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The World's Greatest Books - Volume 09 - Lives and Letters

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I.--Héloïse to Abélard

Heloise has just seen a "consolatory" letter of Abelard's to a friend. She had no right to open it, but in justification of the liberty she took, she flatters herself that she may claim a privilege over everything which comes from that hand.

"But how dear did my curiosity cost me! What disturbance did it occasion, and how surprised I was to find the whole letter filled with a particular and melancholy account of our misfortunes! Though length of time ought to have closed up my wounds, yet the seeing them described by you was sufficient to make them all open and bleed afresh. Surely all the misfortunes of lovers are conveyed to them through the eyes. Upon reading your letter I feel all mine renewed. Observe, I beseech you, to what a wretched condition you have reduced me; sad, afflicted, without any possible comfort unless it proceed from you. Be not then unkind, nor deny me, I beg of you, that little relief which you only can give. Let me have a faithful account of all that concerns you; I would know everything, be it ever so unfortunate. Perhaps by mingling my sighs with yours I may make your sufferings less, for it has been said that all sorrows divided are made lighter.

"I shall always have this, if you please, and it will always be agreeable to me that, when I receive a letter from you, I shall know you still remember me. I have your picture in my room. I never pass it without stopping to look at it. If a picture, which is but a mute representation of an object, can give such pleasure, what cannot letters inspire? We may write to each other; so innocent a pleasure is not denied us. I shall read that you are my husband, and you shall see me sign myself your wife. In spite of all our misfortunes, you may be what you please in your letter. Having lost the substantial pleasures of seeing and possessing you, I shall in some measure compensate this loss by the satisfaction I shall find in your writing. There I shall read your most sacred thoughts; I shall carry them always about with me; I shall kiss them every moment. I cannot live if you will not tell me that you still love me.

"When you write to me you will write to your wife; marriage has made such a correspondence lawful and since you can without the least scandal satisfy me why will you not? I am not only engaged by my vows, but I have the fear of my uncle before me. There is nothing, then, that you need dread. You have been the occasion of all my misfortunes, you therefore must be the instrument of my comfort. You cannot but remember (for lovers cannot forget) with what pleasure I have passed whole days in hearing your discourse; how, when you were absent, I shut myself from everyone to write to you; how uneasy I was till my letter had come to your hands; what artful management it required to engage messengers. This detail perhaps surprises you, and you are in pain for what may follow. But I am no longer ashamed that my passion for you had no bounds, for I have done more than all this.

"I have hated myself that I might love you; I came hither to ruin myself in a perpetual imprisonment that I might make you live quietly and at ease....