The memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, by Giacomo Casanova

Chapter X

My Departure — Letter from Henriette — Marsellies — History of Nina — Nice — Turin — Lugano — Madame De ***

As soon as I had regained my usual strength, I went to take leave of the Marquis d’Argens and his brother. I dined with them, pretending not to observe the presence of the Jesuit, and I then spent three delightful hours in conversation with the learned and amiable Marquis d’Argens. He told me a number of interesting anecdotes about the private life of Frederick II. No doubt the reader would like to have them, but I lack the energy to set them down. Perhaps some other day when the mists about Dux have dispersed, and some rays of the sun shine in upon me, I shall commit all these anecdotes to paper, but now I have not the courage to do so.

Frederick had his good and his bad qualities, like all great men, but when every deduction on the score of his failings has been made, he still remains the noblest figure in the eighteenth century.

The King of Sweden, who has been assassinated, loved to excite hatred that he might have the glory of defying it to do its worst. He was a despot at heart, and he came to a despot’s end. He might have foreseen a violent death, for throughout his life he was always provoking men to the point of despair. There can be no comparison between him and Frederick.

The Marquis d’Argens made me a present of all his works, and on my asking him if I could congratulate myself on possessing the whole number, he said yes, with the exception of a fragment of autobiography which he had written in his youth, and which he had afterwards suppressed.

“Why so?” I asked.

“Because I was foolish enough to write the truth. Never give way to this temptation, if it assails you. If you once begin on this plan you are not only compelled to record all your vices and follies, but to treat them in the severe tone of a philosophical historian. You must not, of course, omit the good you may have done; and so praise and blame is mingled on every page. All the evil you say of yourself will be held for gospel, your peccadilloes will be made into crimes, and your good deeds will not only be received with incredulity, but you will be taxed with pride and vanity for having recorded them. Besides, if you write your memoirs, you make an enemy in every chapter if you once begin to tell the truth. A man should neither talk of himself nor write of himself, unless it be to refute some calumny or libel.”

I was convinced, and promised never to be guilty of such a folly, but in spite of that I have been writing memoirs for the last seven years, and though I repent of having begun, I have sworn to go on to the end. However, I write in the hope that my Memoirs may never see the light of day; in the first place the censure would not allow them to be printed, and in the second I hope I shall be strong-minded enough, when my last illness comes, to have all my papers burnt before my eyes. If that be not the case I count on the indulgence of my readers, who should remember that I have only written my story to prevent my going mad in the midst of all the petty insults and disagreeables which I have to bear day by day from the envious rascals who live with me in this castle of Count Waldstein, or Wallenstein, at Dux.

I write ten or twelve hours a day, and so keep black melancholy at bay. My readers shall hear more of my sufferings later on, if I do not die before I write them down.

The day after Corpus Christi I left Aix for Marseilles. But here I must set down a circumstance that I had forgotten; I mean the procession of Corpus Christi.

Everyone knows that this festival is celebrated with great ceremony all over Christendom; but at Aix these ceremonies are of such a nature that every man of sense must be shocked at my recital.

It is well known that this procession in honour of the Being of beings, represented under the sacramental forms, is followed by all the religious confraternities, and this is duly done at Aix; but the scandalous part of the ceremony is the folly and the buffoonery which is allowed in a rite which should be designed to stir up the hearts of men to awe and reverence their Creator.

Instead of that, the devil, death, and the seven deadly sins, are impersonated in the procession. They are clad in the most absurd costumes, and make hideous contortions, beating and abusing each other in their supposed vexation at having to join in the Creator’s praises. The people hoot and hiss them, the lower classes sing songs in derision of them, and play them all manner of tricks, and the whole scene is one of incredible noise, uproar, and confusion, more worthy of some pagan bacchanalia than a procession of Christian people. All the country-folk from five or six leagues around Aix pour into the town on that day to do honour to God. It is the only occasion of the kind, and the clergy, either knavish or ignorant, encourage all this shameful riot. The lower orders take it all in good faith, and anyone who raised any objection would run some risk, for the bishop goes in front of the saturnalia, and consequently it is all holy.

I expressed my disapproval of the whole affair, as likely to bring discredit on religion, to a councillor of parliament, M. de St. Marc; but he told me gravely that it was an excellent thing, as it brought no less than a hundred thousand francs into the town on the single day.

I could find no reply to this very weighty reason.

Every day I spent at Aix I thought of Henriette. I knew her real name, and remembering the message she had sent me by Marcoline I hoped to meet her in some assembly, being ready to adapt my conduct to hers. I had often heard her name mentioned, but I never allowed myself to ask any question, not wishing our old friendship to be suspected. Believing her to be at her country house, I had resolved on paying her a visit, and had only stayed on at Aix so as to recover my health before seeing her. In due course I left Aix with a letter in my pocket for her, resolving to send it in, and to remain in my carriage till she asked me to get down.

We arrived at her residence at eleven o’clock. A man came to the door, took my letter, and said madam should have it without fail.

“Then she is not here.”

“No, sir; she is at Aix.”

“Since when?”

“For the last six months.”

“Where does she live?”

“In her town house. She will be coming here in three weeks to spend the summer as usual.”

“Will you let me write a letter?”

“If you will get down you will find all the necessary materials in madam’s room.”

I went into the house, and to my extreme surprise found myself face to face with my nurse.

“You live here, then.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Since when?”

“For the last ten years.”

“How did you come to nurse me?”

“If you will step upstairs I will tell you.”

Her story was as follows:

“Madam sent for me in haste, and told me to go and attend to you as if it were herself. She told me to say that the doctor had sent me if you asked any questions.”

“The doctor said he didn’t know you.”

“Perhaps he was speaking the truth, but most likely he had received orders from madam. That’s all I know, but I wonder you haven’t seen her at Aix.”

“She cannot see any company, for I have been everywhere.”

“She does not see any company at her own house, but she goes everywhere.”

“It’s very strange. I must have seen her, and yet I do not think I could have passed her by unrecognized. You have been with her ten years?”

“Yes, sir, as I had the honour of informing you.”

“Has she changed? Has she had any sickness? Has she aged?”

“Not at all. She has become rather stout, but I assure you you would take her for a woman of thirty.”

“I must be blind, or I cannot have seen her. I am going to write to her now.”

The woman went out, leaving me in astonishment, at the extraordinary situation in which I was placed.

“Ought I to return to Aix immediately?” I asked myself. She has a town house, but does not see company, but she might surely see me: She loves me still. She cared for me all through my illness, and she would not have done so if she had become indifferent to me. She will be hurt at my not recognizing her. She must know that I have left Aix, and will no doubt guess that I am here now. Shall I go to her or shall I write? I resolved to write, and I told her in my letter that I should await her reply at Marseilles. I gave the letter to my late nurse, with some money to insure its being dispatched at once, and drove on to Marseilles where I alighted at an obscure inn, not wishing to be recognized. I had scarcely got out of my carriage when I saw Madame Schizza, Nina’s sister. She had left Barcelona with her husband. They had been at Marseilles three or four days and were going to Leghorn.

Madame Schizza was alone at the moment, her husband having gone out; and as I was full of curiosity I begged her to come up to my room while my dinner was getting ready.

“What is your sister doing? Is she still at Barcelona?”

“Yes; but she will not be there long, for the bishop will not have her in the town or the diocese, and the bishop is stronger than the viceroy. She only returned to Barcelona on the plea that she wished to pass through Catalonia of her way home, but she does not need to stay there for nine or ten months on that account. She will have to leave in a month for certain, but she is not much put out, as the viceroy is sure to keep her wherever she goes, and she may eventually succeed in ruining him. In the meanwhile she is revelling in the bad repute she has gained for her lover.”

“I know something of her peculiarities; but she cannot dislike a man who has made her rich.”

“Rich! She has only got her diamonds. Do you imagine this monster capable of any feelings of gratitude? She is not a human being, and no one knows her as I do. She has made the count commit a hundred acts of injustice so that all Spain may talk of her, and know that she has made herself mistress of his body and soul, and all he has. The worse his actions are, the more certain she feels that people will talk of her, and that is all she wants. Her obligations to me are beyond counting, for she owes me all, even to her existence, and instead of continuing my husband in her service she has sent him about his business.”

“Then I wonder how she came to treat me so generously.”

“If you knew all, you would not feel grateful to her.”

“Tell me all, then.”

“She only paid for your keep at the inn and in prison to make people believe you were her lover, and to shame the count. All Barcelona knows that you were assassinated at her door, and that you were fortunate enough to run the fellow through.”

“But she cannot have been the instigator of, or even the accomplice in, the plot for my assassination. That’s against nature.”

“I dare say, but everything in Nina is against nature. What I tell you is the bare truth, for I was a witness of it all. Whenever the viceroy visited her she wearied him with praise of your gallantry, your wit, your noble actions, comparing you with the Spaniards, greatly to their disadvantage.

“The count got impatient and told her to talk of something else, but she would not; and at last he went away, cursing your name. Two days before you came to grief he left her, saying —

“‘Valga me Dios! I will give you a pleasure you do not expect.’

“I assure you that when we heard the pistol-shot after you had gone, she remarked, without evincing the slightest emotion, that the shot was the pleasure her rascally Spaniard had promised her.

“I said that you might be killed.

“‘All the worse for the count,’ she replied, ‘for his turn will come also.’

“Then she began laughing like a madcap; she was thinking of the excitement your death would cause in Barcelona.

“At eight o’clock the following day, your man came and told her that you had been taken to the citadel; and I will say it to her credit, she seemed relieved to hear you were alive.”

“My man — I did not know that he was in correspondence with her.”

“No, I suppose not; but I assure you the worthy man was very much attached to you.”

“I am sure he was. Go on.”

“Nina then wrote a note to your landlord. She did not shew it me, but it no doubt contained instructions to supply you with everything.

“The man told us that he had seen your sword all red with blood, and that your cloak had a bullet hole through it. She was delighted, but do not think it was because she loved you; she was glad you had escaped that you might take your revenge. However, she was troubled by the pretext on which the count had had you arrested.

“Ricla did not come to see her that day, but he came the next day at eight o’clock, and the infamous creature received him with a smiling face. She told him she had heard he had imprisoned you, and that she was obliged to him, as he had, of course, done so to protect you from any fresh attempts on your life.

“He answered, dryly, that your arrest had nothing to do with anything that might have happened the night before. He added that you had only been seized pending the examination of your papers, and that if they were found to be in good form, you would be set at liberty in the course of a few days.

“Nina asked him who was the man that you had wounded. He replied that the police were enquiring into the matter, but that so far they had neither found a dead man nor a wounded man, nor any traces of blood. All that had been found was Casanova’s hat, and this had been returned to him.

“I left them alone together till midnight, so I cannot say what further converse they may have had on the subject, but three or four days later everybody knew that you were imprisoned in the tower.

“Nina asked the count the reason of this severity in the evening, and he replied that your passports were thought to be forgeries, because you were in disgrace with the State Inquisitors, and therefore would not be in a position to get a passport from the Venetian ambassador. On this supposition he said you had been placed in the tower, and if it proved to be a true one, you would be still more severely punished.

“This news disturbed us, and when we heard that Pogomas had been arrested we felt certain he had denounced you in revenge for your having procured his dismissal from Nina’s house. When we heard that he had been let out and sent to Genoa, we expected to hear of your being set at liberty, as the authorities must have been satisfied of the genuine character of your passports; but you were still shut up, and Nina did not know what to think, and the count would not answer her when she made enquiries about you. She had made up her mind to say no more about it, when at last we heard you had been set free and that your passports had been declared genuine.

“Nina thought to see you in the pit of the opera-house, and made preparations for a triumph in her box; but she was in despair when she heard no performance was to be given. In the evening the count told her that your passports had been returned with the order to leave in three days. The false creature praised her lover’s prudence to his face, but she cursed him in her heart.

“She knew you would not dare to see her, and when you left without writing her a note, she said you had received secret orders not to hold any further communications with her. She was furious with the viceroy.

“‘If Casanova had had the courage to ask me to go with him, I would have gone,’ said she.

“Your man told her of your fortunate escape from three assassins. In the evening she congratulated Ricla on the circumstance, but he swore he knew nothing about it. Nina did not believe him. You may thank God from the bottom of your heart that you ever left Spain alive after knowing Nina. She would have cost you your life at last, and she punishes me for having given her life.”

“What! Are you her mother?”

“Yes; Nina, that horrible woman, is my daughter.”

“Really? Everybody says you are her sister.”

“That is the horrible part of it, everybody is right.”

“Explain yourself”

“Yes, though it is to my shame. She is my sister and my daughter, for she is the daughter of my father.”

“What! your father loved you?”

“I do not know whether the scoundrel loved me, but he treated me as his wife. I was sixteen then. She is the daughter of the crime, and God knows she is sufficient punishment for it. My father died to escape her vengeance; may he also escape the vengeance of God. I should have strangled her in her cradle, but maybe I shall strangle her yet. If I do not, she will kill me.”

I remained dumb at the conclusion of this dreadful story, which bore all the marks of truth.

“Does Nina know that you are her mother?”

“Her own father told her the secret when she was twelve, after he had initiated her into the life she has been living ever since. He would have made her a mother in her turn if he had not killed himself the same year, maybe to escape the gallows.”

“How did the Conte de Ricla fall in love with her?”

“It is a short story and a curious one. Two years ago she came to Barcelona from Portugal, and was placed in one of the ballets for the sake of her pretty face, for as to talents she had none, and could only do the rebaltade (a sort of skip and pirouette) properly.

“The first evening she danced she was loudly applauded by the pit, for as she did the rebaltade she shewed her drawers up to her waist. In Spain any actress who shews her drawers on the stage is liable to a fine of a crown. Nina knew nothing about this, and, hearing the applause, treated the audience to another skip of the same kind, but at the end of the ballet she was told to pay two crowns for her immodesty. Nina cursed and swore, but she had to give in. What do you think she did to elude the law, and at the same time avenge herself?”

“Danced badly, perhaps.”

“She danced without any drawers at all, and did her rebdltade as before, which caused such an effervescence of high spirits in the house as had never been known at Barcelona.

“The Conte de Ricla had seen her from his box, and was divided between horror and admiration, and sent for the inspector to tell him that this impudent creature must be punished.

“‘In the mean time,’ said he, ‘bring her before me.’

“Presently Nina appeared in the viceroy’s box, and asked him, impudently, what he wanted with her.

“‘You are an immodest woman, and have failed in your duty to the public.’

“‘What have I done?

“‘You performed the same skip as before.’

“‘Yes, but I haven’t broken your law, for no one can have seen my drawers as I took the precaution not to put any on. What more can I do for your cursed law, which has cost me two crowns already? Just tell me.’

“The viceroy and the great personages around him had much ado to refrain from laughter, for Nina was really in the right, and a serious discussion of the violated law would have been ridiculous.

“The viceroy felt he was in a false position, and merely said that if she ever danced without drawers again she should have a month’s imprisonment on bread and water.

“A week after one of my husband’s ballets was given. It was so well received that the audience encored it with enthusiasm. Ricla gave orders that the public should be satisfied, and all the dancers were told they would have to reappear.

“Nina, who was almost undressed, told my husband to do as best he could, as she was not going to dance again. As she had the chief part my husband could not do without her, and sent the manager to her dressing- room. She pushed the poor man out with so much violence that he fell against the wall of the passage, head foremost.

“The manager told his piteous tale to the viceroy, who ordered two soldiers to bring her before him. This was his ruin; for Nina is a beautiful woman, and in her then state of undress she would have seduced the coldest of men.

“The count reproved her, but his voice and his manner were ill-assured, and growing bolder as she watched his embarrassment, Nina replied that he might have her torn to pieces if he liked, but she would not dance against her will, and nowhere in her agreement was it stipulated that she should dance twice in the same evening, whether for his pleasure or anyone else’s. She also expressed her anger at making her appear before him in a state of semi-nudity, and swore she would never forgive his barbarous and despotic conduct.

“‘I will dance no more before you or your people.

‘Let me go away, or kill me if you like; do your worst on me, and you shall find that I am a Venetian and a free woman!’

“The viceroy sat astonished, and said she must be mad. He then summoned my husband and told him she was no longer in his service. Nina was told she was free, and could go where she would.

“She went back to her dressing-room and came to us, where she was living.

“The ballet went on without her, and the poor viceroy sat in a dream, for the poison had entered into his veins.

“Next day a wretched singer named Molinari called on Nina and told her that the viceroy was anxious to know whether she were really mad or not, and would like to see her in a country house, the name of which he mentioned: this was just what the wretched woman wanted.

“‘Tell his highness,’ she said to Molinari, “that I will come, and that he will find me as gentle as a lamb and as good as an angel.’

“This is the way in which the connection began, and she fathomed his character so astutely that she maintained her conquest as much with ill- treatment and severity as with her favours.”

Such was the tale of the hapless Madame Schizza. It was told with all the passion of an Italian divided between repentance for the past and the desire of vengeance.

The next day, as I had expected, I received a letter from Henriette. It ran as follows:

“My Dear Old Friend — Nothing could be more romantic than our meeting at my country house six years ago, and now again, after a parting of so many years. Naturally we have both grown older, and though I love you still I am glad you did not recognize me. Not that I have become ugly, but I am stout, and this gives me another look. I am a widow, and well enough off to tell you that if you lack money you will find some ready for you in Henriette’s purse. Do not come back to Aix to see me, as your return might give rise to gossip; but if you chance to come here again after some time, we may meet, though not as old acquaintances. I am happy to think that I have perhaps prolonged your days by giving you a nurse for whose trustworthiness I would answer. If you would like to correspond with me I should be happy to do my part. I am very curious to know what happened to you after your flight from The Leads, and after the proofs you have given me of your discretion I think I shall be able to tell you how we came to meet at Cesena, and how I returned to my country. The first part is a secret for everyone; only M. d’Antoine is acquainted with a portion of the story. I am grateful for the reticence you have observed, though Marcoline must have delivered the message I gave her. Tell me what has become of that beautiful girl. Farewell!”

I replied, accepting her offer to correspond, and I told her the whole story of my adventures. From her I received forty letters, in which the history of her life is given. If she die before me, I shall add these letters to my Memoirs, but at present she is alive and happy, though advanced in years.

The day after I went to call on Madame Audibert, and we went together to see Madame N—— N— — who was already the mother of three children. Her husband adored her, and she was very happy. I gave her good news of Marcoline, and told the story of Croce and Charlotte’s death, which affected her to tears.

In turn she told me about Rosalie, who was quite a rich woman. I had no hopes of seeing her again, for she lived at Genoa, and I should not have cared to face M. Grimaldi.

My niece (as I once called her) mortified me unintentionally; she said I was ageing. Though a man can easily make a jest of his advancing years, a speech like this is not pleasant when one has not abandoned the pursuit of pleasure. She gave me a capital dinner, and her husband made me offers which I was ashamed to accept. I had fifty Louis, and, intending to go on to Turin, I did not feel uneasy about the future.

At Marseilles I met the Duc de Vilardi, who was kept alive by the art of Tronchin. This nobleman, who was Governor of Provence, asked me to supper, and I was surprised to meet at his house the self-styled Marquis d’Aragon; he was engaged in holding the bank. I staked a few coins and lost, and the marquis asked me to dine with him and his wife, an elderly Englishwoman, who had brought him a dowry of forty thousand guineas absolutely, with twenty thousand guineas which would ultimately go to her son in London. I was not ashamed to borrow fifty Louis from this lucky rascal, though I felt almost certain that I should never return the money.

I left Marseilles by myself, and after crossing the Alps arrived at Turin.

There I had a warm welcome from the Chevalier Raiberti and the Comte de la Perouse. Both of them pronounced me to be looking older, but I consoled myself with the thought that, after all, I was only forty-four.

I became an intimate friend of the English ambassador, Sir N— — a rich, accomplished and cultured man, who kept the choicest of tables. Everybody loved him, and amongst others this feeling was warmly shared by a Parmese girl, named Campioni, who was wonderfully beautiful.

As soon as I had told my friends that I intended to go into Switzerland to print at my own expense a refutation in Italian of the “History of the Venetian Government,” by Amelot de la Houssaye, they all did their best by subscribing and obtaining subscriptions. The most generous of all was the Comte de la Perouse, who gave me two hundred and fifty francs for fifty copies. I left Turin in a week with two thousand lire in my purse. With this I should be able to print the book I had composed in my prison; but I should have to rewrite it ‘ab initio’, with the volume to my hand, as also the “History of Venice,” by Nani.

When I had got these works I set out with the intention of having my book printed at Lugano, as there was a good press there and no censure. I also knew that the head of the press was a well-read man, and that the place abounded in good cheer and good society.

Lugano is near Milan, Como, and Lake Maggiore, and I was well pleased with the situation. I went to the best inn, which was kept by a man named Tagoretti, who gave me the best room in the house.

The day after my arrival I called on Dr. Agnelli, who was at once printer, priest, theologian, and an honest man. I made a regular agreement with him, he engaging to print at the rate of four sheets a week, and on my side I promised to pay him every week. He reserved the right of censorship, expressing a hope that our opinions might coincide.

I gave him the preface and the preliminary matter at once, and chose the paper and the size, large octavo.

When I got back to my inn the landlord told me that the bargello, or chief constable, wanted to see me.

Although Lugano is in Switzerland, its municipal government is modelled after that of the Italian towns.

I was curious to hear what this ill-omened personage could have to say to me, so I told him to shew him in. After giving me a profound bow, with his hat in his hand, Signor Bargello told me that he had come to offer me his services, and to assure me that I should enjoy complete tranquillity and safety in Lugano, whether from any enemies within the State or from the Venetian Government, in case I had any dispute with it.

“I thank you, signor,” I replied, “and I am sure that you are telling me the truth, as I am in Switzerland.”

“I must take the liberty of telling you, sir, that it is customary for strangers who take up their residence in Lugano, to pay some trifling sum, either by the week, the month, or the year.”

“And if they refuse to pay?”

“Then their safety is not so sure.”

“Money does everything in Lugano, I suppose.”

“But, sir ——”

“I understand, but let me tell you that I have no fears, and I shall consequently beg to be excused from paying anything.”

“You will forgive me, but I happen to know that you have some disputes with the Venetian Government.”

“You are making a mistake, my good fellow.”

“No, I am not.”

“If you are so sure, find someone to bet me two hundred sequins that I have reason to fear the Venetian Government; I will take the bet and deposit the amount.”

The bargello remained silent, and the landlord told him he seemed to have made some kind of mistake, so he went away, looking very disappointed.

My landlord was delighted to hear that I thought of making some stay at Lugano, and advised me to call on the high bailiff, who governed the place.

“He’s a very nice Swiss gentleman,” said he, “and his wife a clever woman, and as fair as the day.”

“I will go and see him to-morrow.”

I sent in my name to the high bailiff at noon on the day following, and what was my surprise to find myself in the presence of M. de R and his charming wife. Beside her was a pretty boy, five or six years old.

Our mutual surprise may be imagined!

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37