Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xv.

From Leipzig. — Dangerous journey from Prague to Leipzig — character of Dresden — the Saxon and Austrian ladies compared — anecdotes of the countess of Cozelle — Leipzig and its fair described.

To the Countess of ——.

Leipzig, Nov. 21. O. S. 1716.

I BELIEVE, dear sister, you will easily forgive my not writing to you from Dresden, as I promised, when I tell you, that I never went out of my chaise from Prague to this place. You may imagine how heartily I was tired with twenty-four hours post-travelling, without sleep or refreshment (for I can never sleep in a coach, however fatigued.) We passed, by moon-shine, the frightful precipices that divide Bohemia from Saxony, at the bottom, of which runs the river Elbe; but I cannot say, that I had reason to fear drowning in it, being perfectly convinced, that in case of a tumble, it was utterly impossible to come alive to the bottom. In many places, the road is so narrow, that I could not discern an inch of space between the wheels and the precipice. Yet I was so good a wife, as not to wake Mr W——y, who was fast asleep by my side, to make him share in my fears, since the danger was unavoidable, till I perceived, by the bright light of the moon, our postilions nodding on horse-back, while the horses were on a full gallop. Then indeed I thought it very convenient to call out to desire them to look where they were going. My calling waked Mr W——y, and he was much more surprised than myself at the situation we were in, and assured me, that he passed the Alps five times in different places, without ever having gone a road so dangerous. I have been told since, that ’tis common to find the bodies of travellers in the Elbe; but, thank God, that was not our destiny; and we came safe to Dresden, so much tired with fear and fatigue, it was not possible for me to compose myself to write. After passing these dreadful rocks, Dresden appeared to me a wonderfully agreeable situation, in a fine large plain on the banks of the Elbe. I was very glad to stay there a day to rest myself. The town is the neatest I have seen in Germany; most of the houses are new built; the elector’s palace is very handsome, and his repository full of curiosities of different kinds, with a collection of medals very much esteemed. Sir —— our king’s envoy, came to see me here, and Madame de L—— whom I knew in London, when her husband was minister to the king of Poland there. She offered me all things in her power to entertain me, and brought some ladies with her, whom she presented to me. The Saxon ladies resemble the Austrian no more than the Chinese do those of London; they are very genteelly dressed, after the English and French modes, and have generally pretty faces, but they are the most determined minaudieres in the whole world. They would think it a mortal sin against good-breeding, if they either spoke or moved in a natural manner. They all affect a little soft lisp, and a pretty pitty-pat step; which female frailties ought, however, to be forgiven them, in favour of their civility and good nature to strangers, which I have a great deal of reason to praise.

THE countess of Cozelle is kept prisoner in a melancholy castle, some leagues from hence; and I cannot forbear telling you what I have heard of her, because it seems to me very extraordinary, though I foresee I shall swell my letter to the size of a pacquet. — She was mistress to the king of Poland, (elector of Saxony) with so absolute a dominion over him, that never any lady had so much power in that court. They tell a pleasant story of his majesty’s first declaration of love, which he made in a visit to her, bringing in one hand a bag of a hundred thousand crowns, and in the other a horse-shoe, which he snapped asunder before her face, leaving her to draw the consequences of such remarkable proofs of strength and liberality. I know not which charmed her most; but she consented to leave her husband, and to give herself up to him entirely, being divorced publicly, in such a manner, as, by their laws, permits either party to marry again. God knows whether it was at this time, or in some other fond fit, but ’tis certain, the king had the weakness to make her a formal contract of marriage; which, though it could signify nothing during the life of the queen, pleased her so well, that she could not be contented, without telling it to all the people she saw, and giving herself the airs of a queen. Men endure every thing while they are in love; but when the excess of passion was cooled by long possession, his majesty began to reflect on the ill consequences of leaving such a paper in her hands, and desired to have it restored to him. But she rather chose to endure all the most violent effects of his anger, than give it up; and though she is one of the richest and most avaricious ladies of her country, she has refused the offer of the continuation of a large pension, and the security of a vast sum of money she has amassed; and has, at last, provoked the king to confine her person to a castle, where she endures all the terrors of a strait imprisonment, and remains still inflexible, either to threats or promises. Her violent passions have brought her indeed into fits, which ’tis supposed, will soon put an end to her life. I cannot forbear having some compassion for a woman that suffers for a point of honour, however mistaken, especially in a country where points of honour are not over scrupulously observed among ladies.

I COULD have wished Mr W——y’s business had permitted him a longer stay at Dresden.

PERHAPS I am partial to a town where they profess the protestant religion; but every thing seemed to me with quite another air of politeness than I have found in other places. Leipzig, where I am at present, is a town very considerable for its trade, and I take this opportunity of buying pages liveries, gold stuffs for myself, &c. all things of that kind being at least double the price at Vienna; partly because of the excessive customs, and partly through want of genius and industry in the people, who make no one sort of thing there; so that the ladies are obliged to send, even for their shoes, out of Saxony. The fair here is one of the most considerable in Germany, and the resort of all the people of quality, as well as of the merchants. This is also a fortified town, but I avoid ever mentioning fortifications, being sensible that I know not how to speak of them. I am the more easy Under my ignorance, when I reflect that I am sure you’ll willingly forgive the omission; for if I made you the most exact description of all the ravelins and bastions I see in my travels, I dare swear you would ask me, What is a ravelin? and, What is a bastion?

Adieu, my dear sister.

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