Marianna Alcoforado.

The Letters of a Portuguese Nun online

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_mariage de convenance_ to a lady who, according to S. Simon, was far
from being gifted with personal beauty, he was always a most exemplary
husband. S. Simon, who knew him well, also tells us that Chamilly was
‘the best man in the world, the bravest, and the most honourable.’ He
says, too, that no one after seeing him or hearing him speak, could
understand how he had inspired such an unmeasured love as that revealed
in the famous ‘Letters.’[17]

How, then, are we to reconcile the Chamilly of the ‘Letters’ with
the man of whom his contemporaries and friends speak so highly? The
publication of the Epistles of Marianna was doubtless due to vanity, a
fault which we may certainly credit Chamilly with possessing. It was,
too, the custom in seventeenth-century France to hand round copies of
letters, either received or written, for the admiration of friends, and
thus, what now appears to us a brutal and cynical want of confidence,
was then the most natural thing in the world.[18] It is not, however,
so easy, even if it is possible, to excuse the conduct of the French
captain in the betrayal and desertion of poor Marianna. Posterity, as
M. Asse says, especially the feminine portion, has condemned him, and
there seems to be no reason why we should seek to reverse the verdict.

* * * * *

It was in 1669 that the first edition of what we know as the
‘Portuguese Letters’ was published by Claude Barbin, the well-known
Parisian bookseller. The translation seems to have been made towards
the middle of the year preceding, and shortly after the return of
Chamilly to France. The Letters were evidently shown by their possessor
as one of those trophies, or at least souvenirs, which persons are
accustomed to bring back with them from a foreign country.[19] The
incognito, however, was complete, and neither the name of their
recipient nor that of their translator was inscribed on this _editio
princeps_. That of Marianna, indeed, the authoress, was not known until
early in this present century, when in 1810 Boissonade discovered her
name written in a copy of the edition of 1669 by a contemporary hand.
The veracity of this note has since been placed beyond doubt by the
recent researches of Senhor Cordeiro, who has shown the persistence of
a tradition in Beja connecting the French captain and the Portuguese

The success of the first edition was rapid and complete. A second by
Barbin, and two in foreign countries, one in Amsterdam, the other
in Cologne, all in the same year, attest this. The success, indeed,
took such proportions, that from the mutual rivalry of authors and
publishers there sprung up a new kind of literature, that of ‘les
Portugaises.’ The Five Letters of the nun had followers like most
successful romances, and the title of ‘Portuguese Letters’ became
a generic name applying not only to the imitations which amplified
subsequent editions, but also to every kind of correspondence where
passion was shown _toute nue_.[20]

‘Brancas,’ says Mme. de Sévigné, ‘has written me a letter so
excessively tender as to make up for all his past neglect. He speaks to
me from his heart in every line; if I were to reply to him in the same
tone, _ce seroit une Portugaise_.’[21]

In the same year, 1669, Barbin issued a ‘second part’ of the Portuguese
Letters, which was counterfeited shortly afterwards at Cologne, as the
real ones had been. This was written, we are told in the preface, by a
_femme du monde_, and its publication was suggested by the favour with
which the letters of the nun had been received.

The publisher counted, as he said, on the difference of style which
distinguished these fresh letters from the original ones, to assure a
success as great as the first five had obtained.

After the second part came the so-called ‘Replies,’ all in the same
year, and their publisher tells us in the preface that ‘he is assured
that the gentleman who wrote them has returned to Portugal.’ Shortly
afterwards appeared the ‘New Replies,’ but this time they were given
for what they were, ‘a _jeu d’esprit_ for which the example of Aulus
Salinus writing replies to the Heroides of Ovid, and, above all, the
beauty of the first Portuguese Letters, should serve as an excuse.’[22]

The motive, then, for the production of the second part of the
‘Portuguese Letters’ as for that of the ‘New Replies’ is satisfactorily
explained, but how about the ‘Replies’ themselves? Can we not account
for them by supposing that it was felt necessary on the part of the
friends of Chamilly to attenuate the sympathy expressed on all sides
for the unfortunate nun, and the censure which must naturally have
followed such a base betrayal? Hence, proceeds Senhor Cordeiro, the
author of this suggestion, the publication of these Replies, whose
capital idea is to show us the seducer of Marianna under a perfectly
different aspect and character from that which readers of the Letters
would naturally attribute to him. However this may be, it was not long
before the name of their hero came to be printed in editions of the
Letters, though, curiously enough, it was first divulged in an edition
printed abroad - in Cologne - in 1669, a copy of which is to be found in
the British Museum, marked 1085 _b._ 5 (2), containing the following: -

‘The name of him to whom they (the Letters) were written is the
Chevalier de Chamilly, and the name of him who made the translation is

More strange still, the French editions of the Letters preserved a
discreet silence as to the name of the recipient with the exception of
the 1671 edition of the Replies, until the year 1690, when a similar
notice to that above referred to as being in the Cologne edition was
made public; so that even in Chamilly’s lifetime his name was appended
to editions of the Letters as their recipient, and as far as we know he
never denied the authenticity of the ascription.

* * * * *

The question as to whether the Letters were originally written in
French, or whether they are a translation, hardly needs discussion
here, for the principal critics, both French and Portuguese - Dorat,
Malherbe, Filinto Elysio and Sousa Botelho - have unanimously decided
from the text itself that they are a translation, and a bad one.
The last-named says: - ‘A Portuguese, or indeed any one knowing that
language, cannot doubt but that the Five Letters of the Nun have
been translated almost literally from a Portuguese original. The
construction of many of the phrases is such that, if re-translated
word for word, they are found to be entirely in harmony with the genius
and character of that language.’[24]

But it is just this baldness for which we should all be truly thankful,
because we are thus enabled to listen to what Marianna said, and hear
how she said it. Had the translation been what the seventeenth century
would have called a good one, we should have known M. Guilleragues well
enough, it is true, but only seen the nun ‘darkly as through a glass.’

* * * * *

As to the present version, the author can only add to what he has
already said in the Preface, by confessing that he feels its inadequacy
as much as any of his critics will doubtless do. At the same time,
however, if its result be to excite competition, and call forth a
better one, his labour will not, he thinks, have been in vain.


She only said, ‘My life is dreary,
He cometh not,’ she said;
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!’

_Mariana._ - TENNYSON.


Meu amigo verdadeiro, quem me vos levou tão longe? ... Como vós vos
fostes, tudo se tornou tristeza; nem parece ainda, senão que estava
espreitando já que vos fosseis.

BERNARDIM RIBEIRO, _Saudades_, cap. i.

Do but think, my love, how much thou wert wanting in foresight. Ah!
unfortunate, thou wert betrayed, and thou didst betray me with illusive
hopes. A passion on which thou didst rest so many prospects of pleasure
now only causes thee a deadly despair, which is like nothing else
but the cruelty of the absence which occasions it. What! must this
absence, to which my sorrow, all ingenious though it be, cannot give
a sad enough name, deprive me for ever of a sight of those eyes in
which I was wont to see so much love, which made me feel so full of
joy, which took the place of all else to me, and which, in a word,
were all that I desired? Mine eyes, alas! have lost the only light
that gave them life, tears alone are left them, and ceaseless weeping
is the sole employment I have given them since I learned that you were
bent upon a separation so unbearable to me that it must soon bring
about my death. But yet it seems to me that I cling in some sort to
the sorrows of which you are the sole cause. I consecrated my life
to you from the moment when I first saw you, and I feel a certain
pleasure in sacrificing it to you. I send you my sighs a thousand
times each day, they seek you everywhere, and as sole recompense of so
much disquietude they bring me back a warning too true, alas, of my
unhappiness: an unhappiness which is cruel enough to prevent me from
flattering myself with hope, and which is ever calling to me - Cease,
cease to wear thyself out in vain, ill-fated Marianna, cease looking
for a lover whom thou wilt never see again, who has crossed the seas
to fly from thee, who is now in France in the midst of pleasures, who
is not thinking for one moment on thy sorrows, who would not thank
thee for these pangs for which he feels no gratitude. But no, I cannot
make up my mind to think so ill of you, and I am too much concerned
that you should right yourself. I do not even wish to think that you
have forgotten me. Am I not unhappy enough already without torturing
myself with false suspicions? And why should I try so hard to forget
all the care you took to prove your love for me? I was so enchanted
with it all that I should be ungrateful indeed were I not still to love
you with the same transports that my passion lent me when I enjoyed
the pledges of your love. How can the memory of moments so sweet have
become so bitter? And, contrary to their nature, must they serve only
to tyrannise over my heart? Alas, poor heart! your last letter brought
it into a strange state; it endured such strong pangs that it seemed
to be trying to tear itself from me to go and seek for you. I was so
overcome by all these violent emotions that I was beside myself for
more than three hours.[25] It was as though I refused to come back to a
life which I feel bound to lose for you since I cannot preserve it for
you. In spite of myself, however, I became myself again; I flattered
myself with the feeling that I was dying of love, and besides, I was
well pleased at the thought of being no longer obliged to see my heart
torn by grief at your absence. Ever since those first symptoms I have
suffered much from ill-health, but can I ever be well again until I
see you? And yet I am bearing it without a murmur since it comes from
you. What! is this the reward you give me for loving you so tenderly?
But it matters not; I am resolved to adore you all my life and to care
for no one else, and I tell you that you too will do well to love no
other. Could you ever content yourself with a love colder than mine?
You will perhaps find more beauty elsewhere (yet you told me once that
I was very beautiful), but you will never find so much love: and all
the rest is nothing. Do not fill any more of your letters with trifles:
and do not write and tell me again to remember you. I cannot forget
you, and as little do I forget the hope you gave me that you would come
and spend some time with me. Alas! why are you not willing to pass your
whole life at my side? Could I leave this unhappy cloister I should
not await in Portugal the fulfilment of your promises. I should go
fearlessly over the whole world seeking you, following you, and loving
you. I dare not flatter myself that this can be. I do not care to feed
a hope that would certainly give me some pleasure, while I wish to
feel nothing but sorrow. Yet I confess the chance of writing to you
which my brother gave me suddenly aroused in me a certain feeling of
joy, and checked for a time the despair in which I live. I conjure you
to tell me why you set yourself to bewitch me as you did, when you well
knew that you would have to forsake me. Why were you so bent on making
me unhappy? Why did you not leave me at peace in my cloister? Had I
done you any wrong? But I ask your pardon. I am not accusing you. I am
not in a state to think on vengeance, and I only blame the harshness of
my fate. It seems to me that in separating us it has done us all the
harm that we could fear from it. It will not succeed in separating our
hearts, - for love, more powerful than it, has united them for ever. If
you take any interest in my lot write to me often. I well deserve your
taking some pains to let me know the state of your heart and fortune.
Above all, come and see me. Good-bye. I cannot make up my mind to part
from this letter. It will fall into your hands: would I might have
the same happiness! Ah, how foolish I am! I know so well that this is
impossible. Good-bye. I can no more. Good-bye. Love me always and make
me suffer still more.


Das tristezas, não se pôde contar náda ordenadamente, porque
desordenadamente acontescem ellas.

BERNARDIM RIBEIRO, _Saudades_, cap. i.

Your lieutenant has just told me that a storm has forced you to put
into port in the Algarve.[27] I am afraid you have suffered much on
the sea, and so much has this fear absorbed me that I have thought no
more on all my troubles. Do you think, perchance, that your lieutenant
takes more interest in what happens to you than I do? If not, why then
is he better informed of it? And then, why have you not written to
me? I am unlucky indeed if you have found no time for writing since
you left, and still more so if you could have written and would not.
Your injustice and ingratitude are too great; but I should be in
despair if they were to cause you any harm. I had rather you should
remain unpunished than that they should avenge me. I withstand all
the appearances which ought to persuade me that you do not love me
at all, and I feel much more disposed to yield myself blindly to my
passion than to the reasons you give me to complain of your neglect.
What mortification you would have spared me, if, in the days when I
first saw you, your conduct had been as cold as it has seemed to me
for some time now! But who would not have been deceived by such ardour
as you then showed, and who would not have thought it sincere? How
hard it is to make up one’s mind to doubt for any time the sincerity
of those one loves! I see clearly that the least excuse is good enough
for you; and, without your troubling to make it to me, my love for you
serves you so faithfully that I cannot consent to find you guilty,
except for the sake of enjoying the infinite pleasure of declaring you
guiltless myself. You overcame me by your assiduities, you kindled
my passions with your transports, your tenderness fascinated me, your
vows persuaded me, but it was the violence of my own love which led
me away; and this beginning at once so sweet and so happy, has left
nothing behind it but tears, sighs, and a wretched death, without
the possibility of my ministering any relief to myself. It is true
that in loving you I enjoyed a pleasure unthought of before, but this
very pleasure is now costing me a sorrow, which once I knew nothing
of. All the emotions which you cause me run to extremes. If I had
shown obstinacy in resisting your love, if I had given you any motive
for anger or jealousy in order to draw you on the more, if you had
detected any artifice in my conduct, if, in a word, I had wished to
oppose my reason to the natural inclination I felt for you, and which
you soon made me perceive (though doubtless my efforts would have been
useless), you might then have punished me severely and used your power
over me with some show of justice. But you seemed to me worthy of my
love before you had told me that you loved me: you gave evidence of
a great passion for me: I was overjoyed at it, and I gave myself up
to love you to distraction. You were not blinded as I was. Why then
did you let me fall into the state in which I now am? What did you
want with all my raptures, which must have been very troublesome to
you? You well knew that you would not stay in Portugal for ever. Then
why did you single me out to make me so unhappy? Doubtless you might,
in this country, have found some woman more beautiful than I am, one
with whom you could have enjoyed as much pleasure, - since in this you
only sought the grosser kind - one who would have loved you faithfully
as long as you were with her, whom time would have consoled for your
absence, and whom you might have left without either treachery or
cruelty. You act more like a tyrant bent on persecution than a lover
whose only thought should be how to please. Alas! why do you treat
so harshly a heart which is yours? I can see very well that you let
yourself be turned against me as easily as I let myself be convinced
in your favour. Without needing to call on all my love, and without
imagining that I had done anything out of the way, I should have
resisted much stronger arguments than those can be which have moved you
to leave me. They would have seemed to me very weak, and none could
have been strong enough to tear me from your side. But you were ready
to make use of the first pretexts that you found in order to get back
to France. A vessel was sailing. Why did you not let it sail? Your
family had written to you. Surely you know all the persecutions which
I have suffered from mine? Your honour obliged you to abandon me. Did
I take any care of mine? You were forced to go and serve your king. If
all they say of him is true he has no need of your help, and would have
excused you. I should have been only too happy if we could have passed
our whole lives together, but since it was fated that a cruel absence
should separate us, I think I ought to be glad indeed at the thought
of not having been faithless, and I would not wish to have committed
such a base act for anything in the world. What! you who have known
the depths of my heart and affection, could you make up your mind to
leave me for ever and expose me to the dread of feeling that you only
remember me in order to sacrifice me to some new passion?

I well know that I love you as one distracted. Withal I do not complain
of all the violence of my heart’s emotions; I am accustoming myself
to its tortures, and I could not live without the pleasure which I
find and enjoy in loving you in the midst of a thousand sorrows. But
a disgust and hatred for everything torments me constantly; I feel
my family, my friends, and this convent unbearable. All I am forced
to see and everything I am obliged to do is hateful to me. I have
grown so jealous of my passion that methinks all my actions and all
my duties have regard to you. Yes, I have scruples in not employing
every moment of my life for you. Ah! what should I do without the
extremities of hate and love which fill my heart? Could I survive that
which incessantly fills my thoughts, and lead a quiet cold life? Such a
void, and such a lack of feeling, could never suit me. All have noticed
how completely I am changed in my humour, my manners, and my person.
My mother[28] spoke to me about it, sharply at first, but afterwards
more kindly. I know not what I said in reply. I think I confessed all
to her. Even the strictest religious pity my condition, and are moved
by a certain consideration and regard for me. Every one, in fact, is
touched by my love: and you alone remain profoundly indifferent. You
write me letters at once cold and full of repetitions; the paper is not
half filled, and you make it quite clear that you are dying to finish

Dona Brites has been importuning me for several days to get me to leave
my room, and thinking to divert me she took me for a walk upon the
balcony, from which one sees the gates of Mertola.[29] I went with her,
but at once cruel memories assailed me, and these made me weep for the
rest of the day. She brought me back to my room, and there I threw
myself on the bed and thought a thousand times on the little hope I
have of ever being well again. What is done to alleviate only embitters
my grief, and I find in the very remedies themselves particular reasons
for fresh sorrows. It was from that spot that I often saw you pass by
with that air which charmed me so, and I was up on that balcony on
the fatal day when I began to feel the first effects of my unhappy
passion. Methought you were wishing to please me, although as yet you
did not know me. I persuaded myself that you singled me out among all
my companions. When you paused I thought you were pleased for me to
see you better and admire your skill and grace whilst you caracoled
your horse. A sudden fright came over me when you made it go over some
difficult place. In a word, I interested myself secretly in every act
of yours. I felt quite sure you were not indifferent to me, and I took
as meant for me all that you did. You know too well what came of all
this; and although I have nothing to hide, I ought not to write to you
so much about it, lest I make you more guilty than you are already,
if that be possible, and lest I have to reproach myself with so many
useless efforts to oblige you to be faithful. This you will never be.
Can I ever hope that my letters and reproaches will have an effect on
your ingratitude that my love for you and your desertion of me have
not had? I know my sad fate too well: your injustice leaves me not the
slightest reason to doubt of it, and I am bound to fear the worst,
since you have cast me off. Have you a charm only for me, and do not
other eyes find you pleasing? I should not be annoyed, I think, were
the feelings of others in some sort to justify mine, and I would wish
all the women in France to find you agreeable, but none to love you,
none please you. This idea is ridiculous and impossible I well know.
I have already, however, found by experience that you are incapable
of a great affection, and that you could easily forget me without any
help, and without a fresh love obliging you to it. I would, perhaps,
wish you to have some reasonable pretext for your desertion of me.
It is true that I should then be more unhappy, but you would not be
so guilty. You mean to stay in France, I perceive, without great
enjoyments, may be, but in the possession of full liberty. The fatigue
of a long voyage, some punctilios of good manners, and the fear of not
being able to correspond to my ardent passion, keep you there. Oh do
not be afraid of me; I will be content with seeing you from time to
time, and knowing only that we are in the same country; but perhaps I
flatter myself, and may be you will be more touched by the rigour and
hardness of another woman than you have been by all my favours. Can it
be that cruelty will inflame you more?

But before engaging yourself in any great passion, think well on
the excess of my sorrows, on the uncertainty of my purposes, on the
contradictions in my emotions, on the extravagance of my letters, on
my trustfulness, my despair, my desires, and my jealousy. Oh! you are
on the way to make yourself unhappy. I conjure you to profit by my
example, that at least what I am suffering for you may not be useless
to you. Five or six months ago you told me a secret which troubled me,
and acknowledged, only too frankly, that you had once loved a lady in
your own country. If it is she who prevents you from returning here,
do not scruple to tell me, that I may fret no more. I am borne up by
some remnants of hope still, but I should be well pleased, if it can
have no good result, to lose it at a blow, and myself with it. Send
me her likeness and some one of her letters, and write me all she
says. Perchance I shall find reasons wherewith to console myself, or
it may be to afflict myself still more. I cannot remain any longer in
my present state, and any change whatsoever must be to my advantage.
I should also like to have the portrait of your brother and of your
sister-in-law.[30] All that concerns you is very dear to me, and I am
wholly given up to what touches you in any way: I have no inclination
of my own left. Sometimes, methinks, I could even submit to wait upon

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