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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 11/From Jonathan Swift to John Kendall - 1



FEB. 11, 1691—2.

If any thing made me wonder at your letter, it was your almost inviting me to do so in the beginning, which indeed grew less upon knowing the occasion; since it is what I have heard from more than one in and about Leicester. And for the friendship between us, as I suppose yours to be real; so I think it would be proper to imagine mine, until you find any cause to believe it pretended; though I might have some quarrel at you in three or four lines, which are very ill bestowed in complimenting me. And as to that of my great prospects of making my fortune, on which as your kindness only looks on the best side, so my own cold temper, and unconfined humour, is a much greater hindrance than any fear of that which is the subject of your letter; I shall speak plainly to you, that the very ordinary observations I made with going half a mile beyond the university, have taught me experience enough not to think of marriage till I settle my fortune in the world, which I am sure will not be in some years; and even then itself, I am so hard to please, that I suppose I shall put it off to the other world. — How all that suits with my behaviour to the woman in hand, you may easily imagine, when you know, that there is something in me which must be employed, and when I am alone turns all, for want of practice, into speculation and thought; insomuch that these seven weeks I have been here, I have writ and burnt, and writ again upon all manner of subjects, more than perhaps any man in England. And this is it which a person of great honour in Ireland (who was pleased to stoop so low as to look into my mind) used to tell me, that my mind was like a conjured spirit, that would do mischief if I would not give it employment. It is this humour that makes me so busy, when I am in company, to turn all that way; and since it commonly ends in talk, whether it be love, or common conversation, it is all alike. This is so common, that I could remember twenty women in my life, to whom I have behaved myself just the same way; and I profess, without any other design than that of entertaining myself when I am very idle, or when something goes amiss in my affairs. This I always have done as a man of the world, when I had no design for any thing grave in it, and what I thought at worst a harmless impertinence; but, whenever I begin to take sober resolutions, or as now, to think of entering into the church, I never found it would be hard to put off this kind of folly at the porch. Besides, perhaps, in so general a conversation among that sex, I might pretend a little to understand where I am when I am going to choose for a wife; and though the cunning sharper of the town may have a cheat put on him, yet it must be cleanlier carried than this which you think I am going to top upon myself. And truly, if you knew how metaphysical I am that way, you would little fear I should venture on one who has given so much occasion to tongues: for, though the people is a lying sort of beast (and I think in Leicester above all parts that I ever was in) yet they seldom talk without some glimpse of a reason, which I declare (so unpardonably jealous I am) to be a sufficient cause for me to hate any woman any farther than a bare acquaintance. Among all the young gentlemen that I have known who have ruined themselves by marrying (which I assure you is a great number) I have made this general rule, that they are either young, raw, and ignorant scholars, who, for want of knowing company, believe every silk petticoat includes an angel; or else these have been a sort of honest young men, who perhaps are too literal in rather marrying than burning, and entail a misery on themselves and posterity, by an overacting modesty. I think, I am very far excluded from listing under either of these heads. I confess, I have known one or two men of sense enough, who, inclined to frolicks, have married and ruined themselves out of a maggot; but a thousand household thoughts, which always drive matrimony out of my mind whenever it chances to come there, will, I am sure, fright me from that; beside that I am naturally temperate, and never engaged in the contrary, which usually produces those effects. Your hints at particular stories I do not understand; and having never heard them but so hinted, thought it proper to give you this, to show you how I thank you for your regard of me; and I hope my carriage will be so as my friends need not be ashamed of the name[2]. I should not have behaved myself after that manner I did in Leicester, if I had not valued my own entertainment beyond, the obloquy of a parcel of very wretched fools, which I solemnly pronounce the inhabitants of Leicester to be; and so I contented myself with retaliation. I hope you will forgive this trouble; and so with my service to your good wife, I am, good cousin,

Your very affectionate

friend and servant,

  1. Vicar of Thornton, in Leicestershire.
  2. This sentence is very inaccurate; it ought to be either 'and I hope my carriage will be such as', &c. — or — 'and I hope to carry myself so as that my friends need not be ashamed of the name.' If the noun be used, it should have its correspondent pronoun; if the verb, its adverb.