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Excerpt from letter by Lady Mary Wortley

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Travel writing by women can reveal a number of themes in world history. One useful example are the letters written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1786) who worked as a missionary in Turkey. Lady Mary's observations allow students to explore the question of the Ottoman Empire and its relations to the West, to draw attention to the views of an 18th-century aristocratic woman on the Ottoman Empire, and to discuss the importance of letter-writing as a means of private and public communication. Instructors can also use Lady Mary's letters to introduce the idea of the "grand tour" -- travel for pleasure that was an essentially upper-class European activity in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In this letter, Lady Mary discusses religion and morals and attempts to understand Turkish religious beliefs from their point of view. This source is a part of the Women's Travel Writing teaching module.

Letter from Lady Mary Wortley, 1717


I explained to him the difference between the religion of England and Rome, and he was pleased to hear there were Christians that did not worship images or adore the Virgin Mary. The ridicule of transubstantiation appeared very strong to him. Upon comparing our creeds together I am convinced that if our friend Dr Clarke had free liberty of preaching here it would be very easy to persuade the generality to Christianity, whose notions are already little different from his. Mr Whiston would make a very good apostle here. I don't doubt but his zeal will be much fired if you communicate this account to him, but tell him, he must first have the gift of tongues before he can possibly be of any use.
Mohanimedism is divided into as many sects as Christianity, and the first institution as much neglected and obscured by interpretations. I cannot here forbear reflecting on the natural inclination of mankind, to make mysteries and novelties. The Zeidi, Kudi, jabari etc. put me in mind of the Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, etc., and are equally zealous against one another. But the most prevailing opinion if you search into the secret of the effendis is plain deism but this is kept from the people who are amused with a thousand different notions, according to the different interest of their preachers' There are very few amongst them (Achmed Bey denied there were any) so absurd as to set up for wit by declaring they believe no God at all. And Sir Paul Rycaut is mistaken, as he commonly is, in calling the sect muserin (i.e. the secret with us) atheists, they being deists, whose impiety consists in making a jest of their prophet. Achmed Bey did not own to me that he was of this opinion but made no scruple of deviating from some part of Mohammed's law by drinking wine with the same freedom we did. When I asked him how he came to allow himself that liberty he made answer that all the creatures of God were good and designed for the use of man; however, that the prohibition of wine was a very wise maxim and meant for the common people, being the source of all disorders amongst them, but that the prophet never designed to confine those that knew how to….


How to Cite This Source
Excerpt from letter by Lady Mary Wortley in World History Commons,