The Complete Memoires of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
Part 10 out of 70
review at Gouyn, M. F----, left for that place in his galley, telling
me to join him there early on the following day with the felucca. I
took supper alone with Madame F----, and I told her how unhappy it
made me to remain one day away from her.
"Let us make up to-night for to-morrow's disappointment," she said,
"and let us spend it together in conversation. Here are the keys;
when you know that my maid has left me, come to me through my
I did not fail to follow her instructions to the letter, and we found
ourselves alone with five hours before us. It was the month of June,
and the heat was intense. She had gone to bed; I folded her in my
arms, she pressed me to her bosom, but, condemning herself to the
most cruel torture, she thought I had no right to complain, if I was
subjected to the same privation which she imposed upon herself. My
remonstrances, my prayers, my entreaties were of no avail.
"Love," she said, "must be kept in check with a tight hand, and we
can laugh at him, since, in spite of the tyranny which we force him
to obey, we succeed all the same in gratifying our desires."
After the first ecstacy, our eyes and lips unclosed together, and a
little apart from each other we take delight in seeing the mutual
satisfaction beaming on our features.
Our desires revive; she casts a look upon my state of innocence
entirely exposed to her sight. She seems vexed at my want of
excitement, and, throwing off everything which makes the heat
unpleasant and interferes with our pleasure, she bounds upon me. It
is more than amorous fury, it is desperate lust. I share her frenzy,
I hug her with a sort of delirium, I enjoy a felicity which is on the
point of carrying me to the regions of bliss.... but, at the very
moment of completing the offering, she fails me, moves off, slips
away, and comes back to work off my excitement with a hand which
strikes me as cold as ice.
"Ah, thou cruel, beloved woman! Thou art burning with the fire of
love, and thou deprivest thyself of the only remedy which could bring
calm to thy senses! Thy lovely hand is more humane than thou art,
but thou has not enjoyed the felicity that thy hand has given me. My
hand must owe nothing to thine. Come, darling light of my heart,
come! Love doubles my existence in the hope that I will die again,
but only in that charming retreat from which you have ejected me in
the very moment of my greatest enjoyment."
While I was speaking thus, her very soul was breathing forth the most
tender sighs of happiness, and as she pressed me tightly in her arms
I felt that she was weltering in an ocean of bliss.
Silence lasted rather a long time, but that unnatural felicity was
imperfect, and increased my excitement.
"How canst thou complain," she said tenderly, "when it is to that
very imperfection of our enjoyment that we are indebted for its
continuance? I loved thee a few minutes since, now I love thee a
thousand times more, and perhaps I should love thee less if thou
hadst carried my enjoyment to its highest limit."
"Oh! how much art thou mistaken, lovely one! How great is thy error!
Thou art feeding upon sophisms, and thou leavest reality aside; I
mean nature which alone can give real felicity. Desires constantly
renewed and never fully satisfied are more terrible than the torments
"But are not these desires happiness when they are always accompanied
"No, if that hope is always disappointed. It becomes hell itself,
because there is no hope, and hope must die when it is killed by
"Dearest, if hope does not exist in hell, desires cannot be found
there either; for to imagine desires without hopes would be more than
"Well, answer me. If you desire to be mine entirely, and if you feel
the hope of it, which, according to your way of reasoning, is a
natural consequence, why do you always raise an impediment to your
own hope? Cease, dearest, cease to deceive yourself by absurd
sophisms. Let us be as happy as it is in nature to be, and be quite
certain that the reality of happiness will increase our love, and
that love will find a new life in our very enjoyment."
"What I see proves the contrary; you are alive with excitement now,
but if your desires had been entirely satisfied, you would be dead,
benumbed, motionless. I know it by experience: if you had breathed
the full ecstacy of enjoyment, as you desired, you would have found a
weak ardour only at long intervals."
"Ah! charming creature, your experience is but very small; do not
trust to it. I see that you have never known love. That which you
call love's grave is the sanctuary in which it receives life, the
abode which makes it immortal. Give way to my prayers, my lovely
friend, and then you shall know the difference between Love and
Hymen. You shall see that, if Hymen likes to die in order to get rid
of life, Love on the contrary expires only to spring up again into
existence, and hastens to revive, so as to savour new enjoyment. Let
me undeceive you, and believe me when I say that the full
gratification of desires can only increase a hundredfold the mutual
ardour of two beings who adore each other."
"Well, I must believe you; but let us wait. In the meantime let us
enjoy all the trifles, all the sweet preliminaries of love. Devour
thy mistress, dearest, but abandon to me all thy being. If this
night is too short we must console ourselves to-morrow by making
arrangements for another one."
"And if our intercourse should be discovered?"
"Do we make a mystery of it? Everybody can see that we love each
other, and those who think that we do not enjoy the happiness of
lovers are precisely the only persons we have to fear. We must only
be careful to guard against being surprised in the very act of
proving our love. Heaven and nature must protect our affection, for
there is no crime when two hearts are blended in true love. Since I
have been conscious of my own existence, Love has always seemed to me
the god of my being, for every time I saw a man I was delighted; I
thought that I was looking upon one-half of myself, because I felt I
was made for him and he for me. I longed to be married. It was that
uncertain longing of the heart which occupies exclusively a young
girl of fifteen. I had no conception of love, but I fancied that it
naturally accompanied marriage. You can therefore imagine my
surprise when my husband, in the very act of making a woman of me,
gave me a great deal of pain without giving me the slightest idea of
pleasure! My imagination in the convent was much better than the
reality I had been condemned to by my husband! The result has
naturally been that we have become very good friends, but a very
indifferent husband and wife, without any desires for each other. He
has every reason to be pleased with me, for I always shew myself
docile to his wishes, but enjoyment not being in those cases seasoned
by love, he must find it without flavour, and he seldom comes to me
"When I found out that you were in love with me, I felt delighted,
and gave you every opportunity of becoming every day more deeply
enamoured of me, thinking myself certain of never loving you myself.
As soon as I felt that love had likewise attacked my heart, I ill-
treated you to punish you for having made my heart sensible. Your
patience and constancy have astonished me, and have caused me to be
guilty, for after the first kiss I gave you I had no longer any
control over myself. I was indeed astounded when I saw the havoc
made by one single kiss, and I felt that my happiness was wrapped up
in yours. That discovery flattered and delighted me, and I have
found out, particularly to-night, that I cannot be happy unless you
are so yourself."
"That is, my beloved, the most refined of all sentiments experienced
by love, but it is impossible for you to render me completely happy
without following in everything the laws and the wishes of nature."
The night was spent in tender discussions and in exquisite
voluptuousness, and it was not without some grief that at day-break I
tore myself from her arms to go to Gouyn. She wept for joy when she
saw that I left her without having lost a particle of my vigour, for
she did not imagine such a thing possible.
After that night, so rich in delights, ten or twelve days passed
without giving us any opportunity of quenching even a small particle
of the amorous thirst which devoured us, and it was then that a
fearful misfortune befell me.
One evening after supper, M. D---- R----- having retired, M. F----
used no ceremony, and, although I was present, told his wife that he
intended to pay her a visit after writing two letters which he had to
dispatch early the next morning. The moment he had left the room we
looked at each other, and with one accord fell into each other's
arms. A torrent of delights rushed through our souls without
restraint, without reserve, but when the first ardour had been
appeased, without giving me time to think or to enjoy the most
complete, the most delicious victory, she drew back, repulsed me, and
threw herself, panting, distracted, upon a chair near her bed.
Rooted to the spot, astonished, almost mad, I tremblingly looked at
her, trying to understand what had caused such an extraordinary
action. She turned round towards me and said, her eyes flashing with
the fire of love,
"My darling, we were on the brink of the precipice."
"The precipice! Ah! cruel woman, you have killed me, I feel myself
dying, and perhaps you will never see me again."
I left her in a state of frenzy, and rushed out, towards the
esplanade, to cool myself, for I was choking. Any man who has not
experienced the cruelty of an action like that of Madame F----, and
especially in the situation I found myself in at that moment,
mentally and bodily, can hardly realize what I suffered, and,
although I have felt that suffering, I could not give an idea of it.
I was in that fearful state, when I heard my name called from a
window, and unfortunately I condescended to answer. I went near the
window, and I saw, thanks to the moonlight, the famous Melulla
standing on her balcony.
"What are you doing there at this time of night?" I enquired.
"I am enjoying the cool evening breeze. Come up for a little while."
This Melulla, of fatal memory, was a courtezan from Zamte, of rare
beauty, who for the last four months had been the delight and the
rage of all the young men in Corfu. Those who had known her agreed
in extolling her charms: she was the talk of all the city. I had
seen her often, but, although she was very beautiful, I was very far
from thinking her as lovely as Madame F----, putting my affection for
the latter on one side. I recollect seeing in Dresden, in the year
1790, a very handsome woman who was the image of Melulla.
I went upstairs mechanically, and she took me to a voluptuous
boudoir; she complained of my being the only one who had never paid
her a visit, when I was the man she would have preferred to all
others, and I had the infamy to give way.... I became the most
criminal of men.
It was neither desire, nor imagination, nor the merit of the woman
which caused me to yield, for Melulla was in no way worthy of me; no,
it was weakness, indolence, and the state of bodily and mental
irritation in which I then found myself: it was a sort of spite,
because the angel whom I adored had displeased me by a caprice,
which, had I not been unworthy of her, would only have caused me to
be still more attached to her.
Melulla, highly pleased with her success, refused the gold I wanted
to give her, and allowed me to go after I had spent two hours with
When I recovered my composure, I had but one feeling-hatred for
myself and for the contemptible creature who had allured me to be
guilty of so vile an insult to the loveliest of her sex. I went home
the prey to fearful remorse, and went to bed, but sleep never closed
my eyes throughout that cruel night.
In the morning, worn out with fatigue and sorrow, I got up, and as
soon as I was dressed I went to M. F----, who had sent for me to give
me some orders. After I had returned, and had given him an account
of my mission, I called upon Madame F----, and finding her at her
toilet I wished her good morning, observing that her lovely face was
breathing the cheerfulness and the calm of happiness; but, suddenly,
her eyes meeting mine, I saw her countenance change, and an
expression of sadness replace her looks of satisfaction. She cast
her eyes down as if she was deep in thought, raised them again as if
to read my very soul, and breaking our painful silence, as soon as
she had dismissed her maid, she said to me, with an accent full of
tenderness and of solemnity,
"Dear one, let there be no concealment either on my part or on yours.
I felt deeply grieved when I saw you leave me last night, and a
little consideration made me understand all the evil which might
accrue to you in consequence of what I had done. With a nature like
yours, such scenes might cause very dangerous disorders, and I have
resolved not to do again anything by halves. I thought that you went
out to breathe the fresh air, and I hoped it would do you good. I
placed myself at my window, where I remained more than an hour
without seeing alight in your room. Sorry for what I had done,
loving you more than ever, I was compelled, when my husband came to
my room, to go to bed with the sad conviction that you had not come
home. This morning, M. F. sent an officer to tell you that he wanted
to see you, and I heard the messenger inform him that you were not
yet up, and that you had come home very late. I felt my heart swell
with sorrow. I am not jealous, dearest, for I know that you cannot
love anyone but me; I only felt afraid of some misfortune. At last,
this morning, when I heard you coming, I was happy, because I was
ready to skew my repentance, but I looked at you, and you seemed a
different man. Now, I am still looking at you, and, in spite of
myself, my soul reads upon your countenance that you are guilty, that
you have outraged my love. Tell me at once, dearest, if I am
mistaken; if you have deceived me, say so openly. Do not be
unfaithful to love and to truth. Knowing that I was the cause of it,
I should never forgive my self, but there is an excuse for you in my
heart, in my whole being."
More than once, in the course of my life, I have found myself under
the painful necessity of telling falsehoods to the woman I loved; but
in this case, after so true, so touching an appeal, how could I be
otherwise than sincere? I felt myself sufficiently debased by my
crime, and I could not degrade myself still more by falsehood. I was
so far from being disposed to such a line of conduct that I could not
speak, and I burst out crying.
"What, my darling! you are weeping! Your tears make me miserable.
You ought not to have shed any with me but tears of happiness and
love. Quick, my beloved, tell me whether you have made me wretched.
Tell me what fearful revenge you have taken on me, who would rather
die than offend you. If I have caused you any sorrow, it has been in
the innocence of a loving and devoted heart."
"My own darling angel, I never thought of revenge, for my heart,
which can never cease to adore you, could never conceive such a
dreadful idea. It is against my own heart that my cowardly weakness
has allured me to the commission of a crime which, for the remainder
of my life, makes me unworthy of you."
"Have you, then, given yourself to some wretched woman?"
"Yes, I have spent two hours in the vilest debauchery, and my soul
was present only to be the witness of my sadness, of my remorse, of
"Sadness and remorse! Oh, my poor friend! I believe it. But it is
my fault; I alone ought to suffer; it is I who must beg you to
Her tears made mine flow again.
"Divine soul," I said, "the reproaches you are addressing to yourself
increase twofold the gravity of my crime. You would never have been
guilty of any wrong against me if I had been really worthy of your
I felt deeply the truth of my words.
We spent the remainder of the day apparently quiet and composed,
concealing our sadness in the depths of our hearts. She was curious
to know all the circumstances of my miserable adventure, and,
accepting it as an expiation, I related them to her. Full of
kindness, she assured me that we were bound to ascribe that accident
to fate, and that the same thing might have happened to the best of
men. She added that I was more to be pitied than condemned, and that
she did not love me less. We both were certain that we would seize
the first favourable opportunity, she of obtaining her pardon, I of
atoning for my crime, by giving each other new and complete proofs of
our mutual ardour. But Heaven in its justice had ordered
differently, and I was cruelly punished for my disgusting debauchery.
On the third day, as I got up in the morning, an awful pricking
announced the horrid state into which the wretched Melulla had thrown
me. I was thunderstruck! And when I came to think of the misery
which I might have caused if, during the last three days, I had
obtained some new favour from my lovely mistress, I was on the point
of going mad. What would have been her feelings if I had made her
unhappy for the remainder of her life! Would anyone, then, knowing
the whole case, have condemned me if I had destroyed my own life in
order to deliver myself from everlasting remorse? No, for the man
who kills himself from sheer despair, thus performing upon himself
the execution of the sentence he would have deserved at the hands of
justice cannot be blamed either by a virtuous philosopher or by a
tolerant Christian. But of one thing I am quite certain: if such a
misfortune had happened, I should have committed suicide.
Overwhelmed with grief by the discovery I had just made, but thinking
that I should get rid of the inconvenience as I had done three times
before, I prepared myself for a strict diet, which would restore my
health in six weeks without anyone having any suspicion of my
illness, but I soon found out that I had not seen the end of my
troubles; Melulla had communicated to my system all the poisons which
corrupt the source of life. I was acquainted with an elderly doctor
of great experience in those matters; I consulted him, and he
promised to set me to rights in two months; he proved as good as his
word. At the beginning of September I found myself in good health,
and it was about that time that I returned to Venice.
The first thing I resolved on, as soon as I discovered the state I
was in, was to confess everything to Madame F----. I did not wish to
wait for the time when a compulsory confession would have made her
blush for her weakness, and given her cause to think of the fearful
consequences which might have been the result of her passion for me.
Her affection was too dear to me to run the risk of losing it through
a want of confidence in her. Knowing her heart, her candour, and the
generosity which had prompted her to say that I was more to be pitied
than blamed, I thought myself bound to prove by my sincerity that I
deserved her esteem.
I told her candidly my position and the state I had been thrown in,
when I thought of the dreadful consequences it might have had for
her. I saw her shudder and tremble, and she turned pale with fear
when I added that I would have avenged her by killing myself.
"Villainous, infamous Melulla!" she exclaimed.
And I repeated those words, but turning them against myself when I
realized all I had sacrificed through the most disgusting weakness.
Everyone in Corfu knew of my visit to the wretched Melulla, and
everyone seemed surprised to see the appearance of health on my
countenance; for many were the victims that she had treated like me.
My illness was not my only sorrow; I had others which, although of a
different nature, were not less serious. It was written in the book
of fate that I should return to Venice a simple ensign as when I
left: the general did not keep his word, and the bastard son of a
nobleman was promoted to the lieutenancy instead of myself. From
that moment the military profession, the one most subject to
arbitrary despotism, inspired me with disgust, and I determined to
give it up. But I had another still more important motive for sorrow
in the fickleness of fortune which had completely turned against me.
I remarked that, from the time of my degradation with Melulla, every
kind of misfortune befell me. The greatest of all--that which I felt
most, but which I had the good sense to try and consider a favour--
was that a week before the departure of the army M. D---- R----- took
me again for his adjutant, and M. F---- had to engage another in my
place. On the occasion of that change Madame F told me, with an
appearance of regret, that in Venice we could not, for many reasons,
continue our intimacy. I begged her to spare me the reasons, as I
foresaw that they would only throw humiliation upon me. I began to
discover that the goddess I had worshipped was, after all, a poor
human being like all other women, and to think that I should have
been very foolish to give up my life for her. I probed in one day
the real worth of her heart, for she told me, I cannot recollect in
reference to what, that I excited her pity. I saw clearly that she
no longer loved me; pity is a debasing feeling which cannot find a
home in a heart full of love, for that dreary sentiment is too near a
relative of contempt. Since that time I never found myself alone
with Madame F----. I loved her still; I could easily have made her
blush, but I did not do it.
As soon as we reached Venice she became attached to M. F---- R-----,
whom she loved until death took him from her. She was unhappy enough
to lose her sight twenty years after. I believe she is still alive.
During the last two months of my stay in Corfu, I learned the most
bitter and important lessons. In after years I often derived useful
hints from the experience I acquired at that time.
Before my adventure with the worthless Melulla, I enjoyed good
health, I was rich, lucky at play, liked by everybody, beloved by the
most lovely woman of Corfu. When I spoke, everybody would listen and
admire my wit; my words were taken for oracles, and everyone
coincided with me in everything. After my fatal meeting with the
courtezan I rapidly lost my health, my money, my credit;
cheerfulness, consideration, wit, everything, even the faculty of
eloquence vanished with fortune. I would talk, but people knew that
I was unfortunate, and I no longer interested or convinced my
hearers. The influence I had over Madame F---- faded away little by
little, and, almost without her knowing it, the lovely woman became
completely indifferent to me.
I left Corfu without money, although I had sold or pledged everything
I had of any value. Twice I had reached Corfu rich and happy, twice
I left it poor and miserable. But this time I had contracted debts
which I have never paid, not through want of will but through
Rich and in good health, everyone received me with open arms; poor
and looking sick, no one shewed me any consideration. With a full
purse and the tone of a conqueror, I was thought witty, amusing; with
an empty purse and a modest air, all I said appeared dull and
insipid. If I had become rich again, how soon I would have been
again accounted the eighth wonder of the world! Oh, men! oh,
fortune! Everyone avoided me as if the ill luck which crushed me
down was infectious.
We left Corfu towards the end of September, with five galleys, two
galeasses, and several smaller vessels, under the command of M.
Renier. We sailed along the shores of the Adriatic, towards the
north of the gulf, where there are a great many harbours, and we put
in one of them every night. I saw Madame F---- every evening; she
always came with her husband to take supper on board our galeass. We
had a fortunate voyage, and cast anchor in the harbour of Venice on
the 14th of October, 1745, and after having performed quarantine on
board our ships, we landed on the 25th of November. Two months
afterwards, the galeasses were set aside altogether. The use of
these vessels could be traced very far back in ancient times; their
maintenance was very expensive, and they were useless. A galeass had
the frame of a frigate with the rowing apparatus of the galley, and
when there was no wind, five hundred slaves had to row.
Before simple good sense managed to prevail and to enforce the
suppression of these useless carcasses, there were long discussions
in the senate, and those who opposed the measure took their principal
ground of opposition in the necessity of respecting and conserving
all the institutions of olden times. That is the disease of persons
who can never identify themselves with the successive improvements
born of reason and experience; worthy persons who ought to be sent to
China, or to the dominions of the Grand Lama, where they would
certainly be more at home than in Europe.
That ground of opposition to all improvements, however absurd it may
be, is a very powerful one in a republic, which must tremble at the
mere idea of novelty either in important or in trifling things.
Superstition has likewise a great part to play in these conservative
There is one thing that the Republic of Venice will never alter: I
mean the galleys, because the Venetians truly require such vessels to
ply, in all weathers and in spite of the frequent calms, in a narrow
sea, and because they would not know what to do with the men
sentenced to hard labour.
I have observed a singular thing in Corfu, where there are often as
many as three thousand galley slaves; it is that the men who row on
the galleys, in consequence of a sentence passed upon them for some
crime, are held in a kind of opprobrium, whilst those who are there
voluntarily are, to some extent, respected. I have always thought it
ought to be the reverse, because misfortune, whatever it may be,
ought to inspire some sort of respect; but the vile fellow who
condemns himself voluntarily and as a trade to the position of a
slave seems to me contemptible in the highest degree. The convicts
of the Republic, however, enjoy many privileges, and are, in every
way, better treated than the soldiers. It very often occurs that
soldiers desert and give themselves up to a 'sopracomito' to become
galley slaves. In those cases, the captain who loses a soldier has
nothing to do but to submit patiently, for he would claim the man in
vain. The reason of it is that the Republic has always believed
galley slaves more necessary than soldiers. The Venetians may
perhaps now (I am writing these lines in the year 1797) begin to
realize their mistake.
A galley slave, for instance, has the privilege of stealing with
impunity. It is considered that stealing is the least crime they can
be guilty of, and that they ought to be forgiven for it.
"Keep on your guard," says the master of the galley slave; "and if
you catch him in the act of stealing, thrash him, but be careful not
to cripple him; otherwise you must pay me the one hundred ducats the
man has cost me."
A court of justice could not have a galley slave taken from a galley,
without paying the master the amount he has disbursed for the man.
As soon as I had landed in Venice, I called upon Madame Orio, but I
found the house empty. A neighbour told me that she had married the
Procurator Rosa, and had removed to his house. I went immediately to
M. Rosa and was well received. Madame Orio informed me that Nanette
had become Countess R., and was living in Guastalla with her husband.
Twenty-four years afterwards, I met her eldest son, then a
distinguished officer in the service of the Infante of Parma.
As for Marton, the grace of Heaven had touched her, and she had
become a nun in the convent at Muran. Two years afterwards, I
received from her a letter full of unction, in which she adjured me,
in the name of Our Saviour and of the Holy Virgin, never to present
myself before her eyes. She added that she was bound by Christian
charity to forgive me for the crime I had committed in seducing her,
and she felt certain of the reward of the elect, and she assured me
that she would ever pray earnestly for my conversion.
I never saw her again, but she saw me in 1754, as I will mention when
we reach that year.
I found Madame Manzoni still the same. She had predicted that I
would not remain in the military profession, and when I told her that
I had made up my mind to give it up, because I could not be
reconciled to the injustice I had experienced, she burst out
laughing. She enquired about the profession I intended to follow
after giving up the army, and I answered that I wished to become an
advocate. She laughed again, saying that it was too late. Yet I was
only twenty years old.
When I called upon M. Grimani I had a friendly welcome from him, but,
having enquired after my brother Francois, he told me that he had had
him confined in Fort Saint Andre, the same to which I had been sent
before the arrival of the Bishop of Martorano.
"He works for the major there," he said; "he copies Simonetti's
battle-pieces, and the major pays him for them; in that manner he
earns his living, and is becoming a good painter."
"But he is not a prisoner?"
"Well, very much like it, for he cannot leave the fort. The major,
whose name is Spiridion, is a friend of Razetta, who could not refuse
him the pleasure of taking care of your brother."
I felt it a dreadful curse that the fatal Razetta should be the
tormentor of all my family, but I concealed my anger.
"Is my sister," I enquired, "still with him?"
"No, she has gone to your mother in Dresden."
This was good news.
I took a cordial leave of the Abbe Grimani, and I proceeded to Fort
Saint Andre. I found my brother hard at work, neither pleased nor
displeased with his position, and enjoying good health. After
embracing him affectionately, I enquired what crime he had committed
to be thus a prisoner.
"Ask the major," he said, "for I have not the faintest idea."
The major came in just then, so I gave him the military salute, and
asked by what authority he kept my brother under arrest.
"I am not accountable to you for my actions."
"That remains to be seen."
I then told my brother to take his hat, and to come and dine with me.
The major laughed, and said that he had no objection provided the
sentinel allowed him to pass.
I saw that I should only waste my time in discussion, and I left the
fort fully bent on obtaining justice.
The next day I went to the war office, where I had the pleasure of
meeting my dear Major Pelodoro, who was then commander of the
Fortress of Chiozza. I informed him of the complaint I wanted to
prefer before the secretary of war respecting my brother's arrest,
and of the resolution I had taken to leave the army. He promised me
that, as soon as the consent of the secretary for war could be
obtained, he would find a purchaser for my commission at the same
price I had paid for it.
I had not long to wait. The war secretary came to the office, and
everything was settled in half an hour. He promised his consent to
the sale of my commission as soon as he ascertained the abilities of
the purchaser, and Major Spiridion happening to make his appearance
in the office while I was still there, the secretary ordered him
rather angrily, to set my brother at liberty immediately, and
cautioned him not to be guilty again of such reprehensible and
I went at once for my brother, and we lived together in furnished
A few days afterwards, having received my discharge and one hundred
sequins, I threw off my uniform, and found myself once more my own
I had to earn my living in one way or another, and I decided for the
profession of gamester. But Dame Fortune was not of the same
opinion, for she refused to smile upon me from the very first step I
took in the career, and in less than a week I did not possess a
groat. What was to become of me? One must live, and I turned
fiddler. Doctor Gozzi had taught me well enough to enable me to
scrape on the violin in the orchestra of a theatre, and having
mentioned my wishes to M. Grimani he procured me an engagement at
his own theatre of Saint Samuel, where I earned a crown a day, and
supported myself while I awaited better things.
Fully aware of my real position, I never shewed myself in the
fashionable circles which I used to frequent before my fortune had
sunk so low. I knew that I was considered as a worthless fellow, but
I did not care. People despised me, as a matter of course; but I
found comfort in the consciousness that I was worthy of contempt.
I felt humiliated by the position to which I was reduced after having
played so brilliant a part in society; but as I kept the secret to
myself I was not degraded, even if I felt some shame. I had not
exchanged my last word with Dame Fortune, and was still in hope of
reckoning with her some day, because I was young, and youth is dear
I Turn Out A Worthless Fellow--My Good Fortune--I Become A Rich
With an education which ought to have ensured me an honourable
standing in the world, with some intelligence, wit, good literary and
scientific knowledge, and endowed with those accidental physical
qualities which are such a good passport into society, I found
myself, at the age of twenty, the mean follower of a sublime art, in
which, if great talent is rightly admired, mediocrity is as rightly
despised. I was compelled by poverty to become a member of a musical
band, in which I could expect neither esteem nor consideration, and I
was well aware that I should be the laughing-stock of the persons who
had known me as a doctor in divinity, as an ecclesiastic, and as an
officer in the army, and had welcomed me in the highest society.
I knew all that, for I was not blind to my position; but contempt,
the only thing to which I could not have remained indifferent, never
shewed itself anywhere under a form tangible enough for me to have no
doubt of my being despised, and I set it at defiance, because I was
satisfied that contempt is due only to cowardly, mean actions, and I
was conscious that I had never been guilty of any. As to public
esteem, which I had ever been anxious to secure, my ambition was
slumbering, and satisfied with being my own master I enjoyed my
independence without puzzling my head about the future. I felt that
in my first profession, as I was not blessed with the vocation
necessary to it, I should have succeeded only by dint of hypocrisy,
and I should have been despicable in my own estimation, even if I had
seen the purple mantle on my shoulders, for the greatest dignities
cannot silence a man's own conscience. If, on the other hand, I had
continued to seek fortune in a military career, which is surrounded
by a halo of glory, but is otherwise the worst of professions for the
constant self-abnegation, for the complete surrender of one's will
which passive obedience demands, I should have required a patience to
which I could not lay any claim, as every kind of injustice was
revolting to me, and as I could not bear to feel myself dependent.
Besides, I was of opinion that a man's profession, whatever it might
be, ought to supply him with enough money to satisfy all his wants;
and the very poor pay of an officer would never have been sufficient
to cover my expenses, because my education had given me greater wants
than those of officers in general. By scraping my violin I earned
enough to keep myself without requiring anybody's assistance, and I
have always thought that the man who can support himself is happy. I
grant that my profession was not a brilliant one, but I did not mind
it, and, calling prejudices all the feelings which rose in my breast
against myself, I was not long in sharing all the habits of my
degraded comrades. When the play was over, I went with them to the
drinking-booth, which we often left intoxicated to spend the night in
houses of ill-fame. When we happened to find those places already
tenanted by other men, we forced them by violence to quit the
premises, and defrauded the miserable victims of prostitution of the
mean salary the law allows them, after compelling them to yield to
our brutality. Our scandalous proceedings often exposed us to the
We would very often spend the whole night rambling about the city,
inventing and carrying into execution the most impertinent, practical
jokes. One of our favourite pleasures was to unmoor the patricians'
gondolas, and to let them float at random along the canals, enjoying
by anticipation all the curses that gondoliers would not fail to
indulge in. We would rouse up hurriedly, in the middle of the night,
an honest midwife, telling her to hasten to Madame So-and-so, who,
not being even pregnant, was sure to tell her she was a fool when she
called at the house. We did the same with physicians, whom we often
sent half dressed to some nobleman who was enjoying excellent health.
The priests fared no better; we would send them to carry the last
sacraments to married men who were peacefully slumbering near their
wives, and not thinking of extreme unction.
We were in the habit of cutting the wires of the bells in every
house, and if we chanced to find a gate open we would go up the
stairs in the dark, and frighten the sleeping inmates by telling them
very loudly that the house door was not closed, after which we would
go down, making as much noise as we could, and leave the house with
the gate wide open.
During a very dark night we formed a plot to overturn the large
marble table of St. Angelo's Square, on which it was said that in the
days of the League of Cambray the commissaries of the Republic were
in the habit of paying the bounty to the recruits who engaged to
fight under the standard of St. Mark--a circumstance which secured
for the table a sort of public veneration.
Whenever we could contrive to get into a church tower we thought it
great fun to frighten all the parish by ringing the alarm bell, as if
some fire had broken out; but that was not all, we always cut the
bell ropes, so that in the morning the churchwardens had no means of
summoning the faithful to early mass. Sometimes we would cross the
canal, each of us in a different gondola, and take to our heels
without paying as soon as we landed on the opposite side, in order to
make the gondoliers run after us.
The city was alive with complaints, and we laughed at the useless
search made by the police to find out those who disturbed the peace
of the inhabitants. We took good care to be careful, for if we had
been discovered we stood a very fair chance of being sent to practice
rowing at the expense of the Council of Ten.
We were seven, and sometimes eight, because, being much attached to
my brother Francois, I gave him a share now and then in our nocturnal
orgies. But at last fear put a stop to our criminal jokes, which in
those days I used to call only the frolics of young men. This is the
amusing adventure which closed our exploits.
In every one of the seventy-two parishes of the city of Venice, there
is a large public-house called 'magazzino'. It remains open all
night, and wine is retailed there at a cheaper price than in all the
other drinking houses. People can likewise eat in the 'magazzino',
but they must obtain what they want from the pork butcher near by,
who has the exclusive sale of eatables, and likewise keeps his shop
open throughout the night. The pork butcher is usually a very poor
cook, but as he is cheap, poor people are willingly satisfied with
him, and these resorts are considered very useful to the lower class.
The nobility, the merchants, even workmen in good circumstances, are
never seen in the 'magazzino', for cleanliness is not exactly
worshipped in such places. Yet there are a few private rooms which
contain a table surrounded with benches, in which a respectable
family or a few friends can enjoy themselves in a decent way.
It was during the Carnival of 1745, after midnight; we were, all the
eight of us, rambling about together with our masks on, in quest of
some new sort of mischief to amuse us, and we went into the magazzino
of the parish of the Holy Cross to get something to drink. We found
the public room empty, but in one of the private chambers we
discovered three men quietly conversing with a young and pretty
woman, and enjoying their wine.
Our chief, a noble Venetian belonging to the Balbi family, said to
us, "It would be a good joke to carry off those three blockheads, and
to keep the pretty woman in our possession." He immediately
explained his plan, and under cover of our masks we entered their
room, Balbi at the head of us. Our sudden appearance rather
surprised the good people, but you may fancy their astonishment when
they heard Balbi say to them: "Under penalty of death, and by order
of the Council of Ten, I command you to follow us immediately,
without making the slightest noise; as to you, my good woman, you
need not be frightened, you will be escorted to your house." When he
had finished his speech, two of us got hold of the woman to take her
where our chief had arranged beforehand, and the others seized the
three poor fellows, who were trembling all over, and had not the
slightest idea of opposing any resistance.
The waiter of the magazzino came to be paid, and our chief gave him
what was due, enjoining silence under penalty of death. We took our
three prisoners to a large boat. Balbi went to the stern, ordered
the boatman to stand at the bow, and told him that he need not
enquire where we were going, that he would steer himself whichever
way he thought fit. Not one of us knew where Balbi wanted to take
the three poor devils.
He sails all along the canal, gets out of it, takes several turnings,
and in a quarter of an hour, we reach Saint George where Balbi lands
our prisoners, who are delighted to find themselves at liberty.
After this, the boatman is ordered to take us to Saint Genevieve,
where we land, after paying for the boat.
We proceed at once to Palombo Square, where my brother and another of
our band were waiting for us with our lovely prisoner, who was
"Do not weep, my beauty," says Balbi to her, "we will not hurt you.
We intend only to take some refreshment at the Rialto, and then we
will take you home in safety."
"Where is my husband?"
"Never fear; you shall see him again to-morrow."
Comforted by that promise, and as gentle as a lamb, she follows us to
the "Two Swords." We ordered a good fire in a private room, and,
everything we wanted to eat and to drink having been brought in, we
send the waiter away, and remain alone. We take off our masks, and
the sight of eight young, healthy faces seems to please the beauty we
had so unceremoniously carried off. We soon manage to reconcile her
to her fate by the gallantry of our proceedings; encouraged by a good
supper and by the stimulus of wine, prepared by our compliments and
by a few kisses, she realizes what is in store for her, and does not
seem to have any unconquerable objection. Our chief, as a matter of
right, claims the privilege of opening the ball; and by dint of sweet
words he overcomes the very natural repugnance she feels at
consummating the sacrifice in so numerous company. She, doubtless,
thinks the offering agreeable, for, when I present myself as the
priest appointed to sacrifice a second time to the god of love, she
receives me almost with gratitude, and she cannot conceal her joy
when she finds out that she is destined to make us all happy. My
brother Francois alone exempted himself from paying the tribute,
saying that he was ill, the only excuse which could render his
refusal valid, for we had established as a law that every member of
our society was bound to do whatever was done by the others.
After that fine exploit, we put on our masks, and, the bill being
paid, escorted the happy victim to Saint Job, where she lived, and
did not leave her till we had seen her safe in her house, and the
street door closed.
My readers may imagine whether we felt inclined to laugh when the
charming creature bade us good night, thanking us all with perfect
Two days afterwards, our nocturnal orgy began to be talked of. The
young woman's husband was a weaver by trade, and so were his two
friends. They joined together to address a complaint to the Council
of Ten. The complaint was candidly written and contained nothing but
the truth, but the criminal portion of the truth was veiled by a
circumstance which must have brought a smile on the grave
countenances of the judges, and highly amused the public at large:
the complaint setting forth that the eight masked men had not
rendered themselves guilty of any act disagreeable to the wife. It
went on to say that the two men who had carried her off had taken her
to such a place, where they had, an hour later, been met by the other
six, and that they had all repaired to the "Two Swords," where they
had spent an hour in drinking. The said lady having been handsomely
entertained by the eight masked men, had been escorted to her house,
where she had been politely requested to excuse the joke perpetrated
upon her husband. The three plaintiffs had not been able to leave
the island of Saint George until day-break, and the husband, on
reaching his house, had found his wife quietly asleep in her bed.
She had informed him of all that had happened; she complained of
nothing but of the great fright she had experienced on account of her
husband, and on that count she entreated justice and the punishment
of the guilty parties.
That complaint was comic throughout, for the three rogues shewed
themselves very brave in writing, stating that they would certainly
not have given way so easily if the dread authority of the council
had not been put forth by the leader of the band. The document
produced three different results; in the first place, it amused the
town; in the second, all the idlers of Venice went to Saint Job to
hear the account of the adventure from the lips of the heroine
herself, and she got many presents from her numerous visitors; in the
third place, the Council of Ten offered a reward of five hundred
ducats to any person giving such information as would lead to the
arrest of the perpetrators of the practical joke, even if the
informer belonged to the band, provided he was not the leader.
The offer of that reward would have made us tremble if our leader,
precisely the one who alone had no interest in turning informer, had
not been a patrician. The rank of Balbi quieted my anxiety at once,
because I knew that, even supposing one of us were vile enough to
betray our secret for the sake of the reward, the tribunal would have
done nothing in order not to implicate a patrician. There was no
cowardly traitor amongst us, although we were all poor; but fear had
its effect, and our nocturnal pranks were not renewed.
Three or four months afterwards the chevalier Nicolas Iron, then one
of the inquisitors, astonished me greatly by telling me the whole
story, giving the names of all the actors. He did not tell me
whether any one of the band had betrayed the secret, and I did not
care to know; but I could clearly see the characteristic spirit of
the aristocracy, for which the 'solo mihi' is the supreme law.
Towards the middle of April of the year 1746 M. Girolamo Cornaro, the
eldest son of the family Cornaro de la Reine, married a daughter of
the house of Soranzo de St. Pol, and I had the honour of being
present at the wedding--as a fiddler. I played the violin in one of
the numerous bands engaged for the balls which were given for three
consecutive days in the Soranzo Palace.
On the third day, towards the end of the dancing, an hour before day-
break, feeling tired, I left the orchestra abruptly; and as I was
going down the stairs I observed a senator, wearing his red robes, on
the point of getting into a gondola. In taking his handkerchief out
of his pocket he let a letter drop on the ground. I picked it up,
and coming up to him just as he was going down the steps I handed it
to him. He received it with many thanks, and enquired where I lived.
I told him, and he insisted upon my coming with him in the gondola
saying that he would leave me at my house. I accepted gratefully,
and sat down near him. A few minutes afterwards he asked me to rub
his left arm, which, he said, was so benumbed that he could not feel
it. I rubbed it with all my strength, but he told me in a sort of
indistinct whisper that the numbness was spreading all along the left
side, and that he was dying.
I was greatly frightened; I opened the curtain, took the lantern, and
found him almost insensible, and the mouth drawn on one side. I
understood that he was seized with an apoplectic stroke, and called
out to the gondoliers to land me at once, in order to procure a
surgeon to bleed the patient.
I jumped out of the gondola, and found myself on the very spot where
three years before I had taught Razetta such a forcible lesson; I
enquired for a surgeon at the first coffee-house, and ran to the
house that was pointed out to me. I knocked as hard as I could; the
door was at last opened, and I made the surgeon follow me in his
dressing-gown as far as the gondola, which was waiting; he bled the
senator while I was tearing my shirt to make the compress and the
The operation being performed, I ordered the gondoliers to row as
fast as possible, and we soon reached St. Marina; the servants were
roused up, and taking the sick man out of the gondola we carried him
to his bed almost dead.
Taking everything upon myself, I ordered a servant to hurry out for a
physician, who came in a short time, and ordered the patient to be
bled again, thus approving the first bleeding prescribed by me.
Thinking I had a right to watch the sick man, I settled myself near
his bed to give him every care he required.
An hour later, two noblemen, friends of the senator, came in, one a
few minutes after the other. They were in despair; they had enquired
about the accident from the gondoliers, and having been told that I
knew more than they did, they loaded me with questions which I
answered. They did not know who I was, and did not like to ask me;
whilst I thought it better to preserve a modest silence.
The patient did not move; his breathing alone shewed that he was
still alive; fomentations were constantly applied, and the priest who
had been sent for, and was of very little use under such
circumstances, seemed to be there only to see him die. All visitors
were sent away by my advice, and the two noblemen and myself were the
only persons in the sick man's room. At noon we partook silently of
some dinner which was served in the sick room.
In the evening one of the two friends told me that if I had any
business to attend to I could go, because they would both pass the
night on a mattress near the patient.
"And I, sir," I said, "will remain near his bed in this arm-chair,
for if I went away the patient would die, and he will live as long as
I am near him."
This sententious answer struck them with astonishment, as I expected
it would, and they looked at each other in great surprise.
We had supper, and in the little conversation we had I gathered the
information that the senator, their friend, was M. de Bragadin, the
only brother of the procurator of that name. He was celebrated in
Venice not only for his eloquence and his great talents as a
statesman, but also for the gallantries of his youth. He had been
very extravagant with women, and more than one of them had committed
many follies for him. He had gambled and lost a great deal, and his
brother was his most bitter enemy, because he was infatuated with the
idea that he had tried to poison him. He had accused him of that
crime before the Council of Ten, which, after an investigation of
eight months, had brought in a verdict of not guilty: but that just
sentence, although given unanimously by that high tribunal, had not
had the effect of destroying his brother's prejudices against him.
M. de Bragadin, who was perfectly innocent of such a crime and
oppressed by an unjust brother who deprived him of half of his
income, spent his days like an amiable philosopher, surrounded by his
friends, amongst whom were the two noblemen who were then watching
him; one belonged to the Dandolo family, the other was a Barbaro, and
both were excellent men. M. de Bragadin was handsome, learned,
cheerful, and most kindly disposed; he was then about fifty years
The physician who attended him was named Terro; he thought, by some
peculiar train of reasoning, that he could cure him by applying a
mercurial ointment to the chest, to which no one raised any
objection. The rapid effect of the remedy delighted the two friends,
but it frightened me, for in less than twenty-four hours the patient
was labouring under great excitement of the brain. The physician
said that he had expected that effect, but that on the following day
the remedy would act less on the brain, and diffuse its beneficial
action through the whole of the system, which required to be
invigorated by a proper equilibrium in the circulation of the fluids.
At midnight the patient was in a state of high fever, and in a
fearful state of irritation. I examined him closely, and found him
hardly able to breathe. I roused up his two friends; and declared
that in my opinion the patient would soon die unless the fatal
ointment was at once removed. And without waiting for their answer,
I bared his chest, took off the plaster, washed the skin carefully
with lukewarm water, and in less than three minutes he breathed
freely and fell into a quiet sleep. Delighted with such a fortunate
result, we lay down again.
The physician came very early in the morning, and was much pleased to
see his patient so much better, but when M. Dandolo informed him of
what had been done, he was angry, said it was enough to kill his
patient, and asked who had been so audacious as to destroy the effect
of his prescription. M. de Bragadin, speaking for the first time,
said to him--
"Doctor, the person who has delivered me from your mercury, which was
killing me, is a more skilful physician than you;" and, saying these
words, he pointed to me.
It would be hard to say who was the more astonished: the doctor, when
he saw an unknown young man, whom he must have taken for an impostor,
declared more learned than himself; or I, when I saw myself
transformed into a physician, at a moment's notice. I kept silent,
looking very modest, but hardly able to control my mirth, whilst the
doctor was staring at me with a mixture of astonishment and of spite,
evidently thinking me some bold quack who had tried to supplant him.
At last, turning towards M. de Bragadin, he told him coldly that he
would leave him in my hands; he was taken at his word, he went away,
and behold! I had become the physician of one of the most
illustrious members of the Venetian Senate! I must confess that I
was very glad of it, and I told my patient that a proper diet was all
he needed, and that nature, assisted by the approaching fine season,
would do the rest.
The dismissed physician related the affair through the town, and, as
M. de Bragadin was rapidly improving, one of his relations, who came
to see him, told him that everybody was astonished at his having
chosen for his physician a fiddler from the theatre; but the senator
put a stop to his remarks by answering that a fiddler could know more
than all the doctors in Venice, and that he owed his life to me.
The worthy nobleman considered me as his oracle, and his two friends
listened to me with the deepest attention. Their infatuation
encouraging me, I spoke like a learned physician, I dogmatized, I
quoted authors whom I had never read.
M. de Bragadin, who had the weakness to believe in the occult
sciences, told me one day that, for a young man of my age, he thought
my learning too extensive, and that he was certain I was the
possessor of some supernatural endowment. He entreated me to tell
him the truth.
What extraordinary things will sometimes occur from mere chance, or
from the force of circumstances! Unwilling to hurt his vanity by
telling him that he was mistaken, I took the wild resolution of
informing him, in the presence of his two friends, that I possessed a
certain numeral calculus which gave answers (also in numbers), to any
questions I liked to put.
M. de Bragadin said that it was Solomon's key, vulgarly called
cabalistic science, and he asked me from whom I learnt it.
"From an old hermit," I answered," "who lives on the Carpegna
Mountain, and whose acquaintance I made quite by chance when I was a
prisoner in the Spanish army."
"The hermit," remarked the senator, "has without informing you of it,
linked an invisible spirit to the calculus he has taught you, for
simple numbers can not have the power of reason. You possess a real
treasure, and you may derive great advantages from it."
"I do not know," I said, "in what way I could make my science useful,
because the answers given by the numerical figures are often so
obscure that I have felt discouraged, and I very seldom tried to make
any use of my calculus. Yet, it is very true that, if I had not
formed my pyramid, I never should have had the happiness of knowing
"On the second day, during the festivities at the Soranzo Palace, I
enquired of my oracle whether I would meet at the ball anyone whom I
should not care to see. The answer I obtained was this: 'Leave the
ball-room precisely at four o'clock.' I obeyed implicitly, and met
The three friends were astounded. M. Dandolo asked me whether I
would answer a question he would ask, the interpretation of which
would belong only to him, as he was the only person acquainted with
the subject of the question.
I declared myself quite willing, for it was necessary to brazen it
out, after having ventured as far as I had done. He wrote the
question, and gave it to me; I read it, I could not understand either
the subject or the meaning of the words, but it did not matter, I had
to give an answer. If the question was so obscure that I could not
make out the sense of it, it was natural that I should not understand
the answer. I therefore answered, in ordinary figures, four lines of
which he alone could be the interpreter, not caring much, at least in
appearance, how they would be understood. M. Dandolo read them twice
over, seemed astonished, said that it was all very plain to him; it
was Divine, it was unique, it was a gift from Heaven, the numbers
being only the vehicle, but the answer emanating evidently from an
M. Dandolo was so well pleased that his two friends very naturally
wanted also to make an experiment. They asked questions on all sorts
of subjects, and my answers, perfectly unintelligible to myself, were
all held as Divine by them. I congratulated them on their success,
and congratulated myself in their presence upon being the possessor
of a thing to which I had until then attached no importance whatever,
but which I promised to cultivate carefully, knowing that I could
thus be of some service to their excellencies.
They all asked me how long I would require to teach them the rules of
my sublime calculus. "Not very long," I answered, "and I will teach
you as you wish, although the hermit assured me that I would die
suddenly within three days if I communicated my science to anyone,
but I have no faith whatever in that prediction." M. de Bragadin who
believed in it more than I did, told me in a serious tone that I was
bound to have faith in it, and from that day they never asked me
again to teach them. They very likely thought that, if they could
attach me to them, it would answer the purpose as well as if they
possessed the science themselves. Thus I became the hierophant of
those three worthy and talented men, who, in spite of their literary
accomplishments, were not wise, since they were infatuated with
occult and fabulous sciences, and believed in the existence of
phenomena impossible in the moral as well as in the physical order of
things. They believed that through me they possessed the
philosopher's stone, the universal panacea, the intercourse with all
the elementary, heavenly, and infernal spirits; they had no doubt
whatever that, thanks to my sublime science, they could find out the
secrets of every government in Europe.
After they had assured themselves of the reality of my cabalistic
science by questions respecting the past, they decided to turn it to
some use by consulting it upon the present and upon the future. I
had no difficulty in skewing myself a good guesser, because I always
gave answers with a double meaning, one of the meanings being
carefully arranged by me, so as not to be understood until after the
event; in that manner, my cabalistic science, like the oracle of
Delphi, could never be found in fault. I saw how easy it must have
been for the ancient heathen priests to impose upon ignorant, and
therefore credulous mankind. I saw how easy it will always be for
impostors to find dupes, and I realized, even better than the Roman
orator, why two augurs could never look at each other without
laughing; it was because they had both an equal interest in giving
importance to the deceit they perpetrated, and from which they
derived such immense profits. But what I could not, and probably
never shall, understand, was the reason for which the Fathers, who
were not so simple or so ignorant as our Evangelists, did not feel
able to deny the divinity of oracles, and, in order to get out of the
difficulty, ascribed them to the devil. They never would have
entertained such a strange idea if they had been acquainted with
cabalistic science. My three worthy friends were like the holy
Fathers; they had intelligence and wit, but they were superstitious,
and no philosophers. But, although believing fully in my oracles,
they were too kind-hearted to think them the work of the devil, and
it suited their natural goodness better to believe my answers
inspired by some heavenly spirit. They were not only good Christians
and faithful to the Church, but even real devotees and full of
scruples. They were not married, and, after having renounced all
commerce with women, they had become the enemies of the female sex;
perhaps a strong proof of the weakness of their minds. They imagined
that chastity was the condition 'sine qua non' exacted by the spirits
from those who wished to have intimate communication or intercourse
with them: they fancied that spirits excluded women, and 'vice
With all these oddities, the three friends were truly intelligent and
even witty, and, at the beginning of my acquaintance with them, I
could not reconcile these antagonistic points. But a prejudiced mind
cannot reason well, and the faculty of reasoning is the most
important of all. I often laughed when I heard them talk on
religious matters; they would ridicule those whose intellectual
faculties were so limited that they could not understand the
mysteries of religion. The incarnation of the Word, they would say,
was a trifle for God, and therefore easy to understand, and the
resurrection was so comprehensible that it did not appear to them
wonderful, because, as God cannot die, Jesus Christ was naturally
certain to rise again. As for the Eucharist, transubstantiation, the
real presence, it was all no mystery to them, but palpable evidence,
and yet they were not Jesuits. They were in the habit of going to
confession every week, without feeling the slightest trouble about
their confessors, whose ignorance they kindly regretted. They
thought themselves bound to confess only what was a sin in their own
opinion, and in that, at least, they reasoned with good sense.
With those three extraordinary characters, worthy of esteem and
respect for their moral qualities, their honesty, their reputation,
and their age, as well as for their noble birth, I spent my days in a
very pleasant manner: although, in their thirst for knowledge, they
often kept me hard at work for ten hours running, all four of us
being locked up together in a room, and unapproachable to everybody,
even to friends or relatives.
I completed the conquest of their friendship by relating to them the
whole of my life, only with some proper reserve, so as not to lead
them into any capital sins. I confess candidly that I deceived them,
as the Papa Deldimopulo used to deceive the Greeks who applied to him
for the oracles of the Virgin. I certainly did not act towards them
with a true sense of honesty, but if the reader to whom I confess
myself is acquainted with the world and with the spirit of society, I
entreat him to think before judging me, and perhaps I may meet with
some indulgence at his hands.
I might be told that if I had wished to follow the rules of pure
morality I ought either to have declined intimate intercourse with
them or to have undeceived them. I cannot deny these premises, but I
will answer that I was only twenty years of age, I was intelligent,
talented, and had just been a poor fiddler. I should have lost my
time in trying to cure them of their weakness; I should not have
succeeded, for they would have laughed in my face, deplored my
ignorance, and the result of it all would have been my dismissal.
Besides, I had no mission, no right, to constitute myself an apostle,
and if I had heroically resolved on leaving them as soon as I knew
them to be foolish visionaries, I should have shewn myself a
misanthrope, the enemy of those worthy men for whom I could procure
innocent pleasures, and my own enemy at the same time; because, as a
young man, I liked to live well, to enjoy all the pleasures natural
to youth and to a good constitution.
By acting in that manner I should have failed in common politeness, I
should perhaps have caused or allowed M. de Bragadin's death, and I
should have exposed those three honest men to becoming the victims of
the first bold cheat who, ministering to their monomania, might have
won their favour, and would have ruined them by inducing them to
undertake the chemical operations of the Great Work. There is also
another consideration, dear reader, and as I love you I will tell you
what it is. An invincible self-love would have prevented me from
declaring myself unworthy of their friendship either by my ignorance
or by my pride; and I should have been guilty of great rudeness if I
had ceased to visit them.
I took, at least it seems to me so, the best, the most natural, and
the noblest decision, if we consider the disposition of their mind,
when I decided upon the plan of conduct which insured me the
necessaries of life and of those necessaries who could be a better
judge than your very humble servant?
Through the friendship of those three men, I was certain of obtaining
consideration and influence in my own country. Besides, I found it
very flattering to my vanity to become the subject of the speculative
chattering of empty fools who, having nothing else to do, are always
trying to find out the cause of every moral phenomenon they meet
with, which their narrow intellect cannot understand.
People racked their brain in Venice to find out how my intimacy with
three men of that high character could possibly exist; they were
wrapped up in heavenly aspirations, I was a world's devotee; they
were very strict in their morals, I was thirsty of all pleasures!
At the beginning of summer, M. de Bragadin was once, more able to
take his seat in the senate, and, the day before he went out for the
first time, he spoke to me thus:
"Whoever you may be, I am indebted to you for my life. Your first
protectors wanted to make you a priest, a doctor, an advocate, a
soldier, and ended by making a fiddler of you; those persons did not
know you. God had evidently instructed your guardian angel to bring
you to me. I know you and appreciate you. If you will be my son,
you have only to acknowledge me for your father, and, for the future,
until my death, I will treat you as my own child. Your apartment is
ready, you may send your clothes: you shall have a servant, a gondola
at your orders, my own table, and ten sequins a month. It is the sum
I used to receive from my father when I was your age. You need not
think of the future; think only of enjoying yourself, and take me as
your adviser in everything that may happen to you, in everything you
may wish to undertake, and you may be certain of always finding me
I threw myself at his feet to assure him of my gratitude, and
embraced him calling him my father. He folded me in his arms, called
me his dear son; I promised to love and to obey him; his two friends,
who lived in the same palace, embraced me affectionately, and we
swore eternal fraternity.
Such is the history of my metamorphosis, and of the lucky stroke
which, taking me from the vile profession of a fiddler, raised me to
the rank of a grandee.
I lead a dissolute life--Zawoiski--Rinaldi--L'Abbadie--the young
countess--the Capuchin friar Z. Steffani--Ancilla--La Ramor--I take a
gondola at St. Job to go to Mestra.
Fortune, which had taken pleasure in giving me a specimen of its
despotic caprice, and had insured my happiness through means which
sages would disavow, had not the power to make me adopt a system of
moderation and prudence which alone could establish my future welfare
on a firm basis.
My ardent nature, my irresistible love of pleasure, my unconquerable
independence, would not allow me to submit to the reserve which my
new position in life demanded from me. I began to lead a life of
complete freedom, caring for nothing but what ministered to my
tastes, and I thought that, as long as I respected the laws, I could
trample all prejudices under my feet. I fancied that I could live
free and independent in a country ruled entirely by an aristocratic
government, but this was not the case, and would not have been so
even if fortune had raised me to a seat in that same government, for
the Republic of Venice, considering that its primary duty is to
preserve its own integrity, finds itself the slave of its own policy,
and is bound to sacrifice everything to self-preservation, before
which the laws themselves cease to be inviolable.
But let us abandon the discussion of a principle now too trite, for
humankind, at least in Europe, is satisfied that unlimited liberty is
nowhere consistent with a properly-regulated state of society. I
have touched lightly on the matter, only to give to my readers some
idea of my conduct in my own country, where I began to tread a path
which was to lead me to a state prison as inscrutable as it was
With enough money, endowed by nature with a pleasing and commanding
physical appearance, a confirmed gambler, a true spendthrift, a great
talker, very far from modest, intrepid, always running after pretty
women, supplanting my rivals, and acknowledging no good company but
that which ministered to my enjoyment, I was certain to be disliked;
but, ever ready to expose myself to any danger, and to take the
responsibility of all my actions, I thought I had a right to do
anything I pleased, for I always broke down abruptly every obstacle I
found in my way.
Such conduct could not but be disagreeable to the three worthy men
whose oracle I had become, but they did not like to complain. The
excellent M. de Bragadin would only tell me that I was giving him a
repetition of the foolish life he had himself led at my age, but that
I must prepare to pay the penalty of my follies, and to feel the
punishment when I should reach his time of life. Without wanting in
the respect I owed him, I would turn his terrible forebodings into
jest, and continue my course of extravagance. However, I must
mention here the first proof he gave me of his true wisdom.
At the house of Madame Avogadro, a woman full of wit in spite of her
sixty years, I had made the acquaintance of a young Polish nobleman
called Zawoiski. He was expecting money from Poland, but in the mean
time the Venetian ladies did not let him want for any, being all very
much in love with his handsome face and his Polish manners. We soon
became good friends, my purse was his, but, twenty years later, he
assisted me to a far greater extent in Munich. Zawoiski was honest,
he had only a small dose of intelligence, but it was enough for his
happiness. He died in Trieste five or six years ago, the ambassador
of the Elector of Treves. I will speak of him in another part of
This amiable young man, who was a favourite with everybody and was
thought a free-thinker because he frequented the society of Angelo
Querini and Lunardo Venier, presented me one day, as we were out
walking, to an unknown countess who took my fancy very strongly.
We called on her in the evening, and, after introducing me to her
husband, Count Rinaldi, she invited us to remain and have supper.
The count made a faro bank in the course of the evening, I punted
with his wife as a partner, and won some fifty ducats.
Very much pleased with my new acquaintance, I called alone on the
countess the next morning. The count, apologizing for his wife who
was not up yet, took me to her room. She received me with graceful
ease, and, her husband having left us alone, she had the art to let
me hope for every favour, yet without committing herself; when I took
leave of her, she invited me to supper for the evening. After supper
I played, still in partnership with her, won again, and went away
very much in love. I did not fail to pay her another visit the next
morning, but when I presented myself at the house I was told that she
had gone out.
I called again in the evening, and, after she had excused herself for
not having been at home in the morning, the faro bank began, and I
lost all my money, still having the countess for my partner. After
supper, and when the other guests had retired, I remained with
Zawoiski, Count Rinaldi having offered to give us our revenge. As I
had no more money, I played upon trust, and the count threw down the
cards after I had lost five hundred sequins. I went away in great
sorrow. I was bound in honour to pay the next morning, and I did not
possess a groat. Love increased my despair, for I saw myself on the
point of losing the esteem of a woman by whom I was smitten, and the
anxiety I felt did not escape M. de Bragadin when we met in the
morning. He kindly encouraged me to confess my troubles to him.
I was conscious that it was my only chance, and candidly related the
whole affair, and I ended by saying that I should not survive my
disgrace. He consoled me by promising that my debt would be
cancelled in the course of the day, if I would swear never to play
again upon trust. I took an oath to that effect, and kissing his
hand, I went out for a walk, relieved from a great load. I had no
doubt that my excellent father would give me five hundred sequins
during the day, and I enjoyed my anticipation the honour I would
derive, in the opinion of the lovely countess, by my exactitude and
prompt discharge of my debt. I felt that it gave new strength to my
hopes, and that feeling prevented me from regretting my heavy loss,
but grateful for the great generosity of my benefactor I was fully
determined on keeping my promise.
I dined with the three friends, and the matter was not even alluded
to; but, as we were rising from the table, a servant brought M. de
Bragadin a letter and a parcel.
He read the letter, asked me to follow him into his study, and the
moment we were alone, he said;
"Here is a parcel for you."
I opened it, and found some forty sequins. Seeing my surprise, M.
de Bragadin laughed merrily and handed me the letter, the contents of
which ran thus:
"M. de Casanova may be sure that our playing last night was only a
joke: he owes me nothing. My wife begs to send him half of the gold
which he has lost in cash.
I looked at M. de Bragadin, perfectly amazed, and he burst out
laughing. I guessed the truth, thanked him, and embracing him
tenderly I promised to be wiser for the future. The mist I had
before my eyes was dispelled, I felt that my love was defunct, and I
remained rather ashamed, when I realized that I had been the dupe of
the wife as well as of the husband.
"This evening," said my clever physician, "you can have a gay supper
with the charming countess."
"This evening, my dear, respected benefactor, I will have supper with
you. You have given me a masterly lesson."
"The next time you lose money upon trust, you had better not pay it."
"But I should be dishonoured."
"Never mind. The sooner you dishonour yourself, the more you will
save, for you will always be compelled to accept your dishonour
whenever you find yourself utterly unable to pay your losses. It is
therefore more prudent not to wait until then."
"It is much better still to avoid that fatal impossibility by never
playing otherwise than with money in hand."
"No doubt of it, for then you will save both your honour and your
purse. But, as you are fond of games of chance, I advise you never
to punt. Make the bank, and the advantage must be on your side."
"Yes, but only a slight advantage."
"As slight as you please, but it will be on your side, and when the
game is over you will find yourself a winner and not a loser. The
punter is excited, the banker is calm. The last says, 'I bet you do
not guess,' while the first says, 'I bet I can guess.' Which is the
fool, and which is the wise man? The question is easily answered. I
adjure you to be prudent, but if you should punt and win, recollect
that you are only an idiot if at the end you lose."
"Why an idiot? Fortune is very fickle."
"It must necessarily be so; it is a natural consequence. Leave off
playing, believe me, the very moment you see luck turning, even if
you should, at that moment, win but one groat."
I had read Plato, and I was astonished at finding a man who could
reason like Socrates.
The next day, Zawoiski called on me very early to tell me that I had
been expected to supper, and that Count Rinaldi had praised my
promptness in paying my debts of honour. I did not think it
necessary to undeceive him, but I did not go again to Count
Rinaldi's, whom I saw sixteen years afterwards in Milan. As to
Zawoiski, I did not tell him the story till I met him in Carlsbad,
old and deaf, forty years later.
Three or four months later, M. de Bragadin taught me another of his
masterly lessons. I had become acquainted, through Zawoiski, with a
Frenchman called L'Abbadie, who was then soliciting from the Venetian
Government the appointment of inspector of the armies of the
Republic. The senate appointed, and I presented him to my protector,
who promised him his vote; but the circumstance I am going to relate
prevented him from fulfilling his promise.
I was in need of one hundred sequins to discharge a few debts, and I
begged M. de Bragadin to give them to me.
"Why, my dear son, do you not ask M. de l'Abbadie to render you that
"I should not dare to do so, dear father."
"Try him; I am certain that he will be glad to lend you that sum."
"I doubt it, but I will try."
I called upon L'Abbadie on the following day, and after a short
exchange of compliments I told him the service I expected from his
friendship. He excused himself in a very polite manner, drowning his
refusal in that sea of commonplaces which people are sure to repeat
when they cannot or will not oblige a friend. Zawoiski came in as he
was still apologizing, and I left them together. I hurried at once
to M. de Bragadin, and told him my want of success. He merely
remarked that the Frenchman was deficient in intelligence.
It just happened that it was the very day on which the appointment of
the inspectorship was to be brought before the senate. I went out to
attend to my business (I ought to say to my pleasure), and as I did
not return home till after midnight I went to bed without seeing my
father. In the morning I said in his presence that I intended to
call upon L'Abbadie to congratulate him upon his appointment.
"You may spare yourself that trouble; the senate has rejected his
"How so? Three days ago L'Abbadie felt sure of his success."
"He was right then, for he would have been appointed if I had not
made up my mind to speak against him. I have proved to the senate
that a right policy forbade the government to trust such an important
post to a foreigner."
"I am much surprised, for your excellency was not of that opinion the
day before yesterday."
"Very true, but then I did not know M. de l'Abbadie. I found out
only yesterday that the man was not sufficiently intelligent to fill
the position he was soliciting. Is he likely to possess a sane
judgment when he refuses to lend you one hundred sequins? That
refusal has cost him an important appointment and an income of three
thousand crowns, which would now be his."
When I was taking my walk on the same day I met Zawoiski with
L'Abbadie, and did not try to avoid them. L'Abbadie was furious, and
he had some reason to be so.
"If you had told me," he said angrily, "that the one hundred sequins
were intended as a gag to stop M. de Bragadin's mouth, I would have
contrived to procure them for you."
"If you had had an inspector's brains you would have easily guessed
The Frenchman's resentment proved very useful to me, because he
related the circumstance to everybody. The result was that from that
time those who wanted the patronage of the senator applied to me.
Comment is needless; this sort of thing has long been in existence,
and will long remain so, because very often, to obtain the highest of
favours, all that is necessary is to obtain the good-will of a
minister's favourite or even of his valet. My debts were soon paid.
It was about that time that my brother Jean came to Venice with
Guarienti, a converted Jew, a great judge of paintings, who was
travelling at the expense of His Majesty the King of Poland, and
Elector of Saxony. It was the converted Jew who had purchased for
His Majesty the gallery of the Duke of Modena for one hundred
thousand sequins. Guarienti and my brother left Venice for Rome,
where Jean remained in the studio of the celebrated painter Raphael
Mengs, whom we shall meet again hereafter.
Now, as a faithful historian, I must give my readers the story of a
certain adventure in which were involved the honour and happiness of
one of the most charming women in Italy, who would have been unhappy
if I had not been a thoughtless fellow.
In the early part of October, 1746, the theatres being opened, I was
walking about with my mask on when I perceived a woman, whose head
was well enveloped in the hood of her mantle, getting out of the
Ferrara barge which had just arrived. Seeing her alone, and
observing her uncertain walk, I felt myself drawn towards her as if
an unseen hand had guided me.
I come up to her, and offer my services if I can be of any use to
her. She answers timidly that she only wants to make some enquiries.
"We are not here in the right place for conversation," I say to her;
"but if you would be kind enough to come with me to a cafe, you would
be able to speak and to explain your wishes."
She hesitates, I insist, and she gives way. The tavern was close at
hand; we go in, and are alone in a private room. I take off my mask,
and out of politeness she must put down the hood of her mantle. A
large muslin head-dress conceals half of her face, but her eyes, her
nose, and her pretty mouth are enough to let me see on her features
beauty, nobleness, sorrow, and that candour which gives youth such an
undefinable charm. I need not say that, with such a good letter of
introduction, the unknown at once captivated my warmest interest.
After wiping away a few tears which are flowing, in spite of all her
efforts, she tells me that she belongs to a noble family, that she
has run away from her father's house, alone, trusting in God, to meet
a Venetian nobleman who had seduced her and then deceived her, thus
sealing her everlasting misery.
"You have then some hope of recalling him to the path of duty? I
suppose he has promised you marriage?"
"He has engaged his faith to me in writing. The only favour I claim
from your kindness is to take me to his house, to leave me there, and
to keep my secret."
"You may trust, madam, to the feelings of a man of honour. I am
worthy of your trust. Have entire confidence in me, for I already
take a deep interest in all your concerns. Tell me his name."
"Alas! sir, I give way to fate."
With these words, she takes out of her bosom a paper which she gives
me; I recognize the handwriting of Zanetto Steffani. It was a
promise of marriage by which he engaged his word of honour to marry
within a week, in Venice, the young countess A---- S----. When I
have read the paper, I return it to her, saying that I knew the
writer quite well, that he was connected with the chancellor's
office, known as a great libertine, and deeply in debt, but that he
would be rich after his mother's death.
"For God's sake take me to his house."
"I will do anything you wish; but have entire confidence in me, and
be good enough to hear me. I advise you not to go to his house. He
has already done you great injury, and, even supposing that you
should happen to find him at home, he might be capable of receiving
you badly; if he should not be at home, it is most likely that his
mother would not exactly welcome you, if you should tell her who you
are and what is your errand. Trust to me, and be quite certain that
God has sent me on your way to assist you. I promise you that
to-morrow at the latest you shall know whether Steffani is in Venice,
what he intends to do with you, and what we may compel him to do.
Until then my advice is not to let him know your arrival in Venice."
"Good God! where shall I go to-night?"
"To a respectable house, of course."
"I will go to yours, if you are married."
"I am a bachelor."
I knew an honest widow who resided in a lane, and who had two
furnished rooms. I persuade the young countess to follow me, and we
take a gondola. As we are gliding along, she tells me that, one
month before, Steffani had stopped in her neighbourhood for necessary
repairs to his travelling-carriage, and that, on the same day he had
made her acquaintance at a house where she had gone with her mother
for the purpose of offering their congratulations to a newly-married
"I was unfortunate enough," she continued, "to inspire him with love,
and he postponed his departure. He remained one month in C----, never
going out but in the evening, and spending every night under my
windows conversing with me. He swore a thousand times that he adored
me, that his intentions were honourable. I entreated him to present
himself to my parents to ask me in marriage, but he always excused
himself by alleging some reason, good or bad, assuring me that he
could not be happy unless I shewed him entire confidence. He would
beg of me to make up my mind to run away with him, unknown to
everybody, promising that my honour should not suffer from such a
step, because, three days after my departure, everybody should
receive notice of my being his wife, and he assured me that he would
bring me back on a visit to my native place shortly after our
marriage. Alas, sir! what shall I say now? Love blinded me; I fell
into the abyss; I believed him; I agreed to everything. He gave me
the paper which you have read, and the following night I allowed him
to come into my room through the window under which he was in the
habit of conversing with me.
"I consented to be guilty of a crime which I believed would be atoned
for within three days, and he left me, promising that the next night
he would be again under my window, ready to receive me in his arms.
Could I possibly entertain any doubt after the fearful crime I had
committed for him? I prepared a small parcel, and waited for his
coming, but in vain. Oh! what a cruel long night it was! In the
morning I heard that the monster had gone away with his servant one
hour after sealing my shame. You may imagine my despair! I adopted
the only plan that despair could suggest, and that, of course, was
not the right one. One hour before midnight I left my father's roof,
alone, thus completing my dishonour, but resolved on death, if the
man who has cruelly robbed me of my most precious treasure, and whom
a natural instinct told me I could find here, does not restore me the
honour which he alone can give me back. I walked all night and
nearly the whole day, without taking any food, until I got into the
barge, which brought me here in twenty-four hours. I travelled in
the boat with five men and two women, but no one saw my face or heard
my voice, I kept constantly sitting down in a corner, holding my head
down, half asleep, and with this prayer-book in my hands. I was left
alone, no one spoke to me, and I thanked God for it. When I landed
on the wharf, you did not give me time to think how I could find out
the dwelling of my perfidious seducer, but you may imagine the
impression produced upon me by the sudden apparition of a masked man
who, abruptly, and as if placed there purposely by Providence,
offered me his services; it seemed to me that you had guessed my
distress, and, far from experiencing any repugnance, I felt that I
was acting rightly in trusting myself in your hands, in spite of all
prudence which, perhaps, ought to have made me turn a deaf ear to
your words, and refuse the invitation to enter alone with you the
house to which you took me.
"You know all now, sir; but I entreat you not to judge me too
severely; I have been virtuous all through my life; one month ago I
had never committed a fault which could call a blush upon my face,
and the bitter tears which I shed every day will, I hope, wash out my
crime in the eyes of God. I have been carefully brought up, but love
and the want of experience have thrown me into the abyss. I am in
your hands, and I feel certain that I shall have no cause to repent
I needed all she had just told' me to confirm me in the interest
which I had felt in her from the first moment. I told her
unsparingly that Steffani had seduced and abandoned her of malice
aforethought, and that she ought to think of him only to be revenged
of his perfidy. My words made her shudder, and she buried her
beautiful face in her hands.
We reached the widow's house. I established her in a pretty,
comfortable room, and ordered some supper for her, desiring the good
landlady to skew her every attention and to let her want for nothing.
I then took an affectionate leave of her, promising to see her early
in the morning.
On leaving this interesting but hapless girl, I proceeded to the
house of Steffani. I heard from one of his mother's gondoliers that
he had returned to Venice three days before, but that, twenty-four
hours after his return, he had gone away again without any servant,
and nobody knew his whereabouts, not even his mother. The same
evening, happening to be seated next to an abbe from Bologna at the
theatre, I asked him several questions respecting the family of my
The abbe being intimately acquainted with them, I gathered from him
all the information I required, and, amongst other things, I heard
that the young countess had a brother, then an officer in the papal
Very early the next morning I called upon her. She was still asleep.
The widow told me that she had made a pretty good supper, but without
speaking a single word, and that she had locked herself up in her
room immediately afterwards. As soon as she had opened her door, I
entered her room, and, cutting short her apologies for having kept me
waiting, I informed her of all I had heard.
Her features bore the stamp of deep sorrow, but she looked calmer,
and her complexion was no longer pale. She thought it unlikely that
Steffani would have left for any other place but for C-----.
Admitting the possibility that she might be right, I immediately
offered to go to C----- myself, and to return without loss of time to
fetch her, in case Steffani should be there. Without giving her time
to answer I told her all the particulars I had learned concerning her
honourable family, which caused her real satisfaction.
"I have no objection," she said, "to your going to C----, and I thank
you for the generosity of your offer, but I beg you will postpone
your journey. I still hope that Steffani will return, and then I can
take a decision."
"I think you are quite right," I said. "Will you allow me to have
some breakfast with you?"
"Do you suppose I could refuse you?"
"I should be very sorry to disturb you in any way. How did you use
to amuse yourself at home?"
"I am very fond of books and music; my harpsichord was my delight."
I left her after breakfast, and in the evening I came back with a
basket full of good books and music, and I sent her an excellent
harpsichord. My kindness confused her, but I surprised her much more
when I took out of my pocket three pairs of slippers. She blushed,
and thanked me with great feeling. She had walked a long distance,
her shoes were evidently worn out, her feet sore, and she appreciated
the delicacy of my present. As I had no improper design with regard
to her, I enjoyed her gratitude, and felt pleased at the idea she
evidently entertained of my kind attentions. I had no other purpose
in view but to restore calm to her mind, and to obliterate the bad
opinion which the unworthy Steffani had given her of men in general.
I never thought of inspiring her with love for me, and I had not the
slightest idea that I could fall in love with her. She was unhappy,
and her unhappiness--a sacred thing in my eyes--called all the more
for my most honourable sympathy, because, without knowing me, she had
given me her entire confidence. Situated as she was, I could not
suppose her heart susceptible of harbouring a new affection, and I
would have despised myself if I had tried to seduce her by any means
in my power.
I remained with her only a quarter of an hour, being unwilling that
my presence should trouble her at such a moment, as she seemed to be
at a loss how to thank me and to express all her gratitude.
I was thus engaged in a rather delicate adventure, the end of which I
could not possibly foresee, but my warmth for my protegee did not
cool down, and having no difficulty in procuring the means to keep
her I had no wish to see the last scene of the romance. That
singular meeting, which gave me the useful opportunity of finding
myself endowed with generous dispositions, stronger even than my love
for pleasure, flattered my self-love more than I could express. I
was then trying a great experiment, and conscious that I wanted sadly
to study myself, I gave up all my energies to acquire the great
science of the 'xxxxxxxxxxxx'.
On the third day, in the midst of expressions of gratitude which I
could not succeed in stopping she told me that she could not conceive
why I shewed her so much sympathy, because I ought to have formed but
a poor opinion of her in consequence of the readiness with which she
had followed me into the cafe. She smiled when I answered that I
could not understand how I had succeeded in giving her so great a
confidence in my virtue, when I appeared before her with a mask on my
face, in a costume which did not indicate a very virtuous character.
"It was easy for me, madam," I continued, "to guess that you were a
beauty in distress, when I observed your youth, the nobleness of your
countenance, and, more than all, your candour. The stamp of truth
was so well affixed to the first words you uttered that I could not
have the shadow of a doubt left in me as to your being the unhappy
victim of the most natural of all feelings, and as to your having
abandoned your home through a sentiment of honour. Your fault was
that of a warm heart seduced by love, over which reason could have no
sway, and your flight--the action of a soul crying for reparation or
for revenge-fully justifies you. Your cowardly seducer must pay with
his life the penalty due to his crime, and he ought never to receive,
by marrying you, an unjust reward, for he is not worthy of possessing
you after degrading himself by the vilest conduct."
"Everything you say is true. My brother, I hope, will avenge me."
"You are greatly mistaken if you imagine that Steffani will fight
your brother; Steffani is a coward who will never expose himself to
an honourable death."
As I was speaking, she put her hand in her pocket and drew forth,
after a few moments' consideration, a stiletto six inches long, which
she placed on the table.
"What is this?" I exclaimed.
"It is a weapon upon which I reckoned until now to use against myself
in case I should not succeed in obtaining reparation for the crime I
have committed. But you have opened my eyes. Take away, I entreat
you, this stiletto, which henceforth is useless to me. I trust in
your friendship, and I have an inward certainty that I shall be
indebted to you for my honour as well as for my life."
I was struck by the words she had just uttered, and I felt that those
words, as well as her looks, had found their way to my heart, besides
enlisting my generous sympathy. I took the stiletto, and left her
with so much agitation that I had to acknowledge the weakness of my
heroism, which I was very near turning into ridicule; yet I had the
wonderful strength to perform, at least by halves, the character of a
Cato until the seventh day.
I must explain how a certain suspicion of the young lady arose in my
mind. That doubt was heavy on my heart, for, if it had proved true,
I should have been a dupe, and the idea was humiliating. She had
told me that she was a musician; I had immediately sent her a
harpsichord, and, yet, although the instrument had been at her
disposal for three days, she had not opened it once, for the widow
had told me so. It seemed to me that the best way to thank me for my
attentive kindness would have been to give me a specimen of her
musical talent. Had she deceived me? If so, she would lose my
esteem. But, unwilling to form a hasty judgment, I kept on my guard,
with a firm determination to make good use of the first opportunity
that might present itself to clear up my doubts.
I called upon her the next day after dinner, which was not my usual
time, having resolved on creating the opportunity myself. I caught
her seated before a toilet-glass, while the widow dressed the most
beautiful auburn hair I had ever seen. I tendered my apologies for
my sudden appearance at an unusual hour; she excused herself for not
having completed her toilet, and the widow went on with her work. It
was the first time I had seen the whole of her face, her neck, and
half of her arms, which the graces themselves had moulded. I
remained in silent contemplation. I praised, quite by chance, the
perfume of the pomatum, and the widow took the opportunity of telling
her that she had spent in combs, powder, and pomatum the three livres
she had received from her. I recollected then that she had told me
the first day that she had left C----- with ten paoli.
I blushed for very shame, for I ought to have thought of that.
As soon as the widow had dressed her hair, she left the room to
prepare some coffee for us. I took up a ring which had been laid by
her on the toilet-table, and I saw that it contained a portrait
exactly like her; I was amused at the singular fancy she had had of
having her likeness taken in a man's costume, with black hair. "You
are mistaken," she said, "it is a portrait of my brother. He is two
years older than I, and is an officer in the papal army."
I begged her permission to put the ring on her finger; she consented,
and when I tried, out of mere gallantry, to kiss her hand, she drew
it back, blushing. I feared she might be offended, and I assured her
of my respect.
"Ah, sir!" she answered, "in the situation in which I am placed, I
must think of defending myself against my own self much more than
The compliment struck me as so fine, and so complimentary to me, that
I thought it better not to take it up, but she could easily read in
my eyes that she would never find me ungrateful for whatever feelings
she might entertain in my favour. Yet I felt my love taking such
proportions that I did not know how to keep it a mystery any longer.
Soon after that, as she was again thanking me for the books--I had
given her, saying that I had guessed her taste exactly, because she
did not like novels, she added, "I owe you an apology for not having
sung to you yet, knowing that you are fond of music." These words
made me breathe freely; without waiting for any answer, she sat down
before the instrument and played several pieces with a facility, with
a precision, with an expression of which no words could convey any
idea. I was in ecstacy. I entreated her to sing; after some little
ceremony, she took one of the music books I had given her, and she
sang at sight in a manner which fairly ravished me. I begged that
she would allow me to kiss her hand, and she did not say yes, but
when I took it and pressed my lips on it, she did not oppose any
resistance; I had the courage to smother my ardent desires, and the
kiss I imprinted on her lovely hand was a mixture of tenderness,
respect, and admiration.
I took leave of her, smitten, full of love, and almost determined on
declaring my passion. Reserve becomes silliness when we know that
our affection is returned by the woman we love, but as yet I was not
The disappearance of Steffani was the talk of Venice, but I did not
inform the charming countess of that circumstance. It was generally
supposed that his mother had refused to pay his debts, and that he
had run away to avoid his creditors. It was very possible. But,
whether he returned or not, I could not make up my mind to lose the
precious treasure I had in my hands. Yet I did not see in what
manner, in what quality, I could enjoy that treasure, and I found
myself in a regular maze. Sometimes I had an idea of consulting my
kind father, but I would soon abandon it with fear, for I had made a
trial of his empiric treatment in the Rinaldi affair, and still more
in the case of l'Abbadie. His remedies frightened me to that extent
that I would rather remain ill than be cured by their means.
One morning I was foolish enough to enquire from the widow whether
the lady had asked her who I was. What an egregious blunder! I saw
it when the good woman, instead of answering me, said,
"Does she not know who you are?"
"Answer me, and do not ask questions," I said, in order to hide my
The worthy woman was right; through my stupidity she would now feel
curious; the tittle-tattle of the neighbourhood would of course take
up the affair and discuss it; and all through my thoughtlessness! It
was an unpardonable blunder. One ought never to be more careful than
in addressing questions to half-educated persons. During the
fortnight that she had passed under my protection, the countess had
shewn me no curiosity whatever to know anything about me, but it did
not prove that she was not curious on the subject. If I had been
wise, I should have told her the very first day who I was, but I made
up for my mistake that evening better than anybody else could have
done it, and, after having told her all about myself, I entreated her
forgiveness for not having done so sooner. Thanking me for my
confidence, she confessed how curious she had been to know me better,
and she assured me that she would never have been imprudent enough to
ask any questions about me from her landlady. Women have a more
delicate, a surer tact than men, and her last words were a home-
thrust for me.
Our conversation having turned to the extraordinary absence of
Steffani, she said that her father must necessarily believe her to be
hiding with him somewhere. "He must have found out," she added,
"that I was in the habit of conversing with him every night from my
window, and he must have heard of my having embarked for Venice on
board the Ferrara barge. I feel certain that my father is now in
Venice, making secretly every effort to discover me. When he visits
this city he always puts up at Boncousin; will you ascertain whether
he is there?"
She never pronounced Steffani's name without disgust and hatred, and
she said she would bury herself in a convent, far away from her
native place, where no one could be acquainted with her shameful
I intended to make some enquiries the next day, but it was not
necessary for me to do so, for in the evening, at supper-time, M.
Barbaro said to us,
"A nobleman, a subject of the Pope, has been recommended to me, and
wishes me to assist him with my influence in a rather delicate and
intricate matter. One of our citizens has, it appears, carried off
his daughter, and has been hiding somewhere with her for the last
fortnight, but nobody knows where. The affair ought to be brought
before the Council of Ten, but the mother of the ravisher claims to
be a relative of mine, and I do not intend to interfere."
I pretended to take no interest in M. Barbaro's words, and early the
next morning I went to the young countess to tell her the interesting
news. She was still asleep; but, being in a hurry, I sent the widow
to say that I wanted to see her only for two minutes in order to
communicate something of great importance. She received me, covering
herself up to the chin with the bed-clothes.
As soon as I had informed her of all I knew, she entreated me to
enlist M. Barbaro as a mediator between herself and her father,
assuring me that she would rather die than become the wife of the
monster who had dishonoured her. I undertook to do it, and she gave
me the promise of marriage used by the deceiver to seduce her, so
that it could be shewn to her father.
In order to obtain M. Barbaro's mediation in favour of the young
countess, it would have been necessary to tell him that she was under
my protection, and I felt it would injure my protegee. I took no
Back to Full Books