had managed the king's treasury thirty years with the utmost fidelity and
economy ; and had the true German honesty, being a plain, sincere, and
unambitious man. Bernstoff, the secretary, was of a different turn.
was avaricious, artful, and designing ; and had got his share in the king's
councils by bribing his women. Robotun was employed in these matters,
and had the sanguine ambition of a Frenchman. He resolved there
should be an English ministry of his choosing ; and, knowing none of
them personally but Townshend, he had not failed to recommend him
to his master, and his master to the king, as the only proper person for
the important post of Secretary of State ; and he entered upon that office
with universal applause, having at that time a very popular character,
which he might possibly have retained for ever if he had not been
entirely governed by his wife and her brother R. Walpole, whom he
immediately advanced to be paymaster, esteemed a post of exceeding
profit, and very necessary for his indebted estate."
And it is indisputable that Lord Townshend, who
thought he was a very great statesman, and who began as
Lady Mary Worthy Montagu. 24!
the patron of Sir Robert Walpole, nevertheless was only
his court-agent the manager on his behalf of the king and
of the king's mistresses.
We need not point out at length, for the passage we
have cited of itself indicates, how well suited this sort of
politics is to the comprehension and to the pen of a keen-
sighted and witty woman.
Nor was the court the principal improver of the London
society of the age. The House of Commons was then a
part of society. This separate, isolated, aristocratic world,
of which we have spoken, had an almost undisputed com-
mand of both Houses in the Legislature. The letter of
the constitution did not give it them, and no law appointed
that it should be so. But the aristocratic class were by far
the most educated, by far the most respected, by far the
most eligible part of the nation. Even in the boroughs,
where there was universal suffrage, or something near it,
they were the favourites. Accordingly, they gave the tone
to the House of Commons ; they required the small com-
munity of members who did not belong to their order to
conform as far as they could to their usages, and to guide
themselves by their code of morality and of taste. In the
main the House of Commons obeyed these injunctions, and
it was repaid by being incorporated within the aristocratic
world : it became not only the council of the nation, but
the debating-club of fashion. That which was "received"
modified the recipient. The remains of the aristocratic
society, wherever we find them, are penetrated not only
with an aristocratic but with a political spirit. They
breathe a sort of atmosphere of politics. In the London
of the present day, the vast miscellaneous bourgeois London,
we all know that this is not so. " In the country," said a
splenetic observer, "people talk politics; at London dinners
you talk nothing ; between two pillars of crinoline you eat
VOL. ii. 16
242 Literary Studies.
and are resigned." A hundred and fifty years ago, as far
as our rather ample materials inform us, people in London
talked politics just as they now talk politics in Worcester-
shire ; and being on the spot, and cooped up with politi-
cians in a small social world, their talk was commonly
better. They knew the people of whom they spoke, even
if they did not know the subjects with which they were
No element is better fitted to counteract the characteristic
evil of an aristocratic society. The defect of such societies
in all times has been frivolity. All talk has tended to be-
come gossip ; it has ceased to deal with important subjects,
and has devoted itself entirely to unimportant incidents.
Whether the Due de - has more or less prevailed with
the Marquise de is a sort of common form into which
any details may be fitted, and any names inserted. The
frivolities of gallantry never very important save to some
woman who has long been dead fill the records of all
aristocracies who lived under a despotism, who had no
political authority, no daily political cares. The aristocracy
of England in the last century was, at any rate, exempt from
this reproach. There is in the records of it not only an
intellectuality, which would prove little for every clever
describer, by the subtleties of his language and the arrange-
ment of his composition, gives a sort of intellectuality even
to matters which have no pretension to it themselves but
likewise a pervading medium of political discussion. The
very language in which they are written is the language of
political business. Horace Walpole was certainly by nature
no politician and no orator; yet no discerning critic can read
a page of his voluminous remains without feeling that the
writer has through life lived with politicians and talked with
politicians. A keen observant mind, not naturally political,
but capable of comprehending and viewing any subject which
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 243
was brought before it, has chanced to have this particular
subject politics presented to it for a lifetime ; and all its
delineations, all its efforts, all its thoughts, reflect it, and
are coloured by it. In all the records of the eighteenth
century the tonic of business is seen to combat the relaxing
effect of habitual luxury.
This element, too, is favourable to a clever woman. The
more you can put before such a person the greater she will
be ; the less her world, the less she is. If you place the
most keen-sighted lady in the midst of the pure futilities and
unmitigated flirtations of an aristocracy, she will sink to the
level of those elements, and will scarcely seem to wish for
anything more, or to be competent for anything higher.
But if she is placed in an intellectual atmosphere, in which
political or other important subjects are currently passing,
you will probably find that she can talk better upon them
than you can, without your being able to explain whence
she derived either her information or her talent.
The subjects, too, which were discussed in the political
society of the last age were not so inscrutable to women as
our present subjects ; and even when there were great diffi-
culties they were more on a level with men in the discussion
of them than they now are. It was no disgrace to be desti-
tute of preliminary information at a time in which there
were no accumulated stores from which such information
could be derived. A lightening element of female influence
is therefore to be found through much of the politics of the
Lady Mary entered easily into all this world, both social
and political. She had beauty for the fashionable, satire for
the witty, knowledge for the learned, and intelligence for the
politician. She was not too refined to shrink from what we
now consider the coarseness of that time. Many of her
verses themselves are scarcely adapted for our decorous
244 Literary Studies.
pages. Perhaps the following give no unfair idea of her
ordinary state of mind :
"ROXANA; OR, THE DRAWING-ROOM.
' Roxana, from the court retiring late,
Sigh'd her soft sorrows at St. James's Gate.
Such heavy thoughts lay brooding in her breast,
Not her own chairmen with more weight oppress'd ;
They groan the cruel load they're doom'd to bear ;
She in these gentle sounds express'd her care.
" ' Was it for this that I these roses wear ?
For this new-set the jewels for my hair ?
Ah ! Princess ! with what zeal have I pursued !
Almost forgot the duty of a prude.
Thinking I never could attend too soon,
I've miss'd my prayers, to get me dress'd by noon.
For thee, ah ! what for thee did I resign !
My pleasures, passions, all that e'er was mine.
I sacrific'd both modesty and ease,
Left operas and went to filthy plays ;
Double-entendres shock my tender ear ;
Yet even this for thee I choose to bear.
In glowing youth, when nature bids be gay,
And every joy of life before me lay,
By honour prompted, and by pride restrain'd,
The pleasures of the young my soul disdain'd :
Sermons I sought, and with a mien severe
Censur'd my neighbours, and said daily prayer.
" ' Alas ! how chang'd with the same sermon-mien
That once I pray'd, the " What d'ye call't " J I've seen.
Ah ! cruel Princess, for thy sake I've lost
That reputation which so dear had cost :
I, who avoided every public place,
When bloom and beauty bade me show my face,
Now near thee constant every night abide
With never-failing duty by thy side ;
1 A mock-tragedy by Gay.
Lady Mary Worthy Montagu. 245
Myself and daughters standing on a row,
To all the foreigners a goodly show !
Oft had your drawing-room been sadly thin,
And merchants' wives close by the chair been seen,
Had not I amply rilled the empty space,
And saved your highness from the dire disgrace.
" 'Yet Coquetilla's artifice prevails,
When all my merit and my duty fails ;
That Coquetilla, whose deluding airs
Corrupt our virgins, still our youth ensnares ;
So sunk her character, so lost her fame,
Scarce visited before your highness came :
Yet for the bed-chamber 'tis her you choose,
When zeal and fame and virtue you refuse.
Ah ! worthy choice ! not one of all your train
Whom censure blasts not, and dishonours stain 1
Let the nice hind now suckle dirty pigs,
And the proud pea-hen hatch the cuckoo's eggs !
Let Iris leave her paint and own her age,
And grave Suffolk a wed a giddy page !
A greater miracle is daily view'd,
A virtuous Princess with a court so lewd.
" ' I know thee, Court ! with all thy treach'rous wiles,
Thy false caresses and undoing smiles !
Ah ! Princess, learn'd in all the courtly arts,
To cheat our hopes, and yet to gain our hearts !
" ' Large lovely bribes are the great statesman's aim ;
And the neglected patriot follows fame.
The Prince is ogled ; some the King pursue ;
But your Roxana only follows you.
Despis'd Roxana, cease, and try to find
Some other, since the Princess proves unkind :
Perhaps it is not hard to find at court,
If not a greater, a more firm support.' "
There was every kind of rumour as to Lady Mary's own
conduct, and we have no means of saying whether any of
these rumours were true. There is no evidence against her
which is worthy of the name. So far as can be proved, she
was simply a gay, witty, bold-spoken, handsome woman,
246 Literary Studies.
who made many enemies by unscrupulous speech, and many
friends by unscrupulous flirtation. We may believe, but we
cannot prove, that she found her husband tedious, and was
dissatisfied that his slow, methodical, borne mind made so
little progress in the political world, and understood so little
of what really passed there. Unquestionably she must have
much preferred talking to Lord Hervey to talking with Mr.
Montagu. But we must not credit the idle scandals of a
hundred years since, because they may have been true, or
because they appear not inconsistent with the characters
of those to whom they relate. There were legends against
every attractive and fashionable woman in that age, and
most of the legends were doubtless exaggerations and in-
ventions. We cannot know the truth of such matters now,
and it would hardly be worth searching into if we could ;
but the important fact is certain, Lady Mary lived in a
world in which the worst rumours were greedily told,
and often believed, about her and others ; and the moral
refinement of a woman must always be impaired by such
Lady Mary was so unfortunate as to incur the partial
dislike of one of the great recorders of that age, and the
bitter hostility of the other. She was no favourite with
Horace Walpole, and the bitter enemy of Pope. The first
is easily explicable. Horace Walpole never loved his father,
but recompensed himself by hating his father's enemies.
No one connected with the opposition to Sir Robert is
spared by his son, if there be a fair opportunity for unfavour-
able insinuation. Mr. Wortley Montagu was the very
man for a grave mistake. He made the very worst that
could be made in that age. He joined the party of con-
stitutional exiles on the Opposition bench, who had no real
objection to the policy of Sir Robert Walpole ; who, when
they had a ghance, adopted that policy themselves ; who
Lady Mary Worthy Montagu. 247
were discontented because they had no power, and he had
all the power. Probably too, being a man eminently re-
spectable, Mr. Montagu was frightened at Sir Robert's
unscrupulous talk and not very scrupulous actions. At any
rate, he opposed Sir Robert ; and thence many a little
observation of Horace Walpole's against Lady Mary.
Why Pope and Lady Mary quarrelled is a question on
which much discussion has been expended, and on which a
judicious German professor might even now compose an
interesting and exhaustive , monograph. A curt English
critic will be more apt to ask, " Why they should not have
quarrelled ? " We know that Pope quarrelled with almost
every one ; we know that Lady Mary quarrelled or half
quarrelled with most of her acquaintances. Why, then,
should they not have quarrelled with one another ?
It is certain that they were very intimate at one time ;
for Pope wrote to her some of the most pompous letters of
compliment in the language. And the more intimate they
were to begin with, the more sure they were to be enemies
in the end. Human nature will not endure that sort of
proximity. An irritable, vain poet, who always fancies that
people are trying to hurt him, whom no argument could
convince that every one is not perpetually thinking about
him, cannot long be friendly with a witty woman of un-
scrupulous tongue, who spares no one, who could sacrifice a
good friend for a bad bon-mot, who thinks of the person
whom she is addressing, not of those about whom she is
speaking. The natural relation of the two is that of victim
and torturer, and no other will long continue. There appear
also to have been some money matters (of all things in the
world) between the two. Lady Mary was intrusted by Pope
with some money to use in speculation during the highly
fashionable panic which derives its name from the South-
Sea Bubble, and a,s of course it was lost, Pope was very
248 Literary Studies.
angry. Another story goes, that Pope made serious love
to Lady Mary, and that she laughed at him ; upon which a
very personal, and not always very correct, controversy has
arisen as to the probability or improbability of Pope's ex-
citing a lady's feelings. Lord Byron took part in it with
his usual acuteness and incisiveness, and did not leave the
discussion more decent than he found it. Pope doubtless
was deformed, and had not the large red health that un<-
civilised women admire; yet a clever lady might have taken
a fancy to him, for the little creature knew what he was
saying. There is, however, no evidence that Lady Mary
did so. We only know that there was a sudden coolness or
quarrel between them, and that it was the beginning of a
long and bitter hatred.
In their own times Pope's sensitive disposition probably
gave Lady Mary a great advantage. Her tongue perhaps
gave him more pain than his pen gave her. But in later
times she has fared the worst. What between Pope's
sarcasms and Horace Walpole's anecdotes, Lady Mary's
reputation has suffered very considerably. As we have
said, her offences are non proven; there is no evidence to
convict her; but she is likely to be condemned upon the
general doctrine that a person who is accused of much is
probably guilty of something.
During many years Lady Mary continued to live a dis-
tinguished fashionable and social life, with a single remark-
able break. This interval was her journey to Constantinople.
The powers that then were, thought fit to send Mr. Wortley
as ambassador to Constantinople, and his wife accompanied
him. During that visit she kept a journal, and wrote sundry
real letters, out of which, after her return, she composed a
series of unreal letters as to all she saw and did in Turkey,
and on the journey there and back, which were published,
and which are still amusing, if not alwavs select, reading.
Lady Mary Worthy Montagu. 249
The Sultan was not then the " dying man " ; he was the
"Grand Turk". He was not simply a potentate to be
counted with, but a power to be feared. The appearance of
a Turkish army on the Danube had in that age much the
same effect as the appearance of a Russian army now. It
was an object of terror and dread. A mission at Constan-
tinople was not then a bureau for interference in Turkey,
but a serious office for transacting business with a great
European power. A European ambassador at Constanti-
nople now presses on the Government there impracticable
reforms; he then asked for useful aid. Lady Mary was
evidently impressed by the power of the country in which
she sojourned ; and we observe in her letters evident traces
of the notion that the Turk was the dread of Christendom,
which is singular now, when the Turk is its protege.
Lady Mary had another advantage too. Many sorts of
books make steady progress ; a scientific treatise published
now is sure to be fuller and better than one on the same
subject written long ago. But with books of travel in a
stationary country the presumption is the contrary. In that
case the old book is probably the better book. The first
traveller writes out a plain, straightforward description of
the most striking objects with which he meets ; he believes
that his readers know nothing of the country of which he is
writing, for till he visited it he probably knew nothing him-
self; and, if he is sensible, he describes simply and clearly
all which most impresses him. He has no motive for not
dwelling upon the principal things, and most likely will do
so, as they are probably the most conspicuous. The
second traveller is not so fortunate. He is always in
terror of the traveller who went before. He fears the criti-
cism, " This is all very well, but we knew the whole of it
before. No. i said that at page 103." In consequence he
js timid, He picks and skips. He fancies that you are
250 Literary Studies.
acquainted with all which is great and important, and he
dwells, for your good and to your pain, upon that which is
small and unimportant. For ordinary readers no result can
be more fatal. They perhaps never read they certainly do
not remember anything upon the subject. The curious
minutiae, so elaborately set forth, are quite useless, for they
have not the general framework in which to store them.
Not knowing much of the first traveller's work, that of the
second is a supplement to a treatise with which they are
unacquainted. In consequence they do not read it. Lady
Mary made good use of her position in the front of the herd
of tourists. She told us what she saw in Turkey all the
best of what she saw, and all the most remarkable things
and told it very well.
Nor was this work the only fruit of her Turkish travels ;
she brought home the notion of inoculation. Like most
improvers, she was roughly spoken to. Medical men were
angry because the practice was not in their books, and con-
servative men were cross at the agony of a new idea. Re-
ligious people considered it wicked to have a disease which
Providence did not think fit to send you ; and simple people
"did not like to make themselves ill of their own accord".
She triumphed, however, over all obstacles; inoculation,
being really found to lengthen life and save complexions,
before long became general.
One of the first patients upon whom Lady Mary tried the
novelty was her own son, and many considerate people
thought it " worthy of observation " that he turned out a
scamp. When he ran away from school, the mark of in-
oculation, then rare, was used to describe him, and after he
was recovered, he never did anything which was good.
His case seems to have been the common one in which
Nature (as we speak) requites herself for the strongheaded-
ness of several generations by the weakness of one, Hjs,
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. 251
father's and his mother's family had been rather able for
some generations ; the latter remarkably so. But this boy
had always a sort of practical imbecility. He was not
stupid, but he never did anything right. He exemplified
another curious trait of Nature's practice. Mr. Montagu
was obstinate, though sensible ; Lady Mary was flighty,
though clever. Nature combined the defects. Young
Edward Montagu was both obstinate and flighty. The
only pleasure he can ever have given his parents was the
pleasure of feeling their own wisdom. He showed that they
were right before marriage in not settling the paternal
property upon him, for he ran through every shilling he
possessed. He was not sensible enough to keep his property,
and just not fool enough for the law to take it from him.
After her return from Constantinople, Lady Mary con-
tinued to lead the same half-gay and half-literary life as
before ; but at last she did not like it. Various ingenious
inquirers into antiquated minutice have endeavoured, without
success, to discover reasons of detail which might explain
her dissatisfaction. They have suggested that some irregular
love-affair was unprosperous, and hinted that she and her
husband were not on good terms. The love-affair, how-
ever, when looked for, cannot be found ; and though she
and her husband would appear to have been but distantly
related, they never had any great quarrel which we know of.
Neither seems to have been fitted to give the other much
pleasure, and each had the fault of which the other was
most impatient. Before marriage Lady Mary had charmed
Mr. Montagu, but she had also frightened him ; after
marriage she frightened, but did not charm him. He was
formal and composed ; she was flighty and vutree. " What
will she do next ? " was doubtless the poor man's daily
feeling; and "Will he ever do anything?" was probably
also hers, Torpid business, which is always going on, but
252 Literary Studies.
which never seems to come to anything, is simply aggravat-
ing to a clever woman. Even the least impatient lady can
hardly endure a perpetual process for which there is little
visible and nothing theatrical to show ; and Lady Mary was
by no means the least impatient. But there was no abrupt
quarrel between the two ; and a husband and wife who have
lived together more than twenty years can generally manage
to continue to live together during a second twenty years.
These reasons of detail are scarcely the reasons for Lady
Mary's wishing to break away from the life to which she
had so long been used. Yet there was clearly some
reason, for Lady Mary went abroad, and stayed there during
We believe that the cause was not special and peculiar
to the case, but general, and due to the invariable principles
of human nature, at all times and everywhere. If historical
experience proves anything, it proves that the earth is not
adapted for a life of mere intellectual pleasure. The life of
a brute on earth, though bad, is possible. It is not even
difficult to many persons to destroy the higher part of their
nature by a continual excess in sensual pleasure. It is even
more easy and possible to dull all the soul and most of the
mind by a vapid accumulation of torpid comfort. Many of
the middle classes spend their whole lives in a constant
series of petty pleasures, and an undeviating pursuit of
small material objects. The gross pursuit of pleasure, and
the tiresome pursuit of petty comfort, are quite suitable to
such " a being as man in such a world as the present one ".
What is not possible is, to combine the pursuit of pleasure and
the enjoyment of comfort with the characteristic pleasures
of a strong mind. If you wish for luxury, you must
not nourish the inquisitive instinct. The great problems of
human life are in the air ; they are without us in the life
we see, within us in the life we feel, A quick intellect
Lady Mary Worthy Montagti. 253
feels them in a moment. It says, " Why am I here ?
What is pleasure, that I desire it ? What is comfort, that
I seek it ? What are carpets and tables ? What is the lust
of the eye ? What is the pride of life, that they should
satisfy me ? I was not made for such things. I hate them,
because I have liked them ; I loathe them, because it
seems that there is nothing else for me." An impatient
woman's intellect comes to this point in a moment ; it says,
" Society is good, but I have seen society. What is the use
of talking, or hearing bon-mots ? I have done both till I am