Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xx.

From Vienna. — Diversions of the carnival — remarks on the music and balls — the Italian comedy — the air and weather at Vienna — the markets and provisions.

To the Lady ——.

Vienna, Jan. 1. O. S. 1717

I HAVE just received here at Vienna, your ladyship’s compliments on my return to England, sent me from Hanover. You see, madam, all things that are asserted with confidence are not absolutely true; and that you have no sort of reason to complain of me for making my designed return a mystery to you, when you say, all the world are informed of it. You may tell all the world in my name, that they are never so well informed of my affairs as I am myself; that I am very positive I am at this time at Vienna, where the carnival is begun, and all sorts of diversions are carried to the greatest height, except that of masquing, which is never permitted during a war with the Turks. The balls are in public places, where the men pay a gold ducat at entrance, but the ladies nothing. I am told, that these houses get sometimes a thousand ducats in a night. They are very magnificently furnished, and the music good, if they had not that detestible custom of mixing hunting horns with it, that almost deafen the company. But that noise is so agreeable here, they never make a concert without them. The ball always concludes with English country dances, to the number of thirty or forty couple, and so ill danced, that there is very little pleasure in them. They know but half a dozen, and they have danced them over and over these fifty years: I would fain have taught them some new ones, but I found it would be some months labour to make them comprehend them. Last night there was an Italian comedy acted at court. The scenes were pretty, but the comedy itself such intolerable low farce, without either wit or humour, that I was surprised how all the court could sit there attentively for four hours together. No women are suffered to act on the stage, and the men dressed like them, were such awkward figures, they very much added to the ridicule of the spectacle. What completed the diversion, was the excessive cold, which was so great, I thought I should have died there. It is now the very extremity of the winter here; the Danube is entirely frozen, and the weather not to be supported without stoves and furs; but, however, the air so clear, almost every body is well, and colds not half so common as in England. I am persuaded there cannot be a purer air, nor more wholesome, than that of Vienna. The plenty and excellence of all sorts of provisions are greater here than in any place I ever was before, and ’tis not very expensive to keep a splendid table. ’Tis really a pleasure to pass through the markets, and see the abundance of what we should think rarities, of fowls and venison, that are daily brought in from Hungary and Bohemia. They want nothing but shell-fish, and are so fond of oysters, that they have them sent from Venice, and eat them very greedily, stink or not stink. Thus I obey your commands, madam, in giving you an account of Vienna, though I know you will not be satisfied with it. You chide me for my laziness, in not telling you a thousand agreeable and surprising things, that you say you are sure I have seen and heard. Upon my Word, madam, ’tis my regard to truth, and not laziness, that I do not entertain you with as many prodigies as other travellers use to divert their readers with. I might easily pick up wonders in every town I pass through, or tell you a long series of popish miracles; but I cannot fancy, that there is any thing new in letting you know that priests will lie, and the mob believe, all the world over. Then as for news, that you are so inquisitive about, how can it be entertaining to you (that don’t know the people) that the prince of —— has forsaken the countess of ——? or that the prince such a one, has an intrigue with the countess such a one? Would you have me write novels like the countess of D’——? and is it not better to tell you a plain truth,

That I am, &c.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09