Letter 129

Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

Whence arises, my charming friend, this strain of acrimony and ridicule which runs through your last letter? What crime have I unintentionally committed which puts you so much out of temper? You reproach me with presuming on your consent before I had obtained it⁠—I imagined, however, what might appear like presumption in anyone else, would, between you and me, be only the effect of confidence. I would be glad to know how long has this sentiment been detrimental to friendship or love? Uniting hope with desire, I only complied with that natural impulse, which makes us wish to draw as near as possible to the happiness we are in pursuit of⁠—and you have mistaken that for vanity, which is nothing more than ardour. I know very well, in such cases, custom has introduced a respectful apprehension; but you also know, it is only a kind of form, a mere precedent; and I imagined myself authorised to believe those trifling niceties no longer necessary between us.

I even think this free and open method much preferable to insipid flattery, which so often love nauseates, when it is grounded on an old connection. Moreover, perhaps the preference I give this method proceeds from the happiness it recalls to my memory⁠—this gives me more uneasiness that you should take it in another light. However, this is the only thing that I am culpable in⁠—for I cannot believe you can seriously imagine, that the woman exists who I would prefer to you; and still less, that I should estimate you so little as you feign to believe. You say, you have consulted your glass on this occasion, and you do not find yourself sunk so low⁠—I believe it; and that only proves your glass to be true⁠—but should you not rather from thence concluded that certainly that was not my opinion.

In vain I seek the cause of this strange idea⁠—however, I suspect it is more or less dependent on the praises I lavished on other women⁠—at least, this I infer, from the affectation of quoting the epithets, adorable, celestial, attaching, which I used, speaking of Madam de Tourvel, and the little Volanges: but you are not to be told, those words, which are oftener the effect of chance than reflection, express more the situation one happens to be in at the time, than the value one sets upon the person. If at the time I was affected with the one or the other, I nevertheless rapturously wished for you⁠—If I gave you an eminent preference over both, as I would not renew our first connection without breaking off the two others, I do not think there is such great reason for reproaches.

I shall not find it more difficult to exculpate myself from the charge of the unknown charm, which, it seems, shocks you not a little; for being unknown, it does not follow that it is stronger⁠—What can equal the delights you alone can always embellish with novelty and bliss? I only wished to convey to you an idea, it was a kind I never before experienced; but without pretending to give it any rank; and added, what I again repeat, whatever it be, I will overcome it: and shall exert myself more zealously if I can in this trifling affair, to have one homage more to offer to you.

As to the little Cecilia, it is useless to mention her: you have not forgot it was at your instance I took charge of this child; and only wait your orders to be rid of her. I may have made some remarks on her bloom and innocence; and for a moment thought her engaging, because one is always more or less pleased with their work; but she has not, in any shape, consistency to fix the attention.

Now, my lovely friend, I appeal to your justice, your first attachment to me, the long and sincere friendship, the unbounded confidence which have linked us together⁠—have I deserved the severe manner in which you have treated me? But how easy can you make me amends when you please! Speak but the word, and you will see whether all the charms, all the attachments will keep me here, not a day, but even a minute; I will fly to your feet⁠—into your arms⁠—and will prove a thousand times, and in a thousand ways, that you are, you ever will be, the only mistress of my heart.

Adieu, my lovely friend! I wait your answer impatiently.