Poetry at the Post: Farewell to Bath, Hello Susa!

Farewell to Bath
BY LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGU

(15 May 1689 – 21 August 1762)

To all you ladies now at Bath,
And eke, ye beaux, to you,
With aching heart, and wat’ry eyes,
I bid my last adieu.

Lady Montagu in Turkish dress by Jean-Étienne Liotard, ca. 1756, Palace on the Water in Warsaw
Lady Montagu in Turkish dress by Jean-Étienne Liotard, ca. 1756, Palace on the Water in Warsaw

Having just read Northanger Abbey, England, I was pleased to discover “Farewell to Bath” by Lady Montagu, a poem that captures my own feelings as I say farewell to Jane Austen’s Bath.

This poem was fun to read but I wanted to know more about the poet behind the poem. Who was Lady Montagu?

 Pope makes love to Lady Mary Montagu, 1852. Print from oil on canvas original at Auckland City Art Gallery
Pope makes love to Lady Mary Montagu, 1852. Print from oil on canvas original at Auckland City Art Gallery

Born in an aristocratic family in London, Lady Montagu educated herself via her father’s extensive library. Although she considered herself a poet, Lady Montagu is best remembered for her Letters from Turkey, written while living in Istanbul with her husband, the British Ambassador Edward Wortley Montagu. Given access to the private quarters of Islamic women, Lady Montagu was able to offer her readers a fuller—and quite interesting—picture of 18th century Turkey.

Lady Montagu was witty, intelligent, and quite outspoken. She rejected Alexander Pope’s romantic advances; openly took Jonathan Swift to task for his poetry; and introduced smallpox inoculation to England from Turkey.

A propos of distempers, I am going to tell you a thing, that will make you wish yourself here. The small-pox, so fatal, and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless, by the invention of engrafting, 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, and 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 vein 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 matter as can lie upon the head of her needle , and after that, binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell, and in this manner opens four or five veins. (From Letters from Turkey)

Eventually she abandoned England—and her husband—to live abroad..and…well… I am digressing from Bath.

Now is the time to say goodbye to society balls, carriage rides and waters “Hot reeking from the pumps” as we travel back to ancient Persia and Greece.

Our next read in the virtual literary salon is The Persians by Aeschylus. Pride, grief and the folly of vengeance—all rolled up in a script of a mere 23 pages. We begin DECEMBER 1, 2014. Send a message to alicecatherinej@gmail.com to join. Free and open to all.

We have a great group of worldwide readers and although we meet online, at times there are surprising personal encounters. Two readers recently met for the first time at a book fair in Scotland while just last Sunday my neighbor—and also a Northanger Abbey reader—stopped by with this nice note a la Jane Austen.

jane austin 1jane austen 2

My heart is full I can no more—
John, bid the coachman drive.

Good-bye Bath, Hello Susa!

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