"Civility Costs Nothing And Buys Everything"

Context: The eighteenth century is remembered in part for the excellency of its letter writers such as the Earl of Chesterfield, Thomas Gray, Horace Walpole, and above all Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. The wife of an ambassador, she was provided not only the opportunity for extensive travel but also the access to many of the events which an ordinary traveler would never experience. Her letters, unusually detailed and frank in tone, were written for the most part to her daughter, her sisters, and her intimate friends. Apparently at home in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Holland, Austria, or Turkey, Lady Mary recorded a vivid and intimate record of the nations and their political institutions. In a letter of May 30, 1756, to her daughter, the Countess of Bute, Lady Mary describes her sorrow upon hearing of the death of an old friend–Sir William Lowther–and, in turn, her anger at the way his estate has been devoured by ravenous inheritors. In this respect she asserts that he died "fortunately," believing "himself blessed in many friends, whom a short time would have shown to be worthless, mercenary, designing scoundrels." The letter is typical of those to her daughter in that it is imbued with moral counsel and earnestness of purpose. In the opening paragraph she urges the countess to be discreet and gracious in her associations with a certain Mr. Prescot who had previously taken offense at her haughty demeanor:

I sent you a long letter very lately, and enclosed one to Lady Jane, and also a second bill for fifty pounds, which I hope you have received, though I fear I cannot prevail on Mr. Prescot to take care of my letters; if he should do it, I beg you would be very obliging to him; remember, civility costs nothing and buys everything; your daughters should engrave that maxim in their hearts.