« PreviousContinue »
in eternal happiness,
Peter Abelard died the twenty-first of April, 1142,
Abbess of Paraclete,
ABELARD and Eloisa flourished in the twelfth century; 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 religion, 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 Eloisa. 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.
A Traveller who visited the Convent about the year 1768 (see Annual Register) says, that its situation and prospects by no means resemble Pope's beautiful and romantic description of it. Father St. Romain, the officiating Priest, walked with him round the whole demesne. The Abbess, who was in her eighty-second year, desired to see our Traveller, for she said she was his countrywoman, and allied to the extinct families of Lifford and Stafford. She was aunt to the then Duke de Rochefoucault; and being fifth in succession, as Abbess of that Convent, hoped it would become a kind of patrimony. We know, alas! what has since happened both to her Family and her Convent! The community seemed to know but little of the afflicting story of their Founder. of the original building but a few pointed arches. the tombs of these unfortunate lovers, he observed peared much taller than Abelard.
In examining that Eloisa ap
ELOISA TO ABELARD.*
In these deep solitudes and awful cells,
Why rove my thoughts beyond this last retreat? 5
Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd,
* However happy and judicious the subject of this Epistle may be thought to be, as displaying the various conflicts and tumults between duty and pleasure, between penitence and passion, that agitated the mind of Eloisa; yet we must candidly own, that the principal circumstance of distress is of so indelicate a nature, that it is with difficulty disguised by the exquisite art and address of the poet. The capital and unrivalled beauties of the poem arise from the striking images and descriptions of the Convent, and from the sentiments drawn from the mystical books of devotion, particularly Madame Guion and the Archbishop of Cambray.
Relentless walls! whose darksome round con
Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains:
Ye rugged rocks, which holy knees have worn;
All is not Heaven's while Abelard has part; 25
Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose,
Still breath'd in sighs, still usher'd with a tear.
Some dire misfortune follows close behind.
Ver. 24. Forgot myself to stone.] This is an expression of Milton; as is also, caverns shagg'd with horrid thorn, and the epithets pale-ey'd, twilight, low-thoughted care, and others, are first used in the smaller poems of Milton, which Pope seems to have been just reading.
Some of these circumstances, in the scenery view of the monastery, have perhaps a little impropriety, when introduced into a place so lately founded as was the Paraclete; but are so well imagined, and so highly painted, that they demand excuse.
Line after line my gushing eyes o'erflow,
There stern Religion quench'd th' unwilling flame, 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 pow'r away; And is my Abelard less kind than they? Tears still are mine, and those I need not spare; 45 Love but demands what else were shed in pray'r; 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; Ah, more than share it, give me all thy grief. 50 Heav'n first taught letters for some wretch's aid, Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid;
Ver. 41. Yet write,] This is taken from the Latin letters that passed betwixt Eloisa and Abelard, and which had been a few years before published in London by Rawlinson, and which our poet has copied and translated in many other passages: Per ipsum Christum obsecramus, quatenus ancillulas ipsius et tuas, crebris literis de his, in quibus adhuc fluctuas, naufragiis certificare digneris, ut nos saltem quæ tibi soli remansimus, doloris vel gaudii participes habeas.-Epist. Heloissæ, p. 46. From the same, also, the use of letters, ver. 51, is taken and amplified; and it is a little remarkable that this use of letters is in the fourth book of Diodorus Siculus. Warton.
Ver. 51. Heav'n first taught letters, &c.] Enlarged from the first epistle of Eloisa to Abelard. "Si imagines nobis amicorum absentium jucundæ sunt, quæ memoriam renovant, et desiderium