Not that such a situation would lead a woman to turn to any other man than the one to whom she had given her very life; but we might expect that at least her strong desire would cool and weaken. She might cherish his memory among the precious souvenirs of her love life; but that she should still pour out the same rapturous, unstinted passion as before seems almost too much to believe. The annals of emotion record only one such instance; and so this instance has become known to all, and has been cherished for nearly a thousand years. It involves the story of a woman who did love, perhaps, as no one ever loved before or since; for she was subjected to this cruel test, and she met the test not alone completely, but triumphantly and almost fiercely.
The story is, of course, the story of Abelard and Heloise. It has many times been falsely told. Portions of it have been omitted, and other portions of it have been garbled. A whole literature has grown up around the subject. It may well be worth our while to clear away the ambiguities and the doubtful points, and once more to tell it simply, without bias, and with a strict adherence to what seems to be the truth attested by authentic records.
There is one circumstance connected with the story which we must specially note. The narrative does something more than set forth the one quite unimpeachable instance of unconquered constancy. It shows how, in the last analysis, that which touches the human heart has more vitality and more enduring interest than what concerns the intellect or those achievements of the human mind which are external to our emotional nature.
Pierre Abelard was undoubtedly the boldest and most creative reasoner of his time. As a wandering teacher he drew after him thousands of enthusiastic students. He gave a strong impetus to learning. He was a marvelous logician and an accomplished orator. Among his pupils were men who afterward became prelates of the church and distinguished scholars. In the Dark Age, when the dictates of reason were almost wholly disregarded, he fought fearlessly for intellectual freedom. He was practically the founder of the University of Paris, which in turn became the mother of medieval and modern universities.
He was, therefore, a great and striking figure in the history of civilization. Nevertheless he would to-day be remembered only by scholars and students of the Middle Ages were it not for the fact that he inspired the most enduring love that history records. If Heloise had never loved him, and if their story had not been so tragic and so poignant, he would be to-day only a name known to but a few. His final resting-place, in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise, in Paris, would not be sought out by thousands every year and kept bright with flowers, the gift of those who have themselves both loved and suffered.
Pierre Abelard—or, more fully, Pierre Abelard de Palais—was a native of Brittany, born in the year 1079. His father was a knight, the lord of the manor; but Abelard cared little for the life of a petty noble; and so he gave up his seigniorial rights to his brothers and went forth to become, first of all a student, and then a public lecturer and teacher.