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ELOISA TO ABELARD.
The famous Peter Abelard was born in France, at Palais, near Nantes, A. D. 1079. His father, a man of noble blood, designed him for arms, the usual profession of nobles in his day: his daring, restless, and rapid genius might have made him eminent as a soldier; Fortune decreed that he should be memorable and miserable as a priest. Eager for distinction, he adopted the florishing side of scholastic theology, plunged with the natural vigor of his mind into the depths of popular metaphysics, and suddenly eclipsed all his masters. The elevation of one of those defeated masters, De Champeaux, to a bishopric, told Abelard, that if he had found the way to fame, he had mistaken the way to fortune. He now retraced his steps, and turned, with his habitual activity, to the exclusive learning of the church. Before the age of forty, he was among the most renowned teachers of theology in Europe, the light of the university of Paris, and the envy of all its doctors: but while his name was at its height, with all France echoing the praises of his sagacity, knowlege, and eloquence, and scholars pouring in on him from every part of Christendom, he was undone. His love for Eloise, the niece of Fulbert, one of the canons of the cathedral, involved him in irrecoverable personal and public calamity: they had fled together: the canon demanded that they should return and be publicly married : but marriage was fatal to Abelard's hopes in the church; and Eloise, romantic and impassioned, wildly scorned to retrieve her character by the sacrifice of his ambition. The habits of the time drove all the disappointed in love and fortune to the cloister: Eloise took the veil in the abbey of Argenteuil, and Abelard retired to St. Denys.
His powerful and brilliant mind had till now owed its troubles to itself; it was henceforth to owe them to the world. Returning to his studies, Abelard was involved in a controversy, in which his enemies pronounced him the advocate of Arianism : he was condemned and imprisoned ; but he had the still heavier charge soon brought against him, that he doubted the identity of St. Denys of France with Dionysius the Areopagite. The national insult, more startling than even the theological heresy, was not to be satisfied but by a demand of his blood; and the unlucky doubter was forced again to fly to the cell. The world was now closed on him : for his life had been spared solely on the condition that he should never again have any office or employment even in a convent ;-a sentence, virtually excluding the ecclesiastic of the twelfth century from all the paths of human distinction. Thus driven out, he took up his residence in a wild district of Champagne, where he erected a small chapel, which he dedicated to the Holy Trinity, perhaps in memory of his first controversy; and, finally, enlarging and ornamenting, dedicated it to the Comforter, the Paraclete, perhaps in equal allusion to his misfortunes. The intercourse between Abelard and Eloisa, which had long been interrupted, was now partially renewed : the little convent of Argenteuil was absorbed into the convent of St. Denys; and Eloisa, then prioress, and her nuns, were without a place of shelter. Abelard resigned the Paraclete to them, and in conse
quence of this resignation, the celebrated correspondence commenced. Abelard, after some farther changes of alternate peace and persecution, died at the priory of Marcellus in 1142: at the request of Eloise, his remains were laid in the Paraclete; and twenty-one years after, in 1163, she by her especial desire, buried at his side. The story evidently attracted great attention, even in their own confused and semi-barbarous age: monks and minstrels alike made it a theme, and the simple grave of the lovers could not escape a miracle: when Eloisa's corpse was let down into the tomb, Abelard stretched out his arms, and embraced her, for ever. The fiction
may be almost forgiven for its tenderness. But, as if disturbance were to be their lot, even their relics could scarcely find rest in the common shelter of the weary and the troubled : in 1779 they were removed by the abbess of the convent, and placed under the altar, where a monument of black marble was raised to their memory: and in the destruction of the convents in 1792, the Paraclete shared the general ruin. But the inhabitants of Nogent sur Seine rescued the coffin of the lovers, and placed them in their church : in 1800 they were brought to Paris, and installed in the Museum of National Monuments in a small shrine built of the wreck of the Paraclete. In 1817 they were again removed, to their present place in the cemetery of Père la Chaise ; where they will remain only till some new caprice of royal taste, or some new violence of popular passion, drives them to another shelter, or scatters them into dust and air.
The natural curiosity to know something of the habits, manners, and personal appearance, of celebrated individuals finds but slight indulgence in the remaining records of Abelard and Eloisa. Abelard is vaguely described as of the handsomest men of his time ;' and all that even gallantry could extract from himself in the description of Eloisa,
is, that she was fucie non infima, ‘not ill-looking :'-her chief charm was evidently in her acquirements : those, for any age, were remarkable; and in an age, when to read and write were not universal even among the priesthood, must have been considered prodigious. Abelard declares that her literature had made her universally known; in toto regno nominatissimam effecerat. She was thoroughly in possession of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew: and the language of her letters is that of a powerful, glowing, and eloquent, mind. Criticism may object to occasional deviations from pure Latinity, the use of Hebraisms, and the adoption of unclassic words; but the vividness and fluency of her style are conspicuous. Its lapses from moral decorum are liable to a higher censure; yet to forget its palliations in the individual might be some offence to justice. Morality, in the age of Eloisa, had not attained the standard of later times: the general language of society was comparatively impure; allusions were then common which are now excluded ; and when the first writers abounded in high-colored descriptions of passion under the pretext of satirising vice, much may be forgiven to a woman, whose education placed her in the midst of this hazardous familiarity with evil. It is also to be remembered, that those letters were probably never intended to meet the public eye ; that they were the effusions of a mind rendered contemptuous of the world by a sense of its injuries ; shut up by her vows from all possibility of realising her pictures of ideal happiness; and laboring to revive, by the ardor of her language, the affections of a being, like herself, extinguished in the cloister. Something too may fairly be allowed to her country as well as to her time: she lived in a land where romance has formed and asserted a language of its own in every age. Eloisa's style bears a deep tinge of her country: she writes like a Frenchwoman; with the
same singular mixture of constancy and caprice; the same alternate negligence and vigor; the same quickness to personal slight, and disregard of public opinion; the same keen sense of the minute observances of love and life, and rash forgetfulness of the larger and nobler principles that make both secure and honorable. The letters of Madame L'Espinasse would form the counterpart of Eloisa's: thrown into Latin, they might almost pass for manuscripts from the cells of the Paraclete.
Eloisa's convent was in the parish of Quincey, on the river Arduzon, near Nogent sur Seine.
The following was the rude inscription originally placed on the tomb :
Hoc tumulo abbatissa jacet prydens Heloisa :
Nos meritis precibusque suis exaltet ab imis. But on the removal of the bodies from the vaults to the altar, the abbess, Madame de Rochefoucault, applied to the Academie de Belles Lettres for the more suitable inscription, which was subsequently engraved on their monument by her successor :
Et abbatissa prima Heloisa ;
Aprilis, anno 1142.