Letter 57

Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

I received your letter yesterday at my return. Your anger is enchanting. You could not have felt Danceny’s errors in a more lively manner, if they had even affected yourself. It is undoubtedly for the sake of revenge, that you accustom his mistress to commit little infidelities: you are a mischievous creature. How delightful you are! and I am not astonished that one can resist you less than Danceny. At length I have gained the confidence of this hero of romance. He has no longer any secrets with me. I much extolled the supreme happiness attendant on an honourable passion; proved that one such passion was infinitely superior to ten intrigues; and that even I am but a timid lover. He was so pleased with this way of thinking, it being so conformable to his own, and enchanted with my candour, that he poured out his whole soul, and vowed an everlasting friendship without reserve; however, our project is not more advanced.

At first he seemed of opinion, that a young lady should be treated more cautiously than a woman, as having more to lose. He is particularly persuaded, that a man is unjustifiable, who reduces a girl to the necessity of marrying him, or living dishonoured, when the girl is in much more affluent circumstances than the man, as is his present case. The mother’s confidences, the daughter’s candour; everything intimidates and restrains him. The difficulty lies not in overruling his arguments, however just. With the assistance of his passion, and a little address, they might soon be overturned, being so open to ridicule, and so opposite to fashion. But the obstacle to this having the effect upon him is, that he thinks himself happy as he is. First amours appear, in general, more honourable, or, as it is called, more chaste, because they are slower, and not, as is imagined, from delicacy or timidity: in those, the heart, astonished by an insensible instinct, stops, as it were, to enjoy the delight it feels; and this powerful delight takes such strong possession of a young mind, as absorbs it, and renders it callous to every other kind of enjoyment. This axiom is so true, that a libertine when in love, if such a being exists, becomes from that moment less anxious of enjoyment; and to sum up all, between the behaviour of Danceny and the little Volanges, and mine with the prude, Madame de Tourvel, the difference is only in degree. A few well-timed obstacles thrown in the young man’s way, might have been serviceable; for obstacles, accompanied with mystery, have a wonderful effect in inspiring boldness. I am apprehensive you have hurt our scheme by being too useful to him; your conduct would have been excellent with an experienced man, who had no view beyond desire: but you might have foreseen, that a youth of honourable dispositions, and immersed in love, the greatest value of favours, is to be proof against love; and consequently, the more certain he might be of being beloved, the less enterprising he would be. What is to do now, I know not; but I am of opinion, the girl cannot be caught before marriage, and that our labour will be lost. I am very sorry for it, but there is no remedy.

Whilst I am writing a dissertation on this business, you are better employed with your Chevalier. That recalls to my memory your promise to commit an infidelity in my favour; I have it in writing, and I don’t intend it should be waste paper. I will allow, the time of payment is not expired: it would be a generous act in you not to wait the day fixed for discharging it; on my part, I would acknowledge myself your debtor for the interest. What say you, my lovely friend; are not you tired of your constancy? This Chevalier is a wonderful fellow, it seems. But I am determined to compel you to acknowledge, that if you found any merit in him, it arose from your having forgot me.

Adieu, my dear friend! I embrace you as ardently as I desire to possess you. I defy all the Chevalier’s embraces to attain to an equal degree of ardour.