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Robert Browning (1812–1889). A Blot in the ’Scutcheon.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Act III Scene III

May Heaven’s overflowing kindness ever

Give you good health of body and of soul,

And bless your days according to the wishes

And prayers of its most humble votary?

I’m very grateful for your pious wishes.

But let’s sit down, so we may talk at ease.

Tartuffe(after sitting down)
And how are you recovered from your illness?

Elmire(sitting down also)
Quite well; the fever soon let go its hold.

My prayers, I fear, have not sufficient merit

To have drawn down this favour from on high;

But each entreaty that I made to Heaven

Had for its object your recovery.

You’re too solicitous on my behalf.

We could not cherish your dear health too much;

I would have given mine, to help restore it.

That’s pushing Christian charity too far;

I owe you many thanks for so much kindness.

I do far less for you than you deserve.

There is a matter that I wished to speak of

In private; I am glad there’s no one here

To listen.

Madam, I am overjoyed.

’Tis sweet to find myself alone with you.

This is an opportunity I’ve asked

Of Heaven, many a time; till now, in vain.

All that I wish, is just a word from you,

Quite frank and open, hiding nothing from me.

(DAMIS, without their seeing him, opens the closet door halfway.) Tartuffe
I too could wish, as Heaven’s especial favour,

To lay my soul quite open to your eyes,

And swear to you, the trouble that I made

About those visits which your charms attract,

Does not result from any hatred toward you,

But rather from a passionate devotion,

And purest motives…

That is how I take it,

I think ’tis my salvation that concerns you.

Tartuffe(pressing her finger tips)
Madam, ’tis so; and such is my devotion…

Ouch! but you squeeze too hard.

Excess of zeal.

In no way could I ever mean to hurt you,

And I’d as soon…

(He puts his hand on her knee.) Elmire
What’s your hand doing there?

Feeling your gown; the stuff is very soft.

Let be, I beg you; I am very ticklish.

(She moves her chair away, and TARTUFFE brings his nearer.) Tartuffe(handling the lace yoke of ELMIRE’S dress)
Dear me how wonderful in workmanship

This lace is! They do marvels, nowadays;

Things of all kinds were never better made.

Yes, very true. But let us come to business.

They say my husband means to break his word.

And marry Mariane to you. Is’t so?

He did hint some such thing; but truly, madam,

That’s not the happiness I’m yearning after;

I see elsewhere the sweet compelling charms

Of such a joy as fills my every wish.

You mean you cannot love terrestrial things.

The heart within by bosom is not stone.

I well believe your sighs all tend to Heaven,

And nothing here below can stay your thoughts.

Love for the beauty of eternal things

Cannot destroy our love for earthly beauty;

Our mortal senses well may be entranced

By perfect works that Heaven has fashioned here.

Its charms reflected shine in such as you,

And in yourself, its rarest miracles;

It has displayed such marvels in your face,

That eyes are dazed, and hearts are rapt away;

I could not look on you, the perfect creature,

Without admiring Nature’s great Creator,

And feeling all my heart inflamed with love

For you, His fairest image of Himself.

At first I trembled lest this secret love

Might be the Evil Spirit’s artful snare;

I even schooled my heart to flee your beauty,

Thinking it was a bar to my salvation.

But soon, enlightened, O all lovely one,

I saw how this my passion may be blameless,

How I may make it fit with modesty,

And thus completely yield my heart to it.

’Tis I must own, a great presumption in me

To dare make you the offer of my heart;

My love hopes all things from your perfect goodness,

And nothing from my own poor weak endeavour.

You are my hope, my stay, my peace of heart;

On you depends my torment or my bliss;

And by your doom of judgment, I shall be

Blest, if you will; or damned, by your decree.

Your declaration’s turned most gallantly;

But truly, it is just a bit surprising.

You should have better armed your heart, methinks,

And taken thought somewhat on such a matter.

A pious man like you, known everywhere…

Though pious, I am none the less a man;

And when a man beholds your heavenly charms,

The heart surrenders, and can think no more.

I know such words seem strange, coming from me;

But, madam, I’m no angel, after all;

If you condemn my frankly made avowal

You only have your charming self to blame.

Soon as I saw your more than human beauty,

You were thenceforth the sovereign of my soul;

Sweetness ineffable was in your eyes,

That took by storm my still resisting heart,

And conquered everything, fasts, prayers, and tears,

And turned my worship wholly to yourself.

My looks, my sighs, have spoke a thousand times;

Now, to express it all, my voice must speak.

If but you will look down with gracious favour

Upon the sorrows of your worthless slave,

If in your goodness you will give me comfort

And condescend unto my nothingness,

I’ll ever pay you, O sweet miracle,

An unexampled worship and devotion.

Then too, with me your honour runs no risk;

With me you need not fear a public scandal.

These court gallants, that women are so fond of,

Are boastful of their acts, and vain in speech;

They always brag in public of their progress;

Soon as a favour’s granted, they’ll divulge it;

Their tattling tongues, if you but trust to them,

Will foul the altar where their hearts have worshipped.

But men like me are so discreet in love,

That you may trust their lasting secrecy.

The care we take to guard our own good name

May fully guarantee the one we love;

So you may find, with hearts like ours sincere,

Love without scandal, pleasure without fear.

I’ve heard you through—your speech is clear, at least.

But don’t you fear that I may take a fancy

To tell my husband of your gallant passion,

And that a prompt report of this affair

May somewhat change the friendship which he bears you?

I know that you’re too good and generous,

That you will pardon my temerity,

Excuse, upon the score of human frailty,

The violence of passion that offends you,

And not forget, when you consult your mirror,

That I’m not blind, and man is made of flesh.

Some women might do otherwise, perhaps,

But I am willing to employ discretion,

And not repeat the matter to my husband;

But in return, I’ll ask one thing of you:

That you urge forward, frankly and sincerely,

The marriage of Valère to Mariane;

That you give up the unjust influence

By which you hope to win another’s rights;