The memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, by Giacomo Casanova

Chapter IV

My Amours With Donna Ignazia — My Imprisonment At Buen Retiro — My Triumph — I Am Commended to the Venetian Ambassador by One of the State Inquisitors

We entered the ball-room and walked round several times. Donna Ignazia was in such a state of ecstasy that I felt her trembling, and augured well for my amorous projects. Though liberty, nay, license, seemed to reign supreme, there was a guard of soldiers ready to arrest the first person who created any disturbance. We danced several minuets and square dances, and at ten o’clock we went into the supper-room, our conversation being very limited all the while, she not speaking for fear of encouraging me too much, and I on account of my poor knowledge of the Spanish language. I left her alone for a moment after supper, and went to the box, where I expected to find Madame Pichona, but it was occupied by maskers, who were unknown to me, so I rejoined my partner, and we went on dancing the minuets and quadrilles till the fandango was announced. I took my place with my partner, who danced it admirably, and seemed astonished to find herself so well supported by a foreigner. This dance had excited both of us, so, after taking her to the buffet and giving her the best wines and liqueurs procurable, I asked her if she were content with me. I added that I was so deeply in love with her that unless she found some means of making me happy I should undoubtedly die of love. I assured her that I was ready to face all hazards.

“By making you happy,” she replied, “I shall make myself happy, too. I will write to you to-morrow, and you will find the letter sewn into the hood of my domino.”

“You will find me ready to do anything, fair Ignazia, if you will give me hope.”

At last the ball was over, and we went out and got into the carriage. The mother woke up, and the coachman drove off, and I, taking the girl’s hands, would have kissed them. However, she seemed to suspect that I had other intentions, and held my hands clasped so tightly that I believe I should have found it a hard task to pull them away. In this position Donna Ignazia proceeded to tell her mother all about the ball, and the delight it had given her. She did not let go my hands till we got to the corner of their street, when the mother called out to the coachman to stop, not wishing to give her neighbours occasion for slander by stopping in front of their own house.

The next day I sent for the domino, and in it I found a letter from Donna Ignazia, in which she told me that a Don Francisco de Ramos would call on me, that he was her lover, and that he would inform me how to render her and myself happy.

Don Francisco wasted no time, for the next morning at eight o’clock my page sent in his name. He told me that Donna Ignazia, with whom he spoke every night, she being at her window and he in the street, had informed him that she and I had been at the ball together. She had also told him that she felt sure I had conceived a fatherly affection for her, and she had consequently prevailed upon him to call on me, being certain that I would treat him as my own son. She had encouraged him to ask me to lend him a hundred doubloons which would enable them to get married before the end of the carnival.

“I am employed at the Mint,” he added, “but my present salary is a very small one. I hope I shall get an increase before long, and then I shall be in a position to make Ignazia happy. All my relations live at Toledo, and I have no friends at Madrid, so when we set up our only friends will be the father and mother of my wife and yourself, for I am sure you love her like a daughter.”

“You have probed my heart to its core,” I replied, “but just now I am awaiting remittances, and have very little money about me. You may count on my discretion, and I shall be delighted to see you whenever you care to call on me.”

The gallant made me a bow, and took his departure in no good humour. Don Francisco was a young man of twenty-two, ugly and ill-made. I resolved to nip the intrigue in the bud, for my inclination for Donna Ignazia was of the lightest description; and I went to call on Madame Pichona, who had given me such a polite invitation to come and see her. I had made enquiries about her, and had found out that she was an actress and had been made rich by the Duke of Medina-Celi. The duke had paid her a visit in very cold weather, and finding her without a fire, as she was too poor to buy coals, had sent her the next day a silver stove, which he had filled with a hundred thousand pezzos duros in gold, amounting to three hundred thousand francs in French money. Since then Madame Pichona lived at her ease and received good company.

She gave me a warm reception when I called on her, but her looks were sad. I began by saying that as I had not found her in her box on the last ball night I had ventured to come to enquire after her health.

“I did not go,” said she, “for on that day died my only friend the Duke of Medina-Celi. He was ill for three days.”

“I sympathise with you. Was the duke an old man?”

“Hardly sixty. You have seen him; he did not look his age.”

“Where have I seen him?”

“Did he not bring you to my box?”

“You don’t say so! He did not tell me his name and I never saw him before.”

I was grieved to hear of his death; it was in all probability a misfortune for me as well as Madame Pichona. All the duke’s estate passed to a son of miserly disposition, who in his turn had a son who was beginning to evince the utmost extravagance.

I was told that the family of Medina-Celi enjoys thirty titles of nobility.

One day a young man called on me to offer me, as a foreigner, his services in a country which he knew thoroughly.

“I am Count Marazzini de Plaisance,” he began, “I am not rich and I have come to Madrid to try and make my fortune. I hope to enter the bodyguard of his Catholic majesty. I have been indulging in the amusements of the town ever since I came. I saw you at the ball with an unknown beauty. I don’t ask you to tell me her name, but if you are fond of novelty I can introduce you to all the handsomest girls in Madrid.”

If my experience had taught me such wholesome lessons as I might have expected, I should have shown the impudent rascal the door. Alas! I began to be weary of my experience and the fruits of it; I began to feel the horrors of a great void; I had need of some slight passion to wile away the dreary hours. I therefore made this Mercury welcome, and told him I should be obliged by his presenting me to some beauties, neither too easy nor too difficult to access.

“Come with me to the ball,” he rejoined, “and I will shew you some women worthy of your attention.”

The ball was to take place the same evening, and I agreed; he asked me to give him some dinner, and I agreed to that also. After dinner he told me he had no money, and I was foolish enough to give him a doubloon. The fellow, who was ugly, blind of one eye, and full of impudence, shewed me a score of pretty women, whose histories he told me, and seeing me to be interested in one of them he promised to bring her to a procuress. He kept his word, but he cost me dear; for the girl only served for an evening’s amusement.

Towards the end of the carnival the noble Don Diego, the father of Donna Ignazia, brought me my boots, and the thanks of his wife and himself for the pleasure I had given her at the ball.

“She is as good as she is beautiful,” said I, “she deserves to prosper, and if I have not called on her it is only that I am anxious to do nothing which could injure her reputation.”

“Her reputation, Senor Caballero, is above all reproach, and I shall be delighted to see you whenever you honour me with a call.”

“The carnival draws near to its end,” I replied, “and if Donna Ignazia would like to go to another ball I shall be happy to take her again.”

“You must come and ask her yourself.”

“I will not fail to do so.”

I was anxious to see how the pious girl, who had tried to make me pay a hundred doubloons for the chance of having her after her marriage, would greet me, so I called the same day. I found her with her mother, rosary in hand, while her noble father was botching old boots. I laughed inwardly at being obliged to give the title of don to a cobbler who would not make boots because he was an hidalgo. Hidalgo, meaning noble, is derived from ‘higo de albo’, son of somebody, and the people, whom the nobles call ‘higos de nade’, sons of nobody, often revenge themselves by calling the nobles hideputas, that is to say, sons of harlots.

Donna Ignazia rose politely from the floor, where she was sitting cross- legged, after the Moorish fashion. I have seen exalted ladies in this position at Madrid, and it is very common in the antechambers of the Court and the palace of the Princess of the Asturias. The Spanish women sit in church in the same way, and the rapidity with which they can change this posture to a kneeling or a standing one is something amazing.

Donna Ignazia thanked me for honouring her with a visit, adding that she would never have gone to the ball if it had not been for me, and that she never hoped to go to it again, as I had doubtless found someone else more worthy of my attentions.

“I have not found anyone worthy to be preferred before you,” I replied, “and if you would like to go to the ball again I should be most happy to take you.”

The father and mother were delighted with the pleasure I was about to give to their beloved daughter. As the ball was to take place the same evening, I gave the mother a doubloon to get a mask and domino. She went on her errand, and, as Don Diego also went out on some business, I found myself alone with the girl. I took the opportunity of telling her that if she willed I would be hers, as I adored her, but that I could not sigh for long.

“What can you ask, and what can I offer, since I must keep myself pure for my husband?”

“You should abandon yourself to me without reserve, and you may be sure that I should respect your innocence.”

I then proceeded to deliver a gentle attack, which she repulsed, with a serious face. I stopped directly, telling her that she would find me polite and respectful, but not in the least affectionate, for the rest of the evening.

Her face had blushed a vivid scarlet, and she replied that her sense of duty obliged her to repulse me in spite of herself.

I liked this metaphysical line of argument. I saw that I had only to destroy the idea of duty in her and all the rest would follow. What I had to do was to enter into an argument, and to bear away the prize directly I saw her at a loss for an answer.

“If your duty,” I began, “forces you to repulse me in spite of yourself, your duty is a burden on you. If it is a burden on you, it is your enemy, and if it is your enemy why do you suffer it thus lightly to gain the victory? If you were your own friend, you would at once expel this insolent enemy from your coasts.”

“That may not be.”

“Yes, it may. Only shut your eyes.”

“Like that?”

“Yes.”

I immediately laid hands on a tender place; she repulsed me, but more gently and not so seriously as before.

“You may, of course, seduce me,” she said, “but if you really love me you will spare me the shame.”

“Dearest Ignazia, there is no shame in a girl giving herself up to the man she loves. Love justifies all things. If you do not love me I ask nothing of you.”

“But how shall I convince you that I am actuated by love and not by complaisance?”

“Leave me to do what I like, and my self-esteem will help me to believe you.”

“But as I cannot be certain that you will believe me, my duty plainly points to a refusal.”

“Very good, but you will make me sad and cold.”

“Then I shall be sad, too.”

At these encouraging words I embraced her, and obtained some solid favours with one hardy hand. She made no opposition, and I was well pleased with what I had got; and for a first attempt I could not well expect more.

At this juncture the mother came in with the dominos and gloves. I refused to accept the change, and went away to return in my carriage, as before.

Thus the first step had been taken, and Donna Ignazia felt it would be ridiculous not to join in with my conversation at the ball which all tended to procuring the pleasure of spending our nights together. She found me affectionate all the evening, and at supper I did my best to get her everything she liked. I made her see that the part she had at last taken was worthy of praise, and not blame. I filled her pockets with sweets, and put into my own pockets two bottles of ratafia, which I handed over to the mother, who was asleep in the carriage. Donna Ignazia gratefully refused the quadruple I wished to give her, saying that if it were in my power to make such presents, I might give the money to her lover whenever he called on me.

“Certainly,” I answered, “but what shall I say to prevent his taking offence?”

“Tell him that it is on account of what he asked you. He is poor, and I am sure he is in despair at not seeing me in the window to-night. I shall tell him I only went to the ball with you to please my father.”

Donna Ignazia, a mixture of voluptuousness and piety, like most Spanish women, danced the fandango with so much fire that no words could have expressed so well the Joys that were in store for me. What a dance it is! Her bosom was heaving and her blood all aflame, and yet I was told that for the greater part of the company the dance was wholly innocent, and devoid of any intention. I pretended to believe it, but I certainly did not. Ignazia begged me to come to mass at the Church of the Soledad the next day at eight o’clock. I had not yet told her that it was there I had seen her first. She also asked me to come and see her in the evening, and said she would send me a letter if we were not left alone together.

I slept till noon, and was awoke by Marazzini, who came to ask me to give him some dinner. He told me he had seen me with my fair companion the night before, and that he had vainly endeavoured to find out who she was. I bore with this singularly misplaced curiosity, but when it came to his saying that he would have followed us if he had had any money, I spoke to him in a manner that made him turn pale. He begged pardon, and promised to bridle his curiosity for the future. He proposed a party of pleasure with the famous courtezan Spiletta, whose favours were dear, but I declined, for my mind was taken up with the fair Ignazia, whom I considered a worthy successor to Charlotte.

I went to the church, and she saw me when she came in, followed by the same companion as before.

She knelt down at two or three paces from me, but did not once look in my direction. Her friend, on the other hand, inspected me closely; she seemed about the same age as Ignazia, but she was ugly. I also noticed Don Francisco, and as I was going out of the church my rival followed me, and congratulated me somewhat bitterly on my good fortune in having taken his mistress a second time to the ball. He confessed that he had been on our track the whole evening, and that he should have gone away well enough pleased if it had not been for the way in which we dance the fandango. I felt this was an occasion for a little gentle management, and I answered good-humouredly that the love he thought he noticed was wholly imaginary, and that he was wrong to entertain any suspicions as to so virtuous a girl as Donna Ignazia. At the same time I placed an ounce in his hand, begging him to take it on account. He did so with an astonished stare, and, calling me his father and guardian angel, swore an eternal gratitude.

In the evening I called on Don Diego, where I was regaled with the excellent ratafia I had given the mother, and the whole family began to speak of the obligations Spain owed to the Count of Aranda.

“No exercise is more healthful than dancing,” said Antonia, the mother, “and before his time balls were strictly forbidden. In spite of that he is hated for having expelled ‘los padres de la compagnia de Jesus’, and for his sumptuary regulations. But the poor bless his name, for all the money produced by the balls goes to them.”

“And thus,” said the father, “to go to the ball is to do a pious work.”

“I have two cousins,” said Ignazia, “who are perfect angels of goodness. I told them that you had taken me to the ball; but they are so poor that they have no hope of going. If you like you can make them quite happy by taking them on the last day of the carnival. The ball closes at midnight, so as not to profane Ash Wednesday.”

“I shall be happy to oblige you, all the more as your lady mother will not be obliged to wait for us in the carriage.”

“You are very kind; but I shall have to introduce you to my aunt; she is so particular. When she knows you, I am sure she will consent, for you have all the air of discretion. Go and see her to-day; she lives in the next street, and over her door you will see a notice that lace is washed within. Tell her that my mother gave you the address. To-morrow morning, after mass, I will see to everything else, and you must come here at noon to agree as to our meeting on the last day of the carnival.”

I did all this, and the next day I heard that it was settled.

“I will have the dominos ready at my house,” I said, “and you must come in at the back door. We will dine in my room, mask, and go to the ball. The eldest of your cousins must be disguised as a man.”

“I won’t tell her anything about that, for fear she might think it a sin, but once in your house you will have no difficulty in managing her.”

The younger of the two cousins was ugly, but looked like a woman, where as the elder looked like an ugly dressed man in woman’s clothes. She made an amusing contrast with Donna Ignazia, who looked most seductive when she laid aside her air of piety.

I took care that everything requisite for our disguises should be at hand in a neighbouring closet, unbeknown to my rascally page. I gave him a piece of money in the morning, and told him to spend the last day of the carnival according to his own taste, as I should not require his services till noon the day after.

I ordered a good dinner, and a waiter to serve it, at the tavern, and got rid of Marazzini by giving him a doubloon. I took great pains over the entertainment I was to give the two cousins and the fair Ignazia, whom I hoped that day to make my mistress. It was all quite a novelty for me; I had to do with three devotees, two hideous and the third ravishingly beautiful, who had already had a foretaste of the joys in store for her.

They came at noon, and for an hour I discoursed to them in a moral and unctuous manner. I had taken care to provide myself with some excellent wine, which did not fail to take effect on the three girls, who were not accustomed to a dinner that lasted two hours. They were not exactly inebriated, but their spirits were worked up to a pitch they had never attained before.

I told the elder cousin, who might be twenty-five years old, that I was going to disguise her as a man; consternation appeared on her features, but I had expected as much, and Donna Ignazia told her she was only too lucky, and her sister observed that she did not think it could be a sin.

“If it were a sin,” said I, “do you suppose that I should have suggested it to your virtuous sister.”

Donna Ignazia, who knew the Legendarium by heart, corroborated my assertion by saying that the blessed St. Marina had passed her whole life in man’s clothes; and this settled the matter.

I then burst into a very high-flown eulogium of her intellectual capacity, so as to enlist her vanity in the good cause.

“Come with me,” said I, “and do you ladies wait here; I want to enjoy your surprise when you see her in man’s clothes.”

The ugly cousin made a supreme effort and followed me, and when she had duly inspected her disguise I told her to take off her boots and to put on white stockings and shoes, of which I had provided several pairs. I sat down before her, and told her that if she suspected me of any dishonourable intentions she would commit a mortal sin, as I was old enough to be her father. She replied that she was a good Christian, but not a fool. I fastened her garters for her, saying that I should never have supposed she had so well-shapen and so white a leg, which compliment made her smile in a satisfied manner.

Although I had a fine view of her thighs, I observed no traces of a blush on her face. I then gave her a pair, of my breeches, which fitted her admirably, though I was five inches taller than she, but this difference was compensated by the posterior proportions, with which, like most women, she was bountifully endowed. I turned away to let her put them on in freedom, and, having given her a linen shirt, she told me she had finished before she had buttoned it at the neck. There may possibly have been a little coquetry in this, as I buttoned the shirt for her, and was thus gratified with a sight of her splendid breast. I need not say whether she was pleased or not at my refraining from complimenting her upon her fine proportions. When her toilette was finished I surveyed her from head to foot, and pronounced her to be a perfect man, with the exception of one blemish.

“I am sorry for that.”

“Will you allow me to arrange your shirt so as to obviate it?”

“I shall be much obliged, as I have never dressed in man’s clothes before.”

I then sat down in front of her, and, after unbuttoning the fly, arranged the shirt in a proper manner. In doing so I allowed myself some small liberties, but I toyed with such a serious air that she seemed to take it all as a matter of course.

When I had put on her domino and mask I led her forth, and her sister and Donna Ignazia congratulated her on her disguise, saying that anybody would take her for a man.

“Now it’s your turn,” I said to the younger one.

“Go with him,” said the elder, “Don Jaime is as honest a man as you will find in Spain.”

There was really not much to be done to the younger sister, her disguise being simply a mask and domino, but as I wanted to keep Ignazia a long time I made her put on white stockings, change her kerchief, and a dozen other trifles. When she was ready I brought her forth, and Donna Ignazia noticing that she had changed her stockings and kerchief, asked her whether I were as expert at dressing a lady as at turning a lady into a gentleman.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “I did everything for myself.”

Next came the turn of Don Diego’s daughter, and as soon as I had her in the closet I did my pleasure on her, she submitting with an air that seemed to say, “I only give in because I can’t resist.” Wishing to save her honour I withdrew in time, but in the second combat I held her for half an hour to my arms. However, she was naturally of a passionate disposition, and nature had endowed her with a temperament able to resist the most vigorous attacks. When decency made us leave the closet, she remarked to her cousins,

“I thought I should never have done; I had to alter the whole fit of the domino.”

I admired her presence of mind.

At nightfall we went to the ball, at which the fandango might be danced ad libitum by a special privilege, but the crowd was so great that dancing was out of the question. At ten we had supper, and then walked up and down, till all at once the two orchestras became silent. We heard the church clocks striking midnight the carnival was over, and Lent had begun.

This rapid transition from wantonness to devotion, from paganism to Christianity, has something startling and unnatural about it. At fifty- nine minutes past eleven the senses are all aglow; midnight sounds, and in a minute they are supposed to be brought low, and the heart to be full of humble repentance; it is an absurdity, an impossibility.

I took the three girls to my house to take off their dominos, and we then escorted the two cousins home. When we had left them for a few minutes Donna Ignazia told me that she would like a little coffee. I understood her, and took her to my house, feeling sure of two hours of mutual pleasure.

I took her to my room, and was just going out to order the coffee when I met Don Francisco, who asked me plainly to let him come up, as he had seen Donna Ignazia go in with me. I had sufficient strength of mind to conceal my rage and disappointment, and told him to come in, adding that his mistress would be delighted at this unexpected visit. I went upstairs, and he followed me, and I shewed him into the room, congratulating the lady on the pleasant surprise.

I expected that she would play her part as well as I had played mine, but I was wrong. In her rage she told him that she would never have asked me to give her a cup of coffee if she had foreseen this piece of importunity, adding that if he had been a gentleman he would have known better than to intrude himself at such an hour.

In spite of my own anger I felt that I must take the poor devil’s part; he looked like a dog with a tin kettle tied to his tail. I tried to calm Donna Ignazia, telling her that Don Francisco had seen us by a mere accident, and that it was I who had asked him to come upstairs, in the hope of pleasing her.

Donna Ignazia feigned to be persuaded and asked her lover to sit down, but she did not speak another word to him, confining her remarks to me, saying how much she had enjoyed the ball, and how kind I had been to take her cousins.

After he had taken a cup of coffee, Don Francisco bade us a good night. I told him I hoped he would come and see me before Lent was over, but Donna Ignazia only vouchsafed him a slight nod. When he had gone she said, sadly enough, that she was sorry he had deprived us both of our pleasure, and that she was sure Don Francisco was still hanging about the place, and that she dared not expose herself to his vengeance. “So take me home, but if you love me come and see me again. The trick the stupid fellow has played me shall cost him dear. Are you sure I don’t love him?”

“Quite certain, for you love me too well to love anybody else.”

Donna Ignazia gave me a hasty proof of her affection, and I escorted her home, assuring her that she would be the sole object of my thoughts as long as I stayed at Madrid.

The next day I dined with Mengs, and the day after that I was accosted in the street by an ill-looking fellow, who bade me follow him to a cloister, as he had something of importance to communicate to me.

As soon as he saw that we were unobserved, he told me that the Alcalde Messa was going to pay me a visit that same night with a band of police, “of whom,” he added, “I am one. He knows you have concealed weapons in your room. He knows, or thinks he knows, certain other things which authorize him to seize your person and to take you to the prison where persons destined for the galleys are kept. I give you all this warning because I believe you to be a man of honour. Despise not my advice, but look to yourself, and get into some place of security.”

I credited what he told me, as the circumstance of my having arms was perfectly true, so I gave the man a doubloon, and, instead of calling on Donna Ignazia, as I intended, I went back to my lodging, and after putting the weapons under my cloak I went to Mengs’s, leaving word at the cafe to send me my page as soon as he came back. In Mengs’s house I was safe, as it belonged to the king.

The painter was an honest fellow, but proud and suspicious in excess. He did not refuse me an asylum for the night, but he told me that I must look out for some other refuge, as the alcalde must have some other accusation against me, and that knowing nothing of the merits or demerits of the case he could not take any part in it. He gave me a room and we supped together, discussing the matter all the time, I persisting that the possession of arms was my only offence, and he replying that if it were so I should have awaited the alcalde fearlessly, as it stood to reason that a man had a right to keep defensive weapons in his own room. To this I answered that I had only come to him to avoid passing the night in prison, as I was certain that the man had told me the truth.

“To-morrow I shall look out for another lodging.”

I confessed, however, that it would have been wiser of me to leave my pistols and musket in my room.

“Yes, and you might have remained there yourself. I did not think you were so easily frightened.”

As we were arguing it over my landlord came and said that the alcalde with thirty constables had been to my apartment and had broken open the door. He had searched everything, but unsuccessfully, and had gone away after sealing the room and its contents. He had arrested and imprisoned my page on the charge of having warned me, “for otherwise,” he said, “the Venetian gentleman would never have gone to the house of Chevalier Mengs, where he is out of my power.”

At this Mengs agreed that I had been right in believing my informant’s tale, and he added that the first thing in the morning I should go and protest my innocence before the Count of Aranda, but he especially urged on me the duty of defending the poor page. My landlord went his way, and we continued the discussion, Mengs insisting on the page’s innocence, till at last I lost all patience, and said —

“My page must be a thorough-paced scoundrel; the magistrate’s arresting him for warning me is an absolute proof that he knew of my approaching arrest. What is a servant who does not warn his master under such circumstances but a rascal? Indeed I am absolutely certain that he was the informer, for he was the only person who knew where the arms were concealed.”

Mengs could find no answer to this, and left to go to bed. I did the same and had an excellent night.

Early the next morning the great Mengs sent me linen and all the requisites of the toilette. His maid brought me a cup of chocolate, and his cook came to ask if I had permission to eat flesh-meat. In such ways a prince welcomes a guest, and bids him stay, but such behaviour in a private person is equivalent to a hint to go. I expressed my gratitude, and only accepted a cup of chocolate and one handkerchief.

My carriage was at the door, and I was just taking leave of Mengs when an officer appeared on the scene, and asked the painter if the Chevalier de Casanova was in his house.

“I am the Chevalier de Casanova,” said I.

“Then I hope you will follow me of your own free will to the prison of Buen Retiro. I cannot use force here, for this house is the king’s, but I warn you that in less than an hour the Chevalier Mengs will have orders to turn you out, and then you will be dragged to prison, which would be unpleasant for you. I therefore advise you to follow me quietly, and to give up such weapons as you may possess.”

“The Chevalier Mengs will give you the weapons in question. I have carried them with me for eleven years; they are meant to protect me on the highways. I am ready to follow you, but first allow me to write four notes; I shall not be half an hour.”

“I can neither allow you to wait nor to write, but you will be at liberty to do so after you have reached the prison.”

“Very good; then I am ready to follow you, for I have no choice. I shall remember Spanish justice!”

I embraced Mengs, had the weapons put into my carriage, and got in with the officer, who seemed a perfect gentleman.

He took me to the Castle of Buen Retiro, formerly a royal palace, and now a prison. When my conductor had consigned me to the officer of the watch I was handed over to a corporal, who led me into a vast hall on the ground floor of the building. The stench was dreadful, and the prisoners were about thirty, ten of them being soldiers. There were ten or twelve large beds, some benches, no tables, and no chairs.

I asked a guard to get me some pens, ink, and paper, and gave him a duro for the purpose. He took the coin smilingly, and went away, but he did not return. When I asked his brethren what had become of him they laughed in my face. But what surprised me the most was the sight of my page and Marazzini, who told me in Italian that he had been there for three days, and that he had not written to me as he had a presentiment that we should soon meet. He added that in a fortnight’s time we should be sent off under a heavy escort to work in some fortress, though we might send our pleas to the Government, and might possibly be let out after three or four years’ imprisonment.

“I hope,” he said, “not to be condemned before I am heard. The alcalde will come and interrogate you tomorrow, and your answers will be taken down; that’s all. You may then be sent to hard labour in Africa.”

“Has your case been heard yet?”

“They were at me about it for three hours yesterday.”

“What kind of questions did they ask you?”

“They wished to know what banker furnished me with money for my expenses. I told them I had not got a banker, and that I lived by borrowing from my friends, in the expectation of becoming one of the king’s body-guard. They then asked me how it was that the Parmese ambassador knew nothing about me, and I replied that I had never been presented to him.

“‘Without the favour of your ambassador,’ they objected, ‘you could never join the royal guard, and you must be aware of that, but the king’s majesty shall give you employment where you will stand in need of no commendation;’ and so the alcalde left me. If the Venetian ambassador does not interpose in your behalf you will be treated in the same way.”

I concealed my rage, and sat down on a bed, which I left after three hours, as I found myself covered with the disgusting vermin which seem endemic in Spain. The very sight of them made me sick. I stood upright, motionless, and silent, devouring the bile which consumed me.

There was no good in talking; I must write; but where was I to find writing materials? However, I resolved to wait in silence; my time must come, sooner or later.

At noon Marazzini told me that he knew a soldier for whose trustworthiness he would answer, and who would get me my dinner if I gave him the money.

“I have no appetite,” I replied, “and I am not going to give a farthing to anyone till the stolen crown is restored to me.”

He made an uproar over this piece of cheating, but the soldiers only laughed at him. My page then asked him to intercede with me, as he was hungry, and had no money wherewith to buy food.

“I will not give him a farthing; he is no longer in my service, and would to God I had never seen him!”

My companions in misery proceeded to dine on bad garlic soup and wretched bread, washed down by plain water, two priests and an individual who was styled corregidor excepted, and they seemed to fare very well.

At four o’clock one of Mengs’s servants brought me a dinner which would have sufficed for four. He wanted to leave me the dinner and come for the plates in the evening; but not caring to share the meal with the vile mob around me I made him wait till I had done and come again at the same time the next day, as I did not require any supper. The servant obeyed. Marazzini said rudely that I might at least have kept the bottle of wine; but I gave him no answer.

At five o’clock Manucci appeared, accompanied by a Spanish officer. After the usual compliments had passed between us I asked the officer if I might write to my friends, who would not allow me to stay much longer in prison if they were advised of my arrest.

“We are no tyrants,” he replied; “you can write what letters you like.”

“Then,” said I, “as this is a free country, is it allowable for a soldier who has received certain moneys to buy certain articles to pocket the money and appropriate it to his own use?”

“What is his name?”

The guard had been relieved, and no one seemed to know who or where he was.

“I promise you, sir,” said the officer, “that the soldier shall be punished and your money restored to you; and in the meanwhile you shall have pens, ink, paper, a table, and a candle, immediately.”

“And I,” added Manucci, “promise you that one of the ambassador’s servants shall wait on you at eight o’clock to deliver any letters you may write.

I took three crowns from my pocket, and told my fellow-prisoners that the first to name the soldier who had deceived me should have the money; Marazzini was the first to do so. The officer made a note of the man’s name with a smile; he was beginning to know me; I had spent three crowns to get back one, and could not be very avaricious.

Manucci whispered to me that the ambassador would do his best in a confidential way to get my release, and that he had no doubt of his success.

When my visitors were gone I sat down to write, but I had need of all my patience. The rascally prisoners crowded round me to read what I was writing, and when they could not understand it they were impudent enough to ask me to explain it to them. Under the pretext of snuffing the candle, they put it out. However, I bore with it all. One of the soldiers said he would keep them quiet for a crown, but I gave him no answer. In spite of the hell around me, I finished my letters and sealed them up. They were no studied or rhetorical epistles, but merely the expression of the fury with which I was consumed.

I told Mocenigo that it was his duty to defend a subject of his prince, who had been arrested and imprisoned by a foreign power on an idle pretext. I shewed him that he must give me his protection unless I was guilty, and that I had committed no offence against the law of the land. I reminded him that I was a Venetian, in spite of my persecution at the hands of the State Inquisitors, and that being a Venetian I had a right to count on his protection.

To Don Emmanuel de Roda, a learned scholar, and the minister of justice, I wrote that I did not ask any favour but only simple justice.

“Serve God and your master,” said I. “Let his Catholic majesty save me from the hands of the infamous alcalde who has arrested me, an honest and a law-abiding man, who came to Spain trusting in his own innocence and the protection of the laws. The person who writes to you, my lord, has a purse full of doubloons in his pocket; he has already been robbed, and fears assassination in the filthy den in which he has been imprisoned.”

I wrote to the Duke of Lossada, requesting him to inform the king that his servants had subjected to vile treatment a man whose only fault was that he had a little money. I begged him to use his influence with his Catholic majesty to put a stop to these infamous proceedings.

But the most vigorous letter of all was the one I addressed to the Count of Aranda. I told him plainly that if this infamous action went on I should be forced to believe that it was by his orders, since I had stated in vain that I came to Madrid with an introduction to him from a princess.

“I have committed no crime,” I said; “what compensation am I to have when I am released from this filthy and abominable place? Set me at liberty at once, or tell your hangmen to finish their work, for I warn you that no one shall take me to the galleys alive.”

According to my custom I took copies of all the letters, and I sent them off by the servant whom the all-powerful Manucci despatched to the prison. I passed such a night as Dante might have imagined in his Vision of Hell. All the beds were full, and even if there had been a spare place I would not have occupied it. I asked in vain for a mattress, but even if they had brought me one, it would have been of no use, for the whole floor was inundated. There were only two or three chamber utensils for all the prisoners, and everyone discharged his occasions on the floor.

I spent the night on a narrow bench without a back, resting my head on my hands.

At seven o’clock the next morning Manucci came to see me; I looked upon him as my Providence. I begged him to take me down to the guard-room, and give me some refreshment, for I felt quite exhausted. My request was granted, and as I told my sufferings I had my hair done by a barber.

Manucci told me that my letters would be delivered in the course of the day, and observed, smilingly, that my epistle to the ambassador was rather severe. I shewed him copies of the three others I had written, and the inexperienced young man told me that gentleness was the best way to obtain favours. He did not know that there are circumstances in which a man’s pen must be dipped in gall. He told me confidentially that the ambassador dined with Aranda that day, and would speak in my favour as a private individual, adding that he was afraid my letter would prejudice the proud Spaniard against me.

“All I ask of you,” said I, “is not to tell the ambassador that you have seen the letter I wrote to the Count of Aranda.”

He promised he would keep the secret.

An hour after his departure I saw Donna Ignazia and her father coming in, accompanied by the officer who had treated me with such consideration. Their visit cut me to the quick; nevertheless, I felt grateful, for it shewed me the ‘goodness of Don Diego’s heart and the love of the fair devotee.

I gave them to understand, in my bad Spanish, that I was grateful for the honour they had done me in visiting me in this dreadful situation. Donna Ignazia did not speak, she only wept in silence; but Don Diego gave me clearly to understand that he would never have come to see me unless he had felt certain that my accusation was a mistake or an infamous calumny. He told me he was sure I should be set free, and that proper satisfaction would be given me.

“I hope so,” I replied, “for I am perfectly innocent of any offence.” I was greatly touched when the worthy man slipped into my hands a rouleau, telling me it contained twelve quadruples, which I could repay at my convenience.

It was more than a thousand francs, and my hair stood on end. I pressed his hand warmly, and whispered to him that I had fifty in my pocket, which I was afraid to shew him, for fear the rascals around might rob me. He put back his rouleau, and bade me farewell in tears, and I promised to come and see him as soon as I should be set at liberty.

He had not sent in his name, and as he was very well dressed he was taken for a man of importance. Such characters are not altogether exceptional in heroic Spain; it is a land of extremes.

At noon Mengs’s servant came with a dinner that was choicer than before, but not so plentiful. This was just what I liked. He waited for me to finish, and went away with the plates, carrying my heartiest thanks to his master.

At one o’clock an individual came up to me and bade me follow him. He took me to a small room, where I saw my carbine and pistols. In front of me was the Alcalde Messa, seated at a table covered with documents, and a policeman stood on each side of him. The alcalde told me to sit down, and to answer truly such questions as might be put to me, warning me that my replies would be taken down.

“I do not understand Spanish well, and I shall only give written answers to any questions that may be asked of me, in Italian, French, or Latin.”

This reply, which I uttered in a firm and determined voice, seemed to astonish him. He spoke to me for an hour, and I understood him very well, but he only got one reply:

“I don’t understand what you say. Get a judge who understands one of the languages I have named, and I will write down my answers.”

The alcalde was enraged, but I did not let his ill-humour or his threats disturb me.

Finally he gave me a pen, and told me to write my name, profession, and business in Spain in Italian. I could not refuse him this pleasure, so I wrote as follows:

“My name is Jacques Casanova; I am a subject of the Republic of Venice, by profession a man of letters, and in rank a Knight of the Golden Spur. I have sufficient means, and I travel for my pleasure. I am known to the Venetian ambassador, the Count of Aranda, the Prince de la Catolica, the Marquis of Moras, and the Duke of Lossada. I have offended in no manner against the laws of his Catholic majesty, but in spite of my innocence I have been cast into a den of thieves and assassins by magistrates who deserve a ten times greater punishment. Since I have not infringed the laws, his Catholic majesty must know that he has only one right over me, and that is to order me to leave his realms, which order I am ready to obey. My arms, which I see before me, have travelled with me for the last eleven years; I carry them to defend myself against highwaymen. They were seen when my effects were examined at the Gate of Alcala, and were not confiscated; which makes it plain that they have served merely as a pretext for the infamous treatment to which I have been subjected.”

After I had written out this document I gave it to the alcalde, who called for an interpreter. When he had had it read to him he rose angrily and said to me —

“Valga me Dios! You shall suffer for your insolence.”

With this threat he went away, ordering that I should be taken back to prison.

At eight o’clock Manucci called and told me that the Count of Aranda had been making enquiries about me of the Venetian ambassador, who had spoken very highly in my favour, and expressed his regret that he could not take my part officially on account of my being in disgrace with the State Inquisitors.

“He has certainly been shamefully used,” said the count, “but an intelligent man should not lose his head. I should have known nothing about it, but for a furious letter he has written me; and Don Emmanuel de Roda and the Duke of Lossada have received epistles in the same style. Casanova is in the right, but that is not the way to address people.”

“If he really said I was in the right, that is sufficient.”

“He said it, sure enough.”

“Then he must do me justice, and as to my style everyone has a style of their own. I am furious, and I wrote furiously. Look at this place; I have no bed, the floor is covered with filth, and I am obliged to sleep on a narrow bench. Don’t you think it is natural that I should desire to eat the hearts of the scoundrels who have placed me here? If I do not leave this hell by tomorrow, I shall kill myself, or go mad.”

Manucci understood the horrors of my situation. He promised to come again early the next day, and advised me to see what money would do towards procuring a bed, but I would not listen to him, for I was suffering from injustice, and was therefore obstinate. Besides, the thought of the vermin frightened me, and I was afraid for my purse and the jewels I had about me.

I spent a second night worse than the first, going to sleep from sheer exhaustion, only to awake and find myself slipping off the bench.

Manucci came before eight o’clock, and my aspect shocked him. He had come in his carriage, bringing with him some excellent chocolate, which in some way restored my spirits. As I was finishing it, an officer of high rank, accompanied by two other officers, came in and called out —

“M. de Casanova!”

I stepped forward and presented myself.

“Chevalier,” he began, “the Count of Aranda is at the gate of the prison; he is much grieved at the treatment you have received. He only heard about it through the letter you wrote him yesterday, and if you had written sooner your pains would have been shorter.”

“Such was my intention, colonel, but a soldier. . . . ”

I proceeded to tell him the story of the swindling soldier, and on hearing his name the colonel called the captain of the guard, reprimanded him severely, and ordered him to give me back the crown himself. I took the money laughingly, and the colonel then ordered the captain to fetch the offending soldier, and to give him a flogging before me.

This officer, the emissary of the all-powerful Aranda, was Count Royas, commanding the garrison of Buen Retiro. I told him all the circumstances of my arrest, and of my imprisonment in that filthy place. I told him that if I did not get back that day my arms, my liberty, and my honour, I should either go mad or kill myself.

“Here,” I said, “I can neither rest nor sleep, and a man needs sleep every night. If you had come a little earlier you would have seen the disgusting filth with which the floor was covered.”

The worthy man was taken aback with the energy with which I spoke. I saw his feelings, and hastened to say —

“You must remember, colonel, that I am suffering from injustice, and am in a furious rage. I am a man of honour, like yourself, and you can imagine the effect of such treatment on me.”

Manucci told him, in Spanish, that in my normal state I was a good fellow enough. The colonel expressed his pity for me, and assured me that my arms should be restored to me, and my liberty too, in the course of the day.

“Afterwards,” said he, “you must go and thank his excellency the Count of Aranda, who came here expressly for your sake. He bade me tell you that your release would be delayed till the afternoon, that you may have full satisfaction for the affront you have received, if it is an affront, for the penalties of the law only dishonour the guilty. In this instance the Alcalde Messa has been deceived by the rascal who was in your service.”

“There he is,” said I. “Be good enough to have him removed, or else, in my indignation, I might kill him.”

“He shall be taken away this moment,” he replied.

The colonel went out, and two minutes later two soldiers came in and took the rogue away between them. I never saw him again, and never troubled myself to enquire what had become of him.

The colonel begged me to accompany him to the guard-room, to see the thieving soldier flogged. Manucci was at my side, and at some little distance stood the Count of Aranda, surrounded by officers, and accompanied by a royal guard.

The business kept us there for a couple of hours. Before leaving me the colonel begged me to meet Mengs at dinner at his house.

When I returned to my filthy prison I found a clean arm-chair, which I was informed had been brought in for me. I sat down in it immediately, and Manucci left me, after embracing me again and again. He was my sincere friend, and I can never forgive myself the stupidity which made me offend him grievously. He never forgave me, at which I am not surprised, but I believe my readers will agree with me in thinking that he carried his vengeance too far.

After the scene which had taken place, the vile crowd of prisoners stood gazing at me in stupid silence, and Marazzini came up to me and begged me to use my offices for him.

Dinner was brought me as usual, and at three o’clock the Alcalde Messa appeared and begged me to follow him, as he had received orders to take me back to my lodging, where he hoped I should find everything in perfect order. At the same time he shewed me my arms, which one of his men was going to bring to my house. The officer of the guard returned me my sword, the alcalde, who was in his black cloak, put himself on my left hand, and thus I was escorted home with a guard of thirty constables. The seals were removed from my apartment, and after a brief inspection I pronounced that everything was in perfect order.

“If you had not a rascal and a traitor (who shall end his days in the galleys) in your service, Senor Caballero, you would never have written down the servants of his Catholic majesty as scoundrels.”

“Senor Alcalde, my indignation made me write the same sentence to four of his majesty’s ministers. Then I believed what I wrote, but I do so no longer. Let us forget and forgive; but you must confess that if I had not known how to write a letter you would have sent me to the galleys.”

“Alas! it is very likely.”

I need not say that I hastened to remove all traces of the vile prison where I had suffered so much. When I was ready to go out my first grateful visit was paid to the noble cobbler. The worthy man was proud of the fulfilment of his prophecy, and glad to see me again. Donna Ignazia was wild with delight — perhaps she had not been so sure of my release — and when Don Diego heard of the satisfaction that had been given me he said that a grandee of Spain could not have asked for more. I begged the worthy people to come and dine with me, telling them that I would name the day another time, and they accepted gladly.

I felt that my love for Donna Ignazia had increased immensely since our last meeting.

Afterwards I called on Mengs, who with his knowledge of Spanish law expected nothing less than to see me. When he heard of my triumphant release he overwhelmed me with congratulations. He was in his Court dress — an unusual thing with him, and on my asking him the reason he told me that he had been to Don Emmanuel de Roda’s to speak on my behalf, but had not succeeded in obtaining an audience. He gave me a Venetian letter which had just arrived for me. I opened it, and found it was from M. Dandolo, and contained an enclosure for M. de Mocenigo. M. Dandolo said that on reading the enclosed letter the ambassador would have no more scruples about introducing me, as it contained a recommendation from one of the Inquisitors on behalf of the three.

When I told Mengs of this he said it was now in my power to make my fortune in Spain, and that now was the time when all the ministers would be only too anxious to do something for me to make me forget the wrongs I had received.

“I advise you,” he said, “to take the letter to the ambassador immediately. Take my carriage; after what you have undergone for the last few days you cannot be in a walking humour.”

I had need of rest, and told Mengs that I would not sup with him that night, but would dine with him the next day. The ambassador was out, so I left the letter with Manucci, and then drove home and slept profoundly for twelve hours.

Manucci came to see me the next day in high spirits, and told me that M. Girolamo Zulian had written to the ambassador on behalf of M. du Mula, informing him that he need not hesitate to countenance me, as any articles the Tribunal might have against me were in no degree prejudicial to my honour.

“The ambassador,” he continued, “proposes to introduce you at Court next week, and he wants you to dine with him to-day; there will be a numerous company at dinner.”

“I am engaged to Mengs.”

“No matter, he shall be asked as well; you must come. Consider the effect of your presence at the ambassador’s the day after your triumph.”

“You are right. Go and ask Mengs, and tell the ambassador that I have much pleasure in accepting his invitation.”

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