Montagu, Mary Wortley: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Montagu, Mary Wortley. "Letter to Lady Mar (1 April 1717)." In The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vol. 1, edited by Robert Halsband, pp. 325-30. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.

In the following letter, Montagu writes to Lady Mar about her experiences in Turkey, telling her about the Turkish dress she adopts.

I wish to God (dear Sister) that you was as regular in letting me have the pleasure of knowing what passes on your side of the Globe as I am carefull in endeavouring to amuse you by the Account of all I see that I think you care to hear of. You content your selfe with telling me over and over that the Town is very dull. It may possibly be dull to you when every day does not present you with something new, but for me that am in arrear at least 2 months news, all that seems very stale with you would be fresh and sweet here; pray let me into more particulars. I will try to awaken your Gratitude by giving you a full and true Relation of the Noveltys of this Place, none of which would surprize you more than a sight of my person as I am now in my Turkish Habit, thô I believe you would be of my Opinion that 'tis admirably becoming. I intend to send you my Picture; in the mean time accept of it here.

The first piece of my dresse is a pair of drawers, very full, that reach to my shoes and conceal the legs more modestly than your Petticoats. They are of a thin rose colour damask brocaded with silver flowers, my shoes of white kid Leather embrodier'd with Gold. Over this hangs my Smock of a fine white silk Gause edg'd with Embrodiery. This smock has wide sleeves hanging halfe way down the Arm and is clos'd at the Neck with a diamond button, but the shape and colour of the bosom very well to be distinguish'd through it. The Antery is a wastcoat made close to the shape, of white and Gold Damask, with very long sleeves falling back and fring'd with deep Gold fringe, and should have Diamond or pearl Buttons. My Caftan of the same stuff with my Drawers is a robe exactly fited to my shape and reaching to my feet, with very long strait falling sleeves. Over this is the Girdle of about 4 fingers broad, which all that can afford have entirely of Diamonds or other precious stones. Those that will not be at that expence have it of exquisite Embrodiery on Satin, but it must be fasten'd before with a clasp of Di'monds. The Curdée is a loose Robe they throw off or put on according to the Weather, being of a rich Brocade (mine is green and Gold) either lin'd with Ermine or Sables; the sleeves reach very little below the Shoulders. The Headress is compos'd of a Cap call'd Talpock, which is in winter of fine velvet embrodier'd with pearls or Di'monds and in summer of a light shineing silver stuff. This is fix'd on one side of the Head, hanging a little way down with a Gold Tassel and bound on either with a circle of Di'monds (as I have seen several) or a rich embrodier'd Handkercheif. On the other side of the Head the Hair is laid flat, and here the Ladys are at Liberty to shew their fancys, some putting Flowers, others a plume of Heron's feathers, and, in short, what they please, but the most general fashion is a large Bouquet of Jewels made like natural flowers, that is, the buds of Pearl, the roses of different colour'd Rubys, the Jess'mines of Di'monds, Jonquils of Topazes, etc., so well set and enammell'd tis hard to imagine any thing of that kind so beautifull. The Hair hangs at its full length behind, divided into tresses braided with pearl or riband, which is allways in great Quantity.

I never saw in my Life so many fine heads of hair. I have counted 110 of these tresses of one Lady's, all natural; but it must be own'd that every Beauty is more common here than with us. 'Tis surprizing to see a young Woman that is not very handsome. They have naturally the most beautifull complexions in the World and generally large black Eyes. I can assure you with great Truth that the Court of England (thô I beleive it the fairest in Christendom) cannot shew so many Beautys as are under our Protection here. They generally shape their Eyebrows, and the Greeks and Turks have a custom of putting round their Eyes on the inside a black Tincture that, at a distance or by Candle-light, adds very much to the Blackness of them. I fancy many of our Ladys would be overjoy'd to know this Secret, but tis too visible by day. They dye their Nails rose colour; I own I cannot enough accustom my selfe to this fashion to find any Beauty in it.

As to their Morality or good Conduct, I can say like Arlequin, 'tis just as 'tis with you, and the Turkish Ladys don't commit one Sin the less for not being Christians. Now I am a little acquainted with their ways, I cannot forbear admiring either the exemplary discretion or extreme Stupidity of all the writers that have given accounts of 'em. Tis very easy to see they have more Liberty than we have, no Woman of what rank so ever being permitted to go in the streets without 2 muslins, one that covers her face all but her Eyes and another that hides the whole dress of her head and hangs halfe way down her back; and their Shapes are wholly conceal'd by a thing they call a Ferigée, which no Woman of any sort appears without. This has strait sleeves that reaches to their fingers ends and it laps all round 'em, not unlike a rideing hood. In Winter 'tis of Cloth, and in Summer, plain stuff or silk. You may guess how effectually this disguises them, that there is no distinguishing the great Lady from her Slave, and 'tis impossible for the most jealous Husband to know his Wife when he meets her, and no Man dare either touch or follow a Woman in the Street.

This perpetual Masquerade gives them entire Liberty of following their Inclinations without danger of Discovery. The most usual method of Intrigue is to send an Appointment to the Lover to meet the Lady at a Jew's shop, which are as notoriously convenient as our Indian Houses, and yet even those that don't make that use of 'em do not scrupule to go to buy Pennorths and tumble over rich Goods, which are cheiffly to be found amongst that sort of people. The Great Ladys seldom let their Gallants know who they are, and 'tis so difficult to find it out that they can very seldom guess at her name they have corresponded with above halfe a year together. You may easily imagine the number of faithfull Wives very small in a country where they have nothing to fear from their Lovers' Indiscretion, since we see so many that have the courage to expose them selves to that in this World and all the threaten'd Punishment of the next, which is never preach'd to the Turkish Damsels. Neither have they much to apprehend from the resentment of their Husbands, those Ladys that are rich having all their money in their own hands, which they take with 'em upon a divorce with an addition which he is oblig'd to give 'em. Upon the Whole, I look upon the Turkish Women as the only free people in the Empire. The very Divan pays a respect to 'em, and the Grand Signor himselfe, when a Bassa is executed, never violates the priveleges of the Haram (or Women's apartment) which remains unsearch'd entire to the Widow. They are Queens of their slaves, which the Husband has no permission so much as to look upon, except it be an old Woman or 2 that his Lady chuses. 'Tis true their Law permits them 4 Wives, but there is no Instance of a Man of Quality that makes use of this Liberty, or of a Woman of Rank that would suffer it. When a Husband happens to be inconstant (as those things will happen) he keeps his mistrisse in a House apart and visits her as privately as he can, just as tis with you. Amongst all the great men here I only know the Tefterdar (i.e. Treasurer) that keeps a number of she slaves for his own use (that is, on his own side of the House, for a slave once given to serve a Lady is entirely at her disposal) and he is spoke of as a Libertine, or what we should call a Rake, and his Wife won't see him, thô she continues to live in his house.

Thus you see, dear Sister, the manners of Mankind doe not differ so widely as our voyage Writers would make us beleive. Perhaps it would be more entertaining to add a few surprizing customs of my own Invention, but nothing seems to me so agreable as truth, and I beleive nothing so acceptable to you. I conclude with repeating the great Truth of my being, Dear Sister, etc.


SOURCE: Montagu, Mary Wortley. "Epistle from Mrs. Y[onge] to her Husband." In Essays and Poems, with Simplicity, A Comedy, edited by Robert Halsband and Isobel Grundy, pp. 230-32. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

In the following poem, written in 1724, Montagu adopts the voice of Mary Yonge, an heiress whose acrimonious divorce and financial settlement caused a stir in London society. Mr. Yonge was a well-known adulterer, and Mrs. Yonge separated from him prior to their divorce. During the separation, she also had an affair. Mr. Yonge sued forand won damages from her lover, totaling 1,500 pounds, and in the divorce he was awarded most of Mrs. Yonge's inheritance. Montagu's poem addresses the injustice of Mrs. Yonge's penalties.

Think not this Paper comes with vain pretence
To move your Pity, or to mourn th'offence.
Too well I know that hard Obdurate Heart;
No soft'ning mercy there will take my part,
Nor can a Woman's Arguments prevail,
When even your Patron's wise Example fails,
But this last privelege I still retain,
Th'Oppress'd and Injur'd allways may complain.
Too, too severely Laws of Honour bind
The Weak Submissive Sex of Woman-kind.
If sighs have gain'd or force compell'd our Hand,
Deceiv'd by Art, or urg'd by stern Command,
What ever Motive binds the fatal Tye,
The Judging World expects our Constancy.
Just Heaven! (for sure in Heaven does Justice reign
Thô Tricks below that sacred Name prophane)
To you appealing I submit my Cause
Nor fear a Judgment from Impartial Laws.
All Bargains but conditional are made,
The Purchase void, the Creditor unpaid,
Defrauded Servants are from Service free,
A wounded Slave regains his Liberty.
For Wives ill us'd no remedy remains,
To daily Racks condemn'd, and to eternal Chains.
From whence is this unjust Distinction grown?
Are we not form'd with Passions like your own?
Nature with equal Fire our Souls endu'd,
Our Minds as Haughty, and as warm our blood,
O're the wide World your pleasures you persue,
The Change is justify'd by something new;
But we must sigh in Silence—and be true.
Our Sexes Weakness you expose and blame
(Of every Prattling Fop the common Theme),
Yet from this Weakness you suppose is due
Sublimer Virtu than your Cato knew.
Had Heaven design'd us Tryals so severe,
It would have form'd our Tempers then to bear.
And I have born (o what have I not born!)
The pang of Jealousie, th'Insults of Scorn.
Weary'd at length, I from your sight remove,
And place my Future Hopes, in Secret Love.
In the gay Bloom of glowing Youth retir'd,
I quit the Woman's Joy to be admir'd,
With that small Pension your hard Heart allows,
Renounce your Fortune, and release your Vows.
To Custom (thô unjust) so much is due,
I hide my Frailty, from the Public view.
My Conscience clear, yet sensible of Shame,
My Life I hazard, to preserve my Fame.
And I prefer this low inglorious State,
To vile dependance on the Thing I hate—
—But you persue me to this last retreat.
Dragg'd into Light, my tender Crime is shown
And every Circumstance of Fondness known.
Beneath the Shelter of the Law you stand,
And urge my Ruin with a cruel Hand.
While to my Fault thus rigidly severe,
Tamely Submissive to the Man you fear.
This wretched Out-cast, this abandonn'd Wife,
Has yet this Joy to sweeten shamefull Life,
By your mean Conduct, infamously loose,
You are at once m'Accuser, and Excuse.
Let me be damn'd by the Censorious Prude
(Stupidly Dull, or Spiritually Lewd),
My hapless Case will surely Pity find
From every Just and reasonable Mind,
When to the final Sentence I submit,
The Lips condemn me, but their Souls acquit.
No more my Husband, to your Pleasures go,
The Sweets of your recover'd Freedom know,
Go; Court the brittle Freindship of the Great,
Smile at his Board, or at his Levée wait
And when dismiss'd to Madam's Toilet fly,
More than her Chambermaids, or Glasses, Lye,
Tell her how Young she looks, how heavenly fair,
Admire the Lillys, and the Roses, there,
Your high Ambition may be gratify'd,
Some Cousin of her own be made your Bride,
And you the Father of a Glorious Race
Endow'd with Ch——l's strength and Low——r's face.


SOURCE: Montagu, Mary Wortley. "Number VI (Tuesday, January 24, 1738)." The Nonsense of Common-Sense, 1737-1738, edited by Robert Halsband, pp. 24-28. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University, 1947.

In the following essay, taken from Montagu's anonymous periodical The Nonsense of Common-Sense, Montagu makes a characteristically witty attack on men who lampoon women as weak, irrational, and faithless.

I have always, as I have already declared, professed myself a Friend, tho' I do not aspire to the Character of an Admirer of the Fair Sex; and as such, I am warmed with Indignation at the barbarous Treatment they have received from the Common-Sense of January 14, and the false Advice that he gives them.—He either knows them very little, or like an interested Quack, prescribes such Medicines as are likely to hurt their Constitutions.—It is very plain to me, from the extreme Partiality with which he speaks of Operas, and the Rage with which he attacks both Tragedy and Comedy, that the Author is a Performer in the Opera: And whoever reads his Paper with Attention, will be of my Opinion: Else no Thing alive would assert at the same Time the Innocence of an Entertainment contrived wholly to soften the Mind, and sooth the Sense, without any Pretence to a Moral, and so vehemently declaim against Plays, whose End is, to shew the fatal Consequence of Vice, to warn the Innocent against the Snares of a well-bred designing Dorimant. You see there to what Insults a Woman of Wit, Beauty, and Quality, is exposed, that has been seduced by the artificial Tenderness of a vain, agreeable Gallant; and, I believe, that very Comedy has given more Checks to Ladies in Pursuit of present Pleasures, so closely attended with Shame and Sorrow, than all the Sermons they have ever heard in their Lives.—But this Author does not seem to think it possible to stop their Propensity to Gallantry, by Reason or Reflection: He only desires them to fill up their Time with all Sorts of Trifles: In short, he recommends to them Gossiping, Scandal, Lying, and a whole Troop of Follies, instead of it, as the only Preservatives for their Virtue.

I am for treating them with more Dignity, and as I profess myself a Protector of all the Oppressed, I shall look upon them as my peculiar Care. I expect to be told, this is downright Quixotism, and that I am venturing to engage the strongest Part of Mankind with a Paper Helmet upon my Head. I confess it is an Undertaking where I cannot foresee any considerable Success, and according to an Author I have read somewhere,

The World will still be rul'd by Knaves,
And Fools contending to be Slaves.

But however, I keep up to the Character of a Moralist, and shall use my Endeavours to relieve the Distressed, and defeat vulgar Prejudices, whatever the Event may be. Amongst the most universal Errors, I reckon that of treating the weaker Sex with a Contempt which has a very bad Influence on their Conduct. How many of them think it Excuse enough to say, they are Women, to indulge any Folly that comes into their Heads? This renders them useless Members of the Common-wealth, and only burdensome to their own Families, where the wise Husband thinks he lessens the Opinion of his own Understanding, if he at any Time condescends to consult his Wife's. Thus what Reason Nature has given them is thrown away, and a blind Obedience expected from them by all their ill-natured Masters; and on the other Side, as blind a Complaisance shewn by those that are Indulgent, who say often, that Women's Weakness must be complied with, and it is a vain troublesome Attempt to make them hear Reason.

I attribute a great Part of this Way of thinking, which is hardly ever controverted, either to the Ignorance of Authors, who are many of them heavy Collegians, that have never been admitted to politer Conversations than those of their Bedmakers, or to the Design of selling their Works, which is generally the only View of writing, without any regard to Truth, or the ill Consequences that attend the Propagation of wrong Notions. A Paper smartly wrote, tho' perhaps only some old Conceits dressed in new Words, either in Rhime or Prose: I say Rhime, for I have seen no Verses wrote of many Years. Such a Paper, either to ridicule or declaim against the Ladies, is very welcome to the Coffee-houses, where there is hardly one Man in ten but fancies he hath some Reason or other to curse some of the Sex most heartily.—Perhaps his Sister's Fortunes are to run away with the Money that would be better bestowed at the Groom-Porter's; or an old Mother, good for nothing, keeps a Jointure from a hopeful Son, that wants to make a Settlement on his Mistress; or a handsome young Fellow is plagued with a Wife, that will remain alive, to hinder his running away with a great Fortune, having two or three of them in love with him.—These are serious Misfortunes, that are sufficient to exasperate the mildest Tempers to a Contempt of the Sex; not to speak of lesser Inconveniences, which are very provoking at the Time they are felt.

How many pretty Gentlemen have been unmercifully jilted by pert Hussies, after having curtisied to them at half a Dozen Operas; nay permitted themselves to be led out twice: Yet after these Encouragements, which amount very near to an Engagement, have refused to read their Billets-Doux, and perhaps married other Men under their Noses.—How welcome is a Couplet or two in scorn of Womankind, to such a disappointed Lover; and with what Comfort he reads in many profound Authors, that they are never to be pleased but by Coxcombs? and consequently, he owes his ill Success to the Brightness of his Understanding, which is beyond Female Comprehension.—The Country 'Squire is confirmed, on the elegant Choice he has made, in preferring the Conversation of his Hounds to that of his Wife; and the kind Keepers, a numerous Sect, find themselves justified in throwing away their Time and Estates on a Parcel of Jilts, when they read, that neither Birth nor Education can make any of the Sex rational Creatures; and they can have no Value but what is to be seen in their Faces.

Hence springs the Applause, with which such Libels are read; but I would ask the Applauders, if these Notions, in their own Nature, are likely to produce any good Effect, towards reforming the Vicious, instructing the Weak, or guiding the Young?—I would not every Day tell my Footmen, if I kept any, that their whole Fraternity were a Pack of Scoundrels; that Lying and Stealing were such inseparable Qualities to their Cloth, that I should think myself very happy in them, if they confined themselves to innocent Lies, and would only steal Candles Ends. On the contrary, I would say in their Presence, that Birth and Money were Accidents of Fortune, that no Man was to be seriously despised for wanting; that an honest faithful Servant was a Character of more Value than an insolent corrupt Lord; That the real Distinction between Man and Man lay in his Integrity, which in one Shape or other generally met with its Reward in the World, and could not fail of giving the highest Pleasure, by a Consciousness of Virtue, which every Man feels that is so happy to possess it.

With this Gentleness would I treat my Inferiors, with much greater Esteem would I speak to that beautiful half of Mankind, who are distinguished by Petticoats.—If I was a Divine, I would remember, that in their first Creation they were designed a Help for the other Sex, and nothing was ever made incapable of the End of its Creation. 'Tis true, the first Lady had so little Experience that she hearkened to the Persuasions of an impertinent Dangler; and if you mind, he succeeded by persuading her that she was not so wise as she should be.

Men that have not Sense enough to shew any Superiority in their Arguments, hope to be yielded to by a Faith, that, as they are Men, all the Reason that has been allotted to human Kind, has fallen to their Share.—I am seriously of another Opinion.—As much Greatness of Mind may be shewn in Submission as in Command; and some Women have suffered a Life of Hardships with as much Philosophy as Cato traversed the Desarts of Africa, and without that Support the View of Glory offered him, which is enough for the human Mind that is touched with it, to go through any Toil or Danger. But this is not the Situation of a Woman, whose Virtue must only shine to her own Recollection, and loses that Name when it is ostentatiously exposed to the World.—A Lady who has performed her Duty as a Daughter, a Wife, and a Mother, raises in me as much Veneration as Socrates or Xenophon; and much more than I would pay either to Julius Cæsar or Cardinal Mazarine, tho' the first was the most famous Enslaver of his Country, and the last the most successful Plunderer of his Master.

A Woman really virtuous, in the utmost Extent of this Expression, has Virtue of a purer Kind than any Philosopher has ever shewn; since she knows, if she has Sense, and without it there can be no Virtue, that Mankind is too much prejudiced against her Sex, to give her any Degree of that Fame which is so sharp a Spur to their greatest Actions.—I have some Thoughts of exhibiting a Set of Pictures of such meritorious Ladies, where I shall say nothing of the Fire of their Eyes, or the Pureness of their Complexions; but give them such Praises as befits a rational sensible Being: Virtues of Choice, and not Beauties of Accident. I beg they would not so far mistake me, as to think I am undervaluing their Charms: A beautiful Mind in a beautiful Body, is one of the finest Objects shewn us by Nature. I would not have them place so much Value on a Quality that can be only useful to One, as to neglect that which may be of Benefit to Thousands by Precept or by Example.—There will be no Occasion of amusing them with Trifles, when they consider themselves capable of not only making the most amiable but the most estimable Figures in Life.—Begin then Ladies, by paying those Authors with Scorn and Contempt, who, with a Sneer of affected Admiration, would throw you below the Dignity of the human Species.

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Montagu, Mary Wortley: Primary Sources

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