The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise, , at sacred-texts.com
Abelard consoles his friendTHE last time we were together, Philintus, you gave me a melancholy account of your misfortunes; I was sensibly touched with the relation, and like a true friend bore a share in your griefs. What did I not say to stop your tears? I laid before you all the reasons philosophy could furnish, which I thought might anyways soften the strokes of fortune. But all these endeavours have proved useless; grief, I perceive, has wholly seized your spirits, and your prudence, far from assisting, seems to have forsaken you. But my skilful friendship has found out an expedient to relieve you. Attend to me a moment, hear but the story of my misfortunes, and yours, Philintus, will be nothing as compared with those of the loving and unhappy Abelard. Observe, I beseech you, at what expense I endeavour to serve you; and think this no small mark of my affection; for I am going to present you with the relation of such particulars as it is impossible for me to recollect
He relates his early lifewithout piercing my heart with the most sensible affliction. You know the place where I was born, but not, perhaps, that I was born with those complexional faults which strangers charge upon our nation--an extreme lightness of temper, and great inconstancy. I frankly own it, and shall be as free to acquaint you with those good qualities which were observed in me. I had a natural vivacity and aptness for all the polite arts. My father was a gentleman and a man of good parts; he loved the wars, but differed in his sentiments from many who follow that profession. He thought it no praise to be illiterate, but in the camp he knew how to converse at the same time with the Muses and Bellona. He was the same in the management of his family, and took equal care to form his children to the study of polite learning as to their military exercises. As I was his eldest, and consequently his favourite son, he took more than ordinary care of my education. I had a natural genius for study, and made extraordinary progress in it. Smitten with the love of books, and the praises which on all sides were bestowed upon me, I aspired to no other reputation than that of learning. To my brothers I leave the glory of battles and the pomp of triumphs; nay, more, I yielded them up my birthright and patrimony. I knew necessity was the great spur to study, and was afraid I should not merit the title of learned if I distinguished myself from others by nothing but a more plentiful fortune. Of all the sciences logic was the most to my taste. Such were the arms I chose to
His youthful strugglesprofess. Furnished with the weapons of reasoning I took pleasure in going to public disputations to win trophies; and wherever I heard that this art flourished, I ranged, like another Alexander, from province to province, to seek new adversaries with whom I might try my strength.
The ambition I had to become formidable in logic led me at last to Paris, the centre of politeness, and where the science I was so smitten with had usually been in the greatest perfection. I put myself under the direction of one Champeaux, a professor who had acquired the character of the most skilful philosopher of his age, but by negative excellencies only as being the least ignorant! He received me with great demonstrations of kindness, but I was not so happy as to please him long; for I was too knowing in the subjects he discoursed upon, and I often confuted his notions. Frequently in our disputations I pushed a good argument so home that all his subtlety was not able to elude its force. It was impossible he should see himself surpassed by his scholar without resentment. It is sometimes dangerous to have too much merit.
Envy increased against me in proportion to my reputation. My enemies endeavoured to interrupt my progress, but their malice only provoked my courage. Measuring my abilities by the jealousy I had raised, I thought I had no further need for Champeaux's lectures, but rather that I was sufficiently qualified to read to others. I stood for a post which was vacant at Melun. My master used all his artifice to defeat my hopes, but in vain; and on this occasion I triumphed over his
He conquers Champeauxcunning as before I had done over his learning. My lectures were always crowded, and my beginnings so fortunate, that I entirely obscured the renown of my famous master. Flushed with these happy conquests, I removed to Corbeil to attack the masters there, and so establish my character of the ablest logician. The rush of travelling threw me into a dangerous distemper, and not being able to recover my health, my physicians, who perhaps were in league with Champeaux, advised me to remove to my native air. Thus I voluntarily banished myself for some years. I leave you to imagine whether my absence was not regretted by the better sort. At length I recovered my health, when I received news that my greatest adversary had taken the habit of a monk; you may think it was an act of penitence for having persecuted me; quite the contrary, ’twas ambition; he resolved to raise himself to some church dignity, therefore fell into the beaten track and took on him the garb of feigned austerity; for this is the easiest and shortest way to the highest ecclesiastical dignities. His wishes were successful and he obtained a bishopric; yet did he not quit Paris and the care of his schools: he went to his diocese to gather in his revenues, but returned and passed the rest of his time in reading lectures to those few pupils which followed him. After this I often engaged with him, and may reply to you as Ajax did to the Greeks:--
He studies divinityAbout this time my father, Beranger, who to the age of sixty had lived very agreeably, retired from the world and shut himself up in a cloister, where he offered up to Heaven the languid remains of a life he could make no further use of. My mother, who was yet young, took the same resolution. She turned a Religious, but did not entirely abandon the satisfactions of life; her friends were continually at the grate, and the monastery, when one has an inclination to make it so, is exceedingly charming and pleasant. I was present when my mother was professed. At my return I resolved to study divinity, and inquired for a director in that study. I was recommended to one Anselm, the very oracle of his time, but, to give you my own opinion, one more venerable for his age and his wrinkles than for his genius or learning. If you consulted him upon any difficulty, the sure consequence was to be much more uncertain in the point. They who only saw him admired him, but those who reasoned with him were extremely dissatisfied. He was a great master of words and talked much, but meant nothing. His discourse was a fire, which, instead of enlightening, obscured everything with its smoke; a tree beautified with variety of leaves and branches, but barren of fruit. I came to him with a desire to learn, but found him like the fig tree in the Gospel, or the old oak to which Lucan compares Pompey. I continued not long underneath his shadow. I took for my guides the primitive Fathers and boldly launched into the ocean of the Holy Scriptures. In a short time I had made such progress that others
Love conquers himchose me for their director. The number of my scholars was incredible, and the gratuities I received from them were proportionate to the great reputation I had acquired. Now I found myself safe in the harbour, the storms were passed, and the rage of my enemies had spent itself without effect. Happy had I known to make a right use of this calm! But when the mind is most easy ’tis most exposed to love, and even security is here the most dangerous state.
And now, my friend, I am going to expose to you all my weaknesses. All men, I believe, are under a necessity of paying tribute at some time or other to Love, and it is vain to strive to avoid it. I was a philosopher, yet this tyrant of the mind triumphed over all my wisdom; his darts were of greater force than all my reasonings, and with a sweet constraint he led me wherever he pleased. Heaven, amidst an abundance of blessings with which I was intoxicated, threw in a heavy affliction. I became a most signal example of its vengeance, and the more unhappy because, having deprived me of the means of accomplishing satisfaction, it left me to the fury of my criminal desires. I will tell you, my dear friend, the particulars of my story, and leave you to judge whether I deserved so severe a correction.
I had always an aversion for those light women whom ’tis a reproach to pursue; I was ambitious in my choice, and wished to find some obstacles, that I might surmount them with the greater glory and pleasure.
There was in Paris a young creature (ah, Philintus!) formed in a prodigality of nature to show
He meets Heloisemankind 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[paragraph continues] 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
And loveyou 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
Her uncle separates themmelancholy. 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 episode of the maidlovingly 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
The maid's revenge me 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
He carries off Heloiseconcealed 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
Heloise disapproves marriageconcern, 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.
I took a journey into Brittany in order to bring hack my dear Heloise, whom I now considered my wife. When I had acquainted her with what had passed between the Canon and me I found she was of a contrary opinion to me. She urged all that was possible to divert me from marriage--that it was a bond always fatal to a philosopher; that the cries of children and the cares of a family were utterly inconsistent with the tranquillity and application which study require. She quoted to me all that was written on the subject by Theophrastus, Cicero, and, above all, insisted on the unfortunate Socrates, who quitted life with joy because by that means he left Xanthippe.
'Will it not be more agreeable to me,' said she, 'to see myself your mistress than your wife? And will not love have more power than marriage to keep our hearts firmly united? Pleasures
Lucilla alsotasted sparingly and with difficulty have always a higher relish, whilst everything that is easy and common grows stale and insipid.'
I was unmoved by all this reasoning, so Heloise prevailed upon my sister to speak to me. Lucilla (for that was her name) therefore took me aside and said,--
'What do you intend, brother? Is it possible that Abelard should in earnest think of marrying Heloise? She seems, indeed, to deserve a perpetual affection; beauty, youth and learning, all that can make a person valuable meet in her. You may adore all this if you please, but not to flatter you, what is beauty but a flower which may be blasted by the least fit of sickness? When those features with which you have been so captivated shall be sunk, and those graces lost, you will too late repent that you have entangled yourself in a chain from which death alone can free you. I shall see you reduced to the married man's only hope of survivorship. Do you think that learning makes Heloise more amiable? I know she is not one of those affected females who are continually oppressing you with fine speeches, criticising looks, and deciding upon the merit of authors. When such a one is in the rush of her discourse, husband, friends and servants all fly before her. Heloise has not this fault, yet ’tis troublesome not to be at liberty to use the least improper expression before a wife which you hear with pleasure from a mistress. But you say you are sure of the affection of Heloise; I believe it; she has given you no ordinary proofs. But can you be sure marriage
Fulbert's revengewill not be the tomb of her love? The name of husband and master is always harsh, and Heloise will not be the Phoenix you now think her. Will she not be a woman? Come, come, the head of a philosopher is less secure than those of other men!'
My sister grew warm in the argument, and was going on to give me a hundred more reasons of this kind, but I angrily interrupted her, telling her only that she did not know Heloise.
A few days after we departed together from Brittany and came to Paris, where I completed my project. It was my intent my marriage should be kept secret, and therefore Heloise retired among the nuns of Argenteuil.
I now thought Fulbert's anger disarmed; I lived in peace; but alas! our marriage proved but a weak defence against his revenge. Observe, Philintus, to what a barbarity he pursued it! He bribed my servants; an assassin came into my bedchamber by night, with a razor in his hand, and found me in a deep sleep. I suffered the most shameful punishment that the revenge of an enemy could invent; in short, without losing my life, I lost my manhood. So cruel an action escaped not justice, the villain suffered the same mutilation, poor comfort for so irretrievable an evil. I confess to you that shame more than any sincere penitence made me resolve to hide myself from the sight of men, yet could I not separate myself from my Heloise. Jealousy took possession of my mind, and at the very expense of her happiness I decreed to disappoint all rivals. Before I put myself in a cloister I obliged her to take the
They seek the cloisterhabit and retire into the nunnery of Argenteuil. I remember somebody would have opposed her making such a cruel sacrifice of herself, but she answered in the words of Cornelia after the death of Pompey the Great,--
Speaking these verses she marched up to the altar and took the veil with a constancy which I could not have expected in a woman who had so high a taste of pleasures which she might still enjoy. I blushed at my own weakness, and without deliberating a moment longer I buried myself in a cloister and resolved to vanquish a useless passion. I now reflected that God had chastised me thus grievously that He might save me from that destruction in which I had like to have been swallowed up. In order to avoid idleness, the unhappy incendiary of those criminal flames which had ruined me in the world, I endeavoured in my retirement to put those talents to a good use which I had before so much abused. I gave the novices rules of divinity agreeable to the holy Fathers and Councils. In the meanwhile the enemies that my new fame had raised up,--and especially Alberic and Lotulf, who, after the death of their masters Champeaux and Anselm, assumed the sovereignty of learning,--began to attack me. They loaded me with the falsest imputations, and, notwithstanding all my defence, I had the mortification to see my books condemned
He builds the Paracleteby a Council and burnt. This was a the cutting sorrow, and, believe me, Philintus, former calamity I suffered by the cruelty of Fulbert was nothing in comparison to this.
The affront I had newly received and the scandalous debaucheries of the monks obliged me to banish myself, and retire near to Nogent. I lived in a desert where I flattered myself I should avoid fame and be secure from the malice of my enemies. I was again deceived. The desire of being taught by me drew crowds of auditors even hither. Many left the towns and their houses, and came and lived in tents; for herbs, coarse fare and hard lodging, they abandoned the delicacies of a plentiful table and an easy life. I looked like the prophet in the wilderness attended by his disciples. My lectures were perfectly clear from all that had been condemned. Happy had it been if our solitude had been inaccessible to envy! With the considerable gratuities I received I built a chapel, and dedicated it to the Holy Ghost by the name of the Paraclete. The rage of my enemies now awakened again and forced me to quit this retreat. This I did without much difficulty, but first the Bishop of Troyes gave me leave to establish there a nunnery, and commit it to the care of my dear Heloise. When I had settled her there, can you believe it, Philintus, I left her without taking leave.
I did not wander long without any settled habitation, for the Duke of Brittany, informed of my misfortunes, named me to the Abbey of St. Gildas, where I now am, and where I suffer every day fresh persecutions.
The interior of a monasteryI live in a barbarous country, the language of which I don't understand; I have no conversation but with the rudest people. My walks are on the inaccessible shore of a sea which is always stormy. My monks are known only for their dissoluteness, and live without any rule or order. Could you see the abbey, Philintus, you would not recognise it for one: the doors and walls are without any ornament save the heads of wild boars and the feet of hinds, which are nailed up, and the hides of frightful animals. The cells are hung with the skins of deer; the monks have not so much as a bell to wake them, the cocks and dogs supply that defect. In short, they pass their time in hunting, and I would to God that were their greatest fault! Their pleasures do not terminate there, and I try in vain to recall them to their duty; they all combine against me, and I only expose myself to continual vexations and dangers. I imagine I see every moment a naked sword hang over my head. Sometimes they surround me and load me with infinite abuses; sometimes they abandon me, and I am left alone to my own tormenting thoughts. I make it my endeavour to merit by my sufferings and so appease an angry God. Sometimes I grieve for the loss of the house of the Paraclete and wish to see it again. Ah, Philintus! does not the love for Heloise yet burn in my heart! I have not yet triumphed over that unhappy passion. In the midst of my retirement I sigh, I weep, I pine, I speak the dear name of Heloise, and delight to hear the sound! I complain of the severity of Heaven; but oh! let us not deceive ourselves, I
Love still reignshave not yet made a right use of grace. I am thoroughly wretched; I have not yet torn from my heart the deep roots which vice has planted in it, for if my conversion were sincere, how could I take pleasure in relating my past faults? Could I not more easily comfort myself in my afflictions; could I not turn to my advantage those words of God Himself--If they have persecuted Me they will also persecute you; if the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me also. Come, Philintus, let us make a strong effort, turn our misfortunes to our advantage, make them meritorious, or at least wipe out our offences: let us receive without murmuring what comes from the hand of God, and let us not oppose our will to His. Adieu; I give you advice which, could I myself follow, I should be happy.