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Person, Habits, and Private Character of Swift-His Con
versation-His Reading—Apparent Inconsistencies in his Character-His Charity-His Talents for CriticismCharacter of the Dean as a Poet-As 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 his 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 reckoned handsome ; Pope observed, that though
* 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 ÆDIUM TOTIUS CLERI ET HUJUSCE PRÆCIPUE GENTIS DECUS, AMORIS ET OBSERVANTIÆ ERGO PINGI CURAVIT CAPITULUM
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 immediately 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 completes 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 unfortunate 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
his face had an expression of dulness, his eyes were very particular. They were as azure, he said, as the heavens, and had an unusual expression of acuteness. In old age, the Dean's countenance conveyed an expression which, though severe, was noble and impressive. He spoke in public with facility and im
existence, 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 costume. 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 Drapier'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 copied 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 maniacal, 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, Dublin.
pressive 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 his 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 resistance.* He
* 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 was very fond of puns. Perhaps the application of the line of Virgil to the lady who threw down with her mantua a Cremona fiddle, is the best ever was made :
Mantua, væ miseræ nimium 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 anecdotes. A man of distinction not remarkable for regularity in his private concerns,
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, who, having undergone his raillery in silence during the time of dinner, all of a sudden raised his head from the plate, on observing Swift take apple-sauce to the wing of a duck, and exclaimed, “Mt Dean, you eat
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 surprised and incensed that he left the room, and would not stay dinner, 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.