Page images
PDF
EPUB

age, and by her will bequeathed one thousand pounds towards the support of a chaplain to the hospital founded in this city by Dr. Steevens.”

In an obscure corner, near the southern entrance, is a small tablet of white marble with the following inscription :-“Here lieth the body of Alexander M'Gee, servant to Doctor Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's. His grateful master caused this monument to be erected in memory of his discretion, fidelity, and diligence in that humble station. Obiit Mar. 24, 1721-2. Ætatis 29."

There are other monuments, ancient and modern, in the cathedral worthy of notice, but this is all that concerns our present subject. How little, indeed, seems to remain in evidence of Swift where he lived so many years, and played so conspicuous a part. The hospital for the insane, which he founded, is perhaps his most genuine monument. It still flourishes. The sum which was made over by the dean's executors for this purpose, was £7,720. This has been augmented by parliamentary grants and voluntary donations, and is capable of accommodating upwards of a hundred pauper patients, besides nearly an equal number of paying ones.

At the deanery house, there is an excellent portrait of Swift by Bindon. Another by Bindon, and said to be one of the best likenesses of him, is in the possession of Dr. Hill, of Dublin; and there is a third, at Howth Castle. But nothing can to the visitor fill

up the vacuum made by the destruction of the house in which he lived. We want to see where the author of the Drapier's Letters, and of Gulliver's Travels, lived. Where he conversed with Stella and Mrs. Whiteway, and joked with Sheridan and Delany, and where he finally sank into moody melancholy, and died.

Of all the lives of Swift which have been written, it would be difficult to say whether Dr. Johnson's or Sir Walter Scott's is the most one-sided. Johnson's is like that of a man who had a personal pique, and Scott's is that of a regular pleader. In his admiration of his author he seems unconsciously to take all that comes as excellent and right, and slurs over acts and principles in Swift, which in another he would denounce as most disgraceful. When we recollect that Swift was bitterly disappointed in his ambition of a mitre, and that he retired to Ireland to brood not only over this, but over the utter wreck of his political patrons and party, the impartial reader finds it difficult to concede to him so much the praise of real patriotism, as of personal resentment. He was ready to lay hold on anything that could at once annoy government, and enhance his own popularity. In all relations of life, an intense selfishness was his great characteristic, if we except this in his character of author: there he certainly displayed a great indifference to pecuniary profit; and was not only a staunch friend to his literary associates, but allowed them to reap that profit by his writings which he would not reap himself. But in all other respects his selfishness is strikingly prominent. He did not hesitate to sacrifice man or woman for the promotion of his comfort or his ambition. We have spoken of his treatment of women, we may take a specimen of his treatment of men. In the celebrated case of Wood, the patentee, and the Drapier's Letters, nothing could be more recklessly unjust than bis conduct, or more hollow than his pretences. He wanted a cause of annoyance to Walpole, and against the government generally. Government had given a contract to Wood to coin a certain quantity of halfpence for Ireland, and this he seized hold on. He represented Wood as a low ironmonger, an adventurer; his halfpence as vile in quality, and deficient in weight; and the whole as a nuisance, which would rob Ireland of its gold, and enrich England at its expense. Now Scott himself is obliged to admit that the whole of this was false. Wood, instead of the mere ironmonger on whom he heaped all the charges and epithets of villainy and baseness that he could, even to that of a “ wood-louse,” was a highly respectable iron-master of Wolverhampton. His coinage, on this outcry being raised by Swift, was submitted by government to Sir Isaac Newton, to be assayed; when it was reported by Sir Isaac to be better than bargain; and is admitted by Scott to have been better than Ireland had been in the habit of having; and in fact, he says, a very handsome coinage. So far from an evil to Ireland, Scott admits, as is very obvious, that it was one of the best things Ireland could have, a sufficient stock of coin. But the ignorant population once possessed with the idea of mposition, grew outrageous, and flung the coinage into the Liffey, and Swift chuckled to himself over the success of his scheme, and the acquisition of the reputation of a patriot. In the mean time he had inflicted a real injury on his infatuated fellow countrymen, and a loss of £60,000 on his innocent victim, Wood. Scott says that Wood was indemnified by a grant of £3000 yearly, for twelve years. The simple fact I believe to be, that though granted it was never paid ;-Wood, who had nine sons, lost by this transaction the fortune that should have provided for them. One of these song was afterwards the introducer of platina into England. The real facts respecting Wood's coinage may be found in “Ruding's Annals of Coinage."

There is another point in which Swift's biographers and critics have been far too lenient towards him. Wonderful as is his talent, and admirable as his wit, these are dreadfully defiled by his coarseness and filthiness of ideas. Wit has no necessary connexion with disgusting imagery; and in attempting to excuse Swift, his admirers have laid the charge upon the times. But Swift out-Herods the times and his cotemporaries. In them may be found occasional smuttiness, but the filthy taint seemed to pervade the whole of Swift's mind, and his vilest parts are inextricably woven with the texture of his composition, Gulliver's Travels. There is nothing so singular as that almost all writers speak of the wit of Swift, and of Rabelais, without, as it regards the latter, once warning the reader against the mass of most revolting obscenity which loads almost every page of the Frenchman. Even Rogers, moral and refined in his own writings, talks of “ laughing with Rabelais in his easy chair," but he never seems to reflect that far the greater portion of readers would have to blush and quit his company in disgust. It is fitting that in an age of moral refinement, youthful readers should at least be made aware that the wit that is praised is combined with obscenity or grossness that cannot be too emphatically condemned.

Amongst the places connected with the history of Swift's lise;

as in

the residence of Miss Vanhomrigh—Vanessa-is one of the most interesting. The account of it procured by Scott, was this :• Marley Abbey, near Celbridge, where Miss Vanhomrigh resided, is built much in the form of a real cloister, especially in its external appearance. An aged man, upwards of ninety by his own account, showed the grounds to my correspondent. He was the son of Miss Vanhomrigh’s gardener, and used to work with his father in the garden when a boy. He remembered the unfortunate Vanessa well, and his account of her corresponded with the usual description of her person, especially as to her embonpoint. He said she went seldom abroad, and saw little company; her constant amusement was reading, or walking in the garden. Yet, according to this authority, her society was courted by several families in the neighbourhood, who visited her, notwithstanding her seldom returning that attention ; and he added, that her manners interested every one who knew her. But she avoided company, and was always melancholy, save when Dean Swift was there, and then she seemed happy. The garden was to an uncommon degree crowded with laurels. The old man said, that when Miss Vanhomrigh expected the dean, she always planted with her own hand a laurel or two against his arrival. He showed her favourite seat, still called Vanessa's bower. Three or four trees and some laurels indicate the spot. They had formerly, according to the old man's information, been trained into a close arbour. There were two seats and a rude table within the bower, the opening of which commanded a view of the Liffey, which had a romantic effect, and there was a small cascade that murmured at some distance. In this sequestered spot, according to the old gardener's account, the dean and Vanessa used often to sit, with books and writing materials on the table before them. Vanessa, besides musing over her unhappy attachment, had, during her residence in this solitude, the care of nursing the declining health of her younger sister, who at length died about 1720. This event, as it left her alone in the world, seems to have increased the energy of her fatal passion for Swift, while he, on the contrary, saw room for still

greater reserve, when her situation became that of a solitary

[blocks in formation]

female, without the society or countenance of a female relation."

Marley Abbey, Vanessa's house, is now the residence of Mr. Henry Grattan, M.P.

In D’Alton's History of the County of Dublin, p. 344, there is an account of the present state of Delville, the residence of Dr. Delany.

[graphic]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »