At the age of fourteen the precocious Lady Mary, when on a visit to Wharncliffe Lodge, some thirty miles from Thoresby, made a conquest that was vastly to influence her life. The conquest was no less a person than Edward Wortley Montagu, son of Sidney Wortley Montagu, who was the second son of Edward, first Earl of Sandwich, the famous Admiral of Charles II. Sidney had taken the name of Wortley on his marriage to Anne, daughter of Sir Francis Wortley. To Sidney Wortley Montagu, of whom there is to-day little known, is an interesting reference in a letter from the Earl of Danby to his wife, dated from Kiveton, September 6, 1684: “I have had Mr. Montague with me—my Lord Sandwich his son—who lives at Wortley, and calls himself by that name, and is really a very fine gentleman and told me he was sorry that any of his relations—much more of his name—should have carried themselves so unjustly towards me, and he hoped I would not have the worse opinion of him for their ill-behaviour.”
Edward Wortley Montagu, who was then twenty-five, was already a person of some distinction. He was a good classical scholar, acquainted with modern languages, and versed in what his grand-daughter, Lady Louisa Stuart, styled “polite literature.” He was interested in the pretty, clever girl, and encouraged her to talk to him of her reading and writing. “When I was very young,” she said, as is recorded in the Anecdotes of the Rev. Joseph Spence, “I was a great admirer of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphosis,’ and that was one of the reasons that set me upon the thoughts of stealing the Latin language. Mr. Wortley was the only person to whom I communicated my design, and he encouraged me in it. I used to study five or six hours a day for two years in my father’s library, and so got that language whilst everybody else thought I was reading nothing but novels and romances.”
Montagu affected the company of men of letters. He was intimate with Addison, a close friend of Steele, and on terms with Congreve, Vanbrugh, and Garth, the author of The Dispensary. Steele, in fact, dedicated the second volume of the Tatler to him.
“When I send you this Volume, I am rather to make a Request than a Dedication. I must desire, that if you think fit to throw away any Moments on it, you would not do it after reading those excellent Pieces with which you are usually conversant. The Images which you will meet with here, will be very feint, after the Perusal of the Greeks and Romans, who are your ordinary Companions. I must confess I am obliged to you for the Taste of many of their Excellencies, which I had not observed till you pointed them to me. I am very proud that there are some things in these Papers which I know you pardon, and it is no small Pleasure to have one’s Labours suffered by the Judgment of a Man who so well understands the true Charms of Eloquence and Poesie. But I direct this Address to you, not that I think I can entertain you with my Writings, but to thank you for the new Delight I have from your Conversation in those of other men.