of the noble animal, which he chose to celebrate, as the emblem of moral merit, under the name of Houyhnhom. Exercise he pressed on his friends, particularly upon Stella and Vanessa, as a sort of duty; and scarce any of his letters conclude without allusion to it; especially as relating to the preservation of his own health, which his constitutional fits of deafness and giddiness rendered very precarious. His habit of body in other respects appears to have been indifferent, with a tendency to scrofula, which, perhaps, hastened his mental disorder.f But 'the immediate cause was the pressure of water
66 Look ye,
* Spence's Anecdotes, Singer's Edit. p.
66. + During his residence at Cavan, he was tormented with an ulcerous shin, often mentioned in his letters; and in his journal there is a minute, and rather disgusting account of an eruption upon his shoulder. He sent for a surgeon belonging to the barracks, when at Cavan, to dress his wound. The young man entered with fear and trembling, for all men stood in awe of the Dean. sir,” said Swift, raising his leg from the stool on which it was extended, “my shin is very badly hurt; I have sent for you, and if you can cure it, by I'll advertise you. Here's five guineas for you, and you need look for no more.; so cure me as fast as you can."
The young man succeeded ; and the Dean, who liked both his skill and his modesty, was kind to him, often asked him to dinner, and when the cure was completed, made him a compliment of five guineas more. In a letter to Mrs. Whiteway he says, the shin cost him but three guineas; the rest he probably set down to benevolence. VOL. II.