Letter 83

Viscount de Valmont, to the Presidente de Tourvel

For heaven’s sake, Madam, let us renew the conversation so unfortunately interrupted, that I may convince you how different I am from the odious picture that has been drawn of me, and may, at least, enjoy that amiable confidence you placed in me. How many charms do you not add to virtue! How you embellish and make us cherish virtuous sentiments! It is there you are truly enchanting; that is the strongest of all seductions; it is the only one which is truly respectable and powerful.

It is enough to see you, to wish to please you; and to converse with you, to augment this wish: but he that has the happiness to know you, who can sometimes read your mind, soon gives way to a more noble enthusiasm, and, struck with veneration as with love⁠—in your person adores the image of all the virtues. Formed, perhaps, more than any other, to cherish and admire them, but led away by some errors that had fatally drawn me from virtue, it is you have brought me back, who have again made me feel all its charms. Would you impute, then, to criminality this new affection? Will you blame your own work? Would you reproach yourself the interest you ought to take in it?⁠—How can you dread so virtuous a sentiment, and what happiness can be greater than to experience it?

My affection frightens you. You think it too violent, too immoderate; qualify it, then, by a softer passion. Do not reject the obedience I offer you, which I now swear never to withdraw myself from, and in which I shall be ever virtuously employed. What sacrifice would be painful when your heart could dispense the reward? Where is the man so unthinking as not to know how to enjoy the privations he imposes on himself; who would not prefer a word or a look which should be granted him, to all the enjoyments he could steal or surprise? And yet you have believed me to be such a man, and have dreaded me. Ah! why is not your happiness dependent on me? How pleasingly should I be avenged in making you happy! But the influence of barren friendship will not produce it; it is love alone can realize it.

This word alarms you; and, pray, why? A tender attachment, a stronger union, congenial thoughts, the same happiness as the same sorrows; what is there in this that is foreign to you? Yet such is love; such is, at least, the passion you have inspired, and which I feel. It is it that calculates without interest, and rates the actions according to their merit, and not their value, the inexhaustible treasure of sensitive souls; everything becomes precious formed for it or by it.

Those striking truths, so easy to put in practice, what have they in them frightful? What fears can a man of sensibility occasion you, to whom love will never permit any other happiness than yours. It is now the only vow I make. I would sacrifice everything to fulfil it, except the sentiment it inspires, which, if you even consent to admit, you shall regulate at will. But let us not suffer it to part us, when it ought to reunite us, if the friendship you have offered me is not a futile word. If, as you told me yesterday, it is the softest sentiment your soul is capable of, let it stipulate between us; I shall not challenge its decree: but in erecting it the judge of love, let it, at least, consent to hear its defence. To refuse to admit it would be unjust, which is not the characteristic of friendship.

A second conversation will not be attended with more inconvenience than the first; chance may furnish the opportunity; you might even appoint the time. I will readily believe I am wrong: but would you not rather recall me by reason, than to combat my opinion? And do you doubt my docility? If I had not been interrupted, perhaps I had already been brought over to your opinion; for your power over me knows no bounds.

I will acknowledge, that this invincible power to which I have surrendered, without daring to examine the irresistible charm that gives you the ascendancy over my thoughts and actions, often alarms me; and, perhaps, this conversation that I now solicit may be formidable to me. Perhaps, after being bound down by my promises, I shall see myself reduced to consume with a flame which I well feel can never be extinguished, without even daring to implore your assistance. Ah! for heaven’s sake, Madam, do not abuse your power over me: but if it will make you happier, if I shall appear more worthy of you, how much will my pains be softened by those consoling ideas! Yes, I feel it. Again to converse with you, is furnishing you with stronger arms against me: it is submitting myself entirely to your will. It is easier to make a defence against your letters; it is true, they are your sentiments: but you are not present to give them their full force; yet the pleasure of hearing you induces me to defy the danger; at least, I shall have the happiness of thinking I have done everything for you even against myself, and my sacrifices will become a homage; too happy, in being able to convince you in a thousand shapes, as I feel it, in a thousand ways, that without self-exception, you are, and always will be, the dearest object of my heart.