Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter vi.

From Ratisbon. — Ridiculous disputes concerning punctilios among the envoys at the Diet — the churches and relics — silver image of the Trinity.

To Mrs P——.

Ratisbon, Aug. 30 O. S. 1716.

I HAD the pleasure of receiving yours, but the day before I left London. I give you a thousand thanks for your good wishes, and have such an opinion of their efficacy that, I am persuaded, I owe in part, to them, the good luck of having proceeded so far on my long journey without any ill accident. For I don’t reckon it any, to have been stopped a few days in this town by a cold, since it has not only given me an opportunity of seeing all that is curious in it, but of making some acquaintance with the ladies, who have all been to see me with great civility, particularly Madame —— the wife of our king’s envoy from Hanover. She has carried me to all the assemblies, and I have been magnificently entertained at her house, which is one of the finest here. You know, that all the nobility of this place are envoys from different states. Here are a great number of them, and they might pass their time agreeably enough, if they were less delicate on the point of ceremony. But instead of joining in the design of making the town as pleasant to one another as they can, and improving their little societies, they amuse themselves no other way than with perpetual quarrels, which they take care to eternize, by leaving them to their successors; and an envoy to Ratisbon receives, regularly, half a dozen quarrels, among the perquisites of his employment. You may be sure the ladies are not wanting, on their side, in cherishing and improving these important picques, which divide the town almost into as many parties, as there are families. They chuse rather to suffer the mortification of sitting almost alone on their assembly nights, than to recede one jot from their pretensions. I have not been here above a week, and yet I have heard from almost every one of them the whole history of their wrongs, and dreadful complaint of the injustice of their neighbours, in hopes to draw me to their party. But I think it very prudent to remain neuter, though, if I was to stay amongst them, there would be no possibility of continuing so, their quarrels running so high, that they will not be civil to those that visit their adversaries. The foundation of these everlasting disputes, turns entirely upon rank, place, and the title of Excellency, which they all pretend to; and, what is very hard, will give it to no body. For my part, I could not forbear advising them, (for the public good) to give the title of Excellency to every body; which would include the receiving it from every body; but the very mention of such a dishonourable peace, was received with as much indignation, as Mrs Blackaire did the motion of a reference. And indeed, I began to think myself ill-natured, to offer to take from them, in a town where there are so few diversions, so entertaining an amusement. I know that my peaceable disposition already gives me a very ill figure, and that ’tis publicly whispered as a piece of impertinent pride in me, that I have hitherto been saucily civil to every body, as if I thought nobody good enough to quarrel with. I should be obliged to change my behaviour, if I did not intend to pursue my journey in a few days. I have been to see the churches here, and had the permission of touching the relicks, which was never suffered in places where I was not known. I had, by this privilege, the opportunity of making an observation, which I doubt not might have been made in all the other churches, that the emeralds and rubies which they show round their relicks and images are most of them false; though they tell you that many of the Crosses and Madonas, set round with these stones, have been the gifts of emperors and other great princes. I don’t doubt, indeed, but they were at first jewels of value; but the good fathers have found it convenient to apply them to other uses, and the people are just as well satisfied with bits of glass amongst these relicks. They shewed me a prodigious claw set in gold, which they called the claw of a griffin; and I could not forbear asking the reverend priest that shewed it, Whether the griffin was a saint? The question almost put him beside his gravity; but he answered, They only kept it as a curiosity. I was very much scandalised at a large silver image of the Trinity, where the Father is represented under the figure of a decrepit old man, with a beard down to his knees, and triple crown on his head, holding in his arms the Son, fixed on the cross, and the Holy Ghost, in the shape of a dove, hovering over him. Madam —— is come this minute to call me to the assembly, and forces me to tell you, very abruptly, that I am ever your, &c. &c.

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