Mary Wortley Montagu.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; select passages from her letters online

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With Nine Portraits
after SiR Godfrey Kneller and other Artists



743-745 BROADWAY

O O S b





, II, EARLY LIFE AND MARRIAtlE - - - - "34


^IV. LIFE IN ENGLAND ...... 105





IX. LAST YEARS AND DEATH . . . . , 261



Lady Mvrv Wortley Montagu, after Sir G. Ivneller Frontisf^iece

Edward Wortley Montagu, after Sir G. Kneller - - - 50
The Princess Caroline, after Sir G. Kneller -•■-']%

Alexander Pope, after Sir G. Kneller 106

William CoNGREVE, a//6'r Sir G. Kneller - - ■ - - 114
Edward Wortley Montagu, Junior, after \V. Peters, R.A, - 162
Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, after Sir G. Kneller - - 204

Dean Swift, after C. Jervas 214

Samuel Richardson, ^/'(?;- J. Highmore 220

* f' The portraits of Lady Mary and her husband are engraved^ by kind
■fiermission, from pictures in the possession of the Marquis of Bute and the
/• art of Wharnclife.






Introduction — Lady Mary's Birth and Family — Early Days — The
Kit-Cat Club — Courtship and Marriage — The Embassy to Con-
stantinople — Turkish Letters — Life in England —Family Troubles
— Rdmond and Lady Mar— Quarrel with Pope — Lady Mary goes
Abroad — Travels in Italy and Savoy — Stay at Avignon — Journey
to Italy — Count Palazzo — Settlement at Lovere — Life at Venice
— Return to England — Last Days and Death — Editions of her
Letters — Character discussed — Style.

" The last pleasure that came in my way was Madame
Sevigne's letters," wrote Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
to her . sister ; ''very pretty they are, but I assert,
without the least vanity, that mine will be full as
entertaining forty years hence." '' In most of them,"
said Horace Walpole, fresh from reading a bundle of
Lady Mary's letters, " the wit and style are superior
to any letters I ever read but Madame Sevigne's."
It is curious that the somewhat flattering opinion
expressed by the writer of the letters herself should
have been so nearly endorsed by one who was her


2 Introdtictory Sketch

enemy by hereditary and personal feeling, and never
alludes to her without a sneer; but Horace Walpole
knew the craft of letter-writing, and *' in spite of spite "
could recognise the merit of another in his own
favourite art.

These letters, then, as to whose merit author and
author's enemy alike agree, need no apology for their
presentment in the form of a selection. Neither they
nor their writer, indeed, have been neglected. There
have been plenty of editions of Lady Mary's works,
and her name at once awakens a crowd of varied
associations. She is remembered as the first English-
woman who sent back accounts of the miysterious and
magnificent East ; as the friend and then the enemy
of Pope ; as the courageous introducer of inocula-
tion ; as the strong-minded, independent, eccentric
traveller. Alike to friends and enemies, she has ever
stood out as a strong, original figure — a personality
among so many who are only names to us now, and
were little more in their own time.

But though, for all who have the time and the taste,
there is no pleasure greater than consulting the mass
of the original letters, yet there are many who might
be repelled by the bulk of the matter, by the super-
fluity of contemporary gossip, much of which must
be a tedious riddle to a modern reader, or even by
the occasional bluntness of thought and coarseness
of expression which Lady Mary shared with nearly all
the writers of her time. For such readers, then, I
have tried to select some of the more entertaining:

Introductory Sketch 3

passages from the letters, stringing them together
with a thread of explanation where necessary.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu belonged to the great
Whig aristocracy that ruled England for half the
eighteenth century. Her father was Evelyn Pierre-
pont, the youngest of three brothers who successively
became Earls of Kingston. Evelyn was so called
from the maiden name of his mother, a cousin of the
famous John Evelyn. He married Mary Fielding,
daughter of that Earl of Denbigh from one of whose
brothers Fielding the novelist was descended. Lady
Mary was born in 1689, and her baptism was registered
on May 20 of that year. She was the eldest child, the
others being Frances (afterwards Countess of Mar),
Evelyn (afterwards Lady Gower), and one son,
William. In i6go Evelyn Pierrepont became Earl
of Kingston, and in 1692 his wife died. He did not
marry again till 1714, when all his children were
settled in life. He was busily engaged in public
affairs, and met with his reward from the victorious
Whigs, being made Marquis of Dorchester in 1706
(a title already granted by Charles I. to one of his
family), and Duke of Kingston in 1715. His only
son, William, died in 1713, leaving a son who succeeded
to the dukedom in 1726, and whose after-life was made
notorious by being linked with that of the famous Eliza-
beth Chudleigh, who was tried by the Peers for bigamy.

This early loss of her mother must have had
considerable influence on Lady Mary's life. Her
father, a public man and a man of pleasure, seems to

I — 2

4 Introd^utory Sketch

have taken but little heed of his children's education.
Lady Mary was left to grow up much at her ow^n will,
being given in charge to a pious old person who had
been nurse to her mother, and who, if we may trust
her pupil's later account, taught her little but to read
and write, besides filling her head with superstitious
stories, w^hich found poor welcome there ; for no one
could be more destitute of illusions than Lady Mary.
One pleasurable recollection she had of Lord Kingston's
fondness, which I will leave her grand-daughter. Lady
Louisa Stuart, to tell. "A trifling incident, which
Lady Mary loved to recall, will prove how much she
w^as the object of Lord Kingston's pride and fondness
in her childhood. As a leader of the fashionable world,
and a strenuous Whig in party, he of course belonged
to the Kit-Kat Club. One day, at a meeting to choose
toasts for the year, a whim seized him to nominate
her, then not eight years old, a candidate ; alleging
that she was far prettier than any lady on their list.
The other members demurred, because the rules of the
club forbade them to elect a beauty whom they had
never seen. * Then you shall see her,' cried he ; and
in the gaiety of the moment sent orders home to have
her finely dressed and brought to him at the tavern,
where she was received with acclamations, her claim
unanimously allowed, her health drunk by everyone
present, and her name engraved in due form upon a
drinking-glass. The company consisting of some of
the most eminent men of England, she went from the
lap of one poet, or patriot, or statesman, to the arms of

Introductory Sketch 5

another, was feasted with sweetmeats, overwhelmed
with caresses, and, what perhaps already pleased her
better than either, heard her wit and beauty loudly
extolled on every side. Pleasure, she said, was too
poor a word to express her sensations ; they amounted
to ecstasy : never again, throughout her whole future
life, did she pass so happy a day. Nor, indeed, could
she ; for the love of admiration, which this scene was
calculated to excite or increase, could never again be
so fully gratified ; there is always some allaying ingre-
dient in the cup, some drawback upon the triumphs of
grown people. Her father carried on the frolic, and,
we may conclude, confirmed the taste, by having her
picture painted for the club-room, that she might be
enrolled a regular toast."

Still, this single instance of fondness did not blind
Lady Mary's eyes in after-years to the neglect with
which she had been treated in childhood ; and when
her father died, in 1726, we find her writing with
almost brutal directness to her sister, ^^ Au hout du
compte, I don't know why filial piety should exceed
fatherly fondness. So much by way of consolation."

Lady Mary's precocity, however marked, did not (as
her first biographer erroneously stated) induce her
father to give her a course of classical study with her
brother ; and her early education, as she herself said,
was *'one of the worst in the world." But she had
the run of her father^s library, and there browsed
in the pastures of French romance, Englished by
" persons of quality," the Astree and the whole baggage

6 Introductory Sketch

of the Scuderys and their school. As she grew up,
she extended the range of her reading ; and it was on
the common ground of learning that she first met — by
her own account, when she was only fourteen — the
man who was to be her husband.

Edward Wortley Montagu, or Edward Wortley as
he was more often styled in the earlier part of his life,
was the son of the Hon. Sidney Wortley Montagu,
second son of Admiral Montagu, first Earl of Sand-
wich, well known in the Dutch wars of Charles II.
Sidney Montagu took the name of Wortley on marrying
the heiress of Sir Francis Wortley. One of Lady Mary
Pierrepont's closest friends in girlhood was Anne
Wortley, Edward's favourite sister ; and whether
through her, or in some other way, the two were soon
acquainted. If, as Lady Mary stated, she was only
fourteen then, he must have been ten or eleven years
older than herself; but he was at once struck by her
intelligence and wit. Himself a scholar and a man of
literary tastes, the friend of Addison and Steele, he
directed her studies, and encouraged her to persevere
in teaching herself Latin ; and some help she also
derived from the celebrated Bishop Burnet, to whom
she dedicated a translation (through the Latin) of the
*■' Enchiridion " of Epictetus. With Anne Wortley,
Lady Mary corresponded ; and, as Anne's letters were
often written really by her brother — a fact of which the
recipient of them could hardly have been ignorant —
these letters formed a sort of indirect correspondence
between Edward Wortley and Lady Mary. After a

Introductory Sketch 7

time hints of courtship appeared in the letters, and on
Anne Wortley's death, in 1709, the correspondence
was continued directly between Edward and his
sister's friend. A number of her letters, and one of
his, have been printed ; they form a curious piece of
love-making between two clear-headed, intellectual, un-
romantic lovers, who yet could not refrain from loving
each other. The bulk of the love-letters given might
be said to consist in enumerations of the excellent
reasons existing for putting an end to the attachment.

At last Edward Wortley formally asked the Marquis
of Dorchester for the hand of his eldest daughter ; but
although in birth, fortune and tastes the two were
well matched, the Marquis insisted on a settlement
being made in favour of the children of the marriage.
This Mr. Wortley flatly refused to do. He objected
on principle to settling a large amount on a son who
might turn out a fool or a villain ; and in fact he had
furnished the materials and the plan from which the
essay in the Tailev, attacking settlements, was written :
he had also, at all times, a strong sense of the value of
money, and thought a dowry too dearly purchased if
he must put a considerable part of his estate out of
his own control. Thereupon the Marquis broke off
the negotiation ; but the lovers continued their corre-
spondence, and, by the help of good - natured Sir
Richard Steele and other friends, they sometimes met.
At last Lord Dorchester brought matters to a crisis
by ordering his daughter to accept the addresses of
a certain '' Mr. K.," as her letters call him, who had

8 Introdiictory Sketch

estates in Ireland, and liberal views as to settlements.
Edward Wortley still refused to consent to a settle-
ment and outbid his rival, and Lady Mary approved
of his firmness ; so the only way for her to escape the
unwelcome suitor was to run away with the man of
her choice. After some difficulties, the lovers eloped
in 1712 — probably August — and were married.

For some time, though never in financial straits, the
two lived very quietly in the country, either in York-
shire (but not at Wharncliffe Lodge, which had as
many as it could hold already, and was described by
Horace Walpole as '* a wretched hovel"), at Hinchin-
broke, Lord Sandwich's residence, or at Huntingdon, a
town which the Wortley Montagu family long repre-
sented in Parliament. In 1713 their son Edward was
born. By Lady Mary's letters he seems to have been
very weakly at first, and caused her much anxiety. In
1714 the death of Queen Anne plunged the country into
a frenzy of political excitement. What with the fears
of a Jacobite rising, the hopes of favour with the new
King, the sudden overthrow of the Tory Administration,
there was enough to think of Edward Wortley as a
Whig, and a relation of Lord Halifax, was in the way
of advancement, and his wife's letters to him at this
time are full of a feverish eagerness to have him chosen
for Parliament, so that he might be borne on to fortune
on the crest of the party wave. It was not till 1715
that he was elected for Westminster ; but he did not
lack promotion, for he was made a Commissioner of
the Treasury; and his wife, coming up with him to the

Introdtictory Sketch 9

Court of George I., and becoming a brilliant figure
among its ladies, had material for writing an amusing
and rather caustic sketch of the chief actors in the
rather unlovely comedy of the Hanoverian Court.

In 1716 Edward Wortley was named as Ambassador
to Turkey and Consul-General of the Levant — a post
always of high eminence, and now of especial import-
ance, as England was trying to mediate a peace
between the Porte and the Emperor Charles VI.
Accordingly, Mr. Wortley, with his wife and child,
travelled to Vienna, then — a hitch occurring in the
negotiations — went to Hanover, where George I.
was, and returned to Vienna, but after winter had
set in. Previous British Ambassadors had either
gone by sea, or down the Danube by boat from
Vienna ; and many friends urged Lady Mary to stay
at Vienna rather than venture in the middle of winter
through a desolate country and across the seat of war.
However, the mission was urgent, and Lady Mary
chose to accompany her husband. They arrived
without mishap at Belgrade, then in Turkish hands,
and thence went on by Nish and Sofia to Adrianople,
where they stayed some time and then journeyed to
Constantinople. Here, or near here, they stayed
about a year ; here, in 1718, their second child, Mary,
afterwards Countess of Bute, was born ; and here
Lady Mary devoted herself to learning all she could of
Oriental ways and languages. Among other researches,
she inquired into the method of inoculation practised-
by the Turks. It is impossible for those who have

lo Introductory Sketch

grown up in an age of vaccination and sanitary im-
provement to realize the part played by the small-pox
in the history of the eighteenth century, and the dread
felt, especially among the highest society, lest the
inevitable disease should take away life, or, what was
even worse, destroy beauty. One of Lady Mary's
Town Eclogues, describing the sorrows of the hapless
and disfigured Flavia, was said to have reflected her
own feelings while recovering from small-pox about
1715, though she escaped with the comparatively
slight sacrifice of her eyelashes. She had her own
children ''engrafted," as she calls it, with satisfactory
results. And besides all these varied interests, she
found time to write many letters, corresponding with
her two sisters, both now married, with Caroline,
Princess of Wales, the poets Congreve and Pope, and
several other friends. Pope, indeed, made her the
object of one of those curious epistolary and merely
literary courtships in which his soul delighted ; and
though she did not reply in kind to his hyperbolical
adoration, neither she nor her husband was offended
by them.

The Embassy, however, was a failure. The Emperor,
for whom Prince Eugene had won victory after victory,
was too exacting; the Turks, who had wrested the
Morea from Venice, were too stubborn ; and probably
Edward Wortley himself was not cut out for a success-
ful diplomatist. In one of the very few despatches of
his preserved at the Record Office, he prides himself
on telling the Turks " plain truths," a method not apt

Tntrodticto7y Sketch 1 1

to soothe wounded susceptibilities. In 1718, his friend
Addison, now Secretary of State, intimated to him his
recall, softening it by the prospect of a lucrative office ;
and embarking on the Preston man-of-war, he and his
family sailed to Genoa, touching at Tunis on the way.
Mr. Wortley's successors in the negotiation, abler or
more fortunate, succeeded in making the Peace of
Passarowitz. No monument of his own Embassy
remained but his wife's letters, and even these, as we
have them, do not represent her real correspondence.
Mr. Moy Thomas, her latest and best editor, in his
researches in the Wortley papers, came upon a list of
her letters written during part of the period of the
Embassy, with notes of their contents. The published
letters correspond only very imperfectly to this precis,
and only two are indexed as " copied at length." It
is, therefore, likely that such of the letters actually
written as had been copied were reproduced by Lady
Mary with some alteration, and that the rest were
reconstructed from the diary in which she was ac-
customed to note the events and thoughts of every
day, and from which she doubtless had drawn freely
for the original correspondence. Thus these letters
are not the real correspondence, but a more or less
"doctored" reconstruction of it; and it is curious in
this connection to see how Horace Walpole, himself an
eminent letter-writer, passed over these letters with
faint praise or positive contempt, either as ''not un-
interesting," or as containing " no merit of any sort,"
while he gave high praise to the letters to Lady Mar,

I 2 Intro due toi'y Sketch

which he saw as they were originally penned. The
''Turkish Letters," though not published till after the
death of the writet, were evidently prepared for
publication, and seem to have been handed round in
MS. among a few friends in 1724 or 1725. They bear
prefaces of these dates by one " M. A.," said to be
Maiy Astell, a friend of Lady Mary's, and an early
enthusiast for the rights of women.

On her return to England Lady Mary again mingled
in society, and was one of the acknowledged beauties
and wits of the time. She had many friends, and made
not a few enemies. In that brilliant and frivolous
society, where everyone dabbled in literature and could
turn a couplet, every social event or scandal was
greeted by a witticism, a satire, or a ballad. Of these,
Lady Mary (whose poetical faculty, though hardly high,
was above that of other ladies of the time) was respon-
sible for some, and had many more attributed to her.
Among her friends were, at first. Pope himself, and
some of Pope's future enemies, Philip, Duke of Wharton,
Pope's '' Clodio," and John, Lord Hervey, known as
the author of the *' Memoirs of the Reign of George II.,"
and better known as '' Lord Fanny " and " Sporus."

The friendship with Pope, always more or less of a
literary make-believe, did not long survive Lady Mary's
return. P^or a time, indeed, he continued his adora-
tion ; partly at Pope's request, she sat ta Kneller for a
portrait, and some of the sittings took place at Pope's
house at Twickenham — though the portrait, it is hardly
necessary to state, was executed for Mr. Wortley and

Introductory Sketch 13

paid for by him. Pope, also, was the agent between
the Wortleys and Sir Godfrey Kneller for the letting
of a house of Kneller's to his friends ; and he gave Lady
Mary advice as to the South Sea stock-jobbing, in which
she unluckily dabbled. But after a time the friendship
cooled, and the correspondence died out. Although
Lady Mary and her husband came to live at Twicken-
ham, she apparently saw less and less of the poet, and
she remarks, in a letter, that she never visited his famous
grotto. What was the real cause of the final quarrel
between them — a quarrel not creditable to Lady Mary,
and very discreditable to Pope — it seems impossible to
determine. Perhaps there was no one special cause
for it. It seems hardly likely that (as Lady Louisa
Stuart said) Pope hazarded a passionate, though
doubtless strictly platonic, declaration to Lady Mary,
and was answered only by a fit of laughter that reminded
the sensitive poet too painfully of the contrast between
his high-flown language and his deformed person.
Such an incident might have occurred, if the friendship
between the two had grown closer ; but all the facts as
known point to an opposite conclusion. And, indeed,
it was only to be expected that such a friendship
should have cooled. Pope had now gone over to the
Tories, and the Wortleys were stanch and influential
Whigs. Mr. Moy Thomas thinks that the final quarrel
dates from 1724, when the manuscript volumes of
Lady Mary's letters from the East began to be handed
about among her friends. The last of these letters,
nominally dashed off in haste in an inn at Dover on

1 4 Introdiicfory Sketch

her return, is an answer to I^ope's celebrated epistle on
the Lovers Struck by Lightning, for which he had so
great a fondness as to send it in various forms to a
number of his friends. Lady Mary brings the poet
back to reahty, reducing his high-flown epitaphs to
matter-of-fact doggerel, and his pastoral lovers to two
bumpkins whose death mattered little to any but
themselves. The date affixed to this answer by the
writer is after the day on which the newspapers assure
us she had returned to London ; so that we can hardlv
be wrong in regarding her letter as written aprh coup.
If this were so, and Pope came to know of it, we need
seek no further for a cause of quarrel. The mere
suspicion of a far less wrong on the part of a far closer
friend was enough to make him wTite his famous
character of Atticus. And though he could afford to
despise the coarse and blundering attacks of his
Dunces, he would keenly feel this clever parody of
his loved pastoral.

Other rumours were current, then and afterwards, as
to the cause of the quarrel. Pope's own account of it
was that Lady Mary " had too much wit for him,"
which seems to point to an exercise of that wit at his
expense. But, in fact, some such quarrel was inevit-
able from the first. Pope, sooner or later, quarrelled
with most of his friends ; his sensitive, suspicious and
spiteful nature was never long without a grievance, and
resented the merest shadow of a slight ; while Lady
Mary could seldom resist the temptation of ridiculing
the weaknesses of her friends, and yet displayed a

Introductory Sketch 15

curiously innocent surprise when they resented her
witticisms by any means in their power.

Even before the final breach with Pope, her social
triumphs were often obscured by troubles due to her
own imprudence or her misfortune ; and in all of
these Pope found pegs on which to hang his spiteful
allusions. One of Lady Mary's greatest annoyances
came from a certain French witling and poetaster, one
M. Remond, who had opened a correspondence of the
usual hyperbolical sham love-making with her, and
had persuaded her, against her will, to invest his
available property for him. The money was ventured
once successfully in the South Sea stock ; a second
time most of it went the way of so much more when
the bubble broke. Remond believed, or affected to
believe, that Lady Mary still retained the money, and
claimed the return of the whole, threatening to disclose
the whole transaction to Mr. Wortley, and to print her
letters. Lady Mary, knowing her husband's objection
to speculation and his carefulness in money matters,
dreaded his learning of her imprudence ; she may also
have naturally feared the wit and the scandal of
which she would now be the object. How the matter
ended, we know not ; but probably Remond told Mr.
Wortley, and Lady Mary justified herself to her

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Online LibraryMary Wortley MontaguLady Mary Wortley Montagu; select passages from her letters → online text (page 1 of 20)