Letter 102

The Presidente de Tourvel to Madame de Rosemonde

You will be very much surprised, dear Madam, to learn I quitted your house so precipitately: this proceeding will, doubtless, appear very extraordinary; but how will your astonishment be increased, when you shall know my reasons! You will perhaps imagine, when I confide them to you, I have not paid proper attention to the respect the necessary tranquility of your age commands; that I am insensible to the sentiments of veneration you are so justly entitled to from me. Ah! forgive me, Madam! my heart is oppressed; it seeks to pour out its distress into the friendly bosom of prudence and mildness:⁠—where could it find it but with you? Look upon me as your child; take a maternal compassion on me; I implore it; my sentiments for you may give me a claim to it.

The time is fled, when, wholly possessed with those laudable ideas, I knew not these I now experience, which ravage the soul, and deprive me of the power of resistance, whilst they impose its necessity! Ah! this fatal visit has undone me!

What can I say?⁠—I love⁠—yes, I love to distraction! Alas! this fatal word, which now I write for the first time⁠—this word, so often solicited but never granted, my life should now expiate to let him hear who has inspired it; yet I must ever refuse! He will remain doubtful of the sentiments I feel for him.⁠—I am miserable!⁠—Oh, that he could as readily read my heart as rule it! I should suffer less if he but knew what I endure; but even you, my venerable friend, can have but a faint idea of my sufferings.

I shall in a few minutes fly him, and load him with affliction. He will think me near him, and I shall be far from him.⁠—At the usual hour of seeing him every day, I shall be in places unknown to him, and where he cannot come: everything is prepared full in my view, and all announce my unhappy flight: all is ready but me!⁠—and the more my heart recoils, the more I am convinced of the necessity of submitting to my fate.⁠—I must submit; it is better to die than live in guilt: already I feel my criminality; modesty only is preserved, but virtue is vanished:⁠—what yet is left me, I must acknowledge, is due to his generosity. Intoxicated with pleasure, seeing and listening to him, enraptured in his arms, and the greatest of all extacy, that of making him happy, I was diverted of strength or power; scarce any left to struggle, but none to resist; I shuddered at my danger, but had not power to fly:⁠—he saw my sufferings, and had compassion on me.⁠—Must I not cherish him to whom I owe more than life!

Had that been my only care, remaining with him, do not imagine I should ever have thought of going! for what is life without him? Happy should I have been to die for him! But, condemned to be the cause of his misery and my own, without daring to complain, or console him; to be daily exposed to struggle, not only against him, but also against myself; to employ my cares to bring him to anguish, when I would devote my days to make him happy: such a life is worse than a thousand deaths; yet this is to be my fate: I will still resolutely bear up against it. And do you, who I have chosen for a mother, receive my solemn vow to observe it.

Receive also another, of never concealing any of my actions from you. I beseech you to accept it. I demand it as a necessary aid to my conduct. I shall be engaged to relate you all; I shall think myself in your presence; your virtue will assist my weakness. I will never consent to shame in your sight; and by means of this powerful restraint, whilst I cherish the indulgent friend, the confidant of my weakness, I shall reverence my tutelar angel that guards me from shame.

It is experiencing it too fatally, to be compelled to this requisition. Oh, the unhappy effect of presumptuous confidence! Why did I not oppose sooner this growing inclination? Why did I flatter myself with being able to conquer it at my pleasure? Senseless wretch! Little did I know the power of love! Ah! had I struggled against it with more care, it would not have overpowered me. This sudden departure would have been unnecessary; or, even being compelled to this painful step, I might not have been forced to break a connection, which might have been less frequent. But to lose all at once, and forever!⁠—Oh, my dear friend!⁠—I forget myself, and again wander in criminal wishes. Let us part; and, at least, let me expiate by my sacrifice those involuntary injuries.

Adieu, most respectable friend! Love me as a daughter; adopt me as one; and be assured, notwithstanding my weakness, I would rather die than be unworthy that name.