The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise, , at sacred-texts.com
The letters of Abelard and Heloise were written in Latin about the year 1128, and were first published in Paris in 1616. The 'Letters' appeared first in England in 1728 in their original Latin, but thereafter translations were numerous, the anonymous one given here being published in 1722. It is rather a paraphrase than a translation, but by its swiftness and sympathy best gives the spirit of the original. The story of these illustrious lovers is told in their correspondence, but the outline of their lives is briefly this:--Abelard, Professor of Logic and Canon of Notre Dame, the most celebrated man of his day, being thirty-seven years of age and having so far lived the life intellectual and scorned the passions, meets Heloise, a beautiful and learned woman of nineteen, and falls desperately in love--as only the late lover can. Reason and religion are thrown to the winds; he would marry her, but she loves with a devotion as mad as his, and marriage would arrest his advancement in the Church, so she refuses yet gives him all. Her child is born, and then Abelard insists on a secret marriage, but in her unselfish infatuation she denies she is a wife and glories in the title of mistress. Fulbert, her uncle and guardian, is furious; with hired assistance he breaks into Abelard's chamber and brutally mutilates and shames him. Abelard cannot bear the degradation; he has not the courage to face his students, he has not the control to stay near Heloise; he resolves to turn monk. But,
manlike, he first demands that Heloise turn nun, in order that no other may know the attractions he has enjoyed. Heloise willingly consents; she being then twenty-two and he forty years of age. Ten years after, in her convent, a letter of Abelard's falls into her hands; she learns he has not found content, she knows she has not. She writes to Abelard betraying all the pent-up passion of those years of restraint; he replies in a letter alternating between religion and regret--not accepting the inevitable, not daring to break free. Other four letters pass, each less passionate than the previous, and then the silence falls once more.
Abelard died in 1142 at the age of sixty-three, and twenty years later Heloise died and was buried beside him. Subsequently their remains were removed to Père Lachaise, where their tomb can now be seen.
And Abelard, the great leader and logician, his treatises are forgotten, his fame as a philosopher is dead--only his love letters live.
And Heloise, the beautiful and the learned, who stands second to Sapho, is known merely as an example of the passionate devotion of woman.
So they remain to us, the typical lovers; he with man's mania to master, she with woman's one desire to submit.
No love letters that have ever been written but have contained phrases common to one another and to be found here; but no love letters that have ever been published have equalled these in the old passionate tale of the struggle to forget--to sink the love of the human in the love of the divine.