Letter 90

The Presidente de Tourvel to the Viscount de Valmont

I much wish, Sir, this letter may not give you uneasiness; or, if it should, I hope it will be alleviated by that which I confess I now experience in writing to you. You should, I think, by this time be sufficiently acquainted with my sentiments, to be assured I would not willingly afflict you; and flatter myself, you are incapable of making me forever miserable. I beseech you, then, by the tender friendship I have professed, and those softer sentiments, and more sincere than any you have for me, let us no longer see one another. Leave me; and until then, let us avoid particularly those dangerous conversations, when by an unaccountable attraction I am lost in attending to what I ought not to listen to, and forget what I intend to say.

When you joined company with me in the park yesterday, I fully intended telling you what I am now about to write. What was the consequence? Why to be totally engaged on a subject to which I ought never to listen: your love. For heaven’s sake! depart from me. Fear not that absence should alter my sentiments for you; for how can I possibly overcome them, when I am no longer able to contend with them. You see I confess my weakness, and I dread less to own it than I do to yield to it: but the command I have lost over my mind, I will still preserve over my actions; this I am determined on, were it at the expense of life.

Alas! the time is not very distant, that I imagined myself proof against such temptations. I felicitated myself on it, I fear, too much; I was, perhaps, too vain of it; and Heaven has punished, and cruelly punished, that pride: but all-merciful, even in the hour in which it strikes us, it warns me again before an utter fall; and I should be doubly guilty, if, being sensible of my weakness, I should abandon my prudence.

You have often told me, you would not desire a happiness purchased at the expense of my tears. Let us no longer talk of happiness; let me, at least, regain some degree of tranquillity.

In acceding to my request, what fresh claims will you not acquire over my heart, and those founded upon virtue! How I shall enjoy my gratitude! I shall owe to you the happiness of entertaining, without any remorse, a sentiment of the most delicious kind. Now, on the contrary, startled at my sentiments and my thoughts, I am equally afraid of occupying my mind either with you or myself. The very idea of you terrifies me. When I cannot fly from it, I combat it. I do not banish it, but repulse it.

Is it not better for us to terminate this state of trouble and anxiety? You, whose tender heart has even in the midst of errors remained the friend of virtue, you will attend to my distressed situation; you will not reject my prayer. A milder but as tender an attachment will succeed these violent agitations. Then regaining my existence through your beneficence, I will cherish that existence, and will say in the joy of my heart, the calm I now feel I owe to my friend.

By submitting to some slight privations, which I do not impose upon you, but entreat you to yield to, will you think a termination of my sufferings too dearly purchased? Ah! if to render you happy, there was only my own consent that I should be unhappy, you may rely on it, I should not hesitate a moment: but to become criminal! no, my friend, I shall prefer a thousand deaths.

Even now, assailed by shame, and on the eve of remorse, I dread all others and myself equally. I blush when in any circle, and feel a horror when in solitude. I no longer lead any but a life of grief. I can only reestablish my tranquillity by your consent; my most laudable resolutions are insufficient to afford me security. I have formed the resolution I have just mentioned no longer than yesterday, and yet have passed the last night in tears.

Behold your friend, her whom you love, confounded, and supplicating you for the preservation of her repose and her innocence. Oh, heaven! would she ever but through your means have been reduced to make such humiliating entreaties! I, however, do not reproach you with anything. I feel too sensibly, from the experience of myself, how difficult it is to resist so overruling a sentiment. A lamentation such as mine ought not to be deemed a murmur. Do, from generosity what I do from duty; and to all the sentiments you have inspired me with, I shall add that of eternal gratitude. Adieu, adieu, Sir!