Edward Wortley Montagu


Notes : Edward Wortley Montagu (1713-76) was educated at Westminster School after having spent some years of his childhood in Constantinople and at Pera. He ran away from school repeatedly and on one occasion made it as far as Oporto. Subsequently, he was sent to travel with a tutor in the West Indies. After he had returned home he married a much older woman of no social position, and his parents, who now treated him as deranged, sent him to Holland with a keeper. In 1741 he registered at Leyden University, was a serious student of Arabic under Albert Schultens and became proficient in French and other European languages. Despite his dubious lifestyle Montagu held a commission in the army of the allies and served without discredit in the battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745. In 1747 he became a member of parliament for the borough of Huntingdon, and in July 1748 he served as a secretary at the conference of Aix-la-Chapelle. After having returned to London in 1751, he was elected to a fellowship of the Royal Society and astonished the town by the height of his play as well as the extravagance of his dress. Together with his second wife, Montagu spent some time in Paris, which included eleven days in prison after a disreputable gaming quarrel. Subsequently, he sat in parliament from 1754 to 1762 for the borough of Bossiney, Cornwall. His father’s death in 1761 cut him off from the family estate, and he returned to Leyden. Early in 1762 he departed for the East and was in Italy when his mother died. In Rome Montagu came to know Winckelmann, whom he at first impressed with his various accomplishments. He left Italy in the autumn of 1762, and wintered in Egypt, where he married his third wife, whom he induced to believe that her spouse was dead. Pursued by the lady’s husband the couple travelled to Jerusalem, and Montagu left 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. Afterwards he visited Leghorn and returned to the Levant to rejoin his lady. Her marriage was finally annulled in 1769, when the couple were at Smyrna, and they afterwards lived at Rosetta in Egypt. They separated in 1772, when Montagu felt attracted to a fair Nubian. He returned to Venice in 1775 and, while travelling back to Britain with the intention of marrying again, died in Padua in 1776. Montagu’s publications include several communications to the Royal Society and his posthumously published memoirs. The historico-didactical treatise Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the Antient Republics. Adapted to the Present State of Great Britain was published in 1759. Later editions followed in 1760, 1769, 1778 and 1793. Montagu’s motive for writing the work was the improvement of the welfare of Great Britain, which in his view had to learn from the fallen empires of antiquity, if she desired to survive. The republics covered in the book were those of Sparta, Athens, Thebes, Carthage and Rome, and the final chapter was dedicated to the British constitution.

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