Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
To Mr. Pope
By Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689–1762)
ADRIANOPLE, April 1st, O. S., 1717.    
I AM at this present moment writing in a house situated on the banks of the Hebrus, which runs under my chamber window. My garden is all full of cypress-trees, upon the branches of which several couple of true turtles are saying soft things to one another from morning till night. How naturally do boughs and vows come into my mind at this minute! and must not you confess, to my praise, that ’tis more than an ordinary discretion that can resist the wicked suggestions of poetry, in a place where truth, for once, furnishes all the ideas of pastoral? The summer is already far advanced in this part of the world; and for some miles round Adrianople the whole ground is laid out in gardens, and the banks of the rivers are set with rows of fruit trees, under which all the most considerable Turks divert themselves every evening: not with walking,—that is not one of their pleasures; but a set party of them choose out a green spot, where the shade is very thick, and there they spread a carpet, on which they sit drinking their coffee, and are generally attended by some slave with a fine voice, or that plays on some instrument. Every twenty paces you may see one of these little companies listening to the dashing of the river; and this taste is so universal, that the very gardeners are not without it. I have often seen them and their children sitting on the banks of the river, and playing on a rural instrument, perfectly answering the description of the ancient fistula,—being composed of unequal reeds, with a simple but agreeable softness in the sound.
  Mr. Addison might here make the experiment he speaks of in his travels: there not being one instrument of music among the Greek or Roman statues, that is not to be found in the hands of the people of this country. The young lads generally divert themselves with making garlands for their favorite lambs, which I have often seen painted and adorned with flowers, lying at their feet while they sung or played. It is not that they ever read romances, but these are the ancient amusements here, and as natural to them as cudgel-playing and football to our British swains; the softness and warmth of the climate forbidding all rough exercises, which were never so much as heard of amongst them, and naturally inspiring a laziness and aversion to labor, which the great plenty indulges. These gardeners are the only happy race of country people in Turkey. They furnish all the city with fruits and herbs, and seem to live very easily. They are most of them Greeks, and have little houses in the midst of their gardens, where their wives and daughters take a liberty not permitted in the town,—I mean, to go unveiled. These wenches are very neat and handsome, and pass their time at their looms under the shade of the trees.  2
  I no longer look upon Theocritus as a romantic writer: he has only given a plain image of the way of life amongst the peasants of his country; who, before oppression had reduced them to want, were, I suppose, all employed as the better sort of them are now. I don’t doubt, had he been born a Briton, but his ‘Idylliums’ had been filled with descriptions of threshing and churning, both which are unknown here: the corn being all trodden out by oxen, and butter (I speak it with sorrow) unheard-of.  3
  I read over your Homer here with an infinite pleasure, and find several little passages explained that I did not before entirely comprehend the beauty of; many of the customs and much of the dress then in fashion, being yet retained. I don’t wonder to find more remains here of an age so distant, than is to be found in any other country: the Turks not taking that pains to introduce their own manners as has been generally practiced by other nations that imagine themselves more polite. It would be too tedious to you to point out all the passages that relate to present customs. But I can assure you that the princesses and great ladies pass their time at their looms, embroidering veils and robes, surrounded by their maids, which are always very numerous, in the same manner as we find Andromache and Helen described. The description of the belt of Menelaus exactly resembles those that are now worn by the great men; fastened before with broad golden clasps, and embroidered round with rich work. The snowy veil that Helen throws over her face is still fashionable; and I never see half a dozen of old bashaws (as I do very often) with their reverend beards, sitting basking in the sun, but I recollect good King Priam and his counselors. Their manner of dancing is certainly the same that Diana is sung to have danced on the banks of Eurotas. The great lady still leads the dance, and is followed by a troop of young girls, who imitate her steps, and if she sings, make up the chorus. The tunes are extremely gay and lively, yet with something in them wonderfully soft. The steps are varied according to the pleasure of her that leads the dance; but always in exact time, and infinitely more agreeable than any of our dances, at least in my opinion. I sometimes make one in the train, but am not skillful enough to lead; these are the Grecian dances, the Turkish being very different.  4
  I should have told you, in the first place, that the Eastern manners give a great light into many Scripture passages that appear odd to us; their phrases being commonly what we should call Scripture language. The vulgar Turkish is very different from what is spoken at court, or amongst the people of figure, who always mix so much Arabic and Persian in their discourse that it may very well be called another language. And ’tis as ridiculous to make use of the expressions commonly used, in speaking to a great man or lady, as it would be to speak broad Yorkshire or Somersetshire in the drawing-room. Besides this distinction, they have what they call the sublime; that is, a style proper for poetry, and which is the exact Scripture style. I believe you will be pleased to see a genuine example of this; and I am very glad I have it in my power to satisfy your curiosity, by sending you a faithful copy of the verses that Ibrahim Pasha, the reigning favorite, has made for the young princess, his contracted wife,—whom he is not yet permitted to visit without witnesses, though she is gone home to his house. He is a man of wit and learning; and whether or no he is capable of writing good verse, you may be sure that, of such an occasion, he would not want the assistance of the best poets in the empire. Thus the verses may be looked upon as a sample of their finest poetry; and I don’t doubt you’ll be of my mind, that it is most wonderfully resembling the Song of Solomon, which was also addressed to a royal bride….  5
  You see I am pretty far gone in Oriental learning; and to say truth, I study very hard. I wish my studies may give me an occasion of entertaining your curiosity, which will be the utmost advantage hoped for from them by
Yours, &c.    

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.