Letter 118

Chevalier Danceny to the Marchioness de Merteuil

If I am to credit my almanac, my charming friend, you are absent only two days; but my heart tells me it is an age. According to your own doctrine then, the heart must always be believed. It is time you should return: surely your affairs should be finished by this time. How can I be any way concerned in the success of your lawsuit, as I must suffer by your absence? I am now much inclined to scold; and it is really hard, being so ripe for bad humour, I dare not give way to it.

Is it not a species of infidelity, to leave your friend, after having accustomed him not to be able to exist out of your presence? Your lawyers will even find it difficult to defend so bad a cause: besides, those gentlemen generally make use of arguments which are not valid answers to sentiments.

You have given me so many for this journey, that I am sick of them, and will pay no farther attention to them, were they even to persuade me to forget you. Yet that would not be so unreasonable, nor so difficult, as you may imagine: it would be only laying aside the habit of always thinking of you; for nothing here, I can assure you, would ever recall you to my memory.

Our prettiest women, those even called the most amiable, are so inferior to you, that they could give but a very faint idea indeed. I even think, that, with all their practised looks, the more one might at first think that they resembled you, the more striking the difference would afterwards appear. In vain do they use their utmost exertions; they always fail being you; and that precisely constitutes the charm. Unfortunately, when the days are so long, and one is unoccupied, reveries, ideal projects, and chimeras, fill the brain; the mind acquires a degree of elevation. We are intent on ornamenting our productions; we collect together everything that can please; we arrive at length at perfection; and when we are there, the portrait brings us back to the original, and one is quite astonished to see that you were the only object of all these turns of the mind. Even at this moment I am the dupe of pretty much the same sort of error. You fancy, perhaps, that it was in order to employ myself on your subject, that I resolved to write to you⁠—not at all: it was in order to direct my attention a little from you. I have a hundred things to tell you, of which you were not the object, and which, nevertheless, you very well know concern me nearly; and yet it is from these things my attention is led away. Since when, then, do the charms of Friendship dissipate those of Love? If I considered it narrowly, perhaps I should have to reproach myself⁠—but hush! Let us forget that small fault, lest we relapse into it; and let even my best female friend be in ignorance of it.

Why are you absent? Why not here to give me an answer? To recall me if I should stray? To talk to me of my Cecilia? To add, if possible, to the happiness I experience in loving her, by the additionally charming idea that it is your friend I love? Yes, I avow the love she inspires me, is become more precious. Since you have been kind enough to become the confidant of it, I feel so great a pleasure in opening my heart to you, in interesting yours in my sentiments, in depositing them there without reserve! I think them the more dear to me in proportion as you condescend to hear them; that I look at you, and say to myself, It is in her that all my happiness is centered. I have nothing new to inform you of as to my situation. The last letter I received from her increases, and gives a degree of security to my hopes; though she still brings a delay to them, yet her motives are so tender and honourable, that I can neither blame her, nor complain of it. Perhaps this is obscure to you; but why are you not here? Though we can say everything to a friend, everything cannot be written. The secrets of love especially, are so delicate, that one ought not to let them go in that way, relying on honour. If they are sometimes permitted to go abroad, they never should be permitted to go out of sight; they ought even to be watched back to their new asylum. Return, then my adorable friend; you see your return is necessary: forget, then, the thousand reasons that detain you where you are, or teach me to live where you are not.