No bloom of youth can ever blind
The cracks and wrinkles of your mind:
All men of sense will pass your door,
And crowd to Stella’s at four-score.
— Jonathan Swift, from “Stella’s Birth-day”
“The next victim of this wretched man was Esther Johnson, the Stella of this strange history. This young lady was the daughter of the steward of Sir William Temple at Moorpark; she was fatherless when Swift commenced his designs upon her; her father died soon after her birth, and her mother and sister resided in the house at Moorpark, and were treated with particular regard and esteem by the family. Miss Esther Johnson, who was much younger than Swift, was beautiful, lively, and amiable. Swift devoted himself to her as her teacher, and under advantage of his daily office and position, engaged her young affections most absolutely. So completely was it understood by her that they were to be married when Swift’s income warranted it, that on the death of Temple, and Swift’s preferment to the living of Laracor in Ireland, she was induced by him to come over and fix her residence in Trim near him, under the protection of a lady of middle age, Mrs. Dingley.”
— William Howitt
William Howitt is unsparing in his view of Swift (“in the category of heartless villains”) given in his Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets but devotes a section to “STELLA’S HOUSE” in his treatment of the poet which allows some of the idyll of the Irish thatched roof cottage:
Swift took much pleasure in his garden at Laracor; converted a rivulet that ran through it into a regular canal, and planted on its banks avenues of willows. As soon as he was settled, Stella, and her companion, Mrs. Dingley, came over and settled down too. They had a house near the gate of Knightsbrook, the old residence of the Percivals, almost half a mile from Swift’s house, where they lived when Swift was at Laracor, or were the guests of the hospitable vicar of Trim, Dr. Raymond. Whenever Swift left Laracor for a time, as on his annual journeys to England, the ladies then took possession of the vicarage of Laracor, and remained there during his absence. The site of Stella’s house is marked on the Ordnance Survey of the county of Meath.
The collected work Views of the Haunts and Homes of the British Poets, Oct. 19 1850., found by Christopher Ricks in the little bookshop in Nailsworth just a few miles from his home in Gloucestershire, contains the original mixed media/watercolour illustrations for the Howitt Haunts and Homes, presumably made by either one or both of the Measom brothers, George Samuel and William, (The London edition credits “The Illustrations by W. and G. Measom”) and bound for preservation in 1850, after the publication of the two Howitt volumes.