Dangerous Liaisons —52—


You FORBID ME, MADAME, to speak to you of my love; but where am I to find the necessary courage to obey you? Solely occupied by a sentiment which should be so sweet, and which you render so cruel; languishing in the exile to which you have condemned me; living only on privations and regrets; in prey to torments all the more dolorous in that they remind me unceasingly of your indifference ; must I lose the only consolation which remains to me? And can I have any other, save that of sometimes laying bare to you a soul which you fill with trouble and bitterness? Will you avert your gaze, that you may not see the tears you cause to flow? Will you refuse even the homage of the sacrifices you demand? Would it not be worthier of you, of your good and gentle soul, to pity an unhappy one who is only rendered so by you, rather than to seek to aggravate his pain by a refusal which is at once unjust and rigorous?

You pretend to be afraid of love, and you will not see that you alone are the cause of the evils with which you reproach it. Ah, no doubt, the sentiment is painful, when the object which inspires it does not reciprocate; but where is happiness to be found, if mutual love does not procure it? Tender friendship, sweet confidence—the only kind which is without reserve—sorrow’s alleviation, pleasure’s augmentation, hope’s enchantment, the delights of remembrance: where find them else than in love? You calumniatecx it, you who, in order to enjoy all the good which it offers you, have but to give up resisting it; and I—I forget the pain which I experience, to undertake its defense.

You force me also to defend myself; for, whereas I consecrate my life to your adoration, you pass yours in seeking reason to blame me: already you have assumed that I am frivolous and a deceiver; and, taking advantage of certain errors which I myself have confessed to you, you are pleased to confound the man I was then with what I am at present. Not content with abandoning me to the torment of living away from you, you add to that a cruel banter as to pleasures to which you know how you have rendered me insensible. You do not believe either in my promises or my oaths: well! there remains one guarantee for me to offer you, which you will not suspect. It is yourself. I only ask you to question yourself in all good faith: if you do not believe in my love, if you doubt for a moment that you reign supreme in my heart, if you are not sure that you have fixed this heart, which, indeed, has thus far been too fickle, I consent to bear the penalty of this error; I shall suffer, but I will not appeal: but if, on the contrary, doing justice to us both, you are forced to admit to yourself that you have not, will never have a rival, ask me no more, I beg you, to fight with chimeras,cy and leave me at least the consolation of seeing you no longer in doubt as to a sentiment which indeed will not finish, cannot finish, but with my life. Permit me, Madame, to beg you to reply positively to this part of my letter.

If, however, I give up that period of my life which seems to damage me so severely in your eyes, it is not because, in case of need, reasons had failed me to defend it.

What have I done, after all, but fail to resist the vortex into which I was thrown? Entering the world, young and without experience; passed, so to speak, from hand to hand by a crowd of women, who all hasten to forestall, by their good nature, a reflection which they feel cannot but be unfavorable to them; was it my part then to set the example of a resistance which was never opposed to me? Or was I to punish myself for a moment of error, which was often provoked by a constancy undoubtedly useless, and which would only have excited ridicule? Nay, what other cause, save a speedy rupture, can justify a shameful choice?

But, I can say it, this intoxication of the senses, perhaps even this delirium of vanity, did not attain to my heart. Born for love, intrigue might distract it, but did not suffice to occupy it; surrounded by seducing but despicable objects, none of them reached as far as my soul: I was offered pleasures, I sought for virtues; and in short, I even thought myself inconstant because I was delicate and sensitive.

It was when I saw you that I saw light: soon I understood that the charm of love sprang from the qualities of the soul; that they alone could cause its excess, and justify it. I felt, in short, that it was equally impossible for me not to love you, or to love any other than you.

There, Madame, is the heart to which you fear to trust yourself, and on whose fate you have to pronounce: but whatever may be the destiny you reserve for it, you will change nothing of the sentiments which attach it to you; they are as unalterable as the virtues which have given them birth.