In her first letter, which was sent to Abelard written upon parchment, she said:
At thy command I would change, not merely my costume, but my very soul, so entirely art thou the sole possessor of my body and my spirit. Never, God is my witness, never have I sought anything in thee but thyself; I have sought thee, and not thy gifts. I have not looked to the marriage-bond or dowry.
She begged him to write to her, and to lead her to God, as once he had led her into the mysteries of pleasure. Abelard answered in a letter, friendly to be sure, but formal—the letter of a priest to a cloistered nun. The opening words of it are characteristic of the whole:
To Heloise, his sister in Christ, from Abelard, her brother in Him.
The letter was a long one, but throughout the whole of it the writer’s tone was cold and prudent. Its very coldness roused her soul to a passionate revolt. Her second letter bursts forth in a sort of anguish:
How hast thou been able to frame such thoughts, dearest? How hast thou found words to convey them? Oh, if I dared but call God cruel to me! Oh, most wretched of all creatures that I am! So sweet did I find the pleasures of our loving days that I cannot bring myself to reject them or to banish them from my memory. Wheresoever I go, they thrust themselves upon my vision, and rekindle the old desire.
But Abelard knew only too well that not in this life could there be anything save spiritual love between himself and Heloise. He wrote to her again and again, always in the same remote and unimpassioned way. He tells her about the history of monasticism, and discusses with her matters of theology and ethics; but he never writes one word to feed the flame that is consuming her. The woman understood at last; and by degrees her letters became as calm as his—suffused, however, with a tenderness and feeling which showed that in her heart of hearts she was still entirely given to him.
After some years Abelard left his dwelling at the Paraclete, and there was founded there a religious house of which Heloise became the abbess. All the world respected her for her sweetness, her wisdom, and the purity of her character. She made friends as easily as Abelard made enemies. Even Bernard, who had overthrown her husband, sought out Heloise to ask for her advice and counsel.
Abelard died while on his way to Rome, whither he was journeying in order to undergo a penalty; and his body was brought back to the Paraclete, where it was entombed. Over it for twenty-two years Heloise watched with tender care; and when she died, her body was laid beside that of her lover.
To-day their bones are mingled as she would have desired them to be mingled. The stones of their tomb in the great cemetery of Pere Lachaise were brought from the ruins of the Paraclete, and above the sarcophagus are two recumbent figures, the whole being the work of the artist Alexandra Lenoir, who died in 1836. The figure representing Heloise is not, however, an authentic likeness. The model for it was a lady belonging to a noble family of France, and the figure itself was brought to Pere Lachaise from the ancient College de Beauvais.