The Lady’s New Years Gift, 1688 (Snippets 47)

Rufford Abbey

Rufford Abbey, drawn by Samuel Grimm in 1773. Rufford Abbey was the seat of the Marquis of Halifax.

George Savile, the Marquis of Halifax (1633-1695) was a member of the House of Lords, with a distinguished political career and a few publications under his belt when, in 1688, he departed from his political writings to pen a simple book of advice from a father to a daughter.  The Lady’s New-Years Gift, or Advice to a Daughter was written for his daughter Elizabeth, later Elizabeth Stanhope, Countess of Chesterfield when she married Philip Stanhope, 3rd Earl of Chesterfield in 1692.

The book was clearly written with the best intentions, but the advice on topics such as behaviour, vanity and pride obviously are not very palatable to the modern reader, particularly the usual female inferiority views.  The section on friendships contains some interesting advice about how to deal with a friend whose reputation has been brought into disrepute, and in many ways Halifax presents quite a balance argument.

I have adjusted the spelling to modern English, just to make it a less frustrating reading experience.

If it happens that your friend should fall from the state of innocence after your kindness was engaged to her, you may be slow in your belief in the beginning of the discover; but as soon as you are convinced by a rational evidence, you must, without breaking too roughly, make a fair and quick retreat from such a mistaken acquaintance; else by moving too slowly from one that is so tainted, the contagion may reach you so far as to give you part of the scandal, though not of the guilt.  This matter is so nice, that as you must not be too hasty to join in the censure upon your friend when she is accused, so you are not on the other side to defend her with too much warmth; for if she should happen to deserve the report of common fame, besides the vexation that belongs to such a mistake, you will draw an ill appearance upon yourself, and it will be thought you pleaded for her not without some consideration of yourself.  The anger which must be put on to vindicate the reputation of an injured friend, may incline the company to suspect you would not be so zealous, if there was not a possibility that the case might be your own: for this reason you are not to carry you dearness so far, as absolutely to lose your sight where your friend is concerned: because malice is too quick-sighted, it does not follow, that friendship must be blind: there is to be a mean between those extremes, else your excuse of good nature may betray you into a very ridiculous figure, and by degrees may be preferred to such offices as you will not be proud of.

I will be looking at a new travel journal soon, in the meantime, there will be another ‘snippet’ in a couple of days.  You can keep updated each time I post a new entry by clicking on the follow button on the right of the screen.  I welcome any comments or suggestions, and will consider guest posts.

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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