Letter 58

Viscount de Valmont to the Presidente de Tourvel

How is it I deserved the reproaches you make me, and the indignation you express against me? The most violent, and yet the most respectful attachment, the most absolute submission to your will, is, in a few words, the history of my conduct and sentiments towards you. Sinking under the weight of an unhappy passion, the only consolation left was to see you; you ordered me to depart, and I obeyed without murmuring. For this sacrifice you permitted me to write to you, and now I am to be deprived of this only satisfaction. But shall I then have it torn from me without a struggle? No, certainly; it is too dear: it is the only one that remains, and I hold it from you.

You say my letters are too frequent. I beg you will reflect, that for these ten days that I have been exiled from you, a single moment has not passed that was not taken up in thinking of you, and yet I have wrote you but two letters. I entertain you with nothing but my mad passion. Ah! what can I say but what I think? All I could do, was to soften the expression; and I hope you will believe me when I assure you, I have only let you see what I could not hide. At length you threaten to answer me no more. And thus the man who prefers you to everything, and whose respect is still greater than his love, you are not content to treat with the utmost severity, but add to it contempt. But why all those threats and this wrath? What occasion for them, when you are certain to be obeyed, even in your unjust orders? Is it then possible for me to contradict your wishes; and have I not already proved it? But will you abuse your power over me? After having made me miserable, after all your injustice, will it be an easy matter for you to enjoy that tranquillity that you say is so necessary to you? Will you never tell yourself⁠—he made me arbitress of his fate, and I made him miserable; he implored my aid, and I did not even give him a compassionate glance⁠—Do you know how far despair may drive me? No.

To sooth my cares, you should know the extent of my passion, and you do not know my heart.

But to what am I made a sacrifice? To chimerical fears. Who inspired them? The man who adores you; a man over whom you will ever have an absolute sway. What do you dread, what can you dread, from a sentiment that you will always have the power to direct at your pleasure? Your imagination creates monsters, and the fears they raise you attribute to love. With a little confidence those fears will vanish.

A learned writer has said, that in order to dispel one’s fears, it would be almost always sufficient to search the cause.13 It is to love, above all others, that this truth is applicable. Love and your apprehensions will subside. In the room of terrifying objects, you will find a tender submissive lover, and a delicious sentiment; your days will be marked with bliss; and the only regret you will have, will be to have lost so much time in indifference. Myself even, since I have abandoned my errors, exist no longer but for love. I regret the time spent in pleasure; and I feel it is from you alone my happiness must proceed. But let me entreat you, that the pleasure I have in writing to you may not be interrupted by the dread of offending. I will not disobey you; but lay myself at your feet, and there reclaim the happiness you want to deprive me of; the only one that is left me. I call on you; hear my prayers, and behold my tears. Ah, Madam! will you refuse me?