Letters from Turkey, by Mary Wortley Montagu

Letter vii.

From Vienna. — Voyage from Ratisbon down the Danube — general description of Vienna — the houses — furniture — entertainments — the Fauxbourg — Count Schoonbourn’s villa.

To the Countess of ——.

Vienna, Sept. 8. O. S. 1716.

I AM now, my dear sister, safely arrived at Vienna; and, I thank God, have not at all suffered in my health, nor (what is dearer to me) in that of my child, by all our fatigues. We travelled by water from Ratisbon, a journey perfectly agreeable, down the Danube, in one of those little vessels, that they, very properly, call wooden houses, having in them all the conveniences of a palace, stoves in the chambers, kitchens, &c. They are rowed by twelve men each, and move with such incredible swiftness, that in the same day you have the pleasure of a vast variety of prospects; and, within the space of a few hours, you have the pleasure of seeing a populous city adorned with magnificent palaces, and the most romantic solitudes, which appear distant from the commerce of mankind, the banks of the Danube being charmingly diversified with woods, rocks, mountains covered with vines, fields of corn, large cities, and ruins of ancient castles. I saw the great towns of Passau and Lintz, famous for the retreat of the imperial court, when Vienna was besieged. This town, which has the honour of being the emperor’s residence, did not at all answer my expectation, nor ideas of it, being much less than I expected to find it; the streets are very close, and so narrow, one cannot observe the fine fronts of the palaces, though many of them very well deserve observation, being truly magnificent. They are built of fine white stone, and are excessive high. For as the town is too little for the number of the people that desire to live in it, the builders seem to have projected to repair that misfortune, by clapping one town on the top of another, most of the houses being of five, and some of them six stories. You may easily imagine, that the streets being so narrow, the rooms are extremely dark; and, what is an inconveniency much more intolerable, in my opinion, there is no house has so few as five or six families in it. The apartments of the greatest ladies, and even of the ministers of state, are divided, but by a partition, from that of a taylor or shoemaker; and I know no body that has above two floors in any house, one for their own use, and one higher for their servants. Those that have houses of their own, let Out the rest of them to whoever will take them; and thus the great stairs, (which are all of stone) are as common and as dirty as the street. ’Tis true, when you have once travelled through them, nothing can be more surprisingly magnificent than the apartments. They are commonly a suite of eight or ten large rooms, all inlaid, the doors and windows richly carved and gilt, and the furniture, such as is seldom seen in the palaces of sovereign princes in other countries. Their apartments are adorned with hangings of the finest tapestry of Brussels, prodigious large looking glasses in silver frames, fine japan tables, beds, chairs, canopies, and window curtains of the richest Genoa damask or velvet, almost covered with gold lace or embroidery. All this is made gay by pictures, and vast jars of japan china, and large lustres of rock crystal. I have already had the honour of being invited to dinner by several of the first people of quality; and I must do them the justice to say, the good taste and magnificence of their tables, very well answered to that of their furniture. I have been more than once entertained with fifty dishes of meat all served in silver, and well dressed; the desert proportionable, served in the finest china. But the variety and richness of their wines, is what appears the most surprising. The constant way is, to lay a list of their names upon the plates of the guests, along with the napkins; and I have counted several times to the number of eighteen different sorts, all exquisite in their kinds. I was yesterday at Count Schoonbourn, the vice-chancellor’s garden, where I was invited to dinner. I must own, I never saw a place so perfectly delightful as the Fauxburg of Vienna. It is very large, and almost wholly composed of delicious palaces. If the emperor found it proper to permit the gates of the town to be laid open, that the Fauxburg might be joined to it, he would have one of the largest and best built cities in Europe. Count Schoonbourn’s villa is one of the most magnificent; the furniture all rich brocades, so well fancied and fitted up, nothing can look more gay and splendid; not to speak of a gallery, full of rarities of coral, mother of pearl, and, throughout the whole house, a profusion of gilding, carving, fine paintings, the most beautiful porcelain, statues of alabaster and ivory, and vast orange and lemon trees in gilt pots. The dinner was perfectly fine and well ordered, and made still more agreeable by the good humour of the Count. I have not yet been at court, being forced to stay for my gown, without which there is no waiting on the empress; though I am not without great impatience to see a beauty that has been the admiration of so many different nations. When I have had that honour, I will not fail to let you know my real thoughts, always taking a particular pleasure in communicating them to my dear sister.


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