Lady Mary Montagu

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,
from The Turkish Embassy
Letters (1763)
The personal or familiar
letter is a letter that is
directed at a select, private
audience; it is frequently
conversational in style and
relatively unstructured in
form; and its contents are
not usually calculated to
interest anyone but the
intended recipient. However,
the collection now known as
The Turkish Embassy Letters
is not just a casual
compilation of personal
correspondence; rather,
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
carefully edited and polished
the collection with a view to
its publication after her
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu
(1689–1762) had a keen
sense of the literary value of
her letters. In a letter to her
sister, Lady Mar, Montagu
writes of her pleasure in
reading the letters of
another celebrated letter-
writer, Marie de Rabutin-
Chantal, Marquise de
Sévigné: "very pretty they
are, but I assert without the
least vanity that mine will be
full as entertaining 40 years
hence. I advise you therefore
to put none of 'em to the
use of Wast[e] paper" (June
1726). Indeed, Montagu's
epistles were held up as
models of lively letter-writing
for much of the eighteenth
century, and our modern
sense of what constitutes an
effective, entertaining
personal letter has been
guided by her epistolary
style. She entrusted the
letters to the Reverend
Benjamin Sowden, and
despite the protests of her
family, who purchased the
manuscript from Sowden in
an attempt to prevent its
publication, the letters were
published from a rogue copy
of the manuscript, under the
title Letters of the Right
Honourable Lady M[ar]y W
[ortle]y M[ontagu]e, written,
during her travels in Europe,
Asia, and Africa to persons
of distinction (1763).
The Turkish Embassy Letters
were written while Montagu
traveled with her husband,
Edward Wortley Montagu,
who had been appointed
Ambassador Extraordinary
to the Court of Turkey.
Edward Montagu was also a