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But surely it is not likely that such sentiments can impose upon the weakest and most inexperienced minds. It is indeed highly probable that Pope has in some few instances intentionally exaggerated the sentiments and expressions of Eloisa, in order to render it impossible for any person of common capacity to be misled by such statements. Those whose morals are likely to be corrupted by this poem, will have little chance of escaping the much more pernicious productions, as well in prose as in verse, which are daily poured out before the public.
It is remarkable that Dr. Johnson, instead of charging the subject of this poem with either indecency or immorality, has expressly declared it to be his opinion that "it is so judiciously chosen, that it would be difficult, in turning over the annals of the world, to find another, which so many circumstances concur to recommend."
The fact is, that the story of Eloisa exhibits some of the most striking circumstances, and most important lessons that are to be found in the records of mankind. With every endowment of nature, and every accomplishment of education, with a superior understanding, and a deeply sensible and affectionate heart, Eloisa fell a sacrifice to the scholastic pedantry of the age in which she lived, and became the victim of the noblest of feelings—the admiration and love of talents and of virtue. The philosophy of the times was employed to exalt the powers of the intellect only, and the object of her adoration had the abilities of a sage with the feelings of a barbarian. By such an instructor she was seduced, but not degraded. In the conflict that ensued, the virtues of Eloisa overcame the depravity of Abelard. Instead of sinking to his level, she raised him to her own. By her unexampled magnanimity and unalterable affection, she created in him a new heart, and he hastened to obliterate, by every compensation in his power, the injury he had done to her. Their passion was ennobled by every thing that could throw lustre on their domestic life, by a coincidence of temper and disposition-a belief in the same religious tenets, and a union of occupations, studies, and pursuits. The tragical events that afterwards occurred, and which have given celebrity to their mournful story, add to its interest without changing its character. Disciplined by circumstances, and exalted by sufferings, their affections united in the pursuit of higher objects. Thé pious exertions of Abelard in raising the Paraclete, were seconded by the
devotion of Eloisa, its first Abbess; and after a course of conduct which redeems their errors, they rest together within its walls.
On the monument of Eloisa were inscribed the following rude monkish verses :
Hoc tumulo Abbatissa jacet prudens Heloissa;
Nos meritis precibusque suis exaltet ab imis. The Parisian Academy of Belles Lettres, in the year 1766, prepared, at the request of Madame de Rochefoucault, the late Abbess of Paraclete, an inscription more worthy of the characters of the persons deposited there; which was afterwards inscribed on a marble tablet, by the directions of her successor, Madame de Roucy.
Et Abbatissa prima Heloisa ;
Aprilis, anno 1142.
of this Monastery;
and in repentance;
in eternal happiness,
united. Peter Abelard died the twenty-first of April, 1142, And Heloisa the seventeenth of May, 1163. Erected by Caroline de Roucy, 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. Little remains of the original building but a few pointed arches. In examining the tombs of these unfortunate lovers, he observed that Eloisa ap-, peared much taller than Abelard.
ELOISA TO ABELARD.*
In these deep solitudes and awful cells,
Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveald,
10 Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise, Where, mix'd with God's, his lov'd Idea lies : O write it not, my hand--the name appears Already written-wash it out, my tears! In vain lost Eloisa
15 Her heart still dictates, and her hand obeys.
* 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. Warton.