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by using electricity combined with verbal signals, made into such an
astonishing feat of magic. The teachings of Mesmer and the so-called
sorcery of Cagliostro, evidently suggested the idea of this pretended
clairvoyance to Pinetti. Truly was the Chevalier an original and
creative genius. His repertoire consisted almost entirely of his
own inventions, and eclipsed those of contemporary conjurers. His
rope-tying experiments were the prototypes for the cabinet evolutions
of modern mediums.


Late in the year 1769, Pinetti appeared in Hamburg and exhibited with
great success in the “Drillhause,” where Degabriel and Philadelphia
had played previously. From there he went to the principal cities of
Germany and arrived at Berlin, where, in the then “Doebbelin’schen
Theatre,” in the Behrenstrasse, he produced his “Amusements
Physiques,” and soon became the avowed idol of the public.

In August, 1796, he appeared in Hamburg, at the French Theatre, on
the Drehbahn, where his receipts were considerable. Such was not
the case, however, in Altona, whose inhabitants were distinguished
by lack of interest in any manifestation of his art. He gave there
three exhibitions, which terminated with two empty houses. In Bremen,
whither he next turned, the public was even more indifferent than
in Altona, so that he abandoned the intention of performing there,
returned to Berlin and there remained for some time. {36}

Pinetti derived large profits from his entertainments. His entrance
fee was by no means low. In Hamburg and Berlin, for instance, the
price of the best places was a thaler—equivalent at present values
to about ten marks, $2.50. Pinetti saw carefully to the comfort and
pleasure of his patrons, and heightened the effect of his skill by
every available means. The eye was gratified by the splendor of
the scenic accessories. In the middle of the stage, upon a superb
carpet, stood two massive tables, which served in performance of the
experiments. They were covered with scarlet cloths, bordered with
broad stripes of dark velvet, richly embroidered in gold and silver.
Further in the background stood a larger and a smaller table, with
the same decorations, and with relatively slender and elaborately
carved legs. Close to the rear of the stage, with a cover extending
to the carpet, was a very long table which was set forth with
magnificent candelabra and brilliant apparatus. The above-mentioned
tables were not moved from their places. In the middle of the
stage, hung from the ceiling an immense chandelier of crystal, with
countless candles. The artist made his entrance and exit through
silken hangings.

As in Paris, so also in Berlin, Pinetti found an adversary, in the
person of Kosmann, professor of physics, who in daily and periodical
publications sought to explain Pinetti’s experiments. These
elucidations were collected, bound together and published in Berlin
in the year 1797. The English translation of the title is as follows:
_Chevalier Pinetti’s Recreations in Physics, or Explanation of His
Tricks_. As with Decremps, so fared it with Kosmann. His explanations
did not meet with public accord, and the contemporary press
denominated the two authors “who sought to belittle Pinetti’s skill,”
as mere apprentices compared with the latter, and their expositions
“shallow and unsatisfactory.” Naturally! The laity invariably form
a false conception of the nature of the art of magic. They suppose
the most complicated mechanism in the apparatus which the artist
uses, and overestimate the manual skill of the performer; and when
their ability is insufficient to explain matters after their own
fashion, they prefer to endow the performer with preternatural power
rather than accept the “shallow” elucidations of {37} “ignorant”
expounders. They do not realize that every trick is only what the
artist is able to make it, and that the simplest illusion may take
an imposing aspect through the accessories thrown about it and the
manner in which it is presented.

Whatever opinion the laity might have of these works, their value
was in no wise lessened for the instructed. Robert-Houdin, an
incontestable connoisseur, as well as a “classical” witness, calls
the work of M. Decremps, _White Magic Unveiled_—the first edition
of which could not have been unknown to the Berlin professor—“an
excellent work.”


At the beginning of the carnival of 1798, Pinetti appeared in Naples,
and saw the whole city crowding to his performances.

Among the constant visitors to his theatre (on the strand) was
numbered a young French nobleman, Count de Grisy, who had settled
in Naples as a physician, and was a welcome guest in the most
distinguished circles of the town. A passionate lover of the art
of magic, he succeeded in finding the key to a large portion of
Pinetti’s experiments, and amused himself in the closest circles of
his intimates, by repeating them. His ability became generally known,
and gained for him a kind of celebrity; he was invited to perform in
the most aristocratic salons, but through modesty seldom accepted.

Finally his fame came to the ears of Pinetti, who was so much the
more chagrined because of the fact that people of fashion, who had
at first thronged his theatre, now were deserting him. Nevertheless,
he listened with apparent pleasure to the reports given him of De
Grisy’s skill, and sought to gain the acquaintance of the young
physician. He frankly proffered his friendship, initiated De Grisy
into his mysteries, and showed him the arrangement of his stage. The
familiarity which Pinetti openly and intentionally displayed towards
him might have displeased the young man under other circumstances,
but his passion for magic and the persuasive eloquence which Pinetti
employed to arouse his ambition, made him blind to conduct, which,
{38} in the mind of one more versed in men, might have awakened

So Pinetti succeeded, finally, in overcoming De Grisy’s timidity
in regard to a public appearance. He repeated the most flattering
assurances of the latter’s skill, and urged him to give a performance
for the benefit of the poor of Naples. He would, declared Pinetti,
attract a more distinguished audience than he himself could hope to
do; and so, De Grisy, who had already earned the gratitude of the
poor, would become their greatest benefactor in all the city. Pinetti
would himself make all previous arrangements most carefully, and
would, moreover, hold himself in readiness, behind the scenes, to
come to the young performer’s assistance, if required. De Grisy at
last gave reluctant consent. Fortune seemed to favor him, moreover,
for the King signified his intention to attend in company with his
entire court.

August 20, 1798, this extraordinary exhibition took place. The house
was packed. The royal family received the young French emigrant
with tokens of favor and sympathy. De Grisy, confident of success,
was in the happiest mood, but in his very first experiment a bitter
disillusion awaited him. A secret confederate, posted by Pinetti,
had loaned a ring to carry out the already-described trick, “The
Recovered Ring,” which was properly found in the mouth of the great
fish. Conscious of the success of this loudly-applauded feat, De
Grisy bowed his thanks, when an angry remonstrance was heard from
the person who had loaned the ring. This man declared that in lieu
of his costly gold ring, set with diamonds, there had been returned
to him a trumpery imitation set with ordinary glass stones. A long
and painful discussion ensued, and De Grisy owed it only to his tact
that he finally extricated himself from the affair. He was not clear
himself as to whether the ring had somehow been changed, or whether
the assistant played a role from some secret motive.

He proceeded to the performance of his next experiment with less
concern, in that no secret confederate was needed. He approached the
King’s box and asked him to do him the honor of drawing a card from
a pack he tendered. The King complied with much graciousness; but
scarcely had he looked at it than {39} he flung it to the ground
with every mark of his displeasure. De Grisy, confounded, picked
up the card, and read on it a scandalous insult to the king, in
Pinetti’s handwriting! An attempt to explain and clear himself was
checked by an imperative gesture from the King. The betrayed man, who
now understood the situation, distracted with rage, rushed behind the
scenes with the intent to kill his deceitful friend. Like a maniac he
traversed every portion of the house, but the Chevalier Pinetti had
disappeared, as though the earth had swallowed him! Wherever De Grisy
now showed himself, he was received with jeers, hisses and insults
from his audience, until he fell senseless and was borne by servants
to his house. After his rival’s removal, Pinetti appeared as though
by chance; whereupon several persons in the secret called on him to
continue the performance, to which he courteously acceded, and gained
enthusiastic plaudits.

During a violent fever which ensued, De Grisy constantly called
in his delirium for revenge on Pinetti; but the latter quitted
Naples soon after the occurrence. Poor De Grisy was socially and
professionally tabooed by the aristocracy of Naples. Pinetti’s
revenge seemed complete.

Though De Grisy thoroughly comprehended the contemptible ruse of his
opponent, he was long in uncertainty how to punish him. His first
impulse was to challenge the magician to fight a duel, but that idea
he rejected. Pinetti was not worthy of such an honor. For the purpose
of completing his restoration to health, De Grisy passed some time
in the quiet of the country, and here the thought occurred to him
to fight his betrayer with his own weapons, and, in this contest,
to either conquer or wholly abandon all ideas of revenge. He set
himself for half a year to the most assiduous study, in order to
attain perfection in the art of magic, not merely equal to Pinetti’s,
but superior to it. He improved on many of his rival’s experiments,
invented new ones, and expended his entire fortune in providing
apparatus and decorations which should cast into the shade Pinetti’s
superb appointments.

And now issued De Grisy forth to a duel, bloodless, it is true, but
none the less a struggle to the death. {40}

He learned that Pinetti had, in the meantime, visited the principal
cities of central Italy, and had just left Lucca with the view of
visiting Bologna next; later Modena, Parma, Piacenza, etc. Without
loss of time, De Grisy took his way to Modena, in order to forestall
his rival there, and debar him from any further performances. The
latter had already caused the announcement of his forthcoming
entertainments to be spread over the city, and the Modena journals
had widely advertised the speedy coming of the wonder worker,
when suddenly the exhibitions of the “Count de Grisy, the French
escamoteur,” were announced. The people crowded the house from top to
bottom. De Grisy’s success was unparalleled. Then, as the date for
Pinetti’s appearance drew near, he left the town and went to Parma.
Pinetti had no faith in De Grisy’s success, and installed himself in
the same theatre which the latter had lately quitted, in reliance
on his own celebrity. But here began that humiliating experience
which was henceforth to be his lot. The town was sated with this
species of entertainment, and the Chevalier’s house was empty.
Still, accustomed to take the highest place, he would not yield to a
“novice.” Accordingly, he directed his steps to Parma immediately,
and established himself in a theatre just opposite to De Grisy’s. In
vain! He had the mortification of seeing his house deserted, while
his rival’s was constantly filled. Nevertheless, Pinetti would not
yield, but wheresoever De Grisy went he followed.

Thus were visited, one after another, Piacenza, Cremona, Mantua,
Vicenza, Padua, and Venice, whose walls witnessed the embittered
strife of the two rivals, until Pinetti, whose most zealous
supporters were turning recreant, could blind himself no longer to
the fact that he had lost the game which he and De Grisy had been
playing. He closed his theatre and betook himself to Russia.

For a short time it seemed as though Fortune would indemnify him for
his ill luck. But, after having for so long showered her favors on
him, it now appeared that she had finally and definitely turned her
back upon him. Long and severe illness exhausted not only his vigor,
but the slender means he had saved from shipwreck. Pinetti fell into
the most abject want. A {41} nobleman in the village of Bartitschoff
in Volhynien took him in from pity. And thus, at the turn of the
century, ended the life of this richly gifted artist, who was so
wanting in nobility of spirit.

The extraordinary story of Pinetti’s downfall was told to
Robert-Houdin by De Grisy himself, and is given at length in Houdin’s
memoirs. Pinetti had married a Russian girl, the daughter of a
carriage-maker. By her he had two children. He was hardly fifty when
he died. Etienne-Gaspard Robertson when traveling in Russia met the
widow Pinetti at Bialistock. She showed him her husband’s cabinet of
physics and endeavored to sell it to him, but he did not purchase it.
However, he bought a medallion, set with diamonds, and a ring which
the Czar had presented to Pinetti. Says Robertson, in his memoirs:
“Pinetti had the audacity to ask the Russian Emperor to stand
god-father for his children at the baptismal font, and the Emperor
actually consented.”

To me this seems nothing wonderful.

Why should not the greatest conjurer of the age ask a favor of the
greatest autocrat? Both were sovereigns in their particular domain.



“Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur.”—_Latin Proverb._

“The pseudo-mystic, who deceives the world because he knows that
the world wishes to be deceived, becomes an attractive subject for
psychological analysis.”—HUGO MÜNSTERBERG: _Psychology and Life_.

“Unparalleled Cagliostro! Looking at thy so attractively decorated
private theatre, wherein thou actedst and livedst, what hand
but itches to draw aside thy curtain; overhaul thy pasteboards,
paint-pots, paper-mantles, stage-lamps, and turning the whole inside
out, find _thee_ in the middle thereof!”—CARLYLE: _Miscellaneous


In the summer of 1893, I was in Paris, partly on business, partly
on pleasure. In the _Figaro_ one day, shortly after my arrival, I
read about the marvelous exhibitions of magic of M. Caroly, who
was attracting crowds to his _séances diaboliques_ at the Capucine
Theatre of the Isola Brothers. I went to see the nineteenth-century
necromancer exhibit his marvels. I saw some very clever illusions
performed during the evening, but nothing that excited my especial
interest as a devotee of the weird and wonderful, until the
prestidigitateur came to his _pièce de résistance_—the Mask of
Balsamo. That aroused my flagging attention. M. Caroly brought
forward a small table, undraped, which he placed in the center aisle
of the theatre; and then passed around for examination the mask of
a man, very much resembling a death-mask, but unlike that ghastly
_memento mori_ in the particulars that it was exquisitely modeled in
wax and artistically colored.

“Messieurs et mesdames,” said the professor of magic and mystery,
“this mask is a perfect likeness of Joseph Balsamo, Count de
Cagliostro, the famous sorcerer of the eighteenth {43} century. It
is a reproduction of a death-mask which is contained in the secret
museum of the Vatican at Rome. Behold! I lay the mask upon this table
in your midst. Ask any question you please and it will respond.”

The mask rocked to and fro with weird effect at the bidding of
the conjurer, rapping out frequent answers to queries put by the
spectators. It was an ingenious electrical trick.[7] Being already
acquainted with the secret of the surprising experiment in natural
magic, I evinced no emotion at the extraordinary behavior of the
mask. But I was intensely interested in the mask itself. Was it
indeed a true likeness of the great Cagliostro, the prince of
charlatans? I repaired to the manager’s office at the close of the
_soirée magique_, and sought an introduction to M. Caroly.

“Is monsieur an aspiring amateur who wishes to take lessons in

“No!” I replied.

“Pardon! Then monsieur is desirous of purchasing the secrets of some
of the little _jeux_?”

I replied as before in the negative. The manager shrugged his
shoulders, toyed with his ponderous watch-chain, and elevated his
eyebrows inquiringly.

“I simply wish to ascertain whether the mask of Balsamo was really
modeled from a genuine death-mask of the old-world wizard.”

“Monsieur, I can answer that question,” said the theatrical man,
“without an appeal to the artist who performed this evening. It was
taken from a likeness of the eighteenth-century sorcerer, not a
death-mask as stated, but a rare old medallion cast in the year 1785.
Unfortunately this is not in our possession.” {44}

[7] “The secret of the trick is as follows: That part of
the wood which forms the chin is replaced by a small strip
of iron, which is painted the same color as the mask, so
that it cannot be seen; an electro-magnet is let into the
top of the table, so that the cores shall be opposite the
strip of iron when the mask is laid upon the table. Contact
is made by means of a push-button somewhere in the side
scenes; the wires run under the stage, and connection is
made through the legs of the table when the legs are set on
the foreordained place.”—Hopkins’ _Magic_, etc.

I thanked the manager for his information. The story about the
death-mask in the possession of the Vatican was simply a part of
the prestidigitateur’s patter, but everything is permissible in a
conjuring séance.

I went home to the little hotel where I lodged in the historic Rue
de Beaune, a stone’s throw from the house where Voltaire died. In my
bedroom, over the carved oak mantel, was a curious old mirror set
in a tarnished gilt frame, a relic of the eighteenth century. Said
I to myself: “Would this were a ghost-glass, a veritable mirror of
Nostradamus, wherein I might conjure up a phantasmagoria of that
vanished Paris of long ago.” Possessed with this fantastic idea,
I retired to rest, closed in the crimson curtains of the antique
four-poster, and was soon wafted into the land of dreams. Strange
visions filled my brain. In the mirror I seemed to see Cagliostro
searching for the “elixir of life,” in the laboratory of the Hotel de
Strasbourg, while near him stood the Cardinal de Rohan, breathlessly
awaiting the results of the mystic operation. The red glow from the
alchemist’s furnace illumined the great necromancer with a coppery

Cagliostro! Cagliostro! I was pursued all the next day, and for
weeks afterward, with visions of the enchanter. “Ah, wretched mask
of Balsamo,” I said to myself, “why have you bewitched me thus with
your false oleaginous smile?” I took to haunting the book-stalls and
antiquarian shops of the Quai Voltaire, in the hope of picking up
some old medallion or rare print of the arch-quack. The second-hand
literature of the world may be found here. Amid the flotsam and
jetsam of old books tossed upon this inhospitable shore of literary
endeavor many a precious Elzevir or Aldus has been picked up. My
labors were not in vain. I was fortunate in discovering a quaint
little volume, the life of Cagliostro, translated from the Italian
work printed under the auspices of the Apostolic Chamber, Rome, 1790.
It was entitled _Vie de Joseph Balsamo, Connu Sous le Nom de Comte
Cagliostro. Traduite d’après l’original italien, imprimé à la Chambre
Apostolique; enrichie de Notes curieuses, et ornée de son Portrait.
Paris et Strasbourg, 1791._ The frontispiece was an engraved portrait
of Cagliostro. Yes, here {45} was the great magician staring at me
from out the musty, faded pages of a quaint old chronicle. A world of
cunning lay revealed in the depths of his bold, gleaming eyes. His
thick lips wore a smile of Luciferian subtlety. Here, indeed, was a
study for Lavater. Here was the biography of the famous sorcerer of
the old régime, the prince of charlatans, who foretold the fall of
the Bastille, the bosom friend of the Cardinal de Rohan, and founder
of the Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. Fascinated with the subject of
magic and magicians, I visited the Bibliothèque Nationale and dipped
into the literature on Cagliostro. Subsequently, at the British
Museum, I examined the rare brochures and old files of the Courrier
de l’Europe for information concerning the incomparable necromancer,
who made use of hypnotism, and, like Mesmer, performed many strange
feats of pseudo-magic, and made numerous cures of diseases which
baffled the medicos of the time.[8]

Goethe[9] and Catharine II. wrote plays about him; George Sand
introduced him into her novel, “The Countess of Rudolstadt;”
Alexander Dumas made him the hero of several romances; Scribe, St.
Georges, and Adam in the year 1844 brought out “Cagliostro,” a comic
opera in three acts, which was successfully performed at the Opéra
Comique, Paris; Alexander Dumas _fils_ wrote a drama in five acts
called “Joseph Balsamo” which was produced at the Odéon, March 18,
1878; and Thomas Carlyle philosophized concerning him.

[8] “Der Gros-Cophta” (a comedy in five acts). _Goethe’s
Werke_, vol. 18, Stuttgart, 1868.

[9] A superb bibliography of Cagliostro is to be found
in “Börsenblatt fürden deutschen Buchhandel,” 1904, Nos.
210–212, and 214 (Sept. 9–12, 14), pp. 7488–92, 7524–30,
7573–75. This publication is to be found in the Library of
Congress, Washington, D. C.

To understand Cagliostro, one must understand the period in which
he lived and acted his strange world-drama, its philosophical and
religious background. The arch-enchanter appeared on this mortal
scene when the times were “out of joint.” It was the latter part
of that strange, romantic eighteenth century of scepticism and
credulity. The old world like a huge Cheshire cheese was being
nibbled away from within, until little but the {46} rind was left to
tell the tale. The rotten fabric of French society, in particular,
was about to tumble down in the sulphurous flames of the Revolution,
and the very people who were to suffer most in the calamity were
doing their best to assist in the process of social and political
disintegration. The dogmas of the Church were bitterly assailed by
learned men. But the more sceptical the age, the more credulity
extant. Man begins by denying, and then doubts his doubts. Charles
Kingsley says: “And so it befell, that this eighteenth century, which
is usually held to be the most ‘materialistic’ of epochs, was in fact
a most ‘spiritualistic’ one.” The soil was well fertilized for the
coming of Cagliostro, the sower of superstition. Every variety of
mysticism appealed to the imaginative mind. There were societies of
Illuminati, Rosicrucians, and Alchemists.


From a painting in the Versailles Historical Gallery

After an engraving which served as a frontis piece of Balsamo’s Life,
published in 1781

Joseph Balsamo, Known as Count Cagliostro.]





En présence de M. le Cardinal DE ROHAN, de la Comtesse DE LA MOTTE,
et autres Co-Accusés.

LES LUI ASSURE. EXTRAIT _d’une Lettre écrite per M. le Comte de_
VERGENNES, _Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, à_ M. GÉRARD, _Préteur
de Strasbourg, le 13 Mars 1783_.





_Extraite de la Procédure instruite contre lui à Rome, en 1790_,

Traduite d’après l’original italien, imprimé à la Chambre
Apostolique; enrichie de Notes curieuses, et ornée de son Portrait.

A PARIS, Chez ONFROY, libraire, rue Saint-Victor, n^o. 11.


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