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LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU (1689-1761)

1763 TURKISH EMBASSY LETTERS - Written, during her Travels in Europe, Asia and Africa, To Persons of
Distinction, Men of Letters, &c. in different Parts of Europe. Which Contain, Among other Curious Relations,
Accounts of the Policy and Manners of the Turks
We Travellers are in very hard circumstances. If we say nothing but what has been said before us, we are dull and
we have observ'd nothing. If we tell any thing new, we are laugh'd at as fabulous and Romantic, not allowing for
the difference of ranks, which afford difference of company, more Curiosity, or the changes of customs that happen
every 20 year in every Country. But people judge of Travellers exactly with the same Candour, good Nature, and
impartiality, they judge of their Neighbours upon all Occasions.
I could also, with little trouble, turn over Knolles and Sir Paul Rycaut, to give you a list of Turkish emperors; but 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 example,
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.
It is certain we have but very imperfect relations of the manners and religion of these people; this part of the world
being seldom visited but by merchants, who mind little but their own affairs, or travellers, who make too short a
stay to be able to report any thing exactly of their own knowledge. The Turks are too proud to converse familiarly
with merchants, &c.; who can only pick up some confused informations, which are generally false; and they can
give no better account of the ways here, than a French refugee, lodging in a garret in Greek-street, could write of
the court of England
Your whole Letter is so full of mistakes from one end to t'other. I see you have taken your Ideas of Turkey from
that worthy author Dumont, who has writ with equal ignorance and confidence. 'Tis a particular pleasure to me here
to read the voyages to the Levant, which are generally so far remov'd from Truth and so full of Absurdities I am
very well diverted with 'em. They never fail to give you an Account of the Women, which '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 peep into.
I have already been visited by some of the most considerable Ladies whose Relations I knew at Vienna. They are
dress'd after the Fashions there, as people at Exeter imitate those of London. That is, their Imitation is more
excessive than the Original, and 'tis not easy to describe what extraordinary figures they make. The person is so
much lost between Head dress and Petticoat, they have as much occasion to write upon their backs, This is a
Woman, for the information of Travellers, as ever sign post painter had to write, This is a bear.
There is no colour, no flower, no weed, no fruit, herb, pebble, or feather, that has not a verse belonging to it; and
you may quarrel, reproach, or send Letters of passion, friendship [sic], or Civillity, or even of news, without ever
inking your fingers.
This perpetual Masquerade gives them entire Liberty of following their Inclinations without danger of Discovery
Upon the Whole, I look upon the Turkish Women as the only free people in the Empire //
Tis also very pleasant to observe how tenderly he [Aaron Hill] and all his Brethren Voyage-writers lament the
miserable confinement of the Turkish Ladies, who are (perhaps) freer 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 expenses are no way limited but
by her own fancy. 'Tis his busyness to get Money and hers to spend it, and this noble prerogative extends it selfe to
the very meanest of the Sex.
As to their [Turkish women's] Morality or good Conduct, I can say like Arlequin, 'tis just as 'tis with you, and the
Turkish Ladies don't commit one Sin the less for not being Christians. Now 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 'em. 'Tis very easy to see they have more Liberty than we have.
'Tis impossible for the most jealous Husband to know his Wife when he meets her, and no Man dare either touch or
follow a Woman in the Street

You may guess how effectually this disguises them, that there is no distinguishing the great Lady from her Slave
I will try to awaken your gratitude, by giving you a full and true relation of the novelties of this place, none of
which would surprise you more than a sight of my person, as I am now in my Turkish habit, though I believe you
would be of my opinion, that tis admirably becomingI intend to send you my picture; in the mean time accept of
it here
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 conceal'd
They Walk'd and mov'd with the same majestic Grace which Milton describes of our General Mother
it would have very much improv'd 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 pritty Girls of 17 or 18) were employ'd in braiding their hair in several pritty manners. In
short, tis the Women's coffe house, where all the news of the Town is told, Scandal invented, etc.
The Lady that seem'd the most considerable amongst them entreated me to sit by her and would fain have undress'd
me for the bath. I excus'd my selfe with some difficulty, they being all so earnest in persuading me. I was at last
forc'd to open my skirt and shew them my stays, which satisfy'd 'em very well, for I saw they beleiv'd I was so
lock'd up in that machine that it was not in my own power to open it, which contrivance they attributed to my
Husband.
Adeiu, 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. 'Tis no less than Death for a Man to be found in one of these
places.
And, after having seen part of Asia and Africa, and almost made the tour of Europe, I think the honest English
Squire more happy who verily believes the Greek wines less delicious than March beer, that the African fruits have
not so fine a flavour as golden Pipins, and the Becfiguas of Italy are not so well tasted as a rump of Beef, and that,
in short, there is no perfect Enjoyment of this Life out of Old England. I pray God I may think so for the rest of my
Life; and since I must be contented with our scanty allowance of Daylight, that I may forget the enlivening Sun of
Constantinople.
I am allmost falln into the misfortune so common to the Ambitious: while they are employ'd on distant,
insignificant Conquests abroad, a Rebellion starts up at home. I am in great danger of loseing my English.
Constantinople, - a place that very well represents the Tower of Babel.
As I prefer English to all the rest, I am extremely mortify'd at the daily decay of it in my head, where I'll assure you
(with greife of heart) it is reduce'd to such a small number of Words
There were many amongst them as exactly proportioned as ever any Goddess was drawn by the pencil of Guido or
Titian, and most of their skins shineingly white, only adorn'd by their Beautiful Hair divided into many tresses,
hanging on their shoulders, braided either with pearl or riband, perfectly representing the figures of the Graces
Tis not easy to represent to you the Beauty of this sight, most of them being well proportion'd and white skin'd, all
of them perfectly smooth and polish'd by the frequent use of Bathing
We saw under the Trees in many places Companys of the country people, eating, singing, and danceing to their
wild music. They are not quite black, but all mullattos, and the most frightful Creatures that can appear in a Human
figure