Letter 152

The Marchioness de Merteuil to the Viscount de Valmont

Take care, Viscount; have a little more regard for my extreme timidity. How do you think I can support the unsufferable idea of your indignation; but especially that I do not sink under the terror of your vengeance? particularly as you know, if you defamed me, it would be impossible for me to return the compliment. In vain should I babble; your existence would nevertheless be brilliant and peaceful: for what would you have to dread? Only to be under the necessity of retiring if you had an opportunity. But could one not live in a foreign country as well as here? And to sum up all, provided the court of France would let you be quiet in the one you choose to settle in, it would be only changing the field of your victories. After endeavouring to bring you back to your sangfroid by these moral considerations, let us resume our own affairs.

You do not know, Viscount, the reasons I never married again. It was not, I assure you, for want of several advantageous matches being offered to me; it was solely that no one should have a right to control me. It was not even a dread of not being able to pursue my inclinations, for certainly, at all events, that I should have done: but it would have pained me if anyone should even have a right to complain. On the whole, it was that I would not wish to deceive but for my own pleasure, and not through necessity. And behold you write me the most matrimonial letter it is possible to conceive! You tell me of the injuries I have committed, and the favours you have granted! I cannot conceive how it is possible to be indebted to one where nothing is due.

Now for the business. You found Danceny at my house, and you was displeased; be it so: but what conclusion do you draw from thence? Why, that it was the effect of chance, as I told you, or of my inclination, which I did not tell you. In the first instance, your letter is wrong; in the second, ridiculous. It was well worth the trouble of writing! But you are jealous, and jealousy never debates. Well, I will argue for you.

You have a rival, or you have not. If you have a rival, you must please, to obtain the preference over him; and if you have none, you must still please, to avoid having one. In all cases the same invariable conduct must be observed. Why, then, will you torment yourself?⁠—And why torment me? Have you, then, lost the secret of being the most amiable? And are you no longer certain of your success? Come, come, Viscount, you do yourself injustice. But that is not the case, for I will not, even in your mind, have you give yourself so much uneasiness. You wish less for my condescension, than an opportunity of abusing your power. Fie! you are very ungrateful! I think this is tolerably sentimental; and was I to continue any time, this letter might become very tender: but you don’t deserve it.

Neither do you deserve I should enter farther in my justification. To punish you for your suspicions, you shall keep them; so that I shall make no reply as to the time of my return, or Danceny’s visits. You have taken great trouble to be informed of them, most certainly: and pray what progress have you made by it? I hope you received great pleasure from your enquiries; as to mine, it has not been in the least detrimental to them.

All I can say, then, to your threatening letter is this⁠—it has neither the gift of pleasing, nor power to intimidate me; and that at this present time I am not in the least disposed to grant your request.

And, indeed, to receive you, as you exhibit yourself now, would be a downright act of infidelity: it would not be a renewal with my former lover; it would be taking a new one, many degrees inferior to him. I have not so soon forgot the first, to be deceived. The Valmont I loved was a charming fellow. I will even own, I never met a more amiable man. I beg, Viscount, if you find him, to bring him to me, he will be always well received.

Acquaint him, however, that it cannot by any means be either today or tomorrow. His Menaechmus has done him some harm, and was I in too much haste, I should dread a deception; or, perhaps, I have given my word to Danceny for those two days: moreover, your letter informs me you do not jest; when one breaks their word, therefore, you see you must wait.

That is, however, of very little consequence, as you can always be revenged on your rival. He will not treat your mistress worse than you will his; and after all, is not one woman as good as another? These are your own principles. Even she who should be tender and sensible, who existed only for you, who was dying of love and grief, would nevertheless be sacrificed to the first whim, or the dread of being ridiculed for a moment; and yet you would have one constrain themselves! Ah! that is not reasonable.

Adieu, Viscount! become once more amiable. It is the utmost of my wishes to find you charming as ever. When I am certain of it, I engage to prove it to you⁠—indeed, I am too good natured.