Giacomo Casanova.

Memoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice online

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husband to take supper on board our galeass. We had a fortunate voyage,
and cast anchor in the harbour of Venice on the 14th of October, 1745,
and after having performed quarantine on board our ships, we landed on
the 25th of November. Two months afterwards, the galeasses were set aside
altogether. The use of these vessels could be traced very far back in
ancient times; their maintenance was very expensive, and they were
useless. A galeass had the frame of a frigate with the rowing apparatus
of the galley, and when there was no wind, five hundred slaves had to
row.

Before simple good sense managed to prevail and to enforce the
suppression of these useless carcasses, there were long discussions in
the senate, and those who opposed the measure took their principal ground
of opposition in the necessity of respecting and conserving all the
institutions of olden times. That is the disease of persons who can never
identify themselves with the successive improvements born of reason and
experience; worthy persons who ought to be sent to China, or to the
dominions of the Grand Lama, where they would certainly be more at home
than in Europe.

That ground of opposition to all improvements, however absurd it may be,
is a very powerful one in a republic, which must tremble at the mere idea
of novelty either in important or in trifling things. Superstition has
likewise a great part to play in these conservative views.

There is one thing that the Republic of Venice will never alter: I mean
the galleys, because the Venetians truly require such vessels to ply, in
all weathers and in spite of the frequent calms, in a narrow sea, and
because they would not know what to do with the men sentenced to hard
labour.

I have observed a singular thing in Corfu, where there are often as many
as three thousand galley slaves; it is that the men who row on the
galleys, in consequence of a sentence passed upon them for some crime,
are held in a kind of opprobrium, whilst those who are there voluntarily
are, to some extent, respected. I have always thought it ought to be the
reverse, because misfortune, whatever it may be, ought to inspire some
sort of respect; but the vile fellow who condemns himself voluntarily and
as a trade to the position of a slave seems to me contemptible in the
highest degree. The convicts of the Republic, however, enjoy many
privileges, and are, in every way, better treated than the soldiers. It
very often occurs that soldiers desert and give themselves up to a
'sopracomito' to become galley slaves. In those cases, the captain who
loses a soldier has nothing to do but to submit patiently, for he would
claim the man in vain. The reason of it is that the Republic has always
believed galley slaves more necessary than soldiers. The Venetians may
perhaps now (I am writing these lines in the year 1797) begin to realize
their mistake.

A galley slave, for instance, has the privilege of stealing with
impunity. It is considered that stealing is the least crime they can be
guilty of, and that they ought to be forgiven for it.

"Keep on your guard," says the master of the galley slave; "and if you
catch him in the act of stealing, thrash him, but be careful not to
cripple him; otherwise you must pay me the one hundred ducats the man has
cost me."

A court of justice could not have a galley slave taken from a galley,
without paying the master the amount he has disbursed for the man.

As soon as I had landed in Venice, I called upon Madame Orio, but I found
the house empty. A neighbour told me that she had married the Procurator
Rosa, and had removed to his house. I went immediately to M. Rosa and was
well received. Madame Orio informed me that Nanette had become Countess
R., and was living in Guastalla with her husband.

Twenty-four years afterwards, I met her eldest son, then a distinguished
officer in the service of the Infante of Parma.

As for Marton, the grace of Heaven had touched her, and she had become a
nun in the convent at Muran. Two years afterwards, I received from her a
letter full of unction, in which she adjured me, in the name of Our
Saviour and of the Holy Virgin, never to present myself before her eyes.
She added that she was bound by Christian charity to forgive me for the
crime I had committed in seducing her, and she felt certain of the reward
of the elect, and she assured me that she would ever pray earnestly for
my conversion.

I never saw her again, but she saw me in 1754, as I will mention when we
reach that year.

I found Madame Manzoni still the same. She had predicted that I would not
remain in the military profession, and when I told her that I had made up
my mind to give it up, because I could not be reconciled to the injustice
I had experienced, she burst out laughing. She enquired about the
profession I intended to follow after giving up the army, and I answered
that I wished to become an advocate. She laughed again, saying that it
was too late. Yet I was only twenty years old.

When I called upon M. Grimani I had a friendly welcome from him, but,
having enquired after my brother Francois, he told me that he had had him
confined in Fort Saint Andre, the same to which I had been sent before
the arrival of the Bishop of Martorano.

"He works for the major there," he said; "he copies Simonetti's
battle-pieces, and the major pays him for them; in that manner he earns
his living, and is becoming a good painter."

"But he is not a prisoner?"

"Well, very much like it, for he cannot leave the fort. The major, whose
name is Spiridion, is a friend of Razetta, who could not refuse him the
pleasure of taking care of your brother."

I felt it a dreadful curse that the fatal Razetta should be the tormentor
of all my family, but I concealed my anger.

"Is my sister," I enquired, "still with him?"

"No, she has gone to your mother in Dresden."

This was good news.

I took a cordial leave of the Abbe Grimani, and I proceeded to Fort Saint
Andre. I found my brother hard at work, neither pleased nor displeased
with his position, and enjoying good health. After embracing him
affectionately, I enquired what crime he had committed to be thus a
prisoner.

"Ask the major," he said, "for I have not the faintest idea."

The major came in just then, so I gave him the military salute, and asked
by what authority he kept my brother under arrest.

"I am not accountable to you for my actions."

"That remains to be seen."

I then told my brother to take his hat, and to come and dine with me. The
major laughed, and said that he had no objection provided the sentinel
allowed him to pass.

I saw that I should only waste my time in discussion, and I left the fort
fully bent on obtaining justice.

The next day I went to the war office, where I had the pleasure of
meeting my dear Major Pelodoro, who was then commander of the Fortress of
Chiozza. I informed him of the complaint I wanted to prefer before the
secretary of war respecting my brother's arrest, and of the resolution I
had taken to leave the army. He promised me that, as soon as the consent
of the secretary for war could be obtained, he would find a purchaser for
my commission at the same price I had paid for it.

I had not long to wait. The war secretary came to the office, and
everything was settled in half an hour. He promised his consent to the
sale of my commission as soon as he ascertained the abilities of the
purchaser, and Major Spiridion happening to make his appearance in the
office while I was still there, the secretary ordered him rather angrily,
to set my brother at liberty immediately, and cautioned him not to be
guilty again of such reprehensible and arbitrary acts.

I went at once for my brother, and we lived together in furnished
lodgings.

A few days afterwards, having received my discharge and one hundred
sequins, I threw off my uniform, and found myself once more my own
master.

I had to earn my living in one way or another, and I decided for the
profession of gamester. But Dame Fortune was not of the same opinion, for
she refused to smile upon me from the very first step I took in the
career, and in less than a week I did not possess a groat. What was to
become of me? One must live, and I turned fiddler. Doctor Gozzi had
taught me well enough to enable me to scrape on the violin in the
orchestra of a theatre, and having mentioned my wishes to M. Grimani he
procured me an engagement at his own theatre of Saint Samuel, where I
earned a crown a day, and supported myself while I awaited better things.

Fully aware of my real position, I never shewed myself in the fashionable
circles which I used to frequent before my fortune had sunk so low. I
knew that I was considered as a worthless fellow, but I did not care.
People despised me, as a matter of course; but I found comfort in the
consciousness that I was worthy of contempt. I felt humiliated by the
position to which I was reduced after having played so brilliant a part
in society; but as I kept the secret to myself I was not degraded, even
if I felt some shame. I had not exchanged my last word with Dame Fortune,
and was still in hope of reckoning with her some day, because I was
young, and youth is dear to Fortune.




CHAPTER XVII

I Turn Out A Worthless Fellow - My Good Fortune - I Become A Rich Nobleman

With an education which ought to have ensured me an honourable standing
in the world, with some intelligence, wit, good literary and scientific
knowledge, and endowed with those accidental physical qualities which are
such a good passport into society, I found myself, at the age of twenty,
the mean follower of a sublime art, in which, if great talent is rightly
admired, mediocrity is as rightly despised. I was compelled by poverty to
become a member of a musical band, in which I could expect neither esteem
nor consideration, and I was well aware that I should be the
laughing-stock of the persons who had known me as a doctor in divinity,
as an ecclesiastic, and as an officer in the army, and had welcomed me in
the highest society.

I knew all that, for I was not blind to my position; but contempt, the
only thing to which I could not have remained indifferent, never shewed
itself anywhere under a form tangible enough for me to have no doubt of
my being despised, and I set it at defiance, because I was satisfied that
contempt is due only to cowardly, mean actions, and I was conscious that
I had never been guilty of any. As to public esteem, which I had ever
been anxious to secure, my ambition was slumbering, and satisfied with
being my own master I enjoyed my independence without puzzling my head
about the future. I felt that in my first profession, as I was not
blessed with the vocation necessary to it, I should have succeeded only
by dint of hypocrisy, and I should have been despicable in my own
estimation, even if I had seen the purple mantle on my shoulders, for the
greatest dignities cannot silence a man's own conscience. If, on the
other hand, I had continued to seek fortune in a military career, which
is surrounded by a halo of glory, but is otherwise the worst of
professions for the constant self-abnegation, for the complete surrender
of one's will which passive obedience demands, I should have required a
patience to which I could not lay any claim, as every kind of injustice
was revolting to me, and as I could not bear to feel myself dependent.
Besides, I was of opinion that a man's profession, whatever it might be,
ought to supply him with enough money to satisfy all his wants; and the
very poor pay of an officer would never have been sufficient to cover my
expenses, because my education had given me greater wants than those of
officers in general. By scraping my violin I earned enough to keep myself
without requiring anybody's assistance, and I have always thought that
the man who can support himself is happy. I grant that my profession was
not a brilliant one, but I did not mind it, and, calling prejudices all
the feelings which rose in my breast against myself, I was not long in
sharing all the habits of my degraded comrades. When the play was over, I
went with them to the drinking-booth, which we often left intoxicated to
spend the night in houses of ill-fame. When we happened to find those
places already tenanted by other men, we forced them by violence to quit
the premises, and defrauded the miserable victims of prostitution of the
mean salary the law allows them, after compelling them to yield to our
brutality. Our scandalous proceedings often exposed us to the greatest
danger.

We would very often spend the whole night rambling about the city,
inventing and carrying into execution the most impertinent, practical
jokes. One of our favourite pleasures was to unmoor the patricians'
gondolas, and to let them float at random along the canals, enjoying by
anticipation all the curses that gondoliers would not fail to indulge in.
We would rouse up hurriedly, in the middle of the night, an honest
midwife, telling her to hasten to Madame So-and-so, who, not being even
pregnant, was sure to tell her she was a fool when she called at the
house. We did the same with physicians, whom we often sent half dressed
to some nobleman who was enjoying excellent health. The priests fared no
better; we would send them to carry the last sacraments to married men
who were peacefully slumbering near their wives, and not thinking of
extreme unction.

We were in the habit of cutting the wires of the bells in every house,
and if we chanced to find a gate open we would go up the stairs in the
dark, and frighten the sleeping inmates by telling them very loudly that
the house door was not closed, after which we would go down, making as
much noise as we could, and leave the house with the gate wide open.

During a very dark night we formed a plot to overturn the large marble
table of St. Angelo's Square, on which it was said that in the days of
the League of Cambray the commissaries of the Republic were in the habit
of paying the bounty to the recruits who engaged to fight under the
standard of St. Mark - a circumstance which secured for the table a sort
of public veneration.

Whenever we could contrive to get into a church tower we thought it great
fun to frighten all the parish by ringing the alarm bell, as if some fire
had broken out; but that was not all, we always cut the bell ropes, so
that in the morning the churchwardens had no means of summoning the
faithful to early mass. Sometimes we would cross the canal, each of us in
a different gondola, and take to our heels without paying as soon as we
landed on the opposite side, in order to make the gondoliers run after
us.

The city was alive with complaints, and we laughed at the useless search
made by the police to find out those who disturbed the peace of the
inhabitants. We took good care to be careful, for if we had been
discovered we stood a very fair chance of being sent to practice rowing
at the expense of the Council of Ten.

We were seven, and sometimes eight, because, being much attached to my
brother Francois, I gave him a share now and then in our nocturnal
orgies. But at last fear put a stop to our criminal jokes, which in those
days I used to call only the frolics of young men. This is the amusing
adventure which closed our exploits.

In every one of the seventy-two parishes of the city of Venice, there is
a large public-house called 'magazzino'. It remains open all night, and
wine is retailed there at a cheaper price than in all the other drinking
houses. People can likewise eat in the 'magazzino', but they must obtain
what they want from the pork butcher near by, who has the exclusive sale
of eatables, and likewise keeps his shop open throughout the night. The
pork butcher is usually a very poor cook, but as he is cheap, poor people
are willingly satisfied with him, and these resorts are considered very
useful to the lower class. The nobility, the merchants, even workmen in
good circumstances, are never seen in the 'magazzino', for cleanliness is
not exactly worshipped in such places. Yet there are a few private rooms
which contain a table surrounded with benches, in which a respectable
family or a few friends can enjoy themselves in a decent way.

It was during the Carnival of 1745, after midnight; we were, all the
eight of us, rambling about together with our masks on, in quest of some
new sort of mischief to amuse us, and we went into the magazzino of the
parish of the Holy Cross to get something to drink. We found the public
room empty, but in one of the private chambers we discovered three men
quietly conversing with a young and pretty woman, and enjoying their
wine.

Our chief, a noble Venetian belonging to the Balbi family, said to us,
"It would be a good joke to carry off those three blockheads, and to keep
the pretty woman in our possession." He immediately explained his plan,
and under cover of our masks we entered their room, Balbi at the head of
us. Our sudden appearance rather surprised the good people, but you may
fancy their astonishment when they heard Balbi say to them: "Under
penalty of death, and by order of the Council of Ten, I command you to
follow us immediately, without making the slightest noise; as to you, my
good woman, you need not be frightened, you will be escorted to your
house." When he had finished his speech, two of us got hold of the woman
to take her where our chief had arranged beforehand, and the others
seized the three poor fellows, who were trembling all over, and had not
the slightest idea of opposing any resistance.

The waiter of the magazzino came to be paid, and our chief gave him what
was due, enjoining silence under penalty of death. We took our three
prisoners to a large boat. Balbi went to the stern, ordered the boatman
to stand at the bow, and told him that he need not enquire where we were
going, that he would steer himself whichever way he thought fit. Not one
of us knew where Balbi wanted to take the three poor devils.

He sails all along the canal, gets out of it, takes several turnings, and
in a quarter of an hour, we reach Saint George where Balbi lands our
prisoners, who are delighted to find themselves at liberty. After this,
the boatman is ordered to take us to Saint Genevieve, where we land,
after paying for the boat.

We proceed at once to Palombo Square, where my brother and another of our
band were waiting for us with our lovely prisoner, who was crying.

"Do not weep, my beauty," says Balbi to her, "we will not hurt you. We
intend only to take some refreshment at the Rialto, and then we will take
you home in safety."

"Where is my husband?"

"Never fear; you shall see him again to-morrow."

Comforted by that promise, and as gentle as a lamb, she follows us to the
"Two Swords." We ordered a good fire in a private room, and, everything
we wanted to eat and to drink having been brought in, we send the waiter
away, and remain alone. We take off our masks, and the sight of eight
young, healthy faces seems to please the beauty we had so unceremoniously
carried off. We soon manage to reconcile her to her fate by the gallantry
of our proceedings; encouraged by a good supper and by the stimulus of
wine, prepared by our compliments and by a few kisses, she realizes what
is in store for her, and does not seem to have any unconquerable
objection. Our chief, as a matter of right, claims the privilege of
opening the ball; and by dint of sweet words he overcomes the very
natural repugnance she feels at consummating the sacrifice in so numerous
company. She, doubtless, thinks the offering agreeable, for, when I
present myself as the priest appointed to sacrifice a second time to the
god of love, she receives me almost with gratitude, and she cannot
conceal her joy when she finds out that she is destined to make us all
happy. My brother Francois alone exempted himself from paying the
tribute, saying that he was ill, the only excuse which could render his
refusal valid, for we had established as a law that every member of our
society was bound to do whatever was done by the others.

After that fine exploit, we put on our masks, and, the bill being paid,
escorted the happy victim to Saint Job, where she lived, and did not
leave her till we had seen her safe in her house, and the street door
closed.

My readers may imagine whether we felt inclined to laugh when the
charming creature bade us good night, thanking us all with perfect good
faith!

Two days afterwards, our nocturnal orgy began to be talked of. The young
woman's husband was a weaver by trade, and so were his two friends. They
joined together to address a complaint to the Council of Ten. The
complaint was candidly written and contained nothing but the truth, but
the criminal portion of the truth was veiled by a circumstance which must
have brought a smile on the grave countenances of the judges, and highly
amused the public at large: the complaint setting forth that the eight
masked men had not rendered themselves guilty of any act disagreeable to
the wife. It went on to say that the two men who had carried her off had
taken her to such a place, where they had, an hour later, been met by the
other six, and that they had all repaired to the "Two Swords," where they
had spent an hour in drinking. The said lady having been handsomely
entertained by the eight masked men, had been escorted to her house,
where she had been politely requested to excuse the joke perpetrated upon
her husband. The three plaintiffs had not been able to leave the island
of Saint George until day-break, and the husband, on reaching his house,
had found his wife quietly asleep in her bed. She had informed him of all
that had happened; she complained of nothing but of the great fright she
had experienced on account of her husband, and on that count she
entreated justice and the punishment of the guilty parties.

That complaint was comic throughout, for the three rogues shewed
themselves very brave in writing, stating that they would certainly not
have given way so easily if the dread authority of the council had not
been put forth by the leader of the band. The document produced three
different results; in the first place, it amused the town; in the second,
all the idlers of Venice went to Saint Job to hear the account of the
adventure from the lips of the heroine herself, and she got many presents
from her numerous visitors; in the third place, the Council of Ten
offered a reward of five hundred ducats to any person giving such
information as would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of the
practical joke, even if the informer belonged to the band, provided he
was not the leader.

The offer of that reward would have made us tremble if our leader,
precisely the one who alone had no interest in turning informer, had not
been a patrician. The rank of Balbi quieted my anxiety at once, because I
knew that, even supposing one of us were vile enough to betray our secret
for the sake of the reward, the tribunal would have done nothing in order
not to implicate a patrician. There was no cowardly traitor amongst us,
although we were all poor; but fear had its effect, and our nocturnal
pranks were not renewed.

Three or four months afterwards the chevalier Nicolas Iron, then one of
the inquisitors, astonished me greatly by telling me the whole story,
giving the names of all the actors. He did not tell me whether any one of
the band had betrayed the secret, and I did not care to know; but I could
clearly see the characteristic spirit of the aristocracy, for which the
'solo mihi' is the supreme law.

Towards the middle of April of the year 1746 M. Girolamo Cornaro, the
eldest son of the family Cornaro de la Reine, married a daughter of the
house of Soranzo de St. Pol, and I had the honour of being present at the
wedding - as a fiddler. I played the violin in one of the numerous bands
engaged for the balls which were given for three consecutive days in the
Soranzo Palace.

On the third day, towards the end of the dancing, an hour before
day-break, feeling tired, I left the orchestra abruptly; and as I was
going down the stairs I observed a senator, wearing his red robes, on the
point of getting into a gondola. In taking his handkerchief out of his
pocket he let a letter drop on the ground. I picked it up, and coming up
to him just as he was going down the steps I handed it to him. He
received it with many thanks, and enquired where I lived. I told him, and
he insisted upon my coming with him in the gondola saying that he would
leave me at my house. I accepted gratefully, and sat down near him. A few


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Online LibraryGiacomo CasanovaMemoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice → online text (page 2 of 9)