Letter 70

Viscount de Valmont to the Marchioness de Merteuil

My dear friend, I have a most important piece of news for you: last night I supped, as you know, at the Marechale de ⸻, where you were spoke of; I said not all the good that I think, but all that I did not think of you. Everyone seemed to be of my opinion, and the conversation languished, as it always happens when people talk well of their neighbours; when at length Prevan spoke, “God forbid,” said he, rising up, “that I should have the least doubt of the virtue of Madame de Merteuil; but I dare say, that she owes it more to levity than principle. It is, perhaps, easier to please her, than follow her; and as one seldom fails in running after a woman, to meet others in one’s way, those may be as much, if not more, valuable than she; some are dissipated by a new taste, others stop through lassitude; and she is, perhaps, one of the women who has had the least opportunity of making a resistance, of any of Paris; for my part,” said he, (encouraged by the smiles of some of the women), “I will not credit Madame de Merteuil’s virtue, until I have killed six horses in her service.”

This scurvy jest succeeded, as all those do that are replete with scandal; and whilst the laugh went round, Prevan seated himself, and the conversation became general; but the two Countesses de B⁠⸺, near whom the incredulous Prevan seated himself, began a particular conversation which I overheard.

The challenge that was given to bring you to compliance was accepted; and the promise of telling all was exchanged; of all those which passed in this conversation, that will be the most religiously observed: but now you have timely notice; and you know the old proverb.

I have only to tell you, moreover, that this Prevan, who you do not know, is amazingly amiable, and still more subtle. If you have sometimes heard me say the contrary, it is only because I don’t like him, and that I delight in contradicting his successes; for I am not ignorant how my opinion weighs with some thirty of our women à la mode.

And really I have, for a long time, prevented him by this means, of making a figure in what is called the grand theatre. He worked prodigies without advancing his reputation. But the éclat of his triple adventure, by fixing everyone’s eyes on him, has given him a certain air of confidence that he, until then, wanted, and has made him truly formidable. He is, perhaps, at this time, the only man I dread meeting in my way; and, your interests apart, you will do me the greatest service in making him ridiculous. I leave him in good hands; and I hope at my return he will be a lost man.

In recompence, I promise you to bring the adventure of your pupil to a good issue, and to employ my time as much for her as my lovely prude.

She has just now sent me a plan of capitulation. Her whole letter announces a wish to be deceived. It is impossible to offer any means more commodious, or more stale. She will have me to be her friend. But I, who am fond of new and difficult methods, will not let her off so easily; for certainly I have not taken so much pains about her, to terminate by the ordinary methods of seduction.

On the contrary, my design is, that she should feel the value, and the extent, of every one of the sacrifices she shall make; not to lead her on so fast, but that remorse may follow every step; to make her virtue expire in a slow agony; to fix her attention incessantly on that mortifying spectacle, and not to grant her the happiness of having me in her arms, till I have forced her to no longer dissemble her desire: for I am worth little indeed, if I am not worth the trouble of asking. Then I shall be revenged of a haughty woman, who seems to blush to own she adores.

I have then refused this precious friendship, and hold to my title of lover. As I am not ignorant that this title, which at first appears but trifling, is, notwithstanding, of real importance to be obtained, I took peculiar care of my style, and endeavoured to scatter through my letter that kind of disorder which only can display sentiment, and talked as much nonsense as possible; for, without that, there is no tenderness: that, I believe, is the reason that women excel us so much in love letters.

I finished mine by a soothing sentence; that is another consequence of my profound observations. After a woman’s heart has been some time kept in exercise, it wants rest: and I have often remarked, that a flattery is, for all of them, the softest pillow we can offer.

Adieu, my lovely friend. I set out tomorrow. If you have any orders to give me for the Countess de ⸻, I shall stop with her to dinner. I am sorry to set out without seeing you. Forward me your sublime instructions, and assist me with your wise counsels in the decisive moment.

Above all, beware of Prevan; and may I one day indemnify you for this sacrifice. Adieu!