Letter 91

Viscount de Valmont to the Presidente de Tourvel

Plunged into consternation as I am by your letter, how shall I answer it, Madam? Doubtless, if the alternative is your unhappiness or mine, it is my duty to sacrifice myself, and I do not hesitate to do it: but concerns so interesting, merit, I think, full discussion and elucidation; and how shall we arrive at that, if we are no longer to see or speak to one another.

What! whilst the most tender sentiments unite us, shall a vain terror be able to separate us, perhaps, forever! Shall tender friendship and ardent love in vain endeavour to assert their rights, and their voices remain unattended to! And why? what is this very urgent danger which threatens you? Ah! believe me, such fears, and fears taken up so lightly, are in themselves sufficiently powerful motives for your considering yourself in a state of security.

Permit me to tell you, I can here trace again the unfavourable impressions which have been made upon you with regard to me. No woman trembles at the man she esteems. No woman banishes him in a marked manner, whom she has thought worthy of some degree of friendship. It is the dangerous man who is feared and fled.

And yet, was there ever a person more respectful and submissive than I? You must perceive it. Guarded in my language, I no longer permit myself those appellations so sweet, so dear to my heart, and which that heart unceasingly applies to you secretly. It is no longer the faithful and unfortunate lover receiving the advice and consolation of a tender and feeling female friend. I am in the situation of the accused before his judge, of the slave before his lord. These new titles certainly impose on me duties: I bind myself to fulfil them all. Hear me, and if you condemn me, I subscribe to my sentence and depart. I will go farther. Do you prefer that despotism which decides without a hearing? Do you feel boldness enough to commit an act of injustice? Give your orders; you shall be obeyed.

But let me have this sentence or order from your mouth. But why? You will tell me in your turn. Ah! if you put such a question, you are a stranger to love and to my heart. Is it nothing to see you? I repeat it again. Even when you shall strike despair to my soul, perhaps a consoling glance will prevent its sinking. In a word; if I must renounce love and friendship, the only props of my existence, at least you will behold your works, and I shall engage your compassion. Though I should not even deserve this small favour, I think I submit to pay dearly enough for it, to give me hopes of obtaining it. What, you are about to banish me from you! You can consent, then, that we should become utter strangers to one another! What do I say? It is the wish of your heart; and whilst you assure me that my absence shall not prejudice me in your sentiments, you only hasten my departure, in order more securely to effect their destruction, which you begin even now, by talking of substituting gratitude in their place. Thus you offer me only that sentiment which a stranger would inspire you with for a slight service; that kind of sentiment which you would feel for an enemy desisting from premeditated injury; and you expect my heart to be content with this. Interrogate your own. If a lover, a friend, should ever come to talk to you of gratitude, would you not say to him with indignation, Withdraw, you are a worthless man?

I shall here stop, and repeat my requests of your indulgence. Pardon the expressions of grief of which you are the cause; they shall not interfere with my perfect submission: but I conjure you in turn, in the name of those tender sentiments which you yourself resort to with me, refuse not to hear; and from mere compassion for the aggravated distress you have plunged me in, defer not the moment in which you will condescend to hear me. Adieu, Madam!