Giacomo Casanova.

Memoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice online

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minutes afterwards he asked me to rub his left arm, which, he said, was
so benumbed that he could not feel it. I rubbed it with all my strength,
but he told me in a sort of indistinct whisper that the numbness was
spreading all along the left side, and that he was dying.

I was greatly frightened; I opened the curtain, took the lantern, and
found him almost insensible, and the mouth drawn on one side. I
understood that he was seized with an apoplectic stroke, and called out
to the gondoliers to land me at once, in order to procure a surgeon to
bleed the patient.

I jumped out of the gondola, and found myself on the very spot where
three years before I had taught Razetta such a forcible lesson; I
enquired for a surgeon at the first coffee-house, and ran to the house
that was pointed out to me. I knocked as hard as I could; the door was at
last opened, and I made the surgeon follow me in his dressing-gown as far
as the gondola, which was waiting; he bled the senator while I was
tearing my shirt to make the compress and the bandage.

The operation being performed, I ordered the gondoliers to row as fast as
possible, and we soon reached St. Marina; the servants were roused up,
and taking the sick man out of the gondola we carried him to his bed
almost dead.

Taking everything upon myself, I ordered a servant to hurry out for a
physician, who came in a short time, and ordered the patient to be bled
again, thus approving the first bleeding prescribed by me. Thinking I had
a right to watch the sick man, I settled myself near his bed to give him
every care he required.

An hour later, two noblemen, friends of the senator, came in, one a few
minutes after the other. They were in despair; they had enquired about
the accident from the gondoliers, and having been told that I knew more
than they did, they loaded me with questions which I answered. They did
not know who I was, and did not like to ask me; whilst I thought it
better to preserve a modest silence.

The patient did not move; his breathing alone shewed that he was still
alive; fomentations were constantly applied, and the priest who had been
sent for, and was of very little use under such circumstances, seemed to
be there only to see him die. All visitors were sent away by my advice,
and the two noblemen and myself were the only persons in the sick man's
room. At noon we partook silently of some dinner which was served in the
sick room.

In the evening one of the two friends told me that if I had any business
to attend to I could go, because they would both pass the night on a
mattress near the patient.

"And I, sir," I said, "will remain near his bed in this arm-chair, for if
I went away the patient would die, and he will live as long as I am near
him."

This sententious answer struck them with astonishment, as I expected it
would, and they looked at each other in great surprise.

We had supper, and in the little conversation we had I gathered the
information that the senator, their friend, was M. de Bragadin, the only
brother of the procurator of that name. He was celebrated in Venice not
only for his eloquence and his great talents as a statesman, but also for
the gallantries of his youth. He had been very extravagant with women,
and more than one of them had committed many follies for him. He had
gambled and lost a great deal, and his brother was his most bitter enemy,
because he was infatuated with the idea that he had tried to poison him.
He had accused him of that crime before the Council of Ten, which, after
an investigation of eight months, had brought in a verdict of not guilty:
but that just sentence, although given unanimously by that high tribunal,
had not had the effect of destroying his brother's prejudices against
him.

M. de Bragadin, who was perfectly innocent of such a crime and oppressed
by an unjust brother who deprived him of half of his income, spent his
days like an amiable philosopher, surrounded by his friends, amongst whom
were the two noblemen who were then watching him; one belonged to the
Dandolo family, the other was a Barbaro, and both were excellent men. M.
de Bragadin was handsome, learned, cheerful, and most kindly disposed; he
was then about fifty years old.

The physician who attended him was named Terro; he thought, by some
peculiar train of reasoning, that he could cure him by applying a
mercurial ointment to the chest, to which no one raised any objection.
The rapid effect of the remedy delighted the two friends, but it
frightened me, for in less than twenty-four hours the patient was
labouring under great excitement of the brain. The physician said that he
had expected that effect, but that on the following day the remedy would
act less on the brain, and diffuse its beneficial action through the
whole of the system, which required to be invigorated by a proper
equilibrium in the circulation of the fluids.

At midnight the patient was in a state of high fever, and in a fearful
state of irritation. I examined him closely, and found him hardly able to
breathe. I roused up his two friends; and declared that in my opinion the
patient would soon die unless the fatal ointment was at once removed. And
without waiting for their answer, I bared his chest, took off the
plaster, washed the skin carefully with lukewarm water, and in less than
three minutes he breathed freely and fell into a quiet sleep. Delighted
with such a fortunate result, we lay down again.

The physician came very early in the morning, and was much pleased to see
his patient so much better, but when M. Dandolo informed him of what had
been done, he was angry, said it was enough to kill his patient, and
asked who had been so audacious as to destroy the effect of his
prescription. M. de Bragadin, speaking for the first time, said to him -

"Doctor, the person who has delivered me from your mercury, which was
killing me, is a more skilful physician than you;" and, saying these
words, he pointed to me.

It would be hard to say who was the more astonished: the doctor, when he
saw an unknown young man, whom he must have taken for an impostor,
declared more learned than himself; or I, when I saw myself transformed
into a physician, at a moment's notice. I kept silent, looking very
modest, but hardly able to control my mirth, whilst the doctor was
staring at me with a mixture of astonishment and of spite, evidently
thinking me some bold quack who had tried to supplant him. At last,
turning towards M. de Bragadin, he told him coldly that he would leave
him in my hands; he was taken at his word, he went away, and behold! I
had become the physician of one of the most illustrious members of the
Venetian Senate! I must confess that I was very glad of it, and I told my
patient that a proper diet was all he needed, and that nature, assisted
by the approaching fine season, would do the rest.

The dismissed physician related the affair through the town, and, as M.
de Bragadin was rapidly improving, one of his relations, who came to see
him, told him that everybody was astonished at his having chosen for his
physician a fiddler from the theatre; but the senator put a stop to his
remarks by answering that a fiddler could know more than all the doctors
in Venice, and that he owed his life to me.

The worthy nobleman considered me as his oracle, and his two friends
listened to me with the deepest attention. Their infatuation encouraging
me, I spoke like a learned physician, I dogmatized, I quoted authors whom
I had never read.

M. de Bragadin, who had the weakness to believe in the occult sciences,
told me one day that, for a young man of my age, he thought my learning
too extensive, and that he was certain I was the possessor of some
supernatural endowment. He entreated me to tell him the truth.

What extraordinary things will sometimes occur from mere chance, or from
the force of circumstances! Unwilling to hurt his vanity by telling him
that he was mistaken, I took the wild resolution of informing him, in the
presence of his two friends, that I possessed a certain numeral calculus
which gave answers (also in numbers), to any questions I liked to put.

M. de Bragadin said that it was Solomon's key, vulgarly called cabalistic
science, and he asked me from whom I learnt it.

"From an old hermit," I answered, "who lives on the Carpegna Mountain,
and whose acquaintance I made quite by chance when I was a prisoner in
the Spanish army."

"The hermit," remarked the senator, "has without informing you of it,
linked an invisible spirit to the calculus he has taught you, for simple
numbers can not have the power of reason. You possess a real treasure,
and you may derive great advantages from it."

"I do not know," I said, "in what way I could make my science useful,
because the answers given by the numerical figures are often so obscure
that I have felt discouraged, and I very seldom tried to make any use of
my calculus. Yet, it is very true that, if I had not formed my pyramid, I
never should have had the happiness of knowing your excellency."

"How so?"

"On the second day, during the festivities at the Soranzo Palace, I
enquired of my oracle whether I would meet at the ball anyone whom I
should not care to see. The answer I obtained was this: 'Leave the
ball-room precisely at four o'clock.' I obeyed implicitly, and met your
excellency."

The three friends were astounded. M. Dandolo asked me whether I would
answer a question he would ask, the interpretation of which would belong
only to him, as he was the only person acquainted with the subject of the
question.

I declared myself quite willing, for it was necessary to brazen it out,
after having ventured as far as I had done. He wrote the question, and
gave it to me; I read it, I could not understand either the subject or
the meaning of the words, but it did not matter, I had to give an answer.
If the question was so obscure that I could not make out the sense of it,
it was natural that I should not understand the answer. I therefore
answered, in ordinary figures, four lines of which he alone could be the
interpreter, not caring much, at least in appearance, how they would be
understood. M. Dandolo read them twice over, seemed astonished, said that
it was all very plain to him; it was Divine, it was unique, it was a gift
from Heaven, the numbers being only the vehicle, but the answer emanating
evidently from an immortal spirit.

M. Dandolo was so well pleased that his two friends very naturally wanted
also to make an experiment. They asked questions on all sorts of
subjects, and my answers, perfectly unintelligible to myself, were all
held as Divine by them. I congratulated them on their success, and
congratulated myself in their presence upon being the possessor of a
thing to which I had until then attached no importance whatever, but
which I promised to cultivate carefully, knowing that I could thus be of
some service to their excellencies.

They all asked me how long I would require to teach them the rules of my
sublime calculus. "Not very long," I answered, "and I will teach you as
you wish, although the hermit assured me that I would die suddenly within
three days if I communicated my science to anyone, but I have no faith
whatever in that prediction." M. de Bragadin who believed in it more than
I did, told me in a serious tone that I was bound to have faith in it,
and from that day they never asked me again to teach them. They very
likely thought that, if they could attach me to them, it would answer the
purpose as well as if they possessed the science themselves. Thus I
became the hierophant of those three worthy and talented men, who, in
spite of their literary accomplishments, were not wise, since they were
infatuated with occult and fabulous sciences, and believed in the
existence of phenomena impossible in the moral as well as in the physical
order of things. They believed that through me they possessed the
philosopher's stone, the universal panacea, the intercourse with all the
elementary, heavenly, and infernal spirits; they had no doubt whatever
that, thanks to my sublime science, they could find out the secrets of
every government in Europe.

After they had assured themselves of the reality of my cabalistic science
by questions respecting the past, they decided to turn it to some use by
consulting it upon the present and upon the future. I had no difficulty
in skewing myself a good guesser, because I always gave answers with a
double meaning, one of the meanings being carefully arranged by me, so as
not to be understood until after the event; in that manner, my cabalistic
science, like the oracle of Delphi, could never be found in fault. I saw
how easy it must have been for the ancient heathen priests to impose upon
ignorant, and therefore credulous mankind. I saw how easy it will always
be for impostors to find dupes, and I realized, even better than the
Roman orator, why two augurs could never look at each other without
laughing; it was because they had both an equal interest in giving
importance to the deceit they perpetrated, and from which they derived
such immense profits. But what I could not, and probably never shall,
understand, was the reason for which the Fathers, who were not so simple
or so ignorant as our Evangelists, did not feel able to deny the divinity
of oracles, and, in order to get out of the difficulty, ascribed them to
the devil. They never would have entertained such a strange idea if they
had been acquainted with cabalistic science. My three worthy friends were
like the holy Fathers; they had intelligence and wit, but they were
superstitious, and no philosophers. But, although believing fully in my
oracles, they were too kind-hearted to think them the work of the devil,
and it suited their natural goodness better to believe my answers
inspired by some heavenly spirit. They were not only good Christians and
faithful to the Church, but even real devotees and full of scruples. They
were not married, and, after having renounced all commerce with women,
they had become the enemies of the female sex; perhaps a strong proof of
the weakness of their minds. They imagined that chastity was the
condition 'sine qua non' exacted by the spirits from those who wished to
have intimate communication or intercourse with them: they fancied that
spirits excluded women, and 'vice versa'.

With all these oddities, the three friends were truly intelligent and
even witty, and, at the beginning of my acquaintance with them, I could
not reconcile these antagonistic points. But a prejudiced mind cannot
reason well, and the faculty of reasoning is the most important of all.
I often laughed when I heard them talk on religious matters; they would
ridicule those whose intellectual faculties were so limited that they
could not understand the mysteries of religion. The incarnation of the
Word, they would say, was a trifle for God, and therefore easy to
understand, and the resurrection was so comprehensible that it did not
appear to them wonderful, because, as God cannot die, Jesus Christ
was naturally certain to rise again. As for the Eucharist,
transubstantiation, the real presence, it was all no mystery to them, but
palpable evidence, and yet they were not Jesuits. They were in the habit
of going to confession every week, without feeling the slightest trouble
about their confessors, whose ignorance they kindly regretted. They
thought themselves bound to confess only what was a sin in their own
opinion, and in that, at least, they reasoned with good sense.

With those three extraordinary characters, worthy of esteem and respect
for their moral qualities, their honesty, their reputation, and their
age, as well as for their noble birth, I spent my days in a very pleasant
manner: although, in their thirst for knowledge, they often kept me hard
at work for ten hours running, all four of us being locked up together in
a room, and unapproachable to everybody, even to friends or relatives.

I completed the conquest of their friendship by relating to them the
whole of my life, only with some proper reserve, so as not to lead them
into any capital sins. I confess candidly that I deceived them, as the
Papa Deldimopulo used to deceive the Greeks who applied to him for the
oracles of the Virgin. I certainly did not act towards them with a true
sense of honesty, but if the reader to whom I confess myself is
acquainted with the world and with the spirit of society, I entreat him
to think before judging me, and perhaps I may meet with some indulgence
at his hands.

I might be told that if I had wished to follow the rules of pure morality
I ought either to have declined intimate intercourse with them or to have
undeceived them. I cannot deny these premises, but I will answer that I
was only twenty years of age, I was intelligent, talented, and had just
been a poor fiddler. I should have lost my time in trying to cure them of
their weakness; I should not have succeeded, for they would have laughed
in my face, deplored my ignorance, and the result of it all would have
been my dismissal. Besides, I had no mission, no right, to constitute
myself an apostle, and if I had heroically resolved on leaving them as
soon as I knew them to be foolish visionaries, I should have shewn myself
a misanthrope, the enemy of those worthy men for whom I could procure
innocent pleasures, and my own enemy at the same time; because, as a
young man, I liked to live well, to enjoy all the pleasures natural to
youth and to a good constitution.

By acting in that manner I should have failed in common politeness, I
should perhaps have caused or allowed M. de Bragadin's death, and I
should have exposed those three honest men to becoming the victims of the
first bold cheat who, ministering to their monomania, might have won
their favour, and would have ruined them by inducing them to undertake
the chemical operations of the Great Work. There is also another
consideration, dear reader, and as I love you I will tell you what it is.
An invincible self-love would have prevented me from declaring myself
unworthy of their friendship either by my ignorance or by my pride; and I
should have been guilty of great rudeness if I had ceased to visit them.

I took, at least it seems to me so, the best, the most natural, and the
noblest decision, if we consider the disposition of their mind, when I
decided upon the plan of conduct which insured me the necessaries of life
and of those necessaries who could be a better judge than your very
humble servant?

Through the friendship of those three men, I was certain of obtaining
consideration and influence in my own country. Besides, I found it very
flattering to my vanity to become the subject of the speculative
chattering of empty fools who, having nothing else to do, are always
trying to find out the cause of every moral phenomenon they meet with,
which their narrow intellect cannot understand.

People racked their brain in Venice to find out how my intimacy with
three men of that high character could possibly exist; they were wrapped
up in heavenly aspirations, I was a world's devotee; they were very
strict in their morals, I was thirsty of all pleasures! At the beginning
of summer, M. de Bragadin was once, more able to take his seat in the
senate, and, the day before he went out for the first time, he spoke to
me thus:

"Whoever you may be, I am indebted to you for my life. Your first
protectors wanted to make you a priest, a doctor, an advocate, a soldier,
and ended by making a fiddler of you; those persons did not know you. God
had evidently instructed your guardian angel to bring you to me. I know
you and appreciate you. If you will be my son, you have only to
acknowledge me for your father, and, for the future, until my death, I
will treat you as my own child. Your apartment is ready, you may send
your clothes: you shall have a servant, a gondola at your orders, my own
table, and ten sequins a month. It is the sum I used to receive from my
father when I was your age. You need not think of the future; think only
of enjoying yourself, and take me as your adviser in everything that may
happen to you, in everything you may wish to undertake, and you may be
certain of always finding me your friend."

I threw myself at his feet to assure him of my gratitude, and embraced
him calling him my father. He folded me in his arms, called me his dear
son; I promised to love and to obey him; his two friends, who lived in
the same palace, embraced me affectionately, and we swore eternal
fraternity.

Such is the history of my metamorphosis, and of the lucky stroke which,
taking me from the vile profession of a fiddler, raised me to the rank of
a grandee.




CHAPTER XVIII

I lead a dissolute life - Zawoiski - Rinaldi - L'Abbadie - the young
countess - the Capuchin friar Z. Steffani - Ancilla - La Ramor - I take a
gondola at St. Job to go to Mestra.

Fortune, which had taken pleasure in giving me a specimen of its despotic
caprice, and had insured my happiness through means which sages would
disavow, had not the power to make me adopt a system of moderation and
prudence which alone could establish my future welfare on a firm basis.

My ardent nature, my irresistible love of pleasure, my unconquerable
independence, would not allow me to submit to the reserve which my new
position in life demanded from me. I began to lead a life of complete
freedom, caring for nothing but what ministered to my tastes, and I
thought that, as long as I respected the laws, I could trample all
prejudices under my feet. I fancied that I could live free and
independent in a country ruled entirely by an aristocratic government,
but this was not the case, and would not have been so even if fortune had
raised me to a seat in that same government, for the Republic of Venice,
considering that its primary duty is to preserve its own integrity, finds
itself the slave of its own policy, and is bound to sacrifice everything
to self-preservation, before which the laws themselves cease to be
inviolable.

But let us abandon the discussion of a principle now too trite, for
humankind, at least in Europe, is satisfied that unlimited liberty is
nowhere consistent with a properly-regulated state of society. I have
touched lightly on the matter, only to give to my readers some idea of my
conduct in my own country, where I began to tread a path which was to
lead me to a state prison as inscrutable as it was unconstitutional.

With enough money, endowed by nature with a pleasing and commanding
physical appearance, a confirmed gambler, a true spendthrift, a great
talker, very far from modest, intrepid, always running after pretty
women, supplanting my rivals, and acknowledging no good company but that
which ministered to my enjoyment, I was certain to be disliked; but, ever
ready to expose myself to any danger, and to take the responsibility of
all my actions, I thought I had a right to do anything I pleased, for I
always broke down abruptly every obstacle I found in my way.

Such conduct could not but be disagreeable to the three worthy men whose
oracle I had become, but they did not like to complain. The excellent M.
de Bragadin would only tell me that I was giving him a repetition of the
foolish life he had himself led at my age, but that I must prepare to pay
the penalty of my follies, and to feel the punishment when I should reach
his time of life. Without wanting in the respect I owed him, I would turn
his terrible forebodings into jest, and continue my course of
extravagance. However, I must mention here the first proof he gave me of
his true wisdom.

At the house of Madame Avogadro, a woman full of wit in spite of her
sixty years, I had made the acquaintance of a young Polish nobleman
called Zawoiski. He was expecting money from Poland, but in the mean time
the Venetian ladies did not let him want for any, being all very much in
love with his handsome face and his Polish manners. We soon became good
friends, my purse was his, but, twenty years later, he assisted me to a
far greater extent in Munich. Zawoiski was honest, he had only a small
dose of intelligence, but it was enough for his happiness. He died in
Trieste five or six years ago, the ambassador of the Elector of Treves. I
will speak of him in another part of these Memoirs.

This amiable young man, who was a favourite with everybody and was
thought a free-thinker because he frequented the society of Angelo
Querini and Lunardo Venier, presented me one day, as we were out walking,
to an unknown countess who took my fancy very strongly. We called on her


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Online LibraryGiacomo CasanovaMemoirs of Casanova — Volume 04: Return to Venice → online text (page 3 of 9)