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LHMP #416 Montagu 1763 Letters of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montague

Full citation: 

Montague, Mary Wortley. 1763. Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M—y W—y M——e: Written during her Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa. T. Becket and P.A. DeHondt, in the Strand.

This post is part of a series of primary source materials illustrating how Europeans perceived, reported, and discussed female homoeroticism in the Ottoman Empire during the 16th to early 18th centuries. I’ll give a larger context for why this is a period of interest for European interactions with a non-European, non-Christian culture that could not be dismissed easily as  not being of equal power an importance to their own. Attitudes toward, and practice of homosexuality was far from the most noteworthy difference that these reports covered, but it’s the one of interest to us within the scope of this Project. I’ll be presenting the descriptions from ambassadors, travelers, and others in chronological order of their time spent in Constantinople and other key cities, followed by some additional primary sources that show how the echos of these interactions became part of European myths about lesbianism.

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Mary Wortley Montagu was the wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 18th century and spent two years accompanying him to Constantinople. During those travels, she corresponded regularly with a number of people, describing her experiences and observations. Much of that correspondence was later published as The Turkish Embassy Letters (initial publication title: Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M—y W—y M——e: Written during her Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa).

Unlike the male authors of observations on Ottoman society in the 16-17th centuries, Montagu had access to segregated women’s spaces and—as a high-status guest—social access to women of the upper classes, including a visit to the women's baths. Her account does not include any salacious descriptions of overt lesbianism, though she does regularly express appreciation for the beauty and sensuality of the women she interacted with. There is, perhaps, a shift in approach between where she describes women as being entirely naked in the baths, but “there was not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture amongst them,” and a passage describing being entertained by a noblewoman whose daughters danced to entertain them. “This dance was very different from what I had seen before. Nothing could be more artful, or more proper to raise certain ideas. The tunes so soft!—the motions so languishing!—accompanied with pauses and dying eyes! half-falling back, and then recovering themselves in so artful a manner, that I am very positive, the coldest and most rigid prude upon earth, could not have looked upon them without thinking of something not to be spoke of.” The phrase “not to be spoke of” evokes the regular theme that same-sex desire is something “unspeakable” in the sense of something one is not supposed to talk about. So I don’t think it is at all a stretch to consider this passage to be directly (if obliquely) raising the question of lesbian desire and indicating that Montagu as not impervious to that desire.

I have included extensive quotations from letters describing women’s lives and experiences that Montagu had access to, in order to provide a counterpoint to the male-authored accounts from the previous century. To be clear, we should not assume that Ottoman culture was static and unchanging, and Montagu’s time in Adrianople and Constantinople was a century and a half later than Nicolay’s. But Montagu is our most accessible window on female Ottoman culture that is not by necessity filtered through several layers of male reportage. Since I’ve been adding in interesting trivia about other authors in this series, I’ll note that Montagu encountered an early version of smallpox inoculation in Turkey and helped introduce it into English practice

I’ve found conflicting information on the publication history of Montagu’s Turkish letters. Some sources claim the first published edition was in 1790, however while I was looking for online editions, had a 3-volume set published in 1763, titled Letters of the Right Honourable Lady M—y W—y M——e: Written during her Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa (T. Becket and P.A. DeHondt, in the Strand). (See link for the 1st volume—the others are linked to it.) Since sources note that she intended the letters to be published after her death, which was in 1762, presumably this is the earliest edition. It’s interesting to note that the collection has a preface dated 1724, half a dozen years after her return to England. I don’t know whether this indicates that she was already planning for the publication at that time. I’ve primarily used the 1790 edition available from because it’s already been transcribed and proofed, however I’ve amended one key word from the 1763 edition as discussed below. I’ve quoted fairly extensively from those letters that talk about women’s lives and experiences, as well as ones where she explicitly debunks popular beliefs about Ottoman society. Text that is in italics in the original is underlined here.

The excerpts included below are:

  • •Montagu visits a women’s batch in Adrianople
  • Montagu provides a different view of the liberty of Turkish women than many of the men do
  • Montagu is entertained by two high-status women and is greatly enamored of the beauty of the second
  • Montagu comments on other travellers’ tales
  • Montagu gets the inside story of the seraglio from a former Sultana
  • Montagu once again snipes at the tales of other travellers

This is one of the letters often quoted to contrast with the reports of male authors on women’s baths in Turkey. This occurs somewhat early in her travels before reaching Constantinople. Adrianople is modern Edirne and is located very close to the border intersection between Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece.



Adrianople, April 1. O. S. 1717.

I AM now got into a new world, where every thing I see appears to me a change of scene; and I write to your ladyship with some content of mind, hoping, at least, that you will find the charms of novelty in my letters, and no longer reproach me, that I tell you nothing extraordinary. I won't trouble you with a relation of our tedious journey; but must not omit what I saw remarkable at Sophia, one of the most beautiful towns in the Turkish empire, and famous for its hot baths, that are resorted to both for diversion and health. I stopped here one day, on purpose to see them; and, designing to go incognito, I hired a Turkish coach. These voitures are not at all like ours, but much more convenient for the country, the heat being so great, that glasses would be very troublesome. They are made a good deal in the manner of the Dutch stage-coaches, having wooden lattices painted and gilded; the inside being also painted with baskets and nosegays of flowers, intermixed commonly with little poetical mottos. They are covered all over with scarlet cloth, lined with silk, and very often richly embroidered and fringed. This covering entirely hides the persons in them, but may be thrown back at pleasure, and thus permits the ladies to peep through the lattices. They hold four people very conveniently, seated on cushions, but not raised.

IN one of these covered waggons (sic), I went to the bagnio about ten o'clock. It was already full of women. It is built of stone, in the shape of a dome, with no windows but in the roof, which gives light enough. There were five of these domes joined together, the outmost being less than the rest, and serving only as a hall, where the portress stood at the door. Ladies of quality generally give this woman a crown or ten shillings; and I did not forget that ceremony. The next room is a very large one paved with marble, and all round it are two raised sofas of marble, one above another. There were four fountains of cold water in this room, falling first into marble basons (sic), and then running on the floor in little channels made for that purpose, which carried the streams into the next room, something less than this, with the same sort of marble sofas, but so hot with steams of sulphur proceeding from the baths joining to it, 'twas impossible to stay there with one's cloaths (sic) on. The two other domes were the hot baths, one of which had cocks of cold water turning into it, to temper it to what degree of warmth the bathers pleased to have.

I WAS in my travelling habit, which is a riding dress, and certainly appeared very extraordinary to them. Yet there was not one of them that shewed the least surprise or impertinent curiosity, but received me with all the obliging civility possible. I know no European court, where the ladies would have behaved themselves in so polite a manner to such a stranger. I believe, upon the whole, there were two hundred women, and yet none of those disdainful smiles, and satirical whispers, that never fail in our assemblies, when any body appears that is not dressed exactly in the fashion. They repeated over and over to me; "UZELLE, PEK UZELLE," which is nothing but, Charming, very Charming.—The first sofas were covered with cushions and rich carpets, on which sat the ladies; and on the second, their slaves behind them, but without any distinction of rank by their dress, all being in the state of nature, that is, in plain English, stark naked, without any beauty or defect concealed. Yet there was not the least wanton smile or immodest gesture amongst them. They walked and moved with the same majestic grace, which Milton describes our general mother with. There were many amongst them, as exactly proportioned as ever any goddess was drawn by the pencil of a Guido or Titian,—and most of their skins shiningly white, only adorned by their beautiful hair divided into many tresses, hanging on their shoulders, braided either with pearl or ribbon, perfectly representing the figures of the Graces.

I WAS here convinced of the truth of a reflection I have often made, That if it were the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed. I perceived, that the ladies of the most delicate skins and finest shapes had the greatest share of my admiration, though their faces were sometimes less beautiful than those of their companions. To tell you the truth, I had wickedness enough, to wish secretly, that Mr Gervais could have been there invisible. I fancy it would have very much improved his art, to see so many fine women naked, in different postures, some in conversation, some working, others drinking coffee or sherbet, and many negligently lying on their cushions, while their slaves (generally pretty girls of seventeen or eighteen) were employed in braiding their hair in several pretty fancies. In short, 'tis the women's coffee-house, where all the news of the town is told, scandal invented, &c.—They generally take this diversion once a-week (sic), and stay there at least four or five hours, without getting cold by immediate coming out of the hot bath into the cold room, which was very surprising to me. The lady, that seemed the most considerable among them, entreated me to sit by her, and would fain have undressed me for the bath. I excused myself with some difficulty. They being however all so earnest in persuading me, I was at last forced to open my shirt, and shew them my stays; which satisfied them very well; for, I saw, they believed I was locked up in that machine, and that it was not in my own power to open it, which contrivance they attributed to my husband,—I was charmed with their civility and beauty, and should have been very glad to pass more time with them; but Mr W—— resolving to pursue his journey next morning early, I was in haste to see the ruins of Justinian's church, which did not afford me so agreeable a prospect as I had left, being little more than a heap Of stones.

ADIEU, madam, I am sure I have now entertained you with an account of such a sight as you never saw in your life, and what no book of travels could inform you of, as 'tis no less than death for a man to be found in one of these places.

Taking into account that the women Montagu is meeting and speaking of are neither the women of the sultan’s immediate household, nor women of the lower classes, we are given some rather different angles on the social and economic power of women, at least within their own households.



Adrianople, April. 1. O. S. 1717.

AS to their morality or good conduct, I can say, like Harlequin, that 'tis just as 'tis with you; and the Turkish ladies don't commit one sin the less for not being Christians. Now, that I am a little acquainted with their ways, I cannot forbear admiring, either the exemplary discretion, or extreme stupidity of all the writers that have given accounts of them. 'Tis very easy to see, they have in reality more liberty than we have. No woman, of what rank soever, is permitted to go into the streets without two murlins, one that covers her face all but her eyes, and another, that hides the whole dress of her head, and hangs half way down her back. Their shapes are also wholely (sic) concealed, by a thing they call a serigee, which no woman of any sort appears without; this has strait sleeves, that reach to their fingers-ends, and it laps all round them, not unlike a riding-hood. In winter, 'tis of cloth; and in summer, of plain stuff or silk. You may guess then, how effectually this disguises them, so that there is no distinguishing the great lady from her slave. 'Tis impossible for the most jealous husband to know his wife, when he meets her; and no man dare touch or follow a woman in the street.

THIS perpetual masquerade gives them entire liberty of following their inclinations, without danger of discovery. The most usual method of intrigue, is, to send an appointment to the lover to meet the lady at a Jew's shop, which are as notoriously convenient as our Indian-houses; and yet, even those who don't make use of them, do not scruple to go to buy pennyworths, and tumble over rich goods, which are chiefly to be found amongst that sort of people. The great ladies seldom let their gallants know who they are; and 'tis so difficult to find it out, that they can very seldom guess at her name, whom they have corresponded with for above half a year together. You may easily imagine the number of faithful wives very small in a country where they have nothing to fear from a lover's indiscretion, since we see so many have the courage to expose themselves to that in this world, and all the threatened punishment of the next, which is never preached to the Turkish damsels. Neither have they much to apprehend from the resentment of their husbands; those ladies that are rich, having all their money in their own hands. Upon the whole, I look upon the Turkish women, as the only free people in the empire; the very divan pays respect to them; and the grand signior himself, when a bassa is executed, never violates the privileges of the haram, (or womens apartment) which remains unsearched and entire to the widow. They are queens of their slaves, whom the husband has no permission so much as to look upon, except it be an old woman or two that his lady chuses. 'Tis true, their law permits them four wives; but there is no instance of a man of quality that makes use of this liberty, or of a woman of rank that would suffer it. When a husband happens to be inconstant, (as those things will happen) he keeps his mistress in a house apart, and visits her as privately as he can, just as it is with you. Amongst all the great men here, I only know the testerdar, (i.e. a treasurer) that keeps a number of she slaves, for his own use, (that is, on his own side of the house; for a slave once given to serve a lady, is entirely at her disposal) and he is spoke of as a libertine, or what we should call a rake, and his wife won't see him, though she continues to live in his house. Thus you see, dear sister, the manners of mankind do not differ so Widely, as our voyage-writers would make us believe. Perhaps, it would be more entertaining to add a few surprising customs of my own invention; but nothing seems to me so agreeable as truth, and I believe nothing so acceptable to you. I conclude therefore with repeating the great truth of my being, Dear sister, &c.

In this next letter, we get some very detailed descriptions of being entertained within the private women’s quarters of two upper-class women. This letter includes the closest Montagu gets to discussing female same-sex desire.



Adrianopolis, April 18. O. S.

I WROTE to you, dear sister, and to all my other English correspondents, by the last ship, and only Heaven can tell, when I shall have another opportunity of sending to you; but I cannot forbear to write again, though perhaps my letter may ly upon my hands this two months. To confess the truth, my head is so full of my entertainment yesterday, that 'tis absolutely necessary, for my own repose, to give it some vent. Without farther preface, I will then begin my story.

I WAS invited to dine with the grand vizier's lady, and it was with a great deal of pleasure I prepared myself for an entertainment, which was never before given to any Christian. I thought I should very little satisfy her curiosity, (which I did not doubt was a considerable motive to the invitation) by going in a dress she was used to see, and therefore dressed myself in the court habit of Vienna, which is much more magnificent than ours. However, I chose to go incognito, to avoid any disputes about ceremony, and went in a Turkish coach, only attended by my woman, that held up my train, and the Greek lady, who was my interpretess. I was met at the court door by her black eunuch, who helped me out of the coach with great respect, and conducted me through several rooms, where her she-slaves, finely dressed, were ranged on each side. In the innermost, I found the lady sitting on her sofa, in a sable vest. She advanced to meet me, and presented me half a dozen of her friends, with great civility. She seemed a very good woman, near fifty years old. I was surprised to observe so little magnificence in her house, the furniture being all very moderate; and, except the habits and number of her slaves, nothing about her appeared expensive. She guessed at my thoughts, and told me she was no longer of an age to spend either her time or money in superfluities; that her whole expence was in charity, and her whole employment praying to God. There was no affectation in this speech; both she and her husband are entirely given up to devotion. He never looks upon any other woman; and, what is much more extraordinary, touches no bribes, notwithstanding the example of all his predecessors. He is so scrupulous on this point, he would not accept Mr W——'s present, till he had been assured over and over, that it was a settled perquisite Of his place, at the entrance of every ambassador. She entertained me with all kind of civility, till dinner came in, which was served, one dish at a time, to a vast number, all finely dressed after their manner, which I don't think so bad as you have perhaps heard it represented. I am a very good judge of their eating, having lived three weeks in the house of an effendi at Belgrade, who gave us very magnificent dinners, dressed by his own cooks. The first week they pleased me extremely; but, I own, I then began to grow weary of their table, and desired our own cook might add a dish or two after our manner. But I attribute this to custom, and am very much inclined to believe, that an Indian, who had never tasted of either, would prefer their cookery to ours. Their sauces are very high, all the roast very much done. They use a great deal of very rich spice. The soup is served for the last dish; and they have, at least, as great a variety of ragouts as we have. I was very sorry I could not eat of as many as the good lady would have had me, who was very earnest in serving me of every thing. The treat concluded with coffee and perfumes, which is a high mark of respect; two slaves kneeling censed my hair, clothes, and handkerchief. After this ceremony, she commanded her slaves to play and dance, which they did with their guitars in their hands, and she excused to me their want of skill, saying she took no care to accomplish them in that art.

I RETURNED her thanks, and, soon after, took my leave. I was conducted back in the same manner I entered, and would have gone straight to my own house; but the Greek lady with me, earnestly solicited me to visit the kahya's lady, saying, he was the second officer in the empire, and ought indeed to be looked upon as the first, the grand vizier having only the name, while he exercised the authority. I had found so little diversion in the vizier's haram, that I had no mind to go into another. But her importunity prevailed with me, and I am extremely glad I was so complaisant. All things here were with quite another air than at the grand vizier's; and the very house confessed the difference between an old devotee, and a young beauty. It was nicely clean and magnificent. I was met at the door by two black eunuchs, who led me through a long gallery, between two ranks of beautiful young girls, with their hair finely plaited, almost hanging to their feet, all dressed in fine light damasks, brocaded with silver. I was sorry that decency did not permit me to stop to consider them nearer. But that thought was lost upon my entrance into a large room, or rather pavilion, built round with gilded sashes, which were most of them thrown up, and the trees planted near them gave an agreeable shade, which hindered the sun from being troublesome. The jessamines and honey-suckles that twisted round their trunks, shed a soft perfume, increased by a white marble fountain playing sweet water in the lower part of the room, which fell into three or four basins, with a pleasing sound. The roof was painted with all sorts of flowers, falling out of gilded baskets, that seemed tumbling down. On a sofa, raised three steps, and covered with fine Persian carpets, sat the kahya's lady, leaning on cushions of white sattin, embroidered; and at her feet sat two young girls about twelve years old, lovely as angels, dressed perfectly rich, and almost covered with jewels. But they were hardly seen near the fair Fatima, (for that is her name) so much her beauty effaced every thing I have seen, nay, all that has been called lovely either in England or Germany. I must own, that I never saw any thing so gloriously beautiful, nor can I recollect a face that would have been taken notice of near hers. She stood up to receive me, saluting me after their fashion, putting her hand to her heart with a sweetness full of majesty, that no court breeding could ever give. She ordered cushions to be given me, and took care to place me in the corner, which is the place of honour. I confess, though the Greek lady had before given me a great opinion of her beauty, I was so struck with admiration, that I could not, for some time, speak to her, being wholly taken up in gazing. That surprising harmony of features! that charming result of the whole! that exact proportion of body! that lovely bloom of complexion unsullied by art! the unutterable enchantment of her smile!—But her eyes!—large and black, with all the soft languishment of the blue! every turn of her face discovering some new grace.

AFTER my first surprise was over, I endeavoured, by nicely examining her face, to find out some imperfection, without any fruit of my search, but my being clearly convinced of the error of that vulgar notion, that a face exactly proportioned, and perfectly beautiful, would not be agreeable; nature having done for her, with more success, what Appelles is said to have essayed, by a collection of the most exact features, to form a perfect face. Add to all this, a behaviour so full of grace and sweetness, such easy motions, with an air so majestic, yet free from stiffness or affectation, that I am persuaded, could she be suddenly transported upon the most polite throne of Europe, no body would think her other than born and bred to be a queen, though educated in a country we call barbarous. To say all in a word, our most celebrated English beauties would vanish near her.

SHE was dressed in a caftan of gold brocade, flowered with silver, very well fitted to her shape, and shewing to admiration the beauty of her bosom, only shaded by the thin gauze of her shift. Her drawers were pale pink, her waistcoat green and silver, her slippers white sattin, finely embroidered: her lovely arms adorned with bracelets of diamonds, and her broad girdle set round with diamonds; upon her head a rich Turkish handkerchief of pink and silver, her own fine black hair hanging a great length, in various tresses, and on one side of her head some bodkins of jewels. I am afraid you will accuse me of extravagance in this description. I think I have read somewhere, that women always speak in rapture when they speak of beauty, and I cannot imagine why they should not be allowed to do so. I rather think it a virtue to be able to admire without any mixture of desire or envy. The gravest writers have spoken with great warmth, of some celebrated pictures and statues. The workmanship of Heaven, certainly excels all our weak imitations, and, I think, has a much better claim to our praise. For my part, I am not ashamed to own, I took more pleasure in looking on the beauteous Fatima, than the finest piece of sculpture could have given me. She told me, the two girls at her feet were her daughters, though she appeared too young to be their mother. Her fair maids were ranged below the sofa, to the number of twenty, and put me in mind of the pictures of the ancient nymphs. I did not think all nature could have furnished such a scene of beauty. She made them a sign to play and dance. Four of them immediately began to play some soft airs on instruments, between a lute and a guitar, which they accompanied with their voices, while the others danced by turns. This dance was very different from what I had seen before. Nothing could be more artful, or more proper to raise certain ideas. The tunes so soft!—the motions so languishing!—accompanied with pauses and dying eyes! half-falling back, and then recovering themselves in so artful a manner, that I am very positive, the coldest and most rigid prude [see note] upon earth, could not have looked upon them without thinking of something not to be spoke of.—I suppose you may have read that the Turks have no music, but what is shocking to the ears; but this account is from those who never heard any but what is played in the streets, and is just as reasonable, as if a foreigner should take his ideas of English music, from the bladder and string, or the marrow-bones and cleavers. I can assure you that the music is extremely pathetic; 'tis true, I am inclined to prefer the Italian, but perhaps I am partial. I am acquainted with a Greek lady who sings better than Mrs Robinson, and is very well skilled in both, who gives the preference to the Turkish. 'Tis certain they have very fine natural voices; these were very agreeable. When the dance was over, four fair slaves came into the room, with silver censers in their hands, and perfumed the air with amber, aloes-wood, and other scents. After this, they served me coffee upon their knees, in the finest japan china, with soucoups of silver, gilt. The lovely Fatima entertained me, all this while, in the most polite agreeable manner, calling me often uzelle sultanam, or the beautiful sultana; and desiring my friendship with the best grace in the world, lamenting that she could not entertain me in my own language.

WHEN I took my leave, two maids brought in a fine silver basket of embroidered handkerchiefs; she begged I would wear the richest for her sake, and gave the others to my woman and interpretess.—I retired through the same ceremonies as before, and could not help thinking, I had been some time in Mahomet's paradise; so much was I charmed with what I had seen. I know not how the relation of it appears to you. I wish it may give you part of my pleasure; for I would have my dear sister share in all the diversions of, Yours,&c.

[Note: The 1790 edition, which is what used, has this word as “pride”, however despite what some sources indicate, this is not the earliest edition. has volumes from a 1763 edition where the word is clearly “prude” [] which puts a very different spin on the comment, and this appears to be the “approved” reading in modern editions, so I have substituted it.

Montagu is rather sharp in several of her letters in pointing out what she believes to be myths and errors about Turkish society. I haven’t been able to identify who the “Dumont” is that she refers to.



Belgrade Village, June 17 O. S.

Your whole letter is full of mistakes, from one end to the other. I see you have taken your ideas of Turkey, from that worthy author Dumont, who has wrote with equal ignorance and confidence. 'Tis a particular pleasure to me here, to read the voyages to the Levant, which are generally so far removed from truth, and so full of absurdities, I am very well diverted with them. They never fail giving you an account of the women, whom, 'tis certain, they never saw, and talking very wisely of the genius of the men, into whose company they are never admitted; and very often describe mosques, which they dare not even peep into. The Turks are very proud, and will not converse with a stranger they are not assured is considerable in his own country. I speak of the men of distinction; for, as to the ordinary fellows, you may imagine what ideas their conversation can give of the general genius of the people.


Also in the vein of debunking information she considers to be false or misleading, Montagu had occasion to meet a former Sultana and specifically asked about several stories in circulation about practices within the Sultan’s seraglio.



Pera of Constantinople, March 10. O. S.

THE sultana seemed in a very good humour, and talked to me with the utmost civility. I did not omit this opportunity of learning all that I possibly could of the seraglio, which is so entirely unknown amongst us. She assured me, that the story of the sultan's throwing a handkerchief, is altogether fabulous; and the manner, upon that occasion, no other than this: He sends the kyslir aga, to signify to the lady the honour he intends her. She is immediately complimented upon it, by the others, and led to the bath, where she is perfumed and dressed in the most magnificent and becoming manner. The emperor precedes his visit by a royal present, and then comes into her apartment: neither is there any such thing as her creeping in at the bed's foot. She said, that the first he made choice of was always after the first in rank, and not the mother of the eldest son, as other writers would make us believe. Sometimes the sultan diverts himself in the company of all his ladies, who stand in a circle round him. And she confessed, they were ready to die with envy and jealousy of the happy she that he distinguished by any appearance of preference. But this seemed to me neither better nor worse than the circles in most courts, where the glance of the monarch is watched, and every smile is waited for with impatience, and envied by those who cannot obtain it.

This, you will say, is but too like the Arabian tales.—These embroidered napkins! and a jewel as large as a turkey's egg!—You forget, dear sister, those very tales were written by an author of this country, and (excepting the enchantments) are a real representation of the manners here. We travellers are in very hard circumstances: If we say nothing but what has been said before us, we are dull, and we have observed nothing. If we tell any thing new, we are laughed at as fabulous and romantic, not allowing either for the difference of ranks, which affords difference of company, or more curiosity, or the change of customs, that happen every twenty years in every country. But the truth is, people judge of travellers, exactly with the same candour, good nature, and impartiality, they judge of their neighbours upon all occasions. For my part, if I live to return amongst you, I am so well acquainted with the morals of all my dear friends and acquaintances, that I am resolved to tell them nothing at all, to avoid the imputation (which their charity would certainly incline them to) of my telling too much. But I depend upon your knowing me enough, to believe whatever I seriously assert for truth; though I give you leave to be surprised at an account so new to you. But what would you say if I told you, that I have been in a haram, where the winter apartment was wainscoted (sic) with inlaid work of mother of pearl, ivory of different colours, and olive wood, exactly like the little boxes you have seen brought Out of this country; and in whose rooms designed for summer, the walls are all crusted with japan china, the roofs gilt, and the floors spread with the finest Persian carpets? Yet there is nothing more true; such is the palace of my lovely friend, the fair Fatima, whom I was acquainted with at Adrianople. I went to visit her yesterday; and, if possible, she appeared to me handsomer than before. She met me at the door of her chamber, and, giving me her hand With the best grace in the world; You Christian ladies (said she, with a smile that made her as beautiful as an angel) have the reputation of inconstancy, and I did not expect, whatever goodness you expressed for me at Adrianople, that I should ever see you again. But I am now convinced that I have really the happiness of pleasing you; and, if you knew how I speak of you amongst our ladies, you would be assured, that you do me justice in making me your friend. She placed me in the corner of the sofa, and I spent the afternoon in her conversation, with the greatest pleasure in the world.—The sultana Hafiten is, what one Would naturally expect to find a Turkish lady, willing to oblige, but not knowing how to go about it; and 'tis easy to see, in her manner, that she has lived excluded from the world. But Fatima has all the politeness and good breeding of a court, with an air that inspires, at once, respect and tenderness; and now, that I understand her language, I find her wit as agreeable as her beauty. She is very carious after the manners of other countries, and has not the partiality for her own, so common in little minds. A Greek that I carried with me, who had never seen her before, (nor could have been admitted now, if she had not been in my train,) shewed that surprise at her beauty and manners, which is unavoidable at the first sight, and said to me in Italian,—This is no Turkish lady, she is certainly some Christian.—Fatima guessed she spoke of her, and asked what she said. I would not have told her, thinking she would have been no better pleased with the compliment, than one of our court beauties to be told she had the air of a Turk; but the Greek lady told it to her; and she smiled, saying, It is not the first time I have heard so: my mother was a Poloneze, taken at the siege of Caminiec; and my father used to rally me, saying, He believed his Christian wife had found some gallant; for that I had not the air of a Turkish girl.—I assured her, that if all the Turkish ladies were like her, it was absolute necessary to confine them from public view, for the repose of mankind; and proceeded to tell her, what a noise such a face as hers would make in London or Paris. I can't believe you, replied she agreeably; if beauty was so much valued in your country, as you say, they would never have suffered you to leave it.—Perhaps, dear sister, you laugh at my vanity in repeating this compliment; but I only do it, as I think it very well turned, and give it you as an instance of the spirit of her conversation. Her house was magnificently furnished, and very well fancied; her winter rooms being furnished with figured velvet, on gold grounds, and those for summer, with fine Indian quilting embroidered with gold. The houses of the great Turkish ladies are kept clean with as much nicety as those in Holland. This was situated in a high part of the town; and from the window of her summer apartment, we had the prospect of the sea, the islands, and the Asian mountains.—My letter is insensibly grown so long, I am ashamed of it. This is a very bad symptom. 'Tis well if I don't degenerate into a downright story-teller. It may be, our proverb, that knowledge is no burden, may be true, as to one's self but knowing too much, is very apt to make us troublesome to other people. I am, &c, &c.


In this final excerpt, Montagu once again tackles debunking what she considers myths about the condition of Turkish women.



I will not tell you what you may find in every author that has writ of this country. I am more inclined, out of a true female spirit of contradiction, to tell you the falsehood of a great part of what you find in authors; as, for instance, in the admirable Mr Hill, who so gravely asserts, that he saw, in Sancta Sophia, a sweating pillar, very balsamic for disordered heads. There is not the least tradition of any such matter; and I suppose it was revealed to him in vision, during his wonderful stay in the Egyptian catacombs; for I am sure he never heard of any such miracle here. 'Tis also very pleasant to observe how tenderly he and all his brethren voyage-writers lament the miserable confinement of the Turkish ladies, who are perhaps more free than any ladies in the universe, and are the only women in the world that lead a life of uninterrupted pleasure, exempt from cares; their whole time being spent in visiting, bathing, or the agreeable amusement of spending money, and inventing new fashions. A husband would be thought mad, that exacted any degree of economy from his wife, whose expences are no way limited but by her own fancy. 'Tis his business to get money, and hers to spend it: and this noble prerogative extends itself to the very meanest of the sex. Here is a fellow that carries embroidered handkerchiefs upon his back to sell. And as miserable a figure as you may suppose such a mean dealer, yet, I'll assure you, his wife scorns to wear any thing less than cloth of gold; has her ermine furs, and a very handsome set of jewels for her head. 'Tis true, they have no places but the bagnios, and these can only be seen by their own sex; however, that is a diversion they take great pleasure in.


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