Letter 137

Viscount de Valmont to the Presidente de Tourvel

This instant only have I received your letter, Madam. I could not read it without shuddering, and have scarcely strength to answer it. What a horrible opinion have you, then, conceived of me! Doubtless, I have my faults, and such as I shall never forgive myself, if even you should hide them with your indulgence. But how distant from my thoughts are those you reproach me! Who, me insult you! Me make you contemptible, at a time when I reverence as much as cherish you! when you raised my vanity by thinking me worthy of you! Appearances have deceived you. I will not deny they make against me: but had you not sufficient within your own heart to contend against them? Did it not revolt at the idea of having a cause of complaint against me? Yet you believed it! Thus you not only thought me capable of this atrocious frenzy, but even dreaded you had exposed yourself to it by your indulgence. Ah! if you think yourself so much degraded by your love, I must be very despicable in your sight. Oppressed by the painful sense of this idea, I lose the time I should employ in destroying it, endeavouring to repel it. I will confess all: another consideration still prevents me. Must I go back to facts I would wish to forget forever, and recall your attention and my own to errors I shall ever repent; the cause of which I cannot yet conceive, which fill me with mortification and despair. If I excite your anger by accusing myself, the means of revenge will not be out of your reach; it will be sufficient to abandon me to my own remorse.

Yet the first cause of this unhappy event is, the all-powerful charm I feel in being with you: it was it made me too long forget an important business that could not be put off. I stayed with you so long, I did not find the person at home I wanted to see; I expected to have met her at the opera, where I was also disappointed. Emily, who I met there, and knew at a time when I was a stranger to you and love, Emily had not her carriage, and requested I would set her down at a little distance from thence; I consented, as a matter of no consequence. It was then I met you. I was instantly seized with the apprehension you would think me guilty.

The dread of afflicting or displeasing you is so powerful, it is impossible for me to conceal it, and was soon perceived. I will even own, it induced me to prevail on this girl not to show herself; this precaution, the result of delicacy, was unfavourable to love: but she, like the rest of her tribe, accustomed to the abuse of her usurped power, would not let slip so splendid an opportunity. The more she observed my embarrassment increase, the more she affected to show herself; and her ridiculous mirth, which I blush to think you could for a moment imagine yourself to be the object, had no other foundation than the cruel anxiety I felt, which proceeded from my love and respect.

So far, doubtless, I am more unfortunate than guilty. Those crimes being thus done away, I am clear of reproach. In vain, however, are you silent on those of love, which I must break through, as it concerns me so much.

Not but, in my confusion for this unaccountable misconduct, which I cannot without great grief recall to my remembrance; yet I am so sensible of my error, I would patiently bear the punishment, wait my pardon from time, from my excessive love, and my repentance; only what I yet have to say concerns your delicacy.

Do not think I seek a pretence to excuse or palliate my fault; I confess my guilt: but I do not acknowledge, nor ever will, this humiliating error can be a crime of love. For where is the analogy between a surprise of the sensations, a moment of inadvertency, which is soon replaced by shame and regret, and an immaculate sentiment, which delicate souls are only capable of, supported by esteem, and of which happiness is the fruit? Ah! do not thus profane love; or, rather, do not profane yourself, by uniting in the same point of view what never can be blended. Leave to despicable and degraded women the dread of a rivalship, and experience the torments of a cruel and humiliating jealousy; but turn your eyes from objects that would sully them: and pure as the Divinity, punish the offence without feeling it.

What punishment can you inflict on me will be more sorrowful than what I already feel⁠—that can be comparable to the grief of having incurred your displeasure⁠—to the despair of giving you affliction⁠—to the unsufferable idea of being unworthy of you? Your mind is taken up with punishing, whilst I languish for consolation; not that I deserve it, but only that I am in want of it, and that it is you alone can console me.

If on a sudden, forgetful of our mutual love as of my happiness, you will abandon me to perpetual sorrow, I shall not dispute your right⁠—strike: but should you incline to indulgence, and again recall those tender sentiments that united our hearts; that voluptuousness of soul, ever renewing, ever increasing; those delightful days we passed together; all the felicities that love only can give; you will, perhaps, prefer the power of renewing to that of destroying them. What shall I say? I have lost all, and lost it by my own folly: but still all may be retrieved by your goodness. You are now to decide. I shall add but one word more. Yesterday you swore my happiness was certain whilst it depended on you. Ah! will you this day, then, Madam, give me up to everlasting despair?