Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Abelard to Philintus
There was in Paris a young creature (ah, Philintus!) formed in a prodigality of nature to show
mankind a finished composition; dear Heloise, the reputed niece of one Fulbert, a canon. Her wit and her beauty would have stirred the dullest and most insensible heart, and her education was equally admirable. Heloise was the mistress of the most polite arts. You may easily imagine that this did not a little help to captivate me; I saw her, I loved her, I resolved to make her love me. The thirst of glory cooled immediately in my heart, and all my passions were lost in this new one. I thought of nothing but Heloise; everything brought her image to my mind. I was pensive and restless, and my passion was so violent as to admit of no restraint. I was always vain and presumptive; I flattered myself already with the most bewitching hopes. My reputation had spread itself everywhere, and could a virtuous lady resist a man who had confounded all the learned of the age? I was young--could she show an insensibility to those vows which my heart never formed for any but herself? My person was advantageous enough, and by my dress no one would have suspected me for a doctor; and dress, you know, is not a little engaging with women. Besides, I had wit enough to write a billet-doux, and hoped, if ever she permitted my absent self to entertain her, she would read with pleasure those breathings of my heart.
Filled with these notions I thought of nothing but the means to speak to her. Lovers either find or make all things easy. By the offices of common friends I gained the acquaintance of Fulbert; and can you believe it, Philintus, he allowed me the privilege of his table, and an apartment in his house?
He teaches her philosophy. I paid him, indeed, a considerable sum, for persons of his character do nothing without money. But what would I not have given! You, my friend, know what love is; imagine then what a pleasure it must have been to a heart so inflamed as mine to be always so near the dear object of desire! I would not have exchanged my happy condition for that of the greatest monarch upon earth. I saw Heloise, I spoke to her--each action, each confused look told her the trouble of my soul. And she, on the other side, gave me ground to hope for everything from her generosity. Fulbert desired me to instruct her in philosophy; by this means I found opportunities of being in private with her, and yet I was surely of all men the most timorous in declaring my passion.
As I was with her one day alone, 'Charming Heloise,' said I, blushing, 'if you know yourself you will not be surprised with the passion you have inspired me with. Uncommon as it is, I can express it but with the common terms--I love you, adorable Heloise! Till now I thought philosophy made us masters of all our passions, and that it was a refuge from the storms in which weak mortals are tossed and shipwrecked; but you have destroyed my security and broken this philosophic courage. I have despised riches; honour and its pageantries could never wake a weak thought in me, beauty alone has stirred my soul; happy if she who raised this passion kindly receives this declaration; but if it is an offence?
'No,' replied Heloise, 'she must be very ignorant of your merit who can be offended at your passion. But for my own repose I wish either that you had not made this declaration, or that I were at liberty not to suspect your sincerity.'
'Ah, divine Heloise, said I, flinging myself at her feet, 'I swear by yourself--' I was going on to convince her of the truth of my passion, but heard a noise, and it was Fulbert: there was no avoiding it, I had to do violence to my desire and change the discourse to some other subject. After this I found frequent opportunities to free Heloise from those suspicions which the general insincerity of men had raised in her; and she too much desired that what I said might be true not to believe it. Thus there was a most happy understanding between us. The same house, the same love, united our persons and our desires. How many soft moments did we pass together! We took all opportunities to express to each other our mutual affection, and were ingenious in contriving incidents which might give us a plausible occasion of meeting. Pyramus and Thisbe's discovery of the crack in the wall was but a slight representation of our love and its sagacity. In the dead of night, when Fulbert and his domestics were in a sound sleep, we improved the time proper with the sweets of love; not contenting ourselves, like those unfortunate lovers, with giving insipid kisses to a wall, we made use of all the moments of our charming interviews. In the place where we met we had no lions to fear, and the study of philosophy served us for a blind. But I was so far from making any advances in the sciences that I lost all my taste for them, and when I was obliged to go from the sight of my dear mistress to my philosophical exercises, it was with the utmost regret and melancholy. Love is incapable of being concealed; a word, a look, nay, silence, speaks it. My scholars discovered it first; they saw I had no longer that vivacity of thought to which all things are easy; I could now do nothing but write verses to soothe my passion. I quitted Aristotle and his dry maxims to practise the precepts of the more ingenious Ovid. No day passed in which I did not compose amorous verses; love was my inspiring Apollo. My songs were spread abroad and gained me frequent applause. Those who were in love as I was took a pride in learning them, and by luckily applying my thoughts and verses they obtained favours which perhaps they would not otherwise have gained. This gave our amours such an éclat that the lives of Heloise and Abelard were the subject of all conversations.
The town talk at last reached Fulbert's ears; it was with great difficulty he gave credit to what he heard, for he loved his niece, and was prejudiced in my favour; but upon closer examination he began to be less credulous. He surprised us in one of our more tender conversations. How fatal sometimes are the consequences of curiosity! The anger of Fulbert seemed too moderate on this occasion, and I feared in the end some more heavy revenge. It is impossible to express the grief and regret which filled my soul when I was obliged to leave the Canon's house and my dear Heloise. But this separation of our persons the more firmly united our minds; and the desperate condition we were reduced to made us capable of attempting anything.
My intrigues gave me but little shame, so the maid lovingly did I regard the occasion; think what the gay young divinities said when Vulcan caught Mars and the Goddess of Beauty in his net, and impute it all to me. Fulbert surprised me with Heloise, but what man that had a soul in him would not have borne any ignominy on the sane conditions? The next day I provided myself with a private lodging near the loved house, being resolved not to abandon my prey. I abode some time without appearing publicly. Ah! how long did those few days seem to me! When we fall from a state of happiness with what impatience do we bear our misfortunes!
It being impossible that I could live without seeing Heloise, I endeavoured to engage her servant, whose name was Agaton, in my interest. She was brown, well-shaped, and a person superior to her rank; her features were regular and her eyes sparkling, fit to raise love in any man whose heart was not prepossessed by another passion. I met her alone and entreated her to have pity on a distressed lover. She answered she would undertake anything to serve me, but there was a reward. At these words I opened my purse and showed the shining metal which puts to sleep guards, forces a way through rocks, and softens the heart of the most obdurate fair.
'You are mistaken,' said she, smiling and shaking her head, 'you do not know me; could gold tempt me, a rich abbot takes his nightly station and sings under my window; he offers to send me to his abbey, which, he says, is situated in the most pleasant country in the world. A courtier offers me a considerable sum and assures I need have no apprehension, for if our amours have consequences he will marry me to his gentleman and give him a handsome employment. To say nothing of a young officer who patrols about here every night and makes his attacks in all sorts of imaginable forms. It must be love only which could oblige him to follow me, for I have not, like your great ladies, any rings or jewels to tempt him. Yet, during all his siege of love, his feathers and his embroidered coat have not made any breach in my heart. I shall not quickly be brought to capitulate, I am too faithful to my first conqueror.'
She looked earnestly at me, and I said I did not understand.
'For a man of sense and gallantry,' she replied, 'you are slow of apprehension. I am in love with you, Abelard; I know you adore Heloise, and I do not blame you, I desire only to enjoy the second place in your affections. I have a tender heart as well as my mistress; you may without difficulty make returns to my passion. Do not perplex yourself with scruples; a prudent man should love several at the sane time, then if one should fail he is not left unprovided.'
You can imagine, Philintus, how much I was surprised at these words: so entirely did I love Heloise that, without reflecting whether Agaton spoke reasonably or not, I immediately left her. When I had gone a little way from her I looked back and saw her biting her nails in a rage of disappointment; this made me fear some fatal consequences. She hastened to Fulbert and told him the offer I had made her, but I suppose concealed the other part of the story. The Canon never forgave this affront; I afterwards perceived he was more deeply concerned for his niece than I had at first imagined. Let no lover hereafter follow my example, for a woman rejected is an outrageous creature. Agaton was at her window night and day on purpose to keep me away from her mistress, and so she gave her gallants every opportunity to display their abilities.
I was infinitely perplexed what course to take; at last I applied myself to Heloise's singing-master. The shining metal, which had no effect on Agaton, charmed him: he was excellently qualified for conveying a billet with the greatest dexterity and secrecy. He delivered one of mine to Heloise, who, according to my appointment, met me at the end of the garden, I having scaled the wall with a ladder of ropes. I confess to you all my failings, Philintus; how would my enemies Champeaux and Anselm have triumphed had they seen this redoubted philosopher in such a wretched condition. Well! I met my soul's joy--my Heloise! I shall not transcribe our transports, they were not long, for the first news Heloise acquainted me with plunged me into a thousand distractions. A floating Delos was to be sought for, where she might be safely delivered of a burden she began already to feel. Without losing much time in debating, I made her presently quit the Canon's house and at break of day depart for Brittany; where she, like another goddess, gave the world another Apollo, which my sister took care of.
This carrying off of Heloise was sufficient revenge on Fulbert. It filled him with the deepest concern, and had like to have deprived him of the small share of wits which Heaven had allowed him. His sorrow and lamentation gave the censorious an occasion of suspecting him for something more than the uncle of Heloise.
In short, I began to pity his misfortune, and to think this robbery which love had made me commit was a sort of treason. I endeavoured to appease his anger by a sincere confession of all that was past, and by hearty engagements to marry Heloise secretly. He gave me his consent, and with many protestations and embraces confirmed our reconciliation. But what dependence can be made on the word of an ignorant devotee? He was only plotting a cruel revenge, as you will see by what follows.