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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

De Cressy has behaved very badly to Adelaide


Sensibility

does not seem to have seen anything very unhandsome in this broad refusal to throw the handkerchief; but though not unhandsome, it could not be considered satisfactory to the heart. So M. de Cressy despatches this private note to Adelaide by "Machiavel the waiting-maid"--

Is it permitted to a wretch who has deprived himself of the greatest of blessings, to dare to ask your pardon and your pity? Never did love kindle a flame purer and more ardent than that with which my heart burns for the amiable Adelaide. Why have I not been able to give her those proofs of it which she had the right to expect? Ah! mademoiselle, how could I bind you to the lot of a wretch all whose wishes even you perhaps would not fulfil? who, when he possessed you, though master of so dear, so precious a blessing, might regret others less estimable, but which have been the object of his hope and desire, etc. etc.

This means that M. de Cressy is ambitious, and wants a wife who will assist his views. The compliment is doubtful, and Adelaide receives it in approved fashion. She opens it "with a violent emotion," and her "trouble was so great in reading it through, that she had to begin it again many times before she understood it." The exceedingly dubious nature of the compliment, however, strikes her, and "tears of regret and indignation rise to her eyes"--tears which indeed are excusable

even from a different point of view than that of Sensibility. She is far, however, from blaming that sacred emotion. "Ce n'est pas," she says; "de notre sensibilite, mais de l'objet qui l'a fait naitre, que nous devons nous plaindre." This point seems arguable if it were proper to argue with a lady.

The next letter to be cited is from Adelaide's unconscious rival, whose conduct is--translated into the language of Sensibility, and adjusted to the manners of the time and class--a ludicrous anticipation of the Pickwickian widow. She buys a handsome scarf, and sends it anonymously to the victorious Marquis just before a Court ball, with this letter--

A sentiment, tender, timid, and shy of making itself known, gives me an interest in penetrating the secrets of your heart. You are thought indifferent; you seem to me insensible. Perhaps you are happy, and discreet in your happiness. Deign to tell me the secret of your soul, and be sure that I am not unworthy of your confidence. If you have no love for any one, wear this scarf at the ball. Your compliance may lead you to a fate which others envy. She who feels inclined to prefer you is worthy of your attentions, and the step she takes to let you know it is the first weakness which she has to confess.

The modesty of this perhaps leaves something to desire, but its Sensibility is irreproachable. There is no need to analyse the story of the _Marquis de Cressy_, which is a very little book[409] and not extremely edifying. But it supplies us with another _locus classicus_ on sentimental manners. M. de Cressy has behaved very badly to Adelaide, and has married the widow with the scarf. He receives a letter from Adelaide on the day on which she takes the black veil--

'Tis from the depths of an asylum, where I fear no more the perfidy of your sex, that I bid you an eternal adieu. Birth, wealth, honours, all vanish from my sight. My youth withered by grief, my power of enjoyment destroyed, love past, memory present, and regret still too deeply felt, all combine to bury me in this retreat.


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