Letter 115

The Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

It is a most unaccountable thing, my charming friend, when we are at a remote distance, we cannot so readily understand each other. Whilst I was near you, we always had the same sentiments, and viewed every object in the same light; because I am now about three months absent, we are no longer of the same opinion on anything. Which of us is in the wrong? You certainly will not hesitate in your answer: but I, more wise, or more polite, will not decide. I shall only reply to your letter, and continue to lay my conduct open.

First, accept my thanks for the intelligence of the reports flying about me; that does not make me uneasy: I think soon I shall be furnished with materials to silence them all. Have a little patience; I shall again appear more celebrated than ever, and more worthy of you.

I expect even they will give me credit for the affair of the little Volanges, which you affect to treat as such a trifle: as if there was no merit in carrying in one night a young girl from a favoured lover; to make use of her after as much as one chooses, even as their own property, and without any farther trouble; to obtain from her what one dare not even require from girls whose vocation it is; and all this without in the least disturbing her tender affection; without making her inconstant, or even false; for certainly I don’t engage her imagination. So that after my fancy is at an end, I will deliver her into her lover’s arms, without, as I may say, her having taken notice of anything. Pray is that so common an exploit? Yet believe, when she is gone from under my tuition, the principles I have instilled into her will nevertheless display themselves; and I prophesy, the timid scholar will take a flight that will do honour to her master.

If, however, they like heroics better, I will show my Presidente; this model cited for every virtue, respected even by our greatest libertines; insomuch, they had given up the idea of attacking her. I will show her, forgetting duty and virtue, sacrificing her reputation and two years prudence to run after the happiness of pleasing me; intoxicated with love; sufficiently recompensed for so many sacrifices by a word, a look, which yet she will not always obtain. I will do more, I will even abandon her; and if I know this woman, I shall not have a successor; she will resist the necessity of consolation; the habitude of pleasure; even the thirst for revenge: she shall have existed for me only; and let her career be long or short, I alone will have opened and shut the barrier; when once I rise to this triumph, I will tell my rivals, “that is my exploit, search the world for such an example.”

You ask me whence proceeds this excessive confidence? Why, for eight days past, I am my fair one’s confidant; she does not tell me her secrets, but I come at them; two of her letters have given me sufficient information; the rest I will only read out of curiosity. I now absolutely want nothing to crown my success but admittance, my measures are taken; I shall immediately execute them. I think you are curious; but to punish you for not believing my intentions, you shall not know them; you really in earnest deserve I should withdraw my confidence from you, at least, for this adventure; were it not for the tender reward you have attached to its success, I would not mention it again. You see I am vexed; however, in hopes of your amendment, I will be satisfied with this slight reprimand, and my indulgent mind for a moment, forgetting my grand project, shall employ itself on yours.

You are then in the country, dull as sentiment, and sorrowful as fidelity; and poor Belleroche, not satisfied with making him drink the waters of oblivion, you will also put him to the torture; how does he like it? Does he bear the nausea of love well? I would rather than a great deal he should become more attached to you; I am curious to learn what more efficacious remedy you would use; I really pity you, to have been obliged to have recourse to that. Never did I make love but once methodically; I certainly had a strong motive, as it was with the Countess de ⸻; and twenty times in her arms have I been tempted to tell her, “Madam, I renounce the place I solicit, and permit me to quit that I occupy.” Of all the women I have had, she is the only one of whom I take pleasure in speaking ill. Your motive, I must own, is truly ridiculous, and you was right in thinking I should not guess the successor:⁠—What, then, is it for Danceny you have taken all this trouble? Ah, my dear friend, let him alone to adore his virtuous Cecilia, and do not commit yourself in this children’s play; leave the scholars to be formed by good old women, or play with the pensioners at pretty innocent games. What, would you instruct a novice who neither knows how to take or leave you, for whom you must do everything? I tell you seriously, I disapprove your choice; and let it be ever so secret, it will humble you in my mind, and your own conscience. You say you have taken a great liking to him; for shame! you certainly deceive yourself. I think I have discovered the cause of your error; this fine disgust for Belleroche happened at a time of scarcity, and Paris not offering any choice, your lively ideas fixed on the first object they met; but remember, at your return you may choose among a thousand; and if you dread the inaction you risk falling into in deferring your choice, I offer myself for your amusement at your leisure hours. From this time until your arrival, my great affairs will be determined one way or other; certainly neither the little Volanges, nor the Presidente even, will employ me so much, but I may devote myself to you as much as you wish; perhaps even before that time, I may have delivered the little one into the hands of her discreet lover. Say what you please, which I don’t agree to, that it is not an attaching enjoyment, as I intended she should ever retain an idea of me superior to all the rest of mankind, I assumed such a tone with her as I could not support long without prejudice to my health; and from this moment I am no longer hers only for family duty. You don’t understand me; I mean I wait a second period to confirm my hopes, and give me full assurance I have amply succeeded in my scheme. Yes, my dear friend, I have already a first indication that my scholar’s husband will not die without posterity, and the chief of the house of Gercourt will be a younger brother of that of Valmont. But let me finish to my own liking this business which I undertook at your request: remember if you make Danceny inconstant, you deprive the adventure of its poignancy. Consider also, in offering myself to you, I have a right to a preference.

I depend so much upon it, I was not afraid to counteract your designs in even assisting to increase the tender passion of the discreet lover, for the first and worthy object of his choice. Having yesterday found your pupil writing to him, and disturbed her in this pleasing task, for another still more pleasing: I afterwards desired to see the letter; as it was too cold and constrained, I made her sensible it was not thus she should console her lover, and made her write another which I dictated; where, imitating her nonsense as well as I could, I endeavoured to feed the young man’s passion by more certain hopes; the little, creature was overjoyed, she said, to find she wrote so well, and hereafter I should hold the correspondence. What have I not done for this Danceny! I have been at once his friend, his confidant, his rival, and his mistress; even at this instant, I am endeavouring to save him from your dangerous toils: ay, dangerous; for to possess, and then lose you, is purchasing a moment’s happiness with an eternity of regret.

Adieu, my lovely friend! muster up resolution to dispatch Belleroche as soon as possible; think no more of Danceny; and prepare to again find and return me the delicious pleasures of our first connection.