Henry Ridgely Evans.

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Speaking of the great charlatan, the Anglo-Indian essayist Greeven
in an article published a few years ago in the {47} _Calcutta
Review_ writes: “It is not enough to say that Cagliostro posed as a
magician, or stood forth as the apostle of a mystic religion. After
all, in its mild way, our own generation puts on its evening dress
to worship at the feet of mediums, whose familiar spirits enable
them to wriggle out of ropes in cupboards, or to project cigarette
papers from the ceiling [_à la_ Madame Blavatsky]. We ride our hobby,
however, only when the whim seizes us, and, as soon as it wearies, we
break it in pieces and fling it aside with a laugh. But Cagliostro
impressed himself deeply on the history of his time. He flashed on
the world like a meteor. He carried it by storm. Princes and nobles
thronged to his ‘magic operations.’ They prostrated themselves before
him for hours. His horses and his coaches and his liveries rivaled a
king’s in magnificence. He was offered, and refused, a ducal throne.
No less illustrious a writer than the Empress of Russia deemed
him a worthy subject of her plays. Goethe made him the hero of a
famous drama. A French Cardinal and an English Lord were his bosom
companions. In an age which arrogated {48} to itself the title of
_the philosophic_, the charm of his eloquence drew thousands to his
lodges, in which he preached the mysteries of his _Egyptian ritual_,
as revealed to him by the Grand Kophta under the shadow of the


And now for a brief review of his life. Joseph Balsamo, the son of
Peter Balsamo and Felicia Braconieri, both of humble extraction, was
born at Palermo, on the eighth day of June, 1743. He received the
rudiments of an education at the Seminary of St. Roche, Palermo. At
the age of thirteen, according to the Inquisition biographer, he was
intrusted to the care of the Father-General of the Benfratelli, who
carried him to the Convent of that Order at Cartagirone. There he
put on the habit of a novice, and, being placed under the tuition
of the apothecary, he learned from him the first principles of
chemistry and medicine. He proved incorrigible, and was expelled
from the monastery in disgrace. Then began a life of dissipation
in the city of Palermo. He was accused of forging theatre-tickets
and a will. Finally he had to flee the city for having duped a
goldsmith named Marano of sixty pieces of gold, by promising to
assist him in unearthing a buried treasure by magical means. The
superstitious Marano entered a cavern situated in the environs of
Palermo, according to instructions given to him by the enchanter,
and discovered, not a chest full of gold, but a crowd of Balsamo’s
confederates, who, disguised as infernal spirits, administered to him
a terrible castigation. Furious at the deception, the goldsmith vowed
to assassinate the pretended sorcerer. Balsamo, however, took wing to
Messina, where he fell in with a strolling mountebank and alchemist
named Althotas, or Altotas, who spoke a variety of languages. They
traveled to Alexandria in Egypt, and finally brought up at the island
of Malta. Pinto, the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, was a
searcher after the philosopher’s stone, an enthusiastic alchemist.
He extended a warm reception to the two adventurers, and took them
under his patronage. They remained for some time at Malta, working in
the laboratory of the deluded {49} Pinto. Eventually Althotas died,
and Balsamo went to Naples, afterwards to Rome, where he married a
beautiful girdle-maker, named Lorenza Feliciani. Together with a
swindler calling himself the Marchese d’Agliata, he had a series of
disreputable adventures in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Unmasked at
one place, he fled in hot haste to another.

In 1776 he arrived in London. He had assumed various aliases during
the course of his life, but now he called himself the “Conte di
Cagliostro.” The title of nobility was assumed, but the name of
Cagliostro was borrowed from an uncle on his mother’s side of the
house, Joseph Cagliostro, of Messina, who was an agent or factor
of the Prince of Villafranca. His beautiful wife called herself
the “Countess Serafina Feliciani.” Cagliostro announced himself as
a worker of wonders, especially in medicine. He carried about two
mysterious substances—a red powder, known as his “Materia Prima,”
with which he transmuted baser metals into gold, and his “Egyptian
Wine,” with which he prolonged life.

He dropped hints that he was the son of the Grand-Master Pinto of
Malta and the Princess of Trebizonde. He foretold the lucky numbers
in a lottery and got into difficulty with a gang of swindlers,
which caused him to flee from England to avoid being imprisoned.
While in London he picked up, at a second-hand book-stall, the
mystic writings of an obscure spiritist, one George Coston, “which
suggested to him the idea of the Egyptian ritual”; and he got himself
initiated into a masonic lodge. Henri d’Alméras (_Cagliostro: la
Franc-Maçonnerie et l’Occultisme au XVIII siècle, Paris, 1904_)
states authoritatively that the famous charlatan received the
masonic degrees in the Esperance Lodge, April 12, 1777. This lodge,
composed mainly of French and Italian residents in London, held its
sessions at the King’s Head Tavern (Gerard Street). It was attached
to the Continental Masonic order of the Higher Observance, which
was supposed to be a continuation and perfection of the ancient
association of the Knights Templars. According to Alméras, Cagliostro
was initiated under the name of Joseph Cagliostro, Colonel of the 3d
regiment of Brandenburg. On June 2, the Grand Lodge of London gave
him his masonic patent, which is to {50} be found in the collection
of autographs of the Marquis de Chateaugiron, V. Catalogue, Paris,
1851. Cagliostro is regarded as the greatest masonic imposter of
the world. His pretentions were bitterly repudiated by the English
members of the fraternity, and many of the Continental lodges. But
the fact remains that he made thousands of dupes. As Grand Master
of the Egyptian Rite he leaped at once into fame. His swindling
operations were now conducted on a gigantic scale. He had the entrée
into the best society. According to him, freemasonry was founded
by Enoch and Elias. It was open to both sexes. Its present form,
especially with regard to the exclusion of women, is a corruption.
The true form was preserved only by the Grand Kophta, or High Priest
of the Egyptians. By him it was revealed to Cagliostro. The votaries
of any religion are admissible, subject to these conditions, (1) that
they believe in the existence of a God; (2) that they believe in the
immortality of the soul; and (3) that they have been initiated into
common Masonry. The candidate must swear an oath of secrecy, and
obedience to the Secret Superiors. It is divided into the usual three
grades of Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Mastermason.

In this system he promised his followers “to conduct them to
_perfection_, by means of a _physical and moral regeneration_; to
enable them by the former (or physical) to find the _prime matter_,
or Philosopher’s Stone, and the _acacia_, which consolidates in man
the forces of the most vigorous youth and renders him immortal; and
by the latter (or moral) to procure them a Pantagon, which should
restore man to his primitive state of innocence, lost by original

Cagliostro declared Moses, Elias and Christ to be the Secret
Superiors of the Order, because having “attained to such perfection
in masonry that, exalted into higher spheres, they are able to create
fresh worlds for the glory of the Lord. Each is still the head of a
secret community.”

No wonder the Egyptian Rite became popular among lovers of the
marvelous, because it promised its votaries, who should attain to
perfection, or adeptship, the power of transmuting baser metals into
gold; prolonging life indefinitely by means of {51} an elixir;
communing with the spirits of the dead; and many other necromantic
feats and experiments.

The meetings of the Egyptian Lodges were in reality spiritualistic
séances. The medium was a young boy (_pupille_) or young girl
(_colombe_) in the state of virgin innocence, “to whom power was
given over the seven spirits that surround the throne of the
divinity, and preside over the seven planets.” The Colombe would
kneel in front of a globe of clarified water which was placed upon
a table covered with a black cloth, and Cagliostro would summon the
angels of the spheres to enter the globe, whereupon the youthful
clairvoyant would behold the visions presented to view, and describe
events transpiring in distant places. “It would be hard,” says Count
Beugnot, “to believe that such scenes could have taken place in
France at the end of the eighteenth century; yet they aroused great
interest among people of importance in the Court and the town.”

In the mysticism of the twentieth century the above-mentioned form of
divination is known as “crystal gazing,” though the medium employed
is usually a ball of rock crystal, and not a globe of water such as
Cagliostro generally used. Occultism classes all such experiments
under the head of _magic mirrors_. The practice is very ancient.
The Regent d’Orléans of France experimented with the magic mirror,
as Saint Simon records. The great traveler, Lane, speaks of such
divination among the modern Egyptians by means of ink held in the
palm of the hand. Mirrors of ivory, metal, and wood coated with
gypsum have been used. As Andrew Lang puts it: “There is, in short,
a chain of examples, from the Greece of the fourth century B. C.,
to the cases observed by Dr. Mayo and Dr. Gregory in the middle of
the nineteenth century, and to those which Mrs. De Morgan wished
to explain by ‘spiritualism.’ ” In the opera “Parsifal” by Richard
Wagner, the necromancer, Klingsor, sees the approach of the young
knight in a magic mirror. In the Middle Ages the use of these mirrors
was well known. Deeply imbued with the spirit of mediævalism, Wagner
properly equipped the magician of his sublime opera with the mirror.

Max Dessoir, the German psychologist, writes as follows concerning
the magic mirror (_Monist_, Vol. I, No. 1): {52}

“The phenomena produced by the agency of the magic mirror with regard
to their contents proceed from the realm of the subconsciousness;
and that with regard to their _form_ they belong to the category
of hallucinations. . . . Hallucinations, the production of which are
facilitated by the fixation of shining surfaces, do not occur with
all persons; and there may be a kernel of truth in the tradition
which designates women and children as endowed with especial
capacities in this respect. The investigations of Fechner upon the
varying vividness of after-images; the statistics of Galton upon
hallucinatory phantasms in artists; and the extensive statistical
work of the Society for Psychical Research, appear to point to a
connection of this character. . . . Along with the inner process the
outward form of the hallucination requires a brief explanation.
The circumstance, namely, which lends magic-mirror phenomena their
salient feature, is the sensory reproduction of the images that have
sprung up from the subconsciousness. The subterranean ideas produced
do not reach the surface as thoughts, but as pseudo-perceptions.”

Cagliostro sometimes made use of a metallic mirror. This fact we have
on the authority of the Countess du Barry, the frail favorite of
Louis XV. When the “Well Beloved” went the way of dusty death, the
charming Countess divided her years of banishment from the glories
of the Court at her Chateau of Luciennes and her houses in Paris and
Versailles. She relates that on one occasion the Cardinal de Rohan
paid her a visit. During the conversation the subject of Mesmer and
magnetism was discussed.

“My dear Countess,” said the Cardinal, “the magnetic séances of
Mesmer are not to be compared with the magic of my friend the Count
de Cagliostro. He is a genuine Rosicrucian, who holds communion with
the elemental spirits. He is able to pierce the veil of the future by
his necromantic power. Permit me to introduce him to you.”

The curiosity of the Countess was excited, and she consented
to receive the illustrious sorcerer at her home. The next day
the Cardinal came, accompanied by Cagliostro. The magician was
magnificently dressed, but not altogether in good taste. Diamonds
sparkled on his breast and upon his fingers. The {53} knob of his
walking-stick was incrusted with precious stones. Madame du Barry,
however, was much struck with the power of his bold, gleaming eyes.
She realized that he was no ordinary charlatan. After discussing the
question of sorcery, Cagliostro took from the breast pocket of his
coat a leather case which he handed to the Countess, saying that it
contained a magic mirror wherein she might read the events of the
past and future. “If the vision be not to your liking,” he remarked,
impressively, “do not blame me. You use the mirror at your own risk.”

She opened the case and saw a “metallic glass in an ebony frame,
ornamented with a variety of magical characters in gold and silver.”
Cagliostro recited some cabalistic words, and bade her gaze intently
into the glass. She did so, and in a few minutes was overcome with
fright and fainted away.

Such is the story as related by Du Barry in her memoirs, which
have been recently edited by Prof. Leon Vallée, librarian of the
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

She gives us no clew as to the vision witnessed by her in the magic
glass. She says she afterwards refused to receive Cagliostro under
any circumstances.

What are we to believe concerning this remarkable story? We might
possibly conjecture that she saw in the mirror a phantasmagoria of
the guillotine, and beheld her blonde head “sneeze into the basket,”
and held up to public execration. Coming events cast their shadows

But all this is mere fancy, “midsummer madness,” as the Bard of Avon
has it.

God alone knows the future. Wisely has it been veiled to us.

Possibly Madame la Comtesse from her subliminal consciousness
conjured up an hallucination of the loathsome death by smallpox of
her royal lover, at whose corpse even the “night men” of Versailles
recoiled with horror. Telepathy from Cagliostro may have played a
part in inducing the vision. Ah, who knows! We leave the problem to
the psychologists for solution. {54}


From England Cagliostro went to the Hague, where he inaugurated
a lodge of female masons, over which his wife presided as Grand
Mistress. Throughout Holland he was received by the lodges with
masonic honors—beneath “arches of steel.” He discoursed volubly
upon magic and masonry to enraptured thousands. In March, 1779, he
made his appearance at Mitau,[10] in the Baltic Provinces, which he
regarded as the stepping-stone to St. Petersburg. He placed great
hope in Catherine II of Russia—“the avowed champion of advanced
thought.” He hoped to promulgate widely his new and mysterious
religious cult in the land of the Czars, with all the pomp and
glamour of the East. The nobility of Kurland received him with open
arms. Some of them offered to place him on the ducal throne, so he
claimed. He wisely refused the offer. Cagliostro eventually made a
fiasco at Mitau and left in hot haste. In St. Petersburg his stay
was as short. Catherine II was too clever a woman to be his dupe.
She ordered the charlatan to leave Russia, which he forthwith did.
Prospects of Siberia doubtless hastened his departure. In May, 1780,
he turned up at Warsaw. A leading prince lodged him in his palace.
Here Cagliostro “paraded himself in the white shoes and red heels
of a noble.” His spirit séances were not a success. He chose as his
clairvoyant a little girl, eight years of age. After pouring oil into
her hands, he closed her in a room, the door of which was hung with
a black curtain. The spectators sat outside. He interrogated the
child concerning the visions that appeared to her. Among other tests,
he requested the spectators to inscribe their names on a piece of
paper which he appeared to burn before their very eyes. Calling to
the child that a note would flutter down at her feet, he requested
her to pass it to him through the door. He passed his hand through
the opening of the door to receive the note. In the next instant he
produced a note closed with a freemason’s seal, which contained the
signatures of the spectators. This was nothing more than the trick
of a prestidigitateur, such {55} as was performed by Philadelphia
and Pinetti, the two great sleight of hand artists of the period. The
next day the clairvoyant confessed the fact that she had been tutored
by the magician, and that the visions were but figments of the
imagination. Cagliostro secured a new subject, a girl of sixteen, but
had the folly to fall in love with his accomplice. In exasperation
she repeated the confession of her predecessor. The Polish nobles now
insisted that Cagliostro invoke the spirit of the Grand Kophta (the
Egyptian High Priest). This séance took place “in a dark room, on a
sort of stage, lit with two candles only, and filled with clouds of
incense.” The Grand Kophta appeared. Through the uncertain light the
spectators beheld an imposing figure in white robes and turban. A
snowy beard fell upon its breast.

[10] _Nachricht von des berüchtigten Cagliostro’s
Aufenthalt in Mithau im Jahre, 1779, und von dessen
dortigen magischen Operationen._—Charlotte Elisabeth von
der Recke. Berlin und Stettin, 1787. 8vo.

“What see ye?” cried in a hoarse voice the sage of the pyramids.

“I see,” replied a sceptical gentleman from the audience, “that
Monsieur le Comte de Cagliostro has disguised himself with a mask and
a white beard.”

Everybody recognized the portly figure of the vision. A rush seemed
imminent. Quick as thought, the Grand Kophta, by a wave of his hands,
extinguished the two candles. A sound followed as the slipping off
of a mantle. The tapers were relit. Cagliostro was observed sitting
where the sage had disappeared.

At Wola, in a private laboratory, he pretended to transmute mercury
into silver. The scene must have been an impressive one. Girt with
a freemason’s apron, and standing on a black floor marked with
cabalistic symbols in chalk, Cagliostro worked at the furnace. In the
gloom of twilight the proceedings were held. By a clever substitution
of crucibles, Cagliostro apparently accomplished the feat of
transmutation, but the fraud was detected the next morning, when
one of the servants of the house discovered the original crucible
containing the mercury, which had been cast upon a pile of rubbish by
the pretended alchemist, or one of his confederates.

In September, 1780, Cagliostro arrived in Strasburg. Here he was
received with unbounded enthusiasm. He lavished money right and left,
cured the poor without pay, and treated the great with haughtiness.
Just outside of the city he erected a {56} country villa in Chinese
architecture, wherein to hold his Egyptian lodges. This place was
long pointed out as the Cagliostræum. The peasants are said to
have passed it with uncovered heads, such was their admiration and
awe of the great wonder-worker. At Strasburg resided at that time
the Cardinal Louis de Rohan, who was anxious to meet the magician.
Cagliostro, to whom the fact was reported, said: “If the Cardinal is
sick, he may come to me and I will cure him; if he is well, he has no
further need of me, nor I of him.” Cardinal de Rohan, Grand Almoner
of France, Commander of the order of the Holy Ghost, enormously rich,
and an amateur dabbler in alchemy and the occult sciences, was now
more anxious than ever to become acquainted with the charlatan. Such
disdain on the part of a layman was a new experience to the haughty
churchman. His imagination, too, was fired by the stories told of
the enchanter. The upshot of it was that Cagliostro and the Cardinal
became bosom friends. The prelate invited the juggler and his wife to
live at his episcopal palace.

The Baroness d’Oberkirch, who saw him there, says in her memoirs:[11]
“No one can ever form the faintest idea of the fervor with which
everybody pursued Cagliostro. He was surrounded, besieged; every one
trying to win a glance or a word. . . . A dozen ladies of rank and
two actresses had followed him in order to continue their treatment.
. . . If I had not seen it, I should never have imagined that a
Prince of the Roman Church, a man in other respects intelligent and
honorable, could so far let himself be imposed upon as to renounce
his dignity, his free will, at the bidding of a sharper.”

Cagliostro said to the Cardinal one day: “Your soul is worthy of
mine, and you deserve to be the confidant of all my secrets.” He
presented the Cardinal with a diamond worth 20,000 francs which
he pretended to have made, the churchman claiming to have been an
eye-witness of the operation. The Cardinal said to the Baroness:
“But that is not all; he makes gold; he has made five or six thousand
francs worth before me, up there in the top of the palace. I am to
have more; I am to have a great deal; he will make me the richest
prince in Europe {57} These are not dreams, madame; they are proofs.
And his prophecies that have come true! And the miraculous cures that
he has wrought! [_He really cured the Cardinal of the asthma._] I
tell you, he is the most extraordinary man, the sublimest man in the

[11] _Mémoires de la Baronne d’Oberkirche, I._

[12] It is an interesting fact to note that Cagliostro
was recommended as a physician to our Benjamin Franklin,
at that time residing in Paris. See Hale’s _Franklin in
France_, vol. 2, p. 226.

From Strasburg Cagliostro went to Naples, and from thence to
Bordeaux. After residing at Bordeaux for eleven months, he proceeded
to Lyons in great pomp, with lackeys, grooms, guards armed with
battle-axes, and heralds garbed in cloth of gold, blowing trumpets.
In the year 1785 he founded at Lyons the Lodge of Triumphant Wisdom,
and made many converts to his mystical doctrines. The fame of his
Egyptian masonry reached Paris and created quite a stir among the
lodges. The chiefs of a masonic convocation assembled in Paris
wrote to him for information concerning his new rite. He scornfully
refused to have anything to do with them, unless they burned all
their masonic books and implements as useless trash and acknowledged
their futility, claiming that his Egyptian Rite was the only true
freemasonry and worthy of cultivation among men of learning. His
next move was to the French capital. Behold him on his travels with
coach-and-four, flunkies and outriders in gorgeous liveries of red
and gold; vehicles filled with baggage and paraphernalia. Best of
all, he carries with him an iron coffer which contains the silver,
gold, and jewels reaped from his dupes.


Cagliostro’s greatest triumph was achieved in Paris. A gay and
frivolous aristocracy, mad after new sensations, welcomed the
magician with open arms. The way had been paved for him by St.
Germain and Mesmer. He made his appearance in the French capital,
January 30, 1785. Fantastic stories were circulated about him. The
Cardinal de Rohan selected and furnished a house for him, and visited
him three or four times a week, arriving at dinner time and remaining
until an advanced {58} hour in the night. It was said that the great
Cardinal assisted the sorcerer in his labors, and many persons spoke
of the mysterious laboratory where gold bubbled and diamonds sparkled
in crucibles brought to a white heat. But nobody except Cagliostro,
and perhaps the Cardinal, ever entered that mysterious laboratory.
All that was known for a certainty was that the apartments were
furnished with Oriental splendor, and that Count Cagliostro in a
dazzling costume received his guests with kingly dignity, and gave
them his hand to kiss. Upon a black marble slab in the antechamber
carved in golden letters was the universal prayer of Alexander Pope.
“Father of all! in every age,” etc., the parody of which ten years
later Paris sang as a hymn to the Supreme Being.

Says Funck-Brentano:[13] “At Paris Cagliostro showed himself what
he had been at Strasburg, dignified and reserved. He refused with

Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 6 of 28)