Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter xl.

Pera. — Turkish love-letter, with a translation — the confusion of tongues spoke at Pera — Lady M. in danger of losing her English.

To the Lady ——.

Pera, March 16. O. S.

I AM extremely pleased, my dear lady, that you have, at length, found a commission for me, that I can answer, without disappointing your expectations; though I must tell you, that it is not so easy as perhaps you think it; and that if my curiosity had not been more diligent than any other stranger’s has ever yet been, I must have answered you with an excuse, as, I was forced to do, when you desired me to buy you a Greek slave. I have got for you, as you desire, a Turkish love-letter, which I have put into a little box, and ordered the captain of the Smyrniote to deliver it to you with this letter. The translation of it is literally as follows: The first piece you should pull out of the purse, is a little pearl, which is in Turkish called Ingi, and must be understood in this manner:

Sensin Uzellerin gingi
Fairest of the young.
Caremfilsen cararen yok
Conge gulsum timarin yok
Benseny chok than severim
Senin benden, haberin yok.
You are as slender as the clove!
You are an unblown rose!
I have long loved you, and you have not known it!
Derdime derman bul
Have pity on my passion!
Birlerum sahat sahat
I faint every hour!
Ver bixe bir umut
Give me some hope.
Derdinden oldum zabun
I am sick with love.
Ben oliyim size umur
May I die, and all my years be yours!
A rose,
Ben aglarum sen gul
May you be pleased, and your sorrows mine!
A straw,
Oliim sana yazir
Suffer me to be your slave.
Jo ho,
Ustune bulunmaz pahu
Your price is not to be found.
Sen ghel ben chekeim senin hargin
But my fortune is yours.
A match,
Esking-ilen oldum ghira
I burn, I burn! my flame consumes me!
Uzunu benden a yirma
Don’t turn away your face.
Bazmazum tatch
Crown of my head!
Benim iki Guzum
My eyes!
Gold wire,
Ulugorum tez ghel
I die--come quickly.

And, by way of postscript:

Bize bir dogm haber
Send me an answer.

You see this letter is all in verse, and I can assure you, there is as much fancy shewn in the choice of them, as in the most studied expressions of our letters; there being, I believe, a million of verses designed for this use. There is no colour, no flower, no weed, no fruit, herb, pebble, or feather, that has not a verse belonging to it; and you may quarrel, reproach, or send letters of passion, friendship, or civility, or even Of news, without ever inking your fingers.

I FANCY you are now wondering at my profound learning; but, alas! dear madam, I am almost fallen into the misfortune so common to the ambitious; while they are employed on distant insignificant conquests abroad, a rebellion starts up at home; — I am in great danger of losing my English. I find ’tis not half so easy to me to write in it, as it was a twelvemonth ago. I am forced to study for expressions, and must leave off all other languages, and try to learn my mother tongue. — Human understanding is as much limited as human power, or human strength. The memory can retain but a certain number of images; and ’tis as impossible for one human creature to be perfect master of ten different languages, as to have, in perfect subjection, ten different kingdoms, or to fight against ten men at a time; I am afraid I shall at last know none as I should do. I live in a place, that very well represents the tower of Babel: in Pera they speak Turkish, Greek, Hebrew, Armenian, Arabic, Persian, Russian, Sclavonian, Walachian, German, Dutch, French, English, Italian, Hungarian; and, what is worse, there are ten of these languages spoken in my own family. My grooms are Arabs; my footmen French, English, and Germans; my nurse an Armenian; my house-maids Russians; half a dozen other servants, Greeks; my steward an Italian; my janizaries Turks; so that I live in the perpetual hearing of this medley of sounds, which produces a very extraordinary effect upon the people that are born here; for they learn all these languages at the same time, and without knowing any of them well enough to write or read in it. There are very few men, women, or even children here, that have not the same compass of words in five or six of them. I know, myself, several infants of three or four years old, that speak Italian, French, Greek, Turkish, and Russian, which last they learn of their nurses, who are generally of that country. This seems almost incredible to you, and is, in my mind, one of the most curious things in this country, and takes off very much from the merit of our ladies, who set up for such extraordinary geniuses, upon the credit of some superficial knowledge of French and Italian.

AS I prefer English to all the rest, I am extremely mortified at the daily decay of it in my head, where I’ll assure you (with grief of heart) it is reduced to such a small number of words, I cannot recollect any tolerable phrase to conclude my letter with, and am forced to tell your ladyship very bluntly, that I am,

Your’s, &C. &c.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58