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ABELARD and Eloisa florished 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 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.–POPE.
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 appeared much taller than Abelard.Warton,
ELOISA TO ABELARD.
In these deep solitudes and awful cells,
Dear, fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd,
tains Repentant sighs and voluntary pains !
17 Relentless walls. This passage exhibits the Miltonic study which so strikingly distinguishes this poem from all the others of Pope. • Forgot myself to stone,' horrid thorn,' 'paleeyed,' low-thoughted care,' are phrases used in Milton's minor poems, which he was known to have read with diligence.
Ye rugged rocks, which holy knees have worn! 19
Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose,
Yet write, 0, write me all, that I may join 41 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? 44 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; Ah, more than share it, give me all thy grief. 50 Heaven first taught letters for some wretch's aid, Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid; They live, they speak, they breathe what love
inspires, Warm from the soul, and faithful to its fires ; The virgin's wish without her fears impart,
55 Excuse the blush, and pour out all the heart; Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul, And waft a sigh from Indus to the pole.
Thou know'st how guiltless first I met thy flame, When love approach'd me under friendship’s name;
60 My fancy form’d thee of angelic kind, Some emanation of the all-beauteous Mind. Those smiling eyes, attempering every ray, Shone sweetly lambent with celestial day : 64 Guiltless I gazed; heaven listen’d while you sung; And truths divine came mended from that tongue. From lips like those what precept fail'd to move? Too soon they taught me 'twas no sin to love: Back, through the paths of pleasing sense, I ran, Nor.wish'd an angel whom I loved a man. 70 Dim and remote the joys of saints I see; Nor envy them that heaven I lose for thee.
. 51 Heaven first taught letters. Warton traces the idea of those beautiful lines to the fourth book of Diodorus Siculus, wbich we know not whether the poet ever read: it certainly is not due to the passage generally quoted from the first letter of Eloisa :—Si imagines nobis amicorum absentium jucundæ sunt, quæ memoriam renovapt, et desiderium absentiæ falso atque inani solatio levant; quanto jucundiores sunt literæ, quæ amici absentis veras notas afferunt!'