The letters of Heloise, which are among the stormiest now under consideration, seem to have suffered considerably in translation. In the English rendering the fire of the original has waned into an amiable flame which could burn no one. Greard's French translation, moreover, moves too stiffly; it is only from occasional passages that one can realise the force of that wild heart which belonged to Heloise, who " loved the creature as the great saints loved God," and who found but little satisfaction for her passion upon earth.
The strange story of Abelard and Heloise is too well known to need much comment - how Abelard, the seductive canon of Notre Dame, loved Heloise, who refused to marry him for fear of injuring his career; how she became his mistress; how a child was born; and how, at her lover's insistence, she was married to him secretly; how Fulbert, her uncle, took a terrible revenge on Abelard; and how, afterwards, he persuaded Heloise to join a religious order, whilst he himself became a monk. The story has been often told. It seems that Abelard's passion for Heloise, at one time insatiate, cooled at last to mere tenderness; whilst hers remained violent and unappeased until the very end. As abbess of the Convent of the Paracletan Order, founded by Abelard, she corresponded with him regularly, ostensibly on the rules and management of the order; but often her letters break off into fierce reminiscences of the past, and reproach Abelard for his present negligence.
" You know, my beloved," she writes - " who does not ? - all that I have lost in you. You know what deplorable stroke - the infamous and public treachery of which you were the victim - severed me from the world at the same moment as you, and that what is incomparably my greatest grief is less the manner in which I lost than that I have lost you. But the greater the reason of my grief, the greater should be the remedies of comfort. At least, there is no one else; it is you, you alone, the cause of my suffering, who can comfort me. Sole object of my sorrow, it is you only who can give back joy to me or bring any relief. To you only is this a pressing duty, for all your wishes have been accomplished by me blindly, so far even that in nothing could I even slightly oppose you. I had the courage to lose myself at a word from you. I did more. Strange thing ! My love turned to delirium; that which was the unique object of its fervour it sacrificed without the least hope of ever finding it again. At your command I put on another heart with another dress, thus proving that you were the sole master of my heart as well as of my body."
And later, for his coldness had hurt her, she writes:
" Consider, I beseech you, what it is I ask - so small, so easy a thing. If your actual self is denied me, let the tenderness of your words - a letter costs you so little ! - bring back to me the sweetness of your presence. How can I hope to find you generous in deeds when you are so sparing in words ! Till now I thought I was safe in claiming consideration from you, since for you I have done everything - at your bidding withdrawing from the world. This is not my vocation; it is your will - yes, your will alone - that has cast my youth among these austerities. If this is nothing to you, see how vain my sacrifice will be. I have no reward to expect from God. I have not yet - let all bear witness - done anything for Him.
' When you went towards God, I followed. What do I say ? I preceded you. As though you were troubled by the memory of Lot's wife, and the glance she cast behind her, you made me before you take the religious dress and vows. You chained me to God before you chained yourself. This mistrust of me, which till then you had never shown, filled me, I confess, with sorrow and shame - I, who at a word would, God knows, have preceded or followed you, without hesitation, into hell, because my heart was no longer with me, but with you. And, more than ever to-day, if it is not with you it is nowhere; or, rather, it can be nowhere without you. But, I beseech you, let it be well in your keeping. And it will be if it finds you kind, if you return it love for love, little for much, words for deeds. Would to God, my beloved, you were less sure of my love, you would be more anxious ! But the more I have done to render you secure, the more you neglect me to-day. Ah, remember what I have done, I entreat you, and how much you owe me ! "