Peter Abelard.

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Produced by Jim Adcock. Special Thanks to the Internet Archive.

Abelard and Heloise.

Abelard and

To which is prefix'd
_Lives, Amours, and Misfortunes._
Together with the
And, (to which is now added) the

- - - - - -


for W. OSBORNE, and T. GRIFFIN in
Holborn, and J. MOZLEY, in



It is very surprising that the _Letters of Abelard and Heloise_
have not sooner appeared in English, since it is generally allowed,
by all who have seen them in other languages, that they are written
with the greatest passion of any in this kind which are extant. And
it is certain that the _Letters from a Nun to a Cavalier_, which
have so long been known and admired among us, are in all respects
inferior to them. Whatever those were, these are known to be genuine
Pieces occasioned by an amour which had very extraordinary
consequences, and made a great noise at the time when it happened,
being between two of the most distinguished Persons of that age.

These _Letters_, therefore, being truly written by the
Persons themselves, whose names they bear, and who were both
remarkable for their genius and learning, as well as by a most
extravagant passion for each other, are every where full of
sentiments of the heart, (which are not to be imitated in a feigned
story,) and touches of Nature, much more moving than any which could
flow from the Pen of a Writer of Novels, or enter into the
imagination of any who had not felt the like emotions and distresses.

They were originally written in Latin, and are extant in a
Collection of the Works of _Abelard_, printed at Paris in the
year 1616. With what elegance and beauty of stile they were written
in that language, will sufficiently appear to the learned Reader,
even by those few citations which are set at the bottom of the page
in some places of the following history. But the Book here mentioned
consisting chiefly of school-divinity, and the learning of those
times, and therefore being rarely to be met with but in public
libraries, and in the hands of some learned men, the Letters of
_Abelard_ and _Heloise_ are much more known by a Translation,
or rather Paraphrase of them, in French, first published at
the Hague in 1693, and which afterwards received several other
more complete Editions. This Translation is much applauded, but who
was the Author of it is not certainly known. Monsieur Bayle says he
had been informed it was done by a woman; and, perhaps, he thought no
one besides could have entered so thoroughly into the passion and
tenderness of such writings, for which that sex seems to have a more
natural disposition than the other. This may be judged of by the
Letters themselves, among which those of _Heloise_ are the most
moving, and the Master seems in this particular to have been excelled
by the Scholar.

In some of the later Editions in French, there has been prefixed
to the Letters an Historical Account of _Abelard_ and _Heloise_;
this is chiefly extracted from the Preface of the Editor of _Abelard's_
Works in Latin, and from the _Critical Dictionary_ of Monsieur
Bayle*, who has put together, under several articles, all the
particulars he was able to collect concerning these two famous
Persons; and though the first Letter of _Abelard to Philintus_,
in which he relates his own story, may seem to have rendered this
account in part unnecessary; yet the Reader will not be displeased to
see the thread of the relation entire, and continued to the death of
the Persons whose misfortunes had made their lives so very

* _Vide Artic_. Abelard, Heloise, Foulques, _and_ Paraclete

It is indeed impossible to be unmoved at the surprising and
multiplied afflictions and persecutions which befel a man of
_Abelard's_ fine genius, when we see them so feelingly described
by his own hand. Many of these were owing to the malice of such as
were his enemies on the account of his superior learning and merit;
yet the great calamities of his life took their rise from his unhappy
indulgence of a criminal passion, and giving himself a loose to
unwarrantable pleasures. After this he was perpetually involved in
sorrow and distress, and in vain sought for ease and quiet in a
monastic life. The _Letters_ between him and his beloved _Heloise_
were not written till long after their marriage and separation, and
when each of them was dedicated to a life of religion. Accordingly we
find in them surprising mixtures of devotion and tenderness, and
remaining frailty, and a lively picture of human nature in its
contrarieties of passion and reason, its infirmities, and its


The History of Abelard and Heloise


I. Abelard to Philintus.

II. Heloise to Abelard.

III. Abelard to Heloise.

IV. Heloise to Abelard.

V. Heloise to Abelard.

VI. Abelard to Heloise.

VII. Eloisa to Abelard. A poem. by Mr. Pope.

VIII. Abelard to Eloisa. A poem. by Mrs. Madan.

The History of Abelard and Heloise

_Peter Abelard_ was born in the village of Palais in Britany.
He lived in the twelfth century, in the reigns of _Louis the Gross_,
and _Louis the Young_. His Father's name was _Beranger_, a
gentleman of a considerable and wealthy family. He took care to give
his children a liberal and pious education, especially his eldest
son _Peter_, on whom he endeavoured to bestow all possible
improvements, because there appeared in him an extraordinary vivacity
of wit joined with sweetness of temper, and all imaginable presages
of a great man.

When he had made some advancement in learning, he grew so fond of
his books, that, lest affairs of the world might interrupt his
proficiency in them, he quitted his birthright to his younger
brothers, and applied himself entirely to the studies of Philosophy
and Divinity.

Of all the sciences to which he applied himself, that which
pleased him most, and in which he made the greatest progress, was
Logick. He had a very subtile wit, and was incessantly whetting it by
disputes, out of a restless ambition to be master of his weapons. So
that in a short time he gained the reputation of the greatest
philosopher of his age; and has always been esteemed the founder of
what we call the _Learning of the Schoolmen_.

He finished his studies at Paris, where learning was then in a
flourishing condition. In this city he found that famous professor of
philosophy William des Champeaux, and soon became his favourite
scholar; but this did not last long. The professor was so hard put to
it to answer the subtle objections of his new scholar, that he grew
uneasy with him. The school soon run into parties. The senior
scholars, transported with envy against _Abelard_, seconded
their master's resentment. All this served only to increase the young
man's presumption, who now thought himself sufficiently qualified to
set up a school of his own. For this purpose he chose an advantageous
place, which was the town of Melun, ten leagues from Paris, where the
French court resided at that time. Champeaux did all that he could to
hinder the erecting of this school; but some of the great courtiers
being his enemies, the opposition he made to it only promoted the
design of his rival.

The reputation of this new professor made a marvellous progress,
and eclipsed that of Champeaux. These successes swelled _Abelard_
so much that he removed his school to Corbeil, in order to engage his
enemy the more closer in more frequent disputations. But his
excessive application to study brought upon him a long and dangerous
sickness, which constrained him to return to his own native air.

After he had spent two years in his own country he made a second
adventure to Paris, where he found that his old antagonist Champeaux
had resigned his chair to another, and was retired into a convent of
Canons Regular, among whom he continued his lectures. _Abelard_
attacked him with such fury, that he quickly forced him to renounce
his tenets. Whereupon the poor monk became so despicable, and his
antagonist in such great esteem, that nobody went to the lectures of
Champeaux, and the very man who succeeded him in his professorship,
listed under _Abelard_, and became his scholar.

He was scarce fixed in his chair before he found himself exposed
more than ever to the strokes of the most cruel envy. Endeavours were
used to do him ill offices by all those who were any ways disaffected
to him. Another professor was put into his place, who had thought it
his duty to submit to _Abelard_, in short so many enemies were
raised against him that he was forced to retreat from Paris to Melun,
and there revived his logick lectures. But this held not long; for
hearing that Champeaux with all his infantry was retired into a
country village, he came and posted himself on mount St. Genevieve,
where he erected a new school, like a kind of battery against him
whom Champeaux had left to teach at Paris.

Champeaux understanding that his substitute was thus besieged in
his school, brought the Regular Canons attack again to their
monastery. But this, instead of relieving his friend, caused all his
scholars to desert him. At which the poor philosopher was so
mortified, that he followed the example of his patron Champeaux, and
turned monk too.

The dispute now lay wholly between Abelard and Champeaux, who
renewed it with great warmth on both sides; but the senior had not
the best on't. While it was depending, _Abelard_ was obliged to
visit his father and mother, who, according to the fashion of those
times, had resolved to forsake the world, and retire into convents,
in order to devote themselves more seriously to the care of their

Having assisted at the admission of his parents into their
respective monasteries and received their blessing, he returned to
Paris, where during his absence, his rival had been promoted to the
bishoprick of Chalons. And now being in a condition to quit his
school without any suspicions of flying from his enemy, he resolved
to apply himself wholly to Divinity.

To this end he removed to Laon, where one _Anselm_ read
divinity-lectures with good reputation. But _Abelard_ was so
little satisfied with the old man's abilities, who has he says, had a
very mean genius, and a great fluency of words without sense, that he
took a resolution for the future to hear no other master than the
Holy Scriptures. A good resolution! if a man takes the Spirit of God
for his guide, and be more concerned to distinguish truth from
falsehood, than to confirm himself in those principles into which
his, own fancy or complexion, or the prejudices of his birth and
education, have insensibly led him.

_Abelard_, together with the Holy Scriptures, read the
ancient fathers and doctors of the church, in which he spent whole
days and nights, and profited so well, that instead of returning to
_Anselm's_ lectures, he took up the same employment, and began
to explain the Prophet _Ezekiel_ to some of his fellow-pupils.
He performed this part so agreeably; and in so easy a method that he
soon got a crowd of auditors.

The jealous _Anselm_ could not bear this; he quickly found
means to get the lecturer silenced. Upon this _Abelard_ removed
to Paris once more, where he proceeded with his public exposition on
Ezekiel, and soon acquired the same reputation for his divinity he
had before gained for his philosophy. His eloquence and learning
procured him an incredible number of scholars from all parts; so that
if he had minded saving of money, he might have grown rich with ease
in a short time. And happy had it been for him, if, among all the
enemies his learning exposed him to, he had guarded his heart against
the charms of love. But, alas! the greatest doctors are not always
the wisest men, as appears from examples in every age; but from none
more remarkable than that of this learned man, whose story I am now
going to tell you.

_Abelard_, besides his uncommon merit as a scholar, had all
the accomplishments of a gentleman. He had a greatness of soul which
nothing could shock; his passions were delicate, his judgment solid,
and his taste exquisite. He was of a graceful person, and carried
himself with the air of a man of quality. His conversation was sweet,
complaisant, easy, and gentleman-like. It seemed as tho' Nature had
designed him for a more elevated employment than that of teaching the
sciences. He looked upon riches and grandeur with contempt, and had
no higher ambition than to make his name famous among learned men,
and to be reputed the greatest doctor of his age: but he had human
frailty, and all his philosophy could not guard him from the attacks
of love. For some time indeed, he had defended himself against this
passion pretty well, when the temptation was but slight; but upon a
more intimate familiarity with such agreeable objects, he found his
reason fail him: yet in respect to his wisdom, he thought of
compounding the matter and resolved at first, that love and
philosophy should dwell together in the same breast. He intended only
to let out his heart to the former, and that but for a little while;
never considering that love is a great ruiner of projects; and that
when it has once got a share in a heart, it is easy to possess itself
of the whole.

He was now in the seven or eight and twentieth year of his age,
when he thought himself completely happy in all respects, excepting
that he wanted a mistress. He considered therefore of making a
choice, but such a one as might be most suitable to his notions, and
the design he had of passing agreeably those hours he did not employ
in his study. He had several ladies in his eye, to whom as he says in
one of his _Letters_, he could easily have recommended himself.
For you must understand, that besides his qualifications mentioned
before, he had a vein of poetry, and made abundance of little easy
songs, which he would sing with all the advantage of a gallant air
and pleasant voice. But tho' he was cut out for a lover, he was not
over-hasty in determining his choice. He was not of a humour to be
pleased with the wanton or forward; he scorned easy pleasures, and
sought to encounter with difficulties and impediments, that he might
conquer with the greater glory. In short, he had not yet seen the
woman he was to love.

Not far from the place where _Abelard_ read his lectures
lived one _Doctor Fulbert_, a canon of the church of Notre-Dame.
This canon had a niece named _Heloise_ in his house whom he
educated with great care and affection. Some writers say*, that she
was the good man's natural daughter; but that, to prevent a public
scandal, he gave out that she was his niece by his sister, who upon
her death-bed had charged him with her education. But though it was
well known in those times, as well as since, that the niece of an
ecclesiastick is sometimes more nearly related to him, yet of this
damsel's birth and parentage we have nothing very certain.
There is reason to think, from one of her _Letters to Abelard_,
that she came of a mean family; for she owns that great honour was
done to her side by this alliance, and that he married much below
himself. So that what Francis d'Amboise says, that she was of the
name and family of Montmorency has no manner of foundation. It is
very probable she was really and truly Fulbert's niece, as he
affirmed her to be. Whatever she was for birth, she was a very
engaging woman; and if she was not a perfect beauty, she
appeared such at least in _Abelard's_ eyes. Her person was well
proportioned, her features regular, her eyes sparkling, her lips
vermillion and well formed, her complexion animated, her air fine,
and her aspect sweet and agreeable. She had a surprising quickness of
wit, an incredible memory, and a considerable share of learning,
joined with humility; and all these accomplishments were attended
with something so graceful and moving, that it was impossible for
those who kept her company not to be in love with her.

* Papyr. Maffo. Annal. 1. 3. "Joannes Canonicus Pariflus,
Heloysiam naturalem filiam habehat prastanti ingenio formaque."

As soon as _Abelard_ had seen her, and conversed with her,
the charms of her wit and beauty made such an impression upon his
heart, that he presently conceived a most violent passion for her,
and resolved to make it his whole endeavour to win her affections.
And now, he that formerly quitted his patrimony to pursue his
studies, laid aside all other engagements to attend his new passion.

In vain did Philosophy and Reason importune him to return; he was
deaf to their call, and thought of nothing but how to enjoy the sight
and company of his dear _Heloise_. And he soon met with the
luckiest opportunity in the world. Fulbert who had the greatest
affection imaginable for his niece, finding her to have a good share
of natural wit, and a particular genius for learning, thought himself
obliged to improve the talents which Nature had so liberally bestowed
on her. He had already put her to learn several languages, which she
quickly came to understand so well, that her fame began to spread
itself abroad, and the wit and learning of _Heloise_ was every
where discoursed of. And though her uncle for his own share was no
great scholar, he was very felicitous that his niece should have all
possible improvements. He was willing, therefore, she should have
masters to instruct her in what she had a mind to learn: but he loved
his money, and this kept him from providing for her education so well
as she desired.

_Abelard_, who knew _Heloise's_ inclinations, and the
temper of her uncle, thought this an opportunity favourable to his
design. He was already well acquainted with Fulbert, as being his
brother canon in the same church; and he observed how fond the other
was of his friendship, and what an honour he esteemed it to be
intimate with a person of his reputation. He therefore told him one
day in familiarity, that he was at a loss for some house to board in;
and if you could find room for me, said he, in yours, I leave to you
name the terms.

The good man immediately considering that by this means he should
provide an able master for his niece who, instead of taking money of
him, offered to provide him well for his board, embraced his proposal
with the joy imaginable, gave him a thousand caresses, and desired he
would consider him for the future as one ambitious of the strictest
friendship with him.

What an unspeakable joy was this to the amorous _Abelard_! to
consider that he was going to live with her, who was the only object
of his desires! that he should have the opportunity of seeing and
conversing with her every day, and of acquainting her with his
passion! However, he concealed his joy at present lest he should make
his intention suspected. We told you before how liberal Nature had
been to our lover in making his person every way so agreeable; so
that he flattered himself that it was almost impossible * that any
woman should reject his addresses. Perhaps he was mistaken: the sex
has variety of humour. However, consider him as a philosopher who had
therto lived in a strict chastity **, he certainly reasoned
well in the business of love; when he concluded that _Heloise_
would be an easier conquest to him than others because her learning
gave him an opportunity of establishing a correspondence by letters,
in which he might discover his passion with greater freedom than he
dared presume to use in conversation.

* _Tanti quippe tune nominis eram & juventutis & forma
gratia praeminebam, ut quamcunque foeminartn nostre dignarer amore
nullam verer repulsam._ 1 Epist. Abel. p. 10. Abel.

** _Froena libidini coepi laxare, qui antea viveram continantissime._

Some time after the Canon had taken _Abelard_ into his own
house, as they were discoursing one day about things somewhat above
Fulbert's capacity, the latter turned the discourse insensibly to the
good qualities of his niece; he informed _Abelard_ of the
excellency of her wit, and how strong a propensity she had to improve
in learning; and withal made it his earnest request, that he would
take the pains to instruct her. _Abelard_ pretended to be
surprised at a proposal of this nature. He told him that learning was
not the proper business of women; that such inclinations in them had
more of humour or curiosity than a solid desire of knowledge; and
could hardly pass, among either the learned or ignorant, without
drawing upon them the imputation of conceit and affectation. Fulbert
answered, that this was very true of women of common capacities; but
he hoped, when he had discoursed with his niece, and found what
progress she had made already, and what a capacity she had for
learning, he would be of another opinion. _Abelard_ assured him,
he was ready to do all he could for her improvement, and if she was
not like other women, who hate to learn any thing beyond their
needle, he would spare no pains to make _Heloise_ answer the
hopes which her uncle had conceived of her.

The canon was transported with the civility of the young doctor;
he returned him thanks, and protested he could not do him a more
acceptable service than to assist his niece in her endeavours to
learn; he therefore entreated him once more to set apart some of his
time, which he did not employ in public, for this purpose: and, (as
if he had known his designed intrigue, and was willing to promote it)
he committed her entirely to his care, and begged of him to treat her
with the authority of a master; not only to chide her, but even to
correct her whenever she was guilty of any neglect or disobedience to
his commands.

Fulbert, in this, showed a simplicity without example but the
affection which he had for his niece was so blind, and _Abelard_
had so well established his reputation for wisdom, that the uncle
never scrupled in the least to trust them together, and thought he
had all the security in the world for their virtue. _Abelard_
you may be sure, made use of the freedom which was given him. He saw
his beautiful creature every hour, he set her lessons every day, and
was extremely pleased to see what proficiency she made. _Heloise_,
for her part, was so taken with her master, that she liked nothing so
well as what she learned from him; and the master was charmed with
that quickness of apprehension with which his scholar learned the
most difficult lessons. But he did not intend to stop here. He knew
so well how to insinuate into the affections of this young person, he
gave her such plain intimations of what was in his heart and spoke so
agreeably of the passion which he had conceived for her, that he had
the satisfaction of seeing himself well understood. It is no
difficult matter to make a girl of eighteen in love; and _Abelard_
having so much wit and agreeable humour, must needs make a greater
progress in her affections than she did in the lessons which he
taught her; so that in a short time she fell so much in love with
him, that she could deny him nothing.

Fulbert had a country-house at Corbeil, to which the lovers often
resorted, under pretence of applying themselves more closely to their
studies: there they conversed freely and gave themselves up entirely
to the pleasure of a mutual passion. They took advantage of that
privacy which study and contemplation require without subjecting
themselves to the censure of those who observed it.

In this retirement _Abelard_ owns that more time was employ'd
in soft caresses than in lectures of philosophy. Sometimes he
pretended to use the severity of a master; the better to deceive such
as might be spies upon them, he exclaimed against _Heloise_, and
reproached her for her negligence. But how different were his menaces
from those which are inspired by anger!

Never did two lovers give a greater loose to their delights than
did these two for five or six months; they lived in all the
endearments which could enter into the hearts of young beginners.
This is _Abelard's_ own account of the matter. He compares
himself to such as have been long kept in a starving condition, and
at last are brought to a feast. A grave and studious man exceeds a
debauchee in his enjoyments of a woman whom he loves and of whom he
is passionately beloved.

_Abelard_ being thus enchanted with the caresses of his
mistress, neglected all his serious and important affairs. His

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Online LibraryPeter AbelardThe love letters of Abelard and Heloise → online text (page 1 of 11)