Robert Halsband (ed.), The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Vol. 2: 1721–1751

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LETTERS 1721–1751

IN the whole range of Lady Mary's correspondence, the letters to her sister the Countess of Mar (from 1721 to 1727) are unequalled for concentrated and sustained brilliance. With Hogarthian clarity and pungency they bring to life the beau monde during the latter half of George the First's reign. Since her sister, who lived in Paris, suffered from melancholia (which deepened into insanity in 1728) and she herself felt the pangs of growing old, she spiced her letters with wit to amuse and cynicism to console. The original manuscripts of these letters have been divided between two collections—Lord Bute's, with about two-thirds, and Lord Harrowby's, with about one-third (and copies of the others). They all appear now for the first time from both collections in a complete, accurate, and unbowdlerized text.

Lady Mary began to write to the Countess of Pomfret in 1738,1 shortly before Lady Pomfret, who had held a post at Court, moved to the Continent; she found her a sympathetic recipient for political and personal gossip as well as for more general notions about marriage. After she herself went abroad in 1739 she continued to confide in Lady Pomfret, who encouraged her eloquent and clever commentary. Since the manuscripts of these letters evidently do not survive, the first printed text (of 1837) has been reprinted here.

In the Countess of Oxford, Lady Mary enjoyed a friend towards whom she felt great affection and gratitude. Her rather formal letters, beginning in 1744,2 show how she could adapt her courtliness to a dull, estimable woman. For the first time Lady Oxford's side of the correspondence has been used, mainly in the annotations.

pg xAfter she moved abroad Lady Mary's most frequent correspondent was her husband. Her letters to him1 record her experiences and observations as she travelled through France into Italy, where she settled for almost a year in Venice. After visiting Florence, Rome, Naples, Genoa, Turin, and Geneva, she stayed in Chambéry for a winter, and then settled in the Papal city of Avignon for four years. In 1746 she moved to the Venetian province of Brescia, where she made her home for ten years. Aside from documenting her life as a tourist and as an expatriate, these letters deal with the career of her son, who achieved eminence in his own right as a rogue and an eccentric.

Lady Mary's letters to her daughter the Countess of Bute start in 1746,2 and continue until her return to London fifteen years later. It is her most copious and felicitous correspondence, particularly during the years when she lived near Brescia and also visited the Italian lakes, which at that time were virtually unknown to English tourists. The subject-matter of these letters is, like the landscapes she depicts, pleasantly diversified: domestic activities of her strenuous retirement, advice on the education of her grand-daughters, criticism of new books sent to her from England, and philosophical ruminations as she faced old age.

Of her entirely new letters in this volume there are two important correspondences,3 which reveal new aspects of her personality and epistolary art. Her letters to Francesco Algarotti, the Italian poet and savant, begin in 1736,4 while they were both in London, and continue until 1741, when they were finally reunited in Italy. Their rendezvous there, which had been her main motive for leaving England, put an end to her romantic fantasy. These love-letters, in French and English, are unique for her in their extravagant passion and rhetoric. Their survival and gradual discovery make a fascinating story.5 Since Algarotti's heirs did not follow the polite custom of returning private letters to the families pg xiof the correspondents, the letters remained in Italy. (Undoubtedly they would have been destroyed if returned to Lady Bute.) Later, through the good offices of Byron, a collection of Algarotti's letters including six of Lady Mary's was bought by John Murray, the publisher. In 1837 they were generously loaned to Lord Wharncliffe, Lady Mary's descendant, for possible use in the second edition of her letters and works, but he politely declined to print them. Twenty-four of her letters to Algarotti, remaining together, were seen in Venice in 1850, and then dropped out of sight until they came up for auction in London in 1938, when they were bought for the Bodleian Library.

The other newly discovered correspondence in this volume is that with Mme Chiara Michiel, née Bragadin, a Venetian lady.1 They are witty, debonair, and gracious. Written in fluent if ungrammatical French, they kept alive a warm friendship that endured to the end of Lady Mary's life. After having been misplaced among the Bute Manuscripts for two hundred years, this correspondence has only recently come to light.



The Works of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Including Her Correspondence, Poems, and Essays … [ed. James Dallaway] … 1803.


The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

Edited by Her Great Grandson Lord Wharncliffe … 1837.


The Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Edited by Her Great-Grandson Lord Wharncliffe. Third Edition, With Additions and Corrections.… By W. Moy Thomas.… MDCCCLXI.


The Letters and Works [of 1861]. New Edition, Revised. (Bohn's Standard Library) 1887.


The following own letters, to or from Lady Mary, printed in the text of this volume: Archivio di Stato, Venice (1), the Bodleian Library, Oxford (18), the British Museum (8), the Marquess of Bute (66), the Editor (1), the University of Geneva (3), the Earl of Harrowby (237), Harvard University (1), the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (1), Mrs. Donald F. Hyde (1), the Pierpont Morgan Library (1), Sir John Murray (4), the National Trust, Ickworth (14), the Duke of Portland (1), Princeton University (1), the Royal College of Surgeons, London (3), the Scottish Record Office (4), the Victoria and Albert Museum (1), the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath (2), Wellesley College (1), the Earl of Wharncliffe (37), Professor Ralph M. Williams (1).

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1 Printed below, pp. 118 ff.
Editor’s Note
2 Below, pp. 325 ff.
Editor’s Note
1 Below, pp. 140 ff.
Editor’s Note
2 Below, pp. 366 ff.
Editor’s Note
3 For a third, Lord Hervey's letters to LM, see p. 84, n. 2. (List of abbreviations is on p. xiii below.)
Editor’s Note
4 Below, pp. 101 ff. Their correspondence was resumed in 1756, after a lapse of fifteen years (vol. iii).
Editor’s Note
5 Details in Halsband, LM, pp. 290–1.
Editor’s Note
1 Below, pp. 217 ff.
Editor’s Note
2 For detailed descriptions, see vol. i, pp. xviii-xix.
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