Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023641, Wed, 6 Feb 2013 20:11:52 +0000

THOUGHTS: Poor old man Swift, mirrors, and a Newgate frill
Dear list,

A couple of years ago, I mentioned coming across an anecdote in Craik's "Life of Jonathan Swift," in which the failing Swift is said to have seen himself in the mirror and remarked, 'Poor old man!' https://listserv.ucsb.edu/lsv-cgi-bin/wa?A2=nabokv-l;6c6b60.1003

Today I came across a similar account in John Boyle's Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift, this time accompanied by a letter from one of Swift's relatives. Responding to an inquiry about the 'poor old man' remark, the writer says that he believes "there may be some truth in it," and then goes on to give a view of Swift's everyday existence, including the following odd detail:

"His servant shaves his cheeks, and all his face as low as the tip of his chin, once a week: but under the chin, and about the throat, when the hair grows long, it is cut with scissors" (141).

This is, of course, the beard style known as a Newgate Frill, which JS mistakenly (I believe) calls a Newport Frill in Canto Four of PF. It's circumstantial evidence at best, but the concatenation of details here (poet, mirrors, poor old man, newgate frill) bolster my inclination to believe that when John Shade left out two syllables in "Poor old man Swift, poor ------, poor Baudelaire," he had himself in mind.

Matt Roth


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