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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

IX. Memoir-Writers, 1715–60

§ 2. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; The Story of her Life

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, one must imagine, was a lady of far more masculine understanding and knowledge than most of the classical ladies of whose attainments Johnson thought highly. As a descriptive topographer, she was a keen observer, not superior to the love of gossip, with a quick eye for the telling features of a story or a situation and an easy, effective style. Her manner is one of conscious superiority. She belonged to the great whig aristocracy which ruled England. Her father, Evelyn Pierrepont, was connected with the Evelyns of Wootton, and married Mary Feilding, daughter of the earl of Denbigh, from one of whose brothers Henry Fielding the novelist descended. Mary was born in May, 1689; a year later, her father became earl of Kingston and, at the whig triumph of 1715, duke of Kingston; she was brought up, carelessly enough, in a library. One of her girl friends was Anne Wortley Montagu, a granddaughter of the first earl of Sandwich (Pepys’s chief), whose father had, on marrying an heiress, taken the name Wortley. Anne’s favourite brother Edward, a most unromantic young man, was strongly attracted by Lady Mary’s lucidity of both mind and visage. A number of letters between them are extant. The young pair were, unmistakably, in love; but Kingston was inexorable on the subject of settlements and tried to coerce his daughter into another match; whereupon, she eloped with Edward Wortley (August, 1712). With the whigs’ advent to power, the period of narrow means came to an end, and Edward, a relative of Halifax, became M.P. for Westminster and, in 1716, was appointed ambassador to the Porte. In 1717, the couple journeyed to Constantinople, by way of Vienna and Belgrade. Her most vivid letters were written during this period and remain an imperishable monument of her husband’s otherwise undistinguished embassy; for it was upon his successors that devolved the important task of concluding the peace of Passarowitz. It must not be supposed that we have the letters in their original form. Moy Thomas came upon a list of letters written by the ambassadress, with notes of their contents. The published letters correspond but imperfectly to the précis, and only two are indexed as copied at length. Of those remaining to us, some that had been copied were reproduced with small alteration; the majority were reconstructed from the diary in which she was accustomed to note the events and thoughts of every day, and from which she had presumably drawn freely for the original correspondence; others, less finished in form, for the most part, have been found and incorporated since. The substance of many letters hitherto unknown was given as late as 1907 by “George Paston” in her Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and her Times.