Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter liii.

Character of Mrs D—— and humorous representation of her intended marriage with a greasy curate — anecdotes of another couple — remarks on the abuse of the word nature; applied to the case of a husband who insisted on his wife suckling her own child — observations on the forbidding countenance of a worthy gentleman.

[This and the following letters are now first published.]

To Lady ——.

January 13. 1715–16.

I FIND, after all, by your letter of yesterday, that Mrs D—— is resolved to marry the old greasy curate. She was always high-church in an excessive degree; and, you know, she used to speak of Sacheveral as an apostolic saint, who was worthy to sit in the same place with St Paul, if not a step above him. It is a matter, however, very doubtful to me, whether it is not still more the man than the apostle that Mrs D—— looks to in the present alliance. Though at the age of forty, she is, I assure you, very far from being cold and insensible; her fire may be covered with ashes, but it is not extinguished. — Don’t be deceived, my dear, by that prudish and sanctified air. — Warm devotions is no equivocal mark of warm passions; besides, I know it is a fact, (of which I have proofs in hand, which I will tell you by word of mouth) that our learned and holy prude is exceedingly disposed to use the means, supposed in the primitive command, let what will come of the end. The curate indeed is very filthy. — Such a red, spungy, warty nose! Such a squint! — In short, he is ugly beyond expression; and, what ought naturally to render him peculiarly displeasing to one of Mrs D——‘s constitution and propensities, he is stricken in years. Nor do I really know how they will live. He has but forty-five pounds a-year — she but a trifling sum; so that they are likely to feast upon love and ecclesiastical history which will be very empty food, without a proper mixture of beef and pudding. I have however, engaged our friend, who is the curate’s landlord, to give them a good lease; and if Mrs D—— instead of spending whole days in reading Collier, Hicks, and vile translations of Plato and Epictetus; will but form the resolution of taking care of her house, and minding her dairy, things may go tolerably. It is not likely that their tender loves will give them many sweet babes to provide for.

I MET the lover yesterday, going to the ale-house in his dirty nightgown, with a book under his arm, to entertain the club; and, as Mrs D—— was with me at the time, I pointed out to her the charming creature: she blushed, and looked prim; but quoted a passage out of Herodotus, in which it is said that the Persians wore long night-gowns. There is really no more accounting for the taste in marriage of many of our sex, than there is for the appetite of your Miss S——y, who makes such waste of chalk and charcoal, when they fall in her way.

AS marriage produces children, so children produce care and disputes; and wrangling, as is said (at least by old batchelors and old maids) is one of the sweets of the conjugal state. You tell me that our friend Mrs —— is, at length, blessed with a son, and that her husband, who is a great philosopher, (if his own testimony is to be depended upon) insists on her suckling it herself. You ask my advice on this matter; and, to give it you frankly, I really think that Mr ——‘s demand is unreasonable, as his wife’s constitution is tender, and her temper fretful. A true philosopher would consider these circumstances; but a pedant is always throwing his system in your face, and applies it equally to all things, times and places, just like a taylor who would make a coat out of his own head, without any regard to the bulk or figure of the person that must wear it. All those fine-spun arguments that he has drawn from nature, to stop your mouths, weigh, I must own to you, but very little with me. This same Nature is, indeed, a specious word, nay there is a great deal in it, if it is properly understood and applied; but I cannot bear to hear people using it, to justify what common sense must disavow. Is not nature modified by art in many things? Was it not designed to be so? And is it not happy for human society, that it is so? Would you like to see your husband let his beard grow, until he would be obliged to put the end of it in his pocket, because this beard is the gift of nature? The instincts of nature point out neither taylors, nor weavers, nor mantua-makers, nor sempsters, nor milliners; and yet I am very glad that we do not run naked like the Hottentots. But not to wander from the subject — I grant, that nature has furnished the mother with milk to nourish her child; but I maintain, at the same time, that if she can find better milk elsewhere, she ought to prefer it without hesitation. I don’t see why she should have more scruple to do this, than her husband has to leave the clear fountain which nature gave him, to quench his thirst, for stout october, port, or claret. Indeed, if Mrs —— was a buxom, sturdy woman, who lived on plain food, took regular exercise, enjoyed proper returns of rest, and was free from violent passions (which you and I know is not the case) she might be a good nurse for her child; but, as matters stand, I do verily think, that the milk of a good comely cow, who feeds quietly in her meadow, never devours ragouts, nor drinks ratifia, nor frets at quadrille, nor sits up till three in the morning, elated with gain, or dejected with loss; I do think, that the milk of such a cow, or of a nurse that came as near it as possible, would be likely to nourish the young squire much better than hers. If it be true that the child sucks in the mother’s passions with her milk, this is a strong argument in favour of the cow, unless you may be afraid that the young squire may become a calf; but how many calves are there both in state and church, who have been brought up with their mother’s milk.

I PROMISE faithfully, to communicate to no mortal the letter you wrote me last. — What you say of two of the rebel lords, I believe to be true; but I can do nothing in the matter. — If my projects don’t fail in the execution, I shall see you before a month passes. Give my service to Dr Blackbeard. — He is a good man, but I never saw in my life, such a persecuting face cover a humane and tender heart. I imagine (within myself) that the Smithfield priests, who burned the protestants in the time of Queen Mary, had just such faces as the doctor’s. If we were papists, I should like him very much for my confessor; his seeming austerity would give you and I a great reputation for sanctity; and his good, indulgent heart, would be the very thing that would suit us, in the affair of penance and ghostly direction.

Farewell, my dear lady, &c. &c.

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