My Short But Happy Stay at Naples — The Duke de Matalone My Daughter — Donna Lucrezia — My Departure
I shall not, dear reader, attempt the impossible, however much I should like to describe the joy, the happiness, I may say the ecstasy, which I experienced in returning to Naples, of which I had such pleasant memories, and where, eighteen years ago, I had made my first fortune in returning from Mataro. As I had come there for the second time to keep a promise I had made to the Duke de Matalone to come and see him at Naples, I ought to have visited this nobleman at once; but foreseeing that from the time I did so I should have little liberty left me, I began by enquiring after all my old friends.
I walked out early in the morning and called on Belloni’s agent. He cashed my letter of credit and gave me as many bank-notes as I liked, promising that nobody should know that we did business together. From the bankers I went to see Antonio Casanova, but they told me he lived near Salerno, on an estate he had bought which gave him the title of marquis. I was vexed, but I had no right to expect to find Naples in the statu quo I left it. Polo was dead, and his son lived at St. Lucia with his wife and children; he was a boy when I saw him last, and though I should have much liked to see him again I had no time to do so.
It may be imagined that I did not forget the advocate, Castelli, husband of my dear Lucrezia, whom I had loved so well at Rome and Tivoli. I longed to see her face once more, and I thought of the joy with which we should recall old times that I could never forget. But Castelli had been dead for some years, and his widow lived at a distance of twenty miles from Naples. I resolved not to return to Rome without embracing her. As to Lelio Caraffa, he was still alive and residing at the Matalone Palace.
I returned, feeling tired with my researches, dressed with care, and drove to the Matalone Palace, where they told me that the duke was at table. I did not care for that but had my name sent in, and the duke came out and did me the honour of embracing me and thouing me, and then presented me to his wife, a daughter of the Duke de Bovino, and to the numerous company at table. I told him I had only come to Naples in fulfillment of the promise I had made him at Paris.
“Then,” said he, “you must stay with me;” and, without waiting for my answer, ordered my luggage to be brought from the inn, and my carriage to be placed in his coach-house. I accepted his invitation.
One of the guests, a fine-looking man, on hearing my name announced, said gaily —
“If you bear my name, you must be one of my father’s bastards.”
“No,” said I, directly, “one of your mother’s.”
This repartee made everybody laugh, and the gentleman who had addressed me came and embraced me, not in the least offended. The joke was explained to me. His name was Casalnovo, not Casanova, and he was duke and lord of the fief of that name.
“Did you know,” said the Duke de Matalone, “that I had a son?”
“I was told so, but did not believe it, but now I must do penance for my incredulity, for I see before me an angel capable of working this miracle.”
The duchess blushed, but did not reward my compliment with so much as a glance; but all the company applauded what I had said, as it was notorious that the duke had been impotent before his marriage. The duke sent for his son, I admired him, and told the father that the likeness was perfect. A merry monk, who sat at the right hand of the duchess, said, more truthfully, that there was no likeness at all. He had scarcely uttered the words when the duchess coolly gave him a box on the ear, which the monk received with the best grace imaginable.
I talked away to the best of my ability, and in half an hour’s time I had won everybody’s good graces, with the exception of the duchess, who remained inflexible. I tried to make her talk for two days without success; so as I did not care much about her I left her to her pride.
As the duke was taking me to my room he noticed my Spaniard, and asked where my secretary was, and when he saw that it was the Abbe Alfani, who had taken the title so as to escape the notice of the Neapolitans, he said —
“The abbe is very wise, for he has deceived so many people with his false antiques that he might have got into trouble.”
He took me to his stables where he had some superb horses, Arabs, English, and Andalusians; and then to his gallery, a very fine one; to his large and choice library; and at last to his study, where he had a fine collection of prohibited books.
I was reading titles and turning over leaves, when the duke said —
“Promise to keep the most absolute secrecy on what I am going to shew you.”
I promised, without making any difficulty, but I expected a surprise of some sort. He then shewed me a satire which I could not understand, but which was meant to turn the whole Court into ridicule. Never was there a secret so easily kept.
“You must come to the St. Charles Theatre,” said he, “and I will present you to the handsomest ladies in Naples, and afterwards you can go when you like, as my box is always open to my friends. I will also introduce you to my mistress, and she, I am sure, will always be glad to see you.”
“What! you have a mistress, have you?”
“Yes, but only for form’s sake, as I am very fond of my wife. All the same, I am supposed to be deeply in love with her, and even jealous, as I never introduce anyone to her, and do not allow her to receive any visitors.”
“But does not your young and handsome duchess object to your keeping a mistress?”
“My wife could not possibly be jealous, as she knows that I am impotent — except, of course, with her.”
“I see, but it sems strange; can one be said to have a mistress whom one does not love?”
“I did not say I loved her not; on the contrary, I am very fond of her; she has a keen and pleasant wit, but she interests my head rather than my heart.”
“I see; but I suppose she is ugly?”
“Ugly? You shall see her to-night, and you can tell me what you think of her afterwards. She is a handsome and well-educated girl of seventeen.”
“Can she speak French?”
“As well as a Frenchwoman.”
“I am longing to see her.”
When we got to the theatre I was introduced to several ladies, but none of them pleased me. The king, a mere boy, sat in his box in the middle of the theatre, surrounded by his courtiers, richly but tastefully dressed. The pit was full and the boxes also. The latter were ornamented with mirrors, and on that occasion were all illuminated for some reason or other. It was a magnificent scene, but all this glitter and light put the stage into the background.
After we had gazed for some time at the scene, which is almost peculiar to Naples, the duke took me to his private box and introduced me to his friends, who consisted of all the wits in the town.
I have often laughed on hearing philosophers declare that the intelligence of a nation is not so much the result of the climate as of education. Such sages should be sent to Naples and then to St. Petersburg, and be told to reflect, or simply to look before them. If the great Boerhaave had lived at Naples he would have learnt more about the nature of sulphur by observing its effects on vegetables, and still more on animals. In Naples, and Naples alone, water, and nothing but water, will cure diseases which are fatal elsewhere, despite the doctors’ efforts.
The duke, who had left me to the wits for a short time, returned and took me to the box of his mistress, who was accompanied by an old lady of respectable appearance. As he went in he said, “‘Leonilda mia, ti presento il cavalier Don Giacomo Casanova, Veneziano, amico mio’.”
She received me kindly and modestly, and stopped listening to the music to talk to me.
When a woman is pretty, one recognizes her charms instantaneously; if one has to examine her closely, her beauty is doubtful. Leonilda was strikingly beautiful. I smiled and looked at the duke, who had told me that he loved her like a daughter, and that he only kept her for form’s sake. He understood the glance, and said —
“You may believe me.”
“It’s credible,” I replied.
Leonilda no doubt understood what we meant, and said, with a shy smile —
“Whatever is possible is credible.”
“Quite so,” said I, “but one may believe, or not believe, according to the various degrees of possibility.”
“I think it’s easier to believe than to disbelieve. You came to Naples yesterday; that’s true and yet incredible.”
“Would any man suppose that a stranger would come to Naples at a time when the inhabitants are wishing themselves away?”
“Indeed, I have felt afraid till this moment, but now I feel quite at my ease, since, you being here, St. Januarius will surely protect Naples.”
“Because I am sure he loves you; but you are laughing at me.”
“It is such a funny idea. I am afraid that if I had a lover like St. Januarius I should not grant him many favours.”
“Is he very ugly, then?”
“If his portrait is a good likeness, you can see for yourself by examining his statue.”
Gaiety leads to freedom, and freedom to friendship. Mental graces are superior to bodily charms.
Leonilda’s frankness inspired my confidence, and I led the conversation to love, on which she talked like a past mistress.
“Love,” said she, “unless it leads to the possession of the beloved object, is a mere torment; if bounds are placed to passion, love must die.”
“You are right; and the enjoyment of a beautiful object is not a true pleasure unless it be preceded by love.”
“No doubt if love precedes it accompanies, but I do not think it necessarily follows, enjoyment.”
“True, it often makes love to cease.”
“She is a selfish daughter, then, to kill her father; and if after enjoyment love still continue in the heart of one, it is worse than murder, for the party in which love still survives must needs be wretched.”
“You are right; and from your strictly logical arguments I conjecture that you would have the senses kept in subjection: that is too hard!”
“I would have nothing to do with that Platonic affection devoid of love, but I leave you to guess what my maxim would be.”
“To love and enjoy; to enjoy and love. Turn and turn about.”
“You have hit the mark.”
With this Leonilda burst out laughing, and the duke kissed her hand. Her governess, not understanding French, was attending to the opera, but I was in flames.
Leonilda was only seventeen, and was as pretty a girl as the heart could desire.
The duke repeated a lively epigram of Lafontaine’s on “Enjoyment,” which is only found in the first edition of his works. It begins as follows:—
“La jouissance et les desirs
Sont ce que l’homme a de plus rare;
Mais ce ne sons pas vrais plaisirs
Des le moment qu’on les separe.”
I have translated this epigram into Italian and Latin; in the latter language I was almost able to render Lafontaine line for line; but I had to use twenty lines of Italian to translate the first ten lines of the French. Of course this argues nothing as to the superiority of the one language over the other.
In the best society at Naples one addresses a newcomer in the second person singular as a peculiar mark of distinction. This puts both parties at their ease without diminishing their mutual respect for one another.
Leonilda had already turned my first feeling of admiration into something much warmer, and the opera, which lasted for five hours, seemed over in a moment.
After the two ladies had gone the duke said, “Now we must part, unless you are fond of games of chance.”
“I don’t object to them when I am to play with good hands.”
“Then follow me; ten or twelve of my friends will play faro, and then sit down to a cold collation, but I warn you it is a secret, as gaming is forbidden. I will answer for you keeping your own counsel, however.”
“You may do so.”
He took me to the Duke de Monte Leone’s. We went up to the third floor, passed through a dozen rooms, and at last reached the gamester’s chamber. A polite-looking banker, with a bank of about four hundred sequins, had the cards in his hands. The duke introduced me as his friend, and made me sit beside him. I was going to draw out my purse, but I was told that debts were not paid for twenty-four hours after they were due. The banker gave me a pack of cards, with a little basket containing a thousand counters. I told the company that I should consider each counter as a Naples ducat. In less than two hours my basket was empty. I stopped playing and proceeded to enjoy my supper. It was arranged in the Neapolitan style, and consisted of an enormous dish of macaroni and ten or twelve different kinds of shellfish which are plentiful on the Neapolitan coasts. When we left I took care not to give the duke. time to condole with me on my loss, but began to talk to him about his delicious Leonilda.
Early next day he sent a page to my room to tell me that if I wanted to come with him and kiss the king’s hand I must put on my gala dress. I put on a suit of rose-coloured velvet, with gold spangles, and I had the great honour of kissing a small hand, covered with chilblains, belonging to a boy of nine. The Prince de St. Nicander brought up the young king to the best of his ability, but he was naturally a kindly, just, and generous monarch; if he had had more dignity he would have been an ideal king; but he was too unceremonious, and that, I think, is a defect in one destined to rule others.
I had the honour of sitting next the duchess at dinner, and she deigned to say that she had never seen a finer dress. “That’s my way,” I said, “of distracting attention from my face and figure.” She smiled, and her politeness to me during my stay were almost limited to these few words.
When we left the table the duke took me to the apartment occupied by his uncle, Don Lelio, who recognized me directly. I kissed the venerable old man’s hand, and begged him to pardon me for the freaks of my youth. “It’s eighteen years ago,” said he, “since I chose M. Casanova as the companion of your studies” I delighted him by giving him a brief account of my adventures in Rome with Cardinal Acquaviva. As we went out, he begged me to come and see him often.
Towards the evening the duke said —
“If you go to the Opera Buffa you will please Leonilda.”
He gave me the number of her box, and added —
“I will come for you towards the close, and we will sup together as before.”
I had no need to order my horses to be put in, as there was always a carriage ready for me in the courtyard.
When I got to the theatre the opera had begun. I presented myself to Leonilda, who received me with the pleasant words, “Caro Don Giacomo, I am so pleased to see you again.”
No doubt she did not like to thou me, but the expression of her eyes and the tone of her voice were much better than the to which is often used lavishly at Naples.
The seductive features of this charming girl were not altogether unknown to me, but I could not recollect of what woman she reminded me. Leonilda was certainly a beauty, and something superior to a beauty, if possible. She had splendid light chestnut hair, and her black and brilliant eyes, shaded by thick lashes, seemed to hear and speak at the same time. But what ravished me still more was her expression, and the exquisite appropriateness of the gestures with which she accompanied what she was saying. It seemed as if her tongue could not give speech to the thoughts which crowded her brain. She was naturally quick- witted, and her intellect had been developed by an excellent education.
The conversation turned upon Lafontaine’s epigram, of which I had only recited the first ten verses, as the rest is too licentious; and she said —
“But I suppose it is only a poet’s fancy, at which one could but smile.”
“Possibly, but I did not care to wound your ears.”
“You are very good,” said she, using the pleasant tu, “but all the same, I am not so thin-skinned, as I have a closet which the duke has had painted over with couples in various amorous attitudes. We go there sometimes, and I assure you that I do not experience the slightest sensation.”
“That may be through a defect of temperament, for whenever I see well-painted voluptuous pictures I feel myself on fire. I wonder that while you and the duke look at them, you do not try to put some of them into practice.”
“We have only friendship for one another.”
“Let him believe it who will.”
“I am sure he is a man, but I am unable to say whether he is able to give a woman any real proofs of his love.”
“Yet he has a son.”
“Yes, he has a child who calls him father; but he himself confesses that he is only able to shew his manly powers with his wife.”
“That’s all nonsense, for you are made to give birth to amorous desires, and a man who could live with you without being able to possess you ought to cease to live.”
“Do you really think so?”
“Dear Leonilda, if I were in the duke’s place I would shew you what a man who really loves can do.”
“Caro Don Giacomo, I am delighted to hear you love me, but you will soon forget me, as you are leaving Naples.”
“Cursed be the gaming-table, for without it we might spend some delightful hour together.”
“The duke told me that you lost a thousand ducats yesterday evening like a perfect gentleman. You must be very unlucky.”
“Not always, but when I play on a day in which I have fallen in love I am sure to lose.”
“You will win back your money this evening.”
“This is the declaration day; I shall lose again.”
“Then don’t play.”
“People would say I was afraid, or that all my money was gone.”
“I hope at all events that you will win sometimes, and that you will tell me of your good luck. Come and see me to-morrow with the duke.”
The duke came in at that moment, and asked me if I had liked the opera. Leonilda answered for me,
“We have been talking about love all the time, so we don’t know what has been going on the stage.”
“You have done well.”
“I trust you will bring M. Casanova to see me tomorrow morning, as I hope he will bring me news that he has won.”
“It’s my turn to deal this evening, dearest, but whether he wins or loses you shall see him to-morrow. You must give us some breakfast.”
“I shall be delighted.”
We kissed her hand, and went to the same place as the night before. The company was waiting for the duke. There were twelve members of the club, and they all held the bank in turn. They said that this made the chances more equal; but I laughed at this opinion, as there is nothing more difficult to establish than equality between players.
The Duke de Matalone sat down, drew out his purse and his pocket- book, and put two thousand ducats in the bank, begging pardon of the others for doubling the usual sum in favour of the stranger. The bank never exceeded a thousand ducats.
“Then,” said I, “I will hazard two thousand ducats also and not more, for they say at Venice that a prudent player never risks more than he can win. Each of my counters will be equivalent to two ducats.” So saying, I took ten notes of a hundred ducats each from my pocket, and gave them to the last evening’s banker who had won them from me.
Play began; and though I was prudent, and only risked my money on a single card, in less than three hours my counters were all gone. I stopped playing, though I had still twenty-five thousand ducats; but I had said that I would not risk more than two thousand, and I was ashamed to go back from my word.
Though I have always felt losing my money, no one has ever seen me put out, my natural gaiety was heightened by art on such occasions, and seemed to be more brilliant than ever. I have always found it a great advantage to be able to lose pleasantly.
I made an excellent supper, and my high spirits furnished me with such a fund of amusing conversation that all the table was in a roar. I even succeeded in dissipating the melancholy of the Duke de Matalone, who was in despair at having won such a sum from his friend and guest. He was afraid he had half ruined me, and also that people might say he had only welcomed me for the sake of my money.
As we returned to the palace the conversation was affectionate on his side and jovial on mine, but I could see he was in some trouble, and guessed what was the matter. He wanted to say that I could pay the money I owed him whenever I liked, but was afraid of wounding my feelings; but as soon as he got in he wrote me a friendly note to the effect that if I wanted money his banker would let me have as much as I required. I replied directly that I felt the generosity of his offer, and if I was in need of funds I would avail myself of it.
Early next morning I went to his room, and after an affectionate embrace I told him not to forget that we were going to breakfast with his fair mistress. We both put on great coats and went to Leonilda’s pretty house.
We found her sitting up in bed, negligently but decently dressed, with a dimity corset tied with red ribbons. She looked beautiful, and her graceful posture added to her charms. She was reading Crebillon’s Sopha. The duke sat down at the bottom of the bed, and I stood staring at her in speechless admiration, endeavouring to recall to my memory where I had seen such another face as hers. It seemed to me that I had loved a woman like her. This was the first time I had seen her without the deceitful glitter of candles. She laughed at my absent-mindedness, and told me to sit down on a chair by her bedside.
The duke told her that I was quite pleased at having lost two thousand ducats to his bank, as the loss made me sure she loved me.
“Caro mio Don Giacomo, I am sorry to hear that! You would have done better not to play, for I should have loved you all the same, and you would have been two thousand ducats better off.”
“And I two thousand ducats worse off,” said the duke, laughing.
“Never mind, dear Leonilda, I shall win this evening if you grant me some favour to-day. If you do not do so, I shall lose heart, and you will mourn at my grave before long.”
“Think, Leonilda, what you can do for my friend.”
“I don’t see that I can do anything.”
The duke told her to dress, that we might go and breakfast in the painted closet. She began at once, and preserved a just mean in what she let us see and what she concealed, and thus set me in flames, though I was already captivated by her face, her wit, and her charming manners. I cast an indiscreet glance towards her beautiful breast, and thus added fuel to the fire. I confess that I only obtained this satisfaction by a species of larceny, but I could not have succeeded if she had not been well disposed towards me. I pretended to have seen nothing.
While dressing she maintained with much ingenuity that a wise girl will be much more chary of her favours towards a man she loves than towards a man she does not love, because she would be afraid to lose the first, whereas she does not care about the second.
“It will not be so with me, charming Leonilda,” said I.
“You make a mistake, I am sure.”
The pictures with which the closet where we breakfasted was adorned were admirable more from the colouring and the design than from the amorous combats they represented.
“They don’t make any impression on me,” said the duke, and he shewed us that it was so.
Leonilda looked away, and I felt shocked, but concealed my feelings.
“I am in the same state as you,” said I, “but I will not take the trouble of convincing you.”
“That can’t be,” said he; and passing his hand rapidly over me he assured himself that it was so. “It’s astonishing,” he cried; “you must be as impotent as I am.”
“If I wanted to controvert that assertion one glance into Leonilda’s eyes would be enough.”
“Look at him, dearest Leonilda, that I may be convinced.”
Leonilda looked tenderly at me, and her glance produced the result I had expected.
“Give me your hand,” said I, to the poor duke, and he did so.
“I was in the wrong,” he exclaimed, but when he endeavoured to bring the surprising object to light I resisted. He persisted in his endeavours, and I determined to play on him a trick. I took Leonilda’s hand and pressed my lips to it, and just as the duke thought he had triumphed I besprinkled him, and went off into a roar of laughter. He laughed too, and went to get a napkin.
The girl could see nothing of all this, as it went on under the table; and while my burning lips rested on her hand, my eyes were fixed on hers and our breath mingled. This close contact had enabled me to baptise the duke, but when she took in the joke we made a group worthy of the pen of Aretin.
It was a delightful breakfast, though we passed certain bounds which decency ought to have proscribed to us, but Leonilda was wonderfully innocent considering her position. We ended the scene by mutual embraces, and when I took my burning lips from Leonilda’s I felt consumed with a fire which I could not conceal.
When we left I told the duke that I would see his mistress no more, unless he would give her up to me, declaring that I would marry her and give her a dower of five thousand ducats.
“Speak to her, and if she consents I will not oppose it. She herself will tell you what property she has.”
I then went to dress for dinner. I found the duchess in the midst of a large circle, and she told me kindly that she was very sorry to hear of my losses.
“Fortune is the most fickle of beings, but I don’t complain of my loss — nay, when you speak thus I love it, and I even think that you will make me win this evening.”
“I hope so, but I am afraid not; you will have to contend against Monte Leone, who is usually very lucky.”
In considering the matter after dinner, I determined for the future to play with ready money and not on my word of honour, lest I should at any time be carried away by the excitement of play and induced to stake more than I possessed. I thought, too, that the banker might have his doubts after the two heavy losses I had sustained, and I confess that I was also actuated by the gambler’s superstition that by making a change of any kind one changes the luck.
I spent four hours at the theatre in Leonilda’s box, where I found her more gay and charming than I had seen her before.
“Dear Leonilda,” I said, “the love I feel for you will suffer no delay and no rivals, not even the slightest inconstancy. I have told the duke that I am ready to marry you, and that I will give you a dower of five thousand ducats.”
“What did he say?”
“That I must ask you, and that he would offer no opposition.”
“Then we should leave Naples together.”
“Directly, dearest, and thenceforth death alone would part us.”
“We will talk of it to-morrow, dear Don Giacomo, and if I can make you happy I am sure you will do the same by me.”
As she spoke these delightful words the duke came in.
“Don Giacomo and I are talking of marrying,” said she.
“Marriage, mia carissima,” he replied, “ought to be well considered beforehand.”
“Yes, when one has time; but my dear Giacomo cannot wait, and we shall have plenty of time to think it over afterwards.”
“As you are going to marry,” said the duke, “you can put off your departure, or return after the wedding.”
“I can neither put it off nor return, my dear duke. We have made up our minds, and if we repent we have plenty of time before us.”
He laughed and said we would talk it over next day. I gave my future bride a kiss which she returned with ardour, and the duke and I went to the club, where we found the Duke de Monte Leone dealing.
“My lord,” said I, “I am unlucky playing on my word of honour, so I hope you will allow me to stake money.”
“Just as you please; it comes to the same thing, but don’t trouble yourself. I have made a bank of four thousand ducats that you may be able to recoup yourself for your losses.”
“Thanks, I promise to break it or to lose as much.”
I drew out six thousand ducats, gave two thousand ducats to the Duke de Matalone, and began to punt at a hundred ducats. After a short time the duke left the table, and I finally succeeded in breaking the bank. I went back to the place by myself, and when I told the duke of my victory the next day, he embraced me with tears of joy, and advised me to stake money for the future.
As the Princess de Vale was giving a great supper, there was no play that evening. This was some respite. We called on Leonilda, and putting off talking of our marriage till the day after we spent the time in viewing the wonders of nature around Naples. In the evening I was introduced by a friend at the princess’s supper, and saw all the highest nobility of the place.
Next morning the duke told me that he had some business to do, and that I had better go and see Leonilda, and that he would call for me later on. I went to Leonilda, but as the duke did not put in an appearance we could not settle anything about our marriage. I spent several hours with her, but I was obliged to obey her commands, and could only shew myself amorous in words. Before leaving I repeated that it only rested with her to unite our lives by indissoluble ties, and to leave Naples almost immediately.
When I saw the duke he said —
“Well, Don Giacomo, you have spent all the morning with my mistress; do you still wish to marry her?”
“More than ever; what do you mean?”
“Nothing; and as you have passed this trial to which I purposely subjected you, we will discuss your union tomorrow, and I hope you will make this charming woman happy, for she will be an excellent wife.”
“I agree with you.”
When we went to Monte Leone’s in the evening, we saw a banker with a good deal of gold before him. The duke told me he was Don Marco Ottoboni. He was a fine-looking man, but he held the cards so closely together in his left hand that I could not see them. This did not inspire me with confidence, so I only punted a ducat at a time. I was persistently unlucky, but I only lost a score of ducats. After five or six deals the banker, asked me politely why I staked such small sums against him.
“Because I can’t see half the pack,” I replied, “and I am afraid of losing.”
Some of the company laughed at my answer.
Next night I broke the bank held by the Prince the Cassaro, a pleasant and rich nobleman, who asked me to give him revenge, and invited me to supper at his pretty house at Posilipo, where he lived with a virtuosa of whom he had become amorous at Palermo. He also invited the Duke de Matalone and three or four other gentlemen. This was the only occasion on which I held the bank while I was at Naples, and I staked six thousand ducats after warning the prince that as it was the eve of my departure I should only play for ready money.
He lost ten thousand ducats, and only rose from the table because he had no more money. Everybody left the room, and I should have done the same if the prince’s mistress had not owed me a hundred ducats. I continued to deal in the hope that she would get her money back, but seeing that she still lost I put down the cards, and told her that she must pay me at Rome. She was a handsome and agreeable woman, but she did not inspire me with any passions, no doubt because my mind was occupied with another, otherwise I should have drawn a bill on sight, and paid myself without meddling with her purse. It was two o’clock in the morning when I got to bed.
Both Leonilda and myself wished to see Caserta before leaving Naples, and the duke sent us there in a carriage drawn by six mules, which went faster than most horses. Leonilda’s governess accompanied us.
The day after, we settled the particulars of our marriage in a conversation which lasted for two hours.
“Leonilda,” began the duke, “has a mother, who lives at a short distance from here, on an income of six hundred ducats, which I have given her for life, in return for an estate belonging to her husband; but Leonilda does not depend on her. She gave her up to me seven years ago, and I have given her an annuity of five hundred ducats, which she will bring to you, with all her diamonds and an extensive trousseau. Her mother gave her up to me entirely, and I gave my word of honour to get her a good husband. I have taken peculiar care of her education, and as her mind has developed I have put her on her guard against all prejudices, with the exception of that which bids a woman keep herself intact for her future husband. You may rest assured that you are the first man whom Leonilda (who is a daughter to me) has pressed to her heart.”
I begged the duke to get the contract ready, and to add to her dower the sum of five thousand ducats, which I would give him when the deed was signed.
“I will mortgage them,” said he, “on a house which is worth double.”
Then turning to Leonilda, who was shedding happy tears, he said —
“I am going to send for your mother, who will be delighted to sign the settlement, and to make the acquaintance of your future husband.”
The mother lived at the Marquis Galiani’s, a day’s journey from Naples. The duke said he would send a carriage for her the next day, and that we could all sup together the day after.
“The law business will be all done by then, and we shall be able to go to the little church at Portici, and the priest will marry you. Then we will take your mother to St. Agatha and dine with her, and you can go your way with her maternal blessing.”
This conclusion gave me an involuntary shudder, and Leonilda fell fainting in the duke’s arms. He called her dear child, cared for her tenderly, and brought her to herself.
We all had to wipe our eyes, as we were all equally affected.
I considered myself as a married man and under obligation to alter my way of living, and I stopped playing. I had won more than fifteen thousand ducats, and this sum added to what I had before and Leonilda’s dowry should have sufficed for an honest livelihood.
Next day, as I was at supper with the duke and Leonilda, she said —
“What will my mother say to-morrow evening, when she sees you?”
“She will say that you are silly to marry a stranger whom you have only known for a week. Have you told her my name, my nation, my condition, and my age?”
“I wrote to her as follows:
“‘Dear mamma, come directly and sign my marriage contract with a gentleman introduced to me by the duke, with whom I shall be leaving for Rome on Monday next.’”
“My letter ran thus,” said the duke,
“‘Come without delay, and sign your daughter’s marriage contract, and give her your blessing. She has wisely chosen a husband old enough to be her father; he is a friend of mine.’”
“That’s not true,” cried Leonilda, rushing to my arms, “she will think you are really old, and I am sorry.”
“Is your mother an elderly woman?”
“She’s a charming Woman,” said the duke, “full of wit, and not thirty-eight yet.”
“What has she got to do with Galiani?”
“She is an intimate friend of the marchioness’s, and she lives with the family but pays for her board.”
Next morning, having some business with my banker to attend to, I told the duke that I should not be able to see Leonilda till supper-time. I went there at eight o’clock and I found the three sitting in front of the fire.
“Here he is!” cried the duke.
As soon as the mother saw me she screamed and fell nearly fainting on a chair. I looked at her fixedly for a minute, and exclaimed —
“Donna Lucrezia! I am fortunate indeed!”
“Let us take breath, my dear friend. Come and sit by me. So you are going to marry my daughter, are you?”
I took a chair and guessed it all. My hair stood on end, and I relapsed into a gloomy silence.
The stupefied astonishment of Leonilda and the duke cannot be described. They could see that Donna Lucrezia and I knew each other, but they could not get any farther. As for myself, as I pondered gloomily and compared Leonilda’s age with the period at which I had been intimate with Lucrezia Castelli, I could see that it was quite possible that she might be my daughter; but I told myself that the mother could not be certain of the fact, as at the time she lived with her husband, who was very fond of her and not fifty years of age. I could bear the suspense no longer, so, taking a light and begging Leonilda and the duke to excuse me, I asked Lucrezia to come into the next room with me.
As soon as she was seated, she drew me to her and said —
“Must I grieve my dear one when I have loved so well? Leonilda is your daughter, I am certain of it. I always looked upon her as your daughter, and my husband knew it, but far from being angry, he used to adore her. I will shew you the register of her birth, and you can calculate for yourself. My husband was at Rome, and did not see me once, and my daughter did not come before her time. You must remember a letter which my mother should have given you, in which I told you I was with child. That was in January, 1744, and in six months my daughter will be seventeen. My late husband gave her the names of Leonilda Giacomina at the baptismal font, and when he played with her he always called her by the latter name. This idea of your marrying her horrifies me, but I cannot oppose it, as I am ashamed to tell the reason. What do you think? Have you still the courage to marry her? You seem to hesitate. Have you taken any earnest of the marriage-bed?”
“No, dear Lucrezia, your daughter is as pure as a lily.”
“I breathe again.”
“Ah, yes! but my heart is torn asunder.”
“I am grieved to see you thus.”
“She has no likeness to me.”
“That proves nothing; she has taken after me. You are weeping, dearest, you will break my heart.”
“Who would not weep in my place? I will send the duke to you; he must know all.”
I left Lucrezia, and I begged the duke to go and speak to her. The affectionate Leonilda came and sat on my knee, and asked me what the dreadful mystery was. I was too much affected to be able to answer her; she kissed me, and we began to weep. We remained thus sad and silent till the return of the duke and Donna Lucrezia, who was the only one to keep her head cool.
“Dear Leonilda, said she, “you must be let into the secret of this disagreeable mystery, and your mother is the proper person to enlighten you. Do you remember what name my late husband used to call you when he petted you?”
“He used to call me his charming Giacomina.”
“That is M. Casanova’s name; it is the name of your father. Go and kiss him; his blood flows in your veins; and if he has been your lover, repent of the crime which was happily quite involuntary.”
The scene was a pathetic one, and we were all deeply moved. Leonilda clung to her mother’s knees, and in a voice that struggled with sobs exclaimed —
“I have only felt what an affectionate daughter might feel for a father”
At this point silence fell on us, a silence that was only broken by the sobs of the two women, who held each other tightly embraced; while the duke and I sat as motionless as two posts, our heads bent and our hands crossed, without as much as looking at each other.
Supper was served, and we sat at table for three hours, talking sadly over this dramatic recognition, which had brought more grief than joy; and we departed at midnight full of melancholy, and hoping that we should be calmer on the morrow, and able to take the only step that now remained to us.
As we were going away the duke made several observations on what moral philosophers call prejudices. There is no philosopher who would maintain or even advance the thesis that the union of a father and daughter is horrible naturally, for it is entirely a social prejudice; but it is so widespread, and education has graven it so deeply in our hearts, that only a man whose heart is utterly depraved could despise it. It is the result of a respect for the laws, it keeps the social scheme together; in fact, it is no longer a prejudice, it is a principle.
I went to bed, but as usual, after the violent emotion I had undergone, I could not sleep. The rapid transition from carnal to paternal love cast my physical and mental faculties into such a state of excitement that I could scarcely withstand the fierce struggle that was taking place in my heart.
Towards morning I fell asleep for a short time, and woke up feeling as exhausted as two lovers who have been spending a long and voluptuous winter’s night.
When I got up I told the duke that I intended to set out from Naples the next day; and he observed that as everybody knew I was on the eve of my departure, this haste would make people talk.
“Come and have some broth with me,” said he; “and from henceforth look upon this marriage project as one of the many pranks in which you have engaged. We will spend the three or four days pleasantly together, and perhaps when we have thought over all this for some time we shall end by thinking it matter for mirth and not sadness. Believe me the mother’s as good as the daughter; recollection is often better than hope; console yourself with Lucrezia. I don’t think you can see any difference between her present appearance and that of eighteen years ago, for I don’t see how she can ever have been handsomer than she is now.”
This remonstrance brought me to my senses. I felt that the best thing I could do would be to forget the illusion which had amused me for four or five days, and as my self-esteem was not wounded it ought not to be a difficult task; but yet I was in love and unable to satisfy my love.
Love is not like merchandise, where one can substitute one thing for another when one cannot have what one wants. Love is a sentiment, only the object who has kindled the flame can soothe the heat thereof.
We went to call on my daughter, the duke in his usual mood, but I looking pale, depressed, weary, and like a boy going to receive the rod. I was extremely surprised when I came into the room to find the mother and daughter quite gay, but this helped on my cure. Leonilda threw her arms round my neck, calling me dear papa, and kissing me with all a daughter’s freedom. Donna Lucrezia stretched out her hand, addressing me as her dear friend. I regarded her attentively, and I was forced to confess that the eighteen years that had passed away had done little ill to her charms. There was the same sparkling glance, that fresh complexion, those perfect shapes, those beautiful lips — in fine, all that had charmed my youthful eyes.
We mutely caressed each other. Leonilda gave and received the tenderest kisses without seeming to notice what desires she might cause to arise; no doubt she knew that as her father I should have strength to resist, and she was right. One gets used to everything, and I was ashamed to be sad any longer.
I told Donna Lucrezia of the curious welcome her sister had given me in Rome, and she went off into peals of laughter. We reminded each other of the night at Tivoli, and these recollections softened our hearts. From these softened feelings to love is but a short way; but neither place nor time were convenient, so we pretended not to be thinking of it.
After a few moments of silence I told her that if she cared to come to Rome with me to pay a visit to her sister Angelique, I would take her back to Naples at the beginning of Lent. She promised to let me know whether she could come on the following day.
I sat between her and Leonilda at dinner; and as I could no longer think of the daughter, it was natural that my old flame for Lucrezia should rekindle; and whether from the effect of her gaiety and beauty, or from my need of someone to love, or from the excellence of the wine, I found myself in love with her by the dessert, and asked her to take the place which her daughter was to have filled.
“I will marry you,” said I, “and we will all of us go to Rome on Monday, for since Leonilda is my daughter I do not like to leave her at Naples.”
At this the three guests looked at each other and said nothing. I did not repeat my proposal, but led the conversation to some other topic.
After dinner I felt sleepy and lay down on a bed, and did not wake till eight o’clock, when to my surprise I found that my only companion was Lucrezia, who was writing. She heard me stir, and came up to me and said affectionately —
“My dear friend, you have slept for five hours; and as I did not like to leave you alone I would not go with the duke and our daughter to the opera.”
The memory of former loves awakens when one is near the once beloved object, and desires rapidly become irresistible if the beauty still remain. The lovers feel as if they were once more in possession of a blessing which belongs to them, and of which they have been long deprived by unfortunate incidents. These were our feelings, and without delay, without idle discussion, and above all, without false modesty, we abandoned ourselves to love, the only true source of nature.
In the first interval, I was the first to break the silence; and if a man is anything of a wit, is he the less so at that delicious moment of repose which follows on an amorous victory?
“Once again, then,” said I, “I am in this charming land which I entered for the first time to the noise of the drum and the rattle of musket shots.”
This remark made her laugh, and recalled past events to her memory. We recollected with delight all the pleasures we had enjoyed at Testaccio, Frascati, and Tivoli. We reminded each other of these events, only to make each other laugh; but with two lovers, what is laughter but a pretext for renewing the sweet sacrifice of the goddess of Cythera?
At the end of the second act, full of the enthusiasm of the fortunate lover, I said —
“Let us be united for life; we are of the same age, we love each other, our means are sufficient for us, we may hope to live a happy life, and to die at the same moment.”
“Tis the darling wish of my heart,” Lucrezia replied, “but let us stay at Naples and leave Leonilda to the duke. We will see company, find her a worthy husband, and our happiness will be complete.”
“I cannot live at Naples, dearest, and you know that your daughter intended to leave with me.”
“My daughter! Say our daughter. I see that you are still in love with her, and do not wish to be considered her father.”
“Alas, yes! But I am sure that if I live with you my passion for her will be stilled, but otherwise I cannot answer for myself. I shall fly, but flight will not bring me happiness. Leonilda charms me still more by her intelligence than by her beauty. I was sure that she loved me so well that I did not attempt to seduce her, lest thereby I should weaken my hold on her affections; and as I wanted to make her happy I wished to deserve her esteem. I longed to possess her, but in a lawful manner, so that our rights should have been equal. We have created an angel, Lucrezia, and I cannot imagine how the duke.. .”
“The duke is completely impotent. Do you see now how I was able to trust my daughter to his care?”
“Impotent? I always thought so myself, but he has a son”
“His wife might possibly be able to explain that mystery to you, but you may take it for granted that the poor duke will die a virgin in spite of himself; and he knows that as well as anybody.”
“Do not let us say any more about it, but allow me to treat you as at Tivoli.”
“Not just now, as I hear carriage wheels.”
A moment after the door opened, and Leonilda laughed heartily to see her mother in my arms, and threw herself upon us, covering us with kisses. The duke came in a little later, and we supped together very merrily. He thought me the happiest of men when I told him I was going to pass the night honourably with my wife and daughter; and he was right, for I was so at that moment.
As soon as the worthy man left us we went to bed, but here I must draw a veil over the most voluptuous night I have ever spent. If I told all I should wound chaste ears, and, besides, all the colours of the painter and all the phrases of the poet could not do justice to the delirium of pleasure, the ecstasy, and the license which passed during that night, while two wax lights burnt dimly on the table like candles before the shrine of a saint.
We did not leave the stage, which I watered with my blood, till long after the sun had risen. We were scarcely dressed when the duke arrived.
Leonilda gave him a vivid description of our nocturnal labours, but in his unhappy state of impotence he must have been thankful for his absence.
I was determined to start the next day so as to be at Rome for the last week of the carnival and I begged the duke to let me give Leonilda the five thousand ducats which would have been her dower if she had become my bride.
“As she is your daughter,” said he, “she can and ought to take this present from her father, if only as a dowry for her future husband.”
“Will you accept it, then, my dear Leonilda?”
“Yes, papa dear,” she said, embracing me, “on the condition that you will promise to come and see me again as soon as you hear of my marriage.”
I promised to do so, and I kept my word.
“As you are going to-morrow,” said the duke, “I shall ask all the nobility of Naples to meet you at supper. In the meanwhile I leave you with your daughter; we shall see each other again at suppertime.”
He went out and I dined with my wife and daughter in the best of spirits. I spent almost the whole afternoon with Leonilda, keeping within the bounds of decency, less, perhaps, out of respect to morality, than because of my labours of the night before. We did not kiss each other till the moment of parting, and I could see that both mother and daughter were grieved to lose me.
After a careful toilette I went to supper, and found an assembly of a hundred of the very best people in Naples. The duchess was very agreeable, and when I kissed her hand to take leave, she said,
“I hope, Don Giacomo, that you have had no unpleasantness during your short stay at Naples, and that you will sometimes think of your visit with pleasure.”
I answered that I could only recall my visit with delight after the kindness with which she had deigned to treat me that evening; and, in fact, my recollections of Naples were always of the happiest description.
After I had treated the duke’s attendants with generosity, the poor nobleman, whom fortune had favoured, and whom nature had deprived of the sweetest of all enjoyments, came with me to the door of my carriage and I went on my way.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07