Saint-Evremond to Ninon
– Two of Ninon’s friends whom she idolized, were very much surprised
to discover after their marriage, that the great passion they felt
for each other before marriage, became feebler every day, and that
even their affection was growing colder. It troubled them,
and in their anxiety, they consulted Mademoiselle de l’Enclos, begging
her to find some reason in her philosophy, why the possession of
the object loved should weaken the strength of ante-nuptial passion,
and even destroy the most ardent affection.
The question was discussed
by Ninon and her “Birds” for several days without reaching an opinion
that was in any manner satisfactory. It was therefore resolved
to consult Saint-Evremond, who was living in exile in England.
After writing him all the particulars, and the discussions that
had been held with opinions pro and con, he sent the following letter
in reply, which is unanswerable upon the subject. Moreover,
it contains lessons that should be carefully studied and well learned
by all loving hearts, who desire to maintain their early affection
for each other during life.
The letter is a masterpiece
of the philosophy of love, and it is remarkable, in that it develops
traits in human nature upon the subject of love and marriage, which
are overlooked in questions applicable to the relations between
the sexes, and that are so often strained to the breaking point.
Indeed, it gives clues to a remedy, which cannot fail to effect
My opinion is exactly
in line with yours, Mademoiselle; it is not always, as some think,
hymen or the possession of the loved object which of itself destroys
love; the true source of the dissatisfaction that follows exists
in the unintelligent manner of economizing the sentiments, a too
complete, too easy, and too prolonged possession.
When we have yielded to
the transports of a passion without reserve, the tremendous shock
to the soul cannot fail quickly to leave it in a profound solitude.
The heart finds itself in a void, which alarms and chills it.
We vainly seek outside of ourselves, the cause of the calm, which
follows our fits of passion; we do not perceive that an equal and
more enduring happiness would have been the fruit of moderation.
Make an exact analysis of what takes place within you when you desire
anything. You will find that your desires are nothing but
curiosity, and this curiosity, which is one of the forces of the
heart, when satisfied, our desires vanish. Whoever, therefore,
would hold a spouse or a lover should leave him something to be
desired; something new should be expected every day for the morrow.
Diversify his pleasures, procure for him the charm of variety in
the same object, and I will vouch for his perseverance in fidelity.
I confess, however, that
hymen, or what you call your “defeat,” is, in an ordinary woman
– the grave of love. But then it is less upon the lover that
the blame falls, than upon her who complains of the cooling of the
passion; she casts upon the depravity of the heart what is due to
her own un-skillfulness, and her lack of economy. She has
expended in a single day everything that might keep alive the inclination
she had excited. She has nothing more to offer to the curiosity
of her lover; she becomes always the same statue; no variety to
be hoped for, and her lover knows it well.
But in the woman I have
in mind, it is the aurora of a lovelier day – it is the beginning
of the most satisfying pleasures. I, understand by effusions
of the heart, those mutual confidences, those ingenuities, those
unexpected avowals, and those transports which excite in us the
certainty of creating an absolute happiness, and meriting all the
esteem of the person we love. That day is, in a word, the
epoch when a man of refinement discovers inexhaustible treasures,
which have always been hidden from him – the freedom a woman acquires
brings into play all the sentiments which constraint has held in
reserve. Her heart takes a lofty flight, but one well under
control. Time, far from leading to loathing, will furnish
new reasons for a greater love.
But, to repeat: I assume
sufficient intelligence in her to be able to control her inclination.
For to hold a lover, it is not enough (perhaps it is too much) to
love passionately; she must love with prudence, with restraint,
and modesty is, for that reason, the most ingenious virtue refined
persons have ever imagined. To yield to the impetuosity of
an inclination, to be annihilated, so to speak, in the object loved,
is the method of a woman without discernment. That is not
love, it is a liking for a moment; it is to transform a lover into
a spoiled child. I would have a woman behave with more reserve
and economy. An excess of ardor is not justifiable in my opinion,
the heart being always an impetuous charger, which must be steadily
curbed. If you do not use your strength with economy, your
vivacity will be nothing but a passing transport. The same
indifference you perceive in a lover, after those convulsive emotions,
you, yourself, will experience, and soon, both of you will feel
the necessity of separating.
To sum up: There is more
intelligence required to love than is generally supposed, and to
be happy in loving. Up to the moment of the fatal “yes,” or
if you prefer, up to the time of her defeat, a woman does not need
artifice to hold her lover. Curiosity excites him, desire
sustains him, and hope encourages him. But once he reaches
the summit of his desires, it is for the woman to take as much care
to retain him, as he exhibited to overcome her. The desire
to keep him should render her fertile in expedients – the heart
is similar to a high position, easier to obtain than to keep.
Charms are sufficient to make a man amorous; to render him constant,
something more is necessary; skill is required, a little management,
a great deal of intelligence, and even a touch of ill humor and
inequality. Unfortunately, however, as soon as women have
yielded they become too tender, too complaisant. It would
be better for the common good if they were to resist less in the,
beginning and more afterward. I maintain that they never can
forestall loathing, without leaving the heart something to wish
for, and the time to consider.
I hear them continually
complaining that our indifference is always the fruit of their complaisance
for us. They are ever recalling the time when, goaded by love
and sentiment, we spent whole days by their side. How blind
they are! They do not perceive that it is still in their power
to bring us back to an allegiance, the memory of which is so dear.
If they forget what they have already done for us, they will not
be tempted to do more; but if they make us forget, then we shall
become more exacting. Let them awaken our hearts by opposing
new difficulties, arouse our anxieties, in fine, force us to desire
new proofs of an inclination, the certainty of which diminishes
the value in our estimation. They will then find less cause
of complaint in us, and will be better satisfied with themselves.
Shall I frankly avow it?
Things would indeed change if women would remember at the right
time, that their rôle is always that of the party to be entreated,
ours that of him who begs for new favors; that, created to grant,
they should never offer. Reserved, even in an excess of passion,
they should guard against surrendering at discretion; the lover
should always have something to ask, and consequently, he would
be always submissive so as to obtain it. Favors without limit
degrade the most seductive charms, and are, in the end, revolting
even to him who exacts them. Society puts all women on the
same level – the handsome and the ugly, after their defeat are indistinguishable,
except from their art to maintain their authority. But what
commonly happens? A woman imagines she has nothing more to
do than to be affectionate, caressing, sweet, of even temper, and
faithful. She is right in one sense, for these qualities should
be the foundation of her character; they will not fail to draw esteem.
But these qualities, however estimable they may be, if they are
not offset by a shade of contrariety, will not fail to extinguish
love, and bring on languor and weariness – mortal poisons for the
best constituted heart.
Do you know why lovers
become nauseated so easily when enjoying prosperity? Why they
are so little pleased after having had so much pleasure? It
is because both parties interested have an identically erroneous
opinion. One imagines there is nothing more to obtain, the
other fancies she has nothing more to give. It follows as
a necessary consequence that one slackens in his pursuit, and the
other neglects to be worthy of further advances, or thinks she becomes
so by the practice of solid qualities. Reason is substituted
for love, and henceforward no more spicy seasoning in their relations,
no more of those trifling quarrels so necessary to prevent dissatisfaction
by forestalling it.
But when I exact that
evenness of temper should be animated by occasional storms, do not
be under the impression that I pretend lovers should always be quarreling
to preserve their happiness. I only desire to impress it upon
you, that all their misunderstandings should emanate from love itself
– that the woman should not forget (by a species of pusillanimous
kindness) the respect and attentions due her; that by an excessive
sensitiveness she does not convert her love into a source of anxiety
capable of poisoning every moment of her existence; that by a scrupulous
fidelity she may not render her lover too sure that he has nothing
to fear on that score.
Neither should a woman
by a sweetness, an unalterable evenness of temper, be weak enough
to pardon everything lacking in her lover. Experience demonstrates
that women too often sacrifice the hearts of their spouses or their
lovers, by too many indulgences and facilities. What recklessness!
They martyrize themselves by sacrificing everything; they spoil
them and convert them into ungrateful lovers. So much generosity
finally turns against themselves, and they soon become accustomed
to demand as a right what is granted them as a favor.
You see women every day
(even among those we despise with so much reason) who reign with
a scepter of iron, treat as slaves men who are attached to them,
debase them by force of controlling them. Well, these are
the women who are loved longer than the others. I am persuaded
that a woman of refinement, well brought up, would never think of
following such an example. That military manner is repugnant
to gentleness and morals, and lacks that decency which constitutes
the charm in things even remote from virtue. But let the reasonable
woman soften the clouds a trifle, there will always remain precisely
what is necessary to hold a lover.
We are slaves, whom too
much kindness often renders insolent; we often demand to be treated
like those of the new world. But we have in the bottom of
our hearts a comprehension of justice, which tells us that the governing
hand bears down upon us sometimes for very good reasons, and we
take kindly to it.
Now, for my last word:
In everything relating to the force and energy of love, women should
be the sovereigns; it is from them we hope for happiness, and they
will never fail to grant us that as soon as they can govern our
hearts with intelligence, moderate their own inclinations, and maintain
their own authority, without compromising it and without abusing