Paris, Casanova, v6
Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
Part 2 out of 4
should certainly win the kingdom of heaven.
The mind is sure to follow the body; it is a privilege enjoyed by
matter. With an empty stomach, I became a fanatic; and the hollow
made in my brain by the mercury became the home of enthusiasm.
Without mentioning it to De la Haye, I wrote to my three friends,
Messrs. Bragadin and company, several letters full of pathos
concerning my Tartufe and his pupil, and I managed to communicate my
fanaticism to them. You are aware, dear reader, that nothing is so
catching as the plague; now, fanaticism, no matter of what nature, is
only the plague of the human mind.
I made my friends to understand that the good of our society depended
upon the admission of these two virtuous individuals. I allowed them
to guess it, but, having myself became a Jesuit, I took care not to
say it openly. It would of course be better if such an idea appeared
to have emanated from those men, so simple, and at the same time so
truly virtuous. "It is God's will," I wrote to them (for deceit must
always take refuge under the protection of that sacred name), "that
you employ all your influence in Venice to find an honourable
position for M. de la Haye, and to promote the interests of young
M. Bavois in his profession."
M. de Bragadin answered that De la Haye could take up his quarters
with us in his palace, and that Bavois was to write to his protector,
the Pope, entreating His Holiness to recommend him to the ambassador
of Venice, who would then forward that recommendation to the Senate,
and that Bavois could, in that way, feel sure of good employment.
The affair of the Patriarchate of Aquileia was at that time under
discussion; the Republic of Venice was in possession of it as well as
the Emperor of Austria, who claimed the 'jus eligendi': the Pope
Benedict XIV. had been chosen as arbitrator, and as he had not yet
given his decision it was evident that the Republic would shew very
great deference to his recommendation.
While that important affair was enlisting all our sympathies, and
while they were expecting in Venice a letter stating the effect of
the Pope's recommendation, I was the hero of a comic adventure which,
for the sake of my readers, must not pass unnoticed.
At the beginning of April I was entirely cured of my last misfortune.
I had recovered all my usual vigour, and I accompanied my converter
to church every day, never missing a sermon. We likewise spent the
evening together at the cafe, where we generally met a great many
officers. There was among them a Provencal who amused everybody with
his boasting and with the recital of the military exploits by which
he pretended to have distinguished himself in the service of several
countries, and principally in Spain. As he was truly a source of
amusement, everybody pretended to believe him in order to keep up the
game. One day as I was staring at him, he asked me whether I knew
"By George, sir!"--I exclaimed, "know you! Why, did we not fight
side by side at the battle of Arbela?"
At those words everybody burst out laughing, but the boaster, nothing
daunted, said, with animation,
"Well, gentlemen, I do not see anything so very laughable in that. I
was at that battle, and therefore this gentleman might very well have
remarked me; in fact, I think I can recollect him."
And, continuing to speak to me, he named the regiment in which we
were brother officers. Of course we embraced one another,
congratulating each other upon the pleasure we both felt in meeting
again in Parma. After that truly comic joke I left the coffee-room
in the company of my inseparable preacher.
The next morning, as I was at breakfast with De la Haye, the boasting
Provencal entered my room without taking off his hat, and said,
"M. d'Arbela, I have something of importance to tell you; make haste
and follow me. If you are afraid, you may take anyone you please
with you. I am good for half a dozen men."
I left my chair, seized my pistols, and aimed at him.
"No one," I said, with decision, "has the right to come and disturb
me in my room; be off this minute, or I blow your brains out."
The fellow, drawing his sword, dared me to murder him, but at the
same moment De la Haye threw himself between us, stamping violently
on the floor. The landlord came up, and threatened the officer to
send for the police if he did not withdraw immediately.
He went away, saying that I had insulted him in public, and that he
would take care that the reparation I owed him should be as public as
When he had gone, seeing that the affair might take a tragic turn, I
began to examine with De la Haye how it could be avoided, but we had
not long to puzzle our imagination, for in less than half an hour an
officer of the Infante of Parma presented himself, and requested me
to repair immediately to head-quarters, where M. de Bertolan,
Commander of Parma, wanted to speak to me.
I asked De la Haye to accompany me as a witness of what I had said in
the coffee-room as well as of what had taken place in my apartment.
I presented myself before the commander, whom I found surrounded by
several officers, and, among them, the bragging Provencal.
M. de Bertolan, who was a witty man, smiled when he saw me; then,
with a very serious countenance, he said to me,
"Sir, as you have made a laughing-stock of this officer in a public
place, it is but right that you should give him publicly the
satisfaction which he claims, and as commander of this city I find
myself bound in duty to ask you for that satisfaction in order to
settle the affair amicably."
"Commander," I answered, "I do not see why a satisfaction should be
offered to this gentleman, for it is not true that I have insulted
him by turning him into ridicule. I told him that I had seen him at
the battle of Arbela, and I could not have any doubt about it when he
said that he had been present at that battle, and that he knew me
"Yes," interrupted the officer, "but I heard Rodela and not Arbela,
and everybody knows that I fought at Rodela. But you said Arbela,
and certainly with the intention of laughing at me, since that battle
has been fought more than two thousand years ago, while the battle of
Rodela in Africa took place in our time, and I was there under the
orders of the Duke de Mortemar."
"In the first place, sir, you have no right to judge of my
intentions, but I do not dispute your having been present at Rodela,
since you say so; but in that case the tables are turned, and now I
demand a reparation from you if you dare discredit my having been at
Arbela. I certainly did not serve under the Duke de Mortemar,
because he was not there, at least to my knowledge, but I was aid-de-
camp of Parmenion, and I was wounded under his eyes. If you were to
ask me to shew you the scar, I could not satisfy you, for you must
understand that the body I had at that time does not exist any
longer, and in my present bodily envelope I am only twenty-three
"All this seems to me sheer madness, but, at all events, I have
witnesses to prove that you have been laughing at me, for you stated
that you had seen me at that battle, and, by the powers! it is not
possible, because I was not there. At all events, I demand
"So do I, and we have equal rights, if mine are not even better than
yours, for your witnesses are likewise mine, and these gentlemen will
assert that you said that you had seen me at Rodela, and, by the
powers! it is not possible, for I was not there."
"Well, I may have made a mistake."
"So may I, and therefore we have no longer any claim against one
The commander, who was biting his lips to restrain his mirth, said to
"My dear sir, I do not see that you have the slightest right to
demand satisfaction, since this gentleman confesses, like you, that
he might have been mistaken."
"But," remarked the officer, "is it credible that he was at the
battle of Arbela?"
"This gentleman leaves you free to believe or not to believe, and he
is at liberty to assert that he was there until you can prove the
contrary. Do you wish to deny it to make him draw his sword?"
"God forbid! I would rather consider the affair ended."
"Well, gentlemen," said the commander, "I have but one more duty to
perform, and it is to advise you to embrace one another like two
We followed the advice with great pleasure.
The next day, the Provencal, rather crestfallen, came to share my
dinner, and I gave him a friendly welcome. Thus was ended that comic
adventure, to the great satisfaction of M. de la Haye.
I Receive Good News From Venice, to Which City I Return with De la
Haye and Bavois--My Three Friends Give Me a Warm Welcome; Their
Surprise at Finding Me a Model of Devotion--Bavois Lures
Me Back to My Former Way of Living--De la Haye a Thorough Hypocrite--
Adventure with the Girl Marchetti--I Win a Prize in the Lottery--I
Meet Baletti--De la Haye Leaves M. de Bragadin's Palace--My
Departure for Paris
Whilst De la Haye was every day gaining greater influence over my
weakened mind, whilst I was every day devoutly attending mass,
sermons, and every office of the Church, I received from Venice a
letter containing the pleasant information that my affair had
followed its natural course, namely, that it was entirely forgotten;
and in another letter M. de Bragadin informed me that the minister
had written to the Venetian ambassador in Rome with instructions to
assure the Holy Father that Baron Bavois would, immediately after his
arrival in Venice, receive in the army of the Republic an appointment
which would enable him to live honourably and to gain a high position
by his talents.
That letter overcame M. de la Haye with joy, and I completed his
happiness by telling him that nothing hindered me from going back to
my native city.
He immediately made up his mind to go to Modena in order to explain
to his pupil how he was to act in Venice to open for himself the way
to a brilliant fortune. De la Haye depended on me in every way; he
saw my fanaticism, and he was well aware that it is a disease which
rages as long as the causes from which it has sprung are in
existence. As he was going with me to Venice, he flattered himself
that he could easily feed the fire he had lighted. Therefore he
wrote to Bavois that he would join him immediately, and two days
after he took leave of me, weeping abundantly, praising highly the
virtues of my soul, calling me his son, his dear son, and assuring me
that his great affection for me had been caused by the mark of
election which he had seen on my countenance. After that, I felt my
calling and election were sure.
A few days after the departure of De la Haye, I left Parma in my
carriage with which I parted in Fusina, and from there I proceeded to
Venice. After an absence of a year, my three friends received me as
if I had been their guardian angel. They expressed their impatience
to welcome the two saints announced by my letters. An apartment was
ready for De la Haye in the palace of M. de Bragadin, and as state
reasons did not allow my father to receive in his own house a
foreigner who had not yet entered the service of the Republic, two
rooms had been engaged for Bavois in the neighbourhood.
They were thoroughly amazed at the wonderful change which had taken
place in my morals. Every day attending mass, often present at the
preaching and at the other services, never shewing myself at the
casino, frequenting only a certain cafe which was the place of
meeting for all men of acknowledged piety and reserve, and always
studying when I was not in their company. When they compared my
actual mode of living with the former one, they marvelled, and they
could not sufficiently thank the eternal providence of God whose
inconceivable ways they admired. They blessed the criminal actions
which had compelled me to remain one year away from my native place.
I crowned their delight by paying all my debts without asking any
money from M. de Bragadin, who, not having given me anything for one
year, had religiously put together every month the sum he had allowed
me. I need not say how pleased the worthy friends were, when they
saw that I had entirely given up gambling.
I had a letter from De la Haye in the beginning of May. He announced
that he was on the eve of starting with the son so dear to his heart,
and that he would soon place himself at the disposition of the
respectable men to whom I had announced him.
Knowing the hour at which the barge arrived from Modena, we all went
to meet them, except M. de Bragadin, who was engaged at the senate.
We returned to the palace before him, and when he came back, finding
us all together, he gave his new guests the most friendly welcome.
De la Haye spoke to me of a hundred things, but I scarcely heard what
he said, so much was my attention taken up by Bavois. He was so
different to what I had fancied him to be from the impression I had
received from De la Haye, that my ideas were altogether upset. I had
to study him; for three days before I could make up my mind to like
him. I must give his portrait to my readers.
Baron Bavois was a young man of about twenty-five, of middle size,
handsome in features, well made, fair, of an equable temper, speaking
well and with intelligence, and uttering his words with a tone of
modesty which suited him exactly. His features were regular and
pleasing, his teeth were beautiful, his hair was long and fine,
always well taken care of, and exhaling the perfume of the pomatum
with which it was dressed. That individual, who was the exact
opposite of the man that De la Haye had led me to imagine, surprised
my friends greatly, but their welcome did not in any way betray their
astonishment, for their pure and candid minds would not admit a
judgment contrary to the good opinion they had formed of his morals.
As soon as we had established De la Haye in his beautiful apartment,
I accompanied Bavois to the rooms engaged for him, where his luggage
had been sent by my orders. He found himself in very comfortable
quarters, and being received with distinction by his worthy host, who
was already greatly prejudiced in his favour, the young baron
embraced me warmly, pouring out all his gratitude, and assuring me
that he felt deeply all I had done for him without knowing him, as De
la Haye had informed him of all that had occurred. I pretended not
to understand what he was alluding to, and to change the subject of
conversation I asked him how he intended to occupy his time in Venice
until his military appointment gave him serious duties to perform.
"I trust," he answered, "that we shall enjoy ourselves in an
agreeable way, for I have no doubt that our inclinations are the
Mercury and De la Haye had so completely besotted me that I should
have found some difficulty in understanding these words, however
intelligible they were; but if I did not go any further than the
outward signification of his answer, I could not help remarking that
he had already taken the fancy of the two daughters of the house.
They were neither pretty nor ugly, but he shewed himself gracious
towards them like a man who understands his business. I had,
however, already made such great progress in my mystical education,
that I considered the compliments he addressed to the girls as mere
forms of politeness.
For the first day, I took my young baron only to the St. Mark's
Square and to the cafe, where we remained until supper-time, as it
had been arranged that he would take his meals with us. At the
supper-table he shewed himself very witty, and M. Dandolo named an
hour for the next day, when he intended to present him to the
secretary for war. In the evening I accompanied him to his lodging,
where I found that the two young girls were delighted because the
young Swiss nobleman had no servant, and because they hoped to
convince him that he would not require one.
The next day, a little earlier than the time appointed, I called upon
him with M. Dandolo and M. Barbaro, who were both to present him at
the war office. We found him at his toilet under the delicate hands
of the eldest girl, who was dressing his hair. His room, was
fragrant with the perfumes of his pomatums and scents. This did not
indicate a sainted man; yet my two friends did not feel scandalized,
although their astonishment was very evident, for they had not
expected that show of gallantry from a young neophyte. I was nearly
bursting into a loud laugh, when I heard M. Dandolo remark that,
unless we hurried, we would not have time to hear mass, whereupon
Bavois enquired whether it was a festival. M. Dandolo, without
passing any remark, answered negatively, and after that, mass was not
again mentioned. When Bavois was ready, I left them and went a
different way. I met them again at dinner-time, during which the
reception given to the young baron by the secretary was discussed,
and in the evening my friends introduced him to several ladies who
were much pleased with him. In less than a week he was so well known
that there was no fear of his time hanging wearily on his hands, but
that week was likewise enough to give me a perfect insight into his
nature and way of thinking. I should not have required such a long
study, if I had not at first begun on a wrong scent, or rather if my
intelligence had not been stultified by my fanaticism. Bavois was
particularly fond of women, of gambling, of every luxury, and, as he
was poor, women supplied him with the best part of his resources. As
to religious faith he had none, and as he was no hypocrite he
confessed as much to me.
"How have you contrived," I said to him one day, "such as you are, to
deceive De la Haye?"
"God forbid I should deceive anyone. De la Haye is perfectly well
aware of my system, and of my way of thinking on religious matters,
but, being himself very devout, he entertains a holy sympathy for my
soul, and I do not object to it. He has bestowed many kindnesses
upon me, and I feel grateful to him; my affection for him is all the
greater because he never teases me with his dogmatic lessons or with
sermons respecting my salvation, of which I have no doubt that God,
in His fatherly goodness, will take care. All this is settled
between De la Haye and me, and we live on the best of terms:"
The best part of the joke is that, while I was studying him, Bavois,
without knowing it, restored my mind to its original state, and I was
ashamed of myself when I realized that I had been the dupe of a
Jesuit who was an arrant hypocrite, in spite of the character of
holiness which he assumed, and which he could play with such
marvellous ability. From that moment I fell again into all my former
practices. But let us return to De la Haye.
That late Jesuit, who in his inmost heart loved nothing but his own
comfort, already advanced in years, and therefore no longer caring
for the fair sex, was exactly the sort of man to please my
simpleminded trio of friends. As he never spoke to them but of God,
of His angels, and of everlasting glory, and as he was always
accompanying them to church, they found him a delightful companion.
They longed for the time when he would discover himself, for they
imagined he was at the very least a Rosicrucian, or perhaps the
hermit of Courpegna, who had taught me the cabalistic science and
made me a present of the immortal Paralis. They felt grieved because
the oracle had forbidden them, through my cabalistic lips, ever to
mention my science in the presence of Tartufe.
As I had foreseen, that interdiction left me to enjoy as I pleased
all the time that I would have been called upon to devote to their
devout credulity, and besides, I was naturally afraid lest De la
Haye, such as I truly believed him to be, would never lend himself to
that trifling nonsense, and would, for the sake of deserving greater
favour at their hands, endeavour to undeceive them and to take my
place in their confidence.
I soon found out that I had acted with prudence, for in less than
three weeks the cunning fox had obtained so great an influence over
the mind of my three friends that he was foolish enough, not only to
believe that he did not want me any more to support his credit with
them, but likewise that he could supplant me whenever he chose. I
could see it clearly in his way of addressing me, as well as in the
change in his proceedings.
He was beginning to hold with my friends frequent conversations to
which I was not summoned, and he had contrived to make them introduce
him to several families which I was not in the habit of visiting. He
assumed his grand jesuitic airs, and, although with honeyed word he
would take the liberty of censuring me because I sometimes spent a
night out, and, as he would say, "God knows where!"
I was particularly vexed at his seeming to accuse me of leading his
pupil astray. He then would assume the tone of a man speaking
jestingly, but I was not deceived. I thought it was time to put an
end to his game, and with that intention I paid him a visit in his
bedroom. When I was seated, I said,
"I come, as a true worshipper of the Gospel, to tell you in private
something that, another time, I would say in public."
"What is it, my dear friend?"
"I advise you for the future not to hurl at me the slightest taunt
respecting the life I am leading with Bavois, when we are in the
presence of my three worthy friends. I do not object to listen to
you when we are alone."
"You are wrong in taking my innocent jests seriously."
"Wrong or right, that does not matter. Why do you never attack your
proselyte? Be careful for the future, or I might on my side, and
only in jest like you, throw at your head some repartee which you
have every reason to fear, and thus repay you with interest."
And bowing to him I left his room.
A few days afterwards I spent a few hours with my friends and
Paralis, and the oracle enjoined them never to accomplish without my
advice anything that might be recommended or even insinuated by
Valentine; that was the cabalistic name of the disciple of Escobar.
I knew I could rely upon their obedience to that order.
De la Haye soon took notice of some slight change; he became more
reserved, and Bavois, whom I informed of what I had done, gave me his
full approbation. He felt convinced, as I was, that De la Haye had
been useful to him only through weak or selfish reasons, that is,
that he would have cared little for his soul if his face had not been
handsome, and if he had not known that he would derive important
advantages from having caused his so-called conversion.
Finding that the Venetian government was postponing his appointment
from day to day, Bavois entered the service of the French ambassador.
The decision made it necessary for him not only to cease his visits
to M. de Bragadin, but even to give up his intercourse with De la
Haye, who was the guest of that senator.
It is one of the strictest laws of the Republic that the patricians
and their families shall not hold any intercourse with the foreign
ambassadors and their suites. But the decision taken by Bavois did
not prevent my friends speaking in his favour, and they succeeded in
obtaining employment for him, as will be seen further on.
The husband of Christine, whom I never visited, invited me to go to
the casino which he was in the habit of frequenting with his aunt and
his wife, who had already presented him with a token of their.
mutual affection. I accepted his invitation, and I found Christine
as lovely as ever, and speaking the Venetian dialect like her
husband. I made in that casino the acquaintance of a chemist, who
inspired me with the wish to follow a course of chemistry. I went to
his house, where I found a young girl who greatly pleased me. She
was a neighbour, and came every evening to keep the chemist's
elderly wife company, and at a regular hour a servant called to take
her home. I had never made love to her but once in a trifling sort
of way, and in the presence of the old lady, but I was surprised not
to see her after that for several days, and I expressed my
astonishment. The good lady told me that very likely the girl's
cousin, an abbe, with whom she was residing, had heard of my seeing
her every evening, had become jealous, and would not allow her to
"An abbe jealous?"
"Why not? He never allows her to go out except on Sundays to attend
the first mass at the Church of Santa Maria Mater Domini, close by
his dwelling. He did not object to her coming here, because he knew
that we never had any visitors, and very likely he has heard through
the servant of your being here every evening."
A great enemy to all jealous persons, and a greater friend to my
amorous fancies, I wrote to the young girl that, if she would leave
her cousin for me, I would give her a house in which she should be
the mistress, and that I would surround her with good society and
with every luxury to be found in Venice. I added that I would be in
the church on the following Sunday to receive her answer.
I did not forget my appointment, and her answer was that the abbe
being her tyrant, she would consider herself happy to escape out of
his clutches, but that she could not make up her mind to follow me
unless I consented to marry her. She concluded her letter by saying
that, in case I entertained honest intentions towards her, I had only
to speak to her mother, Jeanne Marchetti, who resided in Lusia, a
city thirty miles distant from Venice.
This letter piqued my curiosity, and I even imagined that she had
written it in concert with the abbe. Thinking that they wanted to
dupe me, and besides, finding the proposal of marriage ridiculous, I
determined on having my revenge. But I wanted to get to the bottom
of it, and I made up my mind to see the girl's mother. She felt
honoured by my visit, and greatly pleased when, after I had shewn her
her daughter's letter, I told her that I wished to marry her, but
that I should never think of it as long as she resided with the abbe.
"That abbe," she said, "is a distant relative. He used to live alone
in his house in Venice, and two years ago he told me that he was in
want of a housekeeper. He asked me to let my daughter go to him in
that capacity, assuring me that in Venice she would have good
opportunities of getting married. He offered to give me a deed in
writing stating that, on the day of her marriage, he would give her
all his furniture valued at about one thousand ducats, and the
inheritance of a small estate, bringing one hundred ducats a year,
which lie possesses here. It seemed to me a good bargain, and, my
daughter being pleased with the offer, I accepted. He gave me the
deed duly drawn by a notary, and my daughter went with him. I know
that he makes a regular slave of her, but she chose to go.
Nevertheless, I need not tell you that my most ardent wish is to see
her married, for, as long as a girl is without a husband, she is too
much exposed to temptation, and the poor mother cannot rest in
"Then come to Venice with me. You will take your daughter out of the
abbe's house, and I will make her my wife. Unless that is done I
cannot marry her, for I should dishonour myself if I received my wife
from his hands."
"Oh, no! for he is my cousin, although only in the fourth degree,
and, what is more, he is a priest and says the mass every day."
"You make me laugh, my good woman. Everybody knows that a priest
says the mass without depriving himself of certain trifling
enjoyments. Take your daughter with you, or give up all hope of ever
seeing her married."
"But if I take her with me, he will not give her his furniture, and
perhaps he will sell his small estate here."
"I undertake to look to that part of the business. I promise to take
her out of his hands, and to make her come back to you with all the
furniture, and to obtain the estate when she is my wife. If you knew
me better, you would not doubt what I say. Come to Venice, and I
assure you that you shall return here in four or five days with your
She read the letter which had been written to me by her daughter
again, and told me that, being a poor widow, she had not the money
necessary to pay the expenses of her journey to Venice, or of her
return to Louisa.
"In Venice you shall not want for anything," I said; "in the mean
time, here are ten sequins."
"Ten sequins! Then I can go with my sister-in-law?"
"Come with anyone you like, but let us go soon so as to reach
Chiozza, where we must sleep. To-morrow we shall dine in Venice, and
I undertake to defray all expenses."
We arrived in Venice the next day at ten o'clock, and I took the two
women to Castello, to a house the first floor of which was empty. I
left them there, and provided with the deed signed by the abbe I went
to dine with my three friends, to whom I said that I had been to
Chiozza on important business. After dinner, I called upon the
lawyer, Marco de Lesse, who told me that if the mother presented a
petition to the President of the Council of Ten, she would
immediately be invested with power to take her daughter away with all
the furniture in the house, which she could send wherever she
pleased. I instructed him to have the petition ready, saying that I
would come the next morning with the mother, who would sign it in his
I brought the mother early in the morning, and after she had signed
the petition we went to the Boussole, where she presented it to the
President of the Council. In less than a quarter of an hour a
bailiff was ordered to repair to the house of the priest with the
mother, and to put her in possession of her daughter, and of all the
furniture, which she would immediately take away.
The order was carried into execution to the very letter. I was with
the mother in a gondola as near as possible to the house, and I had
provided a large boat in which the sbirri stowed all the furniture
found on the premises. When it was all done, the daughter was
brought to the gondola, and she was extremely surprised to see me.
Her mother kissed her, and told her that I would be her husband the
very next day. She answered that she was delighted, and that nothing
had been left in her tyrant's house except his bed and his clothes.
When we reached Castello, I ordered the furniture to be brought out
of the boat; we had dinner, and I told the three women that they must
go back to Lusia, where I would join them as soon as I had settled
all my affairs. I spent the afternoon gaily with my intended. She
told us that the abbe was dressing when the bailiff presented the
order of the Council of Ten, with injunctions to allow its free
execution under penalty of death; that the abbe finished his toilet,
went out to say his mass, and that everything had been done without
the slightest opposition. "I was told," she added, "that my mother
was waiting for me in the gondola, but I did not expect to find you,
and I never suspected that you were at the bottom of the whole
"It is the first proof I give you of my love."
These words made her smile very pleasantly.
I took care to have a good supper and some excellent wines, and after
we had spent two hours at table in the midst of the joys of Bacchus,
I devoted four more to a pleasant tete-a-tete with my intended bride.
The next morning, after breakfast, I had the whole of the furniture
stowed in a peotta, which I had engaged for the purpose and paid for
beforehand. I gave ten more sequins to the mother, and sent them
away all three in great delight. The affair was completed to my
honour as well as to my entire satisfaction, and I returned home.
The case had made so much noise that my friends could not have
remained ignorant of it; the consequence was that, when they saw me,
they shewed their surprise and sorrow. De la Haye embraced me with
an air of profound grief, but it was a feigned feeling--a harlequin's
dress, which he had the talent of assuming with the greatest
facility. M. de Bragadin alone laughed heartily, saying to the
others that they did not understand the affair, and that it was the
forerunner of something great which was known only to heavenly
spirits. On my side, being ignorant of the opinion they entertained
of the matter, and certain that they were not informed of all the
circumstances, I laughed like M. de Bragadin, but said nothing. I
had nothing to fear, and I wanted to amuse myself with all that would
We sat down to table, and M. Barbaro was the first to tell me in a
friendly manner that he hoped at least that this was not the day
after my wedding.
"Then people say that I am married?"
"It is said everywhere and by everybody. The members of the Council
themselves believe it, and they have good reason to believe that they
"To be right in believing such a thing, they ought to be certain of
it, and those gentlemen have no such certainty. As they are not
infallible any more than any one, except God, I tell you that they
are mistaken. I like to perform good actions and to get pleasure for
my money, but not at the expense of my liberty: Whenever you want to
know my affairs, recollect that you can receive information about
them only from me, and public rumour is only good to amuse fools."
"But," said M. Dandolo, "you spent the night with the person who is
represented as your wife?"
"Quite true, but I have no account to give to anyone respecting what
I have done last night. Are you not of my opinion, M. de la Haye?"
"I wish you would not ask my opinion, for I do not know. But I must
say that public rumour ought not to be despised. The deep affection
I have for you causes me to grieve for what the public voice says
"How is it that those reports do not grieve M. de Bragadin, who has
certainly greater affection for me than you have?"
"I respect you, but I have learned at my own expense that slander is
to be feared. It is said that, in order to get hold of a young girl
who was residing with her uncle--a worthy priest, you suborned a
woman who declared herself to be the girl's mother, and thus deceived
the Supreme Council, through the authority of which she obtained
possession of the girl for you. The bailiff sent by the Council
swears that you were in the gondola with the false mother when the
young girl joined her. It is said that the deed, in virtue of which
you caused the worthy ecclesiastic's furniture to be carried off, is
false, and you are blamed for having made the highest body of the
State a stepping-stone to crime. In fine, it is said that, even if
you have married the girl, and no doubt of it is entertained, the
members of the Council will not be silent as to the fraudulent means
you have had recourse to in order to carry out your intentions
"That is a very long speech," I said to him, coldly, "but learn from
me that a wise man who has heard a criminal accusation related with
so many absurd particulars ceases to be wise when he makes himself
the echo of what he has heard, for if the accusation should turn out
to be a calumny, he would himself become the accomplice of the
After that sentence, which brought the blood to the face of the
Jesuit, but which my friends thought very wise, I entreated him, in a
meaning voice, to spare his anxiety about me, and to be quite certain
that I knew the laws of honour, and that I had judgment enough to
take care of myself, and to let foul tongues say what they liked
about me, just as I did when I heard them speak ill of him.
The adventure was the talk of the city for five or six days, after
which it was soon forgotten.
But three months having elapsed without my having paid any visit to
Lusia, or having answered the letters written to me by the damigella
Marchetti, and without sending her the money she claimed of me, she
made up her mind to take certain proceedings which might have had
serious consequences, although they had none whatever in the end.
One day, Ignacio, the bailiff of the dreaded tribunal of the State
inquisitors, presented himself as I was sitting at table with my
friends, De la Haye, and two other guests. He informed me that the
Cavaliere Cantarini dal Zoffo wished to see me, and would wait for me
the next morning at such an hour at the Madonna de l'Orto. I rose
from the table and answered, with a bow, that I would not fail to
obey the wishes of his excellency. The bailiff then left us.
I could not possibly guess what such a high dignitary of State could
want with my humble person, yet the message made us rather anxious,
for Cantarini dal Zoffo was one of the Inquisitors, that is to say, a
bird of very ill omen. M. de Bragadin, who had been Inquisitor while
he was Councillor, and therefore knew the habits of the tribunal,
told me that I had nothing to fear.
"Ignacio was dressed in private clothes," he added, "and therefore he
did not come as the official messenger of the dread tribunal.
M. Cantarini wishes to speak to you only as a private citizen, as he
sends you word to call at his palace and not at the court-house. He
is an elderly man, strict but just, to whom you must speak frankly
and without equivocating, otherwise you would make matters worse."
I was pleased with M. de Bragadin's advice, which was of great use to
me. I called at the appointed time.
I was immediately announced, and I had not long to wait. I entered
the room, and his excellency, seated at a table, examined me from
head to foot for one minute without speaking to me; he then rang the
bell, and ordered his servant to introduce the two ladies who were
waiting in the next room. I guessed at once what was the matter, and
felt no surprise when I saw the woman Marchetti and her daughter.
His excellency asked me if I knew them.
"I must know them, monsignor, as one of them will become my wife when
she has convinced me by her good conduct that she is worthy of that
"Her conduct is good, she lives with her mother at Lusia; you have
deceived her. Why do you postpone your marriage with her? Why do
you not visit her? You never answer her letters, and you let her be
"I cannot marry her, your excellency, before I have enough to support
her. That will come in three or four years, thanks to a situation
which M. de Bragadin, my only protector, promises to obtain for me.
Until then she must live honestly, and support herself by working.
I will only marry her when I am convinced of her honesty, and
particularly when I am certain that she has given up all intercourse
with the abbe, her cousin in the fourth degree. I do not visit her
because my confessor and my conscience forbid me to go to her house."
"She wishes you to give her a legal promise of marriage, and
"Monsignor, I am under no obligation to give her a promise of
marriage, and having no means whatever I cannot support her. She
must earn her own living with her mother"
"When she lived with her cousin," said her mother, "she never wanted
anything, and she shall go back to him."
"If she returns to his house I shall not take the trouble of taking
her out of his hands a second time, and your excellency will then see
that I was right to defer my marriage with her until I was convinced
of her honesty."
The judge told me that my presence, was no longer necessary. It was
the end of the affair, and I never heard any more about it. The
recital of the dialogue greatly amused my friends.
At the beginning of the Carnival of 1750 I won a prize of three
thousand ducats at the lottery. Fortune made me that present when I
did not require it, for I had held the bank during the autumn, and
had won. It was at a casino where no nobleman dared to present
himself, because one of the partners was an officer in the service of
the Duke de Montalegre, the Spanish Ambassador. The citizens of
Venice felt ill at ease with the patricians, and that is always the
case under an aristocratic government, because equality exists in
reality only between the members of such a government.
As I intended to take a trip to Paris, I placed one thousand sequins
in M. de Bragadin's hands, and with that project in view I had the
courage to pass the carnival without risking my money at the faro-
table. I had taken a share of one-fourth in the bank of an honest
patrician, and early in Lent he handed me a large sum.
Towards mid-Lent my friend Baletti returned from Mantua to Venice.
He was engaged at the St. Moses Theatre as ballet-master during the
Fair of the Assumption. He was with Marina, but they did not live
together. She made the conquest of an English Jew, called Mendez,
who spent a great deal of money for her. That Jew gave me good news
of Therese, whom he had known in Naples, and in whose hands he had
left some of his spoils. The information pleased me, and I was very
glad to have been prevented by Henriette from joining Therese in
Naples, as I had intended, for I should certainly have fallen in love
with her again, and God knows what the consequences might have been.
It was at that time that Bavois was appointed captain in the service
of the Republic; he rose rapidly in his profession, as I shall
De la Haye undertook the education of a young nobleman called Felix
Calvi, and a short time afterwards he accompanied him to Poland. I
met him again in Vienna three years later.
I was making my preparations to go to the Fair of Reggio, then to
Turin, where the whole of Italy was congregating for the marriage of
the Duke of Savoy with a princess of Spain, daughter of Philip V.,
and lastly to Paris, where, Madame la Dauphine being pregnant,
magnificent preparations were made in the expectation of the birth of
a prince. Baletti was likewise on the point of undertaking the same
journey. He was recalled by his parents, who were dramatic artists:
his mother was the celebrated Silvia.
Baletti was engaged at the Italian Theatre in Paris as dancer and
first gentleman. I could not choose a companion more to my taste,
more agreeable, or in a better position to procure me numerous
advantageous acquaintances in Paris.
I bade farewell to my three excellent friends, promising to return
within two years.
I left my brother Francois in the studio of Simonetti, the painter of
battle pieces, known as the Parmesan. I gave him a promise to think
of him in Paris, where, at that time particularly, great talent was
always certain of a high fortune. My readers will see how I kept my
I likewise left in Venice my brother Jean, who had returned to that
city after having travelled through Italy with Guarienti. He was on
the point of going to Rome, where he remained fourteen years in the
studio of Raphael Mengs. He left Rome for Dresden in 1764, where he
died in the year 1795.
Baletti started before me, and I left Venice, to meet him in Reggio,
on the 1st of June, 1750. I was well fitted out, well supplied with
money, and sure not to want for any, if I led a proper life. We
shall soon see, dear reader, what judgment you will pass on my
conduct, or rather I shall not see it, for I know that when you are
able to judge, I shall no longer care for your sentence.
I Stop at Ferrara, Where I Have a Comic Adventure--My Arrival in
Precisely at twelve o'clock the peotta landed me at Ponte di Lago
Oscuro, and I immediately took a post-chaise to reach Ferrara in time
for dinner. I put up at St. Mark's Hotel. I was following the
waiter up the stairs, when a joyful uproar, which suddenly burst from
a room the door of which was open, made me curious to ascertain the
cause of so much mirth. I peeped into the room, and saw some twelve
persons, men and women, seated round a well-supplied table. It was a
very natural thing, and I was moving on, when I was stopped by the
exclamation, "Ah, here he is!" uttered by the pretty voice of a
woman, and at the same moment, the speaker, leaving the table, came
to me with open arms and embraced me, saying,
"Quick, quick, a seat for him near me; take his luggage to his room."
A young man came up, and she said to him, "Well, I told you he would
She made me sit near her at the table, after I had been saluted by
all the guests who had risen to do me honour.
"My dear cousin," she said, addressing me, "you must be hungry;" and
as she spoke she squeezed my foot under the table. "Here is my
intended husband whom I beg to introduce to you, as well as my father
and mother-in-law. The other guests round the table are friends of
the family. But, my dear cousin, tell me why my mother has not come
At last I had to open my lips!
"Your mother, my dear cousin, will be here in three or four days, at
I thought that my newly-found cousin was unknown to me, but when I
looked at her with more attention, I fancied I recollected her
features. She was the Catinella, a dancer of reputation, but I had
never spoken to her before. I easily guessed that she was giving me
an impromptu part in a play of her own composition, and I was to be a
'deux ex machina'. Whatever is singular and unexpected has always
attracted me, and as my cousin was pretty, I lent myself most
willingly to the joke, entertaining no doubt that she would reward me
in an agreeable manner. All I had to do was to play my part well,
but without implicating myself. Therefore, pretending to be very
hungry, I gave her the opportunity of speaking and of informing me by
hints of what I had to know, in order not to make blunders.
Understanding the reason of my reserve, she afforded me the proof of
her quick intelligence by saying sometimes to one person, sometimes
to the other, everything it was necessary for me to know. Thus I
learnt that the wedding could not take place until the arrival of her
mother, who was to bring the wardrobe and the diamonds of my cousin.
I was the precentor going to Turin to compose the music of the opera
which was to be represented at the marriage of the Duke of Savoy.
This last discovery pleased me greatly, because I saw that I should
have no difficulty in taking my departure the next morning, and I
began to enjoy the part I had to play. Yet, if I had not reckoned
upon the reward, I might very well have informed the honourable
company that my false cousin was mad, but, although Catinella was
very near thirty, she was very pretty and celebrated for her
intrigues; that was enough, and she could turn me round her little
The future mother-in-law was seated opposite, and to do me honour she
filled a glass and offered it to me. Already identified with my part
in the comedy, I put forth my hand to take the glass, but seeing that
my hand was somewhat bent, she said to me,
"What is the matter with your hand, sir?"
"Nothing serious, madam; only a slight sprain which a little rest
will soon cure."
At these words, Catinella, laughing heartily, said that she regretted
the accident because it would deprive her friends of the pleasure
they would have enjoyed in hearing me play the harpsichord.
"I am glad to find it a laughing matter, cousin."
"I laugh, because it reminds me of a sprained ankle which I once
feigned to have in order not to dance."
After coffee, the mother-in-law, who evidently understood what was
proper, said that most likely my cousin wanted to talk with me on
family matters, and that we ought to be left alone.
Every one of the guests left the room.
As soon as I was alone with her in my room, which was next to her own
she threw herself on a sofa, and gave way to a most immoderate fit of
"Although I only know you by name," she said to me, "I have entire
confidence in you, but you will do well to go away to-morrow. I have
been here for two months without any money. I have nothing but a few
dresses and some linen, which I should have been compelled to sell to
defray my expenses if I had not been lucky enough to inspire the son
of the landlord with the deepest love. I have flattered his passion
by promising to become his wife, and to bring him as a marriage
portion twenty thousand crowns' worth of diamonds which I am supposed
to have in Venice, and which my mother is expected to bring with her.
But my mother has nothing and knows nothing of the affair, therefore
she is not likely to leave Venice."
"But, tell me, lovely madcap, what will be the end of this
extravaganza? I am afraid it will take a tragic turn at the last."
"You are mistaken; it will remain a comedy, and a very amusing one,
too. I am expecting every hour the arrival of Count Holstein,
brother of the Elector of Mainz. He has written to me from
Frankfort; he has left that city, and must by this time have reached
Venice. He will take me to the Fair of Reggio, and if my intended
takes it into his head to be angry, the count will thrash him and pay
my bill, but I am determined that he shall be neither thrashed nor
paid. As I go away, I have only to whisper in his ear that I will
certainly return, and it will be all right. I know my promise to
become his wife as soon as I come back will make him happy."
"That's all very well! You are as witty as a cousin of Satan, but I
shall not wait your return to marry you; our wedding must take place
"What folly! Well, wait until this evening."
"Not a bit of it, for I can almost fancy I hear the count's carriage.
If he should not arrive, we can continue the sport during the night."
"Do you love me?"
"To distraction! but what does it matter? However, your excellent
comedy renders you worthy of adoration. Now, suppose we do not waste
"You are right: it is an episode, and all the more agreeable for
I can well recollect that I found it a delightful episode. Towards
evening all the family joined us again, a walk was proposed, and we
were on the point of going out, when a carriage drawn by six post-
horses noisily entered the yard. Catinella looked through the
window, and desired to be left alone, saying that it was a prince who
had come to see her. Everybody went away, she pushed me into my room
and locked me in. I went to the window, and saw a nobleman four
times as big as myself getting out of the carriage. He came
upstairs, entered the room of the intended bride, and all that was
left to me was the consolation of having seized fortune by the
forelock, the pleasure of hearing their conversation, and a
convenient view, through a crevice in the partition, of what
Catinella contrived to do with that heavy lump of flesh. But at last
the stupid amusement wearied me, for it lasted five hours, which were
employed in amorous caresses, in packing Catinella's rags, in loading
them on the carriage, in taking supper, and in drinking numerous
bumpers of Rhenish wine. At midnight the count left the hotel,
carrying away with him the beloved mistress of the landlord's son.
No one during those long hours had come to my room, and I had not
called. I was afraid of being discovered, and I did not know how far
the German prince would have been pleased if he had found out that he
had an indiscreet witness of the heavy and powerless demonstrations
of his tenderness, which were a credit to neither of the actors, and
which supplied me with ample food for thoughts upon the miseries of
After the departure of the heroine, catching through the crevice a
glimpse of the abandoned lover, I called out to him to unlock my
door. The poor silly fellow told me piteously that, Catinella having
taken the key with her, it would be necessary to break the door open.
I begged him to have it done at once, because I was hungry. As soon
as I was out of my prison I had my supper, and the unfortunate lover
kept me company. He told me that Catinella had found a moment to
promise him that she would return within six weeks, that she was
shedding tears in giving him that assurance, and that she had kissed
him with great tenderness.
"Has the prince paid her expenses?"
"Not at all. We would not have allowed him to do it, even if he had
offered. My future wife would have felt offended, for you can have
no idea of the delicacy of her feelings."
"What does your father say of her departure?"
"My father always sees the worst side of everything; he says that she
will never come back, and my mother shares his opinion rather than
mine. But you, signor maestro, what do you think?"
"That if she has promised to return, she will be sure to keep her
"Of course; for if she did not mean to come back, she would not have
given me her promise."
"Precisely; I call that a good argument."
I had for my supper what was left of the meal prepared by the count's
cook, and I drank a bottle of excellent Rhenish wine which Catinella
had juggled away to treat her intended husband, and which the worthy
fellow thought could not have a better destination than to treat his
future cousin. After supper I took post-horses and continued my
journey, assuring the unhappy, forlorn lover that I would do all I
could to persuade my cousin to come back very soon. I wanted to pay
my bill, but he refused to receive any money. I reached Bologna a
few minutes after Catinella, and put up at the same hotel, where I
found an opportunity of telling her all her lover had said. I
arrived in Reggio before her, but I could not speak to her in that
city, for she was always in the company of her potent and impotent
lord. After the fair, during which nothing of importance occurred to
me, I left Reggio with my friend Baletti and we proceeded to Turin,
which I wanted to see, for the first time I had gone to that city
with Henriette I had stopped only long enough to change horses.
I found everything beautiful in Turin, the city, the court, the
theatre, and the women, including the Duchess of Savoy, but I could
not help laughing when I was told that the police of the city was
very efficient, for the streets were full of beggars. That police,
however, was the special care of the king, who was very intelligent;
if we are to believe history, but I confess that I laughed when I saw
the ridiculous face of that sovereign.
I had never seen a king before in my life, and a foolish idea made me
suppose that a king must be preeminent--a very rare being--by his
beauty and the majesty of his appearance, and in everything superior
to the rest of men. For a young Republican endowed with reason, my
idea was not, after all, so very foolish, but I very soon got rid of
it when I saw that King of Sardinia, ugly, hump-backed, morose and
vulgar even in his manners. I then realized that it was possible to
be a king without being entirely a man.
I saw L'Astrua and Gafarello, those two magnificent singers on the
stage, and I admired the dancing of La Geofroi, who married at that
time a worthy dancer named Bodin.
During my stay in Turin, no amorous fancy disturbed the peace of my
soul, except an accident which happened to me with the daughter of my
washerwoman, and which increased my knowledge in physics in a
singular manner. That girl was very pretty, and, without being what
might be called in love with her, I wished to obtain her favours.
Piqued at my not being able to obtain an appointment from her, I
contrived one day to catch her at the bottom of a back staircase by
which she used to come to my room, and, I must confess, with the
intention of using a little violence, if necessary.
Having concealed myself for that purpose at the time I expected her,
I got hold of her by surprise, and, half by persuasion, half by the
rapidity of my attack, she was brought to a right position, and I
lost no time in engaging in action. But at the first movement of the
connection a loud explosion somewhat cooled my ardour, the more so
that the young girl covered her face with her hands as if she wished
to hide her shame. However, encouraging her with a loving kiss, I
began again. But, a report, louder even than the first, strikes at
the same moment my ear and my nose. I continue; a third, a fourth
report, and, to make a long matter short, each movement gives an
explosion with as much regularity as a conductor making the time for
a piece of music!
This extraordinary phenomenon, the confusion of the poor girl, our
position--everything, in fact, struck me as so comical, that I burst
into the most immoderate laughter, which compelled me to give up the
undertaking. Ashamed and confused, the young girl ran away, and I
did nothing to hinder her. After that she never had the courage to
present herself before me. I remained seated on the stairs for a
quarter of an hour after she had left me, amused at the funny
character of a scene which even now excites my mirth. I suppose that
the young girl was indebted for her virtue to that singular disease,
and most likely, if it were common to all the fair sex, there would
be fewer gallant women, unless we had different organs; for to pay
for one moment of enjoyment at the expense both of the hearing and of
the smell is to give too high a price.
Baletti, being in a hurry to reach Paris, where great preparations
were being made for the birth of a Duke of Burgundy--for the duchess
was near the time of her delivery--easily persuaded me to shorten my
stay in Turin. We therefore left that city, and in five days we
arrived at Lyons, where I stayed about a week.
Lyons is a very fine city in which at that time there were scarcely
three or four noble houses opened to strangers; but, in compensation,
there were more than a hundred hospitable ones belonging to
merchants, manufacturers, and commission agents, amongst whom was to
be found an excellent society remarkable for easy manners,
politeness, frankness, and good style, without the absurd pride to be
met with amongst the nobility in the provinces, with very few
honourable exceptions. It is true that the standard of good manners
is below that of Paris, but one soon gets accustomed to it. The
wealth of Lyons arises from good taste and low prices, and Fashion is
the goddess to whom that city owes its prosperity. Fashion alters
every year, and the stuff, to which the fashion of the day gives a
value equal, say to thirty, is the next year reduced to fifteen or
twenty, and then it is sent to foreign countries where it is bought
up as a novelty.
The manufacturers of Lyons give high salaries to designers of talent;
in that lies the secret of their success. Low prices come from
Competition--a fruitful source of wealth, and a daughter of Liberty.
Therefore, a government wishing to establish on a firm basis the
prosperity of trade must give commerce full liberty; only being
careful to prevent the frauds which private interests, often wrongly
understood, might invent at the expense of public and general
interests. In fact, the government must hold the scales, and allow
the citizens to load them as they please.
In Lyons I met the most famous courtezan of Venice. It was generally
admitted that her equal had never been seen. Her name was Ancilla.
Every man who saw her coveted her, and she was so kindly disposed
that she could not refuse her favours to anyone; for if all men loved
her one after the other, she returned the compliment by loving them
all at once, and with her pecuniary advantages were only a very
Venice has always been blessed with courtezans more celebrated by
their beauty than their wit. Those who were most famous in my
younger days were Ancilla and another called Spina, both the
daughters of gondoliers, and both killed very young by the excesses
of a profession which, in their eyes, was a noble one. At the age of
twenty-two, Ancilla turned a dancer and Spina became a singer.
Campioni, a celebrated Venetian dancer, imparted to the lovely
Ancilla all the graces and the talents of which her physical
perfections were susceptible, and married her. Spina had for her
master a castrato who succeeded in making of her only a very ordinary
singer, and in the absence of talent she was compelled, in order to
get a living, to make the most of the beauty she had received from
I shall have occasion to speak again of Ancilla before her death.
She was then in Lyons with her husband; they had just returned from
England, where they had been greatly applauded at the Haymarket
Theatre. She had stopped in Lyons only for her pleasure, and, the
moment she shewed herself, she had at her feet the most brilliant
young men of the town, who were the slaves of her slightest caprice.
Every day parties of pleasure, every evening magnificent suppers, and
every night a great faro bank. The banker at the gaming table was a
certain Don Joseph Marratti, the same man whom I had known in the
Spanish army under the name of Don Pepe il Cadetto, and a few years
afterwards assumed the name of Afflisio, and came to such a bad end.
That faro bank won in a few days three hundred thousand francs. In a
capital that would not have been considered a large sum, but in a
commercial and industrial city like Lyons it raised the alarm amongst
the merchants, and the Ultramontanes thought of taking their leave.
It was in Lyons that a respectable individual, whose acquaintance I
made at the house of M. de Rochebaron, obtained for me the favour of
being initiated in the sublime trifles of Freemasonry. I arrived in
Paris a simple apprentice; a few months after my arrival I became
companion and master; the last is certainly the highest degree in
Freemasonry, for all the other degrees which I took afterwards are
only pleasing inventions, which, although symbolical, add nothing to
the dignity of master.
No one in this world can obtain a knowledge of everything, but every
man who feels himself endowed with faculties, and can realize the
extent of his moral strength, should endeavour to obtain the greatest
possible amount of knowledge. A well-born young man who wishes to
travel and know not only the world, but also what is called good
society, who does not want to find himself, under certain
circumstances, inferior to his equals, and excluded from
participating in all their pleasures, must get himself initiated in
what is called Freemasonry, even if it is only to know superficially
what Freemasonry is. It is a charitable institution, which, at
certain times and in certain places, may have been a pretext for
criminal underplots got up for the overthrow of public order, but is
there anything under heaven that has not been abused? Have we not
seen the Jesuits, under the cloak of our holy religion, thrust into
the parricidal hand of blind enthusiasts the dagger with which kings
were to be assassinated! All men of importance, I mean those whose
social existence is marked by intelligence and merit, by learning or
by wealth, can be (and many of them are) Freemasons: is it possible
to suppose that such meetings, in which the initiated, making it a
law never to speak, 'intra muros', either of politics, or of
religions, or of governments, converse only concerning emblems which
are either moral or trifling; is it possible to suppose, I repeat,
that those meetings, in which the governments may have their own
creatures, can offer dangers sufficiently serious to warrant the
proscriptions of kings or the excommunications of Popes?
In reality such proceedings miss the end for which they are
undertaken, and the Pope, in spite of his infallibility, will not
prevent his persecutions from giving Freemasonry an importance which
it would perhaps have never obtained if it had been left alone.
Mystery is the essence of man's nature, and whatever presents itself
to mankind under a mysterious appearance will always excite curiosity
and be sought, even when men are satisfied that the veil covers
nothing but a cypher.
Upon the whole, I would advise all well-born young men, who intend to
travel, to become Freemasons; but I would likewise advise them to be
careful in selecting a lodge, because, although bad company cannot
have any influence while inside of the lodge, the candidate must
guard against bad acquaintances.
Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the
secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the
trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret,
but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered
to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine
that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point
of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a
mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to
know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long
attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and
deduction. He would not trust that secret to his best friend in
Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it
out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in
his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.
Everything done in a lodge must be secret; but those who have
unscrupulously revealed what is done in the lodge, have been unable
to reveal that which is essential; they had no knowledge of it, and
had they known it, they certainly would not have unveiled the mystery
of the ceremonies.
The impression felt in our days by the non-initiated is of the same
nature as that felt in former times by those who were not initiated
in the mysteries enacted at Eleusis in honour of Ceres. But the
mysteries of Eleusis interested the whole of Greece, and whoever had
attained some eminence in the society of those days had an ardent
wish to take a part in those mysterious ceremonies, while
Freemasonry, in the midst of many men of the highest merit, reckons a
crowd of scoundrels whom no society ought to acknowledge, because
they are the refuse of mankind as far as morality is concerned.
In the mysteries of Ceres, an inscrutable silence was long kept,
owing to the veneration in which they were held. Besides, what was
there in them that could be revealed? The three words which the
hierophant said to the initiated? But what would that revelation
have come to? Only to dishonour the indiscreet initiate, for they
were barbarous words unknown to the vulgar. I have read somewhere
that the three sacred words of the mysteries of Eleusis meant: Watch,
and do no evil. The sacred words and the secrets of the various
masonic degrees are about as criminal.
The initiation in the mysteries of Eleusis lasted nine days. The
ceremonies were very imposing, and the company of the highest.
Plutarch informs us that Alcibiades was sentenced to death and his
property confiscated, because he had dared to turn the mysteries into
ridicule in his house. He was even sentenced to be cursed by the
priests and priestesses, but the curse was not pronounced because one
of the priestesses opposed it, saying:
"I am a priestess to bless and not to curse!"
Sublime words! Lessons of wisdom and of morality which the Pope
despises, but which the Gospel teaches and which the Saviour
In our days nothing is important, and nothing is sacred, for our
Botarelli publishes in a pamphlet all the ceremonies of the
Freemasons, and the only sentence passed on him is:
"He is a scoundrel. We knew that before!"
A prince in Naples, and M. Hamilton in his own house, perform the
miracle of St. Januarius; they are, most likely, very merry over
their performance, and many more with them. Yet the king wears on
his royal breast a star with the following device around the image of
St. Januarius: 'In sanguine foedus'. In our days everything is
inconsistent, and nothing has any meaning. Yet it is right to go
ahead, for to stop on the road would be to go from bad to worse.
We left Lyons in the public diligence, and were five days on our road
to Paris. Baletti had given notice of his departure to his family;
they therefore knew when to expect him. We were eight in the coach
and our seats were very uncomfortable, for it was a large oval in
shape, so that no one had a corner. If that vehicle had been built
in a country where equality was a principle hallowed by the laws, it
would not have been a bad illustration. I thought it was absurd, but
I was in a foreign country, and I said nothing. Besides, being an
Italian, would it have been right for me not to admire everything
which was French, and particularly in France?--Example, an oval
diligence: I respected the fashion, but I found it detestable, and
the singular motion of that vehicle had the same effect upon me as
the rolling of a ship in a heavy sea. Yet it was well hung, but the
worst jolting would have disturbed me less.
As the diligence undulates in the rapidity of its pace, it has been
called a gondola, but I was a judge of gondolas, and I thought that
there was no family likeness between the coach and the Venetian boats
which, with two hearty rowers, glide along so swiftly and smoothly.
The effect of the movement was that I had to throw up whatever was on
my stomach. My travelling companions thought me bad company, but
they did not say so. I was in France and among Frenchmen, who know
what politeness is. They only remarked that very likely I had eaten
too much at my supper, and a Parisian abbe, in order to excuse me,
observed that my stomach was weak. A discussion arose.
"Gentlemen," I said, in my vexation, and rather angrily, "you are all
wrong, for my stomach is excellent, and I have not had any supper."
Thereupon an elderly man told me, with a voice full of sweetness,
that I ought not to say that the gentlemen were wrong, though I might
say that they were not right, thus imitating Cicero, who, instead of
declaring to the Romans that Catilina and the other conspirators were
dead, only said that they had lived.
"Is it not the same thing?"
"I beg your pardon, sir, one way of speaking is polite, the other is
not." And after treating me to a long dissection on politeness, he
concluded by saying, with a smile, "I suppose you are an Italian?"
"Yes, I am, but would you oblige me by telling me how you have found
"Oh! I guessed it from the attention with which you have listened to
my long prattle."
Everybody laughed, and, I, much pleased with his eccentricity, began
to coax him. He was the tutor of a young boy of twelve or thirteen
years who was seated near him. I made him give me during the journey
lessons in French politeness, and when we parted he took me apart in
a friendly manner, saying that he wished to make me a small present.
"What is it?"
"You must abandon, and, if I may say so, forget, the particle 'non',
which you use frequently at random. 'Non' is not a French word;
instead of that unpleasant monosyllable, say, 'Pardon'. 'Non' is
equal to giving the lie: never say it, or prepare yourself to give
and to receive sword-stabs every moment."
"I thank you, monsieur, your present is very precious, and I promise
you never to say non again."
During the first fortnight of my stay in Paris, it seemed to me that
I had become the most faulty man alive, for I never ceased begging
pardon. I even thought, one evening at the theatre, that I should
have a quarrel for having begged somebody's pardon in the wrong
place. A young fop, coming to the pit, trod on my foot, and I
hastened to say,
"Your pardon, sir."
"Sir, pardon me yourself."
"Well, sir, let us pardon and embrace one another!" The embrace put a
stop to the discussion.
One day during the journey, having fallen asleep from fatigue in the
inconvenient gondola, someone pushed my arm.
"Ah, sir! look at that mansion!"
"I see it; what of it?"
"Ah! I pray you, do you not find it...."
"I find nothing particular; and you?"
"Nothing wonderful, if it were not situated at a distance of forty
leagues from Paris. But here! Ah! would my 'badauds' of Parisians
believe that such a beautiful mansion can be found forty leagues
distant from the metropolis? How ignorant a man is when he has never
"You are quite right."
That man was a Parisian and a 'badaud' to the backbone, like a Gaul
in the days of Caesar.
But if the Parisians are lounging about from morning till night,
enjoying everything around them, a foreigner like myself ought to
have been a greater 'badaud' than they! The difference between us was
that, being accustomed to see things such as they are, I was
astonished at seeing them often covered with a mask which changed
their nature, while their surprise often arose from their suspecting
what the mask concealed.
What delighted me, on my arrival in Paris, was the magnificent road
made by Louis XV., the cleanliness of the hotels, the excellent fare
they give, the quickness of the service, the excellent beds, the
modest appearance of the attendant, who generally is the most
accomplished girl of the house, and whose decency, modest manners,
and neatness, inspire the most shameless libertine with respect.
Where is the Italian who is pleased with the effrontery and the
insolence of the hotel-waiters in Italy? In my days, people did not
know in France what it was to overcharge; it was truly the home of
foreigners. True, they had the unpleasantness of often witnessing
acts of odious despotism, 'lettres de cachet', etc.; it was the
despotism of a king. Since that time the French have the despotism
of the people. Is it less obnoxious?
We dined at Fontainebleau, a name derived from Fontaine-belle-eau;
and when we were only two leagues from Paris we saw a berlin
advancing towards us. As it came near the diligence, my friend
Baletti called out to the postillions to stop. In the berlin was his
mother, who offered me the welcome given to an expected friend. His
mother was the celebrated actress Silvia, and when I had been
introduced to her she said to me;
"I hope, sir, that my son's friend will accept a share of our family
supper this evening."
I accepted gratefully, sat down again in the gondola, Baletti got
into the berlin with his mother, and we continued our journey.
On reaching Paris, I found a servant of Silvia's waiting for me with
a coach; he accompanied me to my lodging to leave my luggage, and we
repaired to Baletti's house, which was only fifty yards distant from
Baletti presented me to his father, who was known under the name of
Mario. Silvia and Mario were the stage names assumed by M. and
Madame Baletti, and at that time it was the custom in France to call
the Italian actors by the names they had on the stage. 'Bon jour',
Monsieur Arlequin; 'bon jour', Monsieur Pantalon: such was the manner
in which the French used to address the actors who personified those
characters on the stage.
My Apprenticeship in Paris--Portraits--Oddities--All Sorts of Things
To celebrate the arrival of her son, Silvia gave a splendid supper to
which she had invited all her relatives, and it was a good
opportunity for me to make their acquaintance. Baletti's father, who
had just recovered from a long illness, was not with us, but we had
his father's sister, who was older than Mario. She was known, under
her theatrical name of Flaminia, in the literary world by several
translations, but I had a great wish to make her acquaintance less on
that account than in consequence of the story, known throughout
Italy, of the stay that three literary men of great fame had made in
Paris. Those three literati were the Marquis Maffei, the Abbe Conti,
and Pierre Jacques Martelli, who became enemies, according to public
rumour, owing to the belief entertained by each of them that he
possessed the favours of the actress, and, being men of learning,
they fought with the pen. Martelli composed a satire against Maffei,
in which he designated him by the anagram of Femia.
I had been announced to Flaminia as a candidate for literary fame,
and she thought she honoured me by addressing me at all, but she was
wrong, for she displeased me greatly by her face, her manners, her
style, even by the sound of her voice. Without saying it positively,
she made me understand that, being herself an illustrious member of
the republic of letters, she was well aware that she was speaking to
an insect. She seemed as if she wanted to dictate to everybody
around her, and she very likely thought that she had the right to do
so at the age of sixty, particularly towards a young novice only
twenty-five years old, who had not yet contributed anything to the
literary treasury. In order to please her, I spoke to her of the
Abbe Conti, and I had occasion to quote two lines of that profound
writer. Madam corrected me with a patronizing air for my
pronounciation of the word 'scevra', which means divided, saying that
it ought to be pronounced 'sceura', and she added that I ought to be
very glad to have learned so much on the first day of my arrival in
Paris, telling me that it would be an important day in my life.
"Madam, I came here to learn and not to unlearn. You will kindly
allow me to tell you that the pronunciation of that word 'scevra'
with a v, and not 'sceura' with a u, because it is a contraction of
"It remains to be seen which of us is wrong."
"You, madam, according to Ariosto, who makes 'scevra' rhyme with
'persevra', and the rhyme would be false with 'sceura', which is not
an Italian word."
She would have kept up the discussion, but her husband, a man eighty
years of age, told her that she was wrong. She held her tongue, but
from that time she told everybody that I was an impostor.
Her husband, Louis Riccoboni, better known as Lelio, was the same who
had brought the Italian company to Paris in 1716, and placed it at
the service of the regent: he was a man of great merit. He had been
very handsome, and justly enjoyed the esteem of the public, in
consequence not only of his talent but also of the purity of his
During supper my principal occupation was to study Silvia, who then
enjoyed the greatest reputation, and I judged her to be even above
it. She was then about fifty years old, her figure was elegant, her
air noble, her manners graceful and easy; she was affable, witty,
kind to everybody, simple and unpretending. Her face was an enigma,
for it inspired everyone with the warmest sympathy, and yet if you
examined it attentively there was not one beautiful feature; she
could not be called handsome, but no one could have thought her ugly.
Yet she was not one of those women who are neither handsome nor ugly,
for she possessed a certain something which struck one at first sight
and captivated the interest. Then what was she?
Beautiful, certainly, but owing to charms unknown to all those who,
not being attracted towards her by an irresistible feeling which
compelled them to love her, had not the courage to study her, or the
constancy to obtain a thorough knowledge of her.
Silvia was the adoration of France, and her talent was the real
support of all the comedies which the greatest authors wrote for her,
especially of, the plays of Marivaux, for without her his comedies
would never have gone to posterity. Never was an actress found who
could replace her, and to find one it would be necessary that she
should unite in herself all the perfections which Silvia possessed
for the difficult profession of the stage: action, voice,
intelligence, wit, countenance, manners, and a deep knowledge of the
human heart. In Silvia every quality was from nature, and the art
which gave the last touch of perfection to her qualities was never
To the qualities which I have just mentioned, Silvia added another
which surrounded her with a brilliant halo, and the absence of which
would not have prevented her from being the shining star of the
stage: she led a virtuous life. She had been anxious to have
friends, but she had dismissed all lovers, refusing to avail herself
of a privilege which she could easily have enjoyed, but which would
have rendered her contemptible in her own estimation. The
irreproachable conduct obtained for her a reputation of
respectability which, at her age, would have been held as ridiculous
and even insulting by any other woman belonging to the same
profession, and many ladies of the highest rank honoured her with her
friendship more even than with their patronage. Never did the
capricious audience of a Parisian pit dare to hiss Silvia, not even
in her performance of characters which the public disliked, and it
was the general opinion that she was in every way above her
Silvia did not think that her good conduct was a merit, for she knew
that she was virtuous only because her self-love compelled her to be
so, and she never exhibited any pride or assumed any superiority
towards her theatrical sisters, although, satisfied to shine by their
talent or their beauty, they cared little about rendering themselves
conspicuous by their virtue. Silvia loved them all, and they all
loved her; she always was the first to praise, openly and with good
faith, the talent of her rivals; but she lost nothing by it, because,
being their superior in talent and enjoying a spotless reputation,
her rivals could not rise above her.
Nature deprived that charming woman of ten year of life; she became
consumptive at the age of sixty, ten years after I had made her
acquaintance. The climate of Paris often proves fatal to our Italian
actresses. Two years before her death I saw her perform the
character of Marianne in the comedy of Marivaux, and in spite of her
age and declining health the illusion was complete. She died in my
presence, holding her daughter in her arms, and she was giving her
the advice of a tender mother five minutes before she breathed her
last. She was honourably buried in the church of St. Sauveur,
without the slightest opposition from the venerable priest, who, far
from sharing the anti-christain intolerancy of the clergy in general,
said that her profession as an actress had not hindered her from
being a good Christian, and that the earth was the common mother of
all human beings, as Jesus Christ had been the Saviour of all
You will forgive me, dear reader, if I have made you attend the
funeral of Silvia ten years before her death; believe me I have no
intention of performing a miracle; you may console yourself with the
idea that I shall spare you that unpleasant task when poor Silvia
Her only daughter, the object of her adoration, was seated next to
her at the supper-table. She was then only nine years old, and being
entirely taken up by her mother I paid no attention to her; my
interest in her was to come.
After the supper, which was protracted to a late hour, I repaired to
the house of Madame Quinson, my landlady, where I found myself very
comfortable. When I woke in the morning, the said Madame Quinson
came to my room to tell me that a servant was outside and wished to
offer me his services. I asked her to send him in, and I saw a man
of very small stature; that did not please me, and I told him so.
"My small stature, your honour, will be a guarantee that I shall
never borrow your clothes to go to some amorous rendezvous."
"Any name you please."
"What do you mean? I want the name by which you are known."
"I have none. Every master I serve calls me according to his fancy,
and I have served more than fifty in my life. You may call me what
"But you must have a family name."
"I never had any family. I had a name, I believe, in my young days,
but I have forgotten it since I have been in service. My name has
changed with every new master."
"Well! I shall call you Esprit."
"You do me a great honour."
"Here, go and get me change for a Louis."
"I have it, sir."
"I see you are rich."
"At your service, sir."
"Where can I enquire about you?"
"At the agency for servants. Madame Quinson, besides, can answer
your enquiries. Everybody in Paris knows me."
"That is enough. I shall give you thirty sous a day; you must find
your own clothes: you will sleep where you like, and you must be here
at seven o'clock every morning."
Baletti called on me and entreated me to take my meals every day at
his house. After his visit I told Esprit to take me to the Palais-
Royal, and I left him at the gates. I felt the greatest curiosity
about that renowned garden, and at first I examined everything. I
see a rather fine garden, walks lined with big trees, fountains, high
houses all round the garden, a great many men and women walking
about, benches here and there forming shops for the sale of
newspapers, perfumes, tooth-picks, and other trifles. I see a
quantity of chairs for hire at the rate of one sou, men reading the
newspaper under the shade of the trees, girls and men breakfasting
either alone or in company, waiters who were rapidly going up and
down a narrow staircase hidden under the foliage.
I sit down at a small table: a waiter comes immediately to enquire my
wishes. I ask for some chocolate made with water; he brings me some,
but very bad, although served in a splendid silver-gilt cup. I tell
him to give me some coffee, if it is good.
"Excellent, I made it myself yesterday."
"Yesterday! I do not want it."
"The milk is very good."
"Milk! I never drink any. Make me a cup of fresh coffee without
"Without milk! Well, sir, we never make coffee but in the afternoon.
Would you like a good bavaroise, or a decanter of orgeat?"
"Yes, give me the orgeat."
I find that beverage delicious, and make up my mind to have it daily
for my breakfast. I enquire from the waiter whether there is any
news; he answers that the dauphine has been delivered of a prince.
An abbe, seated at a table close by, says to him,--
"You are mad, she has given birth to a princess."
A third man comes forward and exclaims,--
"I have just returned from Versailles, and the dauphine has not been
delivered either of a prince or of a princess."
Then, turning towards me, he says that I look like a foreigner, and
when I say that I am an Italian he begins to speak to me of the
court, of the city, of the theatres, and at last he offers to
accompany me everywhere. I thank him and take my leave. The abbe
rises at the same time, walks with me, and tells me the names of all
the women we meet in the garden.
A young man comes up to him, they embrace one another, and the abbe
presents him to me as a learned Italian scholar. I address him in
Italian, and he answers very wittily, but his way of speaking makes
me smile, and I tell him why. He expressed himself exactly in the
style of Boccacio. My remark pleases him, but I soon prove to him
that it is not the right way to speak, however perfect may have been
the language of that ancient writer. In less than a quarter of an
hour we are excellent friends, for we find that our tastes are the
My new friend was a poet as I was; he was an admirer of Italian
literature, while I admired the French.
We exchanged addresses, and promise to see one another very often.
I see a crowd in one corner of the garden, everybody standing still
and looking up. I enquire from my friend whether there is anything
wonderful going on.
"These persons are watching the meridian; everyone holds his watch in
his hand in order to regulate it exactly at noon."
"Is there not a meridian everywhere?"
"Yes, but the meridian of the Palais-Royal is the most exact."
I laugh heartily.
"Why do you laugh?"
"Because it is impossible for all meridians not to be the same. That
is true 'badauderie'."
My friend looks at me for a moment, then he laughs likewise, and
supplies me with ample food to ridicule the worthy Parisians. We
leave the Palais-Royal through the main gate, and I observe another
crowd of people before a shop, on the sign-board of which I read "At
the Sign of the Civet Cat."
"What is the matter here?"
"Now, indeed, you are going to laugh. All these honest persons are
waiting their turn to get their snuff-boxes filled."
"Is there no other dealer in snuff?"
"It is sold everywhere, but for the last three weeks nobody will use
any snuff but that sold at the 'Civet Cat.'"
"Is it better than anywhere else?"
"Perhaps it is not as good, but since it has been brought into
fashion by the Duchesse de Chartres, nobody will have any other."
"But how did she manage to render it so fashionable?"
"Simply by stopping her carriage two or three times before the shop
to have her snuff-box filled, and by saying aloud to the young girl
who handed back the box that her snuff was the very best in Paris.
The 'badauds', who never fail to congregate near the carriage of
princes, no matter if they have seen them a hundred times, or if they
know them to be as ugly as monkeys, repeated the words of the duchess
everywhere, and that was enough to send here all the snuff-takers of
the capital in a hurry. This woman will make a fortune, for she
sells at least one hundred crowns' worth of snuff every day."
"Very likely the duchess has no idea of the good she has done."
"Quite the reverse, for it was a cunning artifice on her part. The
duchess, feeling interested in the newly-married young woman, and
wishing to serve her in a delicate manner, thought of that expedient
which has met with complete success. You cannot imagine how kind
Parisians are. You are now in the only country in the world where
wit can make a fortune by selling either a genuine or a false
article: in the first case, it receives the welcome of intelligent
and talented people, and in the second, fools are always ready to
reward it, for silliness is truly a characteristic of the people
here, and, however wonderful it may appear, silliness is the daughter
of wit. Therefore it is not a paradox to say that the French would
be wiser if they were less witty.
"The gods worshipped here although no altars are raised for them--are
Novelty and Fashion. Let a man run, and everybody will run after
him. The crowd will not stop, unless the man is proved to be mad;
but to prove it is indeed a difficult task, because we have a crowd
of men who, mad from their birth, are still considered wise.
"The snuff of the 'Civet Cat' is but one example of the facility with
which the crowd can be attracted to one particular spot. The king
was one day hunting, and found himself at the Neuilly Bridge; being
thirsty, he wanted a glass of ratafia. He stopped at the door of a
drinking-booth, and by the most lucky chance the poor keeper of the
place happened to have a bottle of that liquor. The king, after he
had drunk a small glass, fancied a second one, and said that he had
never tasted such delicious ratafia in his life. That was enough to
give the ratafia of the good man of Neuilly the reputation of being
the best in Europe: the king had said so. The consequence was that
the most brilliant society frequented the tavern of the delighted
publican, who is now a very wealthy man, and has built on the very
spot a splendid house on which can be read the following rather comic
motto: 'Ex liquidis solidum,' which certainly came out of the head of
one of the forty immortals. Which gods must the worthy tavern-keeper
worship? Silliness, frivolity, and mirth."
"It seems to me," I replied, "that such approval, such ratification
of the opinion expressed by the king, the princes of the blood, etc.,
is rather a proof of the affection felt for them by the nation, for
the French carry that affection to such an extent that they believe
"It is certain that everything here causes foreigners to believe that
the French people adore the king, but all thinking men here know well
enough that there is more show than reality in that adoration, and
the court has no confidence in it. When the king comes to Paris,
everybody calls out, 'Vive le Roi!' because some idle fellow begins,
or because some policeman has given the signal from the midst of the
crowd, but it is really a cry which has no importance, a cry given
out of cheerfulness, sometimes out of fear, and which the king
himself does not accept as gospel. He does not feel comfortable in
Paris, and he prefers being in Versailles, surrounded by twenty-five
thousand men who protect him against the fury of that same people of
Paris, who, if ever they became wiser, might very well one day call
out, 'Death to the King!' instead of, 'Long life to the King!' Louis
XIV. was well aware of it, and several councillors of the upper
chamber lost their lives for having advised the assembling of the
states-general in order to find some remedy for the misfortunes of
the country. France never had any love for any kings, with the
exception of St. Louis, of Louis XII, and of the great and good Henry
IV.; and even in the last case the love of the nation was not
sufficient to defend the king against the dagger of the Jesuits, an
accursed race, the enemy of nations as well as of kings. The present
king, who is weak and entirely led by his ministers, said candidly at
the time he was just recovering from illness, 'I am surprised at the
rejoicings of the people in consequence of my health being restored,
for I cannot imagine why they should love me so dearly.' Many kings
might repeat the same words, at least if love is to be measured
according to the amount of good actually done. That candid remark of
Louis XV. has been highly praised, but some philosopher of the court
ought to have informed him that he was so much loved because he had
been surnamed 'le bien aime'."
"Surname or nickname; but are there any philosophers at the court of
"No, for philosophers and courtiers are as widely different as light
and darkness; but there are some men of intelligence who champ the
bit from motives of ambition and interest."
As we were thus conversing, M. Patu (such was the name of my new
acquaintance) escorted me as far as the door of Silvia's house; he
congratulated me upon being one of her friends, and we parted
I found the amiable actress in good company. She introduced me to
all her guests, and gave me some particulars respecting every one of
them. The name of Crebillon struck my ear.
"What, sir!" I said to him, "am I fortunate enough to see you? For
eight years you have charmed me, for eight years I have longed to
know you. Listen, I beg 'of you."
I then recited the finest passage of his 'Zenobie et Rhadamiste',
which I had translated into blank verse. Silvia was delighted to see
the pleasure enjoyed by Crebillon in hearing, at the age of eighty,
his own lines in a language which he knew thoroughly and loved as
much as his own. He himself recited the same passage in French, and
politely pointed out the parts in which he thought that I had
improved on the original. I thanked him, but I was not deceived by
We sat down to supper, and, being asked what I had already seen in
Paris, I related everything I had done, omitting only my conversation
with Patu. After I had spoken for a long time, Crebillon, who had
evidently observed better than anyone else the road I had chosen in
order to learn the good as well as the bad qualities by his
countrymen, said to me,
"For the first day, sir, I think that what you have done gives great
hopes of you, and without any doubt you will make rapid progress.
You tell your story well, and you speak French in such a way as to be
perfectly understood; yet all you say is only Italian dressed in
French. That is a novelty which causes you to be listened to with
interest, and which captivates the attention of your audience; I must
even add that your Franco-Italian language is just the thing to
enlist in your favour the sympathy of those who listen to you,
because it is singular, new, and because you are in a country where
everybody worships those two divinities--novelty and singularity.
Nevertheless, you must begin to-morrow and apply yourself in good
earnest, in order to acquire a thorough knowledge of our language,
for the same persons who warmly applaud you now, will, in two or
three months, laugh at you."
"I believe it, sir, and that is what I fear; therefore the principal
object of my visit here is to devote myself entirely to the study of
the French language. But, sir, how shall I find a teacher? I am a
very unpleasant pupil, always asking questions, curious, troublesome,
insatiable, and even supposing that I could meet with the teacher I
require, I am afraid I am not rich enough to pay him."
"For fifty years, sir, I have been looking out for a pupil such as
you have just described yourself, and I would willingly pay you
myself if you would come to my house and receive my lessons. I
reside in the Marais, Rue de Douze Portes. I have the best Italian
poets. I will make you translate them into French, and you need not
be afraid of my finding you insatiable."
I accepted with joy. I did not know how to express my gratitude, but
both his offer and the few words of my answer bore the stamp of truth
Crebillon was a giant; he was six feet high, and three inches taller
than I. He had a good appetite, could tell a good story without
laughing, was celebrated for his witty repartees and his sociable
manners, but he spent his life at home, seldom going out, and seeing
hardly anyone because he always had a pipe in his mouth and was
surrounded by at least twenty cats, with which he would amuse himself
all day. He had an old housekeeper, a cook, and a man-servant. His
housekeeper had the management of everything; she never allowed him
to be in need of anything, and she gave no account of his money,
which she kept altogether, because he never asked her to render any
accounts. The expression of Crebillon's face was that of the lion's
or of the cat's, which is the same thing. He was one of the royal
censors, and he told me that it was an amusement for him. His
housekeeper was in the habit of reading him the works brought for his
examination, and she would stop reading when she came to a passage
which, in her opinion, deserved his censure, but sometimes they were
of a different opinion, and then their discussions were truly
amusing. I once heard the housekeeper send away an author with these
"Come again next week; we have had no time to examine your
During a whole year I paid M. Crebillon three visits every week, and
from him I learned all I know of the French language, but I found it
impossible to get rid of my Italian idioms. I remark that turn
easily enough when I meet with it in other people, but it flows
naturally from my pen without my being aware of it. I am satisfied
that, whatever I may do, I shall never be able to recognize it any
more than I can find out in what consists the bad Latin style so
constantly alleged against Livy.
I composed a stanza of eight verses on some subject which I do not
recollect, and I gave it to Crebillon, asking him to correct it. He
read it attentively, and said to me,
"These eight verses are good and regular, the thought is fine and
truly poetical, the style is perfect, and yet the stanza is bad."
"I do not know. I cannot tell you what is wanting. Imagine that you
see a man handsome, well made, amiable, witty-in fact, perfect,
according to your most severe judgment. A woman comes in, sees him,
looks at him, and goes away telling you that the man does not please
her. 'But what fault do you find in him, madam?' 'None, only he
does not please me.' You look again at the man, you examine him a
second time, and you find that, in order to give him a heavenly
voice, he has been deprived of that which constitutes a man, and you
are compelled to acknowledge that a spontaneous feeling has stood the
woman in good stead."
It was by that comparison that Crebillon explained to me a thing
almost inexplicable, for taste and feeling alone can account for a
thing which is subject to no rule whatever.
We spoke a great deal of Louis XIV., whom Crebillon had known well
for fifteen years, and he related several very curious anecdotes
which were generally unknown. Amongst other things he assured me
that the Siamese ambassadors were cheats paid by Madame de Maintenon.
He told us likewise that he had never finished his tragedy of
Cromwell, because the king had told him one day not to wear out his
pen on a scoundrel.
Crebillon mentioned likewise his tragedy of Catilina, and he told me
that, in his opinion, it was the most deficient of his works, but
that he never would have consented, even to make a good tragedy, to
represent Caesar as a young man, because he would in that case have
made the public laugh, as they would do if Madea were to appear
previous to her acquaintances with Jason.
He praised the talent of Voltaire very highly, but he accused him of
having stolen from him, Crebillon, the scene of the senate. He,
however, rendered him full justice, saying that he was a true
historian, and able to write history as well as tragedies, but that
he unfortunately adulterated history by mixing with it such a number
of light anecdotes and tales for the sake of rendering it more
attractive. According to Crebillon, the Man with the Iron Mask was
nothing but an idle tale, and he had been assured of it by Louis XIV.
On the day of my first meeting with Crebillon at Silvia's, 'Cenie', a
play by Madame de Graffigny, was performed at the Italian Theatre,
and I went away early in order to get a good seat in the pit.
The ladies all covered with diamonds, who were taking possession of
the private boxes, engrossed all my interest and all my attention. I
wore a very fine suit, but my open ruffles and the buttons all along
my coat shewed at once that I was a foreigner, for the fashion was
not the same in Paris. I was gaping in the air and listlessly
looking round, when a gentleman, splendidly dressed, and three times
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