Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Biography of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (15 May 1689 – 21 August 1762) was an English aristocrat and writer. Montagu is today chiefly remembered for her letters, particularly her letters from Turkey, as wife to the British ambassador, which have been described by Billie Melman as “the very first example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.
Lady Mary Pierrepont was born in London on 15 May 15 1689; her baptism took place on 26 May at St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden. She was a daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 5th Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull, and his first wife, Lady Mary Fielding.
Her mother had three more children before dying in 1692. The children were raised by their Pierrepont grandmother until Mary was 9. Lady Mary was then passed to the care of her father upon her grandmother's death. She began her education in her father's home. Family holdings were extensive, including Thoresby Hall and Holme Pierrepont Hall in Nottinghamshire, and a house in West Dean in Wiltshire. She used the library in her father’s mansion, Thoresby Hall in the Dukeries of Nottinghamshire, to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin. Thoresby Hall had one of the finest private libraries in England, which she loved, but it was lost when the building burned in 1744. By about fourteen she had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel, and a prose-and-verse romance modeled after Aphra Behn's Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684). She also apparently corresponded with two bishops, Thomas Tenison and Gilbert Burnet, who supplemented the instructions of a governess she despised. Lady Mary would later describe her governess' teachings as "the worst in the world".
By 1710 Lady Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu and Clotworthy Skeffington. Mary's father, now Marquess of Dorchester, rejected Wortley Montagu as a prospect because he refused to entail his estate on a possible heir. Her father pressured her to marry Clotworthy Skeffington, heir to an Irish peerage. Although Lady Mary had fallen in love with another unidentified man, in order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, she eloped with Wortley. They were married on 23 August 1712 in Salisbury.
The early years of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's married life were spent in seclusion in the country. She had a son, Edward Wortley Montagu the younger, on 16 May 1713, in London. Her husband became Member of Parliament for Westminster in 1715, and shortly afterwards was made a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury. When Lady Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court. She was among the society of George I and the Prince of Wales, and counted amongst her friends Molly Skerritt, Lady Walpole, John, Lord Hervey, Mary Astell, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, Alexander Pope, John Gay, and Abbé Antonio Conti.
In December 1715, Lady Mary contracted smallpox. She survived, but while she was ill someone circulated the satirical “court eclogues” she had been writing. One of the poems was read as an attack on Caroline, Princess of Wales, in spite of the fact that the "attack" was voiced by a character who was herself heavily satirized. Disgraced and unable to return to court, Lady Mary left London in August 1716 to accompany her husband on his embassy to Istanbul.
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Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Poems
An Answer to a Love-Letter, in Verse
Is it to me this sad lamenting strain? Are Heaven's choicest gifts bestow'd in vain? A plenteous fortune and a beauteous bride, Your love rewarded, and content your pride;
A Man in Love
L'Homme qui ne se trouve point, et ne se trouvera jamais. The man who feels the dear disease,
A Hymn to the Moon
Written in July, in an arbour Thou silver deity of secret night,
Epistle from Arthur Grey, the Footman, t...
Read, lovely nymph, and tremble not to read, I have no more to wish, nor you to dread; I ask not life, for life to me were vain, And death a refuge from severer pain.
Cease, fond shepherd -- cease desiring What you never must enjoy; She derides your vain aspiring, She to all your sex is coy.
An Answer to a Lady, Who Advised Lady Mo...
You little know the heart that you advise: I view this various scene with equal eyes; In crowded courts I find myself alone, And pay my worship to a nobler throne.
Verses Written in a Garden
See how the pair of billing doves With open murmurs own their loves; And, heedless of censorious eyes, Pursue their unpolluted joys;
An Epistle to the Earl of Burlington
How happy you! who varied joys pursue; And every hour presents you something new! Plans, schemes, and models, all Palladio's art, For six long months have gain'd upon your heart;
To that dear nymph, whose pow'rful name Does every throbbing nerve inflame (As the soft sound I low repeat, My pulse unequal measures beat),
The Reasons that Induced Dr S to Write a...
The Doctor in a clean starch'd band, His Golden Snuff box in his hand, With care his Di'mond Ring displays And Artfull shews its various Rays,
The Lover: A Ballad
At length, by so much importunity press'd, Take, C----, at once, the inside of my breast; This stupid indiff'rence so often you blame, Is not owing to nature, to fear, or to shame:
Epistle from Mrs. Yonge to Her Husband
Think not this paper comes with vain pretense To move your pity, or to mourn th'offense. Too well I know that hard obdurate heart; No softening mercy there will take my part,
Ballad, on a Late Occurrence
Ungodly papers ev'ry week Poor simple souls persuade That courtiers good for nothing are, Or but for mischief made.
Verses Addressed to the Imitator of the ...
In two large columns on thy motley page Where Roman wit is strip'd with English rage; Where ribaldry to satire makes pretence, And modern scandal rolls with ancient sense:
Song -- Rondeau
Finish these langours! Oh! I'm sick
Of dying airs, I know the trick;
Long since I've learn'd to well explain
Th'unmeaning cant of fire and pain,
And see through all the senseless lies
Of burning darts from killing eyes;
I'm tir'd with this continual rout
Of bowing low and leading out.