Page images

He kept Bolingbroke's, and Pope's, and Harley's, and Peterborough's : but Stella, “very carefully,” the Lives say, kept Swift's. Of course: that is the way of the world: and so we cannot tell what her style was, or of what sort were the little letters which the Doctor placed there at night, and bade to appear from under his pillow of a morning. But in Letter IV. of

that famous collection he describes his lodging in Bury Street, where he has the first-floor, a dining-room and bed-chamber, at eight shillings a week; and in Letter VI. he says “he has visited a lady just come to town,” whose name somehow is not mentioned; and in Letter VIII. he enters a query of Stella's — “What do you mean ‘ that boards near me, that I dine with now and then ' ' What the deuce 1 You know whom I have dined with every day since I left you, better than I do.” Of course she does. Of course Swift has not the slightest idea of what she means. But in a few letters more it turns out that the Doctor has been to dine “gravely ” with a Mrs. Vanhomrigh: then that he has been to “his neighbor:” then that he has been unwell, and means to dine for the whole week with his neighbor! Stella was quite right in her previsions. She saw from the very first hint what was going to happen; and scented Vanessa in the air.” The rival is at the Dean's feet. The pupil and teacher are reading together, and drinking tea together, and going to prayers to gether, and learning Latin together, and conjugating amo, amas, amavi together. The little language is over for poor Stella. By the rule of grammar and the course of conjugation, doesn't amavi come after amo and amas 2 The loves of Cadenus and Vanessat

raceful, and agreeable young women in fool, a little too fat. Her hair was blacker n a raven, and every feature of her face in perfection. “. . . Properly speaking”—he goes on, with a calmness which, under the circumstances, is terrible — “she has been dying six months! . . . “Never was any of her sex born with better gifts of the mind, or who more improved them by reading and conversation. . . . All of us who had the happiness of her friendship agreed unanimously, that in an afternoon’s or evening's conversation she never failed before we parted of delivering the best thing that was said in the company. Some of us have written down several of her sayings, or what the French call bons mots, wherein she excelled beyond belief.” The specimens on record, however, in the Dean’s paper, called “Bons Mots de Stella,” scarcely bear out this last part of the panegyric. But the following prove her wit:“A gentleman who had been very silly and pert in her company, at last began to grieve at remembering the loss of a child lately dead. A bishop sitting by comforted him — that he should be easy, because “the child was gone to heaven.” ‘No, my lord,” said she ; “that is it which most grieves him, because he is sure never to see his child there.” “When she was extremely ill, her F. said, “Madam, you are near the ottom of the hill, but we will endeavor to get you up again.” She answered, “Doctor, I fear I shall be out of breath before I get * to the top.” “A very dirty clergyman of her acquaintance, who affected smartness and repartees, was asked by some of the com}. how his nails came to be so dirty. e was at a loss; but she solved the difficulty by saying, “The Doctor's nails grew dirty by scratching himself.” “A Quaker apothecary sent her a vial, corked; it had a broad brim, and a label of paper about its neck. “What is that?” - said she —“my apothecary’s son to The ridiculous resemblance, and the suddenness, of the question, set us all a-laughing.”—Swift's Works, Scott's Ed. vol. 295-6,

* “I am so hot and lazy after my morn ing's walk, that I loitered at Mrs. Van. homrigh's, where my best gown and periwig was, and out of mere listlessness diné there, very often; so I did to-day.”— Journal to Stella.

Mrs. Vanhomrigh, “Vanessa's "moth. er, was the widow of a Dutch merchant who held lucrative to: in King William's time. The family settled in London in 1709, and had a house in Bury Street, St. James's — a street made nota. ble by such residents as Swift and Steele; and, in our own time, Moore and Crabbe,

f “Vanessa was excessively vain. The character given of her by Cadenus is fine painting, but in general fictitious. She was fond of dress; impatient to be admired; very romantic in her turn of mind;

you may peruse in Cadenus's own poem on the subject, and in poor Vanessa's vehement expostulatory verses and letters to him; she adores him, implores him, admires him, thinks him something god-like, and only prays to be admitted to lie at his feet.* As they are bringing him home from church, - those divine feet of Dr. Swift's are found pretty often in Vanessa's parlor. He likes to be admired and adored. He finds Miss Vanhomrigh to be a woman of great taste and spirit, and beauty and wit, and a fortune too. He sees her every day; he does not tell Stella about the business : until the impetuous Vanessa becomes too fond of him, until the Doctor is quite frightened by the young woman's ardor, and confounded by her. warmth. He

superior, in her own opinion, to all her sex; full of pertness, gayety, and pride; not without some agreeable accomplishments, but far from being either beautiful or genteel; . . . happy in the thoughts of being reported Swift's concubine, but still aiming and intending to be his wife.” —LoRD ORRERY. * “You bid me be easy, and you would see-me as often as you could. You had better have said, as often as you can get the better of your inclinations so much; or as often as you remember there was such a one in the world. If you continue to treat me as you do, you will not be made uneasy by me long. It is impossible to describe what I have suffered since I saw you last: I am sure I could have borne the rack much better than those killing, killing words of yours. Sometimes I have resolved to die without seeing you more; but those resolves, to your misfortune, did not last long; for there is something in human nature that prompts one so to find relief in this world I must give way to it, and beg you would see me, and speak kindly to me; for I am sure you’d not condemn any one to suffer what I have done, could you but know it. The reason I write to you is, because I cannot tell it to you, should I see you; for when I begin to complain, then you are angry, and there is something in your looks so awful that it strikes me dumb. Oh I that ou may have but so much regard for me eft that this complaint may touch your soul with pity. I say as little as ever I can : did you but know what I thought, I am sure it would move you to forgive me; and believe I cannot help telling you this and live.”—VANESSA. (M. 1714.)

wanted to marry neither of them — that I believe was the truth; but if he had not married Stella, Vanessa would have had him in spite of himself. When he went back to Ireland, his Ariadne, not content to remain in her isle, pursued the fugitive Dean. In vain he protested, he vowed, he soothed, and bullied; the news of the Dean's marriage with Stella at last came to her, and it killed her—she died of that passion.*

* “If we consider Swift's behavior, so far only as it relates to women, we shall find that he looked upon them rather as busts than as whole figures.”—ORRERY. “You must have smiled to have found his house a constant seraglio of very virtuous women, who attended him from morning to might.”—ORRERY. A correspondent of Sir Walter Scott's furnished him with the materials on which to found the following interesting passage about Vanessa — after she had retired to cherish her passion in retreat: — “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 Mrs. Vanhomrigh's gardener, and used to work with his father in the * while a boy. He remembered the unfortunate an essa well; and his account of her corresponded with the usual description of her person, especially as to her embonpoint. He said she went seldom abroad, and saw little company: her constant amusement was reading, or walking in the garden. . . . . 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 favorite seat, still called “Vanessa’s bower.” Three or four trees and some laurels indicate the spot. . . . There were two seats and a rude table within the bower, the opening of which commanded a view of the Liffey. . . . 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.”—Scott's Swift, vol. i. pp. 246–7. “. . . But Miss Vanhomrigh, irritated at the situation in which she found herself, determined on bringing to a crisis those expectations of a union with the object of her affections—to the hope of And when she died, and Stella heard that Swift had written beautifully regarding her, “That doesn't surprise me,” said Mrs. Stella, “for we all know the Dean could write beautifully about a broomstick.” A woman—a true woman Would you have had one of them forgive the other 4

In a note in his biography, Scott says that his friend Dr. Tuke, of Dublin, has a lock of Stella's hair, enclosed in a paper by Swift, on which are written, in the Dean's hand, the words: “Only a woman's hair.” An instance, says, Scott, of the Dean's desire to veil his feelings under the mask of cynical indifference.

See the various motions of critics : Do those words indicate indifference or an attempt to hide feeling 4 Did you ever hear or read four words more pathetic? Only a woman's hair: only love, only fidelity, only purity, innocence, beauty; only the tenderest heart in the world stricken and wounded, and passed away now out of reach of pangs of hope deferred, love insulted, and pitiless desertion : — only that lock of hair left; and memory and remorse, for the guilty, lonely wretch, shuddering over the grave of his victim.

And yet to have had so much love, he must have given some. Treasures of wit and wisdom, and tenderness, too, must that man have had locked up in the caverns of his gloomy heart, and shown fitfully to one or two whom he took in there. But it was not good to visit that place. People did not remain there long, and suffered for having been there.* He shrank away from all affections sooner or later. Stella and Vanessa both died near him, and away from him. He had not heart enough to see them die. He broke from his fastest friend, Sheridan; he slunk away from his fondest admirer, Pope. His laugh jars on one's ear after seven score years. He was always alone—alone and gnashing in the darkness, except when upon him. When that went, silence and utter night closed over him. An immense genius: an awful downfall and ruin. So great a man he seems

which she had clung amid every vicissitude of his conduct towards her. The most probable bar was his undefined connection with Mrs. Johnson, which, as it must have been perfectly known to her, had, doubtless, long elicited her secret jealousy, although only a single hint to that purpose is to be found in their correspondence, and that so early as 1713, when she writes to him — then in Ireland —“If you are very happy, it is ill-natured of you not to tell me so, eaccept 'tis what is inconsistent with mine.” Her silence and patience under this state of uncertainty for no less than eight years, must have been partly owing to her awe for Swift, and partly, perhaps, to the weak state of her rival’s health, which, from year to year, seemed to announce speedy dissolution. At length, however, Vanes- sa’s impatience prevailed, and she ventured on the decisive step of writing to Mrs. Johnson herself, requesting to know the nature of that connection. Stella, in reply, informed her of her marriage with the Dean; and full of the highest resentment against Swift for having given another female such a right in him as Miss Vanhomrigh’s inquiries implied, she sent to him her rival’s letter of interrogatories, and, without seeing him, or awaiting his reply, retired to the house of Mr. Ford, near Dublin. Every reader knows the consequence. Swift, in one of those paroxysms of fury to which he was liable, both from temper and disease, rode in: stantly to Marley Abbey. As he entered the apartment, the sternness of his countenance, which was peculiarly formed to express the fiercer passions, struck the unfortunate Vanessa with such terror that she could scarce ask whether he would not sit down. He answered by flinging a letter on the table, and, instantly leaving the house, remounted his horse, and returned to Dublin. When Vanessa opened the packet, she only found her own letter to Stella. It was her deathwarrant. She sunk at once under the disappointment of the delayed yet cherished hopes which had so long sickened her heart, and beneath the unrestrained wrath of him for whose sake she had indulged them. How long she survived the last interview is uncertain, but the time does not seem to have exceeded a few Weeks,”—SCOTT.

* “M. Swift est Rabelais dans son bon sens, et vivant en bonne compagnie. Il n’a pas, a la vérité, la gaité du premier, mais il a toute la finesse, la raison, le choix, le bon goût qui manquent à notre curé de Meudon. Ses vers sont d'un goût singulier, et presque inimitable; la bonne plaisanterie est son partage en vers et en prose; mais pour le bien entendre il faut faire un petit voyage dans son pays.”—VoITAIRE: Lettres sur les An. glais. Let. 22.

Stella's sweet smile came and shone to me, that thinking of him is like

thinking of an empire falling. We have other great names to mentionnone I think, however, so great or so

[ocr errors]


A GREAT number of years ago, before the passing of the Reform Bill, there existed at Cambridge a certain debating club, called the “Union; ” and I remember that there was a tradition amongst the undergraduates who frequented that renowned school of oratory, that the great leaders of the Opposition and Government had their eyes upon the University Debating Club, and that if a man distinguished himself there he ran some chance of being returned to Parliament as a great nobleman's nominee. So Jones of John's, or Thomson of Trinity, would rise in their might, and draping themselves in their gowns, rally round the monarchy, or hurl defiance at priests and kings, with the majesty of Pitt or the fire of Mirabeau, fancying all the while that the great nobleman's emissary was listening to the debate from the back benches, where he was sitting with the family seat in his pocket. Indeed the legend said that one or two young Cambridge men, orators of the “ Union” were actually caught up thence, and carried down to Cornwall or old Sarum, and so into Parliament. And many a young fellow deserted the jogtrot University curriculum, to hang on in the dust behind the fervid wheels of the parliamentary chariot.

Where, I have often wondered, were the sons of Peers and Members of Parliament in Anne's and George's

[ocr errors]

time? Were they all in the army, or hunting in the country, or boxing the watch? How was it that the young gentlemen from the University got such a prodigious number of places? A lad composed a neat copy of verses at Christchurch or Trinity, in which the death of a great personage was bemoaned, the French king assailed, the Dutch or Prince Eugene complimented, or the reverse; and the party in power was presently to provide for the young poet; and a commissionership, or a post in the Stamps, or the secretaryship of an Embassy, or a clerkship in the Treasury, came into the bard's possession. A wonderful fruit-bearing rod was that of Busby's. What have men of letters got in our time ! Think, not only of Swift, a king fit to rule in any time or empire — but Addison, Steele, Prior, Tickell, Congreve, John Gay, John Dennis, and many others, who got public employment, and pretty little pickings out of the public purse.* The wits

* The following is a conspectus of ein .

ADDIsoN. — Commissioner of Appeals; Under Secretary of State; Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; Keeper of the Records in Ireland; Lord of Trade; and one of the Principal Secretaries of State, successively.

STEELE.-Commissioner of the Stamp Office; Surveyor of the Royal Stables at Hampton Court; and Governor of the Royal Company of Comedians;

of whose names we shall treat in this lecture and two following, all (save one) touched the King's coin, and had, at some period of their lives, a happy quarter-day coming round for them. They all began at school or college in the regular way, producing panegyrics upon public characters, what were called odes upon public events, battles, sieges, court marriages and deaths, in which the gods of Olympus and the tragic muse were fatigued with invocations, according to the fashion of the time in France and in England. “Aid us, Mars, Bacchus, Apollo,” cried Addison, or Congreve, singing of William or Marlborough. “Accourez, chastes nymphes de Parnasse,” says Boileau, celebrating the Grand Monarch. “Des sons que ma lyre enfante marquez en bien la cadence, et vous vents, faites silences je vais parler de Louis l’” Schoolboys' themes and foundation exercises are the only relics left now of this scholasticfashion. The Olympians are left quite undisturbed in their mountain. What man of note, what contributor to the poetry of a country newspaper, would now think of writing a congratulatory ode on the birth of the heir to a dukedom, or the marriage of a nobleman? In the past century the young gentlemen of the

Commissioner of “Forfeited Estates in Scotland.” Prior.-Secretary to the Embassy at the Hague; Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King William; Secretary to the Embassy in France; Under Secretary of State; Ambassador to France. Tickell.–Under . Secretary of State; Secretary to the Lords Justices of Ireland. CoNGREye. —Commissioner for licensing Hackney Coaches; Commissioner for Wine Licenses; place in the Pipe Of. fice; post in the Custom House; Secretary of Jamaica. GAY. — Secretary to the Earl of Clarendon (when Ambassador to “Hanover). John DENNIs.—A place in the Custom House. “En Angleterre . . . les lettres sont lus en honneur qu'ici.” – Volta IRE: res sur les Anglais. Let. 20.

Universities all exercised themselves at these queer compositions; and some got fame, and some gained patrons and places for life, and many more took nothing by these efforts of what they were pleased to call their Inuses. William Congreve's # Pindaric Odes are still to be found in “Johnson's Poets,” that now unfrequented poets’-corner, in which so many forgotten big-wigs have a niche; but though he was also voted to be one of the greatest tragic poets of any day, it was Congreve's wit and humor which first recommended him to courtly fortune. And it is recorded that his first play, the “Old Bachelor,” brought our author to the notice of that great patron of English muses, Charles Montague Lord Halifax – who, being desirous to place so eminent a wit in a state of ease and tranquillity, instantly made him one of the Commissioners for licensing hackney-coaches, bestowed on him soon after a place in the Pipe Office, and likewise a post in the Custom House of the value of 600l. A commissionership of hackneycoaches — a post in the Custom House — a place in the Pipe Office, and all for writing a comedy Doesn’t it sound like a fable, that place in the Pipe Office?f “Ah, l'heureux

* He was the son of Colonel William Congreve, and grandson of Richard Conreve, Esq., of Congreve and Stretton in taffordshire—a very ancient family. f_“PIPE. — Pipe, in law, is a roll in the Exchequer, called also the great roll. “Pipe Office is an office in which a person called the Clerk of the Pipe makes out leases of Crown lands, by warrant from the Lord Treasurer, or Commissioners of the Treasury, or Chancellor of the Exchequer. “Clerk of the Pipe makes up all accounts of sheriffs, &c.”—REEs: Cyclopaed. Art. PIPE. “Pipe Office. — Spelman thinks so called, because the papers were kept in a large pipe or cask. “‘These be at last brought into that office of Her Majesty's Exchequer, which we, by a metaphor, do call the pipe . . . because the whole receipt is finally conveyed into it by means of divers small

« PreviousContinue »