Montagu, Edward Wortley (DNB00)
|←Montagu, Edward (1755-1799)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 38
Montagu, Edward Wortley
MONTAGU, EDWARD WORTLEY (1713–1776), author and traveller, son of Edward Wortley Montagu by Lady Mary [see Montagu, Lady Mary Wortley], daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, first duke of Kingston, was born in the summer of 1713. In 1716 he was taken by his parents to Constantinople, and at Pera in March 1716-17 was inoculated for the small-pox, being the first native of the United Kingdom to undergo the operation. On the return of his parents to England in 1718 he was placed at Westminster School, from which he ran away more than once. On the first occasion, July 1726, he was traced to Oxford, and was with difficulty 'reduced to the humble condition of a school-boy.' He decamped again in August 1727, and was not recovered for some months. Two similar escapades are mentioned by his tutor, Forster, chaplain to the Duchess of Kingston, but without dates. The first ended in his discovery, after a year's absence, crying fish in Blackwall; on the second occasion he worked his passage out to Oporto, deserted, went up country, and found employment in the vineyards, but returning to Oporto in charge of some asses, was arrested at the instance of the British consul, brought back to his ship, identified and restored to his parents by the master. After some time spent with a tutor in the West Indies, Montagu came home about 1733, and in a freak married a woman much his senior, and of no social position. His parents now treated him as deranged, induced the wife by a small pension to forego her rights, and packed him off to Holland in charge of a keeper, in time to prevent the birth of a child. At first the keeper's office was no sinecure, and Montagu was several times put in confinement. Nevertheless he studied Arabic to purpose under Schultens of Leyden, and became proficient in French and other European languages. On 6 Sept. 1741 his name was entered as a student on the register of Leyden University. His allowance was small (300l. a year), and his gambling and other debts exorbitant. His mother, who saw him from time to time on the continent, describes him as an excellent linguist, a thorough liar, and so weak-minded as to be capable of turning 'monk one day, and a Turk three days after.' Nevertheless Montagu held for a time a commission in the army of the allies, served without discredit at the battle of Fontenoy on 11 May (N.S.) 1745, was returned to parliament for the borough of Huntingdon in 1747, and in July 1748 was appointed one of the commissioners to execute the office of secretary at the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle. He returned to London in January 1750-1, and astonished the town by the height of his play and the extravagance of his dress. With his diamond shoe-buckles and snuff-boxes, and a wig of iron wire marvellously contrived to look like hair, he was 'computed to walk 2,500l.,' and was forthwith elected fellow of the Royal Society. In the autumn of 1751 he made a jaunt to Paris in company with a certain Miss Ashe (a lady of doubtful reputation, commonly known as 'The Pollard Ashe,' with whom he had previously gone through the ceremony of marriage), Theobald Taaffe, M.P. for Arundel, and Lord Southwell, and on 31 Oct. was committed to the Chatelet prison on a charge of cheating a Jew at faro and extorting payment by force. Taaffe and Lord Southwell were also incriminated, but were not arrested. Montagu pleaded not guilty, and by the interest of the British ambassador, Lord Albemarle, obtained his liberty after eleven days' incarceration. He then brought an action of false imprisonment against his accuser, and obtained judgment on 25 Jan. 1751-2, which, however, was reversed on appeal. He published the same year his own version of this episode in both French and English (see infra).
From 1754 to 1762 Montagu sat in parliament, a silent member, for the borough of Bossiney, Cornwall. In 1759 he published a sort of historico-didactical essay, entitled 'Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the Antient Republics. Adapted to the Present State of Great Britain,' London, 8 vo; later editions in 1769 and 1778. The composition of this work has been attributed, on insufficient grounds, to his former tutor, Forster. On his father's death, 22 Jan. 1761, Montagu found himself cut off with an annuity of 1,000l., to be raised to 2,000l. on the death of his mother. Leaving England soon afterwards he re-entered himself (19 Feb. 1761) at Leyden, being described in the university register as 'Linguarum Orientalium Cultor.' He started early in 1762 for the East, and was in Italy when Lady Mary died, having bequeathed him a guinea. The family estates went to his sister, Lady Bute, but provision was made for his son, if he should leave one. At Turin Montagu inspected the recently discovered bust upon which John Turberville Needham [q. v.] had founded his fantastic theory of the Egyptian origin of the Chinese, which he examined in a letter to the Earl of Macclesfield, read before the Royal Society on 25 Nov. 1762. The letter does not appear in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' but, with a rejoinder to Needham 's reply, was published in pamphlet form in 1763, under the title 'Observations upon a supposed Antique Bust at Turin,' London, 4to.
At Rome Montagu became intimate with Winckelmann, whom he at first dazzled by his various accomplishments. He left Italy in the autumn of 1762, and wintered in Egypt, where he went through the ceremony of marriage with Caroline Dormer, the Irish Roman catholic wife of one Feroe, a protestant merchant of Danish nationality, settled at Alexandria. In Feroe's absence he induced her to believe him dead. He then took her with him to Cairo, and on her discovering the ruse quieted her scruples of conscience by the assurance that her marriage with the Dane, which had been solemnised in Italy, was null and void by reason of the difference of faith, and promising to get it so declared. Pursued by the Dane, the pair travelled by the supposed route of the Exodus to Sinai, and thence to Jerusalem, where on 26 Nov. 1764 Montagu was received into the church of Rome. He then parted with the lady, leaving her in a convent on Mount Lebanon, while he visited Armenia and returned to Italy. He reached Venice in September 1765, and passed the winter at Pisa, whence he communicated to the Royal Society a narrative of his journey from Cairo to Sinai (Phil. Trans. Ivi. 40 et seq. and cf. Gent. Mag. 1767, pp. 374, 401). He afterwards visited Leghorn, and having instituted the process for obtaining the decree of nullity, returned to the Levant, and rejoined the lady. From Zante in 1767 he communicated to the Royal Society 'New Observations on what is called Pompey's Pillar in Egypt,' the date of which he assigned to a period subsequent to the reign of Vespasian (Phil. Trans. lvii. 438). He was at Smyrna with his mistress in 1769 when the decree was pronounced. The pair afterwards lived at Rosetta in Egypt, but separated in 1772, Montagu having become enamoured of a fair Nubian. While in the East he conformed to the Turkish regimen, religion, and costume. In 1775 he was at Venice, where he continued to live like a Turk, and received visitors squatting on the floor. Among them was the painter, George Romney, who painted a half-length portrait of him in his oriental costume, now in the possession of Lord Wharncliffe. A crayon sketch of his head by the same artist appears to be lost (see frontispieces to Moy Thomas's edition of the Letters and Works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1861, vol. ii. and Europ. Mag. 1793 ; and cf. Horne's Catalogue of Engraved Portraits, &c., by Gainsborough and Romney, 1891).
While at Venice Montagu heard of the death of his wife, and was on his way home with the intention of marrying, when he died at Padua on 29 April 1776. His death is said to have been due to the swallowing of a fish-bone. He was buried in the cloister of the Eremetani, Padua. An obscene advertisement for a wife, which appeared in the 'Public Advertiser' of 16 April 1776, was supposed to have been inserted by him. He left several illegitimate children, for whom he provided by his will. Montagu had a handsome person and lively parts. His linguistic faculty was extraordinary and his conversational powers great. He is said to have possessed, and perhaps did pretend to possess, the power of divination. His loose and roving life made him the hero of much vulgar and indecent romance. There is little doubt that he was more or less insane. A portrait by Romney is in the possession of the Earl of Wharncliffe ; another by Peters was engraved by J. R. Smith in 1776.
Montagu's narrative of the affair with the Jew at Paris appeared in French as 'Mémoire pour Edouard Wortley Montagu, Membre du Parlement d'Angleterre, contre Abraham Payba, se disant Jacques Roberts,' Paris, 1752, 4to. An English translation appeared the same year, with the title 'Memorial of Edward Wortley Montagu, Esq. Written by himself in French, and published lately at Paris against Abraham Payba, a Jew by birth, who assumed the name of James Roberts,' London, 8vo. In connection with this affair there also appeared 'The Sentence of the Lieutenant Criminal at Paris in the Extraordinary Cause between Abraham Payba, alias James Roberts, Plaintiff, and Edward Wortley Montagu and Theobald Taafie, Esqrs., Members of the Hon. House of Commons, Defendants,' London, 1752, 8vo ; and 'A Memorial or Humble Petition presented to the Judges in the High Court of the Tournelle in Paris by the Honourable Edward Wortley Montagu, Esq., Member of Parliament for the County of Huntingdon, and Theobald Taaffe, Esq., Member of Parliament for Arundel, against Abraham Payba, alias James Roberts, and Louis Pierre, Jeweller, appealing from the Sentence given in favour of the said Roberts and Pierre the 14th June, 1752.' Translated from the original, printed at Paris, London (no date), 8vo. Some of Montagu's letters are printed in Seward's 'Anecdotes,' 1804, ii. 404-18, in Nichols's 'Literary Anecdotes,' iv. 64 et seq., and ix. 792 et seq., and Winckelmann's 'Briefe,' ed. Förster, iii. 122 ; others are preserved in Add. MSS. 32703 f. 483, 32718 f. 3, 32805 f. 23, 32831 ff. 121, 123, 32832 f. 215, 32833 f. 163. (See also Add. MS. 21416, ff. 52, 60, and Eg. MS. 2002, ff. 134, 136, 145-55, 191.) During a tour in Epirus and Thessaly he 'took exact plans of Actium and Pharsalia,' now lost. While at Rosetta he translated Veneroni's 'Dialogues' into Arabic. He is said to have written an 'Explication of the Causes of Earthquakes,' which, if it ever existed, has disappeared. His manuscripts were sold in 1787.
[Letters and works of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (Bohn's Standard Library), ed. Moy Thomas, 1887; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 619n., ii. 243–4n., iii. 623, iv. 64 et seq., viii. 247, ix. 792 et seq.; Seward's Anecd. ii. 404 et seq.; Gent. Mag. 1748 p. 333, 1777 p. 376, 1778 p. 221; List of Fellows of the Royal Soc. (official), 1752; Europ. Mag. 1793, pp. 1–5, 129–31, 164–6, 250–254; Collins's Peerage (Brydges), ii. 577, iii. 461–462; Horace Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, ii. 99, 241, 273, iii. 376; Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. x. 507, 3rd ser. x. 290, xi. 373, 4th ser. v. 245, 601, xi. 7; Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. App. pt. ii. p. 402, 10th Rep. App. p. 383; Letters of Mrs. Montagu, 1813, iii. 174; Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Delany, 2nd ser. ii. 198, 220; Sharpe's Letters from Italy, 1766, p. 9; Moore's Soc. and Manners in Italy, i. 31; Doran's Mann and Manners at the Court of Florence, ii. 97, and Lady of the Last Century (Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu), illustrated in her Unpublished Letters (1873), p. 130; Carsten Niebuhr's Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien, 1837, iii. 30 et seq.; Peacock's Index to English-speaking Students at Leyden, p. 106; Winckelmann's Briefe, ed. Förster, ii. 126, 128, 322, 405, iii. 11, 16, 28, 122; Lamberg's Memorial d'un Mondain, 1774, p. 10; Rede's Anecd. p. 298; Temple Bar, xxxvii. 500 et seq.; Mrs. Piozzi's Observations and Reflections made in the course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany, 1789, i. 161; Hayley's Life of Romney, p. 59; Rev. John Romney's Life of Romney, 1830, p. 123; Ann. Reg. 1776, Characters, p. 34; Lord Teignmouth's Life of Sir William Jones, p. 125; Memoirs of the late Edw. W——ly M——tague, Esq., with Remarks on the Manners and Customs of the Oriental World, 1779, are inauthentic, as also are Coates's The British Don Juan, being a Narrative of the singular Amours, entertaining Adventures, remarkable Travels, &c., of the Hon. Edward W. Montagu, 1823, and Edward Wortley Montagu, an Autobiography, 1869, a three-volume novel by ‘Y.,’ i.e. E. V. H. Kenealy.]