Letter 121

The Marchioness de Merteuil to Chevalier Danceny

I received your letter, my very young friend, and must scold you before you receive my thanks for it; farther I warn you, if you do not amend, you shall not have any answer from me. Leave, then, that wheedling style, which is but mere cant, when it is not the expression of love. Is it the style of friendship? No, my dear friend; each sentiment has its peculiar language suitable to it; and to use another, is to disguise the thought we should express. I am well aware our silly women do not understand what is said to them, unless it is translated in some shape into this fashionable nonsense: but I imagined you would have distinguished me from them. I am really hurt, and, perhaps, more than I ought, you should imbibe such an opinion of me.

You will find in my letter what is wanting in yours, frankness and simplicity. As I shall say, it would give me infinite pleasure to see you, and am grieved to have only those about me who stupify me instead of those that give me pleasure; but you translate this same phrase thus: Teach me to live where you are absent; thus, suppose you was with your mistress, you could not live was I absent. What a misfortune! And these women that always fail being me! You will find, perhaps, that wanting also to your Cecilia! This, however, is the style which, by the abuse now made of it, is beneath the nonsense of compliment, and becomes a mere precedent, to which no more attention is paid than to your most humble servant.

My dear friend, when you write to me, let it be to express your thoughts and feelings, and do not stuff your letter with phrases, which I shall find, without your assistance, well or ill told in the first romance of the day. I hope you will not be displeased at what I now say, if even you should discover some peevishness in it; for it must not be denied I am a little so at present. To avoid even the shadow of the defect with which I reproach you, you must not be told, perhaps, this peevishness is not a little increased by the distance I am from you. And I am inclined to think, all things considered, you are more eligible than a lawsuit and two lawyers, and, perhaps, even the attentive Belleroche.

Observe, instead of being afflicted at my absence, you should be highly gratified; for I never before paid you so handsome a compliment. Your example influences me; I shall be apt to wheedle. No; I will retain my sincerity: it alone assures you of my tender friendship, and the interesting things it inspires. Is it not very pleasing to have a young friend, whose inclinations lead him elsewhere? However, that is not the system of the generality of women, but it is mine. I always thought the pleasure greater, and more satisfactory, in a sentiment where there is no apprehension. Don’t you think I have assumed the character of confidant for you tolerably soon: but you choose your mistress so young, that, for the first time, I begin to think I grow old. You are certainly right, thus to prepare yourself for a long career of constancy; and I sincerely wish it may be reciprocal.

You do right to cherish the tender and honourable motives, which you say retard your hopes. A long defence is the only merit of those who do not always resist; and I should think it unpardonable in any other but a child, like the little Volanges, not to fly a danger, of which she has had sufficient warning by the confession she made of her love. You men have no idea of virtue, and what the sacrifice of it costs a woman; but if she is capable of reasoning, she should know, that independent of the fault she commits, a single weakness is one of the greatest misfortunes; and I cannot conceive how any can fall, if they have a moment for reflection.

Do not attempt to combat this idea: it principally attaches me to you. You will save me from the dangers of love; and although I have hitherto guarded myself against them without your assistance, yet I consent to be grateful, and shall love you more and the better for it.

On which, my dear chevalier, I pray God to have you in his holy keeping.