Letter 175

Madame de Volanges to Madame de Rosemonde

At length, my dear and worthy friend, Madame de Merteuil’s fate is determined; and it is such, that her greatest enemies are divided between the indignation she deserves, and the compassion she raises. I was right, when I wrote you it would be happy for her to have died of the smallpox. She is recovered, it is true, but horribly disfigured; and has lost an eye. You may well imagine, I have not seen her; but I have been informed she is a hideous spectacle.

The Marquis of ⸻ who never loses an opportunity of saying a sarcastical thing, speaking of her yesterday, said, that her disorder had turned her inside out; that now her mind was painted on her countenance. Unfortunately all present thought the remark very just.

Another event adds to her disgraces and her misfortunes: her lawsuit came to a trial the day before yesterday, and she was cast by the unanimous opinion of all the judges; costs of suit, damages, and interest.

All in favour of the minors: so that the little she had exclusive of this suit, is all swallowed, and more too by the expenses.

As soon as she was informed of this news, although still ill, she set off post in the night alone⁠—Her people say today, that not one of them would accompany her; it is imagined she has taken the road to Holland.

This sudden flight raises the general outcry more than all the rest; as she has carried off all her diamonds, which are a very considerable object; and were a part of her husband’s succession; her plate, her jewels, in short everything she could; and has left behind her debts to the amount of 50,000 livres⁠—it is an actual bankruptcy.

The family are to assemble tomorrow to take some measures with the creditors. Although a very distant relation, I have offered to contribute, but I was not at this meeting, being obliged to assist at a more melancholy ceremony. Tomorrow my daughter will put on the habit of novice; I hope you will not forget, my dear friend, my only motive in agreeing to this sacrifice, is the silence you keep with me.

M. Danceny quitted Paris about a fortnight ago; it is said he is gone to Malta, to settle: perhaps it would be yet time enough to prevent him? My dear friend, my daughter was very culpable then! You will undoubtedly excuse a mother being difficult in acquiescing to such a dreadful truth.

What a fatality I am involved in for some time past, and has wounded me in my dearest connections! My daughter and my friend.

Who can refrain being struck with horror at the misfortunes one dangerous connection may cause, and how many sorrows and troubles would be avoided by seriously reflecting on this point! Where is the woman who would not fly the first advances of a seducer? What mother would not tremble to see any other but herself speak to her daughter? But those cool reflections never occur until after the event. And one of the most important and generally acknowledged truths, is stifled and useless in the vortex of our absurd manners.

Farewell, my dear and worthy friend! I now feel, our reason, which is inadequate to prevent misfortunes, is still less to administer consolation.38