Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xxiii.

From Peterwaradin. — Journey from Vienna hither — reception at Raab — visit from the bishop of Temeswar, with his character — description of Raab — its revolutions — remarks on the state of Hungary, with the Emperor Leopold’s persecution of his protestant Hungarian subjects — description of Buda — its revolutions — the inhabitants of Hungary — Essec described — the Hungarian ladies and their dress.

To the Countess of ——.

Peterwaradin, Jan. 30. O. S. 1717.

AT length, dear sister I am safely arrived, with all my family, in good health, at Peterwaradin; having suffered so little from the rigour of the season, (against which we were well provided by furs) and found such tolerable accommodation every where, by the care of sending before, that I can hardly forbear laughing, when I recollect all the frightful ideas that were given me of this journey. These, I see, were wholly owing to the tenderness of my Vienna friends, and their desire of keeping me with them for this winter. Perhaps it will not be disagreeable to you, to give a short journal of my journey, being through a country entirely unknown to you, and very little passed, even by the Hungarians themselves, who generally chuse to take the conveniency of going down the Danube. We have had the blessing of being favoured with finer weather than is common at this time of the year; though the snow was so deep, we were obliged to have our own coaches fixed upon traineaus, which move so swift and so easily, ’tis by far the most agreeable manner of travelling post. We came to Raab (the second day from Vienna) on the seventeenth instant, where Mr W—— sending word of our arrival to the governor, the best house in the town was provided for us, the garrison put under arms, a guard ordered at our door, and all other honours paid to us. The governor, and all other officers immediately waited on Mr W—— to know if there was any thing to be done for his service. The bishop of Temeswar came to visit us, with great civility, earnestly pressing us to dine with him next day; which we refusing, as being resolved to pursue our journey, he sent us several baskets of winter fruit, and a great variety of Hungarian wines, with a young hind just killed. This is a prelate of great power in this country, of the ancient family of Nadasti, so considerable for many ages, in this kingdom. He is a very polite, agreeable, cheerful old man, wearing the Hungarian habit, with a venerable white beard down to his girdle. — Raab is a strong town, well garrisoned and fortified, and was a long time the frontier town between the Turkish and German empires. It has its name from the River Rab, on which it is situated, just on its meeting with the Danube, in an open champaign country. It was first taken by the Turks, under the command of bassa Sinan, in the reign of sultan Amurath III. in the year fifteen hundred and ninety-four. The governor, being supposed to have betrayed it, was afterwards beheaded by the emperor’s command. The counts of Swartzenburg; and Palsi retook it by surprise, 1598; since which time it has remained in the hands of the Germans, though the Turks once more attempted to gain it by stratagem in 1642. The cathedral is large and well built, which is all I saw remarkable in the town. Leaving Comora on the other side the river, we went the eighteenth to Nosmuhl, a small village, where however, we made shift to find tolerable accommodation. We continued two days travelling between this place and Buda, through the finest plains in the world, as even as if they were paved, and extremely fruitful; but for the most part desert and uncultivated, laid waste by the long wars between the Turk and the Emperor; and the more cruel civil war, occasioned by the barbarous persecution of the protestant religion by the emperor Leopold. That prince has left behind him the character of an extraordinary piety, and was naturally of a mild merciful temper; but, putting his conscience into the hands of a Jesuit, he was more cruel and treacherous to his poor Hungarian subjects, than ever the Turk has been to the Christians; breaking, without scruple his coronation oath, and his faith, solemnly given in many public treaties. Indeed, nothing can be more melancholy than in travelling through Hungary, to reflect on the former flourishing state of that kingdom, and to see such a noble spot of earth almost uninhabited. Such are also the present circumstances of Buda (where we arrived very early the twenty-second) once the royal seat of the Hungarian kings, whose palace was reckoned one of the most beautiful buildings of the age, now wholly destroyed, no part of the town having been repaired since the last siege, but the fortifications and the castle, which is the present residence of the governor general Ragule, an officer of great merit. He came immediately to see us, and carried us in his coach to his house, where I was received by his lady with all possible civility, and magnificently entertained. This city is situated upon a little hill on the south side of the Danube. The castle is much higher than the town, and from it the prospect is very noble. Without the walls ly a vast number of little houses, or rather huts, that they call the Rascian town, being altogether inhabited by that people. The governor assured me, it would furnish twelve thousand fighting men. These towns look very odd; their houses stand in rows, many thousands of them so close together, that they appear, at a little distance, like old-fashioned thatched tents. They consist, every one of them, of one hovel above, and another under ground; these are their summer and winter apartments. Buda was first taken by Solyman the Magnificent, in 1526, and lost the following year to Ferdinand I, king of Bohemia. Solyman regained it by the treachery of the garrison, and voluntarily gave it into the hands of king John of Hungary; after whose death, his son being an infant, Ferdinand laid siege to it, and the queen mother was forced to call Solyman to her aid. He indeed raised the siege, but left a Turkish garrison in the town, and commanded her to remove her court from thence, which she was forced to submit to, in 1541. It resisted afterwards the sieges laid to it by the marquis of Brandenburg, in the year 1542; count Schwartzenburg, in 1598; General Rosworm, in 1602; and the duke of Lorrain, commander of the emperor’s forces, in 1684, to whom it yielded, in 1686, after an obstinate defence, Apti Bassa, the governor, being killed, fighting in the breach with a Roman bravery. The loss of this town was so important, and so much resented by the Turks, that it occasioned the deposing of their emperor Mahomet IV. the year following.

WE did not proceed on our journey till the twenty-third, when we passed through Adam and Todowar, both considerable towns, when in the hands of the Turks, but now quite ruined. The remains, however, of some Turkish towns, shew something of what they have been. This part of the country is very much overgrown with wood, and little frequented. ’Tis incredible what vast numbers of wild-fowl we saw, which often live here to a good old age — and undisturb’d by guns, in quiet sleep. — We came the five and twentieth, to Mohatch, and were shewed the field near it, where Lewis, the young king of Hungary lost his army and his life, being drowned in a ditch, trying to fly from Balybeus, general of Solyman the Magnificent. This battle opened the first passage for the Turks into the heart of Hungary. — I don’t name to you the little villages, of which I can say nothing remarkable; but I’ll assure you, I have always found a warm stove, and great plenty, particularly of wild boar, venison, and all kinds of gibier. The few people that inhabit Hungary, live easily enough; they have no money, but the woods and plains afford them provision in great abundance; they were ordered to give us all things necessary, even what horses we pleased to demand, gratis; but Mr W——y would not oppress the poor country people, by making use of this order, and always paid them to the full worth of what we had. They were so surprised at this unexpected generosity, which they are very little used to, that they always pressed upon us, at parting, a dozen of fat pheasants, or something of that sort, for a present. Their dress is very primitive, being only a plain sheep’s skin, and a cap and boots of the same stuff. You may easily imagine this lasts them many winters; and thus they have very little occasion for money. The twenty-sixth, we passed over the frozen Danube, with all our equipage and carriages. We met on the other side general Veterani, who invited us, with great civility, to pass the night at a little castle of his, a few miles off, assuring us we should have a very hard day’s journey to reach Essek. This we found but too true, the woods being very dangerous, and scarce passable, from the vast quantity of wolves that hoard in them. We came, however, safe, though late to Essek, where we stayed a day, to dispatch a courier with letters to the bassa of Belgrade; and I took that opportunity of seeing the town, which is not very large, but fair built, and well fortified. This was a town of great trade, very rich and populous, when in the hands of the Turks. It is situated on the Drave, which runs into the Danube. The bridge was esteemed one of the most extraordinary in the world, being eight thousand paces long, and all built of oak. It was burnt, and the city laid in ashes by count Lesly, 1685, but was again repaired and fortified by the Turks, who, however, abandoned it in 1687. General Dunnewalt then took possession of it for the emperor, in whose hands it has remained ever since, and is esteemed one of the bulwarks of Hungary. The twenty-eighth, we went to Bocorwar, a very large Rascian town, all built after the manner I have described to you. We were met there by colonel —— who would not suffer us to go any where but to his quarters, where I found his wife, a very agreeable Hungarian lady, and his niece and daughter, two pretty young women, crowded into three or four Rascian houses, cast into one, and made as neat and convenient as those places are capable of being made. The Hungarian ladies are much handsomer than those of Austria. All the Vienna beauties are of that country; they are generally very fair and well-shaped, and their dress, I think, is extremely becoming. This lady was in a gown of scarlet velvet, lined and faced with sables, made exact to her shape, and the skirt falling to her feet. The sleeves are strait to their arms, and the stays buttoned before, with two rows of little buttons of gold, pearl, or diamonds. On their heads they wear a tassel of gold, that hangs low on one side, lined with sable, or some other fine fur. —— They gave us a handsome dinner, and I thought the conversation very polite and agreeable. They would accompany us part of our way. The twenty-ninth, we arrived here, where we were met by the commanding officer, at the head of all the officers of the garrison. We are lodged in the best apartment of the governor’s house, and entertained in a very splendid manner by the emperor’s order. We wait here till all points are adjusted, concerning our reception on the Turkish frontiers. Mr W——‘s courier, which he sent from Essek, returned this morning, with the bassa’s answer in a purse of scarlet satin, which the interpreter here has translated. ’Tis to promise him to be honourably received. I desired him to appoint where he would be met by the Turkish convoy. — He has dispatched the courier back, naming Betsko, a village in the midway between Peterwaradin and Belgrade. We shall stay here till we receive his answer. — Thus, dear sister, I have given you a very particular, and (I am afraid you’ll think) a tedious account of this part of my travels. It was not an affectation of shewing my reading that has made me tell you some little scraps of the history of the towns I have passed through; I have always avoided any thing of that kind, when I spoke Of places that I believe you knew the story of as well as myself. But Hungary being a part of the world, which I believe quite new to you, I thought you might read with some pleasure an account of it, which I have been very solicitous to get from the best hands. However, if you don’t like it, ’tis in your power to forbear reading it.

I am, dear sister, &c.

I AM promised to have this letter carefully sent to Vienna.

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