Letter 68

Viscount de Valmont to the Presidente de Tourvel

How is it possible, Madam, to answer your last letter; how shall I dare speak truth, when my sincerity may ruin me with you? Yet I must; I often tell myself, I would rather deserve than obtain you; and were you forever to refuse me a happiness I incessantly wish for, I will at least make you acknowledge, that my heart is worthy of it.

What a pity it is, as you say, that I have abandoned my errors, with what transport should I not have read that letter which I tremble to answer today? You deal frankly with me; you testify your confidence. You even offer me your friendship: how bountiful are you, Madam, and how much I regret I cannot benefit by them. Why am I no longer the same!

For if I really was, if I had but a common passion for you, that slight desire, the child of seduction and pleasure, which is yet now called love, I would speedily take advantage of everything I could obtain, without being much concerned about the delicacy of the measures, provided they ensured success. I would flatter your frankness, in order to dive into you; I would endeavour to gain your confidence, with an intention to betray it; I would accept your friendship in the hope of leading you astray.⁠—This picture, no doubt, alarms you, Madam;⁠—but it would be the true portrait of myself, if I was to tell you that I consented to be your friend only.

What! Should I consent to share with another a sentiment proceeding from your soul? If I should ever tell you so, do not believe me. From that moment I would seek to deceive you; I might still have desires, but I certainly would love you no longer.

Not but your amiable frankness, your charming confidence, and your pleasing friendship, are immensely valuable to me;⁠—but love, sincere love, such as you have inspired me with, reuniting all those sentiments, by giving them more energy, cannot, as they do, be satisfied with that tranquillity, that ease of mind, which will allow of comparisons, and even sometimes of preferences. No, Madam, I will not be your friend, I will love you with the most ardent and tender affection, and yet the most respectful. You may deprive it of hope, but you cannot annihilate it.

What right have you to pretend to dispose of a heart, whose homage you refuse? By what refinement of cruelty do you envy me the happiness of my love? It belongs to me; and is independent of you; and I know how to preserve it. If it is the source, it is also the remedy of my misfortunes. Once more no, persist in your cruel resolutions; but leave me love. You enjoy the pleasure of my misery; be it so, endeavour to tire out my perseverance, I shall at least know how to oblige you to decide my fate; and you may, perhaps, one day do me justice. Not that I ever hope to make you sensible of my pain, but you shall be convinced, though not persuaded; and you shall say I have judged him too severely.

But you are unjust to yourself: to see you without loving you, to love you without being constant, are both equally impossible; and, notwithstanding the modesty that adorns you, it must be easier for you to lament, than be astonished at the sentiments you gave birth to. But as for me, whose only merit is to have discovered their value, I will not lose it; and far from agreeing to your insidious offers, I again renew, at your feet, the oaths I have made to love you eternally.