The Complete Memoires of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
Part 34 out of 70
such questions she must have reasoned over them. She might have
rejoined that the stupidity was on our side, but by so doing she
would have betrayed herself.
Lebel did not reply to his sweetheart, but M. de Chavigni wrote me a
letter of four pages. He spoke like a philosopher and an experienced
man of the world.
He shewed me that if I were an old man like him, and able to insure a
happy and independent existence to my sweetheart after my death, I
should do well to keep her from all men, especially as there was so
perfect a sympathy between us; but that as I was a young man, and did
not intend to bind myself to her by the ties of marriage, I should
not only consent to a union which seemed for her happiness, but that
as a man of honour it was my duty to use my influence with her in
favour of the match. "With your experience," said the kind old
gentleman, "you ought to know that a time would come when you would
regret both having lost this opportunity, for your love is sure to
become friendship, and then another love will replace that which you
now think as firm as the god Terminus.
"Lebel," he added, "has told me his plans, and far from disapproving,
I have encouraged him, for your charming friend won my entire esteem
in the five or six times I had the pleasure of seeing her with you.
I shall be delighted, therefore, to have her in my house, where I can
enjoy her conversation without transgressing the laws of propriety.
Nevertheless, you will understand that at my age I have formed no
desires, for I could not satisfy them even if their object were
propitious." He ended by telling me that Lebel had not fallen in
love in a young man's style, that he had reflected on what he was
doing, and that he would consequently not hurry her, as she would see
in the letter he was going to send her. A marriage ought always to
be undertaken in cold blood.
I gave the letter to my housekeeper, who read it attentively, and
gave it back to me quite coolly.
"What do you think of his advice, dearest?"
"I think I had better follow it: he says there is no hurry, and delay
is all we want. Let us love each other and think only of that. This
letter is written with great wisdom, but I cannot imagine our
becoming indifferent to each other, though I know such a thing is
"Never indifferent; you make a mistake there."
"Well, friends, then; and that is not much better after being
"But friendship, dearest, is never indifferent. Love, it is true,
may be in its composition. We know it, as it has been thus from the
beginning of the world."
"Then the ambassador was right. Repentance might come and torment us
when love had been replaced by calmer friendship."
"If you think so, let us marry each other to-morrow, and punish
thereby the vices of our human nature."
"Yes, we will marry, but there is no hurry; fearing lest hymen should
quicken the departure of love, let us enjoy our happiness while we
"You speak admirably, my angel, and deserve the greatest good
"I wish for no greater than what you procure me."
We went to bed, continuing our discussions, and when we were in each
other's arms we made an arrangement which suited us very well.
"Lausanne," said she, "is a little town where you would meet with the
warmest hospitality, and during your fortnight's stay you will have
nothing to do but to make visits and to go to suppers. I am known to
all the nobility, and the Duke of Rosebury, who wearied me with his
love-making, is still there. My appearance with you will make
everybody talk, and it will be as annoying for you as for me. My
mother lives there, too. She would say nothing, but in her heart she
would be ill-pleased to see me as the housekeeper of a man like you,
for common sense would inform everyone that I was your mistress."
I thought she was right, and that it would be well to respect the
rules of society. We decided that she should go to Lausanne by
herself and stay with her mother, that in two or three days I should
follow her, and should live by myself, as long as I liked, having
full liberty to see her at her mother's.
"When you leave Lausanne," said she, "I will rejoin you at Geneva,
and then we will travel together where you please and as long as our
In two days she started early in the morning, sure of my constancy,
and congratulating herself on her discretion. I was sad at her
leaving me, but my calls to take leave served to rouse me from my
grief. I wished to make M. Haller's acquaintance before I left
Switzerland, and the mayor, M. de Muralt, gave me a letter of
introduction to him very handsomely expressed. M. de Haller was the
bailiff of Roche.
When I called to take leave of Madame de la Saone I found her in bed,
and I was obliged to remain by her bedside for a quarter of an hour.
She spoke of her disease, and gave the conversation such a turn that
she was able with perfect propriety to let me see that the ravages of
the disease had not impaired the beauty of her body. The sight
convinced me that Mignard had need of less courage than I thought,
and I was within an inch of doing her the same service. It was easy
enough to look only at her body, and it would have been difficult to
behold anything more beautiful.
I know well that prudes and hypocrites, if they ever read these
Memoirs, will be scandalized at the poor lady, but in shewing her
person so readily she avenged herself on the malady which had
disfigured her. Perhaps, too, her goodness of heart and politeness
told her what a trial it was to look at her face, and she wished to
indemnify the man who disguised his feelings of repugnance by shewing
him what gifts nature had given her. I am sure, ladies, that the
most prudish--nay, the most virtuous, amongst you, if you were
unfortunate enough to be so monstrously deformed in the face, would
introduce some fashion which would conceal your ugliness, and display
those beauties which custom hides from view. And doubtless Madame de
la Saone would have been more chary of her person if she had been
able to enchant with her face like you.
The day I left I dined with M---- I----, and was severely taken to
task by pretty Sara for having sent her little wife away before me.
The reader will see how I met her again at London three years later.
Le Duc was still in the doctor's hands, and very weak; but I made him
go with me, as I had a good deal of property, and I could not trust
it to anybody else.
I left Berne feeling naturally very sad. I had been happy there, and
to this day the thought of it is a pleasant one.
I had to consult Dr. Herrenschwand about Madame d'Urfe, so I stopped
at Morat, where he lived, and which is only four leagues from Berne.
The doctor made me dine with him that I might try the fish of the
lake, which I found delicious. I had intended to go on directly
after dinner, but I was delayed by a curiosity of which I shall
inform the reader.
After I had given the doctor a fee of two Louis for his advice, in
writing, on a case of tapeworm, he made me walk with him by the
Avanches road, and we went as far as the famous mortuary of Morat.
"This mortuary," said the doctor, "was constructed with part of the
bones of the Burgundians, who perished here at the well-known battle
lost by Charles the Bold."
The Latin inscription made me laugh.
"This inscription," said I, "contains an insulting jest; it is almost
burlesque, for the gravity of an inscription should not allow of
The doctor, like a patriotic Swiss, would not allow it, but I think
it was false shame on his part. The inscription ran as follows, and
the impartial reader can judge of its nature:
"Deo. opt. Max. Caroli inclyti et fortisimi Burgundie duds
exercitus Muratum obsidens, ab Helvetiis cesus, hoc sui
monumentum reliquit anno MCDLXXVI."
Till then I had had a great idea of Morat. Its fame of seven
centuries, three sieges sustained and repulsed, all had given me a
sublime notion of it; I expected to see something and saw nothing.
"Then Morat has been razed to the ground?" said I to the doctor.
"Not at all, it is as it always has been, or nearly so."
I concluded that a man who wants to be well informed should read
first and then correct his knowledge by travel. To know ill is worse
than not to know at all, and Montaigne says that we ought to know
But it was the following comic adventure which made me spend the
night at Morat:
I found at the inn a young maid who spoke a sort of rustic Italian.
She struck me by her great likeness to my fair stocking-seller at
Paris. She was called Raton, a name which my memory has happily
preserved. I offered her six francs for her favours, but she refused
the money with a sort of pride, telling me that I had made a mistake
and that she was an honest girl.
"It may be so," said I, and I ordered my horses to be put in. When
the honest Raton saw me on the point of leaving, she said, with an
air that was at once gay and timid, that she wanted two louis, and if
I liked to give her them and pass the night with her I should be well
"I will stay, but remember to be kind."
When everybody had gone to bed, she came into my room with a little
frightened manner, calculated to redouble my ardour, but by great
good luck, feeling I had a necessity, I took the light and ran to the
place where I could satisfy it. While there I amused myself by
reading innumerable follies one finds written in such places, and
suddenly my eyes lighted on these words:--
"This tenth day of August, 1760, the wretched Raton gave me the what-
d'-you-call-it: reader, beware."
I was almost tempted to believe in miracles, for I could not think
there were two Ratons in the same house. I returned gaily to my room
and found my sweetheart in bed without her chemise. I went to the
place beside the bed where she had thrown it down, and as soon as she
saw me touching it she begged me in a fright not to do so, as it was
not clean. She was right, for it bore numerous marks of the disease
which infected her. It may be imagined that my passion cooled, and
that I sent her away in a moment; but I felt at the same time the
greatest gratitude to what is called chance, for I should have never
thought of examining a girl whose face was all lilies and roses, and
who could not be more than eighteen.
Next day I went to Roche to see the celebrated Haller.
M. Haller--My Stay at Lausanne--Lord Rosebury--The Young Saconai--
Dissertation on Beauty--The Young Theologian
M. Haller was a man six feet high and broad in a proportion; he was a
well-made man, and a physical as well as a mental colossus. He
received me courteously, and when he had read M. de Muralt's letter,
he displayed the greatest politeness, which shews that a good letter
of introduction is never out of place. This learned man displayed to
me all the treasures of his knowledge, replying with exactitude to
all my questions, and above all with a rare modesty which astonished
me greatly, for whilst he explained the most difficult questions, he
had the air of a scholar who would fain know; but on the other hand,
when he asked me a scientific question, it was with so delicate an
art that I could not help giving the right answer.
M. de Haller was a great physiologist, a great doctor, and a great
anatomist. He called Morgagni his master, though he had himself made
numerous discoveries relating to the frame of man. While I stayed
with him he shewed me a number of letters from Morgagni and
Pontedera, a professor of botany, a science of which Haller had an
extensive knowledge. Hearing me speak of these learned men whose
works I had read at an early age, he complained that Pontedera's
letters were almost illegible and written in extremely obscure Latin.
He shewed me a letter from a Berlin Academician, whose name I have
forgotten, who said that since the king had read his letter he had no
more thoughts of suppressing the Latin language. Haller had written
to Frederick the Great that a monarch who succeeded in the unhappy
enterprise of proscribing the language of Cicero and Virgil from the
republic of letters would raise a deathless monument to his own
ignorance. If men of letters require a universal language to
communicate with one another, Latin is certainly the best, for Greek
and Arabic do not adapt themselves in the same way to the genius of
Haller was a good poet of the Pindaric kind; he was also an excellent
statesman, and had rendered great services to his country. His
morals were irreproachable, and I remember his telling me that the
only way to give precepts was to do so by example. As a good citizen
he was an admirable paterfamilias, for what greater proof could he
give of his love of country than by presenting it with worthy
subjects in his children, and such subjects result from a good
education. His wife was still young, and bore on her features the
marks of good nature and discretion. He had a charming daughter of
about eighteen; her appearance was modest, and at table she only
opened her mouth to speak in a low tone to a young man who sat beside
her. After dinner, finding myself alone with M. Haller, I asked him
who this young man was. He told me he was his daughter's tutor.
"A tutor like that and so pretty a pupil might easily become lovers."
"Yes, please God."
This Socratic reply made me see how misplaced my remark had been, and
I felt some confusion. Finding a book to my hand I opened it to
restore my composure.
It was an octavo volume of his works, and I read in it:
"Utrum memoria post mortem dubito."
"You do not think, then," said I, "that the memory is an essential
part of the soul?"
"How is that question to be answered?" M. de Haller replied,
cautiously, as he had his reasons for being considered orthodox.
During dinner I asked if M. de Voltaire came often to see him. By
way of reply he repeated these lines of the poet:--
"Vetabo qui Cereris sacrum vulgarit arcanum sub usdem sit trabibus."
I spent three days with this celebrated man, but I thought myself
obliged to refrain from asking his opinion on any religious
questions, although I had a great desire to do so, as it would have
pleased me to have had his opinion on that delicate subject; but I
believe that in matters of that kind M. Haller judged only by his
heart. I told him, however, that I should consider a visit to
Voltaire as a great event, and he said I was right. He added,
without the slightest bitterness,
"M. de Voltaire is a man who ought to be known, although, in spite of
the laws of nature, many persons have found him greater at a distance
than close at hand."
M. de Haller kept a good and abundant though plain table; he only
drank water. At dessert only he allowed himself a small glass of
liqueur drowned in an enormous glass of water. He talked a great
deal of Boerhaave, whose favourite pupil he had been. He said that
after Hypocrates, Boerhaave was the greatest doctor and the greatest
chemist that had ever existed.
"How is it," said I, "that he did not attain mature age?"
"Because there is no cure for death. Boerhaave was born a doctor, as
Homer was born a poet; otherwise he would have succumbed at the age
of fourteen to a malignant ulcer which had resisted all the best
treatment of the day. He cured it himself by rubbing it constantly
with salt dissolved in his own urine."
"I have been told that he possessed the philosopher's stone."
"Yes, but I don't believe it."
"Do you think it possible?"
"I have been working for the last thirty years to convince myself of
its impossibility; I have not yet done so, but I am sure that no one
who does not believe in the possibility of the great work can be a
When I left him he begged me to write and tell him what I thought of
the great Voltaire, and in, this way our French correspondence began.
I possess twenty-two letters from this justly celebrated man; and the
last word written six months before, his too, early death. The
longer I live the more interest I take in my papers. They are the
treasure which attaches me to life and makes death more hateful
I had been reading at Berne Rousseau's "Heloise," and I asked M.
Haller's opinion of it. He told me that he had once read part of it
to oblige a friend, and from this part he could judge of the whole.
"It is the worst of all romances, because it is the most eloquently
expressed. You will see the country of Vaud, but don't expect to see
the originals of the brilliant portraits which Jean Jacques painted.
He seems to have thought that lying was allowable in a romance, but
he has abused the privilege. Petrarch, was a learned man, and told
no lies in speaking of his love for Laura, whom he loved as every man
loves the woman with whom he is taken; and if Laura had not contented
her illustrious lover, he would not have celebrated her."
Thus Haller spoke to me of Petrarch, mentioning Rousseau with
aversion. He disliked his very eloquence, as he said it owed all its
merits to antithesis and paradox. Haller was a learned man of the
first class, but his knowledge was not employed for the purpose of
ostentation, nor in private life, nor when he was in the company of
people who did not care for science. No one knew better than he how
to accommodate himself to his company he was friendly with everyone,
and never gave offence. But what were his qualifications? It would
be much easier to say what he had not than what he had. He had no
pride, self-sufficiency, nor tone of superiority--in fact, none of
those defects which are often the reproach of the learned and the
He was a man of austere virtue, but he took care to hide the
austerity under a veil of a real and universal kindness. Undoubtedly
he thought little of the ignorant, who talk about everything right or
wrong, instead of remaining silent, and have at bottom only contempt
for the learned; but he only shewed his contempt by saying nothing.
He knew that a despised ignoramus becomes an enemy, and Haller wished
to be loved. He neither boasted of nor concealed his knowledge, but
let it run like a limpid stream flowing through the meadows. He
talked well, but never absorbed the conversation. He never spoke of
his works; when someone mentioned them he would turn the conversation
as soon as he conveniently could. He was sorry to be obliged to
contradict anyone who conversed with him.
When I reached Lausanne I found myself enabled to retain my incognito
for a day at any rate. I naturally gave the first place to my
affections. I went straight to my sweetheart without needing to ask
my way, so well had she indicated the streets through which I had to
pass. I found her with her mother, but I was not a little astonished
to see Lebel there also. However, my surprise must have passed
unnoticed, for my housekeeper, rising from her seat with a cry of
joy, threw her arms about my neck, and after having kissed me
affectionately presented me to her worthy mother, who welcomed me in
the friendliest manner. I asked Lebel after the ambassador, and how
long he had been at Lausanne.
He replied, with a polite and respectful air, that his master was
quite well, and that he had come to Lausanne on business, and had
only been there a few hours; and that, wishing to pay his regards to
Madame Dubois's mother, he had been pleasantly surprised to see the
daughter there as well.
"You know," he added, "what my intentions are. I have to go back to-
morrow, and when you have made up your minds, write to me and I will
come and take her to Soleure, where I will marry her."
He could not have spoken more plainly or honourably. I said that I
would never oppose the will of my sweetheart, and my Dubois,
interrupting me, said in her turn that she would never leave me until
I sent her away.
Lebel found these replies too vague, and told me with noble freedom
that we must give him a definite reply, since in such cases
uncertainty spoils all. At that moment I felt as if I could never
agree to his wishes, and I told him that in ten days I would let him
know of our resolution, whatever it was. At that he was satisfied,
and left us.
After his departure my sweetheart's mother, whose good sense stood
her instead of wit, talked to us in a manner that answered our
inclinations, for, amorous as we were, we could not bear the idea of
parting. I agreed that my housekeeper should wait up for me till
midnight, and that we could talk over our reply with our heads on the
My Dubois had a separate room with a good bed and excellent
furniture. She gave me a very good supper, and we spent a delicious
night. In the morning we felt more in love than ever, and were not
at all disposed to comply with Lebel's wishes. Nevertheless, we had
a serious conversation.
The reader will remember that my mistress had promised to pardon my
infidelities, provided that I confessed them. I had none to confess,
but in the course of conversation I told her about Raton.
"We ought to think ourselves very fortunate," said she, "for if it
had not been for chance, we should have been in a fine state now."
"Yes, and I should be in despair."
"I don't doubt it, and you would be all the more wretched as I should
never complain to you."
"I only see one way of providing against such a misfortune. When I
have been unfaithful to you I will punish myself by depriving myself
of the pleasure of giving you proofs of my affection till I am
certain that I can do so without danger."
"Ah! you would punish me for your faults, would you? If you love me
as I love you, believe me you would find a better remedy than that."
"What is that?"
"You would never be unfaithful to me."
"You are right. I am sorry I was not the first to think of this
plan, which I promise to follow for the future."
"Don't make any promises," said she, with a sigh, "it might prove too
difficult to keep them."
It is only love which can inspire such conversations, but
unfortunately it gains nothing by them.
Next morning, just as I was going out to take my letters, the Baron
de Bercei, uncle of my friend Bavois, entered.
"I know," said he, "that my nephew owes his fortune to you; he is
just going to be made general, and I and all the family will be
enchanted to make your acquaintance. I have come to offer my
services, and to beg that you will dine with me to-day, and on any
other day you please when you have nothing better to do, and I hope
you will always consider yourself of the family.
"At the same time I beg of you not to tell anybody that my nephew has
become a Catholic, as according to the prejudices of the country it
would be a dishonour which would reflect on the whole family."
I accepted his invitation, and promised to say nothing about the
circumstance he had mentioned.
I left my letters of introduction, and I received everywhere a
welcome of the most distinguished kind. Madame de Gentil-Langalerie
appeared the most amiable of all the ladies I called on, but I had
not time to pay my court to one more than another. Every day
politeness called me to some dinner, supper, ball, or assembly. I
was bored beyond measure, and I felt inclined to say how troublesome
it is to have such a welcome. I spent a fortnight in the little
town, where everyone prides himself on his liberty, and in all my
life I have never experienced such a slavery, for I had not a moment
to myself. I was only able to pass one night with my sweetheart, and
I longed to set off with her for Geneva. Everybody would give me
letters of introduction for M. de Voltaire, and by their eagerness
one would have thought the great man beloved, whereas all detested
him on account of his sarcastic humour.
"What, ladies!" said I, "is not M. de Voltaire good-natured, polite,
and affable to you who have been kind enough to act in his plays with
"Not in the least. When he hears us rehearse he grumbles all the
time. We never say a thing to please him: here it is a bad
pronunciation, there a tone not sufficiently passionate, sometimes
one speaks too softly, sometimes too loudly; and it's worse when we
are acting. What a hubbub there is if one add a syllable, or if some
carelessness spoil one of his verses. He frightens us. So and so
laughed badly; so and so in Alzire had only pretended to weep."
"Does he want you to weep really?"
"Certainly. He will have real tears. He says that if an actor wants
to draw tears he must shed them himself."
"I think he is right there; but he should not be so severe with
amateurs, above all with charming actresses like you. Such
perfection is only to be looked for from professionals, but all
authors are the same. They never think that the actor has pronounced
the words with the force which the sense, as they see it, requires."
"I told him, one day, that it was not my fault if his lines had not
the proper force."
"I am sure he laughed."
"Laughed? No, sneered, for he is a rude and impertinent man."
"But I suppose you overlook all these failings?"
"Not at all; we have sent him about his business."
"Sent him about his business?"
"Yes. He left the house he had rented here, at short notice, and
retired to where you will find him now. He never comes to see us
now, even if we ask him."
"Oh, you do ask him, though you sent him about his business?"
"We cannot deprive ourselves of the pleasure of admiring his talents,
and if we have teased him, that was only from revenge, and to teach
him something of the manners of good society."
"You have given a lesson to a great master."
"Yes; but when you see him mention Lausanne, and see what he will say
of us. But he will say it laughingly, that's his way."
During my stay I often saw Lord Rosebury, who had vainly courted my
charming Dubois. I have never known a young man more disposed to
silence. I have been told that he had wit, that he was well
educated, and even in high spirits at times, but he could not get
over his shyness, which gave him an almost indefinable air of
stupidity. At balls, assemblies--in fact, everywhere, his manners
consisted of innumerable bows. When one spoke to him, he replied in
good French but with the fewest possible words, and his shy manner
shewed that every question was a trouble to him. One day when I was
dining with him, I asked him some question about his country, which
required five or six small phrases by way of answer. He gave me an
excellent reply, but blushed all the time like a young girl when she
comes out. The celebrated Fox who was then twenty, and was at the
same dinner, succeeded in making him laugh, but it was by saying
something in English, which I did not understand in the least. Eight
months after I saw him again at Turin, he was then amorous of a
banker's wife, who was able to untie his tongue.
At Lausanne I saw a young girl of eleven or twelve by whose beauty I
was exceedingly struck. She was the daughter of Madame de Saconai,
whom I had known at Berne. I do not know her after history, but the
impression she made on me has never been effaced. Nothing in nature
has ever exercised such a powerful influence over me as a pretty
face, even if it be a child's.
The Beautiful, as I have been told, is endowed with this power of
attraction; and I would fain believe it, since that which attracts me
is necessarily beautiful in my eyes, but is it so in reality? I
doubt it, as that which has influenced me has not influenced others.
The universal or perfect beauty does not exist, or it does not
possess this power. All who have discussed the subject have
hesitated to pronounce upon it, which they would not have done if
they had kept to the idea of form. According to my ideas, beauty is
only form, for that which is not beautiful is that which has no form,
and the deformed is the opposite of the 'pulchrum' and 'formosum'.
We are right to seek for the definitions of things, but when we have
them to hand in the words; why should we go farther? If the word
'forma' is Latin, we should seek for the Latin meaning and not the
French, which, however, often uses 'deforme' or 'difforme' instead of
'laid', ugly, without people's noticing that its opposite should be a
word which implies the existence of form; and this can only be
beauty. We should note that 'informe' in French as well as in Latin
means shapeless, a body without any definite appearance.
We will conclude, then, that it is the beauty of woman which has
always exercised an irresistible sway over me, and more especially
that beauty which resides in the face. It is there the power lies,
and so true is that, that the sphinxes of Rome and Versailles almost
make me fall in love with them. though, the face excepted, they are
deformed in every sense of the word. In looking at the fine
proportions of their faces one forgets their deformed bodies. What,
then, is beauty? We know not; and when we attempt to define it or
to enumerate its qualities we become like Socrates, we hesitate. The
only thing that our minds can seize is the effect produced by it, and
that which charms, ravishes, and makes me in love, I call beauty. It
is something that can be seen with the eyes, and for my eyes I speak.
If they had a voice they would speak better than I, but probably in
the same sense.
No painter has surpassed Raphael in the beauty of the figures which
his divine pencil produced; but if this great painter had been asked
what beauty was, he would probably have replied that he could not
say, that he knew it by heart, and that he thought he had reproduced
it whenever he had seen it, but that he did not know in what it
"That face pleases me," he would say, "it is therefore beautiful!"
He ought to have thanked God for having given him such an exquisite
eye for the beautiful; but 'omne pulchrum difficile'.
The painters of high renown, all those whose works proclaim genius,
have excelled in the delineation of the beautiful; but how small is
their number compared to the vast craved who have strained every
nerve to depict beauty and have only left us mediocrity!
If a painter could be dispensed from making his works beautiful,
every man might be an artist; for nothing is easier than to fashion
ugliness, and brush and canvas would be as easy to handle as mortar
Although portrait-painting is the most important branch of the art,
it is to be noted that those who have succeeded in this line are very
few. There are three kinds of portraits: ugly likenesses, perfect
likenesses, and those which to a perfect likeness add an almost
imperceptible character of beauty. The first class is worthy only of
contempt and their authors of stoning, for to want of taste and
talent they add impertinence, and yet never seem to see their
failings. The second class cannot be denied to possess real merit;
but the palm belongs to the third, which, unfortunately, are seldom
found, and whose authors deserve the large fortunes they amass. Such
was the famous Notier, whom I knew in Paris in the year 1750. This
great artist was then eighty, and in spite of his great age his
talents seemed in all their freshness. He painted a plain woman; it
was a speaking likeness, and in spite of that those who only saw the
portrait pronounced her to be a handsome woman. Nevertheless, the
most minute examination would not have revealed any faithlessness to
the original, but some imperceptible touches gave a real but
indefinite air of beauty to the whole. Whence does that magic art
take its source? One day, when he had been painting the plain-
looking "Mesdames de France," who on the canvas looked like two
Aspasias, I asked him the above question. He answered:--
"It is a magic which the god of taste distils from my brains through
my brushes. It is the divinity of Beauty whom all the world adores,
and which no one can define, since no one knows of what it consists.
That canvas shews you what a delicate shade there is between beauty
and ugliness; and nevertheless this shade seems an enormous
difference to those unacquainted with art."
The Greek painters made Venus, the goddess of beauty, squint-eyed,
and this odd idea has been praised by some; but these painters were
certainly in the wrong.
Two squinting eyes might be beautiful, but certainly not so beautiful
as if they did not squint, for whatever beauty they had could not
proceed from their deformity.
After this long digression, with which the reader may not be very
well pleased, it is time for me to return to my sweetheart. The
tenth day of my visit to Lausanne, I went to sup and sleep with my
mistress, and that night was the happiest I remember. In the
morning, while we were taking coffee with her mother, I observed that
we seemed in no hurry to part. At this, the mother, a woman of few
words, took up the discourse in a polite and dignified manner, and
told me it was my duty to undeceive Lebel before I left; and at the
same time she gave me a letter she had had from him the evening
before. The worthy man begged her to remind me that if I could not
make up my mind to separate from her daughter before I left Lausanne,
it would be much more difficult for me to do so when I was farther
off; above all, if, as would probably be the case, she gave me a
living pledge of her love. He said that he had no thoughts of
drawing back from his word, but he should wish to be able to say that
he had taken his wife from her mother's hands.
When I had read the letter aloud, the worthy mother wept, and left us
alone. A moment's silence ensued, and with a sigh that shewed what
it cost her, my dear Dubois had the courage to tell me that I must
instantly write to Lebel to give up all pretensions to her, or to
come and take her at once.
"If I write and tell him to think no more of you, I must marry you
With this no she arose and left me. I thought it over for a quarter
of an hour, I weighed the pros and cons and still my love shrank from
the sacrifice. At last, on consideration that my housekeeper would
never have such a chance again, that I was not sure that I could
always make her happy, I resolved to be generous, and determined to
write to Lebel that Madame Dubois had decided of her own free will to
become his wife, that I had no right to oppose her resolution, and
that I would go so far as to congratulate him on a happiness I envied
him. I begged him to leave Soleure at once and come and receive her
in my presence from the hands of her worthy mother.
I signed the letter and took it to my housekeeper, who was in her
mother's room. "Take this letter, dearest, and read it, and if you
approve its contents put your signature beside mine." She read it
several times, while her good mother wept, and then, with an
affectionate and sorrowful air, she took the pen and signed. I
begged her mother to find somebody to take the letter to Soleure
immediately, before my resolution was weakened by repentance.
The messenger came, and as soon as he had gone, "Farewell," said I,
embracing her, with my eyes wet with tears, "farewell, we shall see
each other again as soon as Lebel comes."
I went to my inn, a prey to the deepest grief. This sacrifice had
given a new impetus to my love for this charming woman, and I felt a
sort of spasm, which made me afraid I should get ill. I shut myself
up in my room, and I ordered the servants to say I was unwell and
could see no one.
In the evening of the fourth day after, Lebel was announced. He
embraced me, saying his happiness would be due to me. He then left
me, telling me he would expect me at the house of his future bride.
"Excuse me to-day, my dear fellow," said I, "but I will dine with you
When he had left me, I told Le Duc to make all preparations for our
leaving the next day after dinner.
I went out early on the following day to take leave of everybody, and
at noon Lebel came to take me to that sad repast, at which, however,
I was not so sad as I had feared.
As I was leaving I begged the future Madame Lebel to return me the
ring I had given her, and as we had agreed, I presented her with a
roll of a hundred Louis, which she took with a melancholy air.
"I should never have sold it," she said, "for I have no need of
"In that case I will give it back to you, but promise me never to
part with it, and keep the hundred Louis as some small reward of the
services you have rendered me."
She shook my hand affectionately, put on my finger her wedding ring,
and left me to hide her grief. I wiped my tears away, and said to
"You are about to possess yourself of a treasure which I cannot
commend too highly. You are a man of honour; you will appreciate her
excellent qualities, and you will know how to make her happy. She
will love you only, take care of your household, and keep no secrets
from you. She is full of wit and spirits, and will easily disperse
the slightest shadow of ill humour which may fall on you."
I went in with him to the mother's room to take leave of her, and
Madame Dubois begged me to delay my departure and sup once more with
her. I told her that my horses were put in and the carriage waiting
at my door, and that such a delay would set tongues talking; but that
if she liked, she, her future husband and her mother, could come and
see me at an inn two leagues off on the Geneva road, where we could
stay as long as we liked. Lebel approved of the plan, and my
proposition was accepted.
When I got back to my inn I found my carriage ready, and I got in and
drove to the meeting-place, and ordered a good supper for four, and
an hour later my guests arrived.
The gay and even happy air of the newly betrothed surprised me, but
what astonished me more was the easy way with which she threw herself
into my arms as soon as she saw me. It put me quite out of
countenance, but she had more wit than I. However, I mustered up
sufficient strength to follow her cue, but I could not help thinking
that if she had really loved me she would not have found it possible
to pass thus from love to mere friendship. However, I imitated her,
and made no objections to those marks of affection allowed to
friendship, which are supposed to have no tincture of love in them.
At supper I thought I saw that Lebel was more delighted at having
such a wife than at the prospect of enjoying her and satisfying a
strong passion. That calmed me; I could not be jealous of a man like
that. I perceived, too, that my sweetheart's high spirits were more
feigned than real; she wished to make me share them so as to render
our separation less bitter, and to tranquillise her future husband as
to the nature of our feelings for one another. And when reason and
time had quieted the tempest in my heart, I could not help thinking
it very natural that she should be pleased at the prospect of being
independent, and of enjoying a fortune.
We made an excellent supper, which we washed down so well that at
last the gaiety which had been simulated ended by being real. I
looked at the charming Dubois with pleasure; I regarded her as a
treasure which had belonged to me, and which after making me happy
was with my full consent about to ensure the happiness of another.
It seemed to me that I had been magnanimous enough to give her the
reward she deserved, like a good Mussulman who gives a favourite
slave his freedom in return for his fidelity. Her sallies made me
laugh and recalled the happy moments I had passed with her, but the
idea of her happiness prevented my regretting having yielded my
rights to another.
As Lebel was obliged to return to Lausanne in order to get back to
Soleure in two days, we had to part. I embraced him and asked him to
continue his friendship towards me, and he promised with great
effusion to be my friend till death. As we were going down the
stair, my charming friend said, with great candour,
"I am not really gay, but I oblige myself to appear so. I shall not
be happy till the scar on my heart has healed. Lebel can only claim
my esteem, but I shall be his alone though my love be all for you.
When we see each other again, as from what you say I hope we shall,
we shall be able to meet as true friends, and perhaps we shall
congratulate each other on the wise part we have taken. As for you,
though I do not think you will forget me, I am sure that before long
some more or less worthy object will replace me and banish your
sorrow. I hope it will be so. Be happy. I may be with child; and
if it prove to be so, you shall have no cause to complain of my care
of your child, which you shall take away when you please. We made an
agreement on this point yesterday. We arranged that the marriage
should not be consummated for two months; thus we shall be certain
whether the child belongs to you or no, and we will let people think
that it is the legitimate offspring of our marriage. Lebel conceived
this plan that he might have his mind at rest on the supposed force
of blood, in which he declares he believes no more than I do. He has
promised to love the child as if he were its father. If you write to
me, I will keep you acquainted with everything; and if I have the
happiness to give you a child, it will be much dearer to me than your
We wept, and Lebel laughed to see us.
I could only reply by pressing her to my breast, and then I gave her
over to her future husband, who told me as he got into the carriage
that our long talk had pleased him very much.
I went to bed sadly enough. Next morning when I awoke, a pastor of
the Church of Geneva carne to ask me to give him a place in my
carriage. I agreed, and was not sorry I had done so.
This priest was an eloquent man, although a theologian, who answered
the most difficult religious questions I could put to him. There was
no mystery with him, everything was reason. I have never found a
more compliant Christianity than that of this worthy man, whose
morals, as I heard afterwards at Geneva, were perfectly pure. But I
found out that this kind of Christianity was not peculiar to him, all
his fellow-Calvinists thought in the same way.
Wishing to convince him that he was a Calvinist in name only, since
he did not believe that Jesus Christ was of the same substance as the
Father, he replied that Calvin was only infallible where he spoke 'ex
cathedra', but I struck him dumb by quoting the words of the Gospel.
He blushed when I reproached him with Calvin's belief that the Pope
was the Antichrist of the Apocalypse.
"It will be impossible to destroy this prejudice at Geneva," said he,
"till the Government orders the effacement of an inscription on the
church door which everybody reads, and which speaks of the head of
the Roman Church in this manner."
"The people," he added, "are wholly ignorant; but I have a niece of
twenty, who does not belong to the people in this way. I shall have
the honour of making you known to her; she is a theologian, and
pretty as well."
"I shall be delighted to see her, but God preserve me from arguing
"She will make you argue, and I can assure you that it will be a
pleasure for you!"
"We shall see; but will you give me your address?"
"No sir, but I shall have the honour of conducting you to your inn
and acting as your guide."
I got down at Balances, and was well lodged. It was the 20th of
August, 1760. On going to the window I noticed a pane of glass on
which I read these words, written with the point of a diamond: "You
will forget Henriette." In a moment my thoughts flew back to the
time in which Henriette had written these words, thirteen years ago,
and my hair stood on end. We had been lodged in this room when she
separated from me to return to France. I was overwhelmed, and fell
on a chair where I abandoned myself to deep thought. Noble
Henriette, dear Henriette, whom I had loved so well; where was she
now? I had never heard of her; I had never asked anyone about her.
Comparing my present and past estates, I was obliged to confess that
I was less worthy of possessing her now than then. I could still
love, but I was no longer so delicate in my thoughts; I had not those
feelings which justify the faults committed by the senses, nor that
probity which serves as a contrast to the follies and frailties of
man; but, what was worst of all, I was not so strong. Nevertheless,
it seemed that the remembrance of Henriette restored me to my
pristine vigour. I had no longer my housekeeper; I experienced a
great void; and I felt so enthusiastic that if I had known where
Henriette was I should have gone to seek her out, despite her
Next day, at an early hour, I went to the banker Tronchin, who had
all my money. After seeing my account, he gave me a letter of credit
on Marseilles, Genoa, Florence and Rome, and I only took twelve
thousand francs in cash. I had only fifty thousand crowns, three
hundred francs, but that would take me a good way. As soon as I had
delivered my letters, I returned to Balances, impatient to see M. de
I found my fellow-traveller in my room. He asked me to dinner,
telling me that I should have M. Vilars-Chandieu, who would take me
after dinner to M. de Voltaire, who had been expecting me for several
days. I followed the worthy man, and found at his house excellent
company, and the young theologian whom the uncle did not address till
I will endeavour to report as faithfully as possible the young
"What have you been doing this morning, my dear niece?"
"I have been reading St. Augustine, whom I thought absurd, and I
think I can refute him very shortly."
"On what point?"
"Concerning the mother of the Saviour."
"What does St. Augustine say?"
"You have no doubt remarked the passage, uncle. He says that the
Virgin Mary conceived Jesus Christ through the ears."
"You do not believe that?"
"Certainly not, and for three good reasons. In the first place
because God, being immaterial, had no need of a hole to go in or come
out by; in the second place, because the ear has no connection with
the womb; and in the third place, because Mary, if she had conceived
by the ear, would have given birth by the same channel. This would
do well enough for the Catholics," said she, giving me a glance, "as
then they would be reasonable in calling her a virgin before her
conception, during her pregnancy, and after she had given birth to
I was extremely astonished, and my astonishment was shared by the
other guests. Divine theology rises above all fleshly
considerations, and after what we had heard we had either to allow
her this privilege, or to consider the young theologian as a woman
without shame. The learned niece did not seem to care what we
thought, as she asked for my opinion on the matter.
"If I were a theologian and allowed myself an exact examination into
the miracles, it is possible I should be of your opinion; but as this
is by no means the case, I must limit myself to condemning St.
Augustine for having analysed the mystery of the Annunciation. I may
say, however, that if the Virgin had been deaf, St. Augustine would
have been guilty of a manifest absurdity, since the Incarnation would
have been an impossibility, as in that case the nerves of the ear
would have had no sort of communication with the womb, and the
process would have been inconceivable; but the Incarnation is a
She replied with great politeness that I had shown myself a greater
theologian than she, and her uncle thanked me for having given her a
lesson. He made her discuss various subjects, but she did not shine.
Her only subject was the New Testament. I shall have occasion to
speak of this young woman when I get back to Geneva.
After dinner we went to see Voltaire, who was just leaving the table
as we came in. He was in the middle of a court of gentlemen and
ladies, which made my introduction a solemn one; but with this great
man solemnity could not fail to be in my favour.
by Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
MEMOIRS OF JACQUES CASANOVA de SEINGALT 1725-1798
THE ETERNAL QUEST, Volume 3e--WITH VOLTAIRE
THE RARE UNABRIDGED LONDON EDITION OF 1894 TRANSLATED BY ARTHUR
MACHEN TO WHICH HAS BEEN ADDED THE CHAPTERS DISCOVERED
BY ARTHUR SYMONS.
THE ETERNAL QUEST
M. de Voltaire; My Discussions with That Great Man--Ariosto--The Duc
de Villars--The Syndic and the Three Girls--Dispute with Voltaire--
Aix-en-Savoie--The Marquis Desarmoises
"M. de Voltaire," said I, "this is the happiest moment of my life.
I have been your pupil for twenty years, and my heart is full of joy
to see my master."
"Honour me with your attendance on my course for twenty years more,
and promise me that you will bring me my fees at the end of that
"Certainly, if you promise to wait for me."
This Voltairean sally made all present laugh, as was to be expected,
for those who laugh keep one party in countenance at the other's
expense, and the side which has the laughter is sure to win; this is
the rule of good society.
I was not taken by surprise, and waited to have my revenge.
Just then two Englishmen came in and were presented to him.
"These gentlemen are English," said Voltaire; "I wish I were."
I thought the compliment false and out of place; for the gentlemen
were obliged to reply out of politeness that they wished they had
been French, or if they did not care to tell a lie they would be too
confused to tell the truth. I believe every man of honour should put
his own nation first.
A moment after, Voltaire turned to me again and said that as I was a
Venetian I must know Count Algarotti.
"I know him, but not because I am a Venetian, as seven-eights of my
dear countrymen are not even aware of his existence."
"I should have said, as a man of letters."
"I know him from having spent two months with him at Padua, seven
years ago, and what particularly attracted my attention was the
admiration he professed for M. de Voltaire."
"That is flattering for me, but he has no need of admiring anyone."
"If Algarotti had not begun by admiring others, he would never have
made a name for himself. As an admirer of Newton he endeavoured to
teach the ladies to discuss the theory of light."
"Has he succeeded?"
"Not as well as M. de Fontenelle in his "Plurality of Worlds;"
however, one may say he has succeeded."
"True. If you see him at Bologna, tell him I am expecting to hear
from him about Russia. He can address my letters to my banker,
Bianchi, at Milan, and they will be sent on to me."
"I will not fail to do so if I see him."
"I have heard that the Italians do not care for his style."
"No; all that he writes is full of French idioms. His style is
"But do not these French turns increase the beauty of your language?"
"They make it insufferable, as French would be mixed with Italian or
German even though it were written by M. de Voltaire."
"You are right; every language should preserve its purity. Livy has
been criticised on this account; his Latin is said to be tainted with
"When I began to learn Latin, the Abbe Lazzarini told me he preferred
Livy to Sallust."
"The Abbe Lazzarini, author of the tragedy, 'Ulisse il giovine'?
You must have been very young; I wish I had known him. But I knew
the Abbe Conti well; the same that was Newton's friend, and whose
four tragedies contain the whole of Roman history."
"I also knew and admired him. I was young, but I congratulated
myself on being admitted into the society of these great men. It
seems as if it were yesterday, though it is many years ago; and now
in your presence my inferiority does not humiliate me. I wish to be
the younger son of all humanity."
"Better so than to be the chief and eldest. May I ask you to what
branch of literature you have devoted yourself?"
"To none; but that, perhaps, will come afterwards. In the meantime I
read as much as I can, and try to study character on my travels."
"That is the way to become learned, but the book of humanity is too
vast. Reading a history is the easier way."
"Yes, if history did not lie. One is not sure of the truth of the
facts. It is tiring, while the study of the world is amusing.
Horace, whom I know by heart, is my guide-book."
"Algarotti, too, is very fond of Horace. Of course you are fond of
"It is my passion."
"Have you made many sonnets?"
"Ten or twelve I like, and two or three thousand which in all
probability I have not read twice."
"The Italians are mad after sonnets."
"Yes; if one can call it a madness to desire to put thought into
measured harmony. The sonnet is difficult because the thought has to
be fitted exactly into the fourteen lines."
"It is Procrustes' bed, and that's the reason you have so few good
ones. As for us, we have not one; but that is the fault of our
"And of the French genius, which considers that a thought when
extended loses all its force."
"And you do not think so?"
"Pardon me, it depends on the kind of thought. A witty saying, for
example, will not make a sonnet; in French or Italian it belongs to
the domain of epigram."
"What Italian poet do you like best?"
"Ariosto; but I cannot say I love him better than the others, for he
is my only love."
"You know the others, though?"
"I think I have read them all, but all their lights pale before
Ariosto's. Fifteen years ago I read all you have written against
him, and I said that you, would retract when you had read his works."
"I am obliged to you for thinking that I had not read them. As a
matter of fact I had done so, but I was young. I knew Italian very
imperfectly, and being prejudiced by the learned Italians who adore
Tasso I was unfortunate enough to publish a criticism of Ariosto
which I thought my own, while it was only the echo of those who had
prejudiced me. I adore your Ariosto!"
"Ah! M. de Voltaire, I breathe again. But be good enough to have
the work in which you turned this great man into ridicule
"What use would that be? All my books are excommunicated; but I
will give you a good proof of my retractation."
I was astonished! The great man began to recite the two fine
passages from the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth cantos, in which the
divine poet speaks of the conversation of Astolpho with St. John and
he did it without missing a single life or committing the slightest
fault against the laws of prosody. He then pointed out the beauties
of the passages with his natural insight and with a great man's
genius. I could not have had anything better from the lips of the
most skilled commentators in Italy. I listened to him with the
greatest attention, hardly daring to breath, and waiting for him to
make a mistake, but I had my trouble for nothing. I turned to the
company crying that I was more than astonished, and that all Italy
should know what I had seen. "And I, sir," said the great man, "will
let all Europe know of the amends I owe to the greatest genius our
continent has produced."
Greedy of the praise which he deserved so well, Voltaire gave me the
next day his translation which Ariosto begins thus:
"Quindi avvien the tra principi a signori."
At the end of the recitation which gained the applause of all who
heard it, although not one of them knew Italian, Madame Denis, his
niece, asked me if I thought the passage her uncle had just recited
one of the finest the poet had written.
"Yes, but not the finest."
"It ought to be; for without it Signor Lodovico would not have gained
"He has been canonised, then? I was not aware of that."
At these words the laugh, headed by Voltaire, went for Madame Denis.
Everybody laughed except myself, and I continued to look perfectly
Voltaire was vexed at not seeing me laugh like the rest, and asked me
"Are you thinking," said he, "of some more than human passage?"
"Yes," I answered.
"What passage is that?"
"The last thirty-six stanzas of the twenty-third canto, where the
poet describes in detail how Roland became mad. Since the world has
existed no one has discovered the springs of madness, unless Ariosto
himself, who became mad in his old age. These stanzas are terrible,
and I am sure they must have made you tremble."
"Yes, I remember they render love dreadful. I long to read them
"Perhaps the gentleman will be good enough to recite them," said
Madame Denis, with a side-glance at her uncle.
"Willingly," said I, "if you will have the goodness to listen to me."
"You have learn them by heart, then, have you?" said Voltaire.
"Yes, it was a pleasure and no trouble. Since I was sixteen, I have
read over Ariosto two or three times every year; it is my passion,
and the lines naturally become linked in my memory without my having
given myself any pains to learn them. I know it all, except his long
genealogies and his historical tirades, which fatigue the mind and do
not touch the heart. It is only Horace that I know throughout, in
spite of the often prosaic style of his epistles, which are certainly
far from equalling Boileau's."
"Boileau is often too lengthy; I admire Horace, but as for Ariosto,
with his forty long cantos, there is too much of him."
"It is fifty-one cantos, M. de Voltaire."
The great man was silent, but Madame Denis was equal to the occasion.
"Come, come," said she, "let us hear the thirty-six stanzas which
earned the author the title of divine, and which are to make us
I then began, in an assured voice, but not in that monotonous tone
adopted by the Italians, with which the French so justly reproach us.
The French would be the best reciters if they were not constrained by
the rhyme, for they say what they feel better than any other people.
They have neither the passionate monotonous tone of my fellow-
countrymen, nor the sentimentality of the Germans, nor the fatiguing
mannerisms of the English; to every period they give its proper
expression, but the recurrence of the same sounds partly spoils their
recitation. I recited the fine verses of Ariosto, as if it had been
rhythmic prose, animating it by the sound of my voice and the
movements of my eyes, and by modulating my intonation according to
the sentiments with which I wished to inspire my audience. They saw
how hardly I could restrain my tears, and every eye was wet; but when
I came to the stanza,
"Poiche allargare il freno al dolor puote,
Che resta solo senza altrui rispetto,
Giu dagli occhi rigando per le gote
Sparge un fiume de lacrime sul petto,"
my tears coursed down my cheeks to such an extent that everyone began
to sob. M. de Voltaire and Madame Denis threw their arms round my
neck, but their embraces could not stop me, for Roland, to become
mad, had to notice that he was in the same bed in which Angelica had
lately been found in the arms of the too fortunate Medor, and I had
to reach the next stanza. For my voice of sorrow and wailing I
substituted the expression of that terror which arose naturally from
the contemplation of his fury, which was in its effects like a
tempest, a volcano, or an earthquake.
When I had finished I received with a sad air the congratulations of
the audience. Voltaire cried,
"I always said so; the secret of drawing tears is to weep one's self,
but they must be real tears, and to shed them the heart must be
stirred to its depths. I am obliged to you, sir," he added,
embracing me, "and I promise to recite the same stanzas myself to-
morrow, and to weep like you."
He kept his word.
"It is astonishing," said Madame Denis, "that intolerant Rome should
not have condemned the song of Roland."
"Far from it," said Voltaire, "Leo X. excommunicated whoever should
dare to condemn it. The two great families of Este and Medici
interested themselves in the poet's favour. Without that protection
it is probable that the one line on the donation of Rome by
Constantine to Silvester, where the poet speaks 'puzza forte' would
have sufficed to put the whole poem under an interdict."
"I believe," said I, "that the line which has excited the most talk
is that in which Ariosto throws doubt on the general resurrection.
Ariosto," I added, "in speaking of the hermit who would have hindered
Rhodomonte from getting possession of Isabella, widow of Zerbin,
paints the African, who wearied of the hermit's sermons, seizes him
and throws him so far that he dashes him against a rock, against
which he remains in a dead swoon, so that 'che al novissimo di forse
This 'forse' which may possibly have only been placed there as a
flower of rhetoric or as a word to complete the verse, raised a great
uproar, which would doubtless have greatly amused the poet if he had
"It is a pity," said Madame Denis, "that Ariosto was not more careful
in these hyperbolical expressions."
"Be quiet, niece, they are full of wit. They are all golden grains,
which are dispersed throughout the work in the best taste."
The conversation was then directed towards various topics, and at
last we got to the 'Ecossaise' we had played at Soleure.
They knew all about it.
M. de Voltaire said that if I liked to play it at his house he would
write to M. de Chavigni to send the Lindane, and that he himself
would play Montrose. I excused myself by saying that Madame was at
Bale and that I should be obliged to go on my journey the next day.
At this he exclaimed loudly, aroused the whole company against me,
and said at last that he should consider my visit as an insult unless
I spared him a week at least of my society.
"Sir," said I, "I have only come to Geneva to have the honour of
seeing you, and now that I have obtained that favour I have nothing
more to do."
"Have you come to speak to me, or for me to speak to you?"
"In a measure, of course, to speak to you, but much more for you to
speak to me."
"Then stay here three days at least; come to dinner every day, and we
will have some conversation."
The invitation was so flattering and pressing that I could not refuse
it with a good grace. I therefore accepted, and I then left to go
I had not been back for a quarter of an hour when a syndic of the
town, an amiable man, whom I had seen at M. de Voltaire's, and whose
name I shall not mention, came and asked me to give him supper.
"I was present," said he, "at your argument with the great man, and
though I did not open my mouth I should much like to have an hour's
talk with you." By way of reply, I embraced him, begging him to
excuse my dressing-gown, and telling him that I should be glad if he
would spend the whole night with me.
The worthy man spent two hours with me, without saying a word on the
subject of literature, but to please me he had no need to talk of
books, for he was a disciple of Epicurus and Socrates, and the
evening was spent in telling little stories, in bursts of laughter,
and in accounts of the various kinds of pleasure obtainable at
Geneva. Before leaving me he asked me to come and sup with him on
the following evening, promising that boredom should not be of the
"I shall wait for you," said I.
"Very good, but don't tell anyone of the party."
I promised to follow his instructions.
Next morning, young Fox came to see me with the two Englishmen I had
seen at M. de Voltaire's. They proposed a game of quinze, which I
accepted, and after losing fifty louis I left off, and we walked
about the town till dinner-time.
We found the Duc de Villars at Delices; he had come there to consult
Dr. Tronchin, who had kept him alive for the last ten years.
I was silent during the repast, but at dessert, M. de Voltaire,
knowing that I had reasons for not liking the Venetian Government,
introduced the subject; but I disappointed him, as I maintained that
in no country could a man enjoy more perfect liberty than in Venice.
"Yes," said he, "provided he resigns himself to play the part of a
And seeing that I did not care for the subject, he took me by the arm
to his garden, of which, he said, he was the creator. The principal
walk led to a pretty running stream.
"'Tis the Rhone," said he, "which I send into France."
"It does not cost you much in carriage, at all events," said I.
He smiled pleasantly and shewed me the principal street of Geneva,
and Mont Blanc which is the highest point of the Alps.
Bringing back the conversation to Italian literature, he began to
talk nonsense with much wit and learning, but always concluding with
a false judgment. I let him talk on. He spoke of Homer, Dante, and
Petrarch, and everybody knows what he thought of these great
geniuses, but he did himself wrong in writing what he thought. I
contented myself with saying that if these great men did not merit
the esteem of those who studied them; it would at all events be a
long time before they had to come down from the high place in which
the praise of centuries, had placed them.
The Duc de Villars and the famous Tronchin came and joined us. The
doctor, a tall fine man, polite, eloquent without being a
conversationalist, a learned physician, a man of wit, a favourite
pupil of Boerhaeve, without scientific jargon, or charlatanism, or
self-sufficiency, enchanted me. His system of medicine was based on
regimen, and to make rules he had to be a man of profound science.
I have been assured, but can scarcely believe it, that he cured a
consumptive patient of a secret disease by means of the milk of an
ass, which he had submitted to thirty strong frictions of mercury by
four sturdy porters.
As to Villars he also attracted my attention, but in quite a
different way to Tronchin. On examining his face and manner I
thought I saw before me a woman of seventy dressed as a man, thin and
emaciated, but still proud of her looks, and with claims to past
beauty. His cheeks and lips were painted, his eyebrows blackened,
and his teeth were false; he wore a huge wig, which, exhaled amber,
and at his buttonhole was an enormous bunch of flowers, which touched
his chin. He affected a gracious manner, and he spoke so softly that
it was often impossible to hear what he said. He was excessively
polite and affable, and his manners were those of the Regency. His
whole appearance was supremely ridiculous. I was told that in his
youth he was a lover of the fair sex, but now that he was no longer
good for anything he had modestly made himself into a woman, and had
four pretty pets in his employ, who took turns in the disgusting duty
of warming his old carcase at night.
Villars was governor of Provence, and had his back eaten up with
cancer. In the course of nature he should have been buried ten years
ago, but Tronchin kept him alive with his regimen and by feeding the
wounds on slices of veal. Without this the cancer would have killed
him. His life might well be called an artificial one.
I accompanied M. de Voltaire to his bedroom, where he changed his wig
and put on another cap, for he always wore one on account of the
rheumatism to which he was subject. I saw on the table the Summa of
St. Thomas, and among other Italian poets the 'Secchia Rapita' of
"This," said Voltaire, "is the only tragicomic poem which Italy has.
Tassoni was a monk, a wit and a genius as well as a poet."
"I will grant his poetical ability but not his learning, for he
ridiculed the system of Copernicus, and said that if his theories
were followed astronomers would not be able to calculate lunations or
"Where does he make that ridiculous remark?"
"In his academical discourses."
"I have not read them, but I will get them."
He took a pen and noted the name down, and said,--
"But Tassoni has criticised Petrarch very ingeniously."
"Yes, but he has dishonoured taste and literature, like Muratori."
"Here he is. You must allow that his learning is immense."
"Est ubi peccat."
Voltaire opened a door, and I saw a hundred great files full of
"That's my correspondence," said he. "You see before you nearly
fifty thousand letters, to which I have replied."
"Have you a copy of your answers?"
"Of a good many of them. That's the business of a servant of mine,
who has nothing else to do."
"I know plenty of booksellers who would give a good deal to get hold
of your answers.
"Yes; but look out for the booksellers when you publish anything, if
you have not yet begun; they are greater robbers than Barabbas."
"I shall not have anything to do with these gentlemen till I am an
"Then they will be the scourge of your old age."
Thereupon I quoted a Macaronic verse by Merlin Coccaeus.
"Where's that from?"
"It's a line from a celebrated poem in twenty-four cantos."
"Yes; and, what is more, worthy of being celebrated; but to
appreciate it one must understand the Mantuan dialect."
"I could make it out, if you could get me a copy."
"I shall have the honour of presenting you with one to-morrow."
"You will oblige me extremely."
We had to leave his room and spend two hours in the company, talking
over all sorts of things. Voltaire displayed all the resources of
his brilliant and fertile wit, and charmed everyone in spite of his
sarcastic observations which did not even spare those present, but he
had an inimitable manner of lancing a sarcasm without wounding a
person's feelings. When the great man accompanied his witticisms
with a graceful smile he could always get a laugh.
He kept up a notable establishment and an excellent table, a rare
circumstance with his poetic brothers, who are rarely favourites of
Plutus as he was. He was then sixty years old, and had a hundred and
twenty thousand francs a year. It has been said maliciously that
this great man enriched himself by cheating his publishers; whereas
the fact was that he fared no better than any other author, and
instead of duping them was often their dupe. The Cramers must be
excepted, whose fortune he made. Voltaire had other ways of making
money than by his pen; and as he was greedy of fame, he often gave
his works away on the sole condition that they were to be printed and
published. During the short time I was with him, I was a witness of
such a generous action; he made a present to his bookseller of the
"Princess of Babylon," a charming story which he had written in three
My epicurean syndic was exact to his appointment, and took me to a
house at a little distance where he introduced me to three young
ladies, who, without being precisely beautiful, were certainly
ravishing. Two of them were sisters. I had an easy and pleasant
welcome, and from their intellectual appearance and gay manners I
anticipated a delightful evening, and I was not disappointed. The
half hour before supper was passed in conversation, decent but
without restraint, and during supper, from the hints the syndic gave
me, I guessed what would happen after dessert.
It was a hot evening, and on the pretext of cooling ourselves, we
undressed so as to be almost in a state of nature. What an orgy we
had! I am sorry I am obliged to draw a veil over the most exciting
details. In the midst of our licentious gaiety, whilst we were
heated by love, champagne, and a discourse of an exciting nature, I
proposed to recite Grecourt's 'Y Gyec'. When I had finished the
voluptuous poem, worthy of an abbe's pen, I saw that the eyes of the
three beauties were all aflame, and said,--
"Ladies, if you like, I will shew you all three, one after the other,
why the sentence, 'Gaudeant bene nati', was uttered"; and without
waiting for their reply, I succeeded in making them happy. The
syndic was radiant, he was pleased at having given me a present
entirely to my taste; and I fancied that the entertainment was not
displeasing to the three Graces, who were kept low by the Sybarite,
as his powers were almost limited to desires. The girls lavished
their thanks on me, while I endeavoured to assure them of my
gratitude; but they leapt for joy when they heard the syndic asking
me to come next day.
As he was taking me back to my inn I told him how great a pleasure he
had given me, and he said he had brought up the three jewels himself.
"You," he added, "are the only man besides myself they know. You
shall see them again, but I beg you will take care not to leave
anything behind you, for in this town of prejudices that would be a
great misfortune for them and for me."
"You are always moderate in your enjoyment, then?" I said to him.
"Unfortunately, that is no merit as far as I am concerned. I was
born for the service of love, and Venus has punished me for
worshipping her when I was too young."
After a good night's sleep I awoke in an active mood, and began to
write a letter to Voltaire in blank verse, which cost me four times
the pains that rhymed verses would have done. I sent it to him with
the poem of Theophile Falengue, but I made a mistake in doing so, as
I might have known he would not care for it; one cannot appreciate
what one does not understand. I then went to Mr. Fox, where I found
the two Englishmen who offered me my revenge. I lost a hundred
Louis, and was glad to see them set out for Lausanne.
The syndic had told me that the three young ladies belonged to
respectable families, but were not rich. I puzzled my head to think
of some useful present I might make them without offending them, and
at last I hit on a plan of the most ridiculous nature, as the reader
will see. I went to a jeweller and told him to make me three golden
balls, each of two ounces in weight.
At noon I went to M. de Voltaire's. He was not to be seen, but
Madame Denis consoled me for his absence. She had wit, learning
without pretension, taste, and a great hatred for the King of
Prussia, whom she called a villain. She asked about my beautiful
housekeeper, and congratulated me on having married her to a
respectable man. Although I feel now that she was quite right, I was
far from thinking so then; the impression was too fresh on my mind.
Madame Denis begged me to tell her how I had escaped from The Leads,
but as the story was rather a long one I promised to satisfy her
M. de Voltaire did not dine with us; he appeared, however, at five
o'clock, holding a letter in his hand.
"Do you know," said he, "the Marquis Albergati Capacelli, senator of
Bologna, and Count Paradisi?"
"I do not know Paradisi, but I know Albergati by sight and by
reputation; he is not a senator, but one of the Forty, who at Bologna
"Dear me! That seems rather a riddle!"
"Do you know him?"
"No, but he has sent me Goldoni's 'Theatre,' the translation of my
Tancred, and some Bologna sausages, and he says he will come and see
"He will not come; he is not such a fool."
"How a fool? Would there be anything foolish in coming to see me?"
"Certainly not, as far as you are concerned; but very much so far his
"Would you mind telling me why?"
"He knows what he would lose; for he enjoys the idea you seem to have
of him, and if he came you would see his nothingness, and good-bye to
the illusion. He is a worthy man with six thousand sequins a year,
and a craze for the theatre. He is a good actor enough, and has
written several comedies in prose, but they are fit neither for the
study nor the stage."
"You certainly give him a coat which does not make him look any
"I assure you it is not quite small enough."
"But tell me how he can belong to the Forty and the Fifty?"
"Just as at Bale noon is at eleven."
"I understand; just as your Council of Ten is composed of seventeen
"Exactly; but the cursed Forty of Bologna are men of another kind."
"Because they are not subject to the fisc, and are thus enabled to
commit whatever crimes they like with perfect impunity; all they have
got to do is to live outside the state borders on their revenues."
"That is a blessing, and not a curse; but let me return to our
subject. I suppose the Marquis Albergati is a man of letters?"
"He writes well enough, but he is fond of the sound of his own voice,
his style is prolix, and I don't think he has much brains."
"He is an actor, I think you said?"
"Yes, and a very good one, above all, when he plays the lover's part
in one of his own plays."
"Is he a handsome man?"
"Yes, on the stage, but not elsewhere; his face lacks expression."
"But his plays give satisfaction?"
"Not to persons who understand play writing; they would be hissed if
they were intelligible."
"And what do you think of Goldoni?"
"I have the highest opinion of him. Goldoni is the Italian Moliere."
"Why does he call himself poet to the Duke of Parma?"
"No doubt to prove that a wit as well as a fool has his weak points;
in all probability the duke knows nothing about it. He also calls
himself a barrister, though he is such only in his own imagination.
Goldoni is a good play writer, and nothing more. Everybody in Venice
knows me for his friend, and I can therefore speak of him with
authority. He does not shine in society, and in spite of the fine
satire of his works he is a man of an extremely gentle disposition."
"So I have been told. He is poor, and wants to leave Venice. The
managers of the theatres where they play his pieces will not like
"People talked about getting him a pension, but the project has been
relegated to the Greek Kalends, as they said that if he had a pension
he would write no more."
"Cumae refused to give a pension to Homer, for fear that all the
blind men would ask for a pension."
We spent a pleasant day, and he thanked me heartily for the copy of
the Macaronicon, which he promised to read. He introduced me to a
Jesuit he had in his household, who was called Adam, and he added,
after telling me his name, "not the first Adam." I was told
afterwards that Voltaire used to play backgammon with him, and when
he lost he would throw the dice and the box at his head. If Jesuits
were treated like that all the world over, perhaps we should have
none but inoffensive Jesuits at last, but that happy time is still
I had scarcely got to my inn in the evening when I received my three
golden balls, and as soon as the syndic came we set off to renew our
voluptuous orgy. On the way he talked about modesty, and said,--
"That feeling which prevents our shewing those parts which we have
been taught to cover from our childhood, may often proceed from
virtue, but is weaker than the force of education, as it cannot
resist an attack when the attacking party knows what he is about.
I think the easiest way to vanquish modesty is to ignore its
presence, to turn it into ridicule, to carry it by storm. Victory is
certain. The hardihood of the assailer subdues the assailed, who
usually only wishes to be conquered, and nearly always thanks you for
"Clement of Alexandria, a learned man and a philosopher, has remarked
that the modesty which appears so deeply rooted in women's hearts
really goes no farther than the clothes they wear, and that when
these are plucked off no trace of it remains."
We found the three girls lightly clad and sitting on a large sopha,
and we sat down opposite to them. Pleasant talk and a thousand
amorous kisses occupied the half hour just before supper, and our
combat did not begin till we had eaten a delicious repast, washed
down with plenty of champagne.
We were sure of not being interrupted by the maid and we put
ourselves at our ease, whilst our caresses became more lively and
ardent. The syndic, like a careful man, drew a packet of fine French
letters from his pocket, and delivered a long eulogium on this
admirable preservative from an accident which might give rise to a
terrible and fruitless repentance. The ladies knew them, and seemed
to have no objection to the precaution; they laughed heartily to see
the shape these articles took when they were blown out. But after
they had amused themselves thus for some time, I said,
"My dear girls, I care more for your honour than your beauty; but do
not think I am going to shut myself in a piece of dead skin to prove
that I am alive. Here," I added, drawing out the three golden balls,
"is a surer and less disagreeable way of securing you from any
unpleasant consequences. After fifteen years' experience I can
assure you that with these golden balls you can give and take without
running the least risk. For the future you will have no need of
those humiliating sheaths. Trust in me and accept this little
present from a Venetian who adores you."
"We are very grateful," said the elder of the two sisters, "but how
are these pretty balls used?"
"The ball has to be at the rear of the temple of love, whilst the
amorous couple are performing the sacrifice. The antipathy
communicated to the metal by its being soaked for a certain time in
an alkaline solution prevents impregnation."
"But," said the cousin, "one must take great care that the ball is
not shaken out by the motion before the end of the sacrifice."
"You needn't be afraid of that if you place yourself in a proper
"Let us see how it's done," said the syndic, holding a candle for me
to put the ball in place.
The charming cousin had gone too far to turn back; she had to submit
to the operation. I placed the ball in such a position that it could
not fall out before I was in; however, it fell out towards the end,
just as we were separating. The victim perceived that I had taken her
in. However, she said nothing, picked up the ball, and challenged
the two sisters to submit to the pleasant experiment, to which they
lent themselves with the greatest interest; while the syndic, who had
no faith in the virtues of the metal, contented himself with looking
on. After half an hour's rest I began again, without balls, assuring
them that I would be careful, and I kept my word, without depriving
them of the pleasure in the slightest degree.
When it was time to part, these girls, who had formerly been scantily
provided for, threw their arms round my neck, overwhelmed me with
caresses, and declared how much they owed me. The syndic told them
that I was going in two days, and suggested that they should make me
stay a day longer in Geneva, and I made this sacrifice joyfully. The
worthy syndic had an engagement on the following day, and I sorely
needed a holiday myself. He took me back to my inn, thanking me
almost as heartily as his charming nymphs.
After having enjoyed a calm and refreshing sleep ten hours, I felt
myself able to enjoy the delightful society of M. de Voltaire. I
went to his house, but I was disappointed in my hopes, as it pleased
the great man to be in a fault-finding and sarcastic mood the whole
day. He knew I had to leave on the morrow.
He began by thanking me at table for my present of Merlin Coccaeus.
"You certainly gave it me with good intentions," said he, "but I owe
you no thanks for praising it so highly, as you made me lose four
hours in reading nonsense."
I felt my hair stand on end, but I mastered my emotions, and told him
quietly enough that one day, perhaps, he would find himself obliged
to praise the poem more highly than I had done. I quoted several
instances of the insufficiency of a first perusal.
"That's true," said he; "but as for your Merlin, I will read him no
more. I have put him beside Chapelain's 'Pucelle'."
"Which pleases all the critics, in spite of its bad versification,
for it is a good poem, and Chapelain was a real poet though he wrote
bad verses. I cannot overlook his genius."
My freedom must have shocked him, and I might have guessed it when he
told me he had put the 'Macaronicon' beside the 'Pucelle'. I knew
that there was a poem of the same title in circulation, which passed
for Voltaire's; but I also knew that he disavowed it, and I thought
that would make him conceal the vexation my explanation must have
caused him. It was not so, however; he contradicted me sharply, and
I closed with him.
"Chapelain," said I, "has the merit of having rendered his
subject-matter pleasant, without pandering to the tastes of his
readers by saying things shocking to modesty and piety. So thinks my
"Crebillon! You cite a weighty authority. But how is my friend
Crebillon your master, may I ask?"
"He taught me to speak French in less than two years, and as a mark
of my gratitude I translated his Radamiste into Italian Alexandrines.
I am the first Italian who has dared to use this metre in our
"The first? I beg your pardon, as that honour belongs to my friend
Pierre Jacques Martelli."
"I am sorry to be obliged to tell you that you are making a mistake."
"Why, I have his works, printed at Bologna, in my room!"
"I don't deny that, I am only talking about the metre used by
Martelli. What you are thinking of must be verses of fourteen
syllables; without alternative masculine and feminine rhymes.
However, I confess that he thinks he has imitated the French
Alexandrines, and his preface made me explode with laughter. Did you
"Read it? I always read prefaces, and Martelli proves there that his
verses have the same effect in Italian as our Alexandrine verses have
"Exactly, that's what's so amusing. The worthy man is quite
mistaken, and I only ask you to listen to what I have to say on the
subject. Your masculine verse has only twelve poetic syllables, and
the feminine thirteen. All Martelli's lines have fourteen syllables,
except those that finish with a long vowel, which at the end of a
line always counts as two syllables. You will observe that the first
hemistitch in Martelli always consists of seven syllables, while in
French it only has six. Your friend Pierre Jacques was either stone
deaf or very hard of hearing."
"Then you have followed our theory of versification rigorously."
"Just so, in spite of the difficulty, as nearly all our words end
with a short syllable."
"What reception has been accorded to your innovation?"
"It has not been found pleasing, because nobody knows how to recite
my verses; but I hope to triumph when I deliver them myself before
our literary clubs."
"Do you remember any of your version of the Radamiste?"
"I remember it all."
"You have a wonderful memory; I should be glad to hear it."
I began to recite the same scene that I had recited to Crebillon ten
years before, and I thought M. de Voltaire listened with pleasure.
"It doesn't strike one as at all harsh," said he.
This was the highest praise he would give me. In his turn the great
man recited a passage from Tancred which had not as yet been
published, and which was afterwards considered, and rightly, as a
We should have got on very well if we had kept to that, but on my
quoting a line of Horace to praise one of his pieces, he said that
Horace was a great master who had given precepts which would never be
out of date. Thereupon I answered that he himself had violated one
of them, but that he had violated it grandly.
"Which is that?"
"You do not write, 'Contentus paucis lectoribus'."
"If Horace had had to combat the hydra-headed monster of
superstition, he would have written as I have written--for all the
"It seems to me that you might spare yourself the trouble of
combating what you will never destroy."
"That which I cannot finish others will, and I shall always have the
glory of being the first in the field."
"Very good; but supposing you succeed in destroying superstition,
what are you going to put in its place?"
"I like that. If I deliver the race of man from a wild beast which
is devouring it, am I to be asked what I intend to put in its place?"
"It does not devour it; on the contrary, it is necessary to its
"Necessary to its existence! That is a horrible blasphemy, the
falsity of which will be seen in the future. I love the human race;
I would fain see men like myself, free and happy, and superstition
and freedom cannot go together. Where do you find an enslaved and
yet a happy people?"
"You wish, then, to see the people sovereign?"
"God forbid! There must be a sovereign to govern the masses."
"In that case you must have superstition, for without it the masses
will never obey a mere man decked with the name of monarch."
"I will have no monarch; the word expresses despotism, which I hate
as I do slavery."
"What do you mean, then? If you wish to put the government in the
hands of one man, such a man, I maintain, will be a monarch."
"I would have a sovereign ruler of a free people, of which he is the
chief by an agreement which binds them both, which would prevent him
from becoming a tyrant."
"Addison will tell you that such a sovereign is a sheer
impossibility. I agree with Hobbes, of two evils choose the least.
A nation without superstition would be a nation of philosophers, and
philosophers would never obey. The people will only be happy when
they are crushed and down-trodden, and bound in chains."
"This is horrible; and you are of the people yourself. If you have
read my works you must have seen how I shew that superstition is the
enemy of kings."
"Read your works? I have read and re-read them, especially in places
where I have differed from you. Your ruling passion is the love of
humanity. 'Est ubi peccas'. This blinds you. Love humanity, but
love it as it is. It is not fit to receive the blessings you would
lavish on it, and which would only make it more wretched and
perverse. Leave men their devouring monster, it is dear to them.
I have never laughed so heartily as at Don Quixote assailed by the
galley-slaves whom his generosity had set free."
"I am sorry that you have such a bad opinion of your fellow-
creatures. And by the way, tell me whether there is freedom in
"As much as can be expected under an aristocracy. Our liberty is not
so great as that which the English enjoy, but we are content."
"Even under The Leads?"
"My imprisonment was certainly despotic; but as I had knowingly
abused my liberty I am satisfied that the Government was within its
rights in shutting me up without the usual formalities."
"All the same, you made your escape."
"I used my rights as they had used theirs."
"Very good! But as far as I can see, no one in Venice is really
"That may be; but you must agree that the essence of freedom consists
in thinking you have it."
"I shall not agree to that so easily. You and I see liberty from
very different points of view. The aristocrats, the members of the
Government even, are not free at Venice; for example, they cannot
travel without permission."
"True, but that is a restriction of their own making to preserve
their power. Would you say that a Bernese is not free, because he is
subject to the sumptuary laws, which he himself had made."
"Well, well, I wish the people made the laws everywhere."
After this lively answer, he abruptly asked me what part I came from.
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