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Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister


Aphra Behn

The Argument

In the time of the rebellion of the true Protestant _Huguenot_ in
_Paris_, under the conduct of the Prince of _Condé_ (whom we will call
_Cesario_) many illustrious persons were drawn into the association,
amongst which there was one, whose quality and fortune (joined with
his youth and beauty) rendered him more elevated in the esteem of the
gay part of the world than most of that age. In his tender years
(unhappily enough) he chanced to fall in love with a lady, whom we
will call _Myrtilla_, who had charms enough to engage any heart; she
had all the advantages of youth and nature; a shape excellent; a most
agreeable stature, not too tall, and far from low, delicately
proportioned; her face a little inclined round, soft, smooth and
white; her eyes were blue, a little languishing, and full of love and
wit; a mouth curiously made, dimpled, and full of sweetness; lips
round, soft, plump and red; white teeth, firm and even; her nose a
little _Roman_, and which gave a noble grace to her lovely face, her
hair light brown; a neck and bosom delicately turned, white and
rising; her arms and hands exactly shaped; to this a vivacity of youth
engaging; a wit quick and flowing; a humour gay, and an air
irresistibly charming; and nothing was wanting to complete the joys of
the young _Philander_, (so we call our amorous hero) but _Myrtilla_'s
heart, which the illustrious _Cesario_ had before possessed; however,
consulting her honour and her interest, and knowing all the arts as
women do to feign a tenderness; she yields to marry him: while
_Philander_, who scorned to owe his happiness to the commands of
parents, or to chaffer for a beauty, with her consent steals her away,
and marries her. But see how transitory is a violent passion; after
being satiated, he slights the prize he had so dearly conquered; some
say, the change was occasioned by her too visibly continued love to
_Cesario_; but whatever it was, this was most certain, _Philander_
cast his eyes upon a young maid, sister to _Myrtilla_, a beauty, whose
early bloom promised wonders when come to perfection; but I will spare
her picture here, _Philander_ in the following epistles will often
enough present it to your view: He loved and languished, long before
he durst discover his pain; her being sister to his wife, nobly born,
and of undoubted fame, rendered his passion too criminal to hope for a
return, while the young lovely _Sylvia_ (so we shall call the noble
maid) sighed out her hours in the same pain and languishment for
_Philander_, and knew not that it was love, till she betraying it
innocently to the overjoyed lover and brother, he soon taught her to
understand it was love - he pursues it, she permits it, and at last
yields, when being discovered in the criminal intrigue, she flies with
him; he absolutely quits _Myrtilla_, lives some time in a village near
_Paris_, called St _Denis_, with this betrayed unfortunate, till being
found out, and like to be apprehended, (one for the rape, the other
for the flight) she is forced to marry a cadet, a creature of
_Philander_'s, to bear the name of husband only to her, while
_Philander_ had the entire possession of her soul and body: still the
_League_ went forward, and all things were ready for a war in _Paris_;
but it is not my business here to mix the rough relation of a war,
with the soft affairs of love; let it suffice, the _Huguenots_ were
defeated, and the King got the day, and every rebel lay at the mercy
of his sovereign. _Philander_ was taken prisoner, made his escape to a
little cottage near his own palace, not far from _Paris_, writes to
_Sylvia_ to come to him, which she does, and in spite of all the
industry to re-seize him, he got away with _Sylvia_.

After their flight these letters were found in their cabinets, at
their house at St _Denis_, where they both lived together, for the
space of a year; and they are as exactly as possible placed in the
order they were sent, and were those supposed to be written towards
the latter end of their amours.


Part I.


Though I parted from you resolved to obey your impossible commands,
yet know, oh charming _Sylvia_! that after a thousand conflicts
between love and honour, I found the god (too mighty for the idol)
reign absolute monarch in my soul, and soon banished that tyrant
thence. That cruel counsellor that would suggest to you a thousand
fond arguments to hinder my noble pursuit; _Sylvia_ came in view! her
irresistible _Idea_! With all the charms of blooming youth, with all
the attractions of heavenly beauty! Loose, wanton, gay, all flowing
her bright hair, and languishing her lovely eyes, her dress all
negligent as when I saw her last, discovering a thousand ravishing
graces, round, white, small breasts, delicate neck, and rising bosom,
heaved with sighs she would in vain conceal; and all besides, that
nicest fancy can imagine surprising - Oh I dare not think on, lest my
desires grow mad and raving; let it suffice, oh adorable _Sylvia_! I
think and know enough to justify that flame in me, which our weak
alliance of brother and sister has rendered so criminal; but he that
adores _Sylvia_, should do it at an uncommon rate; 'tis not enough to
sacrifice a single heart, to give you a simple passion, your beauty
should, like itself, produce wondrous effects; it should force all
obligations, all laws, all ties even of nature's self: you, my lovely
maid, were not born to be obtained by the dull methods of ordinary
loving; and 'tis in vain to prescribe me measures; and oh much more in
vain to urge the nearness of our relation. What kin, my charming
_Sylvia_, are you to me? No ties of blood forbid my passion; and
what's a ceremony imposed on man by custom? What is it to my divine
_Sylvia_, that the priest took my hand and gave it to your sister?
What alliance can that create? Why should a trick devised by the wary
old, only to make provision for posterity, tie me to an eternal
slavery? No, no, my charming maid, 'tis nonsense all; let us, (born
for mightier joys) scorn the dull _beaten road_, but let us love like
the first race of men, nearest allied to God, promiscuously they
loved, and possessed, father and daughter, brother and sister met, and
reaped the joys of love without control, and counted it religious
coupling, and 'twas encouraged too by heaven itself: therefore start
not (too nice and lovely maid) at shadows of things that can but
frighten fools. Put me not off with these delays; rather say you but
dissembled love all this while, than now 'tis born, to die again with
a poor fright of nonsense. A fit of honour! a phantom imaginary, and
no more; no, no, represent me to your soul more favourably, think you
see me languishing at your feet, breathing out my last in sighs and
kind reproaches, on the pitiless _Sylvia_; reflect when I am dead,
which will be the more afflicting object, the ghost (as you are
pleased to call it) of your murdered honour, or the pale and bleeding
one of

_The lost_ PHILANDER.

_I have lived a whole day,
and yet no letter from_ Sylvia.

* * * * *


OH why will you make me own (oh too importunate _Philander_!) with
what regret I made you promise to prefer my honour before your love?

I confess with blushes, which you might then see kindling in my face,
that I was not at all pleased with the vows you made me, to endeavour
to obey me, and I then even wished you would obstinately have denied
obedience to my just commands; have pursued your criminal flame, and
have left me raving on my undoing: for when you were gone, and I had
leisure to look into my heart, alas! I found, whether you obliged or
not, whether love or honour were preferred, I, unhappy I, was either
way inevitably lost. Oh! what pitiless god, fond of his wondrous
power, made us the objects of his almighty vanity? Oh why were we two
made the first precedents of his new found revenge? For sure no
brother ever loved a sister with so criminal a flame before: at least
my inexperienced innocence never met with so fatal a story: and it is
in vain (my too charming brother) to make me insensible of our
alliance; to persuade me I am a stranger to all but your eyes and

Alas, your fatally kind industry is all in vain. You grew up a brother
with me; the title was fixed in my heart, when I was too young to
understand your subtle distinctions, and there it thrived and spread;
and it is now too late to transplant it, or alter its native property:
who can graft a flower on a contrary stalk? The rose will bear no
tulips, nor the hyacinth the poppy, no more will the brother the name
of lover. Oh! spoil not the natural sweetness and innocence we now
retain, by an endeavour fruitless and destructive; no, no,
_Philander_, dress yourself in what charms you will, be powerful as
love can make you in your soft argument - yet, oh yet, you are my
brother still. - But why, oh cruel and eternal powers, was not
_Philander_ my lover before you destined him a brother? Or why, being
a brother, did you, malicious and spiteful powers, destine him a
lover? Oh, take either title from him, or from me a life, which can
render me no satisfaction, since your cruel laws permit it not for
_Philander_, nor his to bless the now

_Unfortunate_ SYLVIA.

_Wednesday morning_.

* * * * *


After I had dismissed my page this morning with my letter, I walked
(filled with sad soft thoughts of my brother _Philander_) into the
grove, and commanding _Melinda_ to retire, who only attended me, I
threw myself down on that bank of grass where we last disputed the
dear, but fatal business of our souls: where our prints (that invited
me) still remain on the pressed greens: there with ten thousand sighs,
with remembrance of the tender minutes we passed then, I drew your
last letter from my bosom, and often kissed, and often read it over;
but oh! who can conceive my torment, when I came to that fatal part of
it, where you say you gave your hand to my sister? I found my soul
agitated with a thousand different passions, but all insupportable,
all mad and raving; sometimes I threw myself with fury on the ground,
and pressed my panting heart to the earth; then rise in rage, and tear
my heart, and hardly spare that face that taught you first to love;
then fold my wretched arms to keep down rising sighs that almost rend
my breast, I traverse swiftly the conscious grove; with my distracted
show'ring eyes directed in vain to pitiless heaven, the lovely silent
shade favouring my complaints, I cry aloud, Oh God! _Philander_'s,
married, the lovely charming thing for whom I languish is
married! - That fatal word's enough, I need not add to whom. Married is
enough to make me curse my birth, my youth, my beauty, and my eyes
that first betrayed me to the undoing object: curse on the charms you
have flattered, for every fancied grace has helped my ruin on; now,
like flowers that wither unseen and unpossessed in shades, they must
die and be no more, they were to no end created, since _Philander_ is
married: married! Oh fate, oh hell, oh torture and confusion! Tell me
not it is to my sister, that addition is needless and vain: to make me
eternally wretched, there needs no more than that _Philander_ is
married! Than that the priest gave your hand away from me; to another,
and not to me; tired out with life, I need no other pass-port than
this repetition, _Philander_ is married! 'Tis that alone is sufficient
to lay in her cold tomb

_The wretched and despairing Wednesday night, Bellfont._ SYLVIA.

* * * * *


Twice last night, oh unfaithful and unloving _Sylvia_! I sent the page
to the old place for letters, but he returned the object of my rage,
because without the least remembrance from my fickle maid: in this
torment, unable to hide my disorder, I suffered myself to be laid in
bed; where the restless torments of the night exceeded those of the
day, and are not even by the languisher himself to be expressed; but
the returning light brought a short slumber on its wings; which was
interrupted by my atoning boy, who brought two letters from my
adorable _Sylvia_: he waked me from dreams more agreeable than all my
watchful hours could bring; for they are all tortured. - - And even the
softest mixed with a thousand despairs, difficulties and
disappointments, but these were all love, which gave a loose to joys
undenied by honour! And this way, my charming _Sylvia_, you shall be
mine, in spite of all the tyrannies of that cruel hinderer; honour
appears not, my _Sylvia_, within the close-drawn curtains; in shades
and gloomy light the phantom frights not, but when one beholds its
blushes, when it is attended and adorned, and the sun sees its false
beauties; in silent groves and grottoes, dark alcoves, and lonely
recesses, all its formalities are laid aside; it was then and there
methought my _Sylvia_ yielded, with a faint struggle and a soft
resistance; I heard her broken sighs, her tender whispering voice,
that trembling cried, - 'Oh! Can you be so cruel? - Have you the
heart - Will you undo a maid, because she loves you? Oh! Will you ruin
me, because you may? - - My faithless - - My unkind - - ' then sighed and
yielded, and made me happier than a triumphing god! But this was still
a dream, I waked and sighed, and found it vanished all! But oh, my
_Sylvia_, your letters were substantial pleasure, and pardon your
adorer, if he tell you, even the disorder you express is infinitely
dear to him, since he knows it all the effects of love; love, my soul!
Which you in vain oppose; pursue it, dear, and call it not undoing, or
else explain your fear, and tell me what your soft, your trembling
heart gives that cruel title to? Is it undoing to love? And love the
man you say has youth and beauty to justify that love? A man, that
adores you with so submissive and perfect a resignation; a man, that
did not only love first, but is resolved to die in that agreeable
flame; in my creation I was formed for love, and destined for my
_Sylvia_, and she for her _Philander_: and shall we, can we disappoint
our fate? No, my soft charmer, our souls were touched with the same
shafts of love before they had a being in our bodies, and can we
contradict divine decree?

Or is it undoing, dear, to bless _Philander_ with what you must some
time or other sacrifice to some hated, loathed object, (for _Sylvia_
can never love again;) and are those treasures for the dull conjugal
lover to rifle? Was the beauty of divine shape created for the cold
matrimonial embrace? And shall the eternal joys that _Sylvia_ can
dispense, be returned by the clumsy husband's careless, forced,
insipid duties? Oh, my _Sylvia_, shall a husband (whose insensibility
will call those raptures of joy! Those heavenly blisses! The drudgery
of life) shall he I say receive them? While your _Philander_, with the
very thought of the excess of pleasure the least possession would
afford, faints over the paper that brings here his eternal vows.

Oh! Where, my _Sylvia_, lies the undoing then? My quality and fortune
are of the highest rank amongst men, my youth gay and fond, my soul
all soft, all love; and all _Sylvia_'s! I adore her, I am sick of
love, and sick of life, till she yields, till she is all mine!

You say, my _Sylvia_, I am married, and there my happiness is
shipwrecked; but _Sylvia_, I deny it, and will not have you think it:
no, my soul was married to yours in its first creation; and only
_Sylvia_ is the wife of my sacred, my everlasting vows; of my solemn
considerate thoughts, of my ripened judgement, my mature
considerations. The rest are all repented and forgot, like the hasty
follies of unsteady youth, like vows breathed in anger, and die
perjured as soon as vented, and unregarded either of heaven or man.
Oh! why should my soul suffer for ever, why eternal pain for the
unheedy, short-lived sin of my unwilling lips? Besides, this fatal
thing called wife, this unlucky sister, this _Myrtilla_, this stop to
all my heaven, that breeds such fatal differences in our affairs, this
_Myrtilla_, I say, first broke her marriage-vows to me; I blame her
not, nor is it reasonable I should; she saw the young _Cesario_, and
loved him. _Cesario_, whom the envying world in spite of prejudice
must own, has irresistible charms, that godlike form, that sweetness
in his face, that softness in his eyes and delicate mouth; and every
beauty besides, that women dote on, and men envy: that lovely
composition of man and angel! with the addition of his eternal youth
and illustrious birth, was formed by heaven and nature for universal
conquest! And who can love the charming hero at a cheaper rate than
being undone? And she that would not venture fame, honour, and a
marriage-vow for the glory of the young _Cesario_'s heart, merits not
the noble victim; oh! would I could say so much for the young
_Philander_, who would run a thousand times more hazards of life and
fortune for the adorable _Sylvia_, than that amorous hero ever did for
_Myrtilla_, though from that prince I learned some of my disguises for
my thefts of love; for he, like _Jove_, courted in several shapes; I
saw them all, and suffered the delusion to pass upon me; for I had
seen the lovely _Sylvia_; yes, I had seen her, and loved her too: but
honour kept me yet master of my vows; but when I knew her false, when
I was once confirmed, - when by my own soul I found the dissembled
passion of hers, when she could no longer hide the blushes, or the
paleness that seized at the approaches of my disordered rival, when I
saw love dancing in her eyes, and her false heart beat with nimble
motions, and soft trembling seized every limb, at the approach or
touch of the royal lover, then I thought myself no longer obliged to
conceal my flame for _Sylvia_; nay, ere I broke silence, ere I
discovered the hidden treasure of my heart, I made her falsehood
plainer yet: even the time and place of the dear assignations I
discovered; certainty, happy certainty! broke the dull heavy chain,
and I with joy submitted to my shameful freedom, and caressed my
generous rival; nay, and by heaven I loved him for it, pleased at the
resemblance of our souls; for we were secret lovers both, but more
pleased that he loved _Myrtilla_; for that made way to my passion for
the adorable _Sylvia_!

Let the dull, hot-brained, jealous fool upbraid me with cold patience:
let the fond coxcomb, whose honour depends on the frail marriage-vow,
reproach me, or tell me that my reputation depends on the feeble
constancy of a wife, persuade me it is honour to fight for an
irretrievable and unvalued prize, and that because my rival has taken
leave to cuckold me, I shall give him leave to kill me too;
unreasonable nonsense grown to custom. No, by heaven! I had gather
_Myrtilla_ should be false, (as she is) than wish and languish for the
happy occasion; the sin is the same, only the act is more generous:
believe me, my _Sylvia_, we have all false notions of virtue and
honour, and surely this was taken up by some despairing husband in
love with a fair jilting wife, and then I pardon him; I should have
done as much: for only she that has my soul can engage my sword; she
that I love, and myself, only commands and keeps my stock of honour:
for _Sylvia_! the charming, the distracting _Sylvia_! I could fight
for a glance or smile, expose my heart for her dearer fame, and wish
no recompense, but breathing out my last gasp into her soft, white,
delicate bosom. But for a wife! that stranger to my soul, and whom we
wed for interest and necessity, - a wife, light, loose, unregarding
property, who for a momentary appetite will expose her fame, without
the noble end of loving on; she that will abuse my bed, and yet return
again to the loathed conjugal embrace, back to the arms so hated, and
even strong fancy of the absent youth beloved, cannot so much as
render supportable. Curse on her, and yet she kisses, fawns and
dissembles on, hangs on his neck, and makes the sot believe: - damn
her, brute; I'll whistle her off, and let her down the wind, as
_Othello_ says. No, I adore the wife, that, when the heart is gone,
boldly and nobly pursues the conqueror, and generously owns the
whore; - not poorly adds the nauseous sin of jilting to it: that I
could have borne, at least commended; but this can never pardon; at
worst then the world had said her passion had undone her, she loved,
and love at worst is worthy of pity. No, no, _Myrtilla_, I forgive
your love, but never can your poor dissimulation. One drives you but
from the heart you value not, but the other to my eternal contempt.
One deprives me but of thee, _Myrtilla_, but the other entitles me to
a beauty more surprising, renders thee no part of me; and so leaves
the lover free to _Sylvia_, without the brother.

Thus, my excellent maid, I have sent you the sense and truth of my
soul, in an affair you have often hinted to me, and I take no pleasure
to remember: I hope you will at least think my aversion reasonable;
and that being thus indisputably free from all obligations to
_Myrtilla_ as a husband, I may be permitted to lay claim to _Sylvia_,
as a lover, and marry myself more effectually by my everlasting vows,
than the priest by his common method could do to any other woman less
beloved; there being no other way at present left by heaven, to render
me _Sylvia_'s.

_Eternal happy lover and I die to see you_.


* * * * *


When I had sealed the enclosed, _Brilliard_ told me you were this
morning come from _Bellfont_, and with infinite impatience have
expected seeing you here; which deferred my sending this to the old
place; and I am so vain (oh adorable _Sylvia_) as to believe my
fancied silence has given you disquiets; but sure, my _Sylvia_ could
not charge me with neglect; no, she knows my soul, and lays it all on
chance, or some strange accident, she knows no business could divert
me. No, were the nation sinking, the great senate of the world
confounded, our glorious designs betrayed and ruined, and the vast
city all in flames; like _Nero_, unconcerned, I would sing my
everlasting song of love to _Sylvia_; which no time or fortune shall
untune. I know my soul, and all its strength, and how it is fortified,
the charming _Idea_ of my young _Sylvia_ will for ever remain there;
the original may fade; time may render it less fair, less blooming in
my arms, but never in my soul; I shall find thee there the same gay
glorious creature that first surprised and enslaved me, believe me
ravishing maid, I shall. Why then, oh why, my cruel _Sylvia_ are my
joys delayed? Why am I by your rigorous commands kept from the sight
of my heaven, my eternal bliss? An age, my fair tormentor, is past;
four tedious live-long days are numbered over, since I beheld the
object of my lasting vows, my eternal wishes; how can you think, oh
unreasonable _Sylvia_! that I could live so long without you? And yet
I am alive; I find it by my pain, by torments of fears and jealousies
insupportable; I languish and go downward to the earth; where you will
shortly see me laid without your recalling mercy. It is true, I move
about this unregarded world, appear every day in the great
senate-house, at clubs, cabals, and private consultations; (for
_Sylvia_ knows all the business of my soul, even in politics of State
as well as love) I say I appear indeed, and give my voice in public
business; but oh my heart more kindly is employed; that and my
thoughts are _Sylvia_'s! Ten thousand times a day I breathe that name,
my busy fingers are eternally tracing out those six mystic letters; a
thousand ways on every thing I touch, form words, and make them speak
a thousand things, and all are _Sylvia_ still; my melancholy change is
evident to all that see me, which they interpret many mistaken ways;
our party fancy I repent my league with them, and doubting I'll betray
the cause, grow jealous of me, till by new oaths, new arguments, I
confirm them; then they smile all, and cry I am in love; and this they
would believe, but that they see all women that I meet or converse
with are indifferent to me, and so can fix it no where; for none can
guess it _Sylvia_; thus while I dare not tell my soul, no not even to
_Cesario_, the stifled flame burns inward, and torments me so, that
(unlike the thing I was) I fear _Sylvia_ will lose her love, and lover

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