My Departure From Paris — My Journey to Madrid — The Count of Aranda — The Prince de la Catolica — The Duke of Lossada — Mengs — A Ball — Madame Pichona — Donna Ignazia
“Well, chevalier,” I said, “I have read the little note, and I will try and oblige his majesty as soon as possible. However, if I have not time to get away in twenty-four hours, his majesty must work his dread will on me.”
“My dear sir, the twenty-four hours are a mere formality. Subscribe the order and give me a receipt for the lettre de cachet, and you can go at your convenience. All I ask of you is that you give me your word of honour not to go to the theatres or public places of amusement on foot.”
“I give you my word with pleasure.”
I took the chevalier to my room and gave him the necessary acknowledgment, and with the observation that he would be glad to see my brother, whom he knew already, I led him into the dining-room, and explained with a cheerful face the purport of his visit.
My brother laughed and said —
“But, M. Buhot, this news is like March in Lent, it was quite unnecessary; my brother was going in the course of a week.”
“All the better. If the minister had been aware of that he would not have troubled himself about it.”
“Is the reason known?”
“I have heard something about a proposal to kick a gentleman, who though young, is too exalted a person to be spoken to in such a manner.”
“Why, chevalier,” said I, “the phrase is a mere formality like the twenty-four hours for if the impudent young rascal had come out he would have met me, and his sword should have been sufficient to ward off any kicks.”
I then told the whole story, and Buhot agreed that I was in the right throughout; adding that the police were also in the right to prevent any encounter between us. He advised me to go next morning and tell the tale to M. de Sartine, who knew me, and would be glad to have the account from my own lips. I said nothing, as I knew the famous superintendent of police to be a dreadful sermoniser.
The lettre de cachet was dated November 6th, and I did not leave Paris till the 20th.
I informed all my friends of the great honour his majesty had done me, and I would not hear of Madame du Rumain appealing to the king on my behalf, though she said she felt certain she could get the order revoked. The Duc de Choiseul gave me a posting passport dated November 19th, which I still preserve.
I left Paris without any servant, still grieving, though quietly, over Charlotte’s fate. I had a hundred Louis in cash, and a bill of exchange on Bordeaux for eight thousand francs. I enjoyed perfect health, and almost felt as if I had been rejuvenated. I had need of the utmost prudence and discretion for the future. The deaths of M. de Bragadin and Madame d’Urfe had left me alone in the world, and I was slowly but steadily approaching what is called a certain age, when women begin to look on a man with coldness.
I only called on Madame Valville on the eve of my departure: and found her in a richly-furnished house, and her casket well filled with diamonds. When I proposed to return her the fifty louis, she asked me if I had got a thousand; and on learning that I had only five hundred she refused the money absolutely and offered me her purse, which I in my turn refused. I have not seen the excellent creature since then, but before I left I gave her some excellent advice as to the necessity of saving her gains for the time of her old age, when her charms would be no more. I hope she has profited by my counsel. I bade farewell to my brother and my sister-in-law at six o’clock in the evening, and got into my chaise in the moonlight, intending to travel all night so as to dine next day at Orleans, where I wanted to see an old friend. In half an hour I was at Bourg-la-Reine, and there I began to fall asleep. At seven in the morning I reached Orleans.
Fair and beloved France, that went so well in those days, despite lettres de cachet, despite corvees, despite the people’s misery and the king’s “good pleasure,” dear France, where art thou now? Thy sovereign is the people now, the most brutal and tyrannical sovereign in the world. You have no longer to bear the “good pleasure” of the sovereign, but you have to endure the whims of the mob and the fancies of the Republic — the ruin of all good Government. A republic presupposes self-denial and a virtuous people; it cannot endure long in our selfish and luxurious days.
I went to see Bodin, a dancer, who had married Madame Joffroy, one of my thousand mistresses whom I had loved twenty-two years ago, and had seen later at Turin, Paris, and Vienna. These meetings with old friends and sweethearts were always a weak or rather a strong point with me. For a moment I seemed to be young again, and I fed once more on the delights of long ago. Repentance was no part of my composition.
Bodin and his wife (who was rather ugly than old-looking, and had become pious to suit her husband’s tastes, thus giving to God the devil’s leavings), Bodin, I say, lived on a small estate he had purchased, and attributed all the agricultural misfortunes he met with in the course of the year to the wrath of an avenging Deity.
I had a fasting dinner with them, for it was Friday, and they strictly observed all the rules of the Church. I told them of my adventures of the past years, and when I had finished they proceeded to make reflections on the faults and failings of men who have not God for a guide. They told me what I knew already: that I had an immortal soul, that there was a God that judgeth righteously, and that it was high time for me to take example by them, and to renounce all the pomps and vanities of the world.
“And turn Capuchin, I suppose?”
“You might do much worse.”
“Very good; but I shall wait till my beard grows the necessary length in a single night.”
In spite of their silliness, I was not sorry to have spent six hours with these good creatures who seemed sincerely repentant and happy in their way, and after an affectionate embrace I took leave of them and travelled all night. I stopped at Chanteloup to see the monument of the taste and magnificence of the Duc de Choiseul, and spent twenty-four hours there. A gentlemanly and polished individual, who did not know me, and for whom I had no introduction, lodged me in a fine suite of rooms, gave me supper, and would only sit down to table with me after I had used all my powers of persuasion. The next day he treated me in the same way, gave me an excellent dinner, shewed me everything, and behaved as if I were some prince, though he did not even ask my name. His attentions even extended to seeing that none of his servants were at hand when I got into my carriage and drove off. This was to prevent my giving money to any of them.
The castle on which the Duc de Choiseul had spent such immense sums had in reality cost him nothing. It was all owing, but he did not trouble himself about that in the slightest degree, as he was a sworn foe to the principle of meum and tuum. He never paid his creditors, and never disturbed his debtors. He was a generous man; a lover of art and artists, to whom he liked to be of service, and what they did for him he looked upon as a grateful offering. He was intellectual, but a hater of all detail and minute research, being of a naturally indolent and procrastinating disposition. His favourite saying was,
“There’s time enough for that.”
When I got to Poitiers, I wanted to push on to Vivonne; it was seven o’clock in the evening, and two girls endeavoured to dissuade me from this course.
“It’s very cold,” said they, “and the road is none of the best. You are no courier, sup here, we will give you a good bed, and you shall start again in the morning.”
“I have made up my mind to go on, but if you will keep me company at supper I will stay.”
“That would cost you too dearly.”
“Never too dear. Quick I make up your minds.”
“Well, we will sup with you.”
“Then lay the table for three; I must go on in an hour.”
“In an hour! You mean three, sir; papa will take two hours to get you a good supper.”
“Then I will not go on, but you must keep me company all night.”
“We will do so, if papa does not object. We will have your chaise put into the coach-house.”
These two minxes gave me an excellent supper, and were a match for me in drinking as well as eating. The wine was delicious, and we stayed at table till midnight, laughing and joking together, though without overstepping the bounds of propriety.
About midnight, the father came in jovially, and asked me how I had enjoyed my supper.
“Very much,” I answered, “but I have enjoyed still more the company of your charming daughters.”
“I am delighted to hear it. Whenever you come this way they shall keep you company, but now it is past midnight, and time for them to go to bed.”
I nodded my head, for Charlotte’s death was still too fresh in my memory to admit of my indulging in any voluptuous pleasures. I wished the girls a pleasant sleep, and I do not think I should even have kissed them if the father had not urged me to do this honour to their charms. However, my vanity made me put some fire into the embrace, and I have no doubt they thought me a prey to vain desires.
When I was alone I reflected that if I did not forget Charlotte I was a lost man. I slept till nine o’clock, and I told the servant that came to light my fire to get coffee for three, and to have my horses put in.
The two pretty girls came to breakfast with me, and I thanked them for having made me stay the night. I asked for the bill, and the eldest said it was in round figures a Louis apiece. I shewed no sign of anger at this outrageous fleecing, but gave them three Louis with the best grace imaginable and went on my way. When I reached Angouleme, where I expected to find Noel, the King of Prussia’s cook, I only found his father, whose talents in the matter of pates was something prodigious. His eloquence was as fervent as his ovens. He said he would send his pates all over Europe to any address I liked to give him.
“What! To Venice, London, Warsaw, St. Petersburg?”
“To Constantinople, if you like. You need only give me your address, and you need not pay me till you get the pates.”
I sent his pates to my friends in Venice, Warsaw, and Turin, and everybody thanked me for the delicious dish.
Noel had made quite a fortune. He assured me he had sent large consignments to America, and with the exception of some losses by shipwreck all the pates had arrived in excellent condition. They were chiefly made of turkeys, partridges, and hare, seasoned with truffles, but he also made pates de foie gras of larks and of thrushes, according to the season.
In two days I arrived at Bordeaux, a beautiful town coming only second to Paris, with respect to Lyons be it said. I spent a week there, eating and drinking of the best, for the living there is the choicest in the world.
I transferred my bill of exchange for eight thousand francs to a Madrid house, and crossed the Landes, passing by Mont de Marsan, Bayonne, and St. Jean de Luz, where I sold my post-chaise. From St. Jean de Luz I went to Pampeluna by way of the Pyrenees, which I crossed on mule-back, my baggage being carried by another mule. The mountains struck me as higher than the Alps. In this I may possibly be wrong, but I am certain that the Pyrenees are the most picturesque, fertile, and agreeable of the two.
At Pampeluna a man named Andrea Capello took charge of me and my luggage, and we set out for Madrid. For the first twenty leagues the travelling was easy enough, and the roads as good as any in France. These roads did honour to the memory of M. de Gages, who had administered Navarre after the Italian war, and had, as I was assured, made the road at his own expense. Twenty years earlier I had been arrested by this famous general; but he had established a claim on posterity greater than any of his victories. These laurels were dyed in blood, but the maker of a good road is a solid benefactor of all posterity.
In time this road came to an end, and thenceforth it would be incorrect to say that the roads were bad, for, to tell the truth, there were no roads at all. There were steep ascents and violent descents, but no traces of carriage wheels, and so it is throughout the whole of Old Castile. There are no good inns, only miserable dens scarce good enough for the muleteers, who make their beds beside their animals. Signor or rather Senor Andrea tried to choose the least wretched inns for me, and after having provided for the mules he would go round the entire village to get something for me to eat. The landlord would not stir; he shewed me a room where I could sleep if I liked, containing a fire-place, in which I could light a fire if I thought fit, but as to procuring firewood or provisions, he left that all to me. Wretched Spain!
The sum asked for a night’s accommodation was less than a farmer would ask in France or Germany for leave to sleep in his barn; but there was always an extra charge of a ‘pizetta por el ruido’. The pizetta is worth four reals; about twenty-one French sous.
The landlord smoked his paper cigarette nonchalantly enough, blowing clouds of smoke into the air with immense dignity. To him poverty was as good as riches; his wants were small, and his means sufficed for them. In no country in Europe do the lower orders live so contentedly on a very little as in Spain. Two ounces of white bread, a handful of roast chestnuts or acorns (called bellotas in Spanish) suffice to keep a Spaniard for a day. It is his glory to say when a stranger is departing from his abode —
“I have not given myself any trouble in waiting on him.”
This proceeds in part from idleness and in part from Castilian pride. A Castilian should not lower himself, they say, by attending on a Gavacho, by which name the Spaniards know the French, and, indeed, all foreigners. It is not so offensive as the Turkish appellation of dog, or the damned foreigner of the English. Of course, persons who have travelled or have had a liberal education do not speak in this way, and a respectable foreigner will find reasonable Spaniards as he will find reasonable Turks and Englishmen.
On the second night of my journey I slept at Agreda, a small and ugly town, or rather village. There Sister Marie d’Agreda became so crazy as to write a life of the Virgin, which she affirmed to have been dictated to her by the Mother of the Lord. The State Inquisitors had given me this work to read when I was under the Leads, and it had nearly driven me mad.
We did ten Spanish leagues a day, and long and weary leagues they seemed to me. One morning I thought I saw a dozen Capuchins walking slowly in front of us, but when we caught them up I found they were women of all ages.
“Are they mad?” I said to Senior Andrea.
“Not at all. They wear the Capuchin habit out of devotion, and you would not find a chemise on one of them.”
There was nothing surprising in their not having chemises, for the chemise is a scarce article in Spain, but the idea of pleasing God by wearing a Capuchin’s habit struck me as extremely odd. I will here relate an amusing adventure which befell me on my way.
At the gate of a town not far from Madrid I was asked for my passport. I handed it over, and got down to amuse myself. I found the chief of the customs’ house engaged in an argument with a foreign priest who was on his way to Madrid, and had no passport for the capital. He skewed one he had had for Bilbao, but the official was not satisfied. The priest was a Sicilian, and I asked him why he had exposed himself to being placed in this disagreeable predicament. He said he thought it was unnecessary to have a passport in Spain when one had once journeyed in the country.
“I want to go to Madrid,” said he to me, “and hope to obtain a chaplaincy in the house of a grandee. I have a letter for him.”
“Shew it; they will let you pass then.”
“You are right.”
The poor priest drew out the letter and skewed it to the official, who opened it, looked at the signature, and absolutely shrieked when he saw the name Squillace.
“What, senor abbe! you are going to Madrid with a letter from Squillace, and you dare to skew it?”
The clerks, constables, and hangers-on, hearing that the hated Squillace, who would have been stoned to death if it had not been for the king’s protection, was the poor abbe’s only patron, began to beat him violently, much to the poor Sicilian’s astonishment.
I interposed, however, and after some trouble I succeeded in rescuing the priest, who was then allowed to pass, as I believe, as a set-off against the blows he had received.
Squillace was sent to Venice as Spanish ambassador, and in Venice he died at an advanced age. He was a man designed to be an object of intense hatred to the people; he was simply ruthless in his taxation.
The door of my room had a lock on the outside but none on the inside. For the first and second night I let it pass, but on the third I told Senor Andrea that I must have it altered.
“Senor Don Jacob, you must bear with it in Spain, for the Holy Inquisition must always be at liberty to inspect the rooms of foreigners.”
“But what in the devil’s name does your cursed Inquisition want. . . .?”
“For the love of God, Senor Jacob, speak not thus! if you were overheard we should both be undone.”
“Well, what can the Holy Inquisition want to know?”
“Everything. It wants to know whether you eat meat on fast days, whether persons of opposite sexes sleep together, if so, whether they are married, and if not married it will cause both parties to be imprisoned; in fine, Senor Don Jaimo, the Holy inquisition is continually watching over our souls in this country.”
When we met a priest bearing the viaticum to some sick man, Senor Andrea would tell me imperatively to get out of my carriage, and then there was no choice but to kneel in the mud or dust as the case might be. The chief subject of dispute at that time was the fashion of wearing breeches. Those who wore ‘braguettes’ were imprisoned, and all tailors making breeches with ‘braguettes’ were severely punished. Nevertheless, people persisted in wearing them, and the priests and monks preached in vain against the indecency of such a habit. A revolution seemed imminent, but the matter was happily settled without effusion of blood. An edict was published and affixed to the doors of all the churches, in which it was declared that breeches with braguettes were only to be worn by the public hangmen. Then the fashion passed away; for no one cared to pass for the public executioner.
By little and little I got an insight into the manners of the Spanish nation as I passed through Guadalaxara and Alcala, and at length arrived at Madrid.
Guadalaxara, or Guadalajara, is pronounced by the Spaniards with a strong aspirate, the x and j having the same force. The vowel d, the queen of letters, reigns supreme in Spain; it is a relic of the old Moorish language. Everyone knows that the Arabic abounds in d’s, and perhaps the philologists are right in calling it the most ancient of languages, since the a is the most natural and easy to pronounce of all the letters. It seems to me very mistaken to call such words as Achald, Ayanda, Almanda, Acard, Agracaramba, Alcantara, etc., barbarous, for the sonorous ring with which they are pronounced renders the Castilian the richest of all modern languages. Spanish is undoubtedly one of the finest, most energetic, and most majestic languages in the world. When it is pronounced ‘ore rotundo’ it is susceptible of the most poetic harmony. It would be superior to the Italian, if it were not for the three guttural letters, in spite of what the Spaniards say to the contrary. It is no good remonstrating with them.
‘Quisquis amat ranam, ranam purat esse Dianam’.
As I was entering the Gate of Alcala, my luggage was searched, and the clerks paid the greatest attention to my books, and they were very disappointed only to find the “Iliad” in Greek, and a Latin Horace. They were taken away, but three days after, they were returned to me at my lodging in the Rue de la Croix where I had gone in spite of Senor Andrea, who had wanted to take me elsewhere. A worthy man whom I had met in Bordeaux had given me the address. One of the ceremonies I had to undergo at the Gate of Alcala displeased me in the highest degree. A clerk asked me for a pinch of snuff, so I took out my snuff-box and gave it him, but instead of taking a pinch he snatched it out of my hands and said —
“Senor, this snuff will not pass in Spain” (it was French rappee); and after turning it out on the ground he gave me back the box.
The authorities are most rigorous on the matter of this innocent powder, and in consequence an immense contraband trade is carried on. The spies employed by the Spanish snuff-makers are always on the look-out after foreign snuff, and if they detect anyone carrying it they make him pay dearly for the luxury. The ambassadors of foreign powers are the only persons exempted from the prohibitions. The king who stuffs into his enormous nose one enormous pinch as he rises in the morning wills that all his subjects buy their snuff of the Spanish manufacturers. When Spanish snuff is pure it is very good, but at the time I was in Spain the genuine article could hardly be bought for its weight in gold. By reason of the natural inclination towards forbidden fruit, the Spaniards are extremely fond of foreign snuff, and care little for their own; thus snuff is smuggled to an enormous extent.
My lodging was comfortable enough, but I felt the want of a fire as the cold was more trying than that of Paris, in spite of the southern latitude. The cause of this cold is that Madrid is the highest town in Europe. From whatever part of the coast one starts, one has to mount to reach the capital. The town is also surrounded by mountains and hills, so that the slightest touch of wind from the north makes the cold intense. The air of Madrid is not healthy for strangers, especially for those of a full habit of body; the Spaniards it suits well enough, for they are dry and thin, and wear a cloak even in the dog days.
The men of Spain dwell mentally in a limited horizon, bounded by prejudice on every side; but the women, though ignorant, are usually intelligent; while both sexes are the prey of desires, as lively as their native air, as burning as the sun that shines on them. Every Spaniard hates a foreigner, simply because he is a foreigner, but the women avenge us by loving us, though with great precautions, for your Spaniard is intensely jealous. They watch most jealously over the honour of their wives and daughters. As a rule the men are ugly, though there are numerous exceptions; while the women are pretty, and beauties are not uncommon. The southern blood in their veins inclines them to love, and they are always ready to enter into an intrigue and to deceive the spies by whom they are surrounded. The lover who runs the greatest dangers is always the favourite. In the public walks, the churches, the theatres, the Spanish women are always speaking the language of the eyes. If the person to whom it is addressed knows how to seize the instant, he may be sure of success, but if not, the opportunity will never be offered him again.
I required some kind of heat in my room, and could not bear a charcoal brazier, so I incited an ingenious tin-smith to make me a stove with a pipe going out of the window. However, he was so proud of his success that he made me pay dearly.
Before the stove was ready I was told where I might go and warm myself an hour before noon, and stay till dinner-time. It is called La Pueyta del Sol, “The Gate of the Sun.” It is not a gate, but it takes its name from the manner in which the source of all heat lavishes his treasures there, and warms all who come and bask in his rays. I found a numerous company promenading there, walking and talking, but it was not much to my taste.
I wanted a servant who could speak French, and I had the greatest difficulty in getting one, and had to pay dearly, for in Madrid the kind of man I wanted was called a page. I could not compel him to mount behind my carriage, nor to carry a package, nor to light me by night with a torch or lantern.
My page was a man of thirty, and terribly ugly; but this was a recommendation, as his ugliness secured him from the jealous suspicions of husbands. A woman of rank will not drive out without one of these pages seated in the forepart of her carriage. They are said to be more difficult to seduce than the strictest of duennas.
I was obliged to take one of these rascally tribe into my service, and I wish he had broken his leg on his way to my house.
I delivered all my introductions, beginning with the letter from Princess Lubomirska to the Count of Aranda. The count had covered himself with glory by driving the Jesuits out of Spain. He was more powerful than the king himself, and never went out without a number of the royal guardsmen about him, whom he made to sit down at his table. Of course all the Spaniards hated him, but he did not seem to care much for that. A profound politician, and absolutely resolute and firm, he privately indulged in every luxury that he forbade to others, and did not care whether people talked of it or not.
He was a rather ugly man, with a disagreeable squint. His reception of me was far from cordial.
“What do you want in Spain?” he began.
“To add fresh treasures to my store of experience, by observing the manners and the customs of the country, and if possible to serve the Government with such feeble, talents as I may possess.”
“Well, you have no need of my protection. If you do not infringe the laws, no one will disturb you. As to your obtaining employment, you had better go to the representative of your country; he will introduce you at Court, and make you known.”
“My lord, the Venetian ambassador will do nothing for me; I am in disgrace with the Government. He will not even receive me at the embassy.”
“Then I would advise you to give up all hopes of employment, for the king would begin by asking your ambassador about you, and his answer would be fatal. You will do well to be satisfied with amusing yourself.”
After this I called on the Neapolitan ambassador, who talked in much the same way. Even the Marquis of Moras, one of the most pleasant men in Spain, did not hold out any hopes. The Duke of Lossada, the high steward and favourite of his Catholic majesty, was sorry to be disabled from doing me any service, in spite of his good will, and advised me, in some way or other, to get the Venetian ambassador to give me a good word, in spite of my disgrace. I determined to follow his advice, and wrote to M. Dandolo, begging him to get the ambassador to favour me at the Spanish Court in spite of my quarrel with the Venetian Government. I worded my letter in such a way that it might be read by the Inquisitors themselves, and calculated on its producing a good impression.
After I had written this letter I went to the lodging of the Venetian ambassador, and presented myself to the secretary, Gaspar Soderini, a worthy and intelligent man. Nevertheless, he dared to tell me that he was astonished at my hardihood in presenting myself at the embassy.
“I have presented myself, sir, that my enemies may never reproach me for not having done so; I am not aware that I have ever done anything which makes me too infamous to call on my ambassador. I should have credited myself with much greater hardihood if I had left without fulfilling this duty; but I shall be sorry if the ambassador views my proceedings in the same light as yourself, and puts down to temerity what was meant for a mark of respect. I shall be none the less astonished if his excellency refuses to receive me on account of a private quarrel between myself and the State Inquisitors, of which he knows no more than I do, and I know nothing. You will excuse my saying that he is not the ambassador of the State Inquisitors, but of the Republic of which I am a subject; for I defy him and I defy the Inquisitors to tell me what crime I have committed that I am to be deprived of my rights as a Venetian citizen. I think that, while it is my duty to reverence my prince in the person of my ambassador, it is his duty to afford me his protection.”
This speech had made Soderini blush, and he replied —
“Why don’t you write a letter to the ambassador, with the arguments you have just used to me?”
“I could not write to him before I know whether he will receive me or not. But now, as I have reason to suppose that his opinions are much the same as your own, I will certainly write to him.”
“I do not know whether his excellency thinks as I do or not, and, in spite of what I said to you, it is just possible that you do not know my own opinions on the question; but write to him, and he may possibly give you an audience.”
“I shall follow your advice, for which I am much obliged.”
When I got home I wrote to his excellency all I had said to the secretary, and the next day I had a visit from Count Manucci. The count proved to be a fine-looking young man of an agreeable presence. He said that he lived in the embassy, that his excellency had read my letter, and though he grieved not to receive me publicly he should be delighted to see me in private, for he both knew and esteemed me.
Young Manucci told me that he was a Venetian, and that he knew me by name, as he often heard his father and mother lamenting my fortune. Before long it dawned upon me that this Count Manucci was the son of that Jean Baptiste Manucci who had served as the spy of the State Inquisitors and had so adroitly managed to get possession of my books of magic, which were in all probability the chief corpus delicti.
I did not say anything to him, but I was certain that my guess was correct. His mother was the daughter of a valet de chambre, and his father was a poor mechanic. I asked the young man if he were called count at the embassy, and he said he bore the title in virtue of a warrant from the elector-palatine. My question skewed him that I knew his origin, and he began to speak openly to me; and knowing that I was acquainted with the peculiar tastes of M. de Mocenigo, the ambassador, he informed me laughingly that he was his pathic.
“I will do my best for you,” he added; and I was glad to hear him say so, for an Alexis should be able to obtain almost anything from his Corydon. We embraced, and he told me as we parted that he would expect me at the embassy in the afternoon, to take coffee in his room; the ambassador, he said, would certainly come in as soon as he heard of my presence.
I went to the embassy, and had a very kind reception from the ambassador, who said he was deeply grieved not to be able to receive me publicly. He admitted that he might present me at Court without compromising himself, but he was afraid of making enemies.
“I hope soon to receive a letter from a friend of mine, which will authorise your excellency producing me.”
“I shall be delighted, in that case, to present you to all the Spanish ministers.”
This Mocenigo was the same that acquired such a reputation at Paris by his leanings to pederasty, a vice or taste which the French hold in horror. Later on, Mocenigo was condemned by the Council of Ten to ten years’ imprisonment for having started on an embassy to Vienna without formal permission. Maria Theresa had intimated to the Venetian Government that she would not receive such a character, as his habits would be the scandal of her capital. The Venetian Government had some trouble with Mocenigo, and as he attempted to set out for Vienna they exiled him and chose another ambassador, whose morals were as bad, save that the new ambassador indulged himself with Hebe and not Ganymede, which threw a veil of decency over his proceedings.
In spite of his reputation for pederasty, Mocenigo was much liked at Madrid. On one occasion I was at a ball, and a Spaniard noticing me with Manucci, came up to me, and told me with an air of mystery that that young man was the ambassador’s wife. He did not know that the ambassador was Manucci’s wife; in fact, he did not understand the arrangement at all. “Where ignorance is bliss!” etc. However, in spite of the revolting nature of this vice, it has been a favourite one with several great men. It was well-known to the Ancients, and those who indulged in it were called Hermaphrodites, which symbolises not a man of two sexes but a man with the passions of the two sexes.
I had called two or three times on the painter Mengs, who had been painter in ordinary to his Catholic majesty for six years, and had an excellent salary. He gave me some good dinners. His wife and family were at Rome, while he basked in the royal favours at Madrid, enjoying the unusual privilege of being able to speak to the king whenever he would. At Mengs’s house I trade the acquaintance of the architect Sabatini, an extremely able man whom the king had summoned from Naples to cleanse Madrid, which was formerly the dirtiest and most stinking town in Europe, or, for the matter of that, in the world. Sabatini had become a rich man by constructing drains, sewers, and closets for a city of fourteen thousand houses. He had married by proxy the daughter of Vanvitelli, who was also an architect at Naples, but he had never seen her. She came to Madrid about the same time as myself. She was a beauty of eighteen, and no sooner did she see her husband than she declared she would never be his wife. Sabatini was neither a young man nor a handsome one, but he was kind-hearted and distinguished; and when he told his young wife that she would have to choose between him and a nunnery, she determined to make the best of what she thought a bad bargain. However, she had no reason to repent of her choice; her husband was rich, affectionate, and easygoing, and gave her everything she wanted. I sighed and burned for her in silence, not daring to declare my love, for while the wound of the death of Charlotte was still bleeding I also began to find that women were beginning to give me the cold shoulder.
By way of amusing myself I began to go to the theatre, and the masked balls to which the Count of Aranda had established. They were held in a room built for the purpose, and named ‘Los Scannos del Peral’. A Spanish play is full of absurdities, but I rather relished the representations. The ‘Autos Sacramentales’ were still represented; they were afterwards prohibited. I could not help remarking the strange way in which the boxes are constructed by order of the wretched police. Instead of being boarded in front they are perfectly open, being kept up by small pillars. A devotee once said to me at the theatre that this was a very wise regulation, and he was surprised that it was not carried into force in Italy.
“Because lovers, who feel sure that no one in the pit can see them, may commit improprieties.”
I only answered with a shrug of the shoulders.
In a large box opposite to the stage sat ‘los padres’ of the Holy Inquisition to watch over the morals of actors and audience. I was gazing on them when of a sudden the sentinel at the door of the pit called out “Dios!” and at this cry all the actors and all the audience, men and women, fell down on their knees, and remained kneeling till the sound of a bell in the street ceased to be heard. This bell betokened that a priest was passing by carrying the viaticum to some sick man. I felt very much inclined to laugh, but I had seen enough of Spanish manners to refrain. All the religion of the Spaniard is in outward show and ceremony. A profligate woman before yielding to the desires of her lover covers the picture of Christ, or the Virgin, with a veil. If the lover laughed at this absurdity he would run a risk of being denounced as an Atheist, and most probably by the wretched woman who had sold him her charms.
In Madrid, and possibly all over Spain, a gentleman who takes a lady to a private room in an inn must expect to have a servant in the room the whole of the time, that he may be able to swear that the couple took no indecent liberties with each other. In spite of all, profligacy is rampant at Madrid, and also the most dreadful hypocrisy, which is more offensive to true piety than open sin. Men and women seemed to have come to an agreement to set the whole system of surveillance utterly at nought. However, commerce with women is not without its dangers; whether it be endemic or a result of dirty habits, one has often good reason to repent the favours one has obtained.
The masked ball quite captivated me. The first time I went to see what it was like and it only cost me a doubloon (about eleven francs), but ever after it cost me four doubloons, for the following reason:
An elderly gentleman, who sat next me at supper, guessed I was a foreigner by my difficulty in making myself understood by the waiter, and asked me where, I had left my lady friend.
“I have not got one; I came by myself to enjoy this delightful and excellently-managed entertainment.”
“Yes, but you ought to come with a companion; then you could dance. At present you cannot do so, as every lady has her partner, who will not allow her to dance with anyone else.”
“Then I must be content not to dance, for, being a stranger, I do not know any lady whom I can ask to come with me.”
“As a stranger you would have much less difficulty in securing a partner than a citizen of Madrid. Under the new fashion, introduced by the Count of Aranda, the masked ball has become the rage of all the women in the capital. You see there are about two hundred of them on the floor to- night; well, I think there are at least four thousand girls in Madrid who are sighing for someone to take them to the ball, for, as you may know, no woman is allowed to come by herself. You would only have to go to any respectable people, give your name and address, and ask to have the pleasure of taking their daughter to the ball. You would have to send her a domino, mask, and gloves; and you would take her and bring her back in your carriage.”
“And if the father and mother refused?”
“Then you would make your bow and go, leaving them to repent of their folly, for the girl would sigh, and weep, and moan, bewail parental tyranny, call Heaven to witness the innocency of going to a ball, and finally go into convulsions.”
This oration, which was uttered in the most persuasive style, made me quite gay, for I scented an intrigue from afar. I thanked the masked (who spoke Italian very well) and promised to follow his advice and to let him know the results.
“I shall be delighted to hear of your success, and you will find me in the box, where I shall be glad if you will follow me now, to be introduced to the lady who is my constant companion.”
I was astonished at so much politeness, and told him my name and followed him. He took me into a box where there were two ladies and an elderly man. They were talking about the ball, so I put in a remark or two on the same topic, which seemed to meet with approval. One of the two ladies, who retained some traces of her former beauty, asked me, in excellent French, what circles I moved in.
“I have only been a short time in Madrid, and not having been presented at Court I really know no one.”
“Really! I quite pity you. Come and see me, you will be welcome. My name is Pichona, and anybody will tell you where I live.”
“I shall be delighted to pay my respects to you, madam.”
What I liked best about the spectacle was a wonderful and fantastic dance which was struck up at midnight. It was the famous fandango, of which I had often heard, but of which I had absolutely no idea. I had seen it danced on the stage in France and Italy, but the actors were careful not to use those voluptuous gestures which make it the most seductive in the world. It cannot be described. Each couple only dances three steps, but the gestures and the attitudes are the most lascivious imaginable. Everything is represented, from the sigh of desire to the final ecstasy; it is a very history of love. I could not conceive a woman refusing her partner anything after this dance, for it seemed made to stir up the senses. I was so excited at this Bacchanalian spectacle that I burst out into cries of delight. The masker who had taken me to his box told me that I should see the fandango danced by the Gitanas with good partners.
“But,” I remarked, “does not the Inquisition object to this dance?”
Madame Pichona told me that it was absolutely forbidden, and would not be danced unless the Count of Aranda had given permission.
I heard afterwards that, on the count forbidding the fandango, the ball- room was deserted with bitter complaints, and on the prohibition being withdrawn everyone was loud in his praise.
The next day I told my infamous page to get me a Spaniard who would teach me the fandango. He brought me an actor, who also gave me Spanish lessons, for he pronounced the language admirably. In the course of three days the young actor taught me all the steps so well that, by the confession of the Spaniards themselves, I danced it to perfection.
For the next ball I determined to carry the masker’s advice into effect, but I did not want to take a courtesan or a married woman with me, and I could not reasonably expect that any young lady of family would accompany me.
It was St. Anthony’s Day, and passing the Church of the Soledad I went in, with the double motive of hearing mass and of procuring a partner for the next day’s ball.
I noticed a fine-looking girl coming out of the confessional, with contrite face and lowered eyes, and I noted where she went. She knelt down in the middle of the church, and I was so attracted by her appearance that I registered a mental vow to the effect that she should be my first partner. She did not look like a person of condition, nor, so far as I could see, was she rich, and nothing about her indicated the courtesan, though women of that class go to confession in Madrid like everybody else. When mass was ended, the priest distributed the Eucharist, and I saw her rise and approach humbly to the holy table, and there receive the communion. She then returned to the church to finish her devotions, and I was patient enough to wait till they were over.
At last she left, in company with another girl, and I followed her at a distance. At the end of a street her companion left her to go into her house, and she, retracing her steps, turned into another street and entered a small house, one story high. I noted the house and the street (Calle des Desinjano) and then walked up and down for half an hour, that I might not be suspected of following her. At last I took courage and walked in, and, on my ringing a bell, I heard a voice,
“Who is there?”
“Honest folk,” I answered, according to the custom of the country; and the door was opened. I found myself in the presence of a man, a woman, the young devotee I had followed, and another girl, somewhat ugly.
My Spanish was bad, but still it was good enough to express my meaning, and, hat in hand, I informed the father that, being a stranger, and having no partner to take to the ball, I had come to ask him to give me his daughter for my partner, supposing he had a daughter. I assured him that I was a man of honour, and that the girl should be returned to him after the ball in the same condition as when she started.
“Senor,” said he, “there is my daughter, but I don’t know you, and I don’t know whether she wants to go.”
“I should like to go, if my parents will allow me.”
“Then you know this gentleman?”
“I have never seen him, and I suppose he has never seen me.”
“You speak the truth, senora.”
The father asked me my name and address, and promised I should have a decisive answer by dinner-time, if I dined at home. I begged him to excuse the liberty I had taken, and to let me know his answer without fail, so that I might have time to get another partner if it were unfavourable to me.
Just as I was beginning to dine my man appeared. I asked him to sit down, and he informed me that his daughter would accept my offer, but that her mother would accompany her and sleep in the carriage. I said that she might do so if she liked, but I should be sorry for her on account of the cold. “She shall have a good cloak,” said he; and he proceeded to inform me that he was a cordwainer.
“Then I hope you will take my measure for a pair of shoes.”
“I daren’t do that; I’m an hidalgo, and if I were to take anyone’s measure I should have to touch his foot, and that would be a degradation. I am a cobbler, and that is not inconsistent with my nobility.”
“Then, will you mend me these boots?”
“I will make them like new; but I see they want a lot of work; it will cost you a pezzo duro, about five francs.”
I told him that I thought his terms very reasonable, and he went out with a profound bow, refusing absolutely to dine with me.
Here was a cobbler who despised bootmakers because they had to touch the foot, and they, no doubt, despised him because he touched old leather. Unhappy pride how many forms it assumes, and who is without his own peculiar form of it?
The next day I sent to the gentleman-cobbler’s a tradesman with dominos, masks, and gloves; but I took care not to go myself nor to send my page, for whom I had an aversion which almost amounted to a presentiment. I hired a carriage to seat four, and at nightfall I drove to the house of my pious partner, who was quite ready for me. The happy flush on her face was a sufficient index to me of the feelings of her heart. We got into the carriage with the mother, who was wrapped up in a vast cloak, and at the door of the dancing-room we descended, leaving the mother in the carriage. As soon as we were alone my fair partner told me that her name was Donna Ignazia.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49