Letter 110

Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

Ye heavenly powers! I have a soul formed for sorrow; grant me one for bliss.25 I think it is the tender Saint Preux, who thus expresses himself: more equally divided than he, I at once am possessed of both. I am, my dear friend, at once very happy and very miserable; since you are entirely in my confidence, I will relate my pains and pleasures.

My ungrateful devotee still perseveres in her inflexibility; she has returned me four letters unopened⁠—not four neither, for guessing that after the first, it would be followed by another, I resolved not to lose my time thus, to make my mournful complaints as commonplace without a date, and since the second post, it is always the same letter goes and comes, I only change the cover. If my fair one ends as fair ones generally do, and will relent, at least through fatigue; she will at length keep it: then will be the time to renew the correspondence; you may guess this new method hurts my intelligence.⁠—I have, however discovered the fickle woman has changed her confidant; I am certain at least since her leaving the castle, she has not wrote to M. de Volanges; but has twice wrote to old Rosemonde. As she has not said anything of it to us, and does not even mention her dear fair one, who she was incessantly talking of, I concluded she is appointed successor: I conjecture the necessity of talking of me on the one hand, and the shame of again assuming with Madame de Volanges, a subject so long disavowed, have produced this grand revolution: I am apprehensive I shall lose by the change; for the older women grow, the more morose and severe they are: the first would have said everything evil of me, but the other will say more of the evils of love; and the sensible prude is more afraid of the passion than the Person. The only method to be informed is, as you will observe, to put a stop to the clandestine trade; I have already given my huntsman ample directions, and am hourly in expectation; until then, chance rules all. For these last eight days I have run over all manner of known methods, as also those of romances and secret memoirs, and cannot find a precedent neither for the circumstances of the adventure, or character of the heroine. The difficulty does not lie in getting into her house, even at night, or even to set her asleep as in Clarissa, but after two months of care and trouble, to be obliged to recur to such strange methods; follow the track others have left, and triumph without glory!⁠—No, she shall not have the pleasure of vice and the honour of virtue.26 It is not enough to possess her, she shall give herself up: to compass this, I must not only get in to her house, with her consent; find her alone, and inclined to listen to me; above all, blind her on her danger, for if she perceives it, she will overcome it or perish. The more convinced I am what is necessary to be done, the greater I find the difficulties in the execution; were you again to ridicule me, I will confess my embarrassment increases the more I think of it.

I really believe I should have gone mad, were it not for the pleasing distraction our pupil gives me; my recreations with her are an antidote to melancholy.

Would you believe it was three whole days before your letter had any effect on the little terrified creature? Thus one false idea is capable of destroying the best disposition.

At length on Saturday she came about, began to mutter a few words, in such a low tone, and so inarticulate, with shame no doubt, it was almost impossible to understand her: her blushes, however, declared the business; until then, I assumed a consequential air, but soon softened by so pleasing a repentance, I condescended to promise the pretty penitent, to go to her at night; this favour was accepted with all the gratitude due to so great a kindness.

As I never lose sight of your schemes or my own, I resolved not to neglect this opportunity of coming at the intrinsic value of this child, also to accelerate her education. To be more at liberty to prosecute this business, it was necessary to change the place of rendezvous, for as there is only a closet which separates her room from that of her mother’s, she could not think herself sufficiently safe to indulge at her ease: I was determined then to contrive innocently, some noise which should frighten her, and make her resolve in future to accept a place of more safety, but she saved me the trouble.

The little thing laughs much, and to keep up her spirits, I took it in my head between the acts, to tell her some scandalous adventures that occurred to me; to give them a greater relish, and fix her attention the more, I put them all to her mother’s account, who I loaded with vice and folly. My design in this, was to encourage my timid scholar, and inspire her with a most despicable opinion of her mother. I have always observed, that if this method was not always necessary for the seduction of a young girl, it is indispensable, even the most efficacious, to vitiate her; for she who has no respect for her mother, will never have any for herself: this moral truth, which I think so useful, I am glad to illustrate by an example to corroborate the precept. But your pupil, who did not dream of the moral, was every moment ready to burst with laughing, and once had like to have broke out. I had no difficulty to persuade her she made a great noise; I seemed much alarmed, so did she: that it might make the impression more forcible, I did not suffer pleasure to make its appearance again, but left her three hours sooner than usual, after having agreed to meet the next night in my chamber. I have already received her twice: in this short interval, the scholar is almost as learned as the master: yes, upon my word I have taught her everything as far as the compliances: I have concealed nothing but the precautions.

Being thus engaged all night, I sleep the greatest part of the day; and as, in the present state of the castle, I have nothing to attract me, I scarcely appear an hour in the day in the saloon. Today I have taken the resolution to eat in my room⁠—shall only leave it now and then for a short walk: those oddities will be imputed to my health; I have declared I was devoured with spleen; I have also talked of a little fever; it will be sufficient to speak in a weak and languid voice to make that go down; and for an alteration in my countenance, rely on your pupil, love will provide for it.27 My leisure hours are taken up with the means of regaining the advantages I have lost over my ingrate, in competing a catechism of debauchery for the use of my scholar, wherein I call everything by its technical name; I anticipate my joy on the very affecting conversation it will furnish between Gercourt and she the first night after their marriage. Nothing can be more diverting than the ingenuousness with which she expresses what little she knows of this language; she does not think people ought to speak otherwise; this is really enchanting; this contrast of simple candour, with the style of barefaced impudence, has its effect; and I do not know how it is, but of late nothing pleases me but oddities.

I give too much way perhaps to this, as I commit my time and health; but I hope my feigned sickness may, besides saving me the disagreeable tediousness of the saloon, be of service with my austere devotee, whole ferocious virtue is still allied to tender sensibility! I make no doubt she is by this time informed of this great event, and I have a strong desire to know how she takes it, as I would venture to lay a wager she will take the honour of it to herself; I shall regulate the state of my health according to the impression it makes on her. Now, my charming friend, you have my whole story: I wish to have more interesting news for you; and I hope you will be persuaded, that I reckon on the reward I expect from you as a great share in the pleasure I promise myself.