Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xxi.

Vienna. — Lady M’s audience of leave — absurd taste for dwarfs at the German courts — reflections on this taste — remarks on the inhabitants of Vienna — a word or two concerning prince Eugene, and the young prince of Portugal.

To The Countess of ——.

Vienna, Jan. 16. O. S. 1717.

I AM now, dear sister, to take leave of you for a long time, and of Vienna for ever; designing tomorrow, to begin my journey through Hungary, in spite of the excessive cold, and deep snows, which are enough to damp a greater courage than I am mistress of. But my principles of passive obedience, carries me through every thing. I have had my audience of leave of the empress. His imperial majesty was pleased to be present, when I waited on the reigning empress; and, after a very obliging conversation, both their imperial majesties invited me to take Vienna in my road back; but I have no thoughts of enduring, over again, so great a fatigue. I delivered a letter from the duchess of Blankenburg. I stayed but a few days at that court, though her highness pressed me very much to stay; and when I left her, engaged me to write to her. I wrote you a long letter from thence, which I hope you have received, though you don’t mention it; but I believe I forgot to tell you one curiosity in all the German courts, which I cannot forbear taking notice of: All the princes keep favourite dwarfs. The emperor and empress have two of these little monsters, as ugly as devils, especially the female; but they are all bedaubed with diamonds, and stand at her majesty’s elbow, in all public places. The duke of Wolfenbuttle has one, and the duchess of Blankenburg is not without hers, but indeed the most proportionable I ever saw. I am told the king of Denmark has so far improved upon this fashion, that his dwarf is his chief minister. I can assign no reason for their fondness for these pieces of deformity, but the opinion all the absolute princes have, that it is below them to converse with the rest of mankind; and not to be quite alone, they are forced to seek their companions among the refuse of human nature, these creatures being the only part of their court privileged to talk freely to them. I am at present confined to my chamber by a sore throat; and am really glad of the excuse, to avoid seeing people, that I love well enough, to be very much mortified when I think I am going to part with them for ever. ’Tis true, the Austrians are not commonly the most polite people in the world, nor the most agreeable. But Vienna is inhabited by all nations, and I had formed to myself a little society of such as were perfectly to my own taste. And though the number was not very great, I could never pick up, in any other place, such a number of reasonable, agreeable people. We were almost always together, and you know I have ever been of opinion, that a chosen conversation, composed of a few that one esteems, is the greatest happiness of life. Here are some Spaniards of both sexes, that have all the vivacity and generosity of sentiments anciently ascribed to their nation; and could I believe that the whole kingdom were like them, I would with nothing more than to end my days there. The ladies of my acquaintance have so much goodness for me, they cry whenever they see me, since I have determined to undertake this journey. And, indeed, I am not very easy when I reflect on what I am going to suffer. Almost every body I see frights me with some new difficulty. Prince Eugene has been so good as to say all the things he could, to persuade me to stay till the Danube is thawed, that I may have the conveniency of going by water; assuring me, that the houses in Hungary are such, as are no defence against the weather; and that I shall be obliged to travel three or four days between Buda and Essek, without finding any house at all, through desert plains covered with snow; where the cold is so violent, many have been killed by it. I own these terrors have made a very deep impression on my mind, because I believe he tells me things truly as they are, and no body can be better informed of them.

NOW I have named that great man, I am sure you expect I should say Something particular of him, having the advantage of seeing him very often; but I am as unwilling to speak of him at Vienna, as I should be to talk of Hercules in the court of Omphale, if I had seen him there. I don’t know what comfort other people find in considering the weakness of great men, (because, perhaps, it brings them nearer to their level) but ’tis always a mortification to me, to observe that there is no perfection in humanity. The young prince of Portugal is the admiration of the whole court; he is handsome and polite, with a great vivacity. All the officers tell wonders of his gallantry the last campaign. He is lodged at court with all the honours due to his rank. — Adieu, dear sister: this is the last account you will have from me of Vienna. If I survive my journey, you shall hear from me again. I can say, with great truth, in the words of Moneses, I have long learnt to hold myself as nothing; but when I think of the fatigue my poor infant must suffer, I have all a mother’s fondness in my eyes, and all her tender passions in my heart.

P. S. I have written a letter to my lady —— that I believe she won’t like; and, upon cooler reflection, I think I had done better to have let it alone; but I was downright peevish at all her questions, and her ridiculous imagination, that I have certainly seen abundance of wonders which I keep to myself out of mere malice. She is very angry that I won’t lie like other travellers. I verily believe she expects I should tell her of the Anthropophagi, men whose heads grow below their shoulders; however, pray say Something to pacify her.

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