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ARGUMENT. Abelard and Eloïsa flourished in the twelfth centu
ry; they were two of the most distinguished persons of their age in learning and beauty, but for nothing more famous than for their unfortunate passion. After a long course of calamities they retired each to a several convent, and consecrated the remainder of their days to religiou. It was many years after this separation, that a letter of Abelard's to a friend, which contained the history of his misfortune, fell into the hands of Eloïsa. This, awakening all her tenderness, occasioned those celebrated letters (out of which the following is partly extracted) which give so lively a picture of the struggles of grace and nature, virtue and passion.
ELOISA TO ABELARD.
Where heavenly-pensi contemplation dwells, And ever
musing melanch sy reigns ;
Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd,
prays; Her heart still dictates, and her hand obeys.
Relentless walls ! whose darksome round contains Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains : Ye rugged rocks! which holy knees have worn; Ye grots and caverns shagg’d with horrid thorn! Shrines! where their vigils pale-ey'd virgins keep; And pitying saints, whose statues learn to weep! Though cold like you, unmov'd and silent grown, I have not yet forgot myself to stone. All is not Heaven's while Abelard has part, Still rebel nature holds out half my heart ; Nor prayers nor fasts its stubborn pulse restrain, Nor tears for ages taught lo flow in vain.
Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose, That well-known name awakens all my woes. Oh, name for ever sad ! for ever dear! Still breath'd in sighs, still usher'd with a tear. I tremble too, where'er my own I find, Some dire misfortune follows close behind. Line after line my gushing eyes o'erflow, Led through a sad variety of woe: Now warm in love, now withering in my bloom, Lost in a convent's solitary gloom ! There stern religion quench'd th' unwilling fame, There died the best of passions, love and fame.
Yet write, oh write me all, that I may join Griefs to thy griefs, and echo sighs to thine. Nor foes nor fortune take this power away; And is my Abelard less kind than they? Tears still are mine, and those I need not spare, Love but demands what else were shed in prayer; No happier task these faded eyes pursue ; To read and weep is all they now can do.
Then share thy pain, allow that sad relief;
Thou know'st how guiltless first I met thy fame,
How oft, when press’d to marriage, have I said, Curse on all laws but those which love has inade! Love, free as air, at sight of human ties, Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies. Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame, August her deed, and sacred be her fame; Before true passion all those views remove; Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to love? The jealous god, when we profane his fires, Those restless passions in revenge inspires, And bids them make mistaken mortals groan, Who seek in love for aught but love alone. Should at my feet the world's great master fall, Himself, his throne, his world, I'd scorn them all:
Not Cæsar's empress would I deiga to prove;
Alas, how chang'd! what sudden horrors rise! A naked lover bound and bleeding lies ! Where, where was Eloïse! her voice, her hand, Her poniard had oppos'd the dire command. Barbarian, stay! that bloody stroke restrain; The crime was common, common be the pain. I can no more; by shame, by rage suppress'd, Let tears and burning blushes speak the rest.
Canst thou forget that sad, that solemn day, When victims at yon altar's foot we lay? Canst thou forget what tears that moment fell, When, warm in youth, I bade the world farewel ? As with cold lips I kiss'd the sacred veil, The shrines all trembled and the lamps grew pale: Heaven scarce believ'd the conquest it survey'd, And saints with wonder heard the vows I made. Yet then, to those dread altars as I drew, Not on the cross my eyes were fix'd, but you: Not grace, or zeal, love only was my call; And if I lose thy love, I lose my all. Come, with thy looks, thy words, relieve my woe; Those still at least are left thee to bestow. Still on that breast enamour'd let me lie, Still drink delicious poison from thy eye, Pant on thy lip, and to thy heart be press'd; Give all thou canst- and let me dream the rest.
Ah, no! instruct me other joys to prize,
Ah! think at least thy flock deserves thy care,