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>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Adams (Richard). <i>Watership Down,</i> FIRST EDITION, author inscription on front free end paper, folded map tipped in, original boards, dust-jacket. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bowles (John). <i>Several Prospects of the Most…la Ville de Londres, avec des Remarques Historiques fort Succinctes, qui les Regardant,</i> 20 double page engraved plates only, of 23, 1724. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Auden (W.H.). <i>Our Hunting Fathers,</i> FIRST SEPARATE EDITION, 1 of 22 copies, COPY B OF 5 PRINTED ON NORMANDIE, original patterned wrappers, Cambridge, for Frederic Prokosch, 1935. £800 to £1200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Barrie (J. M.) & Attwell (Mabel Lucie, illustrator). <i>Peter Pan & Wendy,</i> FIRST EDITION, 12 chromolithograph plates, publisher's blue cloth, original printed dust jacket, [c.1920]; and 3 others (4). £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bartolozzi (Francesco). Genius Calling Forth the Fine Arts to Adorn Manufactures and Commerce; Agriculture (Husbandry Aided by Arts and Commerce), glazed and framed. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> A collection of engraved caricatures, including Gillray ([James]) Tales of Wonder!, 1802; Rowlandson (Thomas) Sports, Smock Racing, 1811;Irish Jaunting Carr, 1814. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Bennett (Charles H, illustrator). <i>Æsop’s Fables,</i> 1875; Buchanan (Robert). <i>Ballad Stories of the Affections,</i> [1866]; Douce (Francis), The Dance of Death, 1833. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Chinese Illustrations. A group of 6 Cantonese rice paper illustrations, depicting scenes of torture with different instruments, gouache, c.340 x 220mm, original wrapper boards preserved, [c. 1800]. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Dulac (Edmund). <i>The Queen of Romania, The Dreamer of Dreams,</i> 5 coloured plates, [1915]; and others illustrated by Edmund Dulac. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Summer Books. August 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Fronth (Per). Xingu Chronicles, the portfolio, comprising 30 plates, photogravues in colours, each signed, dated and titled in pencil, each numbered 10/35, on wove paper, 790 x 600 x 60mm, 1997. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> Pasternak (Boris). <i>Doctor Zhivago,</i> FIRST ENGLISH EDITION, original red publisher’s cloth, pictorial dust jacket, 4to, Collins & Harvill Press, 1958. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Aug. 22:</b> 13 sepia photographs of visitors to the Thermes Nationaux d’Aix-les-Bains, c. 150 x 105mm, c.1890 (12). £300 to £400
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <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:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.

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