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The Letters of a Portuguese Nun

The Letters of a Portuguese Nun
Category: Fiction
Title: The Letters of a Portuguese Nun
Release Date: 2018-06-26
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.




All rights reserved





Published by DAVID NUTT
in the Strand



Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable
Printers to Her Majesty





MY attempt at anEnglish renderingof the Lettersis, I think,the first since thedays of Bowles’‘Letters from a PortugueseNun to an Officer in theFrench Army,’ London, 1808.[1]But during the two centurieswhich have elapsed since their[x]first publication quite a smallliterature has grown up aroundthem, and they have been turnedinto several European tongues,the French editions aloneamounting to more than thirty.If the numerous so-called‘Replies’ and ‘Imitations’were added to this reckoningthe number would be nearlydoubled, and this without takinginto account the critiquesand studies which have appearedabout them. I do notpropose here to enter intoa comparison of the Letterswith those of Heloïse, as manywriters have done, but shallcontent myself with referringthe curious to the excellent[xi]work of Senhor Cordeiro, ‘SororMarianna. A Freira Portugueza,’Lisbon, 1888; 2ndedition, 1891. It is from himthat I have learnt nearly allthat I know about Marianna,and in my Introduction I havemade a liberal use of his book,as well as of M. Asse’s prefaceto the edition of the ‘LettresPortuguises avec les Réponses,’Paris, 1889, upon which Ihave based my rendering.

If my translation shouldarouse any interest in thingsPortuguese, and lead others toread and make versions of suchmasterpieces of the world’sliterature as the ‘Frei Luizde Sousa’ and the ‘Folhas[xii]Cahidas’ of Garrett, or thepoems of João de Deus, Ishould be more than rewardedfor any trouble the presentwork may have cost me. Butwho can hope to succeed whereBurton has apparently failed?The English public—and thecritics too—will probably continueto believe that thereis nothing worth reading inPortuguese literature with theexception of the Lusiads. Heretoo there is perhaps a lessonto be learnt from the Germans,especially from such asStorck, Reinhardstoettner, andMichaëlis de Vasconcellos.

I should like to thank Mr.York Powell of Christ Church[xiii]for the kind help which he hasgiven me in the difficult taskof translation. My aim hasbeen throughout to keep asclose to the French text as possible—seeingthat the originalPortuguese is lost,—aided bythe masterly re-translation ofSenhor Cordeiro. L’Estrange’sversion—‘Five Love Lettersfrom a Nun to a Cavalier,’London, 1678,—is somewhatfree at times, but it has aidedme in the Third Letter. I havefollowed Cordeiro in his re-arrangementof the order ofthe Letters, the Second andFourth changing places.

The historical facts whichconcern the hero and heroine[xiv]of these Letters I have givenbriefly in the Introduction,and a Bibliography andAppendix will be found atthe end of the volume. Thetext of the first French editionof 1669 has been copied inParis purposely for this work,and will, it is hoped, add muchto its interest and value.

And so I deliver poor Marianna’spassionate Epistles tothe consideration of those whocan appreciate them and feelfor her.

And weeping then she made her moan,
‘The night comes on that knows not morn,
When I shall cease to be all alone,
To live forgotten and love forlorn.’


Bowdon, 1892.






Fuyd los deleytes, pues non da deleite
Perfecto, nin bueno, nin tan poco sano;
A todos engaña su falsso afeyte,
Sin sentir mata el su gozo vano.
A todos arriedran del bien soberano,
Jamas no aplazen que no den tristeza,
Aforjan cadenas del sotil Volcano,
Con que encarcelan a toda nobleza.
Cancioneiro de Resende.

‘IN 1663,’ says Sainte-Beuve,‘it becamethe policy of LouisXIV. to help Portugalagainst Spain, butthe succour whichhe gave was indirect;subsidies were secretly furnished,the levying of troops was favoured,and a crowd of volunteers hastenedthere. Between this small army, commandedby Schomberg, and the feeble[4]Spanish troops which disputed the soilwith it, there were each summer manymarches and counter-marches with butfew results, many skirmishes and smallfights, and among the latter, perhaps, onevictory. Who troubles himself aboutit now? The curious reader, however,who only looks to his own pleasure,cannot help saying that all this wasgood, since the “Letters of the PortugueseNun” grew from it.

As Sainte-Beuve indicates, the subjectof the ‘Letters’ forms one of the episodesof the war between Spain and Portugalwhich followed as a consequence of theRestoration of 1640 and the achievementof the latter’s independence underthe House of Braganza. This war,which lasted for twenty-eight years,until the final peace in 1668, was intermittent,and carried on only at longintervals owing to the state of the twocontending parties. Spain had nowentered on the period of her decline,and Portugal was in a hardly better[5]condition after her sixty years’ captivityand the exhaustion of her forces whichhad taken place during the reign ofPhilip IV. Owing, however, to the aidof France, she had been enabled to holdher own up to 1659; but the news of thePeace of the Pyrenees seemed at firstto take from her all hope of preservingher hardly won autonomy. Yet inspite of this, Mazarin, while signing theclause which bound France to abandonthe Portuguese cause, determined, withhis usual duplicity, that this should notprevent him from secretly aiding an allywhom he had found so useful in thepast as a thorn in the side of Spain.Hardly, indeed, had the treaty beenmade than he began to occupy himselfin recruiting for the Portuguese servicea number of French officers whom thepeace had left without employment.Among these the chief was Schomberg,who went to Lisbon in 1660 as commander-in-chiefand to reorganise thePortuguese army. It was not, however,[6]until 1663 that the hero of the Letters,Noel Bouton, afterwards Marquis ofChamilly and St. Leger, arrived in thecountry, which he was to leave fouryears later with the betrayal of a poornun as his title to fame. For at thetime when Schomberg was already there,we see Chamilly (as he is generallycalled) assisting at the marriage of hisbrother to Catherine le Comte de Nonant,referred to in the text (Letter II.).

Three years afterwards, finding himselfwithout military employment inFrance, he came to Portugal, attractedprobably, like so many others, by thereputation of the great captain, withwhom he had doubtless establishedfriendly relations during the campaign inFlanders (1656-8).

Our hero, if hero he may be called,was the eleventh son of Nicholas Bouton,Lord of Chamilly, Charangeroux, and,later on, St. Leger, properties of modestsize in Burgundy. His family was good,but its attachment to the Princes of[7]Condé during the Fronde had compromisedits position and damaged itsfortunes. Noel, the future marquis,was born in 1636, and as soon as hisage allowed he entered on a militarycareer. He served through the Flanderscampaign under Turenne, and in 1658was made captain, under the name ofthe Count of Chamilly, in Mazarin’sregiment of cavalry. Reaching Portugalat the end of 1663, or the commencementof 1664, he was given the samerank in a regiment commanded by aFrench officer of note, Briquemault.Although his name is not mentioned inany of the contemporary notices of thewar, we know that he was present at theSiege of Valença de Alcantara (June1664), at the battle of Castello Rodrigo(in the same month and year), at that ofMontes Claros (June 1665), and at theprincipal sieges which occupied the nexttwo years. In 1665, he was promotedto the rank of colonel, and two yearslater a diploma of Louis XIV., issued,[8]perhaps, at the instance of his brother,the Governor of Dijon, gave Chamillya similar post in the French army, withthe evident intention of enabling him toleave the Portuguese service when heliked, even though the war with Spainshould not be ended. This, taken togetherwith the fact that in the documentthe space for the month is leftblank, is extremely significant, and, aswill be seen later on, certainly connectsitself with the episode of the ‘Letters,’even if it does not enter into their actualhistory.[2] The diploma of Louis XIV.,it may be added, is dated 1667, and thesudden departure of Chamilly took placeat the end of that year, so that it seemsprobable that the French captain, fearingfuture annoyance or even danger tohimself from his liaison, had determinedto secure a safe retreat.

But let us look for a moment at theauthoress of the famous ‘PortugueseLetters.’


Marianna Alcoforado was born of agood family in the city of Beja andprovince of Alemtejo in the year 1640.Her father appears to us in the firstyears of the Restoration as a man in aninfluential position, well related, and dischargingimportant commissions bothadministrative and political. He possesseda large agricultural property, whichhe administered with attention and evenzeal, and was a Cavalier of the Order ofChrist, besides being intimate with someof the principal men of the time. Hehad six children, of whom Marianna,according to Cordeiro, was the second.Life in Beja at that time seems to havebeen sufficiently insecure, owing to thefact that the province of which it wasone of the chief cities formed the theatreof the war, and Beja itself was thechief garrison town. Tumults were constantlyarising from quarrels between thevarious parts of the heterogeneous masswhich then composed the Portuguesearmy, and hence increased care would[10]be necessary on the part of FranciscoAlcoforado in order that the educationof his daughters might be conducted insuch a manner as their position demanded.Hence, too, probably, the reasonwhy Marianna and her sister Catherineentered the Convent of the Conceptionat an earlier age than was usual. Theirfather, occupied with administrative andmilitary work on the frontier, would beunable to give them the oversight andattention which quieter times wouldhave allowed.

The Convent of the Conception atBeja was founded in 1467 by the parentsof King Emanuel the Fortunate, and,favoured successively by royal and privatedevotion, it had become one of themost important and wealthy institutionsof its kind in Portugal. It was situatedat the extreme south of the city, near tothe ancient walls, and looked on to thegates still called ‘of Mertola,’ becausethey are on the side of the city towardsMertola, distant fifty-four kilometres to[11]the south-west on the right bank of theGuadiana. There is still to be seen theremains of the balcony or verandah fromwhich Marianna first caught sight ofChamilly, probably during some militaryevolutions (cf. Letter II.), and from it agood view may be obtained over theplains of Alemtejo as they stretch awayto the south. Curiously enough, thetradition of Marianna and her fatal lovehas been perpetuated in the convent, inspite of the attempts, natural enough, onthe part of monastic chroniclers andsuch like to hide all traces of it.

In this as in most other conventsthere were two kinds of cells—the dormitories,divided into cubicles, and roomsforming independent abodes dispersedthroughout the edifice. These latter thenuns of the seventeenth century calledtheir ‘houses,’—as suas casas,—and it wasone of these which Marianna possessed.The former were in accordance with theConstitutions, while the latter, thoughstrictly forbidden, nevertheless existed.[12]These separate abodes were, it is true,often necessitated by the growth of theconvent population, and generally appertainedto nuns of a better position, whilethe dormitories served for those whowere either poorer or of an inferior rank.Many of these casas, too,

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