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make this almost certain. We must understand that all
the five letters are the successive appeals of a forsaken
woman, who repeats her expressions of love and lamenta-
tion without much indication of scene or reason. But
some such indication may, by reading the text with
great care, be discovered. The fourth letter, which I
believe to be the first, opens thus abruptly : —

" Your lieutenant tells me that a storm forced you
to put into port in the kingdom of Algarve. I am afraid
that you must have greatly suffered on the sea, and this
fear has so occupied me that I have thought no more
about all my own troubles. Are you quite sure that
your lieutenant takes more interest than I do in all that
happens to you ? Why then do you keep him better
informed ? And, finally, why have you not written
to me ? I am very unfortunate if you found no oppor-
tunity of writing to me before 3'ou started, and I am still
more so if you did find one without using it to write to
me. Your injustice and your ingratitude are extreme,
yet I should be in despair if they brought you mis-

A Nun's Love Letters 73

The tone of this is angry and indignant, but it is not
the tone of a woman who considers herself abandoned.
She has evidently parted with her lover unwillingly, and
with suspicion, but she does not resign the right to
scold him. Moreover, it is noticeable that he has but
just started, and that he had hardly put to sea before he
was driven into a port in Algarve. Not a critic of the
Portuguese Letters has known what to make of this
latter point, for Algarve is the strip running along the
extreme south coast of Portugal, and no ship leaving
Lisbon for France could possibly be driven into ports
that look right across into Africa. But as we now see
Chamilly slowly descending the frontier from the Douro
to Beja, and as we presently find Mariana overwhelmed
with emotion at the sight of the road to Mertola, we
have but to look again at the map to observe that Mertola
would be naturally the first stage in a journey continued
south to the mouth of the Guadiana, which is navigable
from that town onwards. On reaching the sea Chamilly
would take ship, and would most naturally be driven
by the first storm into some port of Algarve, from which
the news would promptly be brought back to Beja.
When we find the Portuguese nun speaking of some
early confidences as made " five or six months ago," and
when we recollect that the capture of Ferreira took place
five months before the peace with Spain, we can hardly
doubt that the events upon which the Letters are founded
took place between September 1667 and February 1668,
soon after which latter date Chamilly doubtless made
an excuse for setting forth for France. Thus a series
of minute expressions in this so-called fourth letter —
expressions hitherto meaningless or misleading — are
shown to be of vital importance in testifying to the
genuineness of the correspondence.

74 French Profiles

Another fragment from this same letter Nvill help
to complete the picture of Chamilly's desertion : —

" You have taken advantage of the excuses which
you had for going back to France. A ship was starting.
Why did you not let her start ? Your family had
written to you. Do you not know what persecutions
I have endured from mine ? Your honour compelled
you to forsake me. Have I been so solicitous about my
honour ? You were forced to go to serve your king. If
all that is said of him be true, he has no need of your help,
and he would have excused j^ou. I should have been
only too happy had we passed our lives together ; but
since a cruel absence had to divide us, it seems to me
that I ought to be satisfied in knowing that I am not
faithless to you. Indeed, for all the world contains
would I not commit so base an action. What ! have
you known the depths of my heart and my affection,
and have yet been able to persuade yourself to abandon
me for ever, and to expose me to the terror of believing
that you will for the future only think of me to sacrifice
the memory of me to some new passion ! "

The freedom with which this cloistered lady and her
foreign lover met has been objected to as improbable.
But the manners of Portugal in the seventeenth century
gave to women of the religious orders a social freedom
denied to ordinary wives and daughters. In the
Memoires of Ablancourt, whom Chamilly attended on
his first mission to Lisbon, we read of royal parties of
pleasure at the Convent of Santa Speranza, where the
nuns and courtiers mingled in theatrical representations
before the king and queen. Another contemporary ac-
count admits that the French and English were so much
beloved in Portugal that some liberty was allowed to them
beyond what a Portuguese gentleman might indulge in.

A Nun's Love Letters 75

It is easy to see that if convents might without scandal
be opened to men in social intercourse, it is not probable
that they would be closed to a brilliant foreign ally fresh
from Villa Vigosa or Ferreira. But we must again allow
Mariana Alcaforada to tell her own tale : —

" Every one has noticed the entire change in my mood,
my manners, and my person. M}' mother has spoken
to me about it, with bitterness at first, and then with a
certain kindliness. I do not know what I said to her
in reply; I fancy I must have confessed everything to
her. The strictest of the nuns here are sorry to see
what a condition I am in ; they even treat me on account
of it with some consideration and some tenderness.
Everybody is touched at my love, and you alone remain
perfectly indifferent, writing me only cold letters, full
of repetitions ; half the paper is not filled, and you are
rude enough to let me see that you are dying with
impatience to be done writing. Dofia Brites has been
persecuting me these last days to get me to leave my
room ; and fancying that it would amuse me, she took
me for a turn on the balcony from which one has a view
of Mertola ; I went with her, and at once a cruel memory
came back to me, a memory which kept me weeping all
the remainder of the day. She brought me back, and
I threw myself on my bed, where I could but reflect a
thousand times over how little chance there was of my
ever being cured. Whatever is done to solace me
augments my suffering, and in the remedies themselves
I find intimate reasons Mhy I should be wretched. I
have often seen you pass that spot with an air that
charmed me, and I was on that balcony on that fatal
day when I first began to feel the symptoms of my ill-
starred passion. I fancied that you wished to please
me, although j'OU did not know mc. I persuaded myself


French Profiles

that you had noticed me among all the ladies that were
with me. I imagined that when you drew rein, you
were well pleased that I should have a better sight of
you, and that I should admire your skill and how graceful
you looked on horseback. I was surprised to notice
that I was frightened when you took your horse through
a difficult place; the fact is that I was taking a secret
interest in all your actions."

We see that he wrote to her at first, although not from
that port of Algarve, in which he had thought of nothing
but business. It does not appear that after this he ever
wrote again, nor as her memory loses its sharpness does
she ever, after this first letter, regain the same clearness
of reminiscence. We may quote once more from this,
the most interesting of the famous five. It is thus that
Mariana closes her pathetic appeal : —

" I want to have the portraits of your brother and of
your sister-in-law. Whatever is anything to you is very
dear to me, and I am wholly devoted to what concerns
you. I have no will of my own left. There are moments
in which it seems to me that I should be humble enough
to serve her whom you love. . . . An officer has been
waiting for this letter for a long time ; I had made up
my mind to write it in such a way that you may not be
disgusted when you receive it, but I see I have made it
too extravagant. I must close it. Alas ! it is out of my
power to do so. I seem to be talking to you when I
write to you, and you become a little more present to
me then. . . . The officer who is to take this letter
reminds me for the fourth time that he wishes to start.
What a hurry he is in ! He, no doubt, is forsaking some
unhappy lady in this country. Farewell ! it is harder
for me to finish my letter than it was for you to abandon
me, perhaps for ever."

A Nun's Love Letters ^'j

The remaining letters give fewer indications of date
and sequence than the fourth, nor are they so picturesque.
But the reader will not seek the Portuguese Letters, as
he seeks the Memoires of Madame de Motteville, or even
the correspondence of Madame de Sevigne, mainly for
sparkling incident and the pretty details of contemporary
life. The value of these epistles rests in their sincerity
as a revelation of the heart. Poor Mariana had no
inclination to describe the daily life of her fellow-nuns
or the intrigues of society in Beja. She has been
deceived, the man she loves is absent, and as she weeps
without cessation, she cannot help confessing to herself
that she does not expect to see him back again.

" I resigned my life to you," she says in the so-called
first letter, " as soon as I saw you, and I feel some
pleasure now in sacrificing to you what you will not
accept. A thousand times a day I send my sighs out
after you ; they search for you everywhere, and for all
reward of so much disquietude what do they bring me
back but too sincere a warning from my evil fortune,
which is too cruel to suffer me to deceive myself, and
which says to me every moment. Cease, cease, unfortu-
nate Mariana ! vainly thou dost consume thyself, vainly
dost seek a lover whom thou shalt never see again, who
has crost the ocean to escape from thee, who is now in
France in the midst of pleasures, who gives no single
moment to the thought of thy sufferings, and who can
well dispense with all these thy needless transports."

She will not, however, yet admit that she is wholly
deserted. She has received a letter from him, and though
its tone was so far from responding to her own that it
threw her beside herself for three hours, it has re-
awakened her hopes.

" Can you ever be contented by a passion less ardent

yS French Profiles

than mine ? You will, perhaps, find elsewhere more
beauty (although you used to tell me that I was beautiful
enough) but you will never find so much love again, and
all the rest is nothing. Do not fill out your letters with
needless matter, and you may save yourself the trouble
of reminding me to remember you. I cannot forget you,
and I cannot forget, too, that you made me hope that
you would come back to me for awhile. Ah ! why will
you not spend all your life here ? Were it possible for
me to quit this wretched cloister, I would not stay in
Portugal to see whether you performed your promises.
I would not count the cost, but would fly to seek you,
to follow you, to love you. I dare not persuade myself
that this will be ; I will not nourish such a hope (though
there might be pleasure in delusion), for since I am
doomed to be unhappy, I will have no feelings incon-
sistent with my lot."

The violent and wretched tone of the Letters
culminates in the third, which is unsurpassed as a revela-
tion of the ingenious self-torture of a sensitive mind
brooding upon its own despair. The w^omen of Paris
were astonished to read such pages as the following,
where complex emotions which they had often ex-
perienced or imagined, but had never been able to
formulate, suddenly found perfectly direct and limpid
expression : —

" I cannot persuade myself to wish that you may no
longer be thinking about me ; and, indeed, to speak
sincerely, I am furiously jealous of whatever may give
you happiness, and of all that may touch your heart
and your tastes in France. I do not know why I write
to you. I see well enough that you will only pity me,
and I do not wish for your pity. I am very angry with
myself when I reflect upon all that I have sacrificed for

A Nun's Love Letters 79

you. I have exposed myself to the rage of my relatives,
to the severity of the laws of this country against nuns,
and to your ingratitude, which appears to me the greatest
of all misfortunes. Yet, all the while, I am conscious
that my remorse is not sincere, and that for the love of
you I would with all my heart run into far greater dangers
than any of these."

The extraordinary and at that time the unique merit
of the Portuguese Nun, as a letter-writer, hes in the fact
that, in the full tempest and turmoil of her passion,
she never yields to the temptation of giving herself up
to rhetoric, or rather that whenever she does make a
momentary concession to this habit of her age, she
doubles on herself immediately, and is the first to
deprecate such false flowers of speech. She knows that
her letters are too long, although she cannot keep them
within bounds. It is part of the torture of her spirit
that she recognises better than any monitor from without
could teach her, that her lamentations, reproaches, and
entreaties are as Uttle calculated as a material flood of
tears would be to revive the fire upon a hearth of sunken
embers. As she clamours at the door of memory, and
makes the air resound with her importunity, she is sane
enough to be aware all the while that these are no
seductions by which a weary heart may be refreshed
and re-awakened; yet is she absolutely powerless to
moderate her own emotion. The result is poignant to
the last degree ; and from the absence of all, or almost
all, surrounding local colour of incident or tradition, the
spectacle of this distress moves and excites the reader
in somewhat the same fashion as the loud crying of an
unseen figure out-of-doors in the darkness of the night
may move the helpless sympathy of one who listens
from a window.

8o French Profiles

Nothing more is known of this shadowy Mariana
Alcaforada, but the author of her misfortunes figures
long and gloriously in French history. His fatuity, if
not his heartlessness, in allowing her letters to be
immediately printed, is a blot upon his humanity in
our eyes, but seems to have abated his magnificence not
a whit among his contemporaries. It would be idle to
inquire by what means the letters came into the hands
of a pubhsher. In 1690, upon the death of the trans-
lator, it was admitted that they had been turned out of
Portuguese into excellent French by Pierre Girardin de
Guilleragues, a " Gascon gourmand," as Saint-Simon
calls him, immortahsed moreover by Boileau, in a
graceful couplet, as being —

" Born master of all arts a court can teach,
And skilled alike in silence and in speech."

It was Guilleragues who said of Pelisson that " he
abused the permission that men have to be ugly." He
was patronised by Madame de Maintenon and died
French ambassador to the Porte in 1689. To Guiller-
agues is attributed the composition of the Portuguese
Letters by those who seek to deny that Mariana Alca-
forada ever existed. But in their own day no one
doubted that the actors in this little drama were real
persons. Chamilly is described by Saint-Simon as a
tall, heavy man, extremely good-natured and gallant
in fight, although to listen to and to look at, giving httle
suggestion that he could ever have inspired so romantic
a passion as that revealed by the Portuguese Letters.
To this there is an obvious reply, that Saint-Simon only
knew Chamilly in his mature years, and that there is no
reason why a heavy dragoon should not have been very
attractive to a Portuguese maiden at twenty-six and yet

A Nun's Love Letters 8i

seem most unattractive at forty-six to the wittiest of
memoir-writers. To the Portuguese nun he undoubtedly
behaved disgracefully ill, and not at all like a Christian
gentleman ; but we must remember that his own age
judged such bad deeds as peccadillos in the free campaign
of love and war. Chamilly's subsequent career was
unquestionably glorious. He fought the Turks in
Candia, he commanded the troops of the Electors of
Cologne and of Munster, he won deathless laurels at the
famous siege of Grave; and, finally, after twenty-five
campaigns, he ended as Marshal of France, and married
a wife who was, as we may smile maliciously to read in
our Saint-Simon, " singularly ugly."

The success of the Portuguese Letters was attested not
merely by the multitude of successive editions of the
text, but by the imitations and continuations which
were foisted upon a credulous public. Only seven
months after the original publication there appeared a
second part containing seven letters, with the same date,
1669, on the title-page. These did not, however,
pretend to be written by Mariana, but by a Portuguese
lady of quality. The style was very different, as the
publisher admitted, and the letters bear every stamp
of artifice and fiction. They were, however, greedily
accepted as genuine, and the " Dame Portugaise " took
her place beside the " Rehgieuse," The temptation to
prolong the romance was irresistible, and there was
immediately published a pamphlet of " Rephes," five in
number, supposed to be sent by the French officer to
the Portuguese nun in answer to each of her letters.
This came from a Parisian press ; but the idea of publish-
ing the officer's letters had occurred simultaneously to
a provincial bookseller, and still in the same year, 1669,
there appeared at Grenoble a volume of New Replies,


82 French Profiles

six in number, the first being not properly a reply, but
an introductory letter. This last pubhcation openly
professes to be fiction. The editor states in the preface
that being " neither a girl, nor a nun, nor even perhaps
in love," he cannot pretend to express the sentiments of
the heart with the genuine vigour of the original letters ;
but that, as Aulus Sabinus ventured to reply to certain
of the heroic epistles of Ovid, though with so little success
as merely to heighten the lustre of those originals, so he
hopes by these inventions, and a mere jeu d'esprit, to
increase the admiration of readers for Mariana's genuine
correspondence. All this is very honest and very
legitimate, but so eager were the ladies of the seven-
teenth century to be deluded that this preface of the
guileless editor was taken to be a mere mystification, and
the Grenoble New Replies were swallowed like the rest.
Some idea of the popularity of the Portuguese Letters
may be gained, not merely from the vogue of these
successive imitations, but from the fact that M. Eugene
Asse, the latest and best of Mariana's editors, has
described no fewer than sixteen editions of the Letters
themselves, issued before the close of the seventeenth
century, a list which would seem to be very far indeed
from being complete.

Rousseau was the first to start the idea that the
Portuguese Letters were written by a man. He went
upon no external evidence, but on subtle and in truth
very fanciful arguments regarding the point of view
taken by the writer. No one else has seriously ques-
tioned their authenticity, until quite recently, when
M. Beauvois, a Burgundian antiquary, has endeavoured
to destroy our faith in the existence of the Portuguese
nun. This gentleman is an impassioned admirer of the
exploits of the Marquis of Chamilly, and it is not difficult

A Nun's Love Letters 83

to perceive that his wish to discredit the Letters is
due to his desire to whitewash the character of his hero,
blackened for the present, at all events to modern eyes,
by the cruel abandonment of this poor religious lady
in the Beja convent. This critic goes to the opposite
extreme, and allows himself to speak of Mariana's letters
as " the obsessions of a Maenad." Many of M. Beauvois's
acute objections are met by the rearrangement of the
letters which I have suggested above, and particularly
by the fact that the fourth of them should certainly
stand the first. After a careful examination of his
criticism, and particularly in the light of the important
historical dates, with regard to Chamilly's record in the
Portuguese war, which M. Beauvois has himself brought
forward, I for one am more persuaded than ever that
the outline of the story as we know it is true, and that
the letters, or something Portuguese which was very
like them, were actually sent after the rascally belldtre
when he made his way back to France in 1668.

Bare as the letters are, there are nevertheless little
touches of detail here and there, little inexplicable allu-
sions, such as a real correspondence would possess, and
such as no forger would introduce. It would be tedious
in this place to dwell minutely on this sort of evidence,
but a single example may be given. In one passage the
nun writes, " Ah ! how I envy the happiness of Emmanuel
and of Francisque. Why am not I always with you, as
they are ! " Nothing more is said of these beings. We
are left to conjecture whether they were fellow-officers,
or servants, or dogs, or even perhaps parrots. A forger
would scarcely leave two meaningless names in the body
of his text without some indication of his idea. The
sincerity, moreover, of the style and sentiments is
extraordinary, and is observed to great advantage by

84 French Profiles

comparing the various continuations and replies with
the five original letters. To suppose the first little
volume of 1669 to be a deliberate fiction would be to land
us in the more serious difficulty of discovering in its
inventor a great imaginative creator of emotional
romance. The hero-worship of M. Beauvois has not
convinced me that Mariana never gazed across the olives
and oranges to Mertola, nor watched the cavalcade of
her false dragoon file down into the gorge of the Guadiana.
The French critics have not taken any interest in the
influence of the Portuguese Letters in England. Yet
translations and imitations of these letters became very
numerous in this country before the close of the seven-
teenth century. The earliest version which I have been
able to trace is that of Sir Roger L'Estrange, published
as a very tiny little book of Five Love-Letters from a Nun
to a Cavalier, in 1678 (December 28, 1677). In a short
preface to the reader, the translator says, " These five
letters are here at your service. You will find in them
the lively image of an extravagant and an unfortunate
passion, and that a woman may be flesh and blood in a
cloister as well as in a palace." This translation of
L'Estrange's went on being reprinted for fifty years, and
was attended on its successful course from one toilet to
another by a variety of imitations, the liveUest of which
is attributed to the pen of the vivacious Major Richard-
son Pack. From the first the Portuguese Letters were
not presented to the women of England as literature,
but as models of sincere letter-writing, and hence they
escaped mention in our solemn handbooks of bibliography
and literary history. But their influence was extra-
ordinary, and by the time that the Spectator had come
into existence, and Richard Steele was sitting over his
wine, " the slave of beauty," writing out of his heart to

A Nun's Love Letters 85

Mary Scurlock, the men and women of England had
learned the lesson which the nun of Beja was betrayed
to teach them, and they could say in plain, straight-
forward sentences exactly what it was in their souls to
express to one another, without any sort of trope or
rhetorical ornament.



Those who can endure an excursion into the backwaters
of literature may contemplate, neither too seriously nor
too lengthily, the career and writings of Barbey d'Aure-
villy. Very obscure in his youth, he lived so long, and
preserved his force so consistently, that in his old age he
became, if not quite a celebrity, most certainly a notor-
iety. At the close of his life — he reached his eighty-first
year — he was still to be seen walking the streets or
haunting the churches of Paris, his long, sparse hair
flying in the wind, his fierce eyes flashing about him,
his hat poised on the side of his head, his famous lace
frills turned back over the cuff of his coat, his attitude
always erect, defiant, and formidable. Down to the winter
of 1888 he preserved the dandy dress of 1840, and never
appeared but as M. de Pontmartin has described him,
in black satin trousers, which fitted his old legs like a
glove, in a flapping, brigand wideawake, in a velvet
waistcoat, which revealed diamond studs and a lace

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