Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter li.

From Dover. — Ludicrous distresses in the passage to Dover — reflections on travelling — brief comparison between England and the rest of the world in general.

To the Abbot ——.

Dover, Oct. 31. O. S. 1718.

I AM willing to take your word for it, that I shall really oblige you, by letting you know, as soon as possible, my safe passage over the water. I arrived this morning at Dover, after being tossed a whole night in the packet-boat, in so violent a manner, that the master, considering the weakness of his vessel, thought it proper to remove the mail, and give us notice of the danger. We called a little fishing boat, which could hardly make up to us; while all the people on board us were crying to Heaven. ’Tis hard to imagine one’s self in a scene of greater horror than on such an occasion: and yet, shall I own it to you? though I was not at all willingly to be drowned, I could not forbear being entertained at the double distress of a fellow-passenger. She was an English lady that I had met at Calais, who desired me to let her go over with me in my cabin. She had bought a fine point-head, which she was contriving to conceal from the custom-house officers. When the wind grew high, and our little vessel cracked, she fell very heartily to her prayers, and thought wholly of her soul. When it seemed to abate, she returned to the worldly care of her head-dress, and addressed herself to me —“Dear madam, will you take care of this point? if it should be lost! — Ah, Lord, we shall all be lost! — Lord have mercy on my soul! — Pray, madam, take care of this head-dress.” This easy transition from her soul to her head-dress, and the alternate agonies that both gave her, made it hard to determine which she thought of greatest value. But, however, the scene was not so diverting, but I was glad to get rid of it, and be thrown into the little boat, though with some hazard of breaking my neck. It brought me safe hither; and I cannot help looking with partial eyes on my native land. That partiality was certainly given us by nature, to prevent rambling, the effect of an ambitious thirst after knowledge, which we are not formed to enjoy. All we get by it, is a fruitless desire of mixing the different pleasures and conveniencies which are given to the different parts of the world, and cannot meet in any one of them. After having read all that is to be found in the languages I am mistress of, and having decayed my sight by midnight studies, I envy the easy peace of mind of a ruddy milk-maid, who, undisturbed by doubt, hears the sermon, with humility, every Sunday, not having confounded the sentiments of natural duty in her head by the vain-inquiries of the schools, who may be more learned, yet, after all, must remain as ignorant. And, after having seen part of Asia and Africa, and almost made the tour of Europe, I think the honest English squire more happy, who verily believes the Greek wines less delicious than March beer; that the African fruits have not so fine a flavour as golden pippins; that the Beca figuas of Italy are not so well tasted as a rump of beef; and that, in short, there is no perfect enjoyment of this life out of Old England. I pray God I may think so for the rest of my life; and, since I must be contented with our scanty allowance of day-light, that I may forget the enlivening sun of Constantinople.

I am, &c. &c.


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