Dangerous Connections by Choderlos de Laclos

God forbid I should ever intend making a general apology for all novels! that would be the idea of a Demoniac; I only mean to justify useful novels. If any one makes a bad use of this kind of writing, I most willingly acquiesce in their condemnation. Let us now examine whether the author of Dangerous Connections deserves to suffer.
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
Language:
Forms:
Genres:
Published:
  • 23/03/1782
Collection:
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

A SERIES OF LETTERS, SELECTED FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE OF A PRIVATE CIRCLE; AND PUBLISHED FOR THE INSTRUCTION OF SOCIETY.

BY M. Choderlos de Laclos.


“I have observed the Manners of the Times, and have wrote those Letters.”

J. J. Rousseau, Pref. to the New Eloise.


SECOND EDITION IN FOUR VOLUMES.

VOL. I.

London:

PRINTED FOR J. EBERS, OLD BOND STREET.

1812


Contents

ADVERTISEMENT
FROM THE EDITOR.

We think it incumbent on us to acquaint the Public, notwithstanding the title of this work, and what the Compiler asserts in his preface, that we do not pledge ourselves for the authenticity of this Collection, and that we have even very forcible reasons to believe it a fiction.

Nay, that the author, who seems studiously to have sought nature, has himself awkwardly defeated his intention, by the epocha in which he has placed his events. The morals of several of his personages are so corrupt, that it is impossible they should have existed in this age; an age of philosophy, and in which an extensive diffusion of knowledge has had the happy effect to render the men famed for morality and integrity, and the female sex for reserve and modesty.

We are therefore inclined to think, if the adventures related in this work have any foundation in truth, they must have happened at some other time and place: and we blame the author much, who, probably seduced by the hope of interesting us the more, has dared to modernize and to decorate, with our usages and customs, morals to which we are utter strangers.

To preserve, at least, the too credulous reader, as much as in our power, from all surprise on this subject, we will strengthen our opinion with an unanswerable argument; for though similar causes never fail to produce the same effects, yet we cannot now find a young lady, with an estate of 60,000 livres a year, take the veil, nor a Presidente, in the bloom of youth and beauty, die of grief.


PREFACE.

This Work, or rather Collection, which the Public will, perhaps, still find too voluminous, contains but a small part of the correspondence from which it is extracted. Being appointed to arrange it by the persons in whose possession it was, and who, I knew, intended it for publication, I asked, for my sole recompence, the liberty to reject every thing that appeared to me useless, and I have endeavoured to preserve only the letters which appeared necessary to illustrate the events, or to unfold the characters. If to this inconsiderable share in the work be added an arrangement of those letters which I have preserved, with a strict attention to dates, and some short annotations, calculated, for the most part, to point out some citations, or to explain some retrenchments I have made, the Public will see the extent of my labours, and the part I have taken in this publication.

I have also changed, or suppressed, the names of the personages, and if, among those I have substituted, any resemblance may be found which might give offence, I beg it may be looked on as an unintentional error.

I proposed farther alterations, as to purity of style and diction, in both which many faults will be found. I could also have wished to have been authorised to shorten some long letters, several of which treat separately, and almost without transition, of objects totally foreign to one another. This liberty, in which I was not indulged, would not have been sufficient to give merit to the work, but would have corrected part of its defects.

It was objected to me, that the intention was to publish the letters themselves, and not a work compiled from the letters; that it would be as distant from probability as truth, that eight or ten persons, who were concerned in this correspondence, should have wrote with equal purity of style:—And on my representing that there was not one which did not abound with essential faults, and was not very open to criticism, I was answered, that every reasonable reader would undoubtedly expect to find faults in a collection of letters of private persons, since among all those hitherto published by authors of the highest reputation, and even some academicians, there are none totally exempt from censure. Those reasons have not convinced me; and I am still of opinion they are easier to give than likely to obtain assent; but I had not my option, and submitted, reserving only the liberty of entering my protest, and declaring my dissent, as I now do.

As to the merit of this work, perhaps it does not become me to touch upon it; my opinion neither can, or ought, to influence any one. However, as some wish to know something of a book before they take it in hand, those who are so disposed will proceed with this preface—the rest will do better to pass on to the work itself.

Though inclined to publish those letters, I am yet far from thinking they will meet success; and let not this sincere declaration be construed into the affected modesty of an author: for I declare, with the same frankness, that if I had thought this collection an unworthy offering to the Public, it should not have taken up any part of my time.—Let us try to reconcile this apparent contradiction.

The merit of a work consists in its utility, or its agreeableness, and even in both, when it admits of both. But success, which is not always the criterion of merit, often arises more from a choice of subject than the execution, more from the aggregate of the objects presented than the manner of treating them: such a collection as the title announces this to be, being the letters of a whole circle, and containing a diversity of interests, is not likely to fix the attention of the reader. Besides, the sentiments they contain being feigned or dissembled, can only excite an interest of curiosity, always infinitely inferior to that of sentiment, and less disposed to indulgence, as well as more apt to be struck with defects in the narrative, as they are constantly in opposition to the only desire curiosity seeks to gratify. These defects are, perhaps, partly compensated by the quality of the work; I mean the variety of style—A merit which an author seldom attains, but which here presents itself, and prevents, at least, a dull uniformity. Perhaps merit may also be allowed to many observations, either new or little known, which are interspersed through those letters: and this, to pass the most favourable judgment on them, will be found to constitute their best pretension to pleasing.

The utility of the work, which will, perhaps, be more strongly contested, appears more easy to establish: it is at least useful to morality, to lay open the means used by the wicked to seduce the innocent; and those letters will efficaciously concur for so salutary a purpose. There will also be found in them the proof and example of two important truths, which one would be apt to think unknown, seeing how little they are practised: the one, that every woman who admits a bad man to her society, ends with becoming his victim; the other, that every mother is at least imprudent, that suffers any but herself to gain possession of her daughter’s confidence.

Young persons, of both sexes, may also here learn, that the friendship so readily held out to them by people of bad morals, is ever a dangerous snare, equally fatal to their happiness and virtue; yet, abuse or evil always unhappily confining too nearly on good, appears so much to be dreaded in this respect, that far from recommending the perusal of works of this kind to youth, I think it of the utmost importance to keep all such very far from their reach. The time when productions of the nature of the present may be no longer dangerous, but begin to be useful, was fixed by a lady of great good understanding. “I think,” said she to me, after having read the manuscript of this correspondence, “I should render my daughter an essential service in putting this book in her hands on her wedding-day.” Should all mothers think thus, I shall congratulate myself on having published it.

Yet I shall leave this flattering supposition at a distance; and I still think this collection will please but few.—Men and women of depraved minds will take an interest in discountenancing a work that may injure them; and as they are never wasting in ingenuity, they may bring over the whole class of rigorists, who will be alarmed at the picture we have dared to present of profligacy.

The pretenders to free thinking will take no concern in the fate of a devout woman, whom, for that reason, they will not fail to pronounce weak, whilst the devotee will be displeased to see virtue sink under misfortune, and will complain that religion does not sufficiently display its power. On the other hand, persons of a delicate taste will be disgusted with the simplicity and defective style of many of the letters, whilst the generality of readers, led away with the idea that every thing that appears in print is a work of labour, will think he sees in some of the other letters the laboured style of an author sufficiently apparent, notwithstanding the disguise he has assumed.

To conclude; it will be pretty generally said, that a thing is little worth out of its place; and that if the too correct style of authors takes off from the gracefulness of miscellaneous letters, negligences in these become real faults, and make them insupportable when consigned to the press.

I sincerely own that those reproaches may have some foundation. I believe also, I might possibly be able to answer them, even without exceeding the length of a preface: but it is clear, that were I to attempt to answer every thing, I could do nothing else; and that if I had deemed it requisite to do so, I should at once have suppressed both preface and book.


EXTRACT FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE ON WHAT CONCERNS THE HAPPINESS OF MAN AND SOCIETY.
[No. III.]
THE UTILITY OF NOVELS.
THE NOVEL OF DANGEROUS CONNECTIONS.

Are novels useful, or are they prejudicial to the morals? is a question long agitated, and not yet resolved; for the reasons on both sides are equally plausible. Undoubtedly Richardson, who is read and cited every where, though prolix and diffuse, has not a little contributed to the practice of pure morality; and yet, on the other hand, what mischiefs have been produced by the immense multitude of novels of all sorts with which France and all Europe have been overrun for some years past; and, as if the evil done by these temporary plagues was not sufficiently accomplished during their short existence, it is prolonged by reviving them in eternal collections. A novel, the morality of which is equivocal, is a very dangerous poison; a novel that only possesses mediocrity, is at best useless. Even a good novel is but aliment for a child, or some weak being, to whom morality unadorned is a disgusting object. Hence we may conclude, that every thinking man will take care to banish this kind of works from his library.

He will then likewise proscribe that novel, now so much prized, called Dangerous Connections, or Letters collected in a Society, and published for the Instruction of other Societies.

After having read a few pages of this work, one is almost led to think this title a piece of pleasantry; the letters of Madame de Merteuil, and of the Viscount de Valmont, published truly for the instruction of society. Is it in order to form people to the detestable art of seduction, or to inspire them with a horror of it? and yet this work has been censured, and approved; has had all the honours of war, while so many other useful works are like the manes of the ancients, to whom a sepulchre was denied, and who were forced to wander upon the gloomy banks of the Styx, and admitted only by stealth. O cæcas hominum mentes!

I am far from a wish to calumniate the author, who, I am assured, is a military man of the highest character for wit and good conduct; but his work, which seems to have a moral end in view, is in reality very dangerous. It has been said to be a picture of the manners of a certain class in society; and, if it was not a resemblance, where would be its utility? Must monsters be created to cause in us an aversion of ordinary vices? If it is true, it ought to have been concealed; there are shocking nudities which our minds revolt at rather than receive any instruction from. The veil that covers the Tiberiuses and the Messalinas, ought not to be wholly lifted up.

Young men will find in this novel easy means of seduction; young women will here see portraits of embellished vice; and old libertines will be amused by the exploits of Valmont. But what a monster is Valmont, if such a character exists; and those who know that class of society, assure us, they have met with many such. If there really are such beings, ought not their society to be avoided carefully? It is a forest filled with robbers: to enter it we should be well armed. It is a road full of great precipices, to avoid falling into which, we must be very circumspect.

What a character is the Marchioness de Merteuil! Sometimes she is a Medea, sometimes a Messalina. Read the tenth letter: vice is to be drawn; but should it be drawn in such seducing colours? Are there many young people who will prefer the character of a virtuous man to the brilliant and lively one of the profligate Valmont? Are there many who will not blush at the awkwardness of Cecilia? And when one blushes at being ridiculed, they are not very far from the vice that exempts them from it. In France, ridicule is too much dreaded; they would rather be vicious; and this book will rather assist that taste.

The style of romances may serve to lead us to the knowledge of the morals of ages and nations. Thus the country, which has lately produced the natural and moving Henrietta of Gerstenfeld, is far from the state of depravity of Paris and London. I form my opinion from the book. In the last age the French novels were full of gallantry and virtuous love, because then they were gallant and respectful. In this age, they have substituted wit to love, and the novels are stuffed with an unintelligible jargon of metaphysics. Of this they grew tired, and libertinism succeeded to it. From thence so many licentious romances. The immense quantity that are produced is a complete proof of the corruption of the age; the rapidity with which they are bought, the rage with which they are devoured, farther prove this depravation.

Doing justice to the zeal that seems to animate the author of those observations, we may be permitted, I hope, to make some farther remarks on the manner he has presented his? Before we begin to examine the degree of moral utility contained in the novel of Dangerous Connections, the author of the correspondence first begs leave to ask whether novels in general are useful or prejudicial to morals? This method is the most prudent; but is it not singular, that, acknowledging the indecision of this question, because the reasons for and against are equally seducing, he is still so bold to condemn, indiscriminately, all novels, without assigning any new reasons in justification of this definitive sentence? On the contrary, the author asserts, Richardson’s novels have been useful to morality, to preserve them in their purity and in the same breath advises all thinking men to banish them from their libraries! Are the consequences suitable to the premises? Is not that confounding the genus with the species? But if it was even true, that the best novel is only food for infancy, or a weak being, for whom unadorned morality is a terrifying object, would the author’s decision be the more justifiable? I will not determine; but I would ask what he means by those thinking men, for whom unadorned morality is not terrifying? It would be, perhaps, those declaiming misanthropes, who censure and despise every thing that does not bear a resemblance to their savage and austere way of thinking? I have sometimes had a good opinion of their understanding, but been ever diffident of their hearts; were we to attend to them, we should also banish from our libraries the divine poem of Telemachus, which is the first of novels, which modest qualification does not hinder it from being, if one may venture to call it, the first of our books; not only by the grandeur of the business it treats, but also by the manner in which it is treated. We should also banish from our libraries even the works of the Correspondence, the morality of which is become very interesting, by an ornamented, pure and elegant style; if, notwithstanding those qualities, this work has its opposers, would it find many readers if it was divested of them? God forbid I should ever intend making a general apology for all novels! that would be the idea of a Demoniac; I only mean to justify useful novels. If any one makes a bad use of this kind of writing, I most willingly acquiesce in their condemnation. Let us now examine whether the author of Dangerous Connections deserves to suffer.

What is a novel? A correct picture of morals put in motion.—What should be the aim of a novel? To blend instruction with amusement.—When the morals of the actors are corrupt, is it allowable, with deference to decency, to draw them in their proper shades and colours? Undoubtedly it is; but with the greatest caution, lest by giving vice, whose contagion must be dreaded, its true, though seducing and agreeable aspect, without resisting, diminishing, or rendering useless, the effect it may produce by the contrast of gentleness, peace, and happiness, which virtue secures. The author of the Errors of the Heart and Mind, and the other of the Confessions of the Count of ——, have gone wide of this mark; yet their characters are drawn after nature; the Meilcourts are still the ornament of the Bon Ton societies. But should irregularities be drawn without inflicting their punishment? Should vice, with impunity, applaud its infamous triumphs? Should innocence weep without being avenged? Certainly not. Those novels deserve the severest censure of the author of the Correspondence; those are the books which should be carefully concealed from the busy curiosity of young people. Let any one take the trouble to compare the works I have now quoted, and similar ones, with the novel of Dangerous Connections, shall we not always feel a certain aversion, a kind of antipathy for Valmont and the Marchioness de Merteuil, notwithstanding the brilliant cast he has given two performers. Let some attention be paid to the skill with which he has contrasted them in the gentle, sensible, and generous Madame de Rosemonde; how moving, how unaffected her virtue. The following letter, wrote to the victim of the profligate Valmont, is, in my opinion, alone sufficient to counterbalance, at least, the impression this same Valmont, and the infamous accomplice in his crimes, could make.

LETTER CXXX.

Madame de Rosemonde, to the Presidente de Tourvel.


“Why, my lovely dear, will you no longer be my daughter? Why do you seem to announce that our correspondence is to cease?[1] Is it to punish me for not guessing at what was improbable; or do you suspect me of creating you affliction designedly? I know your heart too well, to imagine you would entertain such an opinion of mine.—The distress your letter plunges me in is much less on my own account than yours. Oh! my young friend, with grief I tell you, you are too worthy of being beloved ever to be happy in love. Where is there a truly delicate and sensible woman, who has not met unhappiness where she expected bliss? Do men know how to rate the women they possess?

“Not but many of them are virtuous in their addresses, and constant in their affections—but even among those, how few that know how to put themselves in unison with our hearts. I do not imagine, my dear child, their affection is like ours. They experience the same transport often with more violence, but they are strangers to that uneasy officiousness, that delicate solicitude, that produces in us those continual tender cares, whose sole aim is the beloved object. Man enjoys the happiness he feels, woman that she gives.

“This difference, so essential, and so seldom observed, influences, in a very sensible manner, the totality of their respective conduct. The pleasure of the one is to gratify desires; but that of the other is to create them. To know to please is in man the means of success; and in woman it is success itself.

“And do not imagine the exceptions, be they more or less numerous, that may be quoted, can be successfully opposed to those general truths, which the voice of the public has guarantied, with the only distinction as to men of infidelity from inconstancy; a distinction of which they avail themselves, and of which they should be ashamed; which never has been adopted by any of our sex but those of abandoned characters, who are a scandal to us, and to whom all methods are acceptable which they think may deliver them from the painful sensation of their own meanness.

“I thought, my lovely dear, those reflections might be of use to you, in order to oppose the chimerical ideas of perfect happiness, with which love never fails to amuse our imagination. Deceitful hope! to which we are still attached, even when we find ourselves under the necessity of abandoning it—whose loss multiplies and irritates our already too real sorrows, inseparable from an ardent passion. This task of alleviating your trouble, or diminishing their number, is the only one I will or can now fulfil. In disorders which are without remedy, no other advice can be given, than as to the regimen to be observed. The only thing I wish you to remember is, that to pity is not to blame a patient. Alas! who are we, that we dare blame one another? Let us leave the right of judging to the Searcher of hearts; and I will even venture to believe, that in his paternal sight, a crowd of virtues may compensate a single weakness.

“But I conjure you, above all things, my dear friend, to guard against violent resolutions, which are less the effects of fortitude than despondency: do not forget, that although you have made another possessor of your existence (to use your own expression) you had it not in your power to deprive your friends of the share they were before possessed of, and which they will always claim.

“Adieu, my dear child! Think sometimes on your tender mother; and be assured you always will be, above every thing, the dearest object of her thoughts.

Castle of ——.

If the openness of the little Volanges, or her ignorance, should seem ridiculous to those of her own age, the unhappy consequences that resulted from it, will be an useful lesson to mothers to be cautious in what hands they intrust the education of their children. But can a young girl, who has once imbibed this bad education, avoid the consequences I mention, without any other guide but her timidity and absolute ignorance of vice? Is it in a corrupt world, in which she is just entering, that she will receive the fatal knowledge? Does not the author of the Correspondence himself say, “To enter it, we should be well armed; it is a road full of precipices: to avoid falling into which, we must be very circumspect.” This is all well—But if, unfortunately, I am blind, or without a guide, who is to restore me sight, or lead me? I conclude, then, that a young person, who would be pleased, at first, with the brilliant character of the Marchioness de Merteuil, would soon change her opinion, and not be tempted to imitate her, when she would see the dreadful and examplary punishment inflicted on this guilty woman. She will shudder at the thought of the miseries to which one single fault condemned Cecilia Volanges. Valmont perishing in the bloom of life, by a violent death, loaded with the contempt and disgrace of all men of worth, disowned even by the wicked, will deter all those, whose vanity and a desire to shine might induce them to copy such a character, from attempting to imitate him.

(By the ABBÉ KENTZINGER.)

[1] See Letter cxxviii.


DANGEROUS CONNECTIONS.


LETTER I.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY, at the Convent of the Ursulines of ——.


You see, my dear friend, I keep my word, and that dress does not totally take up all my time; I shall ever have some left for you. In this single day I have seen more finery of attire, than in the four years we have spent together; and I believe the haughty Tanville[1] will be more mortified at my first visit, when I shall certainly desire to see her, than she used to be every time she came to see us in fiochi. Mamma advises with me in every thing; she behaves to me no longer as a boarder in a convent. I have a chamber-maid to myself; a chamber and a closet of my own, and a very pretty scrutoire, of which I keep the key, and where I can lock up every thing. My Mamma has told me, I must be with her every morning at her levee; that it would be sufficient to have my head dressed by dinner, because we should always be alone, and that then she would each day tell me what time I should come to her apartment in the evening. The remainder of my time is at my own disposal; I have my harpsichord, my drawings, and books, just as in the convent, only that the mother abbess is not here to scold. And I may always be idle, if I please: but as I have not my dear Sophy to chat and laugh with, I am as well pleased with some occupation. It is not yet five, and I am not to go to Mamma till seven: what a deal of time, if I had any thing to tell you! but nothing has been yet mentioned to me of any consequence: and if it were not for the preparation I see making, and the number of women employed for me, I should be apt to think they have no notion of my nuptials, and that it was one of old Josephine’s[2] tales. Yet Mamma having so often told me, that a young lady should remain in a convent, until she was on the point of marriage, and having now brought me home, I am apt to think Josephine right.

A coach has just stopped at our door, and Mamma has sent for me. If it should be my intended!—I am not dressed, and am all in agitation; my heart flutters. I asked my maid, if she knew who was with my Mamma? “Why,” says she, laughing, “it is Mr. C——.” I really believe it is he. I will certainly return and write you the whole; however, that’s his name. I must not make them wait. Adieu, for a moment!

How you will laugh at your poor Cecilia, my dear Sophy! I’m quite ashamed! But you would have been deceived as well as I. On entering Mamma’s room, I saw a gentleman in black, standing close by her, I saluted him as well as I could, and remained motionless. You may guess, I examined him from head to foot. “Madam,” said he to Mamma, “this is a most charming young lady, and I am extremely sensible of your goodness.” So positive a declaration made me tremble all over; and not being able to support me, I threw myself in an armed chair, quite red and disconcerted. In an instant he was at my knees, and then you may judge how poor Cecilia’s head was bewildered; I instantly started up and shrieked, just as on the day of the great thunder. Mamma burst out laughing, saying, “Well, what’s the matter? Sit down, and give Mr. —— your foot.” Thus, my dear friend, Mr. —— turns out to be my shoemaker. You can’t conceive how much I was ashamed; happily, there was no one but Mamma present. I am, however, resolved when I am married he shall not be my shoemaker. Well! am I not now much the wiser? Farewell! it is almost six, and my maid says it is time to dress. Adieu! my dear Sophy; I love you as much as I did at the convent.

P. S. I don’t know whom to send with this, and shall wait till Josephine calls.

Paris, Aug. 3, 17—.

[1] A boarder in the same convent.

[2] Josephine was the portress of the convent.


LETTER II.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL to the VISCOUNT VALMONT, at the Castle of ——.


Return, my dear Viscount, return! How can you think of idling your days with an old aunt, whose fortune is already settled on you! Set out the moment you receive this letter, for I want you much. A most enchanting idea has just struck me, and I wish to confide the execution of it to you.

This hint should be sufficient, and you should think yourself so highly honoured by my choice, as to fly to receive my orders on your knees: but my favours are thrown away on one who no longer sets a value on them; and you presume upon my kindness, where the alternative must be eternal hatred, or excessive indulgence. I will acquaint you with my scheme; but you, like a true knight errant, must first swear to undertake no other adventure until this is achieved. It is worthy a hero. You will at once satiate love and revenge. It will be an additional exploit to your memoirs; yes, your memoirs, for I will have them published, and I will undertake the task. But to return to what more immediately concerns us. Madame de Volanges intends to marry her daughter: it is yet a secret; but she yesterday informed me of it. And whom do you think she has chosen for her son-in-law? Count Gercourt. Who could have thought I should have been allied to Gercourt? I am provoked beyond expression at your stupidity! Well, don’t you guess yet? Oh, thou essence of dulness! What, have you then pardoned him the affair of Madame the Intendante? And I, monster![1] have I not more reason for revenge? But I shall resume my temper; the prospect of retaliation, recalls my serenity.

You and I have been often tormented with the important idea framed by Gercourt, of the lady he intended honour with his hand, and his ridiculous presumption of being exempt from the unavoidable fate of married men. You know his foolish prepossessions in favour of conventual education, and his still more weak prejudices for women of a fair complexion: and I really believe, notwithstanding Volanges’ sixty thousand livres a year, he never would have thought of this girl, had she not been black eyed, or not educated in a convent.

Let us convince him, he is a most egregious fool, as one day or other he must be: but that’s not the business; the jest will be, should he act upon so absurd an opinion. How we should be diverted the next day with his boasts! for boast he will: and if once you properly form this little girl, it will be astonishing if Gercourt does not become, like so many others, the standing ridicule of Paris. The heroine of this new romance merits all your attention; she is really handsome, just turn’d of fifteen, and a perfect rose-bud; awkward as you could wish, and totally unpolished: but you men don’t mind such trifles; a certain languishing air, which promises a great deal, added to my recommendation of her, leaves only to you to thank me and obey. You will receive this letter to-morrow morning: I require to see you at seven in the evening. I shall not be visible to any one else till eight, not even to my chevalier, who happens to be my reigning favourite for the present; he has not a head for such great affairs. You see I am not blinded by love. I shall set you at liberty at eight, and you’ll return to sup with the charming girl at ten, for the mother and daughter sup with me. Farewell! it is past noon. Now for other objects.

Paris, Aug. 4, 17—.

[1] To understand this passage, it must be remarked, that the Count de Gercourt had quitted the Marchioness de Merteuil for the Intendante de ——, who had on his account abandoned the Viscount de Valmont, and that then the attachment of the Marchioness to the Viscount commenced. As that adventure was long antecedent to the events which are the subject of these letters, it has been thought better to suppress the whole of that correspondence.


LETTER III.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.


I have yet no news for my dear friend. Mamma had a great deal of company at supper last night. Notwithstanding the strong inclination I had to make my observations, especially among the men, I was far from being entertained. The whole company could not keep their eyes from me; they whispered; I could observe plainly they were speaking of me, and that made me blush; I could not help it: I wish I could; for I observed when any one looked at the other ladies they did not blush, or the rouge they put on prevented their blushes from being seen. It must be very difficult not to change countenance when a man fixes his eyes on you.

What gave me the most uneasiness was, not to know what they thought of me; however, I think I heard the word pretty two or three times: but I’m sure I very distinctly heard that of awkward; and that must be very true, for she that said so is a relation, and an intimate friend of Mamma’s. She seems even to have taken a sudden liking to me. She was the only person who took a little notice of me the whole evening. I also heard a man after supper, who I am sure was speaking of me, say to another, “We must let it ripen, we shall see this winter.” Perhaps he is to be my husband; but if so, I have still to wait four months! I wish I knew how it is to be.

Here’s Josephine, and she says she is in haste. I must, however, tell you one of my awkward tricks—Oh, I believe that lady was right.

After supper, they all sat down to cards. I sat next Mamma. I don’t know how it happened, but I fell asleep immediately. A loud laugh awoke me. I don’t know whether I was the object of it; but I believe I was. Mamma gave me leave to retire, which pleas’d me much. Only think, it was then past eleven! Adieu, my dear Sophy! continue to love thy Cecilia, I assure you the world is not so pleasing as we used to think it.

Paris, Aug. 4, 17—.


LETTER IV.

The VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


Your orders are enchanting, and your manner of giving them still more delightful; you would even make one in love with despotism. It is not the first time, you know, that I regret I am no longer your slave; and yet, monster as you style me, I recall with rapture the time when you honoured me with softer names. I have often even wish’d again to deserve them, and to terminate, by giving along with you an example of constancy to the world. But matters of greater moment call us forth; conquest is our destiny, and we must follow it: we may, perhaps, meet again at the end of our career; for permit me to say, without putting you out of temper, my beautiful Marchioness! you follow me with a pretty equal pace; and since, for the happiness of the world, we have separated to preach the faith, I am inclined to think, that in this mission of love, you have made more proselytes than I. I am well convinced of your zeal and fervour; and if the God of Love judged us according to our works, you would be the patron saint of some great city, whilst your friend would be at most a common village saint. This language no doubt will surprise you; but you must know, that for these eight days I hear and speak no other; and to make myself perfect in it, I am obliged to disobey you.

Don’t be angry, and hear me. As you are the depository of all the secrets of my heart, I will intrust you with the greatest project I ever formed. What do you propose to me? To seduce a young girl, who has seen nothing, knows nothing, and would in a manner give herself up without making the least defence, intoxicated with the first homage paid to her charms, and perhaps incited rather by curiosity than love; there twenty others may be as successful as I. Not so with the enterprise that engrosses my mind; its success insures me as much glory as pleasure; and even almighty Love, who prepares my crown, hesitates between the myrtle and laurel, or will rather unite them to honour my triumph. Even you yourself, my charming friend, will be struck with a holy respect, and in a fit of enthusiasm, will exclaim, This is the man after my own heart!

You know the Presidente Tourvel, her devout life, her conjugal love, and the austerity of her principles; that is the object I attack; that is the enemy worthy of me; that is the point I intend to carry. I must tell you, the President is in Burgundy, prosecuting a considerable suit, (I hope to make him lose one of greater importance,) his inconsolable partner is to remain here the whole time of this afflicting widowhood. A mass each day, a few visits to the neighbouring poor, prayers morning and evening, a few solitary walks, pious conferences with my old aunt, and sometimes a melancholy game at whist, are her only amusements: but I am preparing some of a more efficacious nature for her. My guardian angel led me here for our mutual happiness. Fool that I was! I used to regret the time that I sacrificed to the customary ceremonies. How should I now be punished, by being obliged to return to Paris! Fortunately there must be four to make a whist party; and as there is no one here but the curate of the place, my eternal aunt has pressed me much to sacrifice a few days to her; you may judge, I did not refuse her. You can’t conceive how much she caresses me ever since; and above all, how much she is edified by seeing me so regular at mass and at prayers. But little does she imagine the divinity I adore there.

Thus, in the space of four days, have I given myself up to a violent passion. You are no stranger to the impetuosity of my desires, and how readily all obstacles fly before me: but I’ll tell you what you don’t know, that solitude adds immensely to the ardour of desire. I have but one idea; I cherish it by day, and dream on’t by night. I must possess this woman, lest I should be so ridiculous as to be in love; for whither may we not be led by frustrated desire? Oh, delicious enjoyment! I implore thee for my happiness, and, above all, for my repose. How happy it is for us, that the women make so weak a defence! Were it otherwise, we should be but their cowardly slaves. I feel myself at this moment penetrated with gratitude towards complaisant ladies, which, naturally leads me to you, at whose feet I prostrate myself to obtain my pardon, and finish this already too long letter. Adieu, my charming friend!

Castle of ——, Aug. 3, 17—.


LETTER V.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL, to the VISCOUNT VALMONT.


Do you know, Viscount, your letter is wonderfully insolent, and has almost made me angry? But it plainly proves that you have lost your reason; and that consideration alone suppresses my indignation. Like a tender and generous friend, I forget my own injury, and am wholly taken up with your danger; and irksome as it is to enter into argument, I yield to the necessity of it at this time.

You possess the Presidente Tourvel! What a ridiculous extravagance! I here plainly perceive your downright folly, whose nature is to desire that you cannot obtain. But let’s examine this woman. She has regular features, it’s true, but a total want of expression; a tolerable shape, but without the least elegance; dresses most horridly, with a bundle of ruffs about her neck, and her stays up to her chin. I tell you as a friend, two such women would be quite sufficient to ruin your reputation. Do you remember the day she collected for the poor at St. Roch, when you thank’d me so much for the view of so curious an exhibition. I think I see her still giving her hand to that great looby with the long hair, ready to fall at each step with her calash of four ells over every one’s head, and blushing at every courtesy. Who then would have dared to tell you, you will sigh for this woman? For shame, Viscount! Blush yourself, and return to reason. I’ll promise to keep this matter secret.

Let us now examine the disagreeable consequences that await you. What rival have you to encounter? A husband. Don’t you feel yourself humiliated at that name? What a shame if you fail! and if you succeed, where is the glory?—I go farther: pleasure is out of the question; for who ever had any with a prude? I mean, with a sincere one: reserv’d in the very bosom of pleasure, they give you but half enjoyments. The entirely devoting one’s self, that delirium of voluptuousness, where pleasure is refined by excess—all those gifts of love are strangers to them. I’ll prognosticate for you: suppose your summit of happiness, you’ll find your Presidente will think she has done enough in treating you as a husband; and, be assured, that in the most tender conjugal tête-à-tête, the numerical distinction two is always apparent. But in this case it is much worse; your prude is a devotee, and of that sort you are in a perpetual state of childhood; perhaps you may get over this obstacle: but don’t flatter yourself that you’ll annihilate it. Should you conquer the love of God, you’ll not be able to dispel the fear of the devil; and though in holding your charmer in your arms, you may feel her heart palpitate, it will be from fear, not love. You might, perhaps, had you known this woman sooner, have made something of her; but she is now two-and-twenty, and has been married almost two years. Believe me, Viscount, when a woman is so far incrusted, she must be left to her fate; she will never be any thing more than an undistinguishable individual of a species.

And for such a curious object you refuse to obey me; you bury yourself in your aunt’s sepulchre; you abandon a most delicious adventure that is marked out for the advancement of your reputation. By what fatality is it, that Gercourt must always have the advantage of you?

I declare I am not out of temper: but at this instant I am inclined to think you don’t deserve the reputation you possess; and I consider your conduct with such a degree of indignation, as tempts me to withdraw my confidence from you. No, I never can bring myself to make Madame de Tourvel’s lover the confidant of my secret designs.

I will tell you, however, that the little Volanges has made a conquest. Young Danceny is distracted for her. He has sung with her, and she really sings better than belongs to a convent boarder. They have yet many duos to rehearse together, and I am much mistaken if she would not readily get into unison with him; it is true, Danceny is but a boy yet, who will waste his time in making love, but never will come to the point. Little Volanges is wild enough; but at all events, it will never be so pleasing as you could have made it. I am out of temper with you, and shall most certainly fall out with the Chevalier when he comes home. I would advise him to be mild, for at this time I should feel no difficulty to break with him.

I am certain that if I had sense enough to break off with him now, he would be a prey to the most violent despair; yet nothing diverts me more than an enraged lover. He, perhaps, would call me perfidious, and that word has ever pleased me; it is, after the epithet cruel, the sweetest to a woman’s ear, and the least painful to deserve. I will seriously ruminate on this rupture. You are the cause of all this—I shall leave it on your conscience. Adieu! recommend me to your Presidente in her prayers.

Paris, Aug. 7, 17—.


LETTER VI.

VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


There is then no woman that does not abuse the empire she has gained; and you, whom I have so often called my indulgent friend, are no longer so, you are not afraid to attack me even in the very object of my affections. What a picture have you drawn of Madame de Tourvel! What man would not have forfeited his life by so daring an act of insolence? And what woman but you would not, at least, have determined me to blast her reputation? For heaven’s sake! never put me to such rude trials again. I will not be answerable for the consequence. In the name of friendship, have patience till I have this woman, if you must slander her. Don’t you know, that the time for its causing any impression on me will be after I have enjoyed her? But where do I wander? Does Madame de Tourvel, in order to inspire a passion, need any deception? No; to be adorable, ’tis enough she is herself. You find fault with her dress: you are right; all ornaments are prejudicial to her; every thing that hides her lovely form is hurtful. It is in unaffected negligence she is truly ravishing. Thanks to the suffocating heat of the season, a deshabille of plain lawn adorns her charming, easy shape. A thin muslin handkerchief covers her bosom; and my stolen, but penetrating glances, have already seized its enchanting form. You say her figure has no expression. What should it express, when nothing speaks to her heart? No, indubitably, she has not, like our coquettes, those false looks, which sometimes seduce, but ever deceive. She knows not how to fill up a void of phrase by an affected smile; and though she has the finest teeth in the world, she only laughs at what pleases her. But she is particularly admirable in the most trifling amusements, where she gives the picture of the frankest and most natural gaiety. In visiting a wretched being that she hastens to relieve, her looks declare the unsullied joy and compassionate bounty of her heart. At the most trifling expression of praise or flattery, the tender embarrassment of unaffected modesty is suffused over her celestial figure. She is a prude and devotee, and thence you conclude, she is cold and inanimate. I think quite otherwise. What astonishing sensibility must she not have, to diffuse it as far as her husband, and to love a being always absent! What stronger proof can you require? I found out a method, however, to obtain another; I directed our walk in such a manner that we had a ditch to leap over, and although very active, she is still more timid—you may very well judge a prude dreads taking a leap. She was obliged to trust herself to me. I raised this modest woman in my arms. Our preparations, and the skip of my old aunt, made our sprightly devotee laugh most immoderately: but as soon as I seized on her, by a dexterous awkwardness, our arms were mutually entwined in each other; I pressed her bosom against mine, and in this short interval I felt her heart palpitate more quickly; a lovely blush covered her face, and her modest embarrassment informed me her heart beat with love and not with fear. My aunt was deceived as you had been, and said, “The child is frightened;” but the charming candour of this child would not permit her to countenance a lie, and she ingenuously answered, “Oh, no; but—” That word alone has cleared up my doubts. From this instant, sweet hope has banished cruel inquietude. I will have this woman. I will take her from a husband who does not deserve her. I’ll even snatch her from the god she adores.

How delicious to be by turns the object and conqueror of her remorse! Far be from me the idea of curing her of her prejudices! they will add to my glory and happiness. Let her rely on her virtue, and sacrifice it. Let her crime terrify her, without being able to resist its impulse; and, alarmed with a thousand terrors, let her neither be able to forget or conquer them but in my embraces.

Then I’ll consent to her saying, “I adore thee.” She, of all your sex, will be the only one worthy to pronounce that word. Then shall I truly be the god of her idolatry. Confess ingenuously to me, that in our arrangements, as indifferent as they are free, what we style happiness scarce deserves the name of pleasure. I’ll freely acknowledge, I imagined my heart withered, and incapable only of sensual gratification; I began to deplore my prematurely advanced age; Madame de Tourvel has restored me to the illusive charms of youth. With her, actual enjoyment is not necessary to my happiness. The only thing that alarms me is the time this adventure will take up; for I am resolved to risk nothing. In vain do I bring to remembrance my successful acts of temerity on many occasions; I can’t think of attempting them now. To crown my bliss, she must give herself up, and that’s not an easy matter to accomplish.

I am confident even you must approve my discretion, for as yet I have not mentioned the word love; but we are already got as far as those of friendship and confidence. In order to deceive her as little as possible, and, above all, to guard against any thing that may come to her knowledge which might shock her, I have myself related to her, by way of self-accusation, some of my most remarkable adventures. You would be delighted to see how innocently she catechises me. She says she is determined to make a convert of me: but has not the least suspicion how much the purchase will cost her. She does not think, that her becoming advocate, to use her own words, for the many I have undone, she is beforehand pleading her own cause.

This idea struck me yesterday, in the midst of one of her little sermons, and I could not resist the pleasure of interrupting her, to tell her that she spoke like a prophet. Adieu, my lovely friend! you see I am not totally lost.

P. S. But what’s become of our poor Chevalier? Has he destroyed himself in a fit of despair? Indeed you are a million of times worse than I; and if I was vain, you’d mortify me to be so much outdone.

From the Castle of ——,
Aug. 9, 17—.


LETTER VII.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.[1]


If I have not said any thing to you as yet of my marriage, it is because I am as ignorant of the matter as the first day I came home. I begin to accustom myself not to think about it, and I am very happy as I am. I practice my harpsichord and singing much; and I am fonder of them than when I had a master, or rather now I have got a better one. The Chevalier Danceny, the gentleman I mentioned to you before, with whom I sang at Madame Merteuil’s, is so obliging to come every day to sing with me for hours together. He is exceedingly agreeable. He sings like an angel, and sets the words of his own composition to very pretty music. It is a great pity he is a Knight of Malta! I think, were he to embark in wedlock, his wife would be very happy. He is the sweetest creature breathing. Without the affectation of complaisance, every thing he does is endearing. He always chides me about music, or some other trifle; but he blends with his censures so much concern and good nature, that one can’t help being pleased. His very looks seem to speak obliging things. And with all this, he is the most complaisant man possible: for instance; yesterday he was asked to a private concert, but spent the evening at Mamma’s, which gratified me exceedingly; for, when he is absent, I have no one to speak to, and am quite stupid: but, when he is with us, we chat and sing together, and he always has something to say to me. Madame de Merteuil and he are the only two amiable persons I yet know. Adieu, my dear friend! I promised to be perfect to-day in a little air, with a very difficult accompaniment, and I must keep my word. I must set about practising it against his return.

From ——, Aug. 7, 17—.

[1] Not to tire the reader’s patience, we suppress many of the letters of this daily correspondence, and give only them we think necessary for unfolding the events of this society. For the same reason we suppress all those of Sophia Carnay, and several of those of the actors in this piece.


LETTER VIII.

Presidente DE TOURVEL to MADAME DE VOLANGES.


Permit me, Madam, to assure you, no one can be more sensible of the confidence you repose in me, nor have more at heart the happy establishment of Mademoiselle de Volanges than I have. With my whole soul I wish her that felicity which I am confident she merits, and which I have no doubt she will obtain through your prudence. I have not the honour of knowing Count Gercourt, but conceive the most favourable opinion of him, as he is your choice. I limit my good wishes to the hope that this match may be as happy as mine, which was also one of your making, and which gratitude daily calls to my remembrance. May the happiness of Mademoiselle de Volanges be the reward of that I enjoy, and may the best of friends be also the happiest of mothers!

I am really mortified that I am not at present able, personally, to assure you of the grateful sentiments of my heart, and to accomplish what I wish for much, an acquaintance with Mademoiselle de Volanges.

After having experienced your maternal fondness, I think I am entitled to the tender friendship of a sister from her. I entreat you, Madam, to claim it for me, until I have it in my power to deserve it. I propose residing in the country during Mr. de Tourvel’s absence. I now enjoy and improve in the respectable company of Madame Rosemonde. This lady is ever delightful; her great age has not the least impaired her gaiety or memory; her body may be eighty-four, but her understanding is only twenty. Our retirement is enlivened by the Viscount Valmont, her nephew, who has condescended to spend a few days with us. I only knew him by character, which gave me an unfavourable opinion of him, that now I don’t think he deserves. Here, where the bustle of the world does not affect him, he is very agreeable, and owns his failings with great candour. He converses with me very confidentially, and I sometimes sermonize him with asperity; you, who know him well, will, I dare say, think such a conversion worth attempting: but I am afraid, notwithstanding all his promises, eight days in Paris will destroy all my labours; however, his residence here will be so much gained from his general course of life, and I am clear, that the best thing he can do will be to remain in inactivity. He knows that I am now writing to you, and begs leave to present his most respectful compliments. I beg you’ll also accept mine with that condescension you have ever had for me, and be assured of the sincerity of the sentiments with which I have the honour to be, &c.

From the Castle of ——,
Aug. 9, 17—.


LETTER IX.

MADAME DE VOLANGES to the Presidente DE TOURVEL.


I never yet doubted, my young and charming friend, of your friendship for me, nor of the interest you take in all my concerns. It is not to clear up this point, on which I hope we are for ever agreed, that I reply to your answer; but I think myself obliged to say a word or two relative to Viscount Valmont.

I must own, I did not expect to meet such a name in a letter from you. How is it possible there can be any communication between you and him? You do not know that man. Where did you find the idea you have imbibed of the heart of a libertine? You tell me of his uncommon candour; yes, truly, Valmont’s candour is very uncommon. He is yet more false and dangerous than he is lovely and seducing: never since his earliest youth, has he taken a step, or spoke a word, without a design; and never formed a design that was not criminal or improper. My dear friend, you know me; you know that of all the virtues I endeavour to acquire, indulgence is the one I cherish most; and if Valmont had been hurried away by the impetuosity of his passions, or if, like a thousand more at his time of life, he had been seduced by the errors of youth, I would have compassionated his person, blamed his conduct, and have patiently waited until time, the happy maturer of green years, should have made him fit for the society and esteem of worthy people: but that’s not Valmont’s case; his conduct is the result of principle; he calculates how far a man can proceed in villainy without risking reputation, and has chosen women for his victims, that his sacrifices may be wicked and cruel without danger. I shall not dwell on the numbers he has seduced; but how many has he not utterly undone? Those scandalous anecdotes never come within the sphere of your retired and regular course of life. I could, however, relate you some that would make you shudder; but your mind, pure as your soul, would be defiled with such descriptions: convinced, as I am, that Valmont will never be an object of danger to you, such armour is unnecessary to guard you. I can’t, however, refrain telling you, that successful or not, no woman he ever yet dangled after, but had reason to repent her folly. The only exception to this general rule is the Marchioness de Merteuil; she alone has been capable not only of resisting, but of completely defeating his wickedness.

I must acknowledge, this trait in her character strikes me the most forcibly; and has amply justified her to the world for some trifling indiscretions in the outset of her widowhood.[1] However, my charming friend, authorised as I am, by age, experience, and much more by friendship, I am obliged to inform you, the world take notice of Valmont’s absence; and that if they come to know that he has for any time formed a trio with you and his aunt, your reputation will be at his mercy, which is the greatest misfortune that can happen to a woman. I therefore advise you to prevail on his aunt not to detain him longer; and if he should still determine to remain, I think you should not hesitate a moment on quitting the place. But why should he remain? How does he employ himself in the country? I am certain, if his motions were watched, you would discover that he has only taken up his residence in that commodious retreat for the accomplishment of some act of villainy he meditates in the neighbourhood.

When it is not in our power to prevent an evil, let us at least take care to preserve ourselves from its consequences. Adieu! my lovely friend. An accident retards my daughter’s marriage for some little time. Count Gercourt, whom we daily expected, informs me his regiment is ordered for Corsica; and as the military operations are not yet over, it will be impossible for him to return before winter: this disconcerts me; however, it gives me hope we shall have your company at the wedding; and I was vexed it should take place without you. Adieu! I am as free from compliment as reserve, entirely yours.

P. S. Bring me back to the recollection of Madame de Rosemonde, whom I shall always love for her great merit.

[1] Madame de Volanges’ error informs us, that Valmont, like most profligate wretches, did not impeach his accomplices.


LETTER X.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL, to VISCOUNT VALMONT.


Are you out of temper with me, Viscount, or are you dead, or, which is pretty much the same, do you live no longer but for your Presidente? This woman, who has restored you to the illusive charms of youth, will also soon restore you to its ridiculous follies. You are already a timid slave; you may as well be in love at once. You renounce your happy acts of temerity on many occasions; and thus, without any principle to direct you, give yourself up to caprice, or rather chance. Do you know, that love is like physic, only the art of assisting nature? You see I fight you on your own ground, but it shall not excite any vanity in me; for there is no great honour in engaging a vanquished enemy. She must give herself up, you tell me; without doubt she must, and will, as others, but with this difference, that she’ll do it awkwardly. But that it may terminate in her giving herself up, the true method is to begin by taking her. What a ridiculous distinction, what nonsense in a love matter; I say love; for you really are in love. To speak otherwise would be deceiving you, would be concealing your disorder from you. Tell me, then, my dear sighing swain, of the different women you have had, do you think you gained any of them by force? Whatever inclination we may have to yield, however we feel our compliance unavoidable, still must there be a pretence; and can there be a more commodious one for us, than that which gives us the appearance of being overcome by force? For my part, I own nothing charms me to much as a brisk lively attack, where every thing is carried on with regularity, but with rapidity; which never puts us to the painful dilemma of being ourselves constrained to remedy an awkwardness which, on the contrary, we should convert to our advantage; and which keeps up the appearance of violence, even when we yield, and dexterously flatters our two favourite passions, the glory of a defence, and the pleasure of a defeat. I must own that this talent, which is more uncommon than one would imagine, always pleased me, even when it did not guide me, and that it has sometimes happened that I have only surrendered from gratitude: thus, in our tournaments of old, beauty gave the prize to valour and address.

But you, you who are no longer yourself, you proceed as if you dreaded success. And pray how long is it since you have fallen into the method of travelling so gently, and in such bye-roads? Believe me, when one has a mind to arrive, post-horses and the high road is the only method.

But let us drop this subject; it the more puts me out of temper, as it deprives me of the pleasure of seeing you. At least, write me oftener than you do, and acquaint me with your progress. You seem to forget that this ridiculous piece of business has already taken up a fortnight of your time, and that you neglect every body.

Now I mention neglect, you resemble those who send regularly to inquire of the state of health of their sick friends, and who never concern themselves about the answer. You finish your last letter by asking whether the Chevalier is dead. I make no reply, and you are no farther concerned about the matter; have you forgot my lover is your sworn friend? But comfort yourself; he is not dead; or if he was, it would be from excess of pleasure. This poor Chevalier, how tender! How formed for love! How sensibly he affects one! He distracts me. Seriously, then, his happiness in being loved by me, inspires me with a true affection for him.

The very day I wrote you that I was taken up in contriving our rupture, how happy did I not make him! And yet I was in earnest engaged how I should make him desperate when he appeared. Whether whim or inclination, he never appeared to so much advantage. However, I received him coolly; he expected to spend a couple of hours with me before my time of seeing company. I told him I was going abroad, he begg’d to know where; I refused to tell him. He insisted to know; where you will not be, I replied with some tartness. Happily for him he was petrified at my answer; for had he pronounced a syllable, a scene would have ensued which would infallibly have brought on the intended rupture. Astonished at his silence, I cast a look at him, with no other design, I swear, but to observe his countenance; I was instantly struck with the deep and tender sadness that covered this charming figure, which you have owned it is so difficult to resist. The same cause produced the same effect; I was a second time overcome; from that instant I endeavoured to prevent his having any reason to complain. I am going out on business, said I, in a milder tone, and the business relates to you; ask no more questions. I shall sup at home; at your return you’ll know all: he then recovered his speech; but I would not suffer him to go on. I’m in great haste, continued I. Leave me until night. He kissed my hand and departed. In order to make him, or perhaps myself, amends, I immediately resolved to show him my villa, of which he had not the least suspicion; I called my faithful maid, Victoire. I am seized with my dizziness, said I; let all my servants know I am gone to bed; when alone, I desired her to put on a footman’s dress, and metamorphosed myself into a chamber-maid.

She ordered a hackney-coach to my garden-door, and we instantly set out; Being arrived at this temple dedicated to love, I put on my genteelest deshabille; a most delicious one, and of my own invention: it leaves nothing exposed, but every thing for fancy to imagine. I promise you the pattern for your Presidente, when you shall have rendered her worthy of wearing it.

After those preparations, whilst Victoire was taken up with other matters, I read a chapter of the Sopha, a letter of the New Eloisa, and two of La Fontaine’s Tales, to rehearse the different characters I intended to assume. In the mean time, my Chevalier came to my house, with his usual eagerness. My porter refused him admittance, and informing him I was indisposed, delivered him a note from me, but not of my writing; according to my usual discretion. He opens, and finds in Victoire’s writing;—“At nine precisely, at the Boulevard, opposite the coffee-houses.”

Thither he proceeds, and a little footman whom he does not know, or at least thinks he does not know, for it was Victoire, tells him he must send back his carriage and follow him. All this romantic proceeding heated his imagination, and on such occasions a heated imagination is useful. At last he arrives, and love and astonishment produced in him the effect of a real enchantment. In order to give him time to recover from his surprise, we walked a while in the grove; I then brought him back to the house. The first thing which presented itself to his view, was a table with two covers, and a bed prepared. From thence we went into the cabinet, which was most elegantly decorated. There, in suspense, between reflection and sentiment, I flung my arms around him, and letting myself fall at his knees—“Alas! my dear friend,” said I, “what reproaches do I not deserve, for having, for a moment, given you uneasiness by an affected ill-humour, in order to enhance the pleasure and surprise of this moment, for having concealed my heart from your tenderness! Forgive me; I will expiate my crime with the most ardent love.” You may guess what was the effect of this sentimental declaration. The happy Chevalier raised me, and my pardon was sealed on the same sopha where you and I, in a similar way, so cheerfully sealed our eternal rupture.

As we had six hours to pass together, and that I was determined the whole time should be devoted to delight him, I moderated his transports, and called lovely coquetry to the aid of tenderness. I don’t know I ever took so much pains to please, or ever, in my own opinion, succeeded so well. After supper, by turns, childish and rational, wanton and tender, sometimes even libertine. I took pleasure in considering him as a Sultan, in the midst of his Seraglio, to whom I alternately supplied the places of different favourites; and indeed, his reiterated offerings, though always received by the same woman, were received as by a new mistress.

At length, when day appeared, it was necessary to part; and notwithstanding all he said, and even what he did, to prove the contrary, there was, on his part, as much necessity for it, as want of inclination. At the instant of parting, for a last adieu, I delivered him the key of this happy mansion: I had it for you alone, said I, and it is fit you should be the master of it; it is but right the high priest should dispose of the temple. By this artifice, I anticipated any reflections which might arise in his mind relative to the propriety of a villa, which is ever matter of suspicion. I know him so well, that I’m certain he will never make use on’t but for me; and if I should have a fancy to go there without him, I have another key. He by all means would make an appointment for another day; but I as yet love him too much, to wear him out soon; the true maxim is, not give into excess, but with those one wishes to be rid of. This he is a stranger to; but, happily for him, I know it for us both.

I perceive it is now three in the morning, and that I have wrote a volume, though I intended but a short letter. Such are the charms of confidential friendship; it is that confidential friendship that renders you the object I love most; but indeed the Chevalier is the object that pleases me most.

From ——, Aug. 12, 17—.


LETTER XI.

The Presidente DE TOURVEL to MADAME VOLANGES.


The severity of your letter would have terrified me strangely, dear madam, if I had not here stronger reasons to think myself perfectly safe, than those you give me for apprehension. The formidable Mr. de Valmont, the terror of our sex, seems to have laid aside his murderous arms, before he entered this castle. Far from having formed any design, he did not even appear to have brought any claims; and the accomplishments of an amiable man, which his enemies even give to him, almost vanish to give place to the character of good-natured creature. Probably it is the country air has wrought this miracle; one thing I can assure you, tho’ incessantly with me, even seemingly pleased with my company, not a word that has the least tendency to love has escaped him, not even one of those phrases that most men assume, without having, like him, any thing to plead in their justification. Never does he put one under the necessity of flying for shelter to that reservedness to which a woman, who will maintain her dignity, is obliged to have recourse now-a-days, to keep the men within bounds. He does not abuse the gaiety he inspires. Perhaps he flatters a little too much; but it is with so much delicacy, that he would reconcile even modesty to praise. To conclude, had I a brother, I would wish him to be what Mr. de Valmont is here. There are many women, perhaps, would wish him to have a more pointed gallantry; and I own I am greatly obliged to him for the good opinion he entertains, by not confounding me with them.

This description undoubtedly differs very much from that you have given me; and yet they may both carry a resemblance, if we ascertain our times. He himself agrees he has done many wrong things, and, perhaps, the world has imputed many more to him. But I have seldom met with men who spoke more respectfully of women of character, almost to enthusiasm.

In this point, at least, you inform me he is not a deceiver. I rest the proof on his conduct to Madame de Merteuil. He often speaks of her; and always so much in her praise, and with the appearance of so much affection, that I imagined, until I received your letter, that what he had called friendship was really love. I condemn myself for my rash opinion, in which I am the more blameable, as he himself has frequently spoke in her justification; and I own his honest sincerity I looked on as artifice. I don’t know, but it appears to me, that the man who is capable of so constant a friendship for a deserving woman, cannot be an abandoned libertine; but whether we are to attribute his prudent conduct here to any scheme in this neighbourhood, as you suppose, is a question. There are some few agreeable women around us; however, he seldom goes abroad except in the morning, and then he says he goes a shooting; he seldom brings home any game, it is true, but he tells us he is a bad shot. However, what he does out of doors, concerns me but little; and if I wished to be informed, it would be only to have one more reason to come into your opinion, or to bring you over to mine.

As to what you propose, that I should endeavour to shorten the time of Mr. de Valmont’s residence here, it appears to me a matter of some difficulty, to desire an aunt not to have her nephew with her; and a nephew for whom she has the greatest affection. However, I promise you, through deference only, and not that I see any necessity for it, to take the first opportunity to make this request either to him or her. As to myself, Mr. de Tourvel is acquainted with my intention of remaining here until his return, and he would, with reason, be astonished at my levity. Thus, Madam, I have given you a long explanation; but I thought a justification of Mr. de Valmont to you, where it appears very necessary, a debt to truth. I am not the less sensible of the friendship which suggested your advice. I am also indebted to it for the obliging manner in which you acquaint me of the delay of Madame de Volanges’ nuptials, for which accept my most sincere thanks; but whatever pleasure I might expect on that occasion in your company, would be willingly sacrificed to the satisfaction of knowing Mademoiselle de Volanges’ happiness sooner completed, if, after all, she can be more so than with a mother, every way deserving her respect and tenderness. I partake with her those sentiments which attach me to you, and beg you’ll receive this assurance of them with your usual goodness.

I have the honour to be, &c.

From ——, Aug. 13, 17—.


LETTER XII.

CECILIA VOLANGES to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


Madam,

My Mamma is indisposed; she will not go out to-day, and I must keep her company: thus I am deprived the honour of attending you to the opera. I assure you I regret more the loss of your company than the performance. I hope you are persuaded of this, for I have a great affection for you. Be so good to tell the Chevalier Danceny, I have not yet got the collection which he mentioned, and that if he can bring it himself to-morrow, I shall be obliged to him. If he comes to-day, he will be told we are not at home; but the reason is, Mamma sees no company. I hope she will be better to-morrow.

I have the honour, &c.

From ——, Aug. 13, 17—.


LETTER XIII.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL to CECILIA VOLANGES.


I am much concerned, my charming girl, to be deprived of the pleasure of seeing you, as well as for the cause; I hope we shall find another opportunity. I performed your commission with the Chevalier Danceny, who will certainly be very sorry to hear of your Mamma’s indisposition; if she’ll admit me to-morrow, I’ll wait on her. She and I will attack the Chevalier de Belleroche at piquet[1]; and in winning his money, we shall have the double pleasure of hearing you sing with your amiable master, to whom I shall propose it. If it be agreeable to your Mamma and you, I will answer for my two Knights and myself. Adieu, my lovely girl! My compliments to Madame de Volanges. I embrace you most affectionately.

From ——, Aug. 13, 17—.

[1] This is the same who is mentioned in Madame de Merteuil’s letters.


LETTER XIV.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.


I did not write to you yesterday, my dear Sophy; but I assure you it was not pleasure that prevented me. My Mamma was indisposed, and I did not quit her the whole day. At night, when I retired, I had not spirits to do any thing; and I went to bed very early, in order to terminate the day: never did I pass so long a one. It is not but I love Mamma very much; but I don’t know how it was. I was to have gone to the opera with Madame de Merteuil; the Chevalier Danceny was to have been there. You know they are the two I love most. When the hour of the opera arrived, my heart was oppressed in spite of me; every thing displeased me, and I wept involuntarily. Fortunately Mamma was in bed, and could not see me. I am sure Chevalier Danceny must have been chagrined as well as I; but the company and performance must have amused him: I am very differently situated. But Mamma is better to-day, and Madame de Merteuil, Chevalier Danceny, and another gentleman, will be with us. Madame de Merteuil comes late, and it’s very tiresome to be so long alone. It is only eleven, yet I must practise my harpsichord, it is true; and then my toilet will take me up some time, for I will have my head well dressed to-day. I really believe our mother Abbess was right, that one becomes a coquet on entering into life. I never had so strong a desire to be handsome, as for some days past, and I think I am not so handsome as I thought; in women’s company that paint, one looks much worse; for example, all the men think Madame de Merteuil handsomer than me; that does not vex me much, because she loves me: and then she assures me the Chevalier Danceny thinks me handsomer than her. It is very good natured of her to tell me so; she even seemed to be glad of it. Now I don’t conceive how that can be. It is because she loves me so much! And he too! Oh that gives me infinite pleasure! I really think, barely looking at him makes me appear handsome. I would always be looking at him, if I was not afraid of meeting his eyes: for as often as that happens, it disconcerts me, and gives me uneasiness; but that signifies nothing. Adieu, my dear Sophy! I am going to dress.

Paris, Aug. 14, 17—.


LETTER XV.

VISCOUNT VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


Indeed you are very kind not to abandon me to my melancholy fate: the life I lead here is really fatiguing, from excess of repose and insipid uniformity. Reading your letter with the particulars of your delightful excursion, I was tempted twenty times to pretend business, fly to your feet, and beg of you to commit, in my favour, an infidelity to your Chevalier, who really does not deserve his bliss. Do you know you have roused my jealousy? Why tell me of an eternal rupture? I recant an oath taken in a fit of frenzy. We should not have been entitled to so solemn a privilege, had we seriously intended to keep it. Ah, may I be one day revenged in your embraces, for the vexation the Chevalier’s happiness gives me! I am all indignation I own, to think that a man who has scarce common sense, without taking the least trouble, and only simply following the instinct of his heart, should find a happiness I can’t attain. Oh, I will disturb him: promise me I shall disturb him! But have you not humiliated yourself? You take the trouble to deceive him, and he is happier than you. You think you have him in your toils, but you are in his. He sleeps quietly, whilst you wake for his pleasures. What could his slaves do more?

Hark ye, my lovely friend, while you divide yourself among many, I am not in the least jealous; I then look down on your lovers as on Alexander’s successors; incapable of preserving among them that empire where I reigned sole monarch; but that you should give yourself up entirely to one of them, that another should exist as happy as me, I will not suffer; don’t expect I’ll bear it! Either take me again, or take another; and do not, by any exclusive caprice, betray the inviolable friendship we have sworn to each other.

Is it not curious, that I should have reason to complain of love? You see I give into your ideas, and confess my errors. If not to be able to exist without the possession of what we desire, if to sacrifice time, pleasure, and life for it, then am I really in love; and I have made no progress. I should not even have a word to say to you on the subject, but for an accident that racks my imagination, and leaves me in suspense between hope and fear.

You know my huntsman; a treasure of intrigue, and a true valet as ever dramatic pen drew. You may conceive he had it in his instructions to be in love with the waiting-maid, and make the servants drunk.

The rascal is happier than his master; he has already succeeded; and has just discovered that Madame de Tourvel has appointed one of her people to observe me, and even to follow me in my morning excursions, as much as possible, without being perceived.

What does this woman mean? Thus, then, the most virtuous of them will venture to do things, that one of us would not dare think on! Well, I swear—but before I think of being revenged for this female artifice, I will endeavour to convert it to my advantage. Hitherto those suspected excursions had no view; I must give them one. This deserves my utmost attention, and I quit you to reflect on it. Adieu, my charming friend!

Always from the Castle of ——,
Aug. 15, 17—.


LETTER XVI.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.


Ah, Sophia, I have a deal of news! But may be I should not tell you: I must tell it, however, to somebody, I can’t keep it. Chevalier Danceny—I’m in such trouble, I can’t write; I don’t know where to begin. Since the agreeable evening that I related to you I spent at Mamma’s[1], with him and Madame de Merteuil, I said no more of him: that was because I resolved not to say any more of him to any one; but I was always thinking of him notwithstanding. Since that, he is become so melancholy, that it makes me uneasy; and when I asked him the reason, he answered me he was not so, but I could plainly see he was. He was yesterday more so than usual; that did not, however, prevent him from singing with his usual complaisance; but every time he looked at me, my heart was ready to break. After we had done singing, he locked up my harpsichord; and bringing me the key, begged I would play again in the evening when I was alone. I had no suspicion of any thing; I even refused him: but he insisted so much, that I promised I would. He had his reasons for it. When I retired to my room, and my maid was gone, I went to my harpsichord. I found hid among the strings an unsealed letter from him. Ah, if you did but know all he writes! Since I read his letter, I am in such raptures I can think of nothing else. I read it over four times running, and then locked it in my desk. I got it by heart; and when I laid down I repeated it so often, I could not think of sleeping; as soon as I shut my eyes, I thought I saw him, telling me every thing I had just read. I did not sleep till very late; and, as soon as I awoke, (though it was very early,) I got up for the letter, to read it at my leisure; I took it into bed, and began to kiss it; as if——but may be I did wrong to kiss a letter thus, but I could not help it.

Now, my dear friend, if I am very well pleased, I am also very much troubled; for certainly I must not answer it. I know that must not be, and yet he urges it; and if I don’t answer it, I am certain he will be again melancholy. It is a great pity; what would you advise me to? But you know no more than I. I have a great mind to tell Madame de Merteuil, who has a great affection for me. I wish I could console him; but I would not do any thing wrong. We are taught good-nature, and yet we are forbid to follow its dictates, when a man is in question. That I can’t understand. Is not a man our neighbour as well as a woman, and still more so? For have we not a father as well as a mother, a brother as well as a sister, and there is the husband besides? Yet if I was to do any thing that was not right, perhaps Mr. Danceny himself would no longer have a good opinion of me! Oh, then I would rather he should be melancholy! And I shall still be time enough; though he wrote yesterday, I am not obliged to write to-day; and I shall see Madame de Merteuil this evening, and if I can have so much resolution, I will tell her all. Following her advice, I shall have nothing to reproach myself; and may be she may tell me I may give him a few words of answer, that he may not be melancholy. I’m in great uneasiness! Adieu! Be sure tell me what you think I ought to do.

Aug. 13, 17—.

[1] The letter that is mentioned here was not found; but there is reason to believe that it is that Madame de Merteuil mentions in her letter which Cecilia Volanges refers to.


LETTER XVII.

The CHEVALIER DANCENY to CECILIA VOLANGES.


Before I give way, Miss, whether shall I call it, to the pleasure or necessity of writing to you, I begin by entreating you to hear me: I am sensible I stand in need of your indulgence, in daring to declare my sentiments for you; if they wanted only vindication, indulgence would be useless. Yet, after all, what am I about to do, but exhibit your own productions? I have nothing to say that my looks, my confusion, my conduct, and even my silence, have not already told you! Why should you be displeased with sentiments to which you have given birth? Proceeding from you, they certainly should be offered you; if they are as inflamed as my heart, they are as chaste as your own. Where is the crime to have discovered how to set a proper value on your charms, your bewitching qualifications, your enchanting graces, and that affecting ingenuousness which so much enhances such valuable accomplishments? No; undoubtedly there is not: but one may be unhappy, without being guilty, which must be my fate, should you refuse to accept a homage, the first my heart ever made. Were it not for you, I should still have been, if not happy, yet undisturbed. I saw you, and tranquillity fled my soul, and left my happiness uncertain!

And yet you seem to wonder at my grief, and demand the cause; I have even sometimes thought it gave you uneasiness. Ah, speak but the word, and my felicity will be complete! But before you pronounce it, remember it may also overwhelm me in misery. Be the arbitress of my fate, you can make me happy or miserable for ever; into what dearer hands can I commit such a trust? I shall finish as I began, by imploring your indulgence; I have entreated you to hear me; I shall farther presume to beg an answer. If refused, I shall think you are offended; though my heart is witness, my respect equals my love.

P. S. If you indulge me with an answer, you can convey it in the same way through which manner you receive this: it is both safe and commodious.

Aug. 18, 17—.


LETTER XVIII.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.


What, my Sophia, you blame beforehand the step I intend to take! I had uneasiness enough already, but you add considerably to it. You say, I certainly ought not to answer his letter; you are quite, at your ease, and can give advice; but you know not how I am circumstanced, and are not able, not being on the spot, to give an opinion. Sure I am, were you so situated, you would act as I do. Certainly, according to etiquette, I should not answer his letter; and by my letter of yesterday, you may perceive my intention was not to reply; but I don’t think any one was ever so circumstanced as I am.

And, then, to be left to my own discretion! For Madame de Merteuil, whom I depended on seeing in the evening, did not come. Every thing is against me; she is the cause of my knowing him. In her company, it has almost always been, that I have seen and spoke to him. It is not that I have any ill-will towards her for it—but I’m left to myself when I want her advice most. Well, I’m greatly to be pitied! Only think, yesterday he came as usual. I was so confused I could not look at him; he could not speak to me, for Mamma was with us. I knew he would be vexed when he found I had not wrote to him; I did not know how to appear. He immediately asked me if I had a mind he should bring my harpsichord. My heart beat so I could scarcely say yes. When he returned it was much worse. I just glanced at him. He did not see me, but looked as if he was ill; that made me very unhappy. He tuned my harpsichord, and said, with a sigh, Ah, Miss! He spoke but those two words; and in such a tone as threw me into the greatest confusion. I struck a few chords without knowing what I did: Mamma asked him to sing; he excused himself, saying, he was not well; but I had no excuse, and was forced to sing. I then wished I had no voice; and chose, on purpose, a song that I did not know; for I was certain I could not sing any one, and some notice would have been taken.

Fortunately a visitor came; and as soon as I heard a coach coming, I stopped, and begged he would put up my harpsichord. I was much afraid he would then go away, but he returned. Whilst Mamma and the lady, who came, were chatting together, I wished to look at him for a moment; I met his eyes, and I could not turn mine from him. That instant I saw his tears flow, and he was obliged to turn his head aside to hide them. I found I could not withstand it; and that I was also ready to weep. I retired, and instantly wrote with a pencil on a slip of paper, “I beg you’ll not be so dejected; I promise to answer your letter.”—Surely you can’t say there was any harm in this; I could not help it. I put my note in the strings of my harpsichord, as his was, and returned to the saloon. I found myself much easier, and was impatient until the lady went away. She was on her visits, and soon retired. As soon as she was gone, I said I would again play on my harpsichord, and begged he would bring it. I saw by his looks he suspected nothing; but when he returned, oh, he was so pleased! In laying the instrument before me, he placed himself in such a manner that Mamma could not see, and squeezed my hand—but it was but for a moment: I can’t express the pleasure I received; I drew it away however; so that I have nothing to reproach myself with.

Now, my dear friend, you see I can’t avoid writing to him, since I have promised; and I will not chagrin him any more I am determined; for I suffer more than he does. Certainly, as to any thing bad, I would not be guilty of it, but what harm can there be in writing, when it is to prevent one from being unhappy? What puzzles me is, that I shall not know what to say; but that signifies nothing; and I am certain its coming from me will be quite sufficient.

Adieu, my dear friend! If you think me wrong, tell me; but I don’t believe I am. As the time draws near to write to him, my heart beats strangely; however, it must be so, as I have promised it.

From ——, Aug. 20, 17—.


LETTER XIX.

CECILIA VOLANGES to CHEVALIER DANCENY.


You was so pensive, Sir, yesterday, and it gave me so much uneasiness to see you so, that I could not avoid promising to answer the letter you wrote me. I now think it unbecoming; yet, as I promised, I will not break my word, a proof of the friendship I have for you. Now I have made this acknowledgment, I hope you will never more ask me to write to you again, or ever let any one know I have wrote to you; for I should most certainly be blamed, and it might occasion me a deal of uneasiness. But above all, I hope you will not have a bad opinion of me, which would give me the greatest concern; for I assure you, I could not have been induced to do this by any one else. I wish much you would not be so melancholy as you have been, lately, as it deprives me of all the satisfaction I have in your company. You see, Sir, I speak very sincerely to you. I wish much that our friendship may be lasting; but I beg you’ll write to me no more.

I have the honour to be,
CECILIA VOLANGES.
Aug. 20, 17—.


LETTER XX.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL to VISCOUNT VALMONT.


So, knave, you begin to wheedle, lest I should laugh at you! Well, I forgive you. You say so many ridiculous things, that I must pardon you, the trammels you are kept in by your Presidente; however, my Chevalier would be apt not to be so indulgent, and not to approve the renewal of our contract; neither would he find any thing very entertaining in your foolish whim. I laughed, however, exceedingly at it, and was truly sorry I was obliged to laugh alone. Had you been here, I don’t know how far my good humour might have led me; but reflection came to my aid, and I armed myself with severity. It is not that I have determined to break off for ever; but I am resolved to delay for some time, and I have my reasons. Perhaps some vanity might arise in the case, and that once roused, one does not know whither it may lead. I should be inclined to enslave you again, and oblige you to give up your Presidente; but if a person of my unworthiness should give you a disgust for virtue itself, in a human shape, what a scandal! To avoid this danger, these are my stipulations.

As soon as you have obtain’d your lovely devotee, and that you can produce your proofs, come, I am yours. But I suppose it unnecessary to inform you that, in important matters, none but written proofs are admitted. By this arrangement I shall, on the one hand, become a reward instead of a consolation, and this idea pleases me most: on the other hand, your success will be more brilliant, by becoming in the same moment the cause of an infidelity. Come then, come speedily, and bring the pledge of your triumph; like our valiant knights of old, who deposited, at their ladies’ feet, the trophies of their victories. I am really curious to know what a prude can say after such an adventure; what covering she can give her words after having uncovered her person. You are to judge whether I rate myself too high; but I must assure you beforehand, I will abate nothing. Till then, my dear Viscount, you must not be angry that I should be constant to my Chevalier; and that I should amuse myself in making him happy, although it may give you a little uneasiness.

If I was not so strict a moralist, I believe at this instant he would have a most dangerous rival in the little Volanges. I am bewitched with this little girl: it is a real passion. I am much mistaken, or she will be one day or other one of our most fashionable women. I can see her little heart expanding; and it is a most ravishing sight!—She already loves her Danceny to distraction, yet knows nothing of it; and he, though deeply smitten, has that youthful timidity, that frightens him from declaring his passion. They are both in a state of mutual adoration before me: the girl has a great mind to disburden her heart, especially for some days past; and I should have done her immense service in assisting her a little; but she is yet a child, and I must not commit myself. Danceny has spoke plainer; but I will have nothing to do with him. As to the girl, I am often tempted to make her my pupil; it is a piece of service I’m inclined to do Gercourt. He gives me time enough, as he must remain in Corsica until October. I have in contemplation to employ that time effectually, and to give him a well trained wife, instead of an innocent convent pensioner. The insolent security of this man is surprising, who dares sleep quietly whilst a woman he has used ill is unrevenged! If the little thing was now here, I do not know what I might say to her.

Adieu, Viscount—good night, and good success; but, for God’s sake, dispatch. Remember, if you let this woman slip, the others will blush at having been unconnected with you.

Aug. 20, 17—.


LETTER XXI.

From VISCOUNT VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


I have at length, my dear friend, made an advance, and one of such importance, that though it has not led to the full completion of my wishes, convinces me I am in the right road, and dispels my dread of having gone astray. I have at last made my declaration of love; and although the most obstinate silence was preserved, I have obtained an answer of the most flattering, unequivocal nature; yet, not to anticipate matters, but to recur to their origin: you may remember a spy was appointed over my proceedings; well, I determined this shameful treatment should be converted into the means of public edification; and I laid my plan thus: I ordered my confident to look out for some distressed person in the neighbourhood, who wanted relief. This you know was not a very difficult discovery. Yesterday evening he informed me that the effects of a whole family were to be seized on as this morning, for payment of taxes. I first took care to be certain that there was neither woman nor girl in the house, whose age or appearance could raise any suspicion of my intended scheme. When I was satisfied of this, I mentioned at supper that I intended going a shooting next day. Here I must do my Presidente justice; she certainly felt some remorse for the orders she had given; and not being able to overcome her curiosity, she determined to oppose my design. It would be exceedingly hot; I should probably injure my health; I should kill nothing, and fatigue myself in vain; and during this conversation, her eyes, which spoke a plainer language than she perhaps intended, told me she wished those simple reasons should pass current. You may guess I did not assent to them, and even was proof against a smart invective upon shooting and sportsmen; I held my ground even against a little cloud of discontent that covered her celestial face during the rest of the evening. I was at one time afraid she had revoked her orders, and that her delicacy would mar all. I did not reflect sufficiently on the strength of woman’s curiosity, and was mistaken; my huntsman cleared up my doubts however that night, and I went to bed quite satisfied.

At daylight I rose, and set out. I was scarcely fifty yards from the castle, when I perceived my spy at my heels. I began to beat about, directing my course across the fields towards the village I had in view; my amusement on the way was making the fellow scamper; who, not daring to quit the high road, was often obliged to run over treble the ground I went. My exertions to give him exercise enough, put me in a violent heat, and I seated myself at the foot of a tree. And would you believe it, he had the insolence to slide behind a thicket not twenty yards from, me, and seat himself also. I once had a great inclination to send him the contents of my piece, which, though only loaded with small shot, would have cured his curiosity; but I recollected he was not only useful, but even necessary to my designs, and that saved him. On my arrival at the village, all was bustle; I went on, and inquired what was the matter, which was immediately related to me. I ordered the collector to be sent for; and, giving way to my generous compassion, I nobly paid down fifty-six livres, for which five poor creatures were going to be reduced to straw and misery. On this trifling act, you can’t conceive the chorus of blessings the bystanders joined in around me—what grateful tears flowed from the venerable father of the family, and embellished this patriarchal figure, which a moment before was hideously disfigured with the wild stamp of despair! While contemplating this scene, a younger man, leading a woman with two children, advancing hastily towards me, said to them, “Let us fall on our knees before this image of God;” and I was instantly surrounded by the whole family prostrate at my feet.

I must acknowledge my weakness; my eyes were full, and I felt within me an involuntary but exquisite emotion. I was amazed at the pleasure that is felt in doing a benevolent act; and I’m inclined to think, those we call virtuous people, have not so much merit as is ascribed to them. Be that as it may, I thought it fit to pay those poor people for the heart-felt satisfaction I had received. I had ten louis-d’ors in my purse, which I gave them; here acknowledgments were repeated, but not equally pathetic: the relief of want had produced the grand, the true effect; the rest was the mere consequence of gratitude and surprise for a superfluous gift.

In the midst of the unmerited benedictions of this family, I had some resemblance to the hero of a drama in the denouement of a play. Remark that the faithful spy was observable in the crowd. My end was answered: I disengaged myself from them, and returned to the castle.

Every thing considered, I applaud myself for my invention. This woman is well worth all my solicitude; and it will one day or other prove to be my title to her: having, as I may say, thus paid for her beforehand, I shall have a right to dispose of her at my will, without having any thing to reproach myself with.

I had almost forgot to tell you, that, to make the most of every thing, I begged the good people to pray for the success of my undertakings. You shall now see whether their prayers have not already been in some measure efficacious. But I’m called to supper, and I should be too late for the post, if I did not now conclude. I am sorry for it, as the sequel is the best. Adieu, my lovely friend! You rob me a moment of the pleasure of seeing her.

Aug. 20, 17—.


LETTER XXII.

The Presidente DE TOURVEL to MADAME DE VOLANGES.


You will, I doubt not, Madam, be desirous to be informed of an incident in the life of Mr. de Valmont, which seems to me to form a striking contrast to all those that have been related to you. Nothing can be more painful than to think disadvantageously of any one, or so grievous as to find those who have every qualification to inspire the love of virtue, replete with vice; besides, you are so inclined to the exercise of the virtue of indulgence, that I think I can’t please you more, than in furnishing you motives for reconsidering any judgment you may have formed, that may be justly accused of rigour. Mr. Valmont now seems entitled to this favour, I may almost say to this act of justice, for the following reason:

This morning he went on one of those excursions, which might have given room to imagine a scheme in the neighbourhood; a supposition which, I must own, I too hastily adopted.

Happily for him, and still more happily for us, since it preserves us from an act of injustice, one of my people had occasion to go the same way;[1] and thus my fortunate, but censurable curiosity was satisfied. He acquainted us that Mr. de Valmont, having found at the village of ——, an unhappy family whose effects were on the point of being sold for payment of taxes, not only discharged the debt for the poor people, but even gave them a pretty considerable sum besides. My servant was witness to this virtuous act; and informs me that the country people, in conversation, told him, that a servant, whom they described, and who mine believes to belong to Mr. de Valmont, had been yesterday at the village to make inquiry after objects of charity. This was not a transitory fit of compassion; it must have proceeded from determined benevolence, the noblest virtue of the noblest minds; but be it chance or design, you must allow, it is a worthy and laudable act; the bare recital of it melted me to tears! I will add also still farther, to do him justice, that when I mentioned this transaction, of which he had not given the least hint, he begin by denying it to be founded; and even when he acquiesced, seemed to lay so little stress on it, that his modesty redoubled its merit. Now tell me, most venerable friend, if M. de Valmont is an irretrievable debauchee? If he is so, and behaves thus, where are we to look for men of principle? Is it possible that the wicked should participate with the good the extatic pleasures of benevolence? Would the Almighty permit that a virtuous poor family should receive aid from the hand of an abandoned wretch, and return thanks for it to his Divine Providence? And is it possible to imagine the Creator would think himself honoured in hearing pure hearts pouring blessings on a reprobate? No; I am rather inclined to think that errors, although they may have been of some duration, are not eternal; and I cannot bring myself to think, that the man who acts well, is an enemy to virtue. Mr. de Valmont is only, perhaps, another example of the dangerous effects of connections. I embrace this idea, and it gratifies me. If, on the one hand, it clears up his character in your mind, it will, on the other, enhance the value of the tender friendship that unites me to you for life.

I am, &c.

P. S. Madame de Rosemonde and I are just going to see the poor honest family, and add our assistance to Mr. de Valmont’s. We take him with us, and shall give those good people the pleasure of again seeing their benefactor; which, I fancy, is all he has left us to do.

Aug. 20, 17—.

[1] Madame de Tourvel does not venture to say it is done by her order.


LETTER XXIII.

The VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


I broke off at our return to the castle. Now to my narrative: I had scarce time to dress and return to the saloon, where my charmer was making tapestry, whilst the curate read the gazette to my old aunt. I placed myself near the frame. Softer looks than usual, almost bordering on fondness, soon informed me the spy had made a report of his business; and, in fact, the lovely woman could no longer keep the secret; being under no apprehension of interrupting the good pastor, whose utterance was perfectly in the pulpit style. I have also some news to tell, said she, and immediately related my adventure with an exactitude that did honour to her historian’s accuracy. You may guess how my modesty displayed itself; but who can stop a woman’s tongue, who unconsciously praises the man she loves? I determined to let her go on. One would have imagined she was preaching the panegyric of some saint, whilst I, not without a degree of hope, attentively observed every circumstance that bore an appearance propitious to love: her animated look, free action, and above all, the tone of her voice, which, by a sensible alteration, betrayed the emotion of her soul. She had scarcely finished, when Madame de Rosemonde said, “Come, my dear nephew, let me embrace you.” I soon concluded the lovely panegyrist could not offer an objection to my saluting her in turn. She attempted to fly; but I soon seized her in my arms; and far from being able to resist, she had scarce power to support herself. The more I contemplate this woman, the more amiable she is. She hastened back to her frame, with every appearance of resuming her work, but in such confusion, that her hand shook, and at length obliged her to throw it aside.

After dinner, the ladies would visit the objects of my unaffected charity; I accompanied them; but I shall spare you the unentertaining narrative of this second scene of gratitude. My anxious heart, panting with the delightful remembrance of what had passed, made me hasten our return to the Castle. On the road, my lovely Presidente, more pensive than usual, spoke not a word; and I, entirely absorbed in the means of employing the events of the day to advantage, was also silent. Madame de Rosemonde alone spoke, and could receive but few and short answers. We must have tired her out, which was my design, and it succeeded to my wish. When we alighted she retired to her apartment, and left my fair one and me tête-à-tête in a saloon, poorly lighted: gentle darkness, thou encourager of timid love!

I had not much trouble to direct our conversation to my object. The fervour of my lovely preacher was more useful than my own skill. “When the heart is so inclined to good,” said she, glancing a most enchanting look, “how is it possible it should at the same time be prone to vice?” “I don’t deserve,” replied I, “either this praise or censure; and I can’t conceive how, with so much good sense as you possess, you have not yet discovered my character. Were my candour even to hurt me in your opinion, you are still too deserving to with-hold my confidence from you. You’ll find all my errors proceed from an unfortunate easiness of disposition. Surrounded by profligates, I contracted their vices; I have, perhaps, even had a vanity in excelling them. Here too the sport of example, impelled by the model of your virtues, and without hope of ever attaining them, I have however endeavoured to follow you: and, perhaps, the act you value so highly to-day would lose its merit, if you knew the motive!” (You see, my charming friend, how nearly I approached to the truth.) “It is not to me those unfortunate people are obliged, for the relief they have experienced. Where you imagined you saw a laudable act, I only sought the means to please. I was only, if I must so say, the feeble agent of the divinity I adore!” (Here she would have interrupted me, but I did not give her time.) “Even at this instant,” added I, “it is weakness alone extracts this secret from me. I had resolved not to acquaint you of it; I had placed my happiness in paying to your virtues, as well as your charms, a pure and undiscoverable homage. But, incapable of deceit, with such an example of candour before me, I will not have to reproach myself with any vile dissimulation. Imagine not that I dare offend you by a criminal presumption. I know I shall be miserable; but I shall cherish my sufferings: they are the proofs of the ardour of my love:—at your feet, in your bosom, I will deposit my grievances; there will I gather strength to bear up against new sufferings; there I shall meet compassion, mixed with goodness and consolation; for I know you’ll pity me. O thou whom I adore! hear me, pity me, help me.” All this time was I on my knees, squeezing her hands in mine; but she, disengaging them suddenly, and covering her eyes with them, exclaimed, “What a miserable wretch am I!” and burst into tears. Luckily I had worked myself up to such a degree that I wept also; and taking her hands again, I bathed them with my tears. This precaution was very necessary; for she was so much engaged with her own anguish, that she would not have taken notice of mine, if I had not discovered this expedient to impress her with it. This also gave me leisure to contemplate her charming form—her attractions received additional embellishment from her tears. My imagination began to be fired, and I was so overpowered, that I was tempted to seize the opportunity!

How weak we are, how much governed by circumstances! since I myself, forgetful of my ultimate design, risked losing, by an untimely triumph, the charms of a long conflict, and the pleasing struggles that precede a difficult defeat; and hurried away by an impetuosity excusable only in a raw youth, was near reducing Madame de Tourvel’s conqueror to the paltry triumph of one woman more on his list. My purpose is, that she should yield, yet combat; that without having sufficient force to conquer, she should have enough to make a resistance; let her feel her weakness, and be compelled to own her defeat. The sorry poacher takes aim at the game he has surprised—the true huntsman runs it fairly down. Is not this an exalted idea? But perhaps by this time I should have only had the regret of not having followed it, if chance had not seconded my prudence.

A noise of some one coming towards the saloon struck us. Madame de Tourvel started in a fright, took a candle, and went out. There was no opposing her. It was only a servant. When I was certain who it was, I followed her. I had gone but a few steps, when, whether her fears or her discovering me made her quicken her pace, she flung herself into, rather than entered, her apartment, and immediately locked the door. Seeing the key inside, I did not think proper to knock; that would have been giving her an opportunity of too easy resistance. The happy simple thought of looking through the key-hole struck me, and I beheld this adorable woman bathed in tears, on her knees, praying most fervently. What deity dared she invoke? Is there one so powerful as the god of love? In vain does she now seek for foreign aid; I am henceforward the arbiter of her fate.

Thinking I had done enough for one day, I retired to my apartment, and sat down to write to you. I had hopes of seeing her again at supper; but she sent word she was gone to bed indisposed. Madame de Rosemonde proposed to go to see her in her room; but the arch invalid pretended a head-ach, that prevented her from seeing any one. You may guess I did not sit up long after supper, and had my head-ach also. After I withdrew, I wrote her a long letter, complaining of her rigour, and went to bed, resolved to deliver it this morning. I slept badly, as you perceive by the date of this letter. I rose and read my epistle over again, which does not please me: it expresses more ardour than love, and more chagrin than grief. It must be altered when I return to a sufficient degree of composure.

It is now dawn of day, and I hope the freshness of the morning will bring on a little sleep. I return to bed; and whatever ascendant this woman may have over me, I promise you never to be so much taken up with her, as not to dedicate much of my thoughts to you. Adieu, my lovely friend.

Aug. 21, 17—, four o’clock in the morning.


LETTER XXIV.

VISCOUNT VALMONT to the Presidente TOURVEL.


From mere compassion, Madam, vouchsafe to calm my perturbed soul; deign to inform me what I have to hope or fear. When placed between the extremes of happiness and misery, suspense is a most insupportable torment. Alas! why did I ever speak to you? Why did I not endeavour to resist the dominion of your charms that have taken possession of my imagination? Had I been content with silently adoring you, I should at least have the pleasure that ever attends even secretly harbouring that passion; and this pure sentiment, which was then untroubled by the poignant reflections that have arisen from my knowledge of your sorrow, was enough for my felicity: but the source of my happiness is become that of my despair, since I saw those precious tears; since I heard that cruel exclamation, Ah! miserable wretch that I am. Those words, Madam, will for a long time wring my heart. By what fatality happens it, that the softest passion produces only horror to you! Whence proceed these fears? Ah! they do not arise from an inclination of sharing in the passion. Your heart I have much mistaken; it is not made for love: mine, which you incessantly slander, is yet the only one of sensibility; yours is even divested of pity—were it not, you could have afforded a wretched being, who only related his sufferings, one word of consolation; you would not have deprived him of your presence, when his sole delight is in seeing you; you would not have made a cruel mockery of his disquietude, by acquainting him you were indisposed, without giving him liberty to make any inquiries on the state of your health; you would have known, that a night that brought you twelve hours rest, was to him an age of torment.

Tell me, how have I deserved this afflicting rigour? I am not afraid even to appeal to yourself: what have I done, but yielded to an involuntary sensation, inspired by beauty, and justified by virtue, always kept within due limits by respect, the innocent avowal of which proceeded from hopeless confidence? and will you betray that confidence that you seemed to countenance, and to which I unreservedly gave way? No, I will not believe it; that would be supposing you capable of an injustice, and I never can entertain, even for a moment, such an idea: I recant my reproaches; I may have been led to write them, but never seriously believed them. Ah, let me believe you all perfection; it is the only satisfaction now left me! Convince me you are so, by extending your generous care to me; of the many you have relieved, is there a wretch wants it so much as I do? Do not abandon me to the distraction you have plunged me into: assist me with your reason, since you have deprived me of mine; and as you have reformed me, complete your work by enlightening me.

I will not deceive you; it will be impossible for you to conquer my love, but you may teach me how to regulate it: by guiding my steps, by prescribing to me my conversation, you will, at least, preserve me from the most dreadful of all misfortunes, that of incurring your displeasure. Dispel, at least, my desponding fears; tell me you pity and forgive me; promise me your indulgence; you never will afford me that extent of it I wish; but I call for so much of it as is absolutely necessary to me: will you refuse it?

Adieu, Madam! Accept, graciously, the homage of my feelings, to which my respect is inseparably united.

Aug. 20, 17—.


LETTER XXV.

VISCOUNT VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


I now transmit to you the proceedings of yesterday: at eleven I went to Madame de Rosemonde’s, and under her auspices, was introduced to the fair pretended invalid, who was still in bed. Her eyes seemed very heavy; I hope she slept as badly as I did. I seized an opportunity, whilst Madame de Rosemonde was at a distance, to present my letter; it was refused, but I left it on the bed, and very politely approached my old aunt’s easy chair, who would be near her dear child, to whom it now became necessary to put up the letter to avoid scandal. She indiscreetly said, she believed she had a little fever. Madame de Rosemonde desired I would feel her pulse, praising, at the same time, my skill in physic: thus my enchantress experienced a double mortification, to be obliged to give me her arm, and to find her little artifice would be detected. I took her by the hand, which I squeezed in one of mine, whilst, with the other, I ran over her smooth delicate arm; the sly being would not answer a single one of my inquiries, which made me say, as I retired, “I could not feel even the slightest emotion.” I suspected her looks would be rather severe; in order to disappoint her, I did not look at her: a little after she said she was desirous to rise, and we left her alone. She appeared at dinner, which was rather gloomy, and informed us she would not go out to walk, which was telling me I should not have an opportunity of speaking to her. It then became necessary, and I felt this to be the fit place, to fetch a sigh and assume a melancholy look; she undoubtedly expected it, for it was the first time, that day, our eyes met. With all her discretion, she has her little artifices as well as others. I found an opportunity to ask her if she had decided my fate? I was not a little astonished to hear her reply, Yes, Sir, I have wrote to you. I was very anxious to see this letter; but whether it was design, awkwardness, or timidity, she did not deliver it until night, when she retired to her apartment. I send it you, as also the rough copy of mine; read and give your opinion; observe with what egregious falsity she protests she is not in love, when I am certain of the contrary; and she’ll complain, if I deceive her afterwards, and yet is not afraid to deceive me beforehand!—My lovely friend, the most artful man is barely on a level with the most inexperienced woman. I must, however, give in to all this nonsense, and fatigue myself to death with despair, because Madam is pleased to play a severe character.—How is it possible not to resolve to avenge such indignities,—but patience! Adieu, I have still a great deal to write.

Now I think on’t, send me back the inhuman woman’s letter; it is possible that hereafter she may expect to find a great value set upon such wretched stuff, and one must be regular.

I say nothing of little Volanges, she shall be our subject the first opportunity.

Aug. 22, 17—.


LETTER XXVI.

The Presidente DE TOURVEL to VISCOUNT VALMONT.


You certainly, Sir, would not receive a letter from me, if my foolish conduct, last night, did not put me under the necessity of coming to an explanation. I wept I own; and the words you cite may have escaped me; tears, words, and every thing you have carefully noted; it is then necessary to explain all:

Being accustomed to inspire only becoming sentiments, and habituated only to conversations that I might attend to without a blush, and consequently to possess a degree of confidence, which, I flatter myself, I have a right to, I am a stranger to dissimulation, and know not how to suppress the sensations which I experience. The astonishment and confusion your behaviour threw me into, an unaccountable dread, from a situation not at all suited to me, and perhaps the shocking thought of seeing myself confounded with the women you despise, and treated with the same levity; all these reasons united, provoked my tears, and may have made me, and I think with reason, say, I was miserable.

This expression, which you think so pointed, would be still certainly too weak, if my tears and words had another motive; if instead of disapproving sentiments that ought to offend me, I had the slightest apprehension of participating them.

No, Sir, I have no such apprehensions; if I had, I should fly a hundred leagues from you; I would fly to some desert, there to bewail the misfortune of having known you. Notwithstanding my certainty of not having, or ever having, an affection for you, perhaps I should have acted more properly, in following the advice of my friends, in never permitting you to approach me.

I thought, and that is my only error, that you would have had some respect for a woman of character, whose wish was to find you deserve a similar appellation, and to do you justice, and who pleaded in your vindication, whilst you were insulting her by your criminal designs: no, Sir, you do not know me, or you would not thus presume, upon your own injustice, and because you have dared to speak a language I should not have listened to, you would not have thought, yourself, to write me a letter I ought not to read; and you desire I should guide your steps, and prescribe your conversation! Well, Sir, silence and oblivion is the only advice that is suitable for me to give, and you to follow; then, only, will you have a title to pardon: you might even obtain some title to my gratitude—but no, I shall make no request to a man who has lost all respect for me; I will not repose confidence in one who has already abused it. You oblige me to fear, nay, perhaps, to hate you, which was not my wish; I hoped to see in you the nephew of my most respectable friend; I opposed the voice of friendship to that of the public that accused you: you have destroyed all; and I foresee you will not be disposed to regain any thing.

I shall content myself with informing you, Sir, your sentiments offend me; that your declaration of them is an insult, and far from ever thinking to partake of them, you’ll oblige me never to see you more, if you don’t observe, on this subject, a silence, which I think I have a right not only to expect, but to require. I enclose you the letter you wrote me, and I hope you will, in the same manner, return me this: I should be extremely mortified that any traces should remain, of an event which ought never to have existed.

I have the honour,
Aug. 21, 17—.


LETTER XXVII.

CECILIA VOLANGES to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


How shall I thank you, dear Madam, for your goodness: you judged well that it would be easier for me to write than speak; what I have to tell you is not an easy matter; but you are my friend! Yes, you are my very good friend! And I’ll endeavour not to be afraid; and then I have so much occasion for your advice!—I am in great grief; I think every one guesses my thoughts, especially when he is present; I redden up as soon as any one looks at me. Yesterday, when you saw me crying, it was because I wanted to speak to you, and I don’t know what hindered me; when you asked me what ailed me, the tears came into my eyes in spite of me. I could not have spoke a word. If it had not been for you, Mamma would have taken notice of it; and then what would have become of me? This is the way I spend my time for these four days: that day, Madam, I will out with it, on that day Chevalier Danceny wrote to me; I assure you, when I received his letter, I did not know what it was; but to tell the truth, I read it with great pleasure. I would have suffered any thing all my lifetime, rather than he should not have wrote it to me; however, I know very well I must not tell him so; and I can even assure you, that I told him I was very angry; but he says it gets the better of him, and I believe him; for I had resolved not to answer him, and yet I could not avoid it. I wrote him but once, it was partly even to tell him not to write to me any more; yet he is continually writing; and as I don’t answer him, I see plainly he is very melancholy, and that afflicts me greatly: so that I do not know what to do, nor what will become of me: I am much to be pitied!

I beg, Madam, you’ll tell me, would there be any great harm in writing an answer to him now and then, only until he can prevail on himself to write me no more, and to be as we used to be before? For myself, if it continues this way, I don’t know what I shall do. I assure you, on reading his last letter, I could not forbear crying all the time; and I am very certain, that if I do not answer him again, it will make us both very uneasy.

I will enclose you his letter, or a copy of it, and you’ll see he does not ask any harm. However, if you think it is not proper, I promise you I will not give way to my inclination; but I believe you’ll think as I do, that there’s no harm in it.

And now that I am upon it, give me leave to put you a question: I have been often told it was very wrong to be in love with any body, but why so? What makes me ask you, is this; the Chevalier Danceny insists there’s no harm at all in it, and that almost every body is; if that’s the case, I don’t know why I should be the only one should be hindered; or is it that it is only wrong for young ladies? For I heard Mamma herself say, that Madam de D—— loved M. M——, and she did not speak as if it was so bad a thing; and yet I am sure she would be very angry with me, if she had the least suspicion of my affection for M. Danceny. She behaves to me always as if I was a child, and never tells me any thing at all. I thought, when she took me from the convent, I was to be married; but now I think not. It is not that I care much about it, I assure you; but you who are so intimate with her, you, perhaps, know something about it; and if you do, I hope you will tell me.

This is a very long letter, Madam; but since you was so good to give me leave to write to you, I made use of it to tell you every thing, and I depend on your friendship.

I have the honour, &c.
Paris, Aug. 23, 17—.


LETTER XXVIII.

CHEVALIER DANCENY to CECILIA VOLANGES.


You still, Miss, refuse to answer my letters. Will nothing move you? and must every day banish the hopes it brings! What sort of friendship is it that you consent shall subsist between us? If it is not powerful enough even to make you sensible of my anguish; if you can coolly, and unmoved, look on me, while I suffer, the victim of a flame which I cannot extinguish; if, instead of inspiring you with a confidence in me, my sufferings can hardly move your compassion.—Heavens! your friend suffers, and you will do nothing to assist him. He requests only one word, and you refuse it him! And you desire him to be satisfied with a sentiment so feeble, that you even dread to repeat it. Yesterday you said you would not be ungrateful. Believe me, Miss, when a person repays love only with friendship, it arises not from a fear of being ungrateful: the fear then is only for the appearance of ingratitude. But I no longer dare converse with you on a subject which must be troublesome to you, as it does not interest you; I must, at all events, confine it within myself, and endeavour to learn to conquer it. I feel the difficulty of the task; I know I must call forth my utmost exertions: there is one however will wring my heart most, that is, often to repeat, yours is insensible.

I will even endeavour to see you less frequently; and I am already busied in finding out a plausible pretence. Must I then forego the pleasing circumstance of daily seeing you; I will at least never cease regretting it. Perpetual anguish is to be the reward of the tenderest affection; and by your desire, and your decree, I am conscious I never shall again find the happiness I lose this day. You alone were formed for my heart. With what pleasure shall I not take the oath to live only for you! But you will not receive it. Your silence sufficiently informs me that your heart suggests nothing to you in my favour; that is at once the most certain proof of your indifference, and the most cruel manner of communicating it. Farewell, Miss.

I no longer dare flatter myself with receiving an answer; love would have wrote it with eagerness, friendship with pleasure, and even pity with complacency; but pity, friendship, and love, are equally strangers to your heart.

Paris, Aug. 23, 17—.


LETTER XXIX.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.


It is certain, Sophy, that I told you, one might in some cases write to an admirer; and I assure you, I am very angry with myself for having followed your advice, which has been the cause of so much uneasiness to the Chevalier Danceny and me; and what proves I was right, is, that Madame de Merteuil, who is a woman that ought to know those things perfectly, has at length come to think as I do. I owned every thing to her: at first she thought as you did; but when I had explained every thing to her, she was sensible it was a different case: she requires only that I should show her all my letters, and those of Chevalier Danceny, to be certain I should say nothing but what I ought; so now I am pretty easy. Lord! how I do love Madame de Merteuil; she is a good woman, and a very respectable one; so that her advice may be safely followed. Oh! how I shall write to M. Danceny, and how well satisfied he’ll be; he will be more so than he thinks; for, till now, I only mentioned friendship to him, and he wanted me always to call it love. I believe it was pretty much the same; but I was afraid—that was the fact. I told Madame de Merteuil of it; she told me I was in the right; and that an avowal of love ought only to be made when one could no longer help it: now I’m sure I cannot help it much longer; after all, it is all one, and it will please him most.

Madame de Merteuil told me also, that she would lend me some books, which treat that subject very fully, and would teach me how to conduct myself, and also to write better than I do: for she tells me all my faults, and that is a proof she loves me; she charged me only to say nothing to Mamma of those books, because it would look as if she had neglected my education, and that might displease her. I will engage I shall say nothing of it.

It is, however, very extraordinary, that a woman, who is but a very distant relation, should take more care of me than my mother! I am very happy to be acquainted with her.

She has asked my Mamma leave to take me to the opera, to her own box, the day after to-morrow; she told me we should be by ourselves, and would chat all the while, without danger of being overheard.—I like that a great deal better than the opera. My marriage will be, in part, the subject of our conversation, I hope; for she told me it was very certain I was to be married; but we had not an opportunity to say any more. Is it not very strange Mamma says nothing at all to me about it.

Adieu, my dear Sophy; I am going to write to Chevalier Danceny. I am quite happy.

Aug. 24, 17—.


LETTER XXX.

CECILIA VOLANGES to the CHEVALIER DANCENY.


At last, Sir, I consent to write to you, to assure you of my friendship, of my love even, since without that you must be unhappy. You say I have not a tender heart: I assure you you are much mistaken; and I hope you now doubt it no longer. If you were uneasy because I did not write to you, do you think it did not give me a great deal of concern too? The reason was, I would not, for all the world, do any thing that was wrong; and I should not even have owned my affection for you, if I could have helped it; but your grief gave me too much uneasiness. I hope now you will be so no longer, and that we shall be very happy.

I expect to have the pleasure of seeing you this evening, and that you will come early; it will not be as much so as I wish. Mamma sups at home, and I believe she will ask you to stay. I hope you will not be engaged, as you was the day before yesterday. Surely the company you went to sup with must have been very pleasing, for you went very soon; but let us talk no more of that. Now that you know I love you, I hope you will be with me as often as you can; for I am never pleased but when with you; and I wish, with all my heart, you were the same.

I am very sorry you should still be melancholy; but it is not my fault. I shall desire to play on the harpsichord as soon as you come, that you may have my letter immediately. I think that is the best thing I can do.

Farewell, Sir; I love you with all my heart; the oftener I tell you so, the more happy I feel. I hope you will be so too.

Aug. 24, 17—.


LETTER XXXI.

CHEVALIER DANCENY to CECILIA VOLANGES.


Yes, certainly, we shall be very happy. My happiness is secure, since I am beloved by you. Yours will never end, if it lasts as long as my love. And do you love me, and no longer dread telling me so? The oftener you tell me so, the more happy you feel. After having read the enchanting I love you, wrote with your hand, I heard your lovely mouth repeat the avowal. I figured to me those charming eyes, rendered still more so by the expression of tenderness fixed on me. I have received your vows to live for me alone. Oh receive mine, to devote my life to your happiness, and be assured I never will deceive you!

What a happy day was yesterday! Why has not Madame de Merteuil always secrets to impart to your Mamma? Why must the idea of the restraint that attends us, be mixed with the delicious remembrance that fills my soul? Why can’t I for ever squeeze that lovely hand, that wrote I love you, imprint it with my kisses, and be thus revenged for your refusal of a greater favour?

Tell me, then, my Cecilia, when your Mamma came back, when, by her presence, we were constrained to behave with indifference to each other, when you could no longer console me by assurances of love, for the refusal of proof, did not you feel some sorrow? did not you say to yourself, one kiss would have made him completely happy, and refused it? Promise me, my lovely charmer, that you’ll be not so rigorous the first opportunity. Such a promise will enable me to bear up against the disappointments that I foresee are preparing for us, and the crosses I shall meet, will at least be softened by the certainty that you share them.

Adieu, my adorable Cecilia! The hour is come that I am to be with you. It would be impossible for me to leave off, if it was not to go to you. Adieu, once more, my dearest love!

Aug. 25, 17—.


LETTER XXXII.

MADAME DE VOLANGES to the Presidente DE TOURVEL.


You wish then, Madam, that I should form a good opinion of the virtue of Monsieur de Valmont? I own I cannot bring myself to it; and that I should have as much difficulty to think so from the simple fact you relate, as to believe a man of acknowledged worth to be vicious for the commission of one fault. Human nature is not perfect in any shape, neither in good nor evil. The profligate wretch has his virtues as well as the virtuous man his weaknesses. This truth is so much the more necessary to be believed, because, from thence arises the necessity of indulgence for the wicked as well as the good; and that it preserves these from pride, and those from being discouraged. You will, without doubt, think that I don’t now practise the doctrine I speak; but it appears to me a most dangerous weakness, to put the man of virtue and the profligate on an equality.

I will not take upon me to scrutinize the motives of Mr. Valmont’s action; I’ll even think it in itself laudable; but nevertheless, has he not, all his life, been employed in spreading trouble, dishonour, and scandal in families? Listen, if you will, to the voice of the unhappy people he has relieved: but let not that prevent you from attending to the cries of a hundred victims that he has sacrificed. If, as you say, he was only one example of the danger of connections, would he be the less a dangerous connection? You suppose him capable of a happy reformation: let us go farther, suppose this miracle completed; would not the public opinion be still against him, and ought not that to be sufficient to regulate your conduct? God alone can absolve at the moment of repentance; he is the searcher of hearts; but men can judge only by actions; and no one, after having lost the esteem of the world, has a right to complain of diffidence, which makes this loss so difficult to be repaired. I would have you think above all, my dear young friend, that to lose this esteem, it is sometimes enough to seem to set little value upon it, and do not tax this severity with injustice; for as the world has a right to think that no one renounces this precious jewel, who has good pretensions to it, whoever is not restrained by this consideration, is on the brink of danger. Such, however, would be the aspect, an intimate connection with Mr. de Valmont would carry with it, were it ever so innocent.

Alarmed with the warmth with which you defend him, I hasten to anticipate the objections I foresee you’ll make. You’ll quote Madame de Merteuil, whose connection with him has escaped censure; you’ll perhaps ask me why I admit him to my house? You will tell me, that far from being rejected by the worthy part of society, he is admitted, even sought for, by what is called good company: I can, I believe, answer to all.

Madame de Merteuil, who is really a very valuable woman, has, perhaps, no other defect but that of too much confidence in her own strength; she is a dexterous guide, who delights in driving her chariot between rocks and precipices, in which her success alone justifies her: it is right to praise her, but it would be imprudent to follow her; she herself is convinced, and condemns herself for it, and as she grows in experience, her conduct is more reserved; and I can confidently assure you, we are both of the same opinion.

As to what relates to myself, I will not excuse it more than in others; I admit Mr. de Valmont: without doubt he is received every where; that is an inconsequence to be added to the many others that govern society. You know as well as me, that we spend our lives in remarking, complaining, and giving ourselves up to them. Mr. de Valmont, with a pompous title, a great fortune, many amiable qualities, saw early, that to gain an ascendant in society, it was sufficient to know how to manage with equal address, praise, and ridicule. No one, like him, possesses this double talent; with the one he seduces, with the other he makes himself dreaded: he is not esteemed, but flattered. Such is his existence in the midst of a world, that, more prudent than bold, would rather keep on good terms with him than combat him.

But neither Madame de Merteuil nor any other woman would venture to shut herself up in the country, almost tête-à-tête, with such a man. It was reserved for the most discreet, and the most virtuous among them, to set an example of such an inconsequence; pardon the expression, it slipped from me through friendship. My charming friend, even your virtue betrays you, by the security it inspires you with. Think, then, on the one hand, that you will have for judges frivolous people, who will not believe in a virtue, the model of which they cannot find among themselves; and on the other, profligates, who will feign not to believe in it to punish you. Consider you are now doing what many men would be afraid to risk; for among the young men of fashion, to whom Mr. de Valmont is now become the oracle, the most prudent seem to dread appearing too intimately connected with him; and you are under no apprehensions; ah, return, I conjure you! If my reasons are not sufficient to persuade you, at least give way to my friendship; it is it that makes me renew my instances, it is it must justify them. You will think it severe, and I wish it may be useless; but I would much rather you should have reason to complain of its solicitude, than its negligence.

Aug. 24, 17—.


LETTER XXXIII.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL to the VISCOUNT DE VALMONT.


Now that you dread succeeding, my dear Viscount, now that your scheme is to furnish arms against yourself, and that you wish more to fight than conquer, I have nothing more to say. Your conduct is certainly a masterpiece of prudence; in a contrary supposition, it would be the highest act of folly; and to tell you my sentiments freely, I fear your project is entirely chimerical.

I do not reproach you for having let slip the opportunity; for I really cannot see that you had it in your power; and I know well, whatever others may say, that an opportunity lost may be found again, and that a rash step is irrecoverable.

But I admire your wisdom in commencing a correspondence, and I defy you to foresee how it will end. You perhaps hope to prove to this woman, that she should give herself up? And that seems to me a truth of opinion, more than of demonstration; and that to make it be relished, you soften, and not argue; but what purpose would it answer to soften by letter, since you would not be on the spot to benefit by it? If all your fine phrases should even produce the intoxication of love, do you flatter yourself that it would be of so long a duration that reflection would not come time enough to prevent its consequences? Think, then, how much it will take to write a letter, and how much before it can be delivered; and then consider if a woman, of the principles of your devotee, can think so long on what she endeavours never at all to think of: this proceeding may do very well with children, who while they write, I love you, do not know they say I give myself up to you; but Madame de Tourvel’s reasoning virtue makes her know the value of the terms. This appears very plain; for notwithstanding the advantage you had over her in your conversation, she foils you in her letter; and what will be the consequence? That by long debating, you will not bring to compliance; that by dint of searching for good reasons, she will find them, will give them, and stick to them; not so much because they are good in themselves, as not to act inconsistently.

Moreover, a remark I am astonished you have not made, is, that nothing is so difficult in love, as to write what one does not feel. I mean to write with the appearance of truth; it is not but the same phrases are used; they are not arranged in the same manner; or rather, they are arranged with too much perspicuity, and that is worse.

Read over your letter again; it displays so much regularity that you are discovered in every phrase. I am inclined to think your Presidente is so unfashionable as not to perceive it; but what is that to the purpose? the consequence will be still the same; that is the defect of romance; the author racks his brain, heats his imagination, and the reader is unmoved. Heloise is the only exception I know; and notwithstanding the great talents of the author, from this observation alone, I have ever been of opinion, that the work is grounded in truth; not so in speaking; the custom of conversation gives it an air of tenderness, to which the facility of tears still greatly adds; expressive desires blend themselves with the languishing look, and, at last, incoherent speeches more readily bring on that turbulence of passion, which is the true eloquence of love; but above all, the presence of the beloved object banishes reflection, and makes us wish to be overcome.

Believe me, my dear Viscount, she does not desire you should write any more; retrieve your error, and wait for the opportunity of speaking to her. This woman has more fortitude than I expected; her defence is good, and were it not for the length of her letter, and the pretence she gives you for a replication in her grateful phrase, she would not at all have betrayed herself.

And what, I think, ought to ascertain your success is, she exhausts all her strength at once; and I foresee she will persist in it, for the defence of a word, and will have none left for the crisis.

I send you back your two letters, and, if you are prudent, they should be the last till after the happy moment. It is too late to say any thing of the little Volanges, who comes on very well, and gives me great satisfaction. I believe I shall have done before you, which ought to make you very happy. Farewell for to-day!

Aug. 24, 17—.


LETTER XXXIV.

VISCOUNT VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


You write enchantingly, my charming friend; but why take so much trouble to prove a position which all the world knows, that to make a quick progress in love matters, it is better to speak than write? This, I believe, is the full contents of your letter; and is it not the first elements of the art of seduction? I will only remark, that you make but one exception to this principle, and that there are two: with children, who take this step through timidity, and give themselves up through ignorance, you must add the women of genius, who are dupes to self-love and vanity, which leads them into the snare. For example; I am very certain that the Countess de B——, who answered, without hesitating, my first letter, had then no more affection for me, than I had for her; and that in this connection she had no other view, than being engaged with a person whom she imagined would do her honour.

However, a lawyer will tell you, that the maxim is not applicable to the question; for you suppose that it is at my option to write or speak, which is not the case. Since the affair of the 20th, my cruel charmer, who keeps on the defensive, has studiously avoided meeting me, a piece of address which totally disconcerts me: so that if it should continue, she will oblige me to think seriously on the means of regaining this advantage; as I most assuredly will not be baffled by her in this manner; even my letters are the occasion of a little warfare: not satisfied with giving no reply, she even refuses receiving them, and I am under the necessity of a new stratagem for each, which does not always succeed.

You may recollect in what a simple manner I delivered the first; the second was not more difficult. She required I should return her letter; I gave her mine instead of it, without her having the least suspicion. But whether from vexation to have been duped, whether through capriciousness or virtue, for she will oblige me to believe she is virtuous, she has obstinately refused the third. I expect, however, from the embarrassment that this refusal had like to put her in, she will in future be more cautious.

However, I was not much astonished that she would not receive that letter, which I offered her in a very plain manner—that would have been granting something—and I expect a longer defence. After this effort, which was only an essay by way of trial, I put a cover over my letter, and taking the opportunity when she was at her toilette, when Madame de Rosemonde and her waiting-maid were present, I sent it her by my huntsman, ordering him to tell her that it was the paper she asked me for. I rightly judged that she would dread a scandalous explanation, which a refusal would necessarily have brought on; and indeed she took the letter. My ambassador, who had orders to observe her countenance diligently, and who is a shrewd fellow, perceived only a slight blush, with more embarrassment than anger.

I applauded myself, being very certain that she would either keep this letter, or, if she meant to return it, she must take an opportunity when we were alone, and then could not avoid a conference. About an hour after, one of her people came into my room, from his mistress, and delivered me a packet, folded in another form than my own, on the cover of which I immediately perceived the long-wished-for characters. I broke the seal with rapture—Behold! it was my own letter, unsealed, and doubled down.—I suspect she dreaded I was not so scrupulous as she, on the score of scandal, which made her invent this diabolical stratagem. You know me well—I have no occasion to describe the rage this put me into. However, I was obliged to be calm, and to think of other means—and this is the only one I could think of:—

Every morning there is a man sent for the letters from this to the post office, which is about three quarters of a league; for this purpose a small box, in the shape of a trunk, is made use of; the master of the post office keeps one key, and Madame de Rosemonde the other. Every one puts in their letters when they think proper, and they are carried at night to the post office: in the morning the messenger goes back for those that arrive. All the servants, strangers and others, take it in turn. It was not my servant’s turn; but he offered to go, on pretence that he had business there.

I wrote my letter. I disguised the superscription in a feigned hand, and counterfeited tolerably, on the cover, the post mark of Dijon. I chose this town in a gay humour, as I wished for the same rites as the husband; I also wrote from the same place; and likewise because my fair one had been all day expressing her wish to receive letters from Dijon, I thought it but right to give her that satisfaction.

Those precautions taken, it was a matter of no difficulty to mix this letter with the others; and I still had it in view to be witness to its reception; for the custom is to assemble together at breakfast, and wait the arrival of the letters before we separate. At length they arrived.

Madame de Rosemonde opened the box. “From Dijon,” said she, giving the letter to Madame de Tourvel. “It is not my husband’s writing,” replied the other, in some confusion, breaking open the seal immediately. The first glance informed her who it came from, and made such a change in her countenance, that Madame de Rosemonde took notice of it, and said, “What ails you?” I immediately drew near, saying, “This letter must be very dreadful indeed!” The timorous devotee did not lift up her eyes, nor speak a syllable; and to conceal her embarrassment, feigned to run over the letter, which she was scarce able to read. I enjoyed her uneasiness; and wishing to push it a little farther.—“Your easy air,” replied I, “makes me hope that this letter has been the occasion of more astonishment than grief.” Her anger then overpowered her prudence. “It contains,” replied she, “things that offend me much; and that I am astonished any one would dare write to me.” And “who then can it be?” replied Madame de Rosemonde. “It is not signed,” replied the angry fair; “but the letter and its author I equally despise: and I shall take it as a favour to say no more about it.” So saying, she tore the audacious epistle, put the scraps in her pocket, rose, and went out.

Notwithstanding all this anger, she nevertheless has my letter; and I depend upon her curiosity that she will read it.

The circumstances of this day would lead me too far. I enclose you the rough draft of my two letters, which will acquaint you with every thing. If you wish to know the course of this correspondence, you must accustom yourself to decypher my minutes; for I would not for the world take the trouble of copying them. Adieu, my lovely friend!

Aug. 25, 17—.


LETTER XXXV.

VISCOUNT VALMONT to the Presidente DE TOURVEL.


You must be obeyed, Madam; and I must convince you, that, notwithstanding all the faults you are pleased to think me guilty of, I have yet at least so much delicacy as not to suffer a single reproach to escape my lips, and sufficient resolution to impose on myself the most painful sacrifice. You command me to be silent, and to forget you. Well, I shall constrain my love to be silent, and, if possible, I shall forget the cruel manner in which it has been received. Undoubtedly my wish to please gave me no right to it; and I must farther acknowledge, that the necessity I was under of having your indulgence, was not a sufficient title to obtain it: but you consider my love as an atrocious affront; you forget that if it is a fault, you are at once both the cause and the apology for it. You forget also, that accustomed as I was to lay open my soul to you, even when that confidence might be detrimental to me, it was no longer possible for me to hide the sentiments with which I was affected; and what is the result of sincerity, you look upon as the effect of arrogance; and in recompence of the most tender, the most respectful, and the most sincere love, you drive me far from you. You even threaten me with your hatred. Where is the man who would not complain to be so treated? But I submit, and suffer all without murmuring. You strike, and I adore! The inconceivable ascendant you have obtained over me, has rendered you sole mistress of my sentiments; and if my love alone disobeys, if you cannot destroy it, it is because it is your own work, not mine.

I ask no return; that I never flattered myself with: I don’t even implore that pity which the concern you seem to take for me flattered me with the hope of; but I believe, I own, I have a right to claim your justice.

You inform me, Madam, that some persons have endeavoured to prejudice me in your esteem. If you had given credit to the advice of your friends, you would not have even suffered me to approach you. Those are your terms; who then are those officious friends? Certainly those people of such severe morals, and such rigid virtue, will have no objection to give up their names; they certainly would not take shelter behind the same screen with the vilest of slanderers; and I shall then be no longer ignorant of their name and their charge. Consider, Madam, I have a right to know both one and the other, since you judge me from their report. A criminal is never condemned without being told his crime, and naming his accusers. I ask no other favour; and I, beforehand, engage to make good my justification, and to compel them to retract.

If I have, perhaps, too much despised the empty clamours of the public, which I set little value on, it is not so with your esteem; and when I consecrate my whole life to merit it, it shall not be ravished from me with impunity. It becomes so much the more precious to me, as I shall, without doubt, owe to it the request you fear to make me, and which, you say, would give me a right to your gratitude. Ah! far from requiring any, I shall think myself highly indebted to you, if you can assist me with an opportunity of being agreeable to you.

Begin then by doing me more justice, and let me be no longer ignorant of what you wish me to do; if I could guess at it, I would save you the trouble of telling it me. To the pleasure of seeing you, add the happiness of serving you, and I shall extol your indulgence. What then can prevent you; it is not, I hope, the dread of a refusal? That, I feel, I should never be able to pardon you. It is not one not to return you your letter. I wish more than you that it may no longer be necessary to me; but accustomed as I am to believe you so soft a disposition, it is in this letter only that I can find you such as you wish to appear. When I form the vow of endeavouring to make you sensible to my flame, I feel that you would fly a hundred leagues from me, rather than consent; when your accomplishments justify and augment my passion, it still tells me that it insults you; and when in your presence this passion is my supreme good, I feel that it is my greatest torment. You may now conceive that my greatest happiness would be to return you this fatal letter: to ask it again would give me a kind of authority to believe its contents. After this, I hope you will not doubt of my readiness to return it.

Aug. 21, 17—.


LETTER XXXVI.

VISCOUNT VALMONT to the Presidente DE TOURVEL.

(Post mark from Dijon.)


Your severity, Madam, increases daily; and permit me to say, you seem to dread more being indulgent than unjust. After passing judgment on me without giving me a hearing, you must certainly be sensible it was less difficult not to read my reasons than to answer them. You obstinately refuse to receive my letters; you return them contemptuously; and you force me to use artifice at the very instant that my sole object is to convince you of my integrity. The obligation you lay me under of defending myself, will, I hope, apologize for the means I am constrained to use. Moreover, as I am convinced, that to be justified in your mind, it will be sufficient that the sincerity of my sentiments should be laid open to you, I thought this innocent stratagem might be forgiven. I will, then, dare hope that you will forgive it; and that you will not be much surprised that love is more industrious to show itself than indifference is to banish it.

Permit me then, Madam, to lay my heart entirely open to you. It is yours, and it is but right you should know it.

When I arrived at Madame de Rosemonde’s, I little imagined the fate that awaited me. I knew not you was here; and I must add with the sincerity that characterises me, had I known it, my repose would not have been disturbed: not but that I should have rendered that homage to your beauty it so justly requires; but being long accustomed to experience only desires, to surrender only to those where my hopes flattered success, I knew nothing of the torments of love. You was witness to the pressing instances of Madame de Rosemonde, to detain me some time. I had already spent one day with you: at length I acquiesced, or rather thought I acquiesced, to the pleasure so natural and reasonable, of paying a proper regard to so respectable a relation.

The manner of living here undoubtedly differed widely from that I had been accustomed to; yet I perceived no difficulty in conforming to it, and without ever thinking of diving into the cause of so sudden a change, I attributed it solely to that easiness of temper, which, I believe, I have already mentioned to you.

Unfortunately (but why must it be a misfortune?) knowing you more, I soon discovered that that enchanting form, which alone had raised my admiration, was the smallest of your attractions; your celestial soul astonished and seduced mine; I admired your beauty, but adored your virtue. Without a thought of obtaining you, I was resolved to deserve you; seeing your indulgence for my past follies, I was ambitious to merit your approbation for the future.

I sought it in your conversation, I watched for it in your looks; in those looks which diffused a poison so much more dangerous, as it spread without design, and was received without diffidence.

Then I knew what was love; but far from complaining, resolved to bury it in eternal silence. I gave way without dread or reserve to this most delicious sentiment. Each day augmented its power; and soon the pleasure of seeing you became a necessity. Were you absent a moment, my heart was oppressed; at the noise of your approach it fluttered with joy. I no longer existed but by you and for you; and yet I call on yourself to witness, if ever in the gaiety of rural amusements, or in the more serious conversations, a word ever escaped from me that could betray the secret of my heart.

At length the day arrived which gave birth to my misfortune; and by an inconceivable fatality, a worthy action gave the signal. Yes, Madam, it was in the midst of the poor wretches I had delivered, that giving way to that precious sensibility that embellishes beauty itself, and enhances virtue, you led a heart astray which was already too much intoxicated by love.

You may, perhaps, recollect, what a gloom spread over me at my return. Alas, I was totally employed in combating a passion which I found was overpowering me!

It was after having exhausted all my strength and reason in this unequal combat, that an accident I could not have foreseen, left us alone; then I own I was overcome. My full heart could neither command my words or tears; but is it then a crime? And if it be one, is it not sufficiently punished by the racking torments to which I am devoted?

Consumed by a hopeless love, I implore your pity, and you return me hate: no other happiness in view but that of gazing on you, my unconscious eyes seek you, and I tremble to meet your looks. In the deplorable state to which you have reduced me, I pass my days in concealing my sorrows, and my nights in cherishing them; whilst you, tranquil and peaceful, only know them by having been the cause, and enjoying it; and yet it is you that complain, and I excuse myself.

This is, notwithstanding, a true recital of what you call injuries, which rather deserve to be called misfortunes. A pure and sincere love, a profound respect, and an entire submission, are the sentiments with which you have inspired me. I should not dread to present such homage even to the Divinity. Oh thou, who art one of his most beautiful works, imitate his mercy, think on my cruel torments; above all, think that as you have put me between the supremest felicity and despair, the first word you pronounce will for ever decide my fate!

Aug. 23 ,17—.


LETTER XXXVII.

The Presidente DE TOURVEL to MADAME DE VOLANGES.


I submit, Madam, to the sympathetic voice of friendship. Long accustomed to have a deference to your advice, I am led to believe it always founded in reason. I will even acknowledge that Mr. de Valmont must be exceedingly dangerous indeed, if he can assume the character he puts on here, and be the man you represent him. However, since you require it, I will do all in my power to remove him hence if possible; for it often happens that things, very simple in themselves, become extremely embarrassing through forms.

It appears, however, totally impracticable to make this requisition to his aunt; it would be equally revolting to both. I would not, without great reluctance, even determine to quit this place; for besides the reasons I already wrote you relative to Mr. de Tourvel, if my departure should be contrary to Mr. de Valmont’s wishes, as is not impossible, could he not readily follow me to Paris? And his return, of which I should be, or, at least, appear to be, the object, would it not seem much more extraordinary than an accidental meeting in the country, at a lady’s who is known to be his relation, and my particular friend?

I have, then, no other resource left but to prevail on him to leave this place. I am aware of the difficulties I have to encounter in such a proposal; yet as he seems to make it a point to convince me, that he is not the unprincipled character he has been represented to me, I hope to succeed. I shall even be glad of an opportunity to be satisfied whether (to use his own words) the truly virtuous females ever had, or ever will have occasion to complain of his conduct. If he goes, as I hope he will, it will certainly be in deference to my request; for I have no manner of doubt of his intention to spend a great part of the autumn here; but if, on the contrary, he should obstinately refuse me, it will be time enough for me to depart, which I promise you I will do.

This I believe, Madam, is all your friendship requires of me: I shall eagerly gratify it, and convince you, that notwithstanding the warmth with which I have defended Mr. de Valmont, I am nevertheless disposed not only to hear, but also to follow the advice of my friends.

From ——, Aug. 25, 17—.


LETTER XXXVIII.

The MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL to VISCOUNT VALMONT.


My dear Viscount, I this moment received your enormous packet. If the date is right, I should have had it twenty-four hours sooner; however, was I to take the time to read it, I should not have any to answer it; therefore, I prefer owning its receipt, and let us chat on other matters. It is not that I have any thing to say relative to myself; for the autumn has left nothing in Paris scarce that bears the human form, and for this month past, my prudence and discretion are truly amazing; any other than my Chevalier would be tired out with my constancy. Having no other amusement, I divert myself with the little Volanges, who shall be the subject of this epistle.

Do you know you have lost more than you can imagine, in not taking this child under your tuition? She is really delightful; she has neither disposition or motive; you may then guess her conversation is mild and easy. I do not think she will ever shine in the sentimental line; but every thing announces the most lively sensations. Without wit or artifice, she has, notwithstanding, a certain kind of natural duplicity, if one may speak so, which sometimes astonishes me, and will be much more successful, as her figure exhibits the picture of candour and openness. She is naturally very caressing, and she sometimes entertains me: her imagination is surprisingly lively; and she is the more agreeable, as she is totally ignorant, and longs to know every thing. Sometimes she takes fits of impatience that are truly comic; she laughs, she frets, she cries, and then begs of me to instruct her, with a most seducing innocence. I am almost jealous of whoever that pleasure is reserved for.

I do not know whether I wrote you, that for four or five days past I had the honour to be her confident. You may guess at first I affected an appearance of severity; but when I observe that she imagined I was convinced with her bad reasons, I let them pass current; and she is fully persuaded it is entirely owing to her eloquence: this precaution was necessary, lest I should be exposed. I gave her leave to write and say, I love; and the same day, without her having any suspicion, I contrived a tête-à-tête for her with her Danceny. But only think, he is such a fool, he has not yet obtained a single kiss from her. However, the boy makes pretty verses. Lord, what stupid creatures those wits are! He is so much so, that he makes me uneasy; for I am resolved not to have any thing to do with him.

Now is the time you might be very useful to me. You are enough acquainted with Danceny to gain his confidence; and if he once gave it you, we should go on at a great rate. Make haste with your Presidente, for I am determined Gercourt shall not escape. I spoke to the little thing yesterday about him, and painted him in such colours, that she could not hate him more were she married to him for ten years. However, I gave her a long lesson on conjugal fidelity; nothing is equal to my severity on this point. By this means I establish my reputation for virtue, which too great a condescension might destroy; and increase the hatred with which I mean to gratify her husband. And, lastly, I hope, by making her think it is not lawful to indulge in a love matter only during the short time she is unmarried, she will come to a decision more expeditiously to lose no time.

Adieu, Viscount! I shall read your volume at my toilette.

Aug. 27, 17—.


LETTER XXXIX.

CECILIA VOLANGES to SOPHIA CARNAY.


My dear Sophia, I am very melancholy and uneasy. I have wept almost the whole night. Not but that at present I am very happy; but I foresee it will not last long.

I was at the opera last night with Madame de Merteuil; we chatted a good deal of my match; I am not much pleased with the husband she announces to me. She tells me I am to be married next October, to the Count de Gercourt: he is of a noble family, rich, and colonel of the regiment of ——; that is all very well. But, on the other hand, he is old—he is almost six and thirty. Madame de Merteuil says he is morose and ill-tempered; and she dreads much I shall not be happy with him. I even perceived plainly she spoke as if she was certain of it, though she would not speak out, for fear of giving me uneasiness. She dwelt almost the whole evening on the duties of wives to their husbands: she acknowledges Mr. de Gercourt is not at all amiable, and yet, she says, I must love him. She has even told me that when I am married, I must not love Chevalier Danceny, as if that was in my power! I assure you I shall ever love him; or rather would never be married at all. Let Mr. de Gercourt take the consequence—he is not the man of my choice. He is now in Corsica—a great distance. I wish with all my heart he may stay there these ten years. If I was not afraid of being sent back to the convent, I would tell mamma that he is not agreeable to me; but to do that might be still worse. I don’t know how to act. I never loved Mr. de Danceny as much as I do now; and when I think I have only one month more to be as I am, the tears burst into my eyes immediately. I have no consolation but in Madame de Merteuil’s friendship; she is so tender hearted, she unites with me in all my sorrows; and then she is so amiable, that when I am in her company, I think no more of them; besides, she is very useful to me, for she has taught me what little I know; and she is so good natured, I can tell her every thing I think of, without being at all ashamed. When she thinks it not right, she sometimes chides me, but always very gently: whenever that happens I spare no endeavours to appease her. She, at least, I may love as much as I will, and there is no harm in that; which gives me great pleasure. However, we have agreed that I must not appear so fond of her before every one, and especially before mamma, lest she should entertain any suspicion on the score of the Chevalier Danceny. I assure you, if I could always live as I now do, I should think myself very happy. Nothing torments me but this horrid Gercourt! But I shall say no more of him: I find if I did, I should be melancholy. I will go write to Chevalier Danceny, and will only talk to him of my love, and will not touch any subject that may distress him.

Adieu, my dear friend. You now find you are wrong in complaining of my silence; and that notwithstanding the busy life I lead, as you call it, I have still time to love and write to you.[1]

Aug. 27, 17—.

[1] We shall hereafter suppress Cecilia Volanges and Chevalier Danceny’s letters, being uninteresting.


LETTER XL.

The VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


My inhuman mistress not content with declining an answer to my letters, and even refusing to receive them, she endeavours to deprive me of the pleasure of seeing her, and insists I should quit this place. What will surprise you more is, that I have acquiesced in every thing. You will, no doubt, blame me. Yet I thought I should not let slip the opportunity of receiving her commands; being, on the one hand, convinced, that whosoever commands is responsible, and on the other, that the imaginary air of authority we give the women, is the most difficult snare for them to escape: besides, the precautions she has taken not to be with me alone, put me in a very dangerous situation, which I thought it prudent to be extricated from at all events: for being incessantly with her, without being able to direct her attention to the subject of love, it was the more to be dreaded she would become accustomed to see me with indifference—a disposition of mind which you very well know is seldom overcome.

You may judge I did not acquiesce without making conditions. I even took care to stipulate for one impossible to be performed; not only that I may be at liberty to keep or break my word, but engage in a discussion, either verbally or in writing, whenever my fair one might be more satisfied with me, or feel the necessity of relaxing. I should have ill managed indeed, if I did not obtain an equivalent for giving up my pretensions, though they are not of a justifiable nature.

Having laid before you my reasons in this long exordium, I begin the history of the two last days. I shall annex, as proofs, my fair one’s letter with my answer. You will agree with me few historians are more exact than I am.

You may recollect the effect my letter from Dijon had the day before yesterday. The remainder of that day was rather tempestuous. The pretty prude did not make her appearance until dinner was on the table, and informed us she had got a bad head-ach; a pretence for concealing the most violent ill humour that ever possessed woman. Her countenance was totally altered; the enchanting softness of her tone was changed to a moroseness that added new beauty to her. I shall make a good use of this discovery in future; and convert the tender mistress into the passionate one.

I foresaw the evening would be dull; to avoid which, I pretended to have letters to write, and retired to my apartment. I returned about six to the Saloon; Madame de Rosemonde proposed an airing, which was agreed to. But the instant the carriage was ready, the pretended sick lady, by an act of infernal malice, pretended, in her turn, or, perhaps to be revenged of me for my absence, feigned her head-ach much worse, and forced me to undergo a tête-à-tête with my old aunt. I don’t know whether my imprecations against this female demon had their effect; but she was in bed at our return.

Next morning, at breakfast, she was no more the same woman: her natural sweetness had returned, and I had reason to think my pardon sealed. Breakfast being over, the lovely woman arose with an easy air, and walked towards the park; I soon followed her, as you may imagine. “Whence arises this inclination for a walk?” said I, accosting her. “I have wrote a great deal this morning,” she replied, “and my head is a little fatigued.”—“I am not so happy,” replied I, “as to have to reproach myself with being the cause of that fatigue.”—“I have wrote you,” said she, “but I hesitate to deliver my letter:—it contains a request, and I fear I must not flatter myself with success.”—“I swear if it be possible.”—“Nothing more easy,” replied she; “and though perhaps you ought to grant it from a motive of justice, I will consent even to obtaining it as a favour.” She then delivered me her letter, which I took, as also her hand, which she drew back, without anger, and more confusion than vivacity. “The heat is more intense than I imagined,” said she; “I must return.” In vain did I strive to persuade her to continue our walk;—she returned to the Castle;—and were it not for the dread of being seen, I would have used other means as well as my eloquence. She returned without uttering a syllable; and I plainly saw this pretended walk had no other object than to deliver me her letter. She retired to her apartment, and I to mine, to read her epistle. I beg you will read that, and my answer, before you go farther.


LETTER XLI.

The Presidente DE TOURVEL to VISCOUNT VALMONT.


Your behaviour towards me, Sir, has the appearance of your seeking opportunities to give me more reason to complain of your conduct than I hitherto have had. Your obstinacy in teasing me incessantly with a subject that I neither will or ought to attend to; the ill use you have made of my candour, or timidity, to convey your letters to me; but, above all, the indelicate manner you imagined to hand me the last, without having paid the least attention to the consequences of a surprise which might have exposed me, would authorise me to reproach you in terms as severe as merited. But I am inclined, instead of renewing my complaint, to bury all in oblivion, provided you agree to a request as simple as it is just.

You yourself have told me, Sir, I ought not to apprehend a denial; although, from an inconsistency which is peculiar to you, this phrase was even followed by the only refusal you had in your power to give,[1] I am still disposed to think you will, on this occasion, keep a promise you so formally and so lately made.

I require, therefore, you would retire from hence, and leave me, as your residence here any longer will expose me to the censure of the public, which is ever ready to paint things in the worst colours, and a public whom you have long habituated to watching such women as have admitted you into their society.

Though my friends have for some time given me notice of this danger, I did not pay proper attention to it; I even combated their advice whilst your behaviour to me gave me reason to think you did not confound me with the crowd of women who have reason to lament their acquaintance with you. Now that you treat me in the same manner, and that I can no longer mistake, it is a duty I owe to the public, my friends, and myself, to take the necessary resolution. I might also add, that a denial would avail little, as I am determined, in case of a refusal, to leave this place immediately.

I do not seek to lessen the obligation your complaisance will lay me under; and will not conceal from you, that if you lay me under the necessity of leaving this, you will put me to inconvenience. Convince me then, Sir, as you have often told me, that a woman of virtue will never have reason to complain of you: show me, at least, that if you have ill treated such a woman, you are disposed to atone for the injury you have done her.

Did I think my request required any justification in your sight, it would be enough, I think, to tell you the whole conduct of your life makes it necessary; it is not my fault a reformation has not taken place. But I will not recall events that I wish to forget, and which would lead me to pass a severe sentence on you at the time I am offering you an opportunity of deserving my utmost gratitude. Farewell, Sir. Your determination will tell me in what light I am to behold you for life.

Your most humble, &c.
Aug. 25, 17—.

[1] See Letter the 35th.


LETTER XLII.

VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the Presidente DE TOURVEL.


Though the conditions you impose on me, Madam, are severe indeed, I shall not refuse to comply; for I perceive it is impossible for me to oppose any of your wishes. As we are agreed on this point, I dare flatter myself that, in return, you will permit me to make some requests, much easier to be granted than yours, and which, notwithstanding, I don’t wish to obtain but through a perfect resignation to your will.

The one, which I hope your justice will suggest, is, to name my accusers; I think the injury they have done me authorises me to demand who they are: the other request, for which I crave your indulgence, is, to permit me sometimes to renew the homage of a passion, which now, more than ever, will deserve your pity.

Reflect, Madam, that I am earnest to obey you, even at the expence of my happiness; I will go farther, notwithstanding my conviction, that you only wish my absence to rid you of the painful sight of the victim of your injustice.

Be ingenuous, Madam; you dread less the public censure, too long used to reverence you, to dare to harbour a disadvantageous opinion of you, than to be made uneasy by the presence of a man, whom it is easier to punish than to blame. You banish me on the same principle that people turn their eyes from the miserable wretches they do not choose to relieve.

And then absence will redouble my torments; to whom but you can I relate my grievances? From what other person am I to expect that consolation, which will become so necessary in my affliction? Will you, who are the cause, refuse me that consolation?

Be not surprised, neither that before my departure, I should endeavour to justify my sentiments for you, nor that I shall not have the resolution to set out, until I receive the order from your own mouth.

Those reasons oblige me to request a moment’s interview. It would be in vain to think that a correspondence by letter would answer the end. Volumes often cannot explain what a quarter of an hour’s conversation will do. You will readily find time to grant me this favour; for, notwithstanding my eagerness to obey you, as Madame de Rosemonde is well apprised of my design to spend a part of the autumn with her, I must, at all events, wait the return of the post, to pretend a letter of business obliging me to return.

Farewell, Madam; never till now did I experience the force of this expression, which recalls to me the idea of my separation from you. If you could conceive how distressingly it affects me, my obedience would find me some favour in your sight. Receive, however, with more indulgence, the homage of the most tender and respectful passion.

Aug. 26,17—.


Sequel to the Fortieth Letter.

From the VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


Now, my lovely friend, let us discuss this affair a little. You readily conceive, that the virtuous, the scrupulous Madame de Tourvel, cannot grant the first of my requests—that of informing me who my accusers are, without a breach of friendship: thus, by promising every thing on that condition, I am not at all committed; and you must be very sensible, that the negative she must give me, will give me a title to all my other objects; so that, by leaving this place, I shall obtain the advantage of a regular correspondence, with her own consent; for I don’t set great value upon the interview that I ask, by which I mean no more than to accustom her beforehand not to refuse other personal applications to her, when I shall have real occasion for them.

The only thing that remains to be done before my departure is, to know who are those that take the trouble to prejudice me in her opinion.

I presume it is that pedantic scoundrel her husband; I wish it may; for, as a conjugal prohibition is a spur to desire, I should be certain that from the moment of gaining her consent to write to me, I should have nothing more to fear from the husband, because she would then find herself under the necessity of deceiving him.

And if she has a confidential friend, and that friend should be against me, I think it will be necessary to raise a cause of misunderstanding between them, in which I hope to succeed: but, in the first place, I must see my way clear.

I imagined yesterday I had attained that necessary preliminary; but this woman does not act like any other. We were in her apartment when dinner was announced. She had just time to finish her toilet; and from her hurry, and making apologies, I observed her leave the key in her bureau; and she always leaves the key in her chamber door. My mind was full of this during dinner. When I heard her waiting-maid coming down stairs, I instantly feigned a bleeding at the nose, and went out. I flew to the bureau, found all the drawers open, but not a single paper; yet there is no occasion to burn them, situated as she is. What can she do with the letters she receives? and she receives a great many. I left nothing unexamined; all was open, and I searched every where; so that I am convinced this precious deposit is confided only to her pocket.

How they are to be got at, my mind has been fruitlessly employed ever since yesterday in contriving means: I cannot conquer my inclination to gain possession of them. I often regret that I have not the talent of a pickpocket. Don’t you think it ought to be made a part of the education of a man of intrigue? Would it not be humorous enough to steal a letter or a portrait of a rival, or to extract from the pocket of a prude, materials to unmask her? But our forefathers had no ideas: it is in vain for me to rack my brains; for it only convinces me of my own inability, without furnishing me any remedy.

I returned to dinner very dissatisfied: my fair one however brought me into good humour, by her anxious enquiries on my feigned indisposition: I did not fail to assure her that I had for some short time, violent agitations, which impaired my health. As she is persuaded the cause proceeded from her, ought she not in conscience endeavour to calm them? Although a devotee, she has very little charity; she refuses any compliance to supplications of love; and this refusal appears to me sufficient to authorise any theft to obtain the object. But adieu; for although I am writing to you, my mind is taken up with those cursed letters.

Aug. 27, 17—.


LETTER XLIII.

The Presidente DE TOURVEL to the VISCOUNT DE VALMONT.


Why, Sir, do you endeavour at a diminution of my gratitude to you? Why obey me only by halves, and in some measure make a bargain of a simple, genteel act? It is not, then, sufficient that I am sensible of its value! You not only ask a great deal of me, but you demand what it is impossible to grant. If my friends have talked of you to me, they could only do so from regard for me: should they even be mistaken, their intention was not the less good; and yet you require that I should repay this proof of their esteem, by giving you up their names. I must own I have been very wrong in acquainting you of it; and I now feel it in a very sensible manner. What would have been only candour with any one else, becomes imprudence with you, and would be a crime was I to attend to your request. I appeal to yourself, to your honour; how could you think me capable of such a proceeding? Ought you even to have made me such a proposition? No, certainly; and I am sure, when you reflect, you will desist from this request.

The other you make of writing to me is little easier to grant; and if you will think a moment, you cannot in justice blame me. I do not mean to offend you; but after the character you have required, and which you yourself confess to have partly merited, what woman can avow holding a correspondence with you? And what virtuous woman could resolve to do that which she would be obliged to conceal?

If I was even certain that your letters would be such as would give me no cause of discontent, and that I could always be conscious I was sufficiently justified in receiving them, then, perhaps, the desire of proving to you that reason, not hatred, guided me, would make me surmount those powerful considerations, and cause me to do what I ought not, in giving you sometimes permission to write to me; and if, indeed, you wish it as much as you express, you will readily submit to the only condition that can possibly make me consent to it: and if you have any gratitude for this condescension, you will not delay your departure a moment.

Give me leave to make one observation on this occasion: you received a letter this morning, and you did not make use of that opportunity to acquaint Madame de Rosemonde of your intended departure as you promised me; I now hope that nothing will prevent you from keeping your word. I hope much that you will not wait for the interview you ask, which I absolutely will not agree to; and that, instead of the order that you pretend to be so necessary, you will be satisfied with my request, which I again renew to you. Farewell, Sir!

Aug. 27, 17—.


LETTER XLIV.

VISCOUNT DE VALMONT to the MARCHIONESS DE MERTEUIL.


Share in my joy, my charming friend; I am loved; I have at length triumphed over that rebellious heart. In vain does she still dissemble; my happy address has discovered the secret. Thanks to my unremitting efforts, I know all that interests me: since last night, that propitious night, I am again myself; I have discovered a double mystery of love and iniquity; I shall enjoy the one, and be revenged of the other; I shall fly from pleasure to pleasure. The bare idea of it transports me almost beyond the bounds of prudence; and yet I shall have occasion for some of it, to enable me to put any proper order in my narrative; but let us try:

Yesterday, after I had wrote my letter, I received one from the celestial devotee; I send it enclosed; you will observe she with less awkwardness than might be expected, gives me leave to write to her; yet presses my departure, which I well knew I could not defer without prejudice to myself. However, tempted by a curiosity to know who had wrote against me, I was still undetermined how to act. I attempted to bribe her chamber-maid, to induce her to give me her mistress’s pockets, which she could easily do at night, and replace them the next morning, without giving the least suspicion. I offered ten louis d’ors for this trifling service; but I found her a hesitating, scrupulous, or timid creature, whom neither my eloquence nor money could bring over. I was using farther solicitations, when the bell rung for supper. I was then obliged to break off; and thought myself very happy in obtaining from her a promise to keep my secret, on which, however, you may believe I placed little dependence.

I never was more out of humour. I found I had committed myself, and reproached myself much for the imprudent step I had taken.

After I retired in great anxiety, I spoke to my huntsman, who was entitled, as a successful lover, to some share of credit. I desired he would prevail on this girl to do what I required, or at least to insure secrecy: he, who in general makes no doubt of success in any thing he undertakes, appeared dubious of this negociation, and made a reflection, the depth of which astonished me: “You certainly know better than I can tell you, Sir,” said he, “that to kiss a girl is nothing more than to indulge her in a fancy of her own, and that, there is a wide difference often between that and making her act according to our wishes; and I have so much less dependence on her, as I have much reason to think she has another swain, and that I only owe my good fortune to her want of occupation in the country; and had it not been for my zeal for your service, Sir, I should not have sought it more than once (this lad is a treasure). As to the secret,” added he, “what purpose will it answer to make her promise, since she will risk nothing in deceiving us? To speak of it again, would only make her think it of greater importance, and make her more anxious to insinuate herself into her mistress’s favour, by divulging it.” The justness of these reflections added to my embarrassment. Fortunately the fellow was in a talking mood; and as I had occasion for him, I let him go on: while relating his adventures with this girl, he informed me the room she slept in was only separated from the apartment of her mistress by a single partition, and as the least noise would be heard, they met every night in his room. I instantly formed my plan, which I communicated to him, and we executed it successfully.

I awaited until the clock struck two, and then, as was agreed, went to the rendezvous, with a lighted candle in my hand, and under pretence of having several times in vain rung the bell. My confidant, who plays his part to admiration, performed a little scene of surprise, despair, and confusion, which I put a stop to, by sending him to warm me some water, which I pretended to have occasion for; the scrupulous waiting-maid was the more disconcerted, as the fellow, who had improved on my scheme, had made her make a toilet very suitable to the heat of the season, but which it by no means apologised for.

Being sensible the more this girl was humbled, the less trouble I should have to bring her to my designs, I did not suffer her to change either her situation or dress; and having ordered my servant to wait for me in my room, I sat by her bed-side, which was in much disorder, and began a conversation. It was necessary to keep the ascendant I had obtained, and I therefore preserved a sang froid that would have done honour to the continence of Scipio; and without taking the smallest liberty with her, which her ruddy countenance, and the opportunity, perhaps, gave her a right to hope; I talked to her of business with as much indifference, as I would have done with an attorney.

My conditions were, that I would observe the strictest secrecy, provided the day following, at the same hour, she put me in possession of her mistress’s pockets, and my offer of ten louis-d’ors. I now confirm I will not take any advantage of your situation. Every thing was granted, as you may believe; I then retired, and left the happy couple to repair their lost time.

I employed mine in sleep: and in the morning, wanting a pretence not to answer my fair one’s letter before I had examined her papers, which could not be till the night following, I resolved to go a-hunting, which took up the greatest part of the day.

At my return I was received very coolly. I have reason to believe she was a little piqued at my want of eagerness to make good use of the time that remained, especially after the softer letter which she wrote me. I formed this conjecture, because, on Madame de Rosemonde’s having reproached me on my long absence, the fair one replied with some acrimony, “Oh, let us not reproach Mr. de Valmont for his attachment to the only pleasure he can find here.” I complained that they did not do me justice, and took the opportunity to assure them I was so well pleased with their company, that I sacrificed to it a very interesting letter that I had to write; adding, that not having been able to sleep several nights, I endeavoured to try if fatigue would not bring me my usual rest; my looks sufficiently explained the subject of my letter, and the cause of my want of rest. I took care to affect, during the whole evening, a melancholy softness, which succeeded tolerably well, and under which I disguised my impatience for the hour which was to give me up the secret she so obstinately persisted in concealing. At length we retired; and soon after the faithful waiting-maid brought me the stipulated price of my discretion: when in possession of this treasure, I proceeded with my usual prudence to arranging them; for it was of the utmost importance to replace every thing in order.

I first hit upon two letters from the husband, indigested stuff, a mixture of uninteresting details of law-suits, and unmeaning protestations of conjugal love, which I had the patience to read through; but not a syllable in either concerning me. I put them in their place with some disgust; but that vanished on finding, in my hand-writing, the scraps of my famous letter from Dijon, carefully collected. Fortunately it came into my head to run them over. You may guess the excess of my raptures, when I distinctly perceived the traces of my adorable devotee’s tears. I must own I gave way to a puerile emotion, and kissed this letter with a transport that I did not think myself susceptible of. I continued the happy search; I found all my letters in order according to their dates; and what still surprised me more agreeably was, to find the first of them, that which I thought had been returned to me by my ungrateful fair one, faithfully copied in her own hand-writing, but in an altered and trembling manner, which sufficiently testified the soft agitation of her heart during the time she was employed at it.

So far I was entirely occupied with love; but soon gave way to the greatest rage. Who think you it is that wants to destroy me, with this woman I adore? What fury do you suppose wicked enough to form so diabolical a plan! You know her: it’s your friend, your relation; it is Madame de Volanges. You cannot conceive what a string of horrible stories the infernal Megera has wrote against me. It is she, and she alone, has disturbed the peace of this angelic woman; it is by her counsels, by her pernicious advice, that I find myself obliged to retire; I am sacrificed to her! Certainly her daughter shall be seduced; but that is not sufficient, she shall be ruined; and since the age of this accursed woman shelters her from my blows, I must strike at her in the object of her affections.

She will then force me to return to Paris; she obliges me to it! Be it so; I will return; but she shall have reason to lament my return. I am sorry Danceny is to be the hero of this adventure; he has a fund of honour that will be a restraint upon us; but he is in love, and we are often together: I may turn him to account. My anger overcomes me, and I forget that I am to give you the recital of what has passed to-day.

This morning I saw my lovely prude; she never appeared so charming; that was of course; it is the most powerful moment with a woman, that shall produce an intoxication of soul, which is so often spoke of, and so rarely felt, when, though certain of their affections, we have not yet possessed their favours; which is precisely my case. Perhaps the idea, also, of being deprived of the pleasure of seeing her, served to embellish her. At length the post arrived, and brought me your letter of the 27th; and whilst I was reading it, I hesitated whether I should keep my word or not; but I met my fair one’s eyes, and I found it impossible to refuse her any thing.

I therefore announced my departure immediately after Madame de Rosemonde left us: I was four paces distant from the austere lovely one, when she started with a frightened air, “leave me, leave me, Sir,” said she; “for the love of God, leave me!” This fervent prayer, which discovered her emotion, animated me the more; I was now close to her, and took hold of her hands, which she had joined together with the most moving, affecting expressiveness. I then began my tender complaints, when some evil genius brought back Madame de Rosemonde. The timid devotee, who has in reality some reason to be apprehensive, seized the opportunity, and retired.

I notwithstanding offered her my hand, which she accepted; and judging favourably of this kindness, which she had not shown for so long a time, and again renewing my complaints, I endeavoured to squeeze hers. She at first endeavoured to draw it back; but upon a more pressing instance, she gave it up with a good grace, although without either answering this emotion or my discourse. Being come to the door of her apartment, I wanted to kiss that hand before I left her: she struggled, but an ah! think I am going to part, pronounced with great tenderness, made her awkward and defenceless; the kiss was scarcely given, when the hand recovered its strength to escape, and the fair one entered her apartment where the waiting-maid was: here ends my tale.

As I presume you will be to-morrow at the Lady Marechale’s de ——, where, certainly, I shall not go to look for you; and as at our first interview we shall have a great many things to talk over, especially that of the little Volanges, which I do not lose sight of; I have determined to send this letter before me; and although it is so long, I will not close it until the moment I am going to send it to the post; for I am so circumstanced, that a great deal may depend on an opportunity; and I leave you to watch for it.

P. S. Eight o’clock at night.

Nothing new; not the least moment of liberty; even the greatest care employed to avoid it. Yet as much grief as decency would permit, for the least another event, which may not be a matter of indifference, as Madame de Rosemonde has commanded me to give an invitation to Madame de Volanges, to come and spend a few days in the country.

Adieu, my lovely friend, until to-morrow, or the day after at farthest!

Aug. 28, 17—.


LETTER XLV.

The Presidente DE TOURVEL to MADAME DE VOLANGES.


Mr. de Valmont is gone this morning, Madam: you seemed so anxiously to wish for this event, that I have thought it my duty to impart it to you. Madame de Rosemonde is inconsolable for the loss of her nephew, whose company was really very pleasing: she spent the whole morning in talking to me of him with her usual sensibility; she was inexhaustible in his praise. I thought myself bound to attend to it without interruption; and indeed I must own she was right on many heads; besides, I was sensible I was the cause of this separation, and have no prospect of making her amends for the pleasure of which I have deprived her. You know I am not naturally inclined to gaiety, and our manner of life here will not contribute much to increase it.

Had I not been following your advice, I should have been inclined to think I had acted too precipitately; for I was really hurt at the grief I had caused my respectable friend; I was so much moved, that I could have mingled my tears with hers.

We now live on the hope that you will accept the invitation that Mr. de Valmont will give you from Madame de Rosemonde, to come and pass a little time with her. I hope you have no doubt of the great satisfaction your compliance will give me; and indeed you should make us amends. I shall be happy in this opportunity of having the pleasure of being sooner acquainted with Mademoiselle de Volanges, and to be near you, to assure you more and more of the respectful sentiments with which I am, &c.

Aug. 29, 17—.