Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1712-1778. Eloisa: Or, A Series of Original Letters Collected And Published by J.J. Rousseau. London: R. Griffiths, 1761 in 4 volumes. All Pictures from WikiCommons –
Everyone in Europe read these letters.
Great cities require public theatres, and romances are necessary to a corrupt people. I saw the manners of the times, and have published these letters. Would to heaven I had lived in an age when I ought rather to have thrown them in the fire!
Why should I fear to speak my thoughts? This collection of letters, with all their gothic air, will better suit a married lady than books of philosophy: it may even be of service to those who, in an irregular course of life, have yet preserved some affection for virtue. (Preface)
Rousseau wrote a series of letters by various persons who are linked through the life of Eloise or Julie, or the New Heloise, depending on the translation.
The characters of these letters, are Lord B. an English nobleman; the Baron d’Etange, a Swiss officer of rank in the French service, Eloisa, his daughter, heroine of the romance; St. Preux, her lover, a youth of good parts and amiable disposition, but of inferior birth and fortune; Mr. Wolmar, Eloisa’s husband; and Clara, afterwards Mrs. Orbe, cousin and confidante, to Eloisa.
Eloisa’s father, Baron B. (an English nobleman) has been away and Eloise has been introduced to St. Preux in his absence. St. Preux has accepted the post of preceptor (instructor) to Eloisa, but, like Abelard of old, he has become enamored of his charge.
The correspondence begins while the Baron is abroad with his corps; St. Preux having been introduced, during his absence, into his family, land accepted the office of preceptor to Eloisa: with whom he falls desperately in love, and, like another Abelard, in endeavoring to cultivate the genius and understanding of his fair pupil, is enslaved by her personal charms. Eloisa is, on her part, also no less captivated with her preceptor. Restrained, however, by the dictates of honour and virtue, they seem, for some time, to content themselves with the knowledge of each other’s sentiments, without thinking of a more intimate connection.
The letters that pass between them, during this interval, abound with the most delicate and tender proofs of reciprocal affection, and display a lively picture of two ingenuous minds, agitated by the most tender, and at the same time the most violent, of all affections. These, which take up great part of the first volume, are peculiarly calculated for Readers of a sentimental turn and warm passions: they are not, however, totally barren of entertainment to others. A short excursion, which, our young preceptor makes at this time into the upper Valais, giving him an opportunity of furnishing his mistress with a description of the neighboring country, and the inhabitants of those mountains, near which the two lovers resided.
The happiness of our lovers is at length disturbed by the return of the Baron; who, quitting the service, brings home with him his friend Wolmar, an officer to whom he had been obliged for saving his life in a battle, and on whom he gratefully intends to bestow his daughter Eloisa. In this disagreeable dilemma, the lover proposes to carry off his mistress, to which she refuses her consent, as such a step must necessarily involve her parents in the utmost affliction. On the other hand, the distress of her lover is so much the object of her concern, that, in order to alleviate his anxiety, she forgets everything but his love, and in an unguarded moment sacrifices her innocence to the gratification of his passion.
Eloisa confides in her cousin Clara who asks: “Does true love debase the soul?”
From G. E., Griffiths, R. (17521826). The Monthly review v. 25 1761 P. 192-214, 241-260
Letter I St. Preux to Eloisa (quotation) He writes the first three letters and receives a short reply.
Sometimes it happens that our eyes meet; involuntary sighs betray our feelings, tears steal from — O! my Eloisa! if this union of soul should be a divine impulse — if heaven should have destined us — all the power on earth. — Ah pardon me! I am bewildered: I have mistaken a vain wish for hope: the ardour of my desires gave to their imaginary object a solidity which did not exist. I foresee with horror the torments which my heart is preparing for itself.
Letter IV From Eloisa to St. Preux (whole letters)
Must I then, at last, confess, the fatal, the ill-disguised, secret! How often have I sworn that it should never burst from my heart but with my life! Thy danger wrests it from me. It is gone, and my honor is loft forever. Alas! I have but too religiously performed my vow; can there be a death more cruel than to survive one’s honor?
What shall I say, how shall I break the painful silence? or rather, have I not said all, and am I not already too well understood? Alas! thou hast seen too much not to divine the rest. Imperceptibly deluded into the snare of the seducer, I see, without being able to avoid it, the horrid precipice before me. Artful man! It is not thy passion, but mine, that excites thy presumption. Thou observest the distraction of my soul; thou availed thyself of it to accomplish my ruin, and now that thou hast rendered me despicable, my greatest misfortune is that I am forced to behold thee also in a despicable light. Ungrateful wretch! In return for my esteem, thou hast ruined me. Had I supposed thy heart capable of exulting, believe me, thou hast never enjoyed this triumph.
Well thou knowest, and it will increase thy remorse, that there was not in my soul one vicious inclination. My virtue and innocence were inexpressibly dear to me, and I pleased myself with the hopes of cherishing them in a life of industrious simplicity. But to what purpose my endeavor, since heaven rejects my offering? The very first day we met, I imbibed the poison which now infects my senses and my reason; I felt it instantly, and thy eyes, thy sentiments, thy discourse, thy guilty pen, daily increase its malignity.
I have neglected nothing to stop the progress of this fatal passion. Sensible of my own weakness, how gladly would I have evaded the attack; but the eagerness of thy pursuit hath baffled my precaution. A thousand times I have resolved to cast myself at the feet of those who gave me being; a thousand times I have determined to open to them my guilty heart: but they can form no judgment of its condition; they would apply but common remedies to a desperate disease; my mother is weak and without authority; I know the inflexible severity of my father, and I should bring down ruin and dishonor upon myself, my family, and thee. My friend is absent, my brother is no more.
I have not a protector in the world to save me from the persecution of my enemy. In vain I implore the assistance of heaven; heaven is deaf to the prayers of irresolution. Everything conspires to increase my anxiety; every circumstance combines to abandon me to myself, or rather cruelly to deliver me up to thee; all nature seems thy accomplice; my efforts are vain, I adore thee in spite of myself. And shall that heart which, in its full vigor, was unable to resist, shall it only half surrender? Shall a heart which knows no dissimulation attempt to conceal the poor remains of its weakness?
No, the first step was the most difficult, and the only one which I ought never to have taken. Shall I now pretend to stop at the rest? No, that first false step plunged me into the abyss, and my degree of misery is entirely in thy power.
Such is my horrid situation, that I am forced to turn to the author of my misfortunes, and implore his protection against himself. I might, I know I might, have deferred this confession of my despair; I might, for some time longer, have disguised my shameful weakness, and by yielding gradually, have imposed upon myself. Vain dissimulation! which could only have flattered my pride, but could not save my virtue: away, away! I see but too plainly whither my first error tends, and shall not endeavor to prepare for, but to escape, perdition.
Well then, if thou art not the very lowest of mankind, if the least spark of virtue lives within thy soul, if it retains any vestige of those sentiments of honor which seemed to penetrate thy heart, thou cannot possibly be so vile as to take any unjust advantage of a confession forced from me by a fatal diffraction of my senses.
No, I know thee well; thou wilt support my weakness, thou wilt become my safeguard, thou wilt defend my person against my own heart. Thy virtue is the last refuge of my innocence; my honor dares confide in thine, for thou cannot preserve one without the other. Ah! Let thy generous soul preserve them both, and, at least, for thy own fake, be merciful.
Good God! am I thus sufficiently humbled? I write to thee on my knees; I bathe my paper with my tears; I pay to thee my timorous homage: and yet thou art not to believe me ignorant that it was in my power to have reversed the scene; and that, with a little art, which would have rendered me despicable in my own eyes, I might have been obeyed and worshipped. Take the frivolous empire, I relinquish it to my friend, but leave me, ah! leave me my innocence. I had rather live thy slave and preserve my virtue, than purchase thy obedience at the price of my honor. Should thou deign to hear me, what gratitude mayest thou not claim from her who will owe to thee the recovery of her reason? How charming must be the tender union of two souls unacquainted with guilt! Thy vanquished passions will prove the source of happiness, and thy pleasures will be worthy of heaven itself.
I hope, nay I am confident, that the man to whom I have given my whole heart will not belie my opinion of his generosity: but I flatter myself also, if he is mean enough to take the least unseemly advantage of my weakness, that contempt and indignation will restore my senses, and that I am not yet sunk so low as to fear a lover for whom I should have reason to blush. Thou shalt be virtuous, or be despised; I will be reflected, or be myself again; it is the only hope I have left, preferable to the hope of death.
Letter V. St. Preux To Eloisa
Celestial powers! I possessed a soul capable of affliction, O inspire me with one that can bear felicity! Divine love! spirit of my existence, O support me! for I sink down oppressed with ecstasy. How inexpressible are the charms of virtue! How invincible the power of a beloved object! fortune, pleasure, transport, how poignant; your impression! O how shall I withstand the rapid torrent of bliss which overflows my heart! and how dispel the apprehensions of a timorous maid? Eloisa no! my Eloisa on her knees! My Eloisa weep! Shall she, to whom the universe should bend, supplicate the man who adores her, to be careful of her honor and to preserve his own?
Were it possible for me to be out of humor with you, I should be a little angry at your fears; they are disgraceful to us both. Learn, thou chaste and heavenly beauty, to know better the nature of thy empire. If I adore thy charming person, is it not for the purity of that soul by which it is animated, and. which bears such ineffable marks of its divine origin? You tremble with apprehension: “good God! what hath she to fear, who stamps with reverence and honor every sentiment she inspires? Is there a man upon earth who could be vile enough to offer the least insult to such virtue?
Permit, O permit me, to enjoy the unexpected happiness of being beloved —- beloved by such —- Ye princes of the world, I now look down upon your grandeur. Let me read a thousand and a thousand times, that enchanting epistle, where thy tender sentiments are painted in such strong and glowing colors; where I observe with transport, notwithstanding the violent agitation of thy foul, that even the most lively passions of a noble heart never lose fight of virtue.
What monster, after having read that affecting letter, could take advantage of your generous confession, and attempt a crime which must infallibly make him wretched and despicable even to himself. No, my dearest Eloisa, there can be nothing to fear from a friend, a lover, who must ever be incapable of deceiving you. Though I should entirely have loft my reason, though the discomposure of my senses should hourly increase, your person will always appear to me, not only the most beautiful, but the most sacred deposit with which mortal was ever entrusted.
My passion, like its object, is unalterably pure. The horrid idea of incest does not shock me more, than the thought of polluting your heavenly charms with a sacrilegious touch: you are not more inviolably safe with your own parent than with your lover. If ever that happy lover should in your presence forget himself but for a moment O ’tis impossible. When I am no longer in love with virtue, my love for my Eloisa must expire, on my first offence, withdraw your affection and cast me off forever.
By the purity of our mutual tenderness, therefore, I conjure you banish all your suspicion. Why should your fear exceed the passions of your lover? To what greater felicity can I aspire, when that with which I am blest, is already more than I am well able to support? We are both young, and in love unexperienced, it is true: but is that honor which conducts us, a deceitful guide? can that experience be needful which is acquired only from vice? I am strangely deceived, if the principles of rectitude are not rooted in the bottom of my heart.
In truth, my Eloisa, I am no vile seducer, as, in your despair, you were pleased to call me; but am artless and of great sensibility, easily discovering my feelings, but feeling nothing at which I ought to blush. To say all in one word, my love for Eloisa is not greater than my abhorrence of the crime. I am even doubtful, whether the love which you inspire be not in its nature incompatible with vice; whether a corrupt heart could possibly feel its influence. As for me, the more I love you, the more exalted are my sentiments. Can there be any degree of virtue, however unattainable for its own sake, to which I would not aspire to become more worthy of my Eloisa?
LETTER VI. Eloisa to Clara.
Is my dear cousin refolded to spend her whole life in bewailing her poor Challiot, and will she forget the living because of the dead? I sympathize in your grief, and think it just, but shall it therefore be eternal? Since the death of your mother, she was assiduously careful of your education; she was your friend rather than your governess. She loved you with great tenderness, and me for your sake; her instructions were all intended to enrich our hearts with principles of honor and virtue. All this I know, my dear, and acknowledge it with gratitude; but confess with me also, that in some respects she acted very imprudently; that she often indiscreetly told us things with which we had no concern; that she entertained us eternally with maxims of gallantry, her own juvenile adventures, the management of amours; and that to avoid the snares of men, though she might tell us not to give ear to their protestations, yet she certainly instructed us in many things with which there was no necessity for young girls to be made acquainted.
Reflect therefore upon her death as a misfortune, not without some consolation. To girls of our age, her lessons grew dangerous, and who knows but heaven may have taken her from us the very moment in which her removal became necessary to our future happiness. Remember the salutary advice you gave me when I was deprived of the best of brothers. Was Challiot dearer to you? Is your loss greater than mine?
Return, my dear, she has no longer any occasion for you. Alas! whilst you are wasting your time in superfluous affliction, may not your absence be productive of greater evils? Why are you not afraid, who know the beatings of my heart, to abandon your friend to misfortunes which your presence might prevent. O Clara! strange things have happened since your departure. You will tremble to hear the danger to which I have been exposed by my imprudence. Thank heaven, I hope I have now nothing to fear: but unhappily I am as it were at the mercy of another.
You alone can restore me to myself: haste therefore to my assistance. So long as your attendance was of service to poor Challiot, I was silent; I should even have been the first to exhort you to such an act of benevolence. Now that she is no more, her family are become the objects of your charity: of this obligation we could better acquit ourselves, if we were together, and your gratitude might be discharged without neglecting your friend.
Since my father took his leave of us we have resumed our former manner of living. My mother leaves me less frequently alone; not that (she has any suspicion). Her visits employ more time than would be proper for me to spare from my little studies, and in her absence Bab fills her place but negligently. Now though I do not think my good mother sufficiently watchful, I cannot resolve to tell her so. I would willingly provide for my own safety, without losing her esteem, and you alone are capable of managing this matter.
Return then, my dear Clara, prithee return. I regret every lesson at which you are not present, and am fearful of becoming too learned. Our preceptor is not only a man of great merit, but of exemplary virtue, and therefore more dangerous. I am too well satisfied with him to be so with myself.
For girls of our age, it is always safer to be two than one, be the man ever so virtuous.
Letter VII Clara’s Answer
I understand, and tremble for you: not that I think your danger so great as your imagination would suggest. Your fears make me less apprehensive for the present; but I am terrified with the thought of what may hereafter happen: should you be unable to conquer your passion, what will become of you! Alas! poor Challiot, how often has she foretold, that your first sigh would mark your fortune.
Ah! Eloisa, so young, and thy destiny already accomplished? Much I fear we shall find the want of that sensible woman whom, in your opinion, we have lost for our advantage. Sure I am, it would be advantageous for us to fall into still safer hands; but she has made us too knowing to be governed by another, yet not sufficiently so to govern ourselves: she only was able to shield us from the danger to which, by her indiscretion, we are exposed. She was extremely communicative, and, considering our age, we ourselves seem to have thought pretty deeply. The ardent and tender friendship which hath united us, almost from our cradles, expanded our hearts, and ripened them into a sensibility perhaps a little premature.
We are not ignorant of the passions, as to their symptoms and effects; the art of suppressing them seems to be all we want. Heaven grant that our young philosopher may know this art better than we.
By we you know who I mean: for my part, Challiot used always to say, that my giddiness would be my security in the place of reason, that I should never have sense enough to be in love, and that I was too constantly foolish to be guilty of a great folly.
My dear Eloisa, be careful of yourself! the better she thought of your understanding, the more she was apprehensive for your heart. Nevertheless, let not your courage sink. Your prudence and your honor, I am certain, will exert their utmost, and I allure you, on my part, that friendship shall do everything in its power. If we are too knowing for our years, yet our manners have been hitherto spotless and irreproachable. Believe me, my dear, there are many girls, who though they may have more simplicity, have less virtue than ourselves: we know what virtue means, and are virtuous by choice; and that seems to me the most secure.
And yet, from what you have told me, I shall not enjoy a moment’s repose till we meet; for if you are really afraid, your danger is not entirely chimerical. It is true, the means of preservations are very obvious.
One word to your mother, and the thing is done: but I understand you; the expedient is too conclusive: you would willingly be assured of not being vanquished, without losing the honor of having sustained the combat. Alas! my poor cousin—-if there was the least glimmering Baron Etange consent to give his daughter, his only child, to the son of an inconsiderable tradesman, without fortune! Dost thou presume to hope he will? -or what dost thou hope? what wouldst thou have? poor Eloisa! Fear nothing however on my account. Your friend will keep your secret. Many people might think it more honest to reveal it: perhaps they are right.
For my part, who am no great casuist, I have no notion of that honesty, which is incompatible with confidence, faith, and friendship. I imagine that every relation, every age, have their peculiar maxims, duties, and virtues; but what might be prudence in another, in me would be perfidy; and that to confound these things, would more probably make us wicked than wife and happy. If your love be weak, we will overcome it; but if it be extreme, violent measures may produce a tragical catastrophe, and friendship will attempt nothing, for which it cannot be answerable. After all, I flatter myself that I shall have little reason to complain of your conduct when I have you once under my eye. You shall see what it is to have a duenna of eighteen!
You know, my dear girl, that I am not absent upon pleasure; and really the country is -not so agreeable in the spring as you imagine: one suffers at this time both heat and cold; for the trees afford us no shade, and in the house it is too cold to live without fire. My father too, in the midst of his building, begins to perceive that the gazette comes later hither than to town; so that we all wish to return, and I hope to embrace thee in a few days. But what causes my inquietude is, that a few days make I know not what number of hours, many of which are defined to the philosopher: to the philosopher, cousin! you understand me. Think, O think, that the clock strikes those hours entirely for him!
Do not blush my dear girl, nor drop thy eyes, nor look grave; thy features will not suffer it. Thou knowest I never, in my life, could weep without laughing, and yet I have not less sensibility than other people: I do not feel our reparation less severely, nor am less afflicted with the loss of poor Challiot. Her family I am resolved never to abandon, and I sincerely thank my kind friend for her promise to assist me: but to let slip an opportunity of doing good, were to be no more thyself.
I confess the good creature was rather too talkative, free enough on certain occasions, a little indiscreet with young girls, and that she was fond of old stories and times part. So that I do not so much regret the qualities of her mind, though among some bad ones, many of them were excellent: the loss which I chiefly deplore is the goodness of her heart, and that mixture of maternal and sisterly affection, which made her inexpressibly dear to me.
My mother I scarce knew; I am indeed loved by my father, as much as is possible for him to love; your amiable brother is no more; and I very seldom fee my own. Thus am I left desolate, like an orphan. You are my only consolation. Yes, my Eloisa lives, and I will weep no more!
P.S. For fear of accident, I shall direct this letter to our preceptor.
Eloisa: or, A series of original letters collected and published by J.J. Rousseau. Translated from the French. Hathi Trust
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