Letter 52

Viscount de Valmont to the Presidente de Tourvel

You forbid me, Madam, to talk to you of my love: but where shall I find courage to obey you? Entirely engrossed by a passion, which ought to be of an agreeable nature, and which your obduracy renders so tormenting; languishing in the exile to which you have condemned me; existing only in a state of privation and sorrow, a prey to the most cruel reflections, which incessantly recall to my mind your indifference; must I then lose my only remaining consolation? Can I have any other, than sometimes to bare to you a heart overwhelmed by you with anguish and bitterness? Will you turn aside, not to see the tears you cause to flow? Will you refuse even the acknowledgment of the sacrifices you require? Would it not then be more consonant to your soft tender disposition, to pity a wretch you have made miserable, than to aggravate his sorrows by a prohibition equally unjust and rigorous?

You affect to fear the passion of love, and yet you will not see that you alone cause the evils you reproach to it. Most indubitably it must be a painful sensation when the object that inspires it does not participate in it: but where is happiness to be found, if reciprocal love does not produce it? A tender friendship, a sweet confidence, that confidence which is the only untinctured with reserve, care softened, pleasure augmented, enchanting hopes, delicious reflections; where are they to be found but in love? You calumniate it, who to share all its blessings have only to cherish it; and I, forgetful of the torments it causes, am only anxious to defend it. You oblige me also to defend myself: for whilst I devote my life to adore you, yours is employed in searching out new faults in me. Already do you suppose me volatile and deceitful; and taking advantage of a few trivial errors which I ingenuously confessed, you are pleased to confound what I then was, with what I now am. Not satisfied with having delivered me up to the torments of living at a distance from you, you add to it a cruel mockery of pleasures to which you have made me too sensible. You neither credit my promises nor oaths. Well! there is one pledge yet left me to offer, of which you can have no doubt; I mean yourself. I only beg of you to ask yourself with sincerity, if you don’t believe I love you sincerely? Whether you have the least doubt of your empire over my heart? Whether you are not even certain of having fixed this, as yet, I most own, too inconstant heart? I will consent to suffer for this error. I shall lament, but shall not appeal. If, on the other hand, and just to us both, you should be obliged to acknowledge, that you now have not, nor ever will have, a rival, do not oblige me to combat chimeras. Leave me, at least, the consolation to believe, you no longer doubt a sentiment which never will, never can end but with my life. Permit me, Madam, to beseech you to answer positively this part of my letter.

Should I even give up that epoch of my life, which, it seems, has hurt me so much in your opinion, it is not that I want reasons to defend it: for, after all, what is my crime? Why, not to be able to resist the torrent in which I was plunged, launched into the world young and inexperienced. Bandied, as it were, from one to another, by a number of women, who all hastened, by their facility, to prevent a reflection that they knew would be unfavourable to them, was it for me to set the example of a resistance that was not opposed to me? Or should I have punished myself for a momentary error by an useless constancy, which would only have exposed me to ridicule? And what other method but a speedy rupture can justify a shameful choice?

But I can truly say, that this intoxication of the senses, or, perhaps, this delirium of vanity, never reached my heart. Born, as it were, for love, intrigue could only distract it; but was not sufficient to take possession of it. Surrounded by seducing, but despicable objects, none went to my soul. Pleasures offered, but I sought virtues; and I even thought myself inconstant, because I was delicate, and had feelings.

When I saw you, I began to be enlightened. I soon perceived that the charms of love were attached to the qualities of the soul; that they alone could produce an excess and justification of love. I instantly felt, that it would be as impossible not to love you, as it would be to love any other but you.

Such, Madam, is the heart which you dread to yield to, and whose fate you are to determine: but be it as it will, you will never be able to alter the sentiments that attached it to you; they are as unalterable as the virtues which gave them birth.