Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Montagu, Mary Wortley
MONTAGU, Lady MARY WORTLEY (1689–1762), writer of 'Letters,' baptised at Covent Garden, 26 May 1689, was the eldest daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, who in 1690 became fifth Earl of Kingston (created Marquis of Dorchester in 1706, and Duke of Kingston in 1715), by Mary, daughter of William Feilding, earl of Denbigh. Her mother died in 1694, leaving three other children: William, Frances (afterwards Countess of Mar), and Evelyn (afterwards Countess of Gower). Mary showed early abilities, and, according to one account, her father had her taught Greek and Latin by her brother's tutor. The Greek, however, is doubtful, and it seems probable that she taught herself Latin (Spence, Anecdotes, p. 232). Lord Kingston, though a man of pleasure and generally a careless father, was proud of his daughter, and it is said that 'before she was eight' he nominated her as a 'toast' at the Kit-Cat Club (generally said, however, to have been founded in 1702; see under Cat, Christopher). As she was not known to the members, he sent for her to the club, when she was elected by acclamation. She always declared afterwards that this was the happiest day of her life. She became an eager reader, devouring the old romances and the old dramatists, besides more solid literature. She was encouraged by an uncle, William Feilding, and by Bishop Burnet. She submitted to Burnet in 1710 a translation of the 'Encheiridion' of Epictetus from the Latin version (printed in Lord Wharncliffe's edition of her 'Works,' i. 225). She became a friend of Mary Astell [q. v.], the defender of woman's rights in her day, who in 1724 wrote a preface to Lady Mary's 'Letters from the East' (first published with the 'Letters' in 1763). Another friend was Anne, daughter of Sidney Wortley Montagu, second son of Edward, first earl of Sandwich [q. v.], who had taken the name of Wortley on his marriage to Anne, daughter of Sir Francis Wortley. Lady Mary was writing enthusiastically about her studies and state of mind to her friend in 1709. Edward Wortley Montagu, brother of Anne, was a man of ability, a good scholar, well known to the whig leaders, and especially attached to Addison. The second volume of the 'Tatler' is dedicated to him. He represented Huntingdon in the House of Commons from 1705 to 1713. He met Lady Mary in his sister's company, was delighted with her knowledge of Latin, as well as with her wit and beauty, sent her at once a copy of verses, wrote letters of warm compliment to be copied and sent to her in his sister's name, and soon became an avowed suitor. His sister died soon after the acquaintance had been formed. A long correspondence followed. Lady Mary's 'Letters' are remarkably well written, and show masculine sense rather than tenderness. She says that she can be a friend, but does not know whether she can love. She probably felt a real passion, although she makes it a point of honour to state fairly every objection to the match. Montagu applied to Lady Mary's father, then Lord Dorchester, but he was finally rejected, upon his refusal to entail his estates upon his eldest son, or to promise his wife a fixed establishment in London. Montagu (see Moy Thomas) gave notes for No. 223 of the 'Tatler' (12 Sept. 1710), which attacks the practice of marriage settlements. The father hereupon ordered Lady Mary to marry another man. Settlements were drawn, and the wedding-day fixed, when Lady Mary left the house and married Montagu privately by special license, dated 12 Aug. 1712. She lived for the next few years in different houses, generally in Yorkshire, her husband's father still occupying Wharncliffe Lodge, near Sheffield. Her husband was often separated from her by his parliamentary duties, and her 'Letters' show occasional discords. Her son, Edward Wortley Montagu (who is separately noticed), was born in 1713. In the same year her sister Frances married John Erskine, sixth or eleventh earl of Mar [q. v.] Her brother, Lord Kingston, died soon afterwards, leaving a son, who became the sixth and last duke. Upon the formation of the first ministry of George I (October 1714), Montagu became one of the commissioners of the treasury, his cousin Charles, lord Halifax [q. v.], being first lord Montagu, it is said, was the only man at the board who could talk French, and who could therefore converse with the king. When after the death of Halifax in 1715 Walpole became first lord, Montagu lost his place, and his remarks on the 'state of party' (published in Lady Mary's 'Works') show that he had a strong dislike to Walpole. Lady Mary was often at court, and was in favour with the Princess of Wales, afterwards Queen Caroline. 'Dolly' Walpole, Sir Robert's sister, afterwards Lady Townshend, had been an early friend, but Sir Robert's wife was her decided enemy. She became well known to all the wits, and among others to Pope, who professed especial admiration for her. Upon the surreptitious publication of her 'Court Poems'(afterwards called ' Town Eclogues') in 1716, Pope revenged her or himself by administering an emetic to Curll [see under Curll, Edmund]. On 5 June 1716 Montagu was appointed ambassador to the Porte, then at war with Austria. The embassy was intended to reconcile the Turks and the emperor. Montagu left London with his wife and their child at the end of July. They reached Vienna at the beginning of September, and, after visiting other German courts, left Vienna on 17 Jan. 1717, and travelled to Adrianople, where they stayed for two months, reaching Constantinople at the end of May. On 28 Oct. following Montagu received letters of recall, with a private letter from Addison,who had now become secretary of state. Addison's endeavours to assign complimentary reasons for the recall imply a consciousness that Montagu would scarcely see the measure in that light. Montagu was not, as Addison suggested, anxious to return to England, for he remained at Constantinople till 6 June 1718. His daughter Mary (afterwards Lady Bute) was born in February 1718. The Montagus returned by sea to Genoa, and reached England at the end of October. Montagu collected some oriental manuscripts, and presented an inscribed marble to Trinity College, Cambridge. Lady Mary's interest in the manners of the country is shown by her 'Letters,' and she learnt a little Turkish. At Adrianople she had noticed the practice of inoculation for the small-pox (see letter of 1 April 1717). She had her son inoculated, and took much pains to introduce the practice upon her return to England. The physician of the embassy, a Mr. Maitland, inoculated in London under her patronage, and in 1724 Steele celebrated her merits in a paper in the 'Plain Dealer,' 3 July ( Gent. Mag. xxvii. 409; Phil. Trans. 1757, No.lxxi.), and congratulated her upon her 'godlike delight 'of saving' many thousand British lives' every year. For many years after her return to England Lady Mary was a leader in London society. Her 'Letters' show that she was not without a keen appetite for the scandal of the times, and she was one of the greatest sufferers by the same propensity in her neighbours. Her husband again represented Huntingdon in the parliaments elected in 1722 and 1727. He afterwards sat for Peterborough from 1734 to 1747, and from 1754 till 1751. He never took any conspicuous part in politics, and devoted himself chiefly to saving money.
Upon returning to England Lady Mary had resumed intercourse with Pope. Pope had celebrated her in the 'Epistle to Jervas' (published 1717), and more than one copy of occasional verses (POPE, Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iv. 491-3). The thought of her in- spired the 'Epistle of Eloisato Abelard,'and to her during her journey were addressed letters of the most stilted and fine-spun gallantry. She replied, checking his ecstasies with calm good breeding and sense. On 1 Sept. 1718 Pope wrote to her the well-known letter upon the romantic death of two rustic lovers struck by lightning, to which she replied from Dover (1 Nov.), on her way home, by a bit of cynicism, too true to be pleasant. He continued his adoration, and persuaded her and her husband to take a cottage at Twickenham, in order to be his neighbours. The close relation between the keen woman of the world and the querulous and morbidly sensitive poet was dangerous. The friendship continued for a time. Sir Godfrey Kneller painted her picture for the poet in 1719; his last letter, in September 1721, is in the old style ; and in the spring of 1722 she says in a letter to her sister that she seldom sees him, but encloses some of his verses containing a compliment to her. A quarrel followed, the causes of which have been much discussed. Various stories are given: Miss Hawkins (Anecdotes, p. 75) reported that the quarrel was due to a pair of sheets lent by Pope to the Montagus and returned unwashed. This was confirmed by Worsdale the painter (Life of Malone, p. 150). Lady Mary herself told Spence (Anecdotes, 1820, p. 233) that Pope told Arbuthnot that he had refused to write a satire upon somebody when requested to do so by Lady Mary and Lord Hervey ; Lady Mary implies that this story was false, but speaks as though she did not know the true cause. Mr. Moy Thomas and Dilke think that the quarrel arose out of her ridicule of his story of the lovers killed by lightning. This assumes that the letter to him was not really sent at the date assigned to it, which is possible, but is a mere guess. Mr. Courthope thinks, and with apparent justice, that there is no reason for doubting the account given, according to Lady Louisa Stuart, by Lady Mary herself, that Pope was betrayed into a declaration of love, which Lady Mary received with a fit of laughter. This story is in harmony with all that we know of their relations; and if, as is probable, the declaration was meant to be taken in a poetic sense, the laughter was painfully sincere. The more serious the cause the greater is the excuse for Pope's subsequent malignity, though no excuse can be more than a slight palliation. A coarse lampoon upon Lady Mary by Swift, 'The Capon's Tale,' first published in the 'Miscellany' of 1826, implies that the quarrel had begun, and hints at previous lampoons attributed to her. Pope's references to 'Sappho' are in the 'Dunciad,' bk. ii. 1. 136 (1728, and note added in 1729); the 'Epistle to Lord Bathurst' (1732), 11. 121-2; the 'Imitation of the 1st Satire of the 2nd Book of Horace' (1732-3), 11. 83-4; the 'Epistle to Martha Blount' (1734-5), 11. 25-6; the 'Epistle to Arbuthnot' (1734-5), 11. 368-9; 'Versification of Donne' (1735), i. 6; and the 'Epilogue to the Satires' (1738), i. 113, ii, 19. Pope was apparently the aggressor in this warfare, although it seems that he suspected Lady Mary of being concerned in a previous libel called 'A Pop upon Pope' (1728), a story of his being whipped in revenge for the 'Dunciad' (see Carruthers, Pope, 1857, pp. 258-9, and Pope Works, x. 119). When the atrocious allusion in the 'Imitations of Horace' appeared, Lady Mary asked Peterborough to remonstrate with Pope. Pope made the obvious reply that he wondered that Lady Mary should suppose the lines to apply to any but some notoriously abandoned woman. It is of course impossible to prove who was in Pope's head when he wrote, but he certainly endeavoured to confirm the application to Lady Mary when it was made by the town (see Mr. Courthope's remarks in Pope's Works, iii. 279-84). The 'Verses addressed to an Imitator of Horace by a Lady,' published in 1733, are generally attributed to Lady Mary, in co-operation with her friend and fellow-victim to Pope's satire, Lord Hervey (see Courthope in Pope's Works as above, and v. 259-61). They insult Pope's family and person with a brutality only exceeded by his own. His base insinuations probably injured Lady Mary's reputation in her time. Two of the points to which he refers, that she 'starved a sister' and 'denied a debt' (Epilogue to Satires}, were of importance in her history.
A Frenchman named Rémond (who is described in St.-Simon's Memoirs, 1829, xvii. 306) made love to her; and, though she did not encourage his passion, she seems to have written some imprudent letters to him. She thought that she would get rid of him handsomely by making some money for him in the South Sea speculation. He gained something by selling out on her advice, but left the money in her hands to be again invested. In one of his last letters (22 Aug. 1720) Pope had advised her to buy at a time when the stock was rapidly declining in value. Whether she lost on her own account does not appear; but the 900l. which she invested for Rémond soon sank in value to 400l. He then claimed the repayment of the original sum as a debt, and threatened to publish her letters. She was certainly alarmed, and especially anxious to keep the matter from her husband, who was severe in all questions of money. Our knowledge of the affair is derived from her letters upon the subject to Lady Mar. Horace Walpole, who saw them, gave a distorted version of their purport to Sir Horace Mann. But in fact, although they show her to have been imprudent, they refute any worse imputation upon her character or her honesty. Rémond appears to have spread reports which must have reached Pope, who knew something of the South Sea speculation. The story about her sister refers to Lady Mar, who was for a time disordered in mind. Her brother-in-law, James Erskine, lord Grange [q. v.], famous for the violent imprisonment of his wife, tried also to get hold of Lady Mar. Lady Mary obtained a warrant from the king's bench in 1731, and was for some time her sister's guardian. There does not appear to be any ground for a charge of harsh treatment. Lady Mary was on very friendly terms with Lord Hervey, and on hostile terms with his wife. Her favour was courted by Young, of the 'Night Thoughts,' who in 1726 consulted her about his tragedy, 'The Brothers,' and by her second cousin, Fielding, who dedicated his first comedy to her in 1727, and asked her to read his 'Modern Husband.' She managed to be on good terms with the redoubtable Sarah, duchess of Marlborough; but she seems to have made enemies by her satirical wit. In 1739 she went abroad, for reasons which have not been explained. Her letters to her husband imply that they still remained on friendly terms, and she speaks of him to their daughter with apparent affection. She told a correspondent that he had been detained by business till she was tired of waiting, and went abroad, expecting him to follow in six weeks (to Lady Pomfret, from Venice, n.d., probably in 1740). In any case, they did not again meet. She left England in July 1739, and travelled to Venice. In the autumn of 1740 she went to Florence, where she met Horace Walpole, who gives a disgusting account of her slovenly appearance, her 'impudence,' avarice, and absurdity (Walpole, Letters, ed. Cunningham, i. 55, 57). She visited Rome and Naples, and at the end of 1741 crossed the Alps to Geneva and Chambéry. In 1742 she settled at Avignon, where the town gave her a piece of land with an old mill, which she patched up for a house. The 'increase of Scottish and Irish rebels' (to the Countess of Oxford, 29 Nov. 1747) in 1746 made the place unpleasant to her, and she moved to Brescia, where she bought the shell of an old palace, fitted it up, and stayed for some years, spending her summers at Lovere, on the Lago d'Iseo. She thought Lovere 'the most beautifully romantic place' she ever saw, and compares it to Tunbridge Wells (to Lady Bute, 21 July 1747). She made occasional excursions elsewhere, and in 1758 settled at Venice. She corresponded with her daughter, Lady Bute, reporting her impressions of Italian society and of the books which she read. She admired Fielding and Smollett, but despised Richardson, though she could not help crying over him. She wished her granddaughters to acquire some learning, but hoped that they would not marry, and that their mother would 'moderate her fondness' for them. In the last years of her stay she became intimate with Sir James Denham Steuart [q. v.], who dedicated to her the first two books of his 'Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy.' Lady Mary's husband died in January 1761, aged 83. Horace Walpole describes him living at Wharncliffe, the seat of the Wortleys, in 1756, in the most miserly fashion, his only indulgence being tokay (Walpole, Letters, in. 29). He was reported to have left 1,350,000l. (ib. iii. 377; and Gray to Wharton, 31 Jan. 1761). Pope (Horace, bk. ii. sat. ii. 11. 49-60) satirised the pair as 'Avidien and his wife,' fend Montagu appears to have done little beyond saving money in later years. Walpole rightly prophesied that Lady Mary would return to England.
Her daughter's husband was now in power (secretary of state 25 March 1761), and Lady Bute begged her mother to come to her. Lady Mary's health was breaking, but she left Venice in the autumn, and reached England in the beginning of 1762. She died on 21 Aug. following. A cenotaph was erected to her memory in Lichfield Cathedral, commemorating her introduction of inoculation.
Lady Mary had herself suffered from smallpox, which 'deprived her of very fine eyelashes' and impaired her beauty. The portrait painted by Kneller in 1719, apparently for Pope, came into the possession of Lord Bute. A portrait painted by Charles della Rusca in 1739, and presented by her to the Countess of Oxford, is at Wortley Hall. A third portrait, by Jonathan Richardson, belongs to the Earl of Wharncliffe, and another of Lady Mary by Highmore is in the possession of T. Humphry Ward, esq. An enamel by Zincke (1738), engraved by Vertue, is at Welbeck. A miniature in possession of Lord Harrington is engraved in the editions of her 'Works' by Wharncliffe and Thomas.
Lady Mary's 'Town Eclogues' were first published piratically as 'Court Poems' in 1716 (misdated 1706 on title-page). They were republished, with others, by Dodsley in 1747, and again in his 'Miscellany.' They were edited by Isaac Reed in 1768, and are included in his 'Works.' Lady Mary's letters from the East were given by her when at Rotterdam in 1761 to a Mr. Sowden, minister of the English church there, with a note by herself, stating that she authorised him to use them as he pleased. He is said to have sold them to her daughter for 500l. Another copy, given by Lady Mary to Mr. Molesworth, also came into possession of Lord Bute. An edition appeared in 1763, in 3 vols. 12mo, as 'Letters of Lady M——y W———y M———,' said to have been edited by the disreputable John Cleland [q. v.] A fourth volume appeared in 1767, of doubtful authority, and probably forged by Cleland, though reprinted by later editors. A story is told by Dallaway of a device by which the manuscript of the letters was surreptitiously copied while in Sowden's possession; but Mr. Moy Thomas says that this edition follows the Molesworth MS., which differs considerably from the other. It is doubtful how far the letters were sent as they now appear, or made out of a diary kept at the time; they were, previous to 1763, handed about in manuscript.
In 1803 an edition of the 'Works,' including the above, with other letters and poems, was published by James Dallaway [q. v.], with materials supplied by Lord Bute, and a memoir. A second edition, with letters to Mrs. Hewitt, appeared in 1817. A new edition, in 3 vols. 8vo, edited by Lady Mary's great-grandson, Lord Wharncliffe, was published in 1837. To this were added the very interesting 'Introductory Anecdotes' by Lady Louisa Stuart, Lady Bute's daughter. The last edition, by Mr. Moy Thomas, in 2 vols. 8vo, with a new life, appeared in 1861. The correspondence with Pope is in Pope's 'Works' (Courthope and Elwin, ix. 339-415). [Lives, as above, prefixed to Works, by Dallaway and Moy Thomas, and Introductory Anecdotes; Spence's Anecdotes, 1820, pp. 224, 230, &c., 292, 371. Pope's Works (Courthope and Elwin) give full discussions of all the disputed points. See also Dilke's Papers of a Critic, i. 343-60.]