A Personal Portrait: Handel
by Charles Burney (1726-1814), English music historian and friend of Handel
The figure of Handel was large, and he was somewhat corpulent and unwieldy in his motions; but his countenance was full of fire and dignity such as impressed ideas of superiority and genius. He was impetuous, rough, and peremptory in his manners and conversation, but totally devoid of ill-nature or malevolence; indeed, there was an original humor and pleasantry in his most lively sallies of anger or impatience which, with his broken English, were extremely risible.
His natural propensity to wit and humor and happy manner of relating common occurrences in an uncommon way enabled him to throw persons and things into very ridiculous attitudes. Had he been as great a master of the English language as Swift, his ‘good words’ would have been as frequent and somewhat of the same kind.
Handel wore an enormous white wig, and when things went well at the oratorio, it had a certain nod or vibration which manifested his pleasure and satisfaction. Without it, nice observers were certain that he was out of humor.
Handel was in the habit of talking to himself so loud that it was easy for persons not very near to him to hear the subject of his soliloquies.
Handel’s general look was somewhat heavy and sour, but when he did smile it was like the sun bursting out of a black cloud. There was a sudden flash of intelligence, wit, and good humor beaming in his countenance which I hardly ever saw in any other.