Mistress Anne Wortley.
Mistress Anne Wortley.

At Wortley, about twenty miles from Thoresby, resided Mistress Anne Wortley, Lady Mary's friend and frequent correspondent. Twelve years after the incident last narrated, writing to this friend she says :—

"I shall run mad—with what heart can people write, when they believe their letters will never be received?. . . this will, perhaps, miscarry, as the last did; how unfortunate am I if it does. You will think I forgot you, who are never out of my thoughts. You will fancy me stupid enough to neglect your letters, when  they  are the only pleasure of my solitude. . . . I am now so much alone, I have  leisure  to pass whole days in reading, but am not at all proper for so delicate an employ-fment as chusing your books. Your own fancy will better direct you. My study  at  present is nothing but dictionaries and grammars. I am trying whether it be possible to learn without a master; I am not certain (and dare hardly hope) I shall  make any great progress; but I find the study so diverting, I am not only  easy, but pleased with the solitude that indulges it. I forget there is such a place as London, and wish for no company but yours. You see, my dear, in making my pleasures consist of these unfashionable diversions, I am not of those who cannot be easy out of the mode. I believe more follies are committed out of complaisance to the world, than in following our own inclinations—Nature is seldom in the wrong, custom always; it is with some regret I follow it in all the impertinences of dress; the compliance is so trivial it comforts me ; but I am amazed to see it consulted even in the most important occasions of our lives; and that people of good sense in other things can make their happiness consist in the opinions of others, and sacrifice everything in the desire of appearing in fashion."

In reply to this letter Mistress Wortley wrote: "Dear Lady Mary will pardon my vanity; I could not forbear reading to a Cambridge doctor that was with me, a few of those lines that did not make me happy till this week: where you talk of dictionaries and grammars, he stopped me, and said, the reason why you had more wit than any man, was, that your mind had never been encumbered with any of these tedious authors; that Cowley never submitted to the rules of grammar, and therefore excelled all of his own time in learning as well as in wit; that without them, you would read with pleasure in two or three months, but that if you persisted in the use of them, you would throw away your Latin in a year or two, and the commonwealth would have reason to mourn; whereas if I could prevail with you, it would be bound to thank you for a brighter ornament than any it can boast of."

The education of women at that time had reached its very lowest ebb, and however fond Mr. Wortley might be of his sister, he could have no particular motive to seek the acquaintance of her companions. His surprise and delight were the greater when one afternoon having by chance loitered in her apartment till visitors arrived, he saw Lady Mary Pierrepont for the first time. After this interview Mistress Anne Wortley's letters grew more eloquent in Lady Mary's praise, and Mistress Anne more anxious to correspond with her—and no wonder, since the rough draught of a letter in her brother's hand, indorsed "For my sister to Lady M. P.," betrays that he was the writer and she only the transcriber of encomiums that are extravagant when addressed by one woman to another. But she did not live long to be the medium through which they passed; a more direct correspondence soon began, and was continued after her decease.1

These letters, which have been preserved, form a curious memorial of their days of courtship, no longer complimentary on his part, but strikingly expressive of a real strong passion, to which he appears to have yielded against his convictions. They were perpetually on the point of breaking altogether: he felt and knew that they suited each other very ill; he saw, or thought he saw, his rivals encouraged, if not preferred ; he was more affronted than satisfied with her assurance of a sober esteem and regard; and yet every struggle to get free did but end where it set out.

After some time spent in these disputes and lovers' quarrels, he at length made his proposals to Lord Dorchester, who received them favourably until the settlements came under consideration, but he then broke off the match in great anger. "Mr. Wortley, while offering to make the best provision in his power for Lady Mary, steadily refusing to settle his landed property upon a son who, for aught he knew, might prove unworthy to possess it—might be a spendthrift, an idiot, or a villain."

The secret correspondence between the lovers went on as before, although Lady Mary acquainted Mr. Montagu that she was peremptorily commanded to accept the offer of another suitor, ready to close with all her father's terms. "Lord Dorchester seems to have asked no questions regarding her inclination in either instance. Lady Mary declared, though timidly, her utter antipathy to the person proposed to her. Upon this her father, after expressing surprise at her presumption in questioning his judgment, assured her he would not give her a single sixpence if she married any one else. Rather than marry one whom she did not care for, she asked her father's permission to remain single. This he would not agree to, but threatened to send her to a distant part of the country." Relying on the effect of these threats, the preparations for the marriage proceeded; the day was appointed, the wedding-dresses were bought, and everything was ready, when suddenly Lady Mary disappeared, and was privately married to Mr. Wortley in August, 1712. Her father was greatly exasperated, and, it is said, never really forgave her. Lady Frances Pierrepont, afraid that her father should examine her sister's papers and find something there to further exasperate him, hastily burned all she could find.

After their marriage they lived for some time at Hinchinbrook, or at Huntingdon, a town which the Wortley Montagus had frequently represented in Parliament.

One of the first letters to her husband is dated by Lady Mary from Walling Wells, near Worksop, where she was staying with the Whites. She says: "I don't know very well how to begin; I am perfectly unacquainted with a proper matrimonial style. After all, I think 'tis best to write as if we were not married at all. I lament your absence as if you were still my lover, and I am impatient to hear you have got safe to Durham and that you have fixed a time for your return. I have not been long in this family, and I fancy myself in that described in the Spectator. The good people here look upon their children with a fondness that more than recompenses their care of them. I don't perceive much distinction in regard to their merits; and when they speak sense or nonsense it affects the parents with almost the same pleasure. My friendship for the mother and kindness for Miss Biddy make me endure the squalling of Miss Nanny and Miss Mary with abundance of patience; and my foretelling the future conquests of the eldest daughter makes me very well with the family. I don't know whether you will presently find out that this seeming impertinent account is the tenderest expression of my love to you, but it furnishes my imagination with agreeable pictures of our future life, and I flatter myself with the hopes of one day enjoying with you the same satisfaction; and that after as many years together, I may see you retain the same fondness for me as I shall certainly do for you, when the noise of a nursery may have more charms for us than the music of an opera."

In 1715 Edward Wortley Montagu was returned to Parliament as member for Westminster, and appointed a Commissioner of the Treasury by Lord Halifax, and Lady Mary, coming up at this time with him to the Court of George I., became a conspicuous figure among the ladies.

In 1716, Mr. Montagu being appointed Ambassador to Turkey, set out on the long journey to Constantinople, by way of Vienna, in company with his wife and infant child.

In a letter from Adrianople, dated April 1, 1717, Lady Mary gives an account of the process of inoculation for the small-pox as practised there, which she afterwards introduced into England. She calls the practice "ingrafting."

"A propos of distempers, I am going to tell you a thing that I am sure will make you wish yourself here. The smallpox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless by the invention of ingrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of old women who make it their business to perform the operation every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox; they make parties for this purpose; when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together), the old woman comes with a nut-shell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much venom as can lie upon the head of a needle, and after binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell. The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day and are in perfect health until the eighth; then they keep their beds two days, never more than three."2

Having lost her only brother from small-pox, and suffered herself severely from its ravages, Lady Mary, on her return from Turkey in 1718, used her utmost endeavours to promote the adoption of the Turkish system of inoculation; but only the higher motive of hoping to save numberless others could have given her courage to bring home the discovery. Those who have heard her applauded for it ever since they were born may naturally conclude that when once the experiment had been made, and had proved successful, she could have nothing to do but to sit down triumphant and receive the thanks and blessings of her countrymen. But it was far otherwise. Lady Mary protested that in the four or five years immediately succeeding her arrival at home she seldom passed a day without repenting of her patriotic undertaking; and she vowed that she never would have attempted it if she had foreseen the vexation, the persecution, and even the obloquy it brought upon her. The clamour raised against the practice, and of course against her, were beyond belief. The faculty rose in arms, foretelling failure and the most disastrous consequences. The clergy descanted from their pulpits on the impiety of thus seeking to take events out of the hands of Providence. The common people were taught to hoot at her as an unnatural mother who had risked the lives of her own children. And notwithstanding that she soon gained many supporters amongst the higher and more enlightened classes, headed by the Princess of Wales (Queen Caroline), who stood by her firmly, some even of her acquaintance were weak enough to join in the outcry.

Lady Mary stated that even the four great physicians deputed by Government to watch the progress of her daughter's inoculation, betrayed not only such incredulity as to its success, but such an unwillingness to have it succeed, such an evident spirit of rancour and malignity, that she never dared to leave the child alone with them one second lest it should in some secret way suffer from their interference.

But as inoculation gained ground all who could make a claim to the slightest acquaintance with Lady Mary Wortley used to beg for her advice and superintendence while it was going on in their families; and she constantly carried her little daughter along with her to the house, and into the sick-room, to prove her security from infection.

Writing to Lady Craven, Horace Walpole, in 1787, says of Lady Mary's work: "The invaluable art of inoculation, which she brought from Constantinople, so dear to all admirers of beauty . . . stamps her as an universal benefactress."

In 1739 she again left England—this time alone; and though she and her husband were in the habit of corresponding, they never again met. Lady Mary wrote many interesting letters from abroad to the Countess of Oxford, as well as to her daughter, the Countess of Bute, to whom on April 11, 1760, she says: "I am exceeding glad of your father's good health ; he owes it to his uncommon abstinence and resolution. I wish I could boast the same. I own I have too much indulged a sedentary humour, and have been a rake in reading. You will laugh at the expression, but I think the literal meaning of the ugly word 'rake' is one that follows his pleasures in contradiction to his reason. I thought mine so innocent I might pursue them with impunity. I now find that I was mistaken, and that all excesses are (though not equally) blamable."

In one of her last letters she says to the Countess of Bute: "There is a quiet after the abandoning of pursuits, something like the rest that follows a laborious day. I tell you this for your comfort. It was formerly a terrifying view to me that I should one day be an old woman. I now find that Nature has provided pleasures for every state. Those are only unhappy who will not be contented with what she gives, but strive to break through her laws by affecting a perpetuity of youth, which appears to me as little desirable at present as the babies do to you that were the delight of your infancy."

Her long life was now drawing near its close. In 1761 she heard of the death of her husband at the age of eighty-three.3 She said: "I now begin to feel the worst effects of age, blindness excepted." And at the request of her daughter Lady Mary resolved to set out for England, the more readily, perhaps, because she probably knew she was suffering from an incurable disease and had but a short time to live. On her homeward journey she wrote to her friend, Sir James Stewart: "I tried in vain to find you at Amsterdam. I began to think we resembled two parallel lines, destined to be always near and never to meet. You know there is no fighting (at least no overcoming) destiny ; I am dragging my ragged remnant of life to England. The wind and tide are against me: how far I have strength to struggle against both I know not. That I am arrived here is as much a miracle as any in the golden legend, and if I had foreseen half the difficulties I have met with, I should not certainly have had the courage to undertake it."

Lady Mary died on August 21, 1763, from cancer.

A cenotaph was erected to her memory in Lichfield Cathedral, commemorating her introduction of "'inoculation,' and expressing the gratitude of one who has herself felt the benefit of this alleviating art."'

1 Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, edited by Lord Wharncliffe.
2 The following account is given of this matter by Mr. Maitland, who attended the Embassy in the capacity of surgeon:—
"About this time the Ambassador's ingenious lady, who had been at some pains to satisfy her curiosity in this matter, and had made some useful observations on the practice, was so thoroughly convinced of the safety of it that she resolved to submit her only son to it, a very hopeful boy of about six years of age. She first of all ordered me to find out a fit subject to take the matter from, and then sent for an old Greek woman who had practised this a great many years. After a good deal of trouble and pains I found a proper subject, and then the good woman went to work, but so awkwardly, by the shaking of her hand; she put the boy to so much torture with her blunt and rusty needle, that I pitied his cries, who had ever been of such spirit and courage that hardly anything of pain could make him cry before; and therefore inoculated the other arm with my own instrument, and with so little pain to him that he did not in the least complain of it. The operation took in both arms, and succeeded perfectly well; it was performed at Pera, near Constantinople, in March, 1717."
3 Horace Walpole writes of Wortley Montagu, about four years before his death: "Old Wortley Montagu lives on the very spot where the dragon of Wantley did, only I believe the latter was much better lodged. You never saw such a wretched hovel—lean, unpainted, and half its nakedness barely shaded with harateen, stretched till it cracks. Here the miser hoards health and money, his only two objects. He has chronicles in behalf of the air, and battens on Tokay, his single indulgence, as he heard it is particularly salutary. But the savageness of the scene would charm your Alpine taste: it is tumbled with fragments of mountains that look ready laid for building the world. One scrambles over a huge terrace, on which mountain ashes and various trees spring out of the very rocks ; and at the brow is the den, but not spacious enough for such an inmate."
Wortley Montagu is said to have left a fortune of £1,350,000. From 1727 to the time of his death he had been in possession of his father's great estates.—Dictionary of National Biography.
Wortley Montagu in his will bequeathed to his son an annuity of a thousand a year, to be paid him during the joint lives of himself and his mother, Lady Mary; and after her death an annuity of two thousand a year during the joint lives of himself and his sister, Lady Bute. By the same will he was empowered to make a settlement on any woman he might marry, not exceeding eight hundred a year, and to any son of such marriage he devised a considerable estate in the West Riding of Yorkshire.—Family Romance, by Sir Bernard Burke.