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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762)

Extracts from the ‘Letters’

Quarrelling an Amusement

YOU know that all the nobility of this place are envoys from different States. Here are a great number of them, and they might pass their time agreeably enough if they were less delicate on the point of ceremony. But instead of joining in the design of making the town as pleasant to one another as they can and improving their little societies, they amuse themselves no other way than with perpetual quarrels, which they take to eternize by leaving them to their successors. Thus an envoy to Ratisbon receives, regularly, half a dozen quarrels among the perquisites of his employment. You may be sure the ladies are not wanting, on their side, in cherishing and improving their important piques, which divide the town almost into as many parties as there are families. They choose rather the mortification of sitting almost alone on their assembly nights, than to recede one jot from their pretensions. I have not been here above a week, and yet I have heard from almost every one of them the whole history of their wrongs, and dreadful complaints of the injustice of their neighbours, in hopes to draw me to their party. But I think it very prudent to remain neuter, though, if I were to stay among them, there would be no possibility of remaining so, their quarrels running so high that they will not be civil to those who visit their adversaries. The foundations of these everlasting disputes turn entirely upon rank, place, and the title of Excellency, which they all pretend to, and, what is very hard, will give to nobody. For my part, I could not forbear advising them (for the public good) to give the title of Excellency to everybody, which would include the receiving it from everybody; but the very mention of such a dishonourable peace was received with as much indignation as Mrs. Blackaire did the motion of reference. And, indeed, I began to think myself ill-natured, to offer to take from them, in a town where there are few diversions, so entertaining an amusement. I know that my peaceable disposition already gives me a very ill figure, and that ’tis publicly whispered, as a piece of impertinent pride in me, that I have been hitherto saucily civil to everybody, as if I thought nobody good enough to quarrel with.

A Point of Etiquette

THE AUSTRIANS are never lively but upon points of ceremony. There, I own, they show all their passions. ’Tis not long since two coaches meeting in a narrow street at night, the ladies in them not being able to adjust the ceremonial of which should go back, sat there with equal gallantry till two in the morning. They were both determined to die upon the spot rather than yield in a point of that importance, so that the street would never have been cleared till their deaths, if the Emperor had not sent his guards to part them. Even then they refused to stir, till the expedient could be found of taking them both out in chairs exactly at the same moment. After the ladies were agreed, it was with some difficulty that the pass was decided between the two coachmen, no less tenacious of their rank than the ladies.

An Affair of the Heart

ONE of the pleasantest adventures I ever met with in my life was last night, and it will give you a just idea in what a delicate manner the belles passions are managed in this country. I was at the assembly of the Countess of ———; and the young Count of ———, leading me down-stairs, asked me how long I was to stay at Vienna. I made answer that my stay depended on the Emperor, and it was not in my power to determine it. “Well, madam,” said he, “whether your time here is to be longer or shorter, I think you ought to pass it agreeably, and to that end you must engage in a little affair of the heart.” “My heart,” answered I gravely enough, “does not engage very easily, and I have no design of parting with it.” “I see, madam,” said he, sighing, “by the ill-nature of that answer, I am not to hope for it, which is a great mortification to me, who am charmed with you. But, however, I am still devoted to your service, and since I am not worthy of entertaining you myself, do me the honour of letting me know whom you like best among us, and I’ll engage to manage the affair to your satisfaction.” You can judge in what manner I would have received this compliment in my own country; but I was well enough acquainted with the way of this, to know that he really intended me an obligation, and I thanked him with a very grave courtesy for his zeal to serve me, and only assured him I had no occasion to make use of it.