The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 9/The Story of the Injured Lady
WRITTEN BY HERSELF,
IN A LETTER TO HER FRIEND.
WITH HIS ANSWER.
BEING ruined by the inconstancy and unkindness of a lover, I hope a true and plain relation of my misfortunes may be of use and warning to credulous maids, never to put too much trust in deceitful men.
A gentleman in the neighbourhood had two mistresses, another and myself; and he pretended honourable love to us both. Our three houses stood pretty near one another; his was parted from mine by a river, and from my rival's by an old broken wall. But before I enter into the particulars of this gentleman's hard usage of me, I will give a very just and impartial character of my rival and myself.
As to her person, she is tall and lean, and very ill shaped; she has bad features, and a worse complexion; she has a stinking breath, and twenty ill smells about her besides; which are yet more unsufferable by her natural sluttishness: for she is always lousy, and never without the itch. As to her other qualities, she has no reputation either for virtue, honesty, truth, or manners: and it is no wonder, considering what her education has been. Scolding and cursing are her common conversation. To sum up all; she is poor and beggarly, and gets a sorry maintenance by pilfering wherever she comes. As for this gentleman, who is now so fond of her, she still bears him an invincible hatred; reviles him to his face, and rails at him in all companies. Her house is frequented by a company of rogues and thieves, and pickpockets, whom she encourages to rob his henroosts, steal his corn and cattle, and do him all manner of mischief. She has been known to come at the head of these rascals, and beat her lover until he was sore from head to foot, and then force him to pay for the trouble she was at. Once attended with a crew of ragamuffins, she broke into his house, turned all things topsyturvy, and then set it on fire. At the same time she told so many lies among his servants, that it set them all by the ears, and his poor steward was knocked on the head; for which I think, and so does all the country, that she ought to be answerable. To conclude her character; she is of a different religion, being a presbyterian of the most rank and violent kind, and consequently having an inveterate hatred to the church; yet I am sure, I have been always told, that in marriage there ought to be a union of minds as well as of persons.
I will now give my own character, and shall do it in few words, and with modesty and truth.
I was reckoned to be as handsome as any in our neighbourhood, until I became pale and thin with grief and ill usage. I am still fair enough, and have I think no very ill feature about me. They that see me now will hardly allow me ever to have had any great share of beauty; for, beside being so much altered, I go always mobbed, and in an undress, as well out of neglect, as indeed for want of clothes to appear in. I might add to all this, that I was born to a good estate, although it now turns to little account under the oppressions I endure, and has been the true cause of all my misfortunes.
Some years ago, this gentleman, taking a fancy either to my person or fortune, made his addresses to me; which, being then young and foolish, I too readily admitted; he seemed to use me with so much tenderness, and his conversation was so very engaging, that all my constancy and virtue were too soon overcome; and to dwell no longer upon a theme that causes such bitter reflections, I must confess with shame, that I was undone by the common arts practised upon all easy credulous virgins, half by force, and half by consent, after solemn vows and protestations of marriage. When he had once got possession, he soon began to play the usual part of a too fortunate lover, affecting on all occasions to show his authority, and to act like a conqueror. First, he found fault with the government of my family, which I grant was none of the best, consisting of ignorant illiterate creatures; for at that time I knew but little of the world. In compliance to him therefore, I agreed to fall into his ways and methods of living; I consented that his steward should govern my house, and have liberty to employ an under steward, who should receive his directions. My lover proceeded farther, turned away several old servants and tenants, and supplying me with others from his own house, these grew so domineering and unreasonable, that there was no quiet, and I heard of nothing but perpetual quarrels, which although I could not possibly help, yet my lover laid all the blame and punishment upon me; and upon every falling out, still turned away more of my people, and supplied me in their stead with a number of fellows and dependents of his own, whom he had no other way to provide for. Overcome by love, and to avoid noise and contention, I yielded to all his usurpations; and finding it in vain to resist, I thought it my best policy to make my court to my new servants, and draw them to my interests; I fed them from my own table with the best I had, put my new tenants on the choice parts of my land, and treated them all so kindly, that they began to love me as well as their master. In process of time all my old servants were gone, and I had not a creature about me, nor above one or two tenants but what were of his choosing; yet I had the good luck by gentle usage to bring over the greatest part of them to my side. When my lover observed this, he began to alter his language; and to those who inquired about me, he would answer, that I was an old dependent upon his family, whom he had placed on some concerns of his own; and he began to use me accordingly, neglecting by degrees all common civility in his behaviour. I shall never forget the speech he made me one morning, which he delivered with all the gravity in the world. He put me in mind of the vast obligations I lay under to him in sending me so many of his people for my own good, and to teach me manners: that it had cost him ten times more than I was worth to maintain me: that it had been much better for him if I had been damned, or burnt, or sunk to the bottom of the sea: that it was reasonable I should strain myself as far as I was able to reimburse him some of his charges: that from henceforward he expected his word should be a law to me in all things; that I must maintain a parish watch against thieves and robbers, and give salaries to an overseer, a constable, and others, all of his own choosing, whom he would send from time to time to be spies upon me: that to enable me the better in supporting these expenses, my tenants should be obliged to carry all their goods cross the river to his own town market, and pay toll on both sides, and then sell them at half value. But because we were a nasty sort of people, and that he could not endure to touch any thing we had a hand in, and likewise, because he wanted work to employ his own folks, therefore we must send all our goods to his market just in their naturals; the milk immediately from the cow, without making it into cheese or butter; the corn in the ear; the grass as it is mowed; the wool as it comes from the sheep's back; and bring the fruit upon the branch, that he might not be obliged to eat it after our filthy hands: that if a tenant carried but a piece of bread and cheese to eat by the way, or an inch of worsted to mend his stockings, he should forfeit his whole parcel: and because a company of rogues usually plyed on the river between us, who often robbed my tenants of their goods and boats, he ordered a waterman of his to guard them, whose manner was to be out of the way until the poor wretches were plundered; then to overtake the thieves, and seize all as a lawful prize to his master and himself. It would be endless to repeat a hundred other hardships he has put upon me; but it is a general rule, that whenever he imagines the smallest advantage will redound to one of his footboys by any new oppression of me and my whole family and estate, he never disputes it a moment. All this has rendered me so very insignificant and contemptible at home, that some servants, to whom I pay the greatest wages, and many tenants, who have the most beneficial leases, are gone over to live with him; yet I am bound to continue their wages, and pay their rents; by which means one third part of my whole income is spent on his estate, and above another third by his tolls and markets; and my poor tenants are so sunk and impoverished, that instead of maintaining me suitably to my quality, they can hardly find me clothes to keep me warm, or provide the common necessaries of life for themselves.
Matters being in this posture between me and my lover; I received intelligence that he had been for some time making very pressing overtures of marriage to my rival, until there happened some misunderstandings between them; she gave him ill words, and threatened to break off all commerce with him. He, on the other side, having either acquired courage by his triumphs over me, or supposing her as tame a fool as I, thought at first to carry it with a high hand; but hearing at the same time, that she had thoughts of making some private proposals to join with me against him, and doubting with very good reason, that I would readily accept them, he seemed very much disconcerted. This I thought was a proper occasion to show some great example of generosity and love; and so without farther consideration, I sent him word, that hearing there was likely to be a quarrel between him and my rival, notwithstanding all that had passed, and without binding him to any conditions in my own favour, I would stand by him against her and all the world, while I had a penny in my purse, or a petticoat to pawn. This message was subscribed by all my chief tenants; and proved so powerful, that my rival immediately grew more tractable upon it. The result of which was, that there is now a treaty of marriage concluded between them, the wedding clothes are bought, and nothing remains but to perform the ceremony, which is put off for some days, because they design it to be a publick wedding. And to reward my love, constancy, and generosity, he has bestowed on me the office of being sempstress to his grooms and footmen, which I am forced to accept or starve. Yet in the midst of this my situation, I cannot but have some pity for this deluded man, to cast himself away on an infamous creature, who, whatever she pretends, I can prove would at this very minute rather be a whore to a certain great man, that shall be nameless, if she might have her will. For my part I think, and so does all the country too, that the man is possessed; at least none of us are able to imagine what he can possibly see in her, unless she has bewitched him, or given him some powder.
I am sure I never sought this alliance, and you can bear me witness, that I might have had other matches; nay if I were lightly disposed, I could still perhaps have offers, that some, who hold their heads higher, would be glad to accept. But alas! I never had any such wicked thought; all I now desire is, only to enjoy a little quiet, to be free from the persecutions of this unreasonable man, and that he will let me manage my own little fortune to the best advantage; for which I will undertake to pay him a considerable pension every year, much more considerable than what he now gets by his oppressions; for he must needs find himself a loser at last, when he has drained me and my tenants so dry, that we shall not have a penny for him or ourselves. There is one imposition of his I had almost forgot, which I think unsufferable, and will appeal to you or any reasonable person, whether it be so or not. I told you before, that by an old compact we agreed to have the same steward; at which time I consented likewise to regulate my family and estate by the same method with him, which he then showed me written down in form, and I approved of. Now, the turn he thinks fit to give this compact of ours is very extraordinary; for he pretends, that whatever orders he shall think fit to prescribe for the future in his family, he may, if he will, compel mine to observe them without asking my advice, or hearing my reasons. So that I must not make a lease without his consent, or give any directions for the well governing of my family, but what he countermands whenever he pleases. This leaves me at such confusion and uncertainty, that my servants know not when to obey me; and my tenants, although many of them be very well inclined, seem quite at a loss.
But I am too tedious upon this melancholy subject, which however I hope you will forgive, since the happiness of my whole life depends upon it. I desire you will think awhile, and give your best advice what measures I shall take with prudence, justice, courage, and honour, to protect my liberty and fortune against the hardships and severities I be under from that unkind, inconstant man.