Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2014 Issue

Lady Montagu Naked in a Turkish Bagnio

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The lovely Lady Montagu.

One day, a bookseller from New York tried to convince me to buy one of his books despite some minor defects: “I’ve been in the business for more than thirty years and trust me, the beauty of a book lies in its defects.” I laughed, and then retorted that if that was his conception of life, he surely had had a lot of girlfriends in his life. But just the other day, I remembered our discussion with a strange feeling. I had just bought a book on eBay—God forgive: a copy of the Letters of Lady M—y W—y M—e, a new edition printed in English—and in Paris—, in 1784. A small in-12 volume bound in contemporary calf; a modest binding but a book in a very good condition that didn’t cost me much. At first, I was delighted. It was lovely and the reading was exciting—but I realized it was incomplete. Several pages were missing in two different parts of the book. Only a book lover knows how I felt at this precise moment. Upset, I cursed the bookseller—who had forgotten to mention this detail—for spoiling my joy, and put this horrible book aside with the firm intention to send it back. But later on, a bugging thought came to me. I had noticed that the missing pages had been torn away a long time ago, and this defect just didn’t match with the overall good condition of the book—it became clear to me, my dear Watson, that someone had deliberately taken off these specific pages. And I decided to understand why. Googlebooks soon taught me the unknown tearer hadn’t expressed his or her fury at random, but on two precise letters numbered XXLVI and XLII.

 

A strong woman

 

The Lady M—y W—y M—e stands for Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), the famous wife of Mylord Wortley—she followed him to Constantinople when he was appointed Ambassador in 1716. Her letters were written to various persons during her journey, including Alexander Pope with whom she kept falling in and out of friendship with. It was uncommon for a woman to travel so far, but this young lady was quite uncommon. Not only had she character but she was also a very good writer. “If the reader, after perusing one letter only, has no discernment to distinguish that natural elegance, that delicacy of sentiment (...) and lovely simplicity (...) in which these letters exceed (...), let him lay the book down, and leave it to those who have,” wrote the authoritarian Lady M.A who published these letters. “I confess, I am malicious enough to desire,” this lady went on, “that the world should see, to how much better purpose the LADIES travel than their LORDS.” Men, beware: this is a story of proud and militant women who refused to bow to the so-called superiority of men—poor them. And it took place in the early 18th century! The same Lady M.A stated that the reader shouldn’t be prejudice towards the female author: “Rather let us freely own the superiority of this sublime genius, as I do in the sincerity of my soul, pleased that a woman triumphs.” She even exulted in the two letters that upset our unknown tearer.

 

The First Missing Letter

 

The first missing letter was written in Adrianople, in 1717, “with some content of mind”and flesh, I should add. Indeed, while in Sophia, she went incognito to the hot baths (or bagnios), where she found many women, “all being in the state of nature, that is, in plain English, stark naked. Without any beauty or defect concealed.”—guess my New York bookseller would have been comfortable with the whole situation. She was clearly impressed, and maybe a little bit confused, by what she saw, and this is what probably upset our unknown tearer. Naked women showing themselves shamelessly? What an outrage! Furthermore, Lady Montagu’s description is quite sensual. “They walked and moved with the same majestic grace which Milton describes our General Mother with.” This reference to Paradise Lost was quite daring—how could we honestly imagine Eve bathing in some Muslim bagnios? Lady Montagu went further: “Most of their skins shiningly white, only adorned by their beautiful hair, divided into many tresses, hanging on their shoulders, braided either with pearl or ribbon, perfectly representing the figures of the graces.” What a thought-provocative—to say the least—piece of writing! This is a moist, hot, and sensual scene, depicted by another woman who didn’t care about looking at the protagonists in the eyes: “If it were the fashion to go naked, the face would be hardly observed. I perceived that the ladies of the most delicate skins and finest shapes, had the greatest share of my admiration, though their faces were sometimes less beautiful than those of their companions.” Lady Montagu enjoyed her unexpected emotion, and confessed having “wickedness enough” to wish one Mr. Gervais, painter, “could 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 pretty girls of seventeen, or eighteen) were employed in braiding their hair in several pretty fancies.” But it would have meant the end of him, as “’tis no less than death for a man to be found in one of these places.” No male traveller could have ever given such an insight into this world, indeed.

 

Let’s imagine the agitation of the unknown tearer who read those scorching lines—especially the part where the English Lady is finally “forced to open (her) shirt, and show them (her) stays, which satisfied them very well.” But this experience was so exciting for Lady Montagu that the ruins of Justinian’s church she visited afterwards appeared like “little more than a heap of stones.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

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