Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xxxvi.

From Belgrade Village. — Lady M’s agreeable situation there — diary of her way of spending the week, compared with the modish way of spending time.

To Mr Pope.

Belgrade Village, June 17. O. S.

I HOPE, before this time, you have received two or three of my letters. I had yours but yesterday, though dated the third of February, in which you suppose me to be dead and buried. I have already let you know, that I am still alive; but to say truth, I look upon my present circumstances to be exactly the same with those of departed spirits. The heats of Constantinople have driven me to this place, which perfectly answers the description of the Elysian fields. I am in the middle of a wood, consisting chiefly of fruit-trees, watered by a vast number of fountains, famous for the excellency of their water, and divided into many shady walks, upon short grass, that seems to me artificial, but, I am assured, is the pure work of nature — within view of the Black sea, from whence we perpetually enjoy the refreshment of cool breezes, that make us insensible of the heat of the summer. The village is only inhabited by the richest amongst the Christians, who meet every night at a fountain, forty paces from my house, to sing and dance. The beauty and dress of the women exactly resemble the ideas of the ancient nymphs, as they are given us by the representations of the poets and painters. But what persuades me more fully of my decease, is the situation of my own mind, the profound ignorance I am in, of what passes among the living (which only comes to me by chance) and the great calmness with which I receive it. Yet I have still a hankering after my friends and acquaintances left in the world, according to the authority of that admirable author,

That spirits departed are wondrous kind

To friends and relations left behind:

Which nobody can deny.

Of which solemn truth, I am a dead instance. I think Virgil is of the same opinion, that in human souls there will still be some remains of human passions:

Curae non ipsae in morte relinquunt.

And ’tis very necessary, to make a perfect elysium, that there should be a river Lethe, which I am not so happy as to find. To say truth, I am sometimes very weary of the singing, and dancing, and sunshine, and wish for the smoke and impertinencies in which you toil; though I endeavour to persuade myself, that I live in a more agreeable variety than you do; and that Monday, setting of partridges; Tuesday, reading English; Wednesday, studying in the Turkish language, (in which, by the way, I am already very learned;) Thursday, classical authors; Friday, spent in writing; Saturday, at my needle; and Sunday, admitting of visits, and hearing of music, is a better way of disposing of the week; than, Monday, at the drawing room; Tuesday, lady Mohun’s; Wednesday, at the opera; Thursday, the play; Friday, Mrs Chetwynd’s, &c. a perpetual round of hearing the same scandal, and seeing the same follies acted over and over, which here affect me no more than they do other dead people. I can now hear of displeasing things with pity, and without indignation. The reflection on the great gulph between you and me, cools all news that come hither. I can neither be sensibly touched with joy or grief, when I consider, that possibly the cause of either is removed, before the letter comes to my hands. But (as I said before) this indolence does not extend to my few friendships; I am still warmly sensible of yours and Mr Congreve’s, and desire to live in your remembrance, though dead to all the world beside.

I am, &c. &c.


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