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THE COVERLEY PORTRAITS. [STEELE.]
NO. 109. THURSDAY, JULY 5, 1711.
ABNORMIS sapiens. — HOR. LIB. 2. SAT. ii. 3.
I was this morning walking in the gallery, when Sir Roger entered at the end opposite to me, and advancing towards me, said he was glad to meet me among his relations the De Coverleys, and hoped I liked the con5 versation of so much good company, who were as silent as myself. I knew he alluded to the pictures, and as he is a gentleman who does not a little value himself upon his ancient descent, I expected he would give me some account of them. We were now arrived at the upper ro end of the gallery, when the knight faced towards one of the pictures, and as we stood before it, he entered into the matter after his blunt way of saying things as they occur to his imagination, without regular introduction, or care to preserve the appearance of a chain of thought.
"It is," said he, "worth while to consider the force of dress; and how the persons of one age differ from those of another, merely by that only. One may observe also, that the general fashion of one age has been followed by one particular set of people in another, and by them pre20 served from one generation to another. Thus the vast
jetting coat and small bonnet, which was the habit in Henry the Seventh's time, is kept on in the yeoman of the guard; not without a good and politic view, because they look a foot taller, and a foot and a half broader besides that the cap leaves the face expanded, and con- 5 sequently more terrible and fitter to stand at the entrance of palaces.
"This predecessor of ours, you see, is dressed after this manner, and his cheeks would be no larger than mine were he in a hat as I am. He was the last man 10 that won a prize in the Tiltyard (which is now a common street before Whitehall). You see the broken lance that lies there by his right foot. He shivered that lance of his adversary all to pieces; and bearing himself, look you, Sir, in this manner, at the same time he 15 came within the target of the gentleman who rode against him, and taking him with incredible force before him on the pummel of his saddle, he in that manner rid the tournament over, with an air that shewed he did it rather to perform the rules of the lists, than 20 expose his enemy: however, it appeared he knew how to make use of a victory, and with a gentle trot he marched up to a gallery where their mistress sat (for they were rivals), and let him down with laudable courtesy and pardonable insolence. I do not know but it 25 might be exactly where the coffee-house is now.
"You are to know this my ancestor was not only a military genius, but fit also for the arts of peace, for he played on the bass-viol as well as any gentleman at court; you see where his viol hangs by his basket-hilt 30 sword. The action at the Tiltyard, you may be sure,
won the fair lady, who was a maid of honour and the greatest beauty of her time; here she stands, the next picture. You see, Sir, my great great great grandmother has on the new-fashioned petticoat, except that the 5 modern is gathered at the waist; my grandmother appears as if she stood in a large drum, whereas the ladies. now walk as if they were in a go-cart. For all this lady was bred at court, she became an excellent country-wife, she brought ten children, and when I shew you the Io library, you shall see in her own hand (allowing for the difference of the language) the best receipt now in England both for a hasty-pudding and a white-pot.
"If you please to fall back a little, because it is necessary to look at the three next pictures at one view; these are three sisters. She on the right hand who is so very beautiful, died a maid; the next to her, still handsomer, had the same fate, against her will; this homely thing in the middle had both their portions added to her own, and was stolen by a neighbouring gentleman, a 20 man of stratagem and resolution; for he poisoned three mastiffs to come at her, and knocked down two deerstealers in carrying her off. Misfortunes happen in all families. The theft of this romp, and so much money, was no great matter to our estate. But the next heir 25 that possessed it was this soft gentleman whom you see there. Observe the small buttons, the little boots, the laces, the slashes about his clothes, and above all the posture he is drawn in (which to be sure was his own choosing): you see he sits with one hand on a desk, writing, and looking as it were another way, like an easy writer, or a sonneteer. He was one of those that