Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter liv.

From Vienna. — Remarks on some illustrious personages at the court of Vienna — character of the poet Rousseau — alchymy much studied at Vienna — prince Eugene’s library.

To the Abbot ——.

Vienna, Jan. 2. O. S. 1717.

I AM really almost tired with the life of Vienna. I am not, indeed, an enemy to dissipation and hurry, much less to amusement and pleasure; but I cannot endure, long, even pleasure, when it is fettered with formality, and assumes the air of system. ’Tis true I have had here some very agreeable connections; and what will perhaps surprise you, I have particular pleasure in my Spanish acquaintances, count Oropesa and general Puebla. These two noblemen are much in the good graces of the emperor, and yet they seem to be brewing mischief. The court of Madrid cannot reflect, without pain, upon the territories that were cut off from the Spanish monarchy by the peace of Utrecht, and it seems to be looking wishfully out, for an opportunity of getting them back again. That is a matter about which I trouble myself very little; let the Court be in the right or in the wrong, I like mightily the two counts its ministers. I dined with them both some days ago at count Wurmbrand’s, an aulic counsellor, and a man of letters, who is universally esteemed here. But the first man at this court, in point of knowledge and abilities, is certainly count Schlick, high chancellor of Bohemia, whose immense reading is accompanied with a fine taste and a solid judgment; he is a declared enemy to prince Eugene, and a warm friend to the honest hot-headed marshal Staremberg. One of the most accomplished men I have seen at Vienna, is the young count Terracco, who accompanies the amiable prince of Portugal. I am almost in love with them both, and wonder to see such elegant manners, and such free and generous sentiments in two young men that have hitherto seen nothing but their own country. The count is just such a Roman-catholic as you; he succeeds greatly with the devout beauties here; his first overtures in gallantry are disguised under the luscious strains of spiritual love, that were sung formerly by the sublimely voluptuous Fenelon, and the tender madam Guion, who turned the fire of carnal love to divine objects: thus the count begins with the spirit, and ends generally with the flesh, when he makes his addresses to holy virgins.

I MADE acquaintance yesterday with the famous poet Rousseau, who lives here under the peculiar protection of prince Eugene, by whose liberality he subsists. He passes here for a free-thinker, and, what is still worse in my esteem, for a man whose heart does not feel the encomiums he gives to virtue and honour in his poems. I like his odes mightily; they are much superior to the lyric productions of our English poets, few of whom have made any figure in that kind of poetry. I don’t find that learned men abound here; there is, indeed, a prodigious number of alchymists at Vienna; the philosopher’s stone is the great object of zeal and science; and those who have more reading and capacity than the vulgar, have transported their superstition (shall I call it?) or fanaticism, from religion to chymistry; and they believe in a new kind of transubstantiation, which is designed to make the laity as rich as the other kind has made the priesthood. This pestilential passion has already ruined several great houses. There is scarcely a man of opulence or fashion, that has not an alchymist in his service; and even the emperor is supposed to be no enemy to this folly, in secret, though he has pretended to discourage it in public.

PRINCE EUGENE was so polite as to shew me his library yesterday; we found him attended by Rousseau, and his favourite count Bonneval, who is a man of wit, and is here thought to be a very bold and enterprizing, spirit. The library, though not very ample, is well chosen; but as the prince will admit into it no editions but what are beautiful and pleasing to the eye, and there are, nevertheless, numbers of excellent books that are but indifferently printed, this finikin and foppish taste makes many disagreeable chasms in this collection. The books are pompously bound in Turkey leather; and two of the most famous book-binders of Paris were expressly sent for to do this work. Bonneval pleasantly told me, that there were several quartos, on the art of war, that were bound with the skins of spahis and janizaries: and this jest, which was indeed elegant, raised a smile of pleasure on the grave countenance of the famous warrior. The prince, who is a connoisseur in the fine arts, shewed me, with particular pleasure, the famous collection of portraits that formerly belonged to Fouquet, and which he purchased at an excessive price. He has augmented it with a considerable number of new acquisitions; so that he has now in his possession such a collection in that kind, as you will scarcely find in any ten cabinets in Europe. If I told you the number, you will say that I make an indiscreet use of the permission to lie, which is more or less given to travellers, by the indulgence of the candid.

COUNT TARRACCO is just come in. — He is the only person I have accepted, this morning, in my general order to receive no company. — I think I see you smile; — but I am not so far gone as to stand in need of absolution; though as the human heart is deceitful, and the count very agreeable, you may think, that even though I should not want an absolution, I would, nevertheless, be glad to have an indulgence. — No such thing. — However, as I am a heretic, and you no confessor, I shall make no declarations on this head. — The design of the count’s visit is a ball; — more pleasure. — I shall be surfeited.

Adieu, &c.

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