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" and now she does not get even a cup o'tay. Poor creature ! and she so fond of the tay !”
Like his house at Dublin, Swift's house here is gone. There remains only one tall, thick ruin of a wall. “What is that ?" I asked of a man at a cottage-door, close by. “It's been there from the time of the Dane," said he. For a moment I imagined he meant the Danes; but soon recollected myself. Close to it, at the side of the high road, is a clear spring, under some bushes, and margined with great stones, which they call “the Dane's cellar," and "the Dane's well.” Swift has not lost his popularity yet with the people. “He was a very good man to the poor,” say they. “He was a fine bright man.” This, however, is all the remains of his place here. The present vicar has built himself a good house in the fields, nearer to Trim ; and not only the Dean's house is all gone except this piece of wall
, but his holly hedge, his willows, and cherry-trees have vanished. A common Irish hut now stands in what was his garden. The canal may still be traced, but the river walk is now a marsh.
Trim, where Stella lived when Swift was at Laracor, though the county town of Meath, is now little more than a large village. It bears, however, all the marks of its ancient importance. The ruins scattered on the banks of the Boyne are most extensive. They are those of a great palace, a castle, a cathedral, and other buildings. It is a great haunt for antiquarians ; and not far distant from it is Tara, with its hill, the seat of ancient kings. As you leave the town to go to Laracor, you come at the town-end to a lofty column in honour of Wellington, who was born at Dangan Castle, a few miles beyond Laracor. The way to Laracor then lies along a flattish country, with a few huts here and there by the wayside. On your left, as you approach Laracor, runs an old ruinous wall, with tall trees within it, as having once formed a park. The first object connected with Swift which arrests your attention, is the ruin of his house, with its spring, which lies on the right hand of the road; and on the left side of the road, perhaps a hundred yards further, stands the church in its enclosure.
From Laracor, Swift's remove was to Dublin, where he spent the remainder of his life. Here the deanery has been quite removed, and a modern house occupies its place. The old cathedral of St. Patrick is a great object connected with his memory here. Though wearing a very ancient look, St. Patrick's was rebuilt after its destruction in 1362, and its present spire was added only in 1750. In size and proportion, the cathedral is fine. It is three hundred feet long, and eighty broad. It cannot boast much of its architecture, but contains several monuments of distinguished men; amongst them, those of Swift and Curran. These two are busts. Aloft in the nave hang the banners of the knights of St. Patrick; and again in the choir hang newly-emblazoned banners of the knights; and over the stalls which belong to the knights are fixed gilt helmets, and by each stall hangs the knight's sword. The whole fabric, when I visited it, was undergoing repair, and not before it was needed. Of course, the monuments of highest interest here are those of Swift and Stella
These occupy two contiguous pillars on the south side of the nave. They consist of two plain slabs of marble, in memory of the Dean and Drs. Johnson, Stella. The inscription on the Dean's slab is expressive “ of that habit of mind which his own disappointments and the oppressions of his country had produced.” It was written by himself.
“ Hic depositum est corpus
Strenuum pro virili
A.D. 1745. Anno Ætatis 78." Over this monument has been placed his bust in marble, sculptured by Cunningham, and esteemed a good likeness. It was the gift of T. T. Faulkner, Esq., nephew and successor to Alderman George Faulkner, Swift's bookseller, and the original publisher of most of his works. The inscription over his amiable and much-injured wife is as follows:-“ Underneath lie the mortal remains of Mrs. Hester Johnson, better known to the world by the name of STELLA, under which she is celebrated in the writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift, dean of this cathedral. She was a person of extraordinary endowments and accomplishments of body, mind, and behaviour, justly admired and respected by all who knew her, on account of her many eminent virtues, as well as for her great natural and acquired perfections. She died January 27th, 1727-8, in the forty-sixth year of her 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 7,7201. 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 cbaracter 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 his 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 villany 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 one of the best things which Ireland could have was a sufficient stock of coin. But the ignorant population, once possessed with the idea of imposition, 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 60,0001. on his innocent victim, Wood. Scott says that Wood was indemnified by a grant of 3,0001. 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 sons was afterwards assay-master in Jamaica, and 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 contemporaries. 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, as in 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, warning the reader against the mass of most revolting obscenity which loads almost every page of the Frenchman. Pope, though professing to be a great moralist, 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. Yet Coleridge, probably when his intellects were muddled by opium, has praised Rabelais as a most moral and decent writer; and this praise has been quoted by Mr. Bohn, in justification of his cheap reprint of the filthy Gaul.
Amongst the places connected with the history of Swift's life, 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 read
ing, 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 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.