Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xi.

Vienna — Phlegmatic disposition of the Austrians — humorous anecdote of a contest upon a point of ceremony — widows not allowed any rank at Vienna — pride of ancestry — marriage portions limited — different treatment of ambassadors and envoys at Court.

To Mrs J——.

Vienna, Sept. 26. O. S. 1716.

I WAS never more agreeably surprised than by your obliging letter. ’Tis a peculiar mark of my esteem that I tell you so; and I can assure you, that if I loved you one grain less than I do, I should be very sorry to see it so diverting as it is. The mortal aversion I have to writing, makes me tremble at the thoughts of a new correspondent; and I believe I have disobliged no less than a dozen of my London acquaintance by refusing to hear from them, though I did verily think they intended to send me very entertaining letters. But I had rather lose the pleasure of reading several witty things, than be forced to write many stuped ones. Yet, in spite of these considerations, I am charmed with the proof of your friendship, and beg a continuation of the same goodness, though I fear the dulness of this will make you immediately repent of it. It is not from Austria that one can write with vivacity, and I am already infected with the phlegm of the country. Even their amours and their quarrels are carried on with a surprising temper, and they are never lively but upon points of ceremony. There, I own, they shew all their passions; and ’tis not long since two coaches, meeting in a narrow street at night, the ladies in them not being able to adjust the ceremonial of which should go back, sat there, with equal gallantry till two in the morning, and were both so fully determined to die upon the spot rather than yield, in a point of that importance, that the street would never have been cleared till their deaths, if the emperor had not sent his guards to part them; and even then they refused to stir, till the expedient could be found out of taking them both out in chairs, exactly in the same moment. After the ladies were agreed, it was with some difficulty that the pass was decided between the two coachmen, no less tenacious of their rank than the ladies. This passion is so omnipotent in the breasts of the women, that even their husbands never die but they are ready to break their hearts, because that fatal hour puts an end to their rank, no widows having any place at Vienna. The men are not much less touched with this point of honour, and they do not only scorn to marry, but even to make love to any woman of a family not as illustrious as their own; and the pedigree is much more considered by them, than either the complexion of features of their mistresses. Happy are the she’s that can number amongst their ancestors, counts of the empire; they have neither occasion for beauty, money, nor good conduct to get them husbands. ’Tis true, as to money, ’tis seldom any advantage to the man they marry; the laws of Austria confine the woman’s portion to two thousand florins (about two hundred pounds English), and whatever they have beside, remains in their own possession and disposal. Thus, here are many ladies much richer than their husbands, who are however obliged to allow them pin-money agreeable to their quality; and I attribute to this considerable branch of prerogative, the liberty that they take upon other occasions. I am sure, you, that know my laziness, and extreme indifference on this subject, will pity me, entangled amongst all these ceremonies, which are a wonderful burden to me, though I am the envy of the whole town, having, by their own customs, the pass before them all. They indeed, so revenge, upon the poor envoys, this great respect shewn to ambassadors, that (with all my indifference) I should be very uneasy to suffer it. Upon days of ceremony they have no entrance at court, and on other days must content themselves with walking after every soul, and being the very last taken notice of. But I must write a volume to let you know all the ceremonies, and I have already said too much on so dull a subject, which however employs the whole care of the people here. I need not, after this, tell you how agreeably time slides away with me; you know as well as I do the taste of, Your’s, &c. &c.


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