Letter To A Very Young Lady On Her Marriage Quotes

Jonathan Swift

"Running A Man Down"

Context: Several recipients have been suggested for this letter, one being Lady Betty Moore, daughter of the Earl of Drogheda; upon its publication in Miscellanies, Vol. II (1727), the name of Miss Staunton was associated with it, before she became Mrs. John Rochfort. At any rate, the recipient could hardly have taken it as a compliment either to her or to her sex. Its purpose was to exhort her to avoid "the many errors, fopperies, and follies, to which your sex is subject." Swift urges that the young lady avoid show of fondness for her husband in front of witnesses, that she become uneasy and worry when he is away, that she "abate a little that violent passion for clothes, so prominent in your sex," and that she listen instead of taking part in conversations in the company of men of learning. His confession that he has "little respect for the generality of her sex" cannot have endeared him to her. No wonder biographers doubt that, despite Swift's pondering whether Stella would fit well into the country church where he was preaching, this clergyman of keen wit and sharp tongue ever married. Close to the end of the letter, Swift warns the bride-to-be against gossiping:

There is never wanting in this town, a tribe of bold, swaggering, rattling ladies, whose talents pass among coxcombs for wit and humour; their excellency lies in rude, shocking expressions, and what they call "running a man down." If any gentleman in their company happens to have any blemish in his birth or person, if any misfortune hath befallen his family or himself, for which he is ashamed, they will be sure to give him broad hints of it without any provocation. . . .