Letter 24

Viscount Valmont to the Presidente de Tourvel

From mere compassion, Madam, vouchsafe to calm my perturbed soul; deign to inform me what I have to hope or fear. When placed between the extremes of happiness and misery, suspense is a most insupportable torment. Alas! why did I ever speak to you? Why did I not endeavour to resist the dominion of your charms that have taken possession of my imagination? Had I been content with silently adoring you, I should at least have the pleasure that ever attends even secretly harbouring that passion; and this pure sentiment, which was then untroubled by the poignant reflections that have arisen from my knowledge of your sorrow, was enough for my felicity: but the source of my happiness is become that of my despair, since I saw those precious tears; since I heard that cruel exclamation, Ah! miserable wretch that I am. Those words, Madam, will for a long time wring my heart. By what fatality happens it, that the softest passion produces only horror to you! Whence proceed these fears? Ah! they do not arise from an inclination of sharing in the passion. Your heart I have much mistaken; it is not made for love: mine, which you incessantly slander, is yet the only one of sensibility; yours is even divested of pity⁠—were it not, you could have afforded a wretched being, who only related his sufferings, one word of consolation; you would not have deprived him of your presence, when his sole delight is in seeing you; you would not have made a cruel mockery of his disquietude, by acquainting him you were indisposed, without giving him liberty to make any inquiries on the state of your health; you would have known, that a night that brought you twelve hours rest, was to him an age of torment.

Tell me, how have I deserved this afflicting rigour? I am not afraid even to appeal to yourself: what have I done, but yielded to an involuntary sensation, inspired by beauty, and justified by virtue, always kept within due limits by respect, the innocent avowal of which proceeded from hopeless confidence? and will you betray that confidence that you seemed to countenance, and to which I unreservedly gave way? No, I will not believe it; that would be supposing you capable of an injustice, and I never can entertain, even for a moment, such an idea: I recant my reproaches; I may have been led to write them, but never seriously believed them. Ah, let me believe you all perfection; it is the only satisfaction now left me! Convince me you are so, by extending your generous care to me; of the many you have relieved, is there a wretch wants it so much as I do? Do not abandon me to the distraction you have plunged me into: assist me with your reason, since you have deprived me of mine; and as you have reformed me, complete your work by enlightening me.

I will not deceive you; it will be impossible for you to conquer my love, but you may teach me how to regulate it: by guiding my steps, by prescribing to me my conversation, you will, at least, preserve me from the most dreadful of all misfortunes, that of incurring your displeasure. Dispel, at least, my desponding fears; tell me you pity and forgive me; promise me your indulgence; you never will afford me that extent of it I wish; but I call for so much of it as is absolutely necessary to me: will you refuse it?

Adieu, Madam! Accept, graciously, the homage of my feelings, to which my respect is inseparably united.