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From A Gallery or Eccentrics, by Morris Bishop, New York: Minton, Balch & Company, 1928; pp. 173-204.


Morris Bishop



ADVENTURERS have ever turned to the East. The courts of the Great Cham, the treasures of Ind, the burning deserts of Arabia, summon the high hearts irked by the gray glooms of the West. Burton, Blunt, Doughty, Lawrence — the list is long of Englishmen who have found the burnous and turban fitter garments for their torrid spirits than the woolens of their foggy island. Among them let us not forget that faithful servant of the Prophet, Edward Wortley Montagu.

The fanciful may read in the circumstances of his career a deep and strange fatality. He was the first European to be inoculated against the smallpox. His mother, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in residence at the Court of Constantinople, had her son, an infant in his fifth year, engrafted with the malady in the Turkish fashion. The operation was successful, and its success a lesson to wondering Europe; but was not the babe engrafted with more than the dread disease? Did not some old Eastern madness enter his blood, to summon him back after troubled years to find peace in the bosom of Mahoud?

One need recall only the essential facts of the life of his famous mother. At eight she had been the toast of the Kit-Kat Club; in her twenties she shone in Society, a bright luminary, for her beauty and wit, and for her learning, unexampled in a female and respectable in a gentleman. As her scapegrace father, the 174 Marquis of Dorchester and later the first Duke of Kingston, wished to marry her against her will, she eloped with the man of her choice, Mr. Edward Wortley Montagu, of Wharncliffe Lodge in Yorkshire. This romantic adventure took place in August, 1712; in May or June of the following year the fruit of their union, Edward Wortley Montagu, jun., was born. He was later willing to let wonderers believe that the Sublime Porte had fathered him; this slur upon his mother’s character is denied by the dates.

Lady Mary, for all her wit and all her protestations of virtue, may be accused of negligence toward her offspring. She was to be repaid with shame for what she rendered of indifference. Even ere her babe was two months old, he had been committed to mercenary care, and we find her writing coldly to her husband: “I heard from your little boy yesterday, who is in good health.” Although in those days the bearing and loss of children were lesser incidents than in our own period of restrictions upon both birth and mortality, one may expect to find a mother of sensibility writing with more warmth of feeling than did Lady Mary (on 26 July 1714): “I am in abundance of pain about our dear child: though I am convinced in my reason ’tis both silly and wicked to set one’s heart too fondly on anything in this world, yet I cannot overcome myself so far as to think of parting with him, with the resignation that I ought to do. I hope and I beg of God he may live to be a comfort to us both.”

Early in 1716, Mr. Wortley obtained the appointment of ambassador to the Porte in Constantinople, with the commission of mediating between the Turks and their leagued foes. Lady Mary formed the temerarious 175 design of accompanying him, to be the first Englishwoman in residence at the court of the Turk.1 With their son of three years the courageous couple journeyed in the dead of winter from Vienna to Belgrade, Nish, Sofia, Philippopolis and Adrianople, by sledge down frozen river, through dismal woods and over horrid mountains, through the lines of warring armies, and amid lawless and ferocious peoples. They came to Adrianople in 1717, and from then until May of the following year they employed their time in the service of their sovereign and in the pleasures afforded by the study of uncouth customs. Lady Mary’s letters from the heathen court are justly celebrated, uniting as they do the acuity of a brilliant mind with the polite graces of a genteel lady of fashion.

Early in her stay in Adrianople she heard of the Turkish method of overcoming the smallpox by a partial surrender to it, and she made haste to impart this information to her countrymen. She wrote on April 1, 1717: “The smallpox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here rendered entirely harmless by the invention of ingrafting. There is a set of old women who make it their business to perform the operation . . . People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the smallpox: they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together), the old woman comes with a nutshell full of the matter of the best sort of smallpox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain 176 than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much venom as can lie upon the head of her needle, and after binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell; and in this manner opens four or five veins. The Grecians have commonly the superstition of opening one in the middle of the forehead, in each arm, and on the breast, to mark the sign of the cross . . . The French ambassador says pleasantly that they take the smallpox here by way of diversion, as they take the waters in other countries. There is no example of anyone that has died of it; and you may believe that I am very well satisfied of the safety of the experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son.”2 The operation was performed in the following Spring. Lady Mary wrote from her suburban retreat to her husband, on March 23: “The boy was engrafted last Tuesday, and is at the time singing and playing, and very impatient for his supper.”

The Wortley Montagus returned to England in this year of 1718, and Lady Mary set about introducing her Turkish counter to the scourge. After six condemned criminals and the children of the Princess of Wales had been successfully engrafted, Society made of the process a popular vogue. Against the opposition of the clergy, descanting on the impiety of taking events out of the hands of Providence, and despite the physicians, furious that maladies should be taken out of their own, the process of inoculation became established. When Lady Mary’s daughter was engrafted, four leading 177 doctors were deputed by the government to watch the proceeding; and such was their malevolence that he mother dared not leave her child a moment alone with them.

On the family’s return from the Orient, the boy was placed in Westminster School. He had been in this learned seminary scarce six months when he thought fit to run away. His parents sought for him with the utmost assiduity for a year, but in vain. “At last mere accident effected what studied design could not accomplish.” Mr. Forster, his governor, from whom we have this narrative, having business to transact with the captain of an India ship moored at Blackwall, heard the voice of a boy crying fish which arrested his attention. It was indeed young Wortley, with a basket of flounders, plaice, and other small fish, upon his head. “He had been bound, by regular indentures of apprenticeship, to a poor, but very industrious fisherman; and, on enquiry, it appeared that he had, for more than one year, served his master most faithfully. He cried his fish with an audible voice. He made his bargains with shrewdness, and he returned the purchase-money with rectitude.”3 This is no bad education you will say for a boy of six, who found the discipline of a school an unwelcome substitute for a mother’s care.

Returned to Westminster School, he pursued his studies, though in what manner we do not know, until 1726. In that year he again broke from his duties, as we learn from his mother’s letter to her sister in July of that year: “That young rake, my son, took to his heels t’other day and transported his person to Oxford; 178 being in his own opinion thoroughly qualified for the University. After a good deal of search we found and reduced him, much against his will, to the humble condition of a schoolboy. It happens very luckily that the sobriety and discretion is of my daughter’s side; I am sorry the ugliness is so too, for my son grows extremely handsome.” It was perhaps on this escapade that he exchanged clothes with a chimney-sweep, and plied for a time that sooty trade.4 Perhaps, says the annotator of the Royal Society Transactions, this was the origin of the custom of his relatives, the Montagus of Portman Square, to treat annually all the sweeps of the city to a feast on the first of May. This surmise was current long after the event, to judge from an advertisement in the Times of May 1, 1799.5 “Mrs. Montagu will give her annual entertainment of roast beef and plum pudding, to the Chimney-sweepers of the Metropolis, in commemoration of discovering her child among them, long after it had been trepanned away.” Mrs. Montagu took pains to deny any trepanning of her child in the Times of the following day, insisting that the family’s custom was founded upon charity alone.

In the summer of 1727 the boy again decamped, to try his fortune in more manly pursuits than scholarship. The romantic tale has often been repeated of his adventures; the story would have it that he shipped as cabin boy to Oporto, and there deserting his ship, passed two or three years in the interior parts of Portugal, now as a vintage helper, now as a mule-driver. At length 179 he was discovered by the English consul, as he was transacting in his native tongue some business for his dull companions.6 The facts, as adduced from Lady Mary’s letters, seem to be that he was gone but a bare six months, and that he was discovered in Gibraltar. His identification was made certain by the inoculation marks on both arms. The confirmation of this version appears in a communication to Notes and Queries.7 Mr. James Wright contributes an anecdote of his grandfather, a Quaker sea-captain. A comely boy shipped aboard the vessel. After a few days he became uncomfortable, and asked speech with the captain. To him he told the truth, with many particulars. “The cause of his unhappiness was that he could not keep his own counsel, but told the crew who he was, that he was related to a lord, etc., but which they did not or would not believe, jeering him, and saying, ‘My Lord, do this,’ and ‘My Lord, do that.’ The Captain gave him up at Malta or Gibraltar to the Admiral of the station, who sent him home. “Although wild and unsettled, he was ever grateful to his friend the captain, always addressing him as father and master.”

It is asserted by some that he again escaped, entering as a foremast hand on a ship bound for the Mediterranean. Most probably legend has divided the confused tale of his third journey into separate stories. At any rate the progress of this rake was sufficient to require the active correction of a father. He was packed off to Italy in charge of a tutor, Mr. Gibson.8 180 Thence the couple made their way to the West Indies, according to the common story, and there dwelt in shelter from notoriety for several years.

Young Edward, his education being pronounce complete, returned to England some time before 1732, and immediately married a laundress considerably older than himself. “He forsook her in a few weeks,” says Lady Louisa Stuart.9 “As the marriage was solemnized in a frolic,” says another report,10 “Wortley never deemed her sufficiently the wife of his bosom to cohabit with her. She was allowed a maintenance. She lived contented, and was too submissive to be troublesome on account of the conjugal rites.” George Paston states, with most semblance of truth,11 that the pair were at once separated by the boy’s parents. Efforts to procure an annulment or divorce were vain, for the wife honored her new and exalted name with a rigorous virtue admirable in a lady of rank but exasperating in a washerwoman. Her purity of life was rewarded only by the sneers of her mother-in-law, who, out of patience, vowed that the new Mrs. Montagu was not young enough to get gallants and not rich enough to buy them. She lived long, keeping to the end unsullied the honor of the Montagus, to their united rage.

The husband was shipped to Holland, in charge of Mr. Gibson. The pair were in Troyes in 1732; Mr. Gibson wrote thence to Lady Mary, urging that they be permitted to leave the city, on account of some failing of the young gentleman, which he will only insinuate by stating that it is not drink.


We lose sight of our dashing hero until the year 1740. We can surmise that he now gave the slip to his governor and ran through the series of adventures he himself describes in a letter to Father Lami of Florence:12 “I have conversed with the nobles in Germany, and served my apprenticeship in the science of horsemanship at their country-seats. I have been a labourer in the fields of Switzerland and Holland, and have not disdained the humble profession of postilion and ploughman. I assumed, at Paris, the ridiculous character of a petit-maître. I was an abbé at Rome. I put on, at Hamburgh, the Lutheran ruff, and with a triple chin and a formal countenance, I dealt about me the word of God, so as to excite the envy of the clergy. I acted successively all the parts that Fielding has described in his Julian.13 My fate was similar to that of a guinea, which at one time is in the hands of a Queen, and at another in the fob of a greasy Israelite.”

During these years he contrived to run up a great quantity of debts, as he found his allowance of 300 l per annum insufficient for his follies. His father writes, under the date of 16 May, 1740:14 “He is weak enough to desire his debts may be paid, tho’ no one can guess whether they are nearer to 1,000 or 10,000 pounds, and he has behaved himself so that no one ought to give the least credit to what he says or writes . . . . His business is to make is to make it appear that he can act with more prudence than a downright idiot . . . He seems to be to be as void of reason as he used to be; otherwise 182 he would have contrived how he might remove with safety . . . I have absolutely refused taking the least notice of him, or meddling in his affairs . . . For my part I foresee that it is likely he will again go into the hands of sharpers, or worse . . . You will do well to let him know how likely it is that he will be confined for his life if once he gets into a jail, since no one will be weak enough to pay his debts.” A letter from the prodigal to his mother, dated from Ysselstein in Holland, protests his reformation, and pleads that he may be permitted to join his mother, then in Venice. “I should have the happiness of being continually near so tender a mother, and the satisfaction of having it in my power to show you with how much tenderness I am, Madam, your La’ship’s most dutiful Son and humble Servant.” The tender mother received this prayer with scorn, and bade her son to keep his distance. She confined her maternal solicitude to inquiring for some place where debtors might seek sanctuary from their pursuers, and found no such happy haven.

The Wortley Montagu correspondence of 1741 and 1742 is full of the scapegrace son. The father was of a mood for reconciliation, from which he was dissuaded by the severer sense of Lady Mary. Mr. Wortley returns ever to the refrain that “any one with common sense would either get his creditors to give him a license or be able to hide himself from them.” A sympathizer with the son might point out that Mr. Wortley senior was a man of great wealth, but that his avarice and that of Lady Mary were bywords with the gossips. There was no motherly weakness in the lady’s breast. “I should not be surprised,” she wrote to her husband,15 183 “if our son was sincerely an Enthusiast. Mr. Anderson told me that at Troyes he had a fit of praying for four or five hours together, and that he was with difficulty hindered from going into a Convent. Tho’ I think his last letter to me does not look like it, since he desires to marry, tho’ his wife is alive.” She tells her husband complacently that when she was dunned for one of her son’s debts, she told the creditor that the young man at fault, “was, to my knowledge, not worth a groat, which was all I thought proper to say on the subject.” The unhappy young gentleman, being balked of his various requests, to have his debts paid, to be reunited to his parents, to have his marriage annulled, and to be enabled to stand for Parliament, solaced himself by entering the University of Leyden in 1741, there to make a profound study of the Oriental languages.

In December of this year he returned to England, passing three months in his native land, by what arrangement with his creditors we do not know. His moderate behavior seems to have given his father some hope of future amendment. To confirm this parental impression, Mr. Wortley requested that Lady Mary interview her errant son. She reluctantly acceded, and the utmost precautions were taken that the meeting be kept secret. Lady Mary was living in Avignon; the inspection of her son took place in Orange. He was obliged to present himself under the name of M. Durand, and was strictly enjoined against revealing the relationship. “He is so much altered in his person,” she wrote, “I should scarcely have known him. He has entirely lost his beauty, and looks at least seven years older than he is; and the wildness that he always had in his eyes is so much increased it is downright shocking, 184 and I am afraid will end fatally. He is grown fat, but is still genteel, and has an air of politeness that is agreeable. He speaks French like a Frenchman, and has got all the fashionable expressions of that language, and a volubility of words which he always had, and which I do not wonder should pass for wit with inconsiderate people. . . . With his head I believe it is possible to make him a monk one day and a Turk three days after . . . He really knows most of the modern languages, and if I could believe him, can read Arabic, and has read the Bible in Hebrew.” Making due allowance for a mother’s prejudice against her son, the picture seems not repellant.

Mr. Wortley obtained for his son the rank of Cornet in the army, and by the autumn of 1744 he was serving with the troops in Flanders. If we may trust the young man’s own account, and we have no reason to suspect him of poltroonery, he was in the forefront at Fontenoy, and was highly commended by his superiors. He was twice dismounted by the wind of cannon-balls. The news of her son’s courage amid peril awakened, however, only skepticism in a mother’s breast to which solicitude had long been strange. Shortly after the news of Fontenoy she wrote barely to her husband: “I have seen the French list of the dead and wounded, in which his is not mentioned; so I suppose he has escaped.”

Taken captive early in 1746, he was held by the enemy for well-nigh a year awaiting his exchange. The meditations of captivity bore fruit in a notable expedient for seeing England from some other vantage than the high windows of the Debtors’ Prison. “I imagine my father could easily get me into next Parliament without laying out much money, and then my creditors 185 could not hinder me from appearing in England.” This proposal seemed indeed an economical one to his frugal father; his exchange was arranged, and in the general election of the following year young Mr. Wortley Montagu was returned, through the interest of Lord Sandwich, for the County of Huntingdon. His demeanor met with common approval. Mr. Edward Montagu of Allerthorpe in Yorkshire wrote: “My cousin gives great satisfaction in the country. I think his nature to be good as well as his parts, and hope he will be an ornament to his family.”16 Lord Sandwich himself expressed his approbation of the young man. Yet when these good opinions were communicated to the Lady Mary, she replied merely: “I should be extremely pleased if I could entirely depend on Lord Sandwich’s account of our son. As I am wholly unacquainted with him, I cannot judge how far he may be either deceived or interested.”

His career in Parliament was respectable but silent. He continued to sit for Huntingdonshire until 1754, though abroad much of that time. From 1754 to 1768 he sat for Bossiney in Cornwall. As he left England early in 1762, never to return, one is entitled to believe that Parliament could be lax in its requirements of attendance. He combined his Parliamentary duties with other public service. In 1748 he accompanied Lord Sandwich as his secretary and one of the commissioners at the arrangement of peace at Aix-la-Chapelle. On hearing of this distinction to her son Lady Mary only wagged her head woefully: ‘I hope he may succeed in that business better than he has yet done in the professions he has undertaken.” A letter to her 186 son contained only stern admonishment for his “past extravagances” and a refusal to increase his allowance.

Notwithstanding his parents’ parsimony, he succeeded in making a fine show in the world. A letter from Thomas Bowlby, dated January 19, 1751, reads: “Tomorrow I dined with Wortley Montague, who is merveillement (sic) débarqué; he has robbed Paris of everything that is rare or elegant. He went to Martin’s (where they make the varnish’d boxes) and bought the whole ship, which cost him 600 Louis dors; his diamond buckles cost him 1000 Louis. In shore he is computed to walk 2,500 l. His wigs surprise every one, they are made of wire; literally and truly there is no hair in them.”17 This report is confirmed by the vivacious Horace Walpole, in a letter to Horace Mann, on February 9: “Our greatest miracle is Lady Mary Wortley’s son, whose adventures have made so much noise: his parts are not proportionate, but his expense is incredible. His father scarce allows him anything: yet he plays, dresses, diamonds himself, even to distinct shoe-buckles for a frock, and has more snuff-boxes than would suffice a Chinese idol with a hundred noses. But the most curious part of his dress, which he has brought from Paris, is an iron wig; you would literally not know it from hair — I believe it is on this account that the Royal Society have just chosen him of their body.”18

Having now won honor in the realms of war and politics and learning, young Wortley sought the sweet consolations of love. He was transfixed by a shaft from the quiver of the diminutive Miss Ashe, the “Pollard 187 Ashe,” as Walpole called her for her littleness. “I am afraid the eldest Miss Naylor is much dejected at the infidelity of our cousin Wortley, who is greatly enamoured of little Miss Ashe,” wrote Elizabeth Montagu.19 “All collectors of natural curiosities love something of every species. Mr. Wortley has had a passion for all sorts and sizes of women. Miss Ashe is a sort of middle species between a woman and a fairy, and by her rarity worthy to be added even to so large a collection of amours.” This Miss Ashe was commonly supposed to be the daughter of the Princess Amelia, daughter of George II, and Admiral Rodney. Mrs. Piozzi was however doubtful of the fathering. “I should think Rodney scarce old enough to have been her feather. Her mother people spoke of as with certainty.”20 Miss Ashe was a lass of spirit, as you may learn from an account of her frolics in Walpole. She was persuaded by her handsome gallant, no doubt at a great cost in varnished boxes and shoe-buckles, and together they set off for a honeymoon in Paris. Wortley, a stickler for morality, insisted on a marriage, and the ceremony was duly performed in Keith’s Chapel, Mayfair, in 1751. “Wortley, you know has been a perfect Gil Blas, and, for one of his last adventures, is thought to have added the famous Miss Ashe to the number of his wives,” says Walpole.21 Twelve years later the matter got into the courts, in what manner is not clear, but we find our hero writing from Leghorn: “I was extremely shocked, and indeed more surprised, at the verdict in favour of Miss Ashe. . . . I did not mind any particulars, as she knew I was married; and I 188 never thought it could be necessary to prove it, since it was only done that there might be something to say to the Father in case of a surprize.”22 Perhaps the action had to do with a voiding of the marriage, for the bride later settled down and wed a Mr. Falconer, R. N.

The present was not shadowed by the presentiment of future storms. Nevertheless, their bliss was not of long duration, for the groom was soon after jailed for his part in a gambling scandal.

A certain Abraham Payba, a Jew, alias James Roberts, had journeyed to Paris in company with a Miss Rose, and, for propriety’s sake, Miss Rose’s sister. He was invited to Mr. Wortley Montagu’s apartments, and was there plied with wine until much flustered by Mr. Wortley Montagu and his friends, Mr. Taaffe and Lord Southwell. This Mr. Taaffe, M. P. for Arundel, was, according to Horace Walpole, an Irishman who had changed his religion to fight a duel, and who had acted, with Mr. Wortley Montagu, as Pharaoh-banker for Mme de Mirepoix, wife of the French ambassador. “He is a gamester, usurer, adventurer, and of late has divided his attentions between the Duke of Newcastle and Madame Pompadour; travelling, with turtles and pine-apples, in post-chaises, to the latter, — flying back to the former for Lewes races — and smuggling burgundy at the same time.”23 Well, Mr. Payba was induced to play at dice with his hosts, losing in less than an hour 870 louis d’or. As he told the story, the winners visited him net day and threatened to cut him across the face with their swords if he would not fulfill his debt of honour; being intimidated, 189 he satisfied his honor by giving drafts on a banker with whom he had no funds. He then set out for Lyons, leaving the Misses Rose behind. The three bravos, says the complaint, broke into his lodgings, and took away all his jewelry, money, laces, plate and china, and Miss rose and her sister, who apparently preferred three protectors to one.

The Jew deposed his accusation, and Mr. Wortley Montagu was brutally thrust into a dismal dungeon of the Châtelet, “destined for the vilest malefactors; the walls were scrawled over with their vows and prayers to Heaven, before they were carried to the gibbet or the wheel. Amongst other notable inscriptions, I found one with the following note underneath; viz., ‘These verses were written by the priest who was burned and hanged, in the year 1717, for stealing a chalice of the holy sacrament.’ ” Mr. Wortley Montagu, as a member of the Royal Society, had always a lively interest in inscriptions. Such examinations, and the consciousness of rectitude, preserved him from despair. “I wrapped myself up in innocence, whose portion is fortitude, and whose virtue is tranquillity.”

The trial of the matter was a tedious business. Mr. Wortley Montagu and Mr. Taaffe received the first judgment; Mr. Roberts obtained a reversal on appeal, on 14th June, 1752; Mr. Wortley Montagu and Mr. Taaffe appealed in their turn; “It is most probable this disgraceful business was here suffered to terminate.”24 Numerous pamphlets were published on both sides of the case. It would appear that our Mr. Wortley Montagu was especially resentful at the suggestion that he had played with cogged dice. Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu, 190 repelling such outrightness, would consent to his having played with too much finesse. “Finesse,” she explains, “is a pretty improvement in modern life and modern language. It is something people may do without being hanged, and speak of without being challenged. It is a point just beyond fair skill and just short of downright knavery; but as the medium is ever hard to hit, the very professors of finesse do sometimes deviate into paths that lead to prisons and the galleys, and such is the case of those unhappy heroes. The Speaker of the House of Commons will be grieved to see two illustrious senators chained at the noble oar. The King of France has been applied to, but says he does not interpose in private mattes. So how it will go with them no one can tell. In the meantime, poor Miss Ashe weeps like the forsaken Ariadne on a foreign shore.”25 Let us add to our account only the bon mot of Lord Coke’s. “The Speaker was railing at gaming and White’s apropos of these two prisoners. Lord Coke, to whom the conversation was addressed, replied, “Sir, all I can say is, that they are both members of the House of Commons, and neither of them of White’s.’ ”26

We now lose sight of our young friend until the year 1759. He tells us that he was in a country retirement, regarding the profusion of varying beauties with a philosophic eye.27 We know only of his election to Parliament in 1754; apparently his adventures in the gay and dissipated capital of France reduced in no way the esteem of his electors. Perhaps the literary satisfactions he had found in composing his pamphlet 191 on his incarceration turned his mind toward scholarly pursuits. However it be, he gave to the public in 1759 his “Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the ancient Republics, adapted to the present State of Great Britain,” in 8vo. I have no access to a copy of this work and can give you no modern estimate of it. His mother, in a letter to her daughter, refers to it only as “a very nonsensical book, printed with your brother’s name to it, which only serves to prove to me . . . that he is still a Knavish Fool. This is no news to me; I have long wept the misfortune of being mother to such an animal.”28 But Mrs. Delany, a bluestocking by any reckoning, said: “I have not gone through with young Wortley Montagu’s book, which the learned commend, and I suppose he deserves it.”29 John Nichols, F.S.A., holds it to be concise and elegant, an written with spirit.30 Dr. John Doran, F.S.A., calls it “an able and spirited review.”31 It passed through four editions and received the commendation of a translation into French. In view of such a reception one would be incautious to accept a mother’s estimate. Mr. Wortley Montagu is said to be likewise the author of “An Explication of the Causes of Earthquakes,” but the place of its publication is not known.

According to Mr. Wortley senior’s will, made in 1755, his son was to have six hundred a year. The reversion to this he promptly sold, yet he was soon again in money troubles. In 1760 he was hiding in England, his whereabouts a secret even to his lawyers.32 Opportunely enough, his father died on January 1, 192 1760, leaving, says Walpole, an estate of one million three hundred and fifty thousand pounds. The son received an annuity of 1000 l, to become 2000 l on the death of Lady Mary. He was further empowered to make a settlement on any women he might legitimately marry of 800 l a year, and to any son of such marriage a considerable estate in the West Riding of Yorkshire was devised. Lady Mary accused her son of entering a false caveat to the will; but the circumstances are too obscure to warrant examination.

Now at last with money in his pocket our Mr. Wortley Montagu could release his spirit, so long compressed in splenetic English airs. He made his preparations for a scientific journey into the East. Dr. Doran has preserved an optician’s bill, dated 30 December 1761. It includes 49 reading glasses, 32 telescopes, and 145 pairs of spectacles. The total bill came to 188 l 7 s 6 d. Mr. Wortley Montagu was not a person to do things by halves.

If all his preparations were on this scale, he must have been hard pressed for money. Indeed, we have proof of his necessities, for he was obliged to forge his mother’s name. This attempt upon her honor and her property wounded her to the quick; she wrote on 16th March 1762: ‘You have shortened your Father’s days, and will perhaps have the glory to break your mother’s heart.”

The moneys obtained by these unworthy means were devoted to the interests of scholarship. He wrote two letters to the Earl of Macclesfield, which were read before the Royal Society, and later published in quarto pamphlet, intituled: “Observations upon a supposed antique Bust at Turin.” He came to Rome early in June, 193 according to the testimony of the great archaeologist and esthetic philosopher Johann Winckelmann, who informed his correspondent on June 18, 1762, that Mr. Wortley Montagu was planning a journey to Greece, Egypt, and the Levant, to make astronomical, physical and botanical discoveries. “He is a man of forty-seven years,33 and of great learning, especially in the Oriental tongues. . . .He is travelling with a lady who is said to be his relation. Nothing has more drawn me to him than the readiness with which he speaks German. He has studied in Leipzig. Perhaps the maggot may take me to go with him to Egypt.”34 On 16th October he wrote to Usteri: “Montague has already let his beard grow, and will very shortly set forth for Egypt; his journey is planned for ten years.” Estrangement from England had no terrors for him; the very pictures in Newbold Vernon, his kinsman’s place, were being sold for his debts.”35

Lady Mary died on 21st August 1762. “With her usual maternal tenderness, and usual generosity, she has left her son one guinea.”36 This he gave, with great gayety of heart, to Mr. Davison, later His Majesty’s Agent and Consul-General at Algiers, the elegant and amiable companion of his travels in the East. Concerning the female relation of whom the Abbé Winckelmann spoke we have no further knowledge.

Mr. Wortley Montagu sailed from Leghorn in April 1763.37 The first stage of his journey took him to Alexandria, where an unlooked-for incident delayed his 194 further progress. The Cytherean goddess, in the shape of the wife of the Danish consul, Herr Feroe, ensnared him in her net. She was the daughter of an English innkeeper of Leghorn and an Italian mother. Mr. Wortley Montagu sighed in vain; what her beauty promised, her virtue withheld. But love, that quickener of the most sluggish wits, was not long in suggesting a stratagem. He proposed to Herr Feroe a journey to Holland, where he should arrange the money affairs of Mr. Wortley Montague, and should thereby reap great profits for himself. We have no record of Consul Feroe’s emotions on meeting the Dutch bankers to whom he was referred; he was soon to make new discoveries in the field of emotion. After he had been absent some months, Mr. Wortley Montagu displayed to the wife a letter from Holland, giving official attestation of the death of the Consul. A fitting period was allowed for the distracted widow’s grief to subside; Mr. Wortley Montagu then represented to her his ardor, her own destitute condition, and the charms of an archaeological honeymoon in the Arabian deserts. She made suitable objections, affirming that she, a Roman Catholic, had erred once in wedding a Protestant, and was not moved to repeat her sin. Mr. Wortley Montagu expressed his willingness to subscribe to her faith. The two were then married “in der dort üblichen Form,” says Winckelmann vaguely,38 and set off with all speed for the wilderness. It was on this journey that he determined the exact spot at which the Children of Israel miraculously crossed the Red Sea, stood on the very rock of Mt. Sinai where Moses spoke 195 face to face with the Almighty, and copied the mysterious inscriptions among the Written Mountains.39

In October 1764 the couple came to Jerusalem. Mr. Wortley Montagu presented himself to Father Paul, prefect of Missions in Egypt and Cyprus. “The traveller said that he had come to Jerusalem rather out of curiosity than devotion, but that the hand of God had fallen upon him. From his youth up, he stated (truly enough) that he had been the dupe of the devil. . . . Father Paul . . . gave him plenary absolution, and received him into communion with Rome. . . . The good father bids all the faithful to refrain from snubbing the convert, but on the contrary, to rejoice and be merry over him, as they would be over the unexpected finding of a treasure.”40 In a few years he became a Moslem, according to his mother’s prediction.

Meanwhile Consul Feroe had received explicit word of his wife’s death, and even a package of her clothes. When a ship-captain informed him of the recent news from Alexandria, and that Mr. Wortley Montagu and his lovely wife had set off for Kahira in Eastern garb, he resolved straightway upon action. In 1764, filled with a considerable accumulation of bile, he arrived in Smyrna. The Catholic couple complacently announced that the various Protestant marriages of the parties concerned could be termed nothing better than excursions in concubinage. The rebuffed husband flew to the Danish consul at Constantinople, who applied to Mr. Grenville, the English resident, and stormed that if he did not get satisfaction he would have recourse to Turkish justice. Such a course would have attacked the 196 English influence then being fostered in the Orient. “Mr. Grenville, alarm’d at the Consequences of such a Precedent as the latter Expedient would afford, prevails on the Dane to desist from that and writes home for Orders, observing very justly that the Laws of England cannot operate there & if they could, he is in no capacity to execute them.”41

The vengeful husband soon put his threat in action. He came to Saida, the port of Damascus, and obtained a decree of incarceration against Mr. Wortley Montagu. Our hero, alarmed, planned to flee eastward across the desert to Basra, but was dissuaded therefrom by a representation of the dangers. He discovered a better course; he thrust Madame Montagu (known now as the Countess Montagu, a courtesy title surely) into a nunnery on Mount Lebanon, bade her wait his return, and set out for Italy. Mr. Samuel Sharpe visited him when he had arrived in the Quarantine of Venice, in September 1765, and gives an account of his appearance: “His beard reached down to his breast, being of two years and a half growth; and the dress of his head was Armenian. He was in the most enthusiastic raptures with Arabia and the Arabs. His bed was the ground; his food rice; his beverage water; his luxury a pipe and coffee. His purpose was to return once more amongst that virtuous people; whose morals and hospitality, he said, were such, that were you to drop your cloak on the highway, you would find it there six months afterwards, an Arab being too honest a man to pick up what he knows belongs to another; and, were you to offer money for the provision you meet with, he 197 would ask you, with concern, why you had so mean an opinion of his benevolence, as to suppose him capable of accepting a gratification?”42

He passed two years in Italy, pleading before the ecclesiastical and civil courts, and then returned to Smyrna, where he was rejoined by his wife. On New Year’s Day, 1769, he received the decision of the courts that the lady’s first marriage was held to be void and her second, therefore, legal. In 1771 the home was transported to Alexandria; but in 1771 we find him again wandering, this time unencumbered by his wife. It was reported that he had embraced Mohammedanism, in order to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, and that there were domestic differences, as his wife refused to recognize his mulatto son as his heir. We hear of him in Alexandretta and Latakia, in Syria. When he returned to Alexandria it was not to rejoin his wife, who settled in Marseilles and later in Nancy. Mr. Wortley Montagu solaced himself with his studies; “I am buried in Arabic manuscripts,” he wrote in 1773 from Rosetta.

Study could not appease the old itch for movement. In June of that year he set out with his black boy for Italy, settling for a while in Venice. He writes touchingly of this infant: “I hope I shall, some day or other, introduce to you a son of mine, who is very near black. He is upwards of 11 years of age, but writes and reads Arabic, and talks nothing else; nor will I permit him to learn anything till he comes to England.” Again: “I mind no more the colour of a man’s skin than I do that of a chesnut, as my little boy (who is quite black, you know) told a gentleman the other day who was 198 joking him about his colour, ‘I am,’ says he, ‘like the chesnut, that is, all white within; but you are like a fair apple, which is most perfect when it has many black grains in its heart.’ See what an old fool I am become, to be fond of my boy’s sayings!”

During his residence at Venice, the Duke of Hamilton and Dr. Moore had the curiosity to wait upon him; Dr. Moore has preserved a memorial of their visit.43 “There were no chairs; but he desired us to seat ourselves on a sopha, whilst he placed himself on a cushion on the floor, with his legs crossed in the Turkish fashion. A young black slave sat by him; and a venerable old man, with a long black beard, served us with coffee. After this collation, some aromatic gums were brought, and burnt in a little silver vessel. Mr. Montagu held his nose over the steam for some minutes, and snuffed up the perfume with peculiar satisfaction: he thereafterwards endeavoured to collect the smoke with his hands, spreading and rubbing it carefully along his beard, which hung in hoary ringlets to his girdle. . . He is to the last decree acute, communicative, and entertaining . . We found him wonderfully prejudiced in favour of the Turkish character and manners.” The chief part of their conversation concerned the institution of polygamy and concubinage, which Mr. Wortley Montagu defended with a zeal in which conviction mingled with experience.

Mr. Romney, the celebrated painter, also visited Mr. Wortley Montagu in Venice, and was no less charmed by the pictorial aspects of the venerable figure than captivated by his knowledge, lively spirit, and fascinating conversation. The portrait which Mr. Romney 199 did of him renders well the outlandishness of his exterior, the swaggering simplicity of mind that could take pleasure in such an Oriental garb, and, perhaps the wildness of eye which his mother had discerned. It was a favorite work of the painter’s; the original was given to a friend, and a copy by the artist’s hand was long, and it may be still is, one of the choicest ornaments of Warwick Castle.

Count Maximilian de Lamberg likewise asserts in his work that he visited Mr. Wortley Montagu in Venice, but the cautious will note the color of prejudice in his account: “He rises before the sun, says his prayers, and performs his ablutions and lazzis according to the Mahometan ritual. An hour after, he awakes his pupil, a filthy emigrant of the parched Abyssiania, whom he brought with him from Rosetta. — He instructs this dirty Negro with all the care and precision of a philosopher, both by precept and by example: he lays before him the strongest proofs (as they appear to him) of the religion he teaches him, and he catechizes him in the Arabian language . . . That he may not omit any particular, in the most rigorous observance of the Mahometan rites, Mr. Montagu dines at a low table, sitting cross-legged on a sopha, while the Moor, on a cushion still lower, sits gaping with avidity for his master’s leavings. It is this Negro who supports the white mantle that makes a part of the Turkish garb of his master, who is always preceded, even at noon-day, by two gondoliers with lighted torches in their hands . . . During the most intense cold, he performs his religious ablutions in cold water, rubbing, at the same time, his body with sand from the thighs to the feet: his Negro also pours fresh water on his head, and 200 combs his beard, and he also pours cold water on the head of his Negro. To finish this religious ceremony, he resumed his pipe, turns toward the East, mutters some prayers, walks afterwards for half an hour, and drinks his coffee.44

In February 1776 the news came to him that his first wife, the original Mrs. Montagu, the laundress, was dead. This word, so long awaited, promptly stirred our wanderer to action. He closed his house in Venice, and set his household in motion toward England. Passage was engaged for Marseilles, and measures taken to appease his creditors in England. Bethinking himself of the clause in his father’s will settling a large estate on any son of his name, in default of which it would revert to the second son of Lord Bute, he had a friend insert the following advertisement in the Public Advertiser for 16th April 1776.45


“A Gentleman who hath filled two succeeding Seats in Parliament, is near sixty years of age, lives in great splendour and hospitality, and from whom a considerable estate must pass if he dies without any issue, hath no objection to marry any widow or single lady, provided the party be of gentle birth, polished manners, and 201 five, six, seven, or eight months gone in her pregnancy. — Letters addressed to —— Brecknock, esq. at Wills’s Coffee-house, facing the Admiralty, will be honoured with due attention, secrecy, and every possible mark of respect.

Several ladies fulfilling the requirements applied, and one was chosen as the most eligible object. She was eagerly and impatiently awaiting the intended bridegroom when he was arrested on his journey by the hand of Death.

He died in Padua, on 29th April, 1776, from the effects of an inflammation caused by a partridge bone wounding his throat. He lies buried in the cloister of the Hermitants at Padua, with an inscription to his memory in the wall beside, describing him truly as “ubique civis.” He died devoutly professing the Mahometan faith, for although he was in many ways unorthodox, and would never consent to be circumcised,46 he felt no doubt that Mahoud promised him the Paradise most to his liking. Perhaps, as he died, his thought returned to the words he had once spoken to Dr. Moore, and with them upon his lips he could go bravely into the land beyond: “Your Heaven is the most tiresome and comfortless place in the universe; and not one Turk among a thousand would go to the Christian heaven, if he had it in his choice . . . The Mussulman believe that . . . women are creatures of a subordinate species, . . . by no means worthy of accompanying believers to Paradise, where females of a nature far superior to women wait with impatience to receive all pious Mussulmen into their arms . . . ”


 1  Mr. Dallaway has it that Lady Paget and Lady Winchelsea were included in the suite of their lords during their several embassies. (Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ed. Moy Thomas, 1887, I, 158 n.)

 2  Lady Mary had previously suffered from the small-pox, thus rendering herself unfit for experimental purposes. Delvers into origins will remember that during the latter part of the Ming dynasty a system of inoculation was practiced in China, germ-laden pustule-crusts being blown through a silver tube into the nostril of the subject (the left nostril for males, the right for females).

 3  Nichols: Literary Anecdotes, IV, 626.

 4  Annual Register (1776) 34, Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society (abridged) XII, 278 n.

 5  Quoted in Ashton’s Old Times, 342.

 6  Nichols: Literary Anecdotes, IV, 627; John Duran, in Temple Bar, LXXXVII, 501, etc.

 7  3d Ser. XI, 373.

 8  Paston: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 355. All other authorities have it that the tutor was Mr. Forster. Mr. Paston (Miss Symonds) has had access to unpublished letters.

 9  Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (Thomas ed.) I, cxxviii.

10  Annual Register (1776), 35.

11  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 355.

12  Quoted from Max. de Lamberg: Mémorial d’un mondain, in Gentlemen’s Magazine (1777) 376. If these feats were not performed in these years, they were probably not performed at all.

13  I do not know Fielding’s Julian.

14  Paston, 381.

15  8 Sept. 1741. Paston, 397.

16  Climenson: Elizabeth Montagu, 240.

17  Hist. Mss. Comm., 9th Rep. App. II, 402.

18  Letters (ed. Toynbee), III, 35.

19  Climenson, I, 287.

20  Letters, III, 77.

21  Autobiography, I, 331.

22  Nichols: Literary Anecdotes, IX, 795.

23  III, 77.

24  Nichols: Literary Anecdotes, IV, 634 n.

25  Temple Bar, LXXVII, 507.

26  Walpole: Letters, III, 77.

27  Nichols: Literary Anecdotes, IV, 635.

28  Paston, 510.

29  Life and Correspondence, III, 419.

30  Literary Anecdotes, IV, 636.

31  Temple Bar, LXXVII, 509.

32  Climenson, II, 197.

33  He was in fact forty-nine. Three and a half years later Winckelmann spoke of him as a man of 56. This rapid aging may be ascribed to his hardships, physical and spiritual, or to his beard.

34  Winckelmann’s Werke (1824), X, 126.

35  Climenson, II, 249.

36  Walpole: Letters, V, 250.

37  Nichols, I, 796.

38  Niebuhr says they were married by a Franciscan, her confessor. His story differs considerably from the one given above. Reisebeschreibung (1837), III, 30.

39  Trans. Royal Society, LVI, 40; LVII, 438; Abridged ed., XII, 278.

40  Temple Bar, LXXVII, 512. See the copy of his certificate of admission to the faith in Notes and Queries, 4th Ser., XI, 7.

41  Weston Papers; Edward Sedgwick to Edward Weston, 19 Feb. 1765. Hist. Mss. Comm., 10th Rep. App. 383.

42  Letters from Italy (1766), 9.

43  View of Society and Manners in Italy, I, 33.

44  Mémorial d’un mondain, quoted in Gentleman’s Magazine, XLVII, 376. Common report no doubt considerably magnified his exploits. Thus his obituary in the Annual Register of 1776 states that “he had wives of almost every nation. When he was with Ali Bey of Egypt, he had his household of Egyptian females, each striving who should gain the greatest ascendency over this Anglo-Eastern Bashaw. . . . Wortley, in his wanderings, generally considering his wives as bad travelling companions, generally left them behind.”

45  Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society (Abridged), XII, 278 n. Others will have it that the advertisement, though intended to fit him, was inserted without his order.

46  The neglect of this ceremony is said to have once nearly cost him his life, near Mecca or Medina.






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