The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 1/Life of Dr. Swift, Section VII
Having thus finished the Life of Swift, and related in a regular series all that I thought most worthy to be recorded, I have purposely reserved to a separate part of the work, such anecdotes, memoirs, and detached pieces, as could not have been interwoven into the history, without much interruption. This was the method pursued by that great biographer Plutarch, and that is the part of his work, which, in general, is read with most pleasure. There is a wonderful curiosity in mankind to pry into the secret actions of men, who have made a distinguished figure in publick, as it is from private anecdotes alone that a true estimate can be formed of their real characters, since the other may be assumed only to answer the purposes of ambition. Even circumstances in themselves trifling, often lead to this, and on that account are registered with care, and read with avidity. I shall, therefore, without farther preface, relate such anecdotes of Swift, as have come to my knowledge, and have not hitherto been made known to the world, as they rise in my memory; but shall set down none which I have not good reason to believe authentick; as I received most of them from my father; others from his and the dean's intimate friends; and some came within my own knowledge.
We have already seen that soon after the dean's acquaintance with doctor Sheridan commenced, being both equally fond of the bagatelle, they were laying themselves out for various contrivances to create innocent sport. There happened to arrive in town at this time, one Gibbons, who had been a contemporary of the doctor's in the college, but had been absent in the country for some years. On his arrival he renewed his acquaintance with doctor Sheridan. He had a great simplicity of character, which made it easy to impose on him, and certain oddities and peculiarities, which rendered him a proper subject for a practical joke. A plan was immediately concerted between them, that Swift should personate the character of a distressed clergyman, under the name of Jodrel, applying to doctor Sheridan to be made one of his ushers. A time was appointed for their meeting at the doctor's an hour before dinner, and several of their set were invited to be present at the sport. When they were assembled. Swift, as Jodrel, entered the room in an old rusty gown, and lank shabby periwig, which were provided at the doctor's for the purpose. As he was an excellent mimick, he personated the character of an awkward country parson to the life. Gibbons was requested by the doctor to examine him, in order to see whether he was fit for the post; and Jodrel gave such answers to the questions asked by Gibbons, as afforded high entertainment to all present. One of his questions was, "What is Christ's church?" To which Jodrel replied, "A great pile of building near the four courts." — For so that church is called. On which Gibbons exclaimed, "was there ever such a blockhead? Who the devil put you in orders?" The sport occasioned by this was too rich to be suddenly given up. Gibbons, Jodrel, and the other guests met several times at dinner, where Jodrel's behaviour was always awkward and absurd. One time he held out his plate with both his hands, stretching it in the most ridiculous posture quite across the table, which provoked Gibbons to call him fool! dunce! and even to give him a slap on the wrist with the flat of his knife; at the same time showing him how he ought to hold his plate, or that he should send it by one of the servants. When this sort of amusement was adjudged to have continued long enough, doctor Sheridan delivered a message to Gibbons from the dean, inviting him to dine with him. Gibbons, who had expressed a great ambition to be known to Swift, received the message with transport, but said, sure he won't ask that fool Jodrel. Sheridan told him he might set his heart at rest, for that the dean never had, nor never would ask him as long as he lived. When the appointed day came, Gibbons went with the doctor to the deanery, who placed him at a window from which he could see the dean returning from prayers. He was dressed that day in as high a style as the clerical function will allow; in a paduasoy gown, square velvet cap, &c. Gibbons looked at him with great attention, and turning to Sheridan with much perturbation of countenance, cried out, why doctor, that is Jodrel. Peace, fool, said the doctor, I was very near losing the dean's acquaintance, by happening to say that Jodrel had some resemblance to him. When the dean entered the chamber where they were, Gibbons changed colour, and in great confusion said to Sheridan, by my soul it is Jodrel — What shall I do? Sheridan then smiled; so did the dean, and opened the matter to Gibbons in such a way as to set him at ease, and make him pass the remainder of the day very pleasantly. But Swift had not yet done with him. He had perceived that though Gibbons had no pretensions to scholarship, he had a good deal of vanity on that score, and was resolved to mortify him. He had beforehand prepared Mrs. Johnson in a passage of Lucretius, wherein are these lines:
——— Medioque in fonte leporum,
Surgit amari aliquid.
Among their evening amusements, Mrs. Johnson called for Lucretius, as an author she was well acquainted with, and requested of Gibbons to explain that passage to her. Why, says he, there can be nothing more easy, and began immediately to construe it in the schoolboys fashion, "Que and medio in fonte, in the middle of a fountain, leporum, of hares. — No, Mr. Gibbons, interrupted Mrs. Johnson, if that word signified hares, it would be a false quantity in the verse, the o being necessarily long in the last foot of the line, whereas the o in leporum, when it signifies hares, is short. Poor Gibbons was quite confounded, acknowledged his errour, and did not choose to give any farther proofs of his erudition, before a lady so profoundly skilled in latin.
As Swift was fond of scenes in low life, he missed no opportunity of being present at them, when they fell in his way. Once when he was in the country, he received intelligence that there was to be a beggar's wedding in the neighbourhood. He was resolved not to miss the opportunity of seeing so curious a ceremony; and that he might enjoy the whole completely, proposed to Dr. Sheridan that he should go thither disguised as a blind fidler, with a bandage over his eyes, and he would attend him as his man to lead him. Thus accoutred they reached the scene of action, where the blind fidler was received with joyful shouts. They had plenty of meat and drink, and plied the fidler and his man with more than was agreeable to them. Never was a more joyous wedding seen. They sung, they danced, told their stories, cracked jokes, &c, in a vein of humour more entertaining to the two guests, than they probably could have found in any other meeting on a like occasion. When they were about to depart, they pulled out their leather pouches, and rewarded the fidler very handsomely. The next day the dean and the doctor walked out in their usual dress, and found their companions of the preceding evening, scattered about in different parts of the road, and the neighbouring village, all begging their charity in doleful strains, and telling dismal stories of their distress. Among these, they found some upon crutches, who had danced very nimbly at the wedding; others stone blind, who were perfectly clearsighted at the feast. The doctor distributed among them the money which he had received as his pay; but the dean, who mortally hated those sturdy vagrants, rated them soundly; told them in what manner he had been present at the wedding, and was let into their roguery, and assured them, if they did not immediately apply to honest labour, he would have them taken up, and sent to gaol. Whereupon the lame once more recovered their legs, and the blind their eyes, so as to make a very precipitate retreat.
When the dean was at Quilca, a country seat of doctor Sheridan's, on a small estate which he possessed in the county of Cavan, during the doctor's absence, who could only pass his school vacations there, he acted as bailiff, in superintending the works then carrying on. He had a mind to surprise the doctor, on his next visit, with some improvements made at his own expense. Accordingly he had a canal cut of some extent, and at the end of it, by transplanting some young trees, formed an arbour, which he called Stella's bower, and surrounded some acres of land about it with a dry stone wall (for the country afforded no lime) the materials of which were taken from the surface of the ground, which was very stony. The dean had given strict charge to all about him to keep this secret, in order to surprise the doctor on his arrival; but he had in the mean time received intelligence of all that was going forward. On his coming to Quilca, the dean took an early opportunity of walking with him carelessly toward this new scene. The doctor seemed not to take the least notice of any alteration, and with a most inflexible countenance continued to talk of indifferent matters. Confound your stupidity, said Swift, in a rage, why you blockhead don't you see the great improvements I have been making here? Improvements, Mr. dean; why I see a long bog hole out of which I suppose you have cut the turf; you have removed some of the young trees I think to a worse situation; as to taking the stones from the surface of the ground, I allow that is a useful work, as the grass will grow the better for it; and placing them about the field in that form, will make it more easy to carry them off. Plague on your Irish taste, says Swift; this is just what I ought to have expected from you; but neither you nor your forefathers ever made such an improvement; nor will you be able while you live to do any like it.
The doctor was resolved to retaliate on the dean the first opportunity. It happened when he was down there in one of his vacations, that the dean was absent for a few days on a visit elsewhere. He took this opportunity of employing a great number of hands to make an island in the middle of the lake, where the water was twenty feet deep; an arduous work in appearance, but not hard to be executed in a place abounding with large stones upon the surface of the ground, and where long heath grew every where in great plenty; for by placing quantities of those stones in large bundles of heath, the space was soon filled up, and a large island formed. To cover this a sufficient quantity of earth and green sods were brought, and several well grown osiers, and other aquatics, were removed to it. The doctor's secret was better kept than Swift's; who, on his return, walked toward the lake, and seeing the new island, cried out in astonishment, "Heigh! how the water of the lake is sunk in this short time to discover that island of which there was no trace before!" Greatly sunk indeed, observed the doctor with a sneer, if it covered the tops of those osiers. Swift then saw he had been fairly taken in, and acknowledged the doctor had got the better of him, both in his stratagem, and the beauty of his improvement.
Many were their contrivances to play tricks on each other as occasions offered, and it seldom happened but that where one succeeded, a speedy retaliation ensued. The dean, the doctor, another gentleman, and the bishop of Meath, once set out together from Dublin, to pass some days at a friend's house in the country. The bishop had said that he should not be able to visit his diocese for some time, as his house was rebuilding; upon which Swift made him a tender of his house at Laracor, till his own should be ready for him. The discourse naturally fell upon country seats; and Sheridan enlarged a good deal upon the beauties of Quilca; which though at that time in a very rude state, to use a modern phrase, had certainly great capabilities. Swift exclaimed, my lord, do you hear that vapouring scab? I will show you an exact picture of that place which he has painted in such fine colours. Upon which he put his hand in his pocket, and, for the first time, produced that ludicrous copy of verses on Quilca, since printed in his works. This occasioned a good deal of laughter at the doctor's expense, who bore it patiently for some time, but meditated speedy revenge. He then pretended to be weary of the coach, and said he would mount his horse, which was led, and go before to prepare breakfast for them at the inn. He made what speed he could, and upon his arrival there, instantly called for pen, ink, and paper, and wrote the poem, describing the dean's goods at Laracor. Upon seeing a beggar at the door, the thought struck him to have this presented to the bishop by way of petition. He accordingly folded it up in that form, and gave the beggar his lesson when and how he was to present it. When breakfast was over, and they had all got into the coach, the beggar with much importunity, stretched his hand out with the petition to the bishop. Swift, always at enmity with these vagrants, begged of his lordship not to receive it, and was calling out to the coachman to drive on, when the bishop, who had been let into the secret by Sheridan, stopped him, and opening the petition, kept it close to his eyes, so that no one else might see its contents, and for some time seemed to read it with attention. He then gave the poor man a shilling, and said he would examine into the truth of what was there set down, when he returned. Swift for a long time after indulged himself on his usual topick, inveighing strongly against giving encouragement to such sturdy vagabonds, who were the pests of society, &c. &c. The bishop at last interrupting him said, "Indeed, Mr. dean, if what is here set forth be true, the man is a real object of compassion, as you shall see." Upon which he read aloud the following contents of the paper.
An oaken, broken, elbowchair;
A caudle cup, without an ear;
A batter'd, shatter'd, ash bedstead;
A box of deal without a lid;
A pair of tongs, but out of joint;
A backsword poker, without point;
A pot that's cracked across, around
With an old knotted garter bound;
An iron lock without a key;
A wig, with hanging quite grown gray;
A curtain worn to half a stripe;
A pair of bellows, without pipe;
A dish which might good meat afford once;
An Ovid, and an old Concordance;
A bottle bottom, wooden platter;
One is for meal, and one for water;
There likewise is a copper skillet;
Which runs as fast out, as you fill it;
A candlestick, snuffdish, and saveall,
And thus his household goods you have all.
These to your lordship, as a friend,
Till you have built, I freely lend;
They'll serve your lordship for a shift;
Why not, as well as doctor Swift?
Thus were the tables turned upon the dean, and a good deal of mirth indulged at his expense.
When he was at Quilca he went one Sunday to a church at the distance of more than two hours ride. The parson of the parish invited him to dinner, but Swift excused himself by saying that it was too far to ride home afterward; no, I shall dine with my neighbour Reilly at Virginy, which is half way home. Reilly, who was what is called there a gentleman farmer, was proud of the honour, and immediately dispatched a messenger to his wife to prepare for the reception of so extraordinary a guest. She dressed herself out in her best apparel; the son put on his new suit, and his silver laced hat adorned his head. When the lady was introduced to the dean, he saluted her with the same respect as if she had been a duchess, making several conges down to the ground, and then handed her with great formality to her seat. After some high-flown compliments, he addressed his host — "Mr. Reilly, I suppose you have a considerable estate here; let us go and look over your demesne." Estate, says Reilly, devil a foot of land belongs to me or any of my generation. I have a pretty good lease here indeed from lord Fingal, but he threatens that he will not renew it, and I have but a few years of it to come. "Well — but when am I to see Mrs. Reilly?" "Why don't you see her there before you?" "That Mrs. Reilly! impossible! I have heard she is a prudent woman, and as such would never dress herself out in silks, and other ornaments, fit only for ladies of fashion. No — Mrs. Reilly the farmer's wife, would never wear any thing better than plain stuff, with other things suitable to it." Mrs. Reilly happened to be a woman of good sense, and taking the hint, immediately withdrew, changed her dress as speedily as possible, and in a short time returned to the parlour in her common apparel. Swift saluted her in the most friendly manner, taking her by the hand and saying, "I am heartily glad to see you Mrs. Reilly. This husband of yours would fain have palmed a fine lady upon me, all dressed out in silks, and in the pink of the mode, for his wife, but I was not to be taken in so." He then laid hold of young master's fine laced hat; with his penknife ripped off the lace, and folding it up in several papers, thrust it into the fire. When it was sufficiently burnt, he wrapped it up in fresh paper, and put it in his pocket. It may be supposed that the family was put into no small confusion at this strange proceeding; but they did not dare to show that they took any umbrage at it, as the presence of Swift struck every one with uncommon awe, who were not well acquainted with him.
However as he soon resumed his good humour, entertaining them with many pleasantries to their taste (for no man knew better how to adapt his conversation to all classes of people) they soon recovered their spirits, and the day was passed very cheerfully. When he was taking his leave, he said, I do not intend to rob you Mrs. Reilly; I shall take nothing belonging to you away with me; there's your son's hat-lace, I have only changed the form of it to a much better one. So God bless you, and thanks for your good entertainment.
When he was gone, Mrs. Reilly, upon opening the paper, found there were four guineas enclosed in it, together with the burnt lace. While he staid in the country, he kept an eye upon them, and found his lessons had not been thrown away, as they were cured of their vanities, and lived in a manner more consonant to their situation in life. In consequence of which, one of the first things he did on his return to Dublin, was to pay a visit to lord Fingal, and engage him to renew Reilly's lease; without which the poor man would, in a few years, have had nothing for his own or his family's support.
During his residence at Quilca he wrote a great part of his Gulliver's Travels, and prepared the whole for the press. While he was upon the subject of the Brobdingnags, he used frequently to invite a Mr. Doughty, who lived in that neighbourhood, to dine with him. He was of a gigantick stature; and supposed to be the strongest man in Ireland, as well as the most active. Swift used to take great delight in seeing him perform several of his feats, some of which were of so extraordinary a nature, that I should be afraid to relate them, lest it should impeach my credibility. Among these, Swift asked him whether he could carry on his back a Manks horse which happened to be in the courtyard at that time. Doughty, after having tied his legs, immediately took him up and threw him on his shoulders, with the same ease that another man would lift a sheep, and walked about with him for a long time without shrinking at all under his burden. It happened one day that a gentleman of that neighbourhood, well known in the country by the name of Killbuck Tuite, dined with the dean at Quilca when Doughty was there. He was a blunt freespoken man, no respecter of persons, and stood in awe of no one, let his rank or character be what it would. After dinner, Swift asked him whether he could direct him the road to Market-hill. Tuite said he did not know it. That is the way, said Swift, with all you Irish blockheads; you never know the way to any place beyond the next dunghill. Why, answered Tuite, I never was at Market-hill: have not you been there Mr. dean? He acknowledged he had. Then what a damned English blockhead are you, replied Killbuck, to find fault with me for not directing you the way to a place where I never had been, when you don't know it yourself, who have been there? Swift, with a countenance of great counterfeited terrour, immediately rose and changed seats with Doughty, who happened to be next to him, placing the giant between him and Tuite to protect him against that wild man, and skulking behind him like a child, with well acted fear, to the no small entertainment of the company; who, however, were not sorry that the dean had met with his match. And the fame of Killbuck for this bold retort on the dean, of whom all the world stood in awe, was spread through the country.
Swift had got the character of a morose, ill-natured man, chiefly from a practice of his to which he constantly adhered. Whenever he fell into the company of any person for the first time, it was his custom to try their tempers and disposition, by some abrupt question that bore the appearance of rudeness. If this were well taken, and answered with good humour, he afterward made amends by his civilities. But if he saw any marks of resentment from alarmed pride, vanity, or conceit, he dropped all farther intercourse with the party. This will be illustrated by an anecdote of that sort related by Mrs. Pilkington. After supper, the dean having decanted a bottle of wine, poured what remained into a glass, and seeing it was muddy, presented it to Mr. Pilkington to drink it; "for," said he, "I always keep some poor parson to drink the foul wine for me." Mr. Pilkington, entering into his humour, thanked him, and told him, he did not know the difference, but was glad to get a glass at any rate. "Why then," said the dean, "you shan't, for I'll drink it myself. Why p—x take you, you are wiser than a paltry curate, whom I asked to dine with me a few days ago; for, upon my making the same speech to him, he said he did not understand such usage, and so walked off without his dinner. By the same token, I told the gentleman who recommended him to me, that the fellow was a blockhead, and I had done with him."
Captain Hamilton, of Castle-Hamilton, in the county of Cavan, gave me the following account of his first acquaintance with Swift. The captain was possessed of one of the largest estates and best houses in the county, where he constantly resided and lived in a most hospitable way. He had a good natural understanding, but utterly unimproved through a neglect in his education. He was cheerful, good natured, and generous in the highest degree. A long friendship had subsisted between sir Arthur Acheson and him; and they usually passed two months in the year at each other's house alternately. It happened that captain Hamilton paid one of these visits when Swift was there. Sir Arthur, upon hearing of his friend's arrival, ran out to receive him at the door followed by Swift. The captain, who did not see the dean, as it was in the dusk of the evening, in his blunt way, upon entering the house, exclaimed, that he was very sorry he was so unfortunate to choose that time for his visit — Why so? — Because I hear dean Swift is with you. He is a great scholar, a wit; a plain country 'squire will have but a bad time of it in his company, and I don't like to be laughed at. Swift then stepped up to the captain, from behind sir Arthur, where he had stood, and said to him, "Pray, captain Hamilton, do you know how to say yes or no properly?" Yes, I think have understanding enough for that. "Then give me your hand — depend upon it you and I will agree very well." The captain told me he never passed two months so pleasantly in his life, nor had ever met with so agreeable a companion as Swift proved to be during the whole time. Insomuch, that at parting he pressed him most cordially to pass the next summer with him at Castle-Hamilton.
There lived at that time in Ireland a gentleman of the name of Mathew, whose history is well worth recording, although in a great part it may appear digressive. He was possessed of a large estate in the finest county of that kingdom, Tipperary: which produced a clear rent of eight thousand a year. As he delighted in a country life, he resolved to build a large commodious house for the reception of guests, surrounded by fifteen hundred acres of his choicest land, all laid out upon a regular plan of improvement, according to the new adopted mode of English gardening (which had supplanted the bad Dutch taste brought in by king William) and of which he was the first who set the example in Ireland; nor was there any improvement of that sort then in England, which was comparable to his, either in point of beauty or extent. As this design was formed early in life, in order to accomplish his point, without incurring any debt on his estate, he retired to the Continent for seven years, and lived upon six hundred pounds a year, while the remaining income of his estate was employed in carrying on the great works he had planned there. When all was completed, he returned to his native country, and after some time passed in the metropolis, to revive the old, and cultivate new acquaintance, he retired to his seat at Thomas-town to pass the remainder of his days there. As he was one of the finest gentlemen of the age, and possessed of so large a property, he found no difficulty, during his residence in Dublin, to get access to all, whose character for talents, or probity, made him desirous to cultivate their acquaintance. Out of these, he selected such as were most conformable to his taste, inviting them to pass such leisure time as they might have upon their hands, at Thomas-town. As there was something uncommonly singular in his mode of living, such as I believe was never carried into practice by any mortal before, in an equal degree, I fancy the reader will not be displeased with an account of the particulars of it, though it may appear foreign to the subject in hand.
His house had been chiefly contrived to answer the noble purpose of that constant hospitality, which he intended to maintain there. It contained forty commodious apartments for guests, with suitable accommodations to their servants. Each apartment was completely furnished with every convenience that could be wanted, even to the minutest article. When a guest arrived, he showed him his apartment, saying, this is your castle, here you are to command as absolutely as in your own house; you may breakfast, dine and sup here whenever you please, and invite such of the guests to accompany you as may be most agreeable to you. He then showed him the common parlour, where he said a daily ordinary was kept, at which he might dine when it was more agreeable to him to mix in society; but from this moment you are never to know me as master of the house, and only to consider me as one of the guests. In order to put an end to all ceremony at meal time, he took his place at random at the table, and thus all ideas of precedence being laid aside, the guests seated themselves promiscuously, without any regard to difference of rank or quality. There was a large room fitted up exactly like a coffeehouse, where a bar-maid and waiters attended to furnish refreshments at all times of the day. Here, such as chose it, breakfasted at their own hour. It was furnished with chess-boards, backgammon-tables, newspapers, pamphlets, &c. in all the forms of a city coffeehouse. But the most extraordinary circumstance in his whole domestick arrangement, was that of a detached room in one of the extremities of the house, called the tavern. As he was himself a very temperate man, and many of his guests were of the same disposition, the quantity of wine for the use of the common room was but moderate; but as drinking was much in fashion in those days, in order to gratify such of his guests as had indulged themselves in that custom, he had recourse to the above-mentioned contrivance; and it was the custom of all who loved a cheerful glass to adjourn to the tavern soon after dinner, and leave the more sober folks to themselves. Here a waiter in a blue apron attended (as was the fashion then) and all things in the room were contrived so as to humour the illusion. Here, every one called for what liquor they liked, with as little restraint as if they were really in a publickhouse, and to pay their share of the reckoning. Here too, the midnight orgies of Bacchus were often celebrated, with the same noisy mirth as is customary in his city temples, without in the least disturbing the repose of the more sober part of the family. Games of all sorts were allowed, but under such restrictions as to prevent gambling; and so as to answer their true end, that of amusement, without injury to the purse of the players. There were two billiard tables, and a large bowling green, ample provision was made for all such as delighted in country sports; fishing tackle of all sorts; variety of guns with proper ammunition; a pack of buck hounds, another of fox hounds, and another of harriers. He constantly kept twenty choice hunters in his stables, for the use of those who were not properly mounted for the chace. It may be thought that his income was not sufficient to support so expensive an establishment; but when it is considered that eight thousand a year at that time was fully equal to double that sum at present; that his large demesne, in some of the richest soil of Ireland, furnished the house with every necessary except groceries and wine; it may be supposed to be easily practicable if under the regulation of a strict economy; of which no man was a greater master. I am told his plan was so well formed, and he had such checks upon all his domesticks, that it was impossible there could be any waste, or that any article from the larder, or a single bottle of wine from the cellar could have been purloined, without immediate detection. This was done partly by the choice of faithful stewards, and clerks of approved integrity; but chiefly by his own superintendance of the whole, as not a day passed without having all the accounts of the preceding one laid before him. This he was enabled to do by his early rising: and the business being finished before others were out of their beds, he always appeared the most disengaged man in the house, and seemed to have as little concern in the conduct of it as any of the guests. And indeed to a stranger he might easily pass for such, as he made it a point that no one should consider him in the light of master of the house, nor pay him the least civilities on that score; which he carried so far, that he sometimes went abroad without giving any notice, and staid away several days, while things went on as usual at home; and on his return, he would not allow any gratulations to be made him, nor any other notice to be taken of him, than if he had not been absent during that time. The arrangements of every sort were so prudently made, that no multiplicity of guests or their domesticks, ever occasioned any disorder, and all things were conducted with the same ease and regularity, as in a private family. There was one point which seemed of great difficulty, that of establishing certain signals, by which each servant might know when he was summoned to his master's apartment. For this purpose there was a great hall appropriated to their use, where they always assembled when they were not upon duty. Along the wall bells were ranged in order, one to each apartment, with the number of the chamber marked over it; so that when any one of them was rung, they had only to turn their eyes to the bell, and see what servant was called. He was the first who put an end to that inhospitable custom of giving vales to servants, by making a suitable addition to their wages; at the same time assuring them, that if they ever took any afterward, they should be discharged with disgrace; and to prevent temptation, the guests were informed that Mr. Mathew would consider it as the highest affront, if any offer of that sort were made. As Swift had heard much of this place from Dr. Sheridan, who had been often a welcome guest there, both on account of his companionable qualities, and as being preceptor to the nephew of Mr. Mathew, he was desirous of seeing with his own eyes whether the report of it were true, which he could not help thinking to have been much exaggerated. Upon receiving an intimation of this from Dr. Sheridan, Mr. Mathew wrote a polite letter to the dean, requesting the honour of a visit, in company with the doctor, on his next school vacation. They set out accordingly on horseback, attended by a gentleman who was a near relation of Mr. Mathew, and from whom I received the whole of the following account. They had scarce reached the inn where they were to pass the first night, and which, like most of the Irish inns at that time, afforded but miserable entertainment, when a coach and six horses arrived, sent to convey them the remainder of their journey to Thomas-town; and at the same time bringing store of the choicest viands, wine, and other liquors for their refreshment. Swift was highly pleased with this uncommon mark of attention paid him, and the circumstance of the coach proved particularly agreeable, as he had been a good deal fatigued with his day's journey. When they came within sight of the house, the dean, astonished at its magnitude, cried out, "What, in the name of God can be the use of such a vast building?" "Why, Mr. dean," replied their fellow traveller before mentioned, "there are no less than forty apartments for guests in that house, and all of them probably occupied at this time, except what are reserved for us." Swift, in his usual manner, called out to the coachman to stop, and bade him turn about, and drive him back to Dublin, for he could not think of mixing with such a crowd. "Well," said he, afterward suddenly, "there is no remedy, I must submit; but I have lost a fortnight of my life." Mr. Mathew received him at the door with uncommon marks of respect; and then conducting him to his apartment, after some compliments, made him his usual speech; acquainting him with the customs of the house, and retired, leaving him in possession of his castle. Soon after the cook appeared with his bill of fare, to receive his directions about supper, and the butler at the same time with a list of wines and other liquors. "And is all this really so," said Swift? "and may I command here as in my own house?" The gentleman before mentioned assured him he might, and that nothing could be more agreeable to the owner of that mansion, than that all under his roof should live conformably to their own inclinations, without the least restraint. "Well, then," said Swift, "I invite you and Dr. Sheridan to be my guests while I stay, for I think I shall hardly be tempted to mix with the mob below." Three days were passed in riding over the demesne, and viewing the several improvements, without ever seeing Mr. Mathew, or any of the guests; nor were the company below much concerned at his absence, as his very name usually inspired those who did not know him with awe, and they were afraid his presence would put an end to that ease and cheerfulness which reigned among them. On the fourth day, Swift entered the room where the company were assembled before dinner, and addressed Mr. Mathew in one of the finest complimental speeches that ever was made; in which he expatiated on all the beauties of his improvements, with the skill of an artist, and taste of a connoisseur. He showed that he had a full comprehension of the whole of the plan, and of the judicious adaption of the parts to the whole, and pointed out several articles which had escaped general observation. Such an address, from a man of Swift's character, could not fail of being pleasing to the owner, who was at the same time the planner of these improvements; and so fine an euloglum from one who was supposed to deal more in satire than panegyrick, was likely to remove the prejudice entertained against his character, and prepossess the rest of the company in his favour. He concluded his speech by saying, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, I am come to live among you, and it shall be no fault of mine if we do not pass our time agreeably." After dinner, being in high spirits, he entertained the company with various pleasantries: doctor Sheridan and he played into one another's hands; they joked, they punned, they laughed, and a general gayety was diffused through the whole company. In a short time all constraint on his account disappeared. He entered readily into all their little schemes of promoting mirth, and every day, with the assistance of his coadjutor, produced some new one, which afforded a good deal of sport and merriment. Never were such joyous scenes known there before; for, when to ease and cheerfulness, there is superadded, at times, the higher zest of gay wit, lively fancy, and droll humour, nothing can be wanting to the perfection of the social pleasures of life. When, the time came which obliged Dr. Sheridan to return to his school, the company were so delighted with the dean, that they earnestly intreated him to remain there some time longer; and Mr. Mathew himself for once broke through his rule of never soliciting the stay of any guest, (it being the established custom of the house that all might depart whenever they thought proper, without any ceremony of leave taking) by joining in the request. Swift found himself so happy in his situation there, that he readily yielded to their solicitations, and instead of the fortnight which he had originally intended, passed four months there much to his own satisfaction, and that of all those who had visited the place during that time. Having gone somewhat out of my way to give an account of the owner of this happy mansion, I am tempted to digress a little farther by relating an adventure he was engaged in, of so singular a kind, as deserves well to be recorded. It was toward the latter end of queen Anne's reign, when Mr. Mathew returned to Dublin, after his long residence abroad. At that time party ran very high, but raged no where with such violence as in that city, insomuch that duels were every day fought there on that score. There happened to be, at that time, two gentlemen in London who valued themselves highly on their skill in fencing; the name of one of them was Pack, the other Creed; the former a major, the latter a captain in the army. Hearing of these daily exploits in Dublin, they resolved, like two knight-errants, to go over in quest of adventures. Upon inquiry, they learned that Mr. Mathew, lately arrived from France, had the character of being one of the first swordsmen in Europe. Pack, rejoiced to find an antagonist worthy of him, resolved the first opportunity to pick a quarrel with him; and meeting him as he was carried along the street in his chair, jostled the fore chairman. Of this Mathew took no notice, as supposing it to be accidental. But Pack afterward boasted of it in the public coffeehouse, saying, that he had purposely offered this insult to that gentleman, who had not the spirit to resent it. There happened to be present a particular friend of Mr. Mathew's, of the name of Macnamara, a man of tried courage, and reputed the best fencer in Ireland. He immediately took up the quarrel, and said, he was sure Mr. Mathew did not suppose the affront intended, otherwise he would have chastised him on the spot; but if the major would let him know where he was to be found, he should be waited on immediately on his friend's return, who was to dine that day a little way out of town. The major said that he should be at the tavern over the way, where he and his companion would wait their commands. Immediately on his arrival, Mathew being made acquainted with what had passed, went from the coffeehouse to the tavern, accompanied by Macnamara. Being shown into the room where the two gentlemen were, after having secured the door, without any expostulation, Mathew and Pack drew their swords; but Macnamara stopped them, saying, he had something to propose before they proceeded to action. He said, in cases of this nature, he never could bear to be a cool spectator, so sir, (addressing himself to Creed) if you please, I shall have the honour of entertaining you in the same manner. Creed, who desired no better sport, made no other reply than that of instantly drawing his sword; and to work the four champions fell, with the same composure as if it were only a fencing match with foils. The conflict was of some duration, and maintained with great obstinacy by the two officers, notwithstanding the great effusion of blood from the many wounds which they had received. At length, quite exhausted, they both fell, and yielded the victory to the superiour skill of their antagonists. Upon this occasion, Mathew gave a remarkable proof of the perfect composure of his mind during the action. Creed had fallen the first; upon which Pack exclaimed, "Ah, poor Creed, are you gone?" "Yes," said Mathew, very composedly, "and you shall instantly Pack after him;" at the same time making a home thrust quite through his body, which threw him to the ground. This was the more remarkable, as he was never in his life, either before or after, known to have aimed at a pun. The number of wounds received by the vanquished parties was very great; and what seems almost miraculous, their opponents were untouched. The surgeons, seeing the desperate state of their patients, would not suffer them to be removed out of the room where they fought, but had beds immediately conveyed into it, on which they lay many hours in a state of insensibility. When they came to themselves, and saw where they were. Pack, in a feeble voice, said to his companion, "Creed, I think we are the conquerors, for we have kept the field of battle." For a long time their lives were despaired of, but to the astonishment of every one, they both recovered. When they were able to see company, Mathew and his friend attended them daily, and a close intimacy afterward ensued, as they found them men of probity, and of the best dispositions, except in this Quixotish idea of duelling, whereof they were now perfectly cured.
The dean was often applied to, to redress private grievances, by persons of whom he had no knowledge; and never failed to interpose his good offices, when the case was such as merited his attention. Among these he was particularly struck with that of a young gentleman in the college of the name of Fitzherbert; whose father, though a man of considerable estate, had treated him with great inhumanity, banishing him his house, and not affording him the common necessaries of life. The young man, driven almost to desperation, though he had no other acquaintance with Swift than that of seeing him sometimes at Dr. Sheridan's school, where he was bred, drew up so affecting a narrative of his case, and in such a masterly style, in a letter to the dean, as gave him a high opinion of his talents and genius, and rendered him an object well worthy of his protection. Accordingly he wrote to the father, who was a stranger to him, in very strong terms; highly extolling his son's abilities, and recommending him to his favour. He waited for an answer to this letter from the father, before he could make a satisfactory reply to that of the son; but after some days had elapsed, the young man growing impatient of the dean's silence, resolved to second his first address in prose, by another in poetry, and sent him the following copy of verses:
To the Dean of St. Patrick's.
Obscure in garret vile I lay,
And slumbered out the tedious day;
Or par'd my nails, or watch'd the cries
Of savoury sausages or pies;
Or strove, with dexterous art, to hide
Chinks in my stockings gaping wide;
Or read old authors o'er and o'er,
In number hardly half a score;
Those, dusty, tattered, full of holes;
The rest were gone to purchase coals.
In prose I told how Epictetus,
Upon a pinch, the best of meat is;
On which I was compelled to dine,
While gay Petronius paid for wine.
How Horace cater'd, Plutarch, pot —
Companion boon, discharg'd my shot.
How Tully too the kennel thumps,
Converted to a pair of pumps.
I told how Gulliver, with sense
Enrich'd me first, and then with pence,
And ah! I might with tears relate
Poor metamorphos'd Virgil's fate;
Who, having erst adorn'd my leg,
Now hangs and rots upon a peg.
Unable to dismiss a crowd
Of duns importunate and loud:
Though pinch'd with hunger, thirst, and cold,
I yet disdain'd to have it told.
Too proud for pity, I suppress'd
The sighs that struggled in my breast;
And while a vulture gnaw'd my heart,
Smiles in my face, conceal'd the smart.
Ye younger brothers, who inherit,
In lieu of fortune, the bon spirit;
For which, unless your father's bail,
You must for ever rot in jail;
Ye gamesters, who have lost codille,
Unpaid as yet your tailor's bill;
Ye thieves, detected on the top
Of houses, or within a shop;
Ye tender damsels, who bestow
Your virgin treasures on a beau,
Forsaken of your fop, the scorn
Of bitter prudes, and quite forlorn;
Say, did ye oftner wish to die,
Or feel sincerer grief than I?
Now ripe with injuries and age,
My spirits kindle into rage;
Now visionary projects roll,
And crowd tumultous on my soul.
So fire conceal'd from human eyes,
In mount Vesuve or Ætna lies,
Till burst at last, and finding vent,
Is to the clouds with fury sent.
My story to the dean I wrote
With great expense of oil and thought;
Did he receive it with a nod,
Profess it was extremely odd?
Did he his shoulders shrug, or think
My cause unworthy of his ink?
Did he a ragged youth despise?
Ah! no, the dean is just and wise:
And truth an easy passage finds,
Like a full tide, to generous minds.
Hail bard and patriot! could I hope
The muses would from thee elope,
To make me, by their mighty pow'r,
A poet only for an hour;
Thy matchless virtues should be known
In verse as lasting as your own.
But I ne'er tasted of the spring
Which taught immortal Swift to sing;
Nor e'er invok'd the tuneful nine
To help me with a single line;
Then let your own Apollo praise
Your virtue, humour, wit, and ease.
Swift on receipt of this, returned a short answer, and enclosed a bill for twenty pounds, telling him he should soon hear from him again. He then went to his father, and having rated him sufficiently for want of manners in not answering his letter, proceeded to the affair of his son. The gentleman, who had nothing to offer in his excuse, exceedingly alarmed at the resentment shown by Swift for his neglect, to make amends for this, immediately acquiesced in any measures that Swift might propose, with regard to the object of his visit; and it was agreed upon the spot, that the young gentleman should be sent immediately to Leyden to study physick, with a suitable allowance for his support.
In one of his rambles through the country of Ireland, he happened to stop at a small village in some part of the Bog of Allen. The landlord of the house to which he was directed for entertainment, was quite unfurnished of every kind of provision that might refresh either himself or his horses. The dean seeing a church not far off, inquired who was the parson, and where he lived; being informed in these points, he desired the landlord to go in his name, and beg a little hay and oats for his horses; who brought him back for answer, that the vicar, Mr. Hervey, would send him none; but if the dean would do him the honour to take share of his dinner, which was near ready, he should have as much as he pleased. The dean readily accepted the invitation; and going immediately to Mr. Hervey's, asked what he had for dinner? A shoulder of lamb and sallad. And what have you got to drink? Some pretty good ale; and had I known of your coming, I would have had a bottle of wine. Wine! said the dean, what is your vicarage worth ? About fourscore pounds a year. And dares such a little fellow as you pretend to drink wine? Only on extraordinary occasions. The dean was much pleased with his host and his entertainment; and when he was going away, he called to his servant to take good notice of that clergyman, "And be sure remember, if ever he should come to inquire for me at the deanery, to say I am not at home." Mr. Hervey understood his meaning well; and on his next visit to Dublin, did not fail to pay his respects to the dean; who received him very cordially, and entertained him with great kindness.
Once stopping at an inn at Dundalk, he sent for a barber to shave him; who performed his office very dexterously, and being a prating fellow, amused the dean, during the operation, with a variety of chat. The dean inquired of him who was the minister of his parish, and whether he had one farthing to rub upon another? The barber answered, that though the benefice was but small, the incumbent was very rich." How the plague can that be?" Why, please your reverence, he buys up frizes, flannels, stockings, shoes, brogues, and other things when cheap, and sells them at an advanced price to the parishioners, and so picks up a penny. The dean was curious to see this vicar, and dismissing the barber with a shilling, desired the landlord to go in his name, and ask that gentleman to eat a mutton chop with him, for he had bespoke a yard of mutton (the name he usually gave to the neck) for dinner. Word was brought back that he had rid abroad to visit some sick parishioners. Why then, said the dean, invite that prating barber, that I may not dine alone. The barber was rejoiced at this unexpected honour, and being dressed out in his best apparel, came to the inn, first inquiring of the groom what the clergyman's name was who had so kindly invited him; what the vengeance, said the servant, don't you know dean Swift? At which the barber turned pale, said his babbling tongue had ruined him; then ran into the house, fell upon his knees, and intreated the dean not to put him into print; for that he was a poor barber, had a large family to maintain, and if his reverence put him into black and white, he should lose all his customers. Swift laughed heartily at the poor fellow's simplicity; bade him sit down and eat his dinner in peace, for he assured him he would neither put him, or his wife, or the vicar in print. After dinner, having got out of him the history of the whole parish, he dismissed him with half a crown, highly delighted with the adventures of the day.
One day Swift observed a great rabble assembled in a large space before the deanery door in Kevin street, and upon inquiring the cause of this, was told it was to see the eclipse. He immediately sent for the beadle, and gave him his lesson what he should do. Away ran Davy for his bell, and after ringing it some time among the crowd, bawled out, O yes, O yes, all manner of persons concerned, are desired to take notice, that it is the dean of St. Patrick's will and pleasure, that the eclipse be put off till this hour to morrow. So God save the king, and his reverence the dean. The mob upon this notice immediately dispersed; only some, more cunning than the rest, swore they would not lose another afternoon, for that the dean, who was a very comical man, might take it into his head to put off the eclipse again, and so make fools of them a second time.
Swift, once in a private conference between some of the ministry and monsieur Menage, acted as interpreter. Observing both parties using their utmost endeavours to deceive each other, and that the whole time was spent in disguising their true designs, and finding artful evasions, his impatience arose to that height, that forgetting his situation as interpreter, he took upon him to offer his advice to the ministers on both sides; which was, in short, to speak plain truth and nothing else; adding, that if they followed that method, they would do as much business in an hour, as they then did in a week.
In one of his jaunts to Windsor with lord Oxford, being employed full as idly as Horace says he was when taking the air with Mæcenas, they were playing a sort of game called Cocks and Hens; which consisted in each of them counting the poultry on his side of the road, and whichever reckoned thirty one first, or saw a cat, or an old woman in a certain posture, won the game. It happened while they were thus engaged, lord Bolingbroke's coach overtook them, who got into that of lord Oxford, and immediately entered upon some political business. He had not talked long before lord Oxford cried out, "Swift, I am up, there is a cat." Lord Bolingbroke, much offended at this, called to the coachman to stop, got out of the carriage, saying, "when his lordship was disposed to be serious, he would talk to him about business." This seems to have happened when things were tending toward that breach between them, which all the dean's address and influence were not able to close.
Swift, like many who jest freely on others, could not bear a retort. Dining one day at a publick dinner of the mayor and corporation at Corke, he observed that alderman Brown, father to the bishop of that diocese, fed very heartily without speaking a word, and was so intent upon that business, as to become a proper object of ridicule. Accordingly he threw out many successful jests upon the alderman, who fed on with the silence of the still sow, neither seeming to regard what the dean said, nor at all moved by the repeated bursts of laughter at his expense. Toward the latter end of the meal, Swift happened to be helped to some roasted duck, and desired to have some applesauce on the same plate; upon which the alderman bawled out, "Mr. dean, you eat your duck like a goose." This unexpected sally threw the company into a long continued fit of laughter, and Swift was silent the rest of the day.
One time going out of town, he said to Mr. Cope, "will you write to me?" And without waiting for an answer, continued, "No, I forgot, you are an idle man, and will never find time." He spent a good deal of time in the north at Mr. Robert Cope's, and was member of a club consisting of the neighbours who met periodically: one of the members was an old man remarkably stiff and surly; who valued himself much upon great plantations of fir-trees which he had raised about his house. Swift desired to look at them; and having put a rule in his pocket for the purpose, said he would try whether they were planted at exact distances, and laying down his rule, went obliquely on purpose from tree to tree, saying, he that planted them knew nothing of the matter. The old gentleman snatched up the rule in a great passion, swearing he never saw such a fool of a measurer in all his life.
There was a trap laid for the same old gentleman by one of the merry members of the club, Dr. Tisdal; who riding in company with Dr. Swift and others, near his house, laid a wager that he would make old Workman call himself Bruin the Bear. He had beforehand known that it was his day for brewing. They all rid up to the door, when Tisdal accosted the old gentleman with, "Pray, Mr. Workman, are not you brewing to day?" "Yes." "Are you brewing the barley, or brewing the beer?" "Brewing the barley," said Workman, to Tisdal's great disappointment; who, beside losing his wager, had the laugh of the company against him.
A young gentleman, much addicted to laughing, happened to get into Swift's company; and having heard much of the dean's pleasantries, was upon the titter at every thing he said: "Where is the jest?" said some one. "There," said Swift, pointing at the laughing young gentleman.
One day travelling in England, he asked a farmer which was the road to such a place; the farmer said it lay straight before him, he could not miss it. Swift riding a little way, observed a by-road to the left, and turned into it. The farmer called out to him that he was going wrong. "Why," said Swift, "did you not tell me I could not miss it?" "No more you could," said the farmer, "if you had not been a fool."
Another time seeing a man fall from his horse in a slough, he rode up to him, inquiring whether he was hurt? "No," replied the farmer, "but I am woundily bemired." "You make good the old proverb," said Swift, "the more dirt, the less hurt." The man seemed much comforted with the old saying, but said he had never heard of that proverb before; and no wonder, for Swift had made it on the occasion. He used often to coin proverbs of that sort, and pass them for old.
One day walking in the garden of a stingy old gentleman, with many others in company, he saw a quantity of fine fruit, of which the owner never offered them a taste; Swift stopped at a peach tree loaded with tempting fruit, and addressed the company with — "It was an old saying of my grandmother's, always pull a peach, when it lies in your reach:" he accordingly plucked one; and his example was immediately followed by all the rest, under the sanction of that good old saying.
He had many useful rules which he threw into rhime for the more easy recollection of them. One of them I remember was a direction to those who ride together through the water:
When through the water you do ride.
Keep very close, or very wide.
Another related to the decanting of wine:
First rack slow, and then rack quick,
Then rack slow till you come to the thick.
In a conversation with Dr. Ellwood, the doctor happened to speak of some one, as a fine old gentleman; what, said Swift, have you kept company with me these twenty years, and have not the common sense to know that there is no such thing as a fine old gentleman; because, if the persons to whom that title is given, had been possessed either of a mind or body worth a farthing, they would have worn them out before they arrived at that age.
Dining one day at Mr. B——'s, his son, the present Mr. B——, then very young, was sent into the parlour after dinner to pay his compliments to the dean. His mother, lady B——, had always kept him drest in the nicest manner. After drinking a glass of wine, and staying a little while with the company, he returned to his father, who was confined to his chamber with the gout, "Well, Will, what did the dean say to you?" "I heard him say, as I was leaving the room, 'Enfant gâté'." His father laughed, and told it lady Betty. This came round to the dean before he left the house; who said upon it — "What a confounded blockhead was I, to think there could be such a thing as a spoiled child who had not learned French."
In the pursuit of the bagatelle, he often descended to puerilities. Passing some time in the country, where Dan Jackson was one of the company (he whose long nose furnished a subject for several humorous copies of verses to be found in Vol. VII. p. 215 and fol.) Swift used to try many practical jokes on him. One day he pretended to lay hold of a creeper on Dan's neck, and put himself in the posture of cracking it on the table with his thumb nail, at the same time making a noise similar to it with the joint of his finger; a common schoolboy's trick. He had served him in this manner more than once, when Dan resolved to be prepared for him if he ever attempted it again. With this view he procured a louse of the largest size he could get, and stopping it up in a quill, kept it in his pocket. It was not long before Swift repeated the trick; when Dan Jackson took an opportunity, while the dean was looking another way, of unstopping the quill, and dropping the louse just before him, calling out Mr. dean — Mr. dean — you have missed killing it this time, there it is crawling just before you. This turned the laugh against Swift, and put an end to that and some other of his pranks, as he found Dan was not so patient a butt as he had taken him for, and knew how to retaliate with advantage.
Among other jeux d'esprit, he was fond of punning, and used to say that none disliked it but those who could not make one. The old lord Pembroke was a remarkable punster, and when lord lieutenant of Ireland, delighted much in Swift's company on that account. One day being at the Castle when a learned physician was reading a long lecture to his excellency on the nature and qualities of bees, calling them on every occasion, a nation, and a commonwealth; "Yes, my lord," said Swift, they are a very ancient nation; you know, my lord, Moses takes notice of them; he numbers the Hivites among those nations which Joshua was appointed to conquer."
Lord Pembroke had brought over with him, as his first chaplain, one Dr. Mills, a man remarkable for a large Roman nose, against whom Swift had taken a particular dislike. After dining one day with a private party at the castle, of which Mills was one, Swift began to rail at the lord lieutenants of Ireland for bringing over such blockheads for chaplains as they usually did. Lord Pembroke said, that censure could not be applied to him, as his first chaplain present had been a professor at Oxford, and was accounted an excellent scholar. "He a scholar!" said Swift; "I dare say he does not know how to construe a line of Virgil." Lord Pembroke, who expected some sport from this, took part with his chaplain, saying, "he was sure there was no passage in Virgil which he could not perfectly explain." "Let the book be brought," said Swift. Accordingly a Virgil was sent for, and Swift opening the book, pitched upon the following line. Romanos rerum dominos gentemque togatam. Mills immediately translated it very properly in the usual way. "There," says Swift, "I knew he could not do it — he has not construed one word of it right." "Why, pray how would you construe it?" "Thus — Romanos — you've a Roman nose — rerum — you're a rare rum —— dominos — "damn your nose — gentemque togatam, and the whole race of chaplains." Swift then took up his hat and walked off, leaving lord Pembroke and the rest of the party laughing heartily at the droll scene which had just passed.
Now I am upon the subject of his punning, I cannot refrain from mentioning an excellent one which he made at my father's, in a happy application of one of Virgil's lines. It happened that a lady whisking about her long train, which was then the fashion, threw down and broke a fine Cremona fiddle belonging to him; upon which Swift cried out —
Mantua væ miseræ nimium vicina Cremonæ!
Once in the country he was making inquiries about a gentleman in the neighbourhood, with whom the others did not seem to associate, and asked the reason of it. They said he was a very stupid fellow. Swift some time after, in one of his rides, overtook him, and entered into conversation with him by praising his horse, saying, among other things, that he carried a very fine tail; to which the gentleman replied, "and yours carries the best head in Ireland." The dean, on his return, related this as a very clever saying, and wondered how they could account the author of it stupid. One of the company, when he next saw the gentleman, told him how much the dean was pleased with what he had said to him. "Why, what was it," said the other? "You told him that his horse carried the best head in Ireland." "And so he does," replied the gentleman (utterly unconscious of his having said a good thing) " I think I never saw a horse with a finer forehead."
When George Faulkner the printer returned from London, where he had been soliciting subscriptions for his edition of the dean's works, he went to pay his respects to him, dressed in a laced waistcoat, a bag wig, and other fopperies. Swift received him with all the ceremony that he would show to a perfect stranger. "Pray, Sir, what are your commands with me?" "I thought it my duty to wait on you immediately on my arrival from London." "Pray, Sir, who are you?" "George Faulkner the printer." "You George Faulkner the printer! why, thou art the most impudent barefaced impostor I ever heard of. George Faulkner is a sober sedate citizen, and would never trick himself out in lace, and other fopperies. Get about your business, and thank your stars that I do not send you to the house of correction." Poor George hobbled away as fast as he could, and having changed his apparel, returned immediately to the deanery. Swift, on seeing him, went up to him with great cordiality, shook him familiarly by the hand, saying, "My good friend, George, I am heartily glad to see you safe returned. Here was an impudent fellow in a laced waistcoat, who would feign have passed for you; but I soon sent him packing with a flea in his ear."
He could not bear to have any lies told him, which he never failed to detect; and when the party endeavoured to palliate them, his usual expression was — "Come, come, don't attempt to darn your cobwebs." It was a saying of his, that an excuse was worse than a lie, because an excuse was a lie guarded.
So at the bar the booby Bettesworth,
Though half a crown outpays his sweat's worth,
Who knows in law, nor text, nor margent,
Calls Singleton his brother sergeant.
The animosity of the dean against the sergeant, did not arise from any personal pique, but on account of his being an avowed enemy of the clergy, and taking the lead in the house of commons in procuring one of the most unjust and arbitrary votes ever made by that body, by which the clergy were deprived of a considerable part of their tithes, which they had enjoyed time immemorial.
The poem was sent to Bettesworth when he was in company with some of his friends, from one of whom then present, I had the following account: He read it aloud till he had finished the lines relative to himself. He then flung it down with great violence, he trembled and turned pale; and after some pause, his rage for a while depriving him of utterance, he took out his penknife, and opening it, vehemently swore, with this very penknife, by G—d, will I cut off his ears. Soon after he went to seek the dean at his house, and not finding him at home, followed him to Mr. Worrall's, where he had an interview with him, which has been described by Swift in a letter to the duke of Dorset, then lord lieutenant of Ireland. But as there are some passages omitted in that narrative, which he related to Dr. Sheridan, immediately after the scene had passed, I shall here insert such part of them as I recollect. Upon inquiring for Swift, the sergeant was shown into the street parlour, and the dean called out to him from the back room, where he was sitting after dinner with Worrall and his wife. Upon entering the room, Swift desired to know his commands. "Sir," says he, "I am sergeant Bet-tes-worth," (which was always his pompous way of pronouncing his own name in three distinct syllables). "Of what regiment, pray?" says Swift. "O, Mr. Dean, we know your powers of raillery; you know me well enough, that I am one of his majesty's sergeants at law." "What then, Sir?" "Why then, Sir, I am come to demand of you, whether you are the author of this poem (producing it) and these villanous lines on me?" At the same time reading them aloud with great vehemence of emphasis, and much gesticulation. "Sir," said Swift, "it was a piece of advice given me in my early days by lord Somers, never to own or disown any writing laid to my charge; because if I did this, in some cases, whatever I did not disown afterward, would infallibly be imputed to me as mine. Now, Sir, I take this to have been a very wise maxim, and as such have followed it ever since; and I believe it will hardly be in the power of all your rhetoric, as great a master as you are of it, to make me swerve from that rule." Many other things passed as related in the above-mentioned letter. But when Bettesworth was going away, he said, "Well, since you will give me no satisfaction in this affair, let me tell you, your gown is your protection; under the sanction of which, like one of your own Yahoos who had climbed up to the top of a high tree, you sit secure, and squirt your filth round on all mankind." Swift had candour enough not to conceal this last circumstance, at the same time saying, "that the fellow showed more wit in this than he thought him possessed of." After this, as Bettesworth still continued to utter furious threats against the dean, there was an association formed and signed by all the principal inhabitants of that quarter, to stand by one another with their lives and fortunes, in support of their general benefactor, against any one who should attempt to offer the least injury to his person or fortune. Beside which, the publick indignation was kindled against him for this treatment of their great favourite, and the resentment of all the wits was poured out upon him in a vast effusion of libels, pointed with ridicule, or edged with satire, which placed his character in a contemptible, or an odious light; so that the unfortunate sergeant, who had before made a considerable figure at the bar, in a short time lost his business, and was seldom employed in any suit afterward; so dangerous was it to attack this idol of the people.
He was always attended by two servants when he rode out, but he walked through the streets, and did not put on his spatterdashes (which he always wore instead of boots) and spurs, till he came to the place of mounting. One day, being detained longer than usual, and inquiring into the cause, he found it was owing to a dispute between the two servants, to which of their offices it belonged to carry the spatterdashes and spurs. Swift soon settled the matter, by making each of them carry one of each, and in that manner walk behind him through the streets. The blackguards of Dublin, who are remarkable for low humour, soon smoked the design, and ridiculed the fellows as they passed along in such a way as made them quite ashamed of themselves, and willing to come to a compromise. But Swift, to punish them, made them continue their progress in the same way, enjoying the low jokes of the mob as they passed; till at their earnest entreaty afterward they were allowed to take it turn about.
He had always some whimsical contrivance to punish his servants for any neglect of his orders, so as to make them more attentive for the future. The hiring of the maidservants he left to his housekeeper; and when that ceremony was over, he used to send for them, saying, he had but two commands to give them; one was, to shut the door after them whenever they came into a room; the other, to shut the door after them when they went out of a room; and bade them be very punctual in executing these orders. One of these maids went to him on a particular occasion, to request that she might be allowed to go to her sister's wedding, which was to be on that day, at a place distant about ten miles from Dublin. Swift not only consented, but said he would lend her one of his horses, with a servant to ride before her; and gave his directions accordingly. The maid in the midst of her joy for this favour, forgot to shut the door after her when she left the room. In about a quarter of an hour after she was gone, the dean ordered a servant to saddle another horse, and make what speed he could after them, and wherever he overtook them, to oblige them to return immediately. They had not got much above half way, when he came up with them, and told them it was the dean's positive commands, that they should return instantly; with which, however reluctantly, the poor girl was obliged to comply. When she came into Swift's presence, with a most mortified countenance, she begged to know his reverence's commands: "Nothing, child," said he, "only you forgot to shut the door after you." But not to carry the punishment too far, he then permitted her to pursue her journey.
There was nothing Swift disliked more than applications from witlings and poetasters to look over their pieces, and he generally had some whimsical contrivance to make them repent of this, which, being told, might also deter others from the like. Among these, there was a poor author of my acquaintance, who had written a very indifferent tragedy, and got himself introduced to the dean, in order to have his opinion of it. In about a fortnight after the delivery, he called at the deanery to know how he approved of it. Swift returned the play carefully folded up, telling him he had read it, and taken some pains with it; and he believed the author would not find above half the number of faults in it, that it had when it came into his hands. Poor Davy, after a thousand acknowledgments to the dean for the trouble he had taken, retired in company with the gentleman who had first introduced him, and was so impatient to see what corrections Swift had made, that he would not wait till he got home, but got under a gateway in the next street, and, to his utter astonishment and confusion, saw that the dean had taken the pains to blot out every second line throughout the whole play, so carefully, as to render them utterly illegible. Nor was it in the power of the unfortunate author to conceal his disgrace, as his friend, from whom I had the story, thought it too good a joke to be lost.
Swift, whatever mastery he had gained over the greater passions, had no command of his temper. He was of a very irritable make, prone to sudden starts of passion, in which his expressions of course were not very guarded. His friends made all due allowance for this, knowing it to be an infirmity often attendant on the best natures, and never took any thing amiss that he said or did on such occasions. But Dr. Sheridan, when he saw one of these fits coming on him, used to divert its course, by some whimsical stroke of fancy that would set him a laughing, and give his humour another bent. And in this he was so successful, that one of their common friends used to say, that he was the David, who alone could play the evil spirit out of Saul. Among the many off-hand poems, which they daily writ to each other, there was one come to my hands, which, though negligently written, is so descriptive of the mode of their living together, and so characteristick of Swift's manner, that I am tempted to lay it before the publick. When he was disengaged, the dean used often to call in at the doctor's about the hour of dining, and their custom was to sit in a small back parlour tête à tête, and have slices sent them upon plates from the common room of whatever was for the family dinner. The furniture of this room was not in the best repair, being often frequented by the boarders, of which the house was seldom without twenty; but was preferred by the dean as being more snug than the state parlour, which was used only when there was company. The subject of the poem, is an account of one of these casual visits.
When to my house you come, dear dean,
Your humble friend to entertain,
Through dirt and mire along the street,
You find no scraper for your feet;
At which you stamp and storm and swell,
Which serves to clean your feet as well.
By steps ascending to the hall,
All torn to rags by boys and ball,
With scatter'd fragments on the floor;
A sad uneasy parlour door,
Besmear'd with chalk, and carv'd with knives,
(A plague upon all careless wives)
Are the next sights you must expect,
But do not think they are my neglect.
Ah that these evils were the worst!
The parlour still is farther curst.
To enter there if you advance,
If in you get, it is by chance.
How oft by turns have you and I
Said thus — "Let me — no —let me try —
This turn will open it I'll engage" —
You push me from it in a rage.
Turning, twisting, forcing, fumbling,
Stamping, flaring, fuming, grumbling,
At length it opens — in we go —
How glad are we to find it so!
Conquests through pains and dangers please,
Much more than those attained with ease.
Are you disposed to take a seat;
The instant that it feels your weight,
Out go its legs, and down you come
Upon your reverend deanship's bum.
Betwixt two stools 'tis often said,
The sitter on the ground is laid;
What praise then to my chairs is due,
Where one performs the feat of two!
Now to the fire, if such there be,
At present nought but smoke we see.
"Come, stir it up" — "Ho — Mr. Joker,
How can I stir it without poker?"
"The bellows take, their batter'd nose
Will serve for poker, I suppose."
Now you begin to rake — alack
The grate has tumbled from its back —
The coals all on the hearth are laid —
"Stay, sir — I'll run and call the maid;
She'll make the fire again complete —
She knows the humour of the grate."
"Pox take your maid, and you together —
This is cold comfort in cold weather."
Now all is right again — the blaze
Suddenly rais'd as soon decays.
Once more apply the bellows — "So —
These bellows were not made to blow —
Their leathern lungs are in decay,
They can't even puff the smoke away."
"And is your reverence vext at that?
Get up in God's name, take your hat;
Hang them, say I, that have no shift;
Come blow the fire, good doctor Swift.
If trifles such as these can tease you,
Plague take those fools that strive to please you.
Therefore no longer be a quarr'ler
Either with me, sir, or my parlour.
If you can relish ought of mine,
A bit of meat, a glass of wine,
You're welcome to it, and you shall fare
As well as dining with the mayor."
"You saucy scab — you tell me so —
Why, booby-face, I'd have you know
I'd rather see your things in order,
Than dine in state with the recorder.
For water I must keep a clutter,
Or chide your wife for stinking butter.
Or getting such a deal of meat,
As if you'd half the town to eat.
That wife of yours, the devil's in her,
I've told her of this way of dinner,
Five hundred times, but all in vain —
Here comes a rump of beef again:
O that that wife of yours would burst —
Get out, and serve the boarders first.
Pox take 'em all for me — I fret
So much, I shall not eat my meat —
You know I'd rather have a slice."
"I know, dear sir, you are not nice;
You'll have your dinner in a minute,
Here comes the plate and slices in it —
Therefore no more, but take your place —
Do you fall to, and I'll say grace."