Sunday, August 19, 2012

Anniversary: Lady Mary Elopes

Lady Mary Peirrepont, born in 1689, educated herself in the library of her father, Evelyn Pierrepont, 5th Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull.  By the time she had turned 21, she had met  Edward Worley Montagu. Montagu wanted to marry her but her father refused to allow it; apparently Montagu refused to entail his estate on a possible heir.  Undismayed, the couple eloped.  Three hundred years ago today, 19 August 1712,  she writes three letters to her beloved:
1--I have no servant with me I dare trust.  I was oblig'd to leave my own behind.  I believe You have no conveniency of carrying me off now, nor is it very decent for me to go without a servant.   I dare not come to you, nd hope not to hvae it known, except we meet not to part.  -- Tell me how you intended that.--
Here is enclos'd a Letter I writ last night, with an Intention to send by post.

2--If you have provided conveniency to carry me away decently I will come, if not I dare not.  Your way would be exposing my B[rother] to use me ill if I return, or disoblige my fath[er] for ever.  I would not see a relation after tis over.

3--Why did you not bring  coach etc., to be set up at another Inn?  I would fain come but fear being stopp'd.  If you could carry me with you, I would not care who saw me.  Or if you had been lodg'd on the same floor with me, I might have been marry'd perhaps and return'd unsuspected.
 Lady Mary thus becomes Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, author chiefly of one of the most remarkable bodies of correspondence in the English language, chiefly her "epistolary travel book," which she wrote while accompanying her husband on a diplomatic mission to Istanbul.  For more on the elopement, see tomorrow's letter.

Lady Mary's letters are collected in a Penguin paperback, Selected Letters,(Isobel Grundy, ed.)  from which these entries are excerpted.  The entire record of her adventure reads like nothing so much as the moment-by moment epistolary accounts of the heroines of a Samuel Richardson novel; it's unclear to me whether Richardson could have seen these.  Even if he did not see these, it seems likely the exemplify a mode of correspondence with which he might have been familiar.

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