Henry Ridgely Evans.

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haughtiness the invitations to dinner sent to him by the Count of
Artois, brother of the king, and the Duke of Chartres, prince of the
blood. He proclaimed himself chief of the Rosicrucians, who regarded
themselves as chosen beings placed above the rest of mankind, and
he gave to his adepts the rarest pleasure. . . . To all who pressed
him with questions as to who he was, he replied in a grave voice,
knitting his eyebrows and pointing his forefinger towards the sky,
‘I am he who is’; and as it was difficult to make out that he was
‘he who is not,’ the only thing was to bow with an air of profound
deference.

“He possessed the science of the ancient priests of Egypt. His
conversation turned generally on three points: (1) Universal
Medicine, of which the secrets were known to him. (2) Egyptian
Freemasonry, which he wished to restore, and of which he had just
established a parent lodge at Lyons, for Scotch masonry, then
predominant in France, was in his eyes only an inferior, degenerate
form. (3) The Philosopher’s Stone, which was to ensure the
transmutation of all the imperfect metals into fine gold.” {59}

[13] _The Diamond Necklace. Being the true Story of
Marie Antoinette and the Cardinal de Rohan. From the
new documents recently discovered in Paris._ By Frantz
Funck-Brentano. Translated from the French by H. S.
Edwards. Philadelphia, 1901. 8vo.

“He thus gave to humanity, by his universal medicine, bodily health;
by Egyptian masonry, spiritual health; and by the philosopher’s
stone, infinite wealth.” These were his principal secrets, but
he had a host of others, that of predicting the winning numbers
in lotteries; prophesying as to the future; softening marble and
restoring it to its pristine hardness; of giving to cotton the lustre
and softness of silk, which has been re-invented in our day by a
chemical process.

Many writers on magic have fancied that the art of making gold was
the secret that lay hid under the forms of Egyptian theology. Says
the Benedictine monk, Pernetz: “The hermetic science was the source
of all the riches of the Egyptian kings, and the object of these
mysteries so hidden under the veil of their pretended religion.” In
a subterranean chamber beneath the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, Hermes
Trismegistus is supposed, according to mediæval alchemists, to have
placed his Table of Emerald, upon which he engraved the secret of
transmuting metals into gold.

Among the many stories told of Cagliostro, that of the supper in
the hotel of the Rue Saint Claude, where the ghosts made merry, is
the most extraordinary. Six guests and the host took their places
at a round table upon which there were thirteen covers. Each guest
pronounced the name of the dead man whose spirit he desired to appear
at the banquet table. Cagliostro, concentrating his mysterious
forces, gave the invitation in a solemn and commanding tone. One
after another the six guests appeared. They were the Duc de Choiseul,
Voltaire, d’Alembert, Diderot, the Abbé de Voisenon, and Montesquieu.

The story of this spirit séance created a sensation in Paris. It
reached the court, and one evening, when the conversation turned
upon the banquet of the ghosts, Louis XVI frowned, shrugged his
shoulders, and resumed his game of cards. The queen became indignant,
and forbade the mention of the name of the charlatan in her presence.
Nevertheless, some of the light-headed ladies of the court burned
for an introduction to the superb sorcerer. They begged Lorenza
Feliciani to get him to give them a course of lectures or lessons in
magic to which no gentlemen were to be admitted. Lorenza replied that
he would consent, provided there were thirty-six pupils. The list
was made {60} up in a day, and a week afterward the fair dames got
their first lesson. But they gossiped about it. This caused another
scandal, and consequently the first lesson was the last.

Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite of Masonry was well received in Paris,
especially the lodge for ladies, which was presided over by the
beautiful Lorenza, his wife. It was appropriately called _Isis_.
Among the members of this female lodge were the Countesses
de Brienne, Dessalles, de Polignac, de Brassac, de Choiseul,
d’Espinchal, the Marchioness d’Avrincourt, and Mmes. de Loménie, de
Genlis, de Bercy, de Trevières, de Baussan, de Monteil, d’Ailly, etc.

Cagliostro lived like a lord, thanks to the revenues obtained
from the initiates into his masonic rite, and the money which he
unquestionably received from his dupe, the Cardinal de Rohan, who was
magic mad.

“His wife,” says a gossipy writer, “was rarely seen, but by all
accounts she was a woman of bewildering beauty, realizing the
Greek lines in all their antique purity and enhanced by an Italian
expression. The most enthusiastic of her so-called admirers were
precisely those who had never seen her face. There were many duels
to decide the question as to the color of her eyes, some contending
that they were black, and others that they were blue. Duels were also
fought over the dimple which some admirers insisted was on the right
cheek, while others said that the honor belonged to the left cheek.
She appeared to be no more than twenty years old, but she spoke
sometimes of her eldest son, who was for some years a captain in the
Dutch army.”

The magician’s sojourn in Paris caused the greatest excitement. His
portrait and that of his wife were to be seen everywhere, on fans, on
rings, on snuff-boxes, and on medallions. His bust was cut in marble
by the famous sculptor, Houdon, cast in bronze, and placed in the
mansions of the nobility. He was called by his admirers “the divine
Cagliostro.” To one of the old portraits was appended the following
verse:

“De l’Ami des Humains reconnaissez les traits:
Tous ses jours sont marqués par de nouveaux bienfaits,
Il prolonge la Vie, il secourt l’indigence;
Le plaisir d’être utile est seul sa recompense.”

{61}

[Illustration: BUST OF CAGLIOSTRO.

After Houdon.

(In the possession of M. Storelli.)]

[Illustration: CAGLIOSTRO.

From _Vie de Joseph Balsamo, etc._

Paris, 1791.]

Hats and neckties were named after him. In Paris as in Strasburg, he
gave away large sums of money to the poor and cured them of their
ailments free of charge. His mansion was always crowded with noble
guests. The idle aristocracy could find nothing better to do than
attend the spirit séances of the charlatan. The shades of Voltaire,
Rousseau, and other dead celebrities were summoned from the “vasty
deep,” impersonated doubtless by clever confederates in the pay of
Cagliostro, often aided by mechanical and optical accessories. The
art of phantasmagoria, in which the concave mirror plays a part,
was well known to the enchanter. The Count de Beugnot gives in
detail, in his interesting autobiography, an account of Cagliostro’s
performances at the residences of Madame de la Motte and the Cardinal
de Rohan. The niece of Count de la Motte, a Mlle. de {62} la Tour,
a charming girl of fifteen, frequently acted as clairvoyant in
the mystical séances. She is reported to have possessed all the
requisites of a seeress: angelic purity, delicate nerves, and blue
eyes, also to have been born under the constellation Capricorn. “Her
mother nearly died of joy.”

Says Count Beugnot: “When she learned that her child fulfilled all
these conditions of Egyptian thaumaturgy, she thought the treasures
of Memphis and of that large city in the interior of Africa were
about to fall upon her family, which was badly in need of them.” In
the report of the necklace trial (Arch. Nat. X2, B‐1417), the young
girl confesses to have aided the charlatan in his magical operations
at the house of the Cardinal, by pretending to see visions of Marie
Antoinette and others in a globe of water, which was surrounded by
lighted tapers and figures of Isis and Apis. He had decked her out
in a freemason’s apron embroidered with cabalistic characters. She
aided him because “she did not want to be bothered,” and answered
his leading questions, etc. But there was perhaps another reason
for her acquiescence in the fraud. Cagliostro had declared to her,
in the presence of the prelate, her aunt and mother, when she
first attempted to play the part of pythoness and failed, that her
inability to see anything in the globe was evidence that she was not
innocent. Stung by his inuendos, she immediately yielded and saw all
she was desired to see, thereby becoming his confederate to deceive
De Rohan.

An interesting pen portrait of Cagliostro is contained in Beugnot’s
memoirs. The Count met the enchanter for the first time at the house
of Madame de la Motte:

“Cagliostro was of medium height, rather stout, with an olive
complexion, a very short neck, round face, two large eyes on a level
with the cheeks, and a broad, turned-up nose. . . . His hair was
dressed in a way new to France, being divided into several small
tresses that united behind the head, and were twisted up into what
was then called a club.

“He wore on that day an iron gray coat of French make, with gold
lace, a scarlet waistcoat trimmed with broad Spanish lace, red
breeches, his sword looped to the skirt of his coat, and a laced hat
with a white feather, the latter a decoration still {63} required
of mountebanks, tooth-drawers and other medical practitioners,
who proclaim and retail their drugs in the open air. Cagliostro
set off this costume by lace ruffles, several valuable rings, and
shoe-buckles which were, it is true, of antique design, but bright
enough to be taken for real diamonds. . . . The face, attire, and
the whole man made an impression on me that I could not prevent.
I listened to the talk. He spoke some sort of medley, half French
and half Italian, and made many quotations which might be Arabic,
but which he did not trouble himself to translate. I could not
remember any more of [his conversation] than that the hero had spoken
of heaven, of the stars, of the Great Secret, of Memphis, of the
high-priest, of transcendental chemistry, of giants and monstrous
beasts, of a city ten times as large as Paris, in the middle of
Africa, where he had correspondents.”[14]

Cagliostro often boasted of his great age.

One day in Strasburg, he stopped before a huge crucifix of carved
wood, and contemplated it with melancholy countenance.

“The likeness is excellent,” he remarked to one of his votaries, “but
I cannot understand how the artist, who certainly never saw Christ,
could have secured such a perfect portrait.”

“You knew Christ, then?” inquired the neophyte, breathlessly.

“We were on the most intimate terms.”

“My dear Count!—”

“I mean what I say. How often we strolled together on the sandy shore
of the Lake of Tiberias. How infinitely sweet his voice. But, alas,
he would not heed my advice. He loved to walk on the seashore, where
he picked up a band of _lazzaroni_—of fishermen and beggars. This and
his preaching brought him to a bitter end.”

Turning to his servant, Cagliostro added: “Do you remember that
evening at Jerusalem when they crucified Christ?”

“No, Monsieur le Comte,” replied the well-tutored lackey, bowing low,
“you forget that I have only been in your employ for the last fifteen
hundred years.”

Baron Munchausen is not to be compared to Cagliostro. {64}

[14] Beugnot, Comte de. _Mémoires._ Paris, 1866.


V.

Cagliostro was at the height of his fame, when suddenly he was
arrested and thrown into the Bastille. He was charged with complicity
in the affair of the diamond necklace. Here is his own account of the
arrest: “On the 22d of August, 1785, a commissaire, an exempt, and
eight policemen entered my home. The pillage began in my presence.
They compelled me to open my secretary. Elixirs, balms, and precious
liquors all became the prey of the officers who came to arrest me. I
begged the commissaire to permit me to use my carriage. He refused!
The agent took me by the collar. He had pistols, the stocks of which
appeared from the pockets of his coat. They hustled me into the
street and scandalously dragged me along the boulevard all the way to
the rue Notre Dame du Nazareth. There a carriage appeared which I was
permitted to enter to take the road to the Bastille.”

What was this mysterious affair of the diamond necklace which led to
his incarceration in a state prison? In brief the story is as follows:

The court jewelers, Böhmer and Bassange, had in their possession a
magnificent diamond necklace, valued at 1,800,000 livres, originally
designed for the ivory neck of the fair but frail Madame du Barry,
mistress of Louis XV. But Louis—“the well beloved”—died before the
necklace was completed; the Sultana went into exile, and the unlucky
jewelers found themselves with the diamond collar on their hands,
instead of on the neck of Du Barry. They were obliged to dispose of
it, or become bankrupt. Twice Böhmer offered it to Marie Antoinette,
but she refused to purchase it, or permit her husband, Louis XVI., to
do so, alleging that France had more urgent need of war ships than
jewels. Poor Böhmer, distracted at her refusal to buy the necklace,
threatened to commit suicide. The matter became food for gossip among
the _quid nuncs_ of the Court. Unfortunate necklace! it led to one
of the most romantic intrigues of history, involving in its jeweled
toils a Queen, a cardinal, a courtesan and a conjurer. Living at
the village of Versailles at the time was the Countess de la Motte,
an ex-mantua maker and {65} a descendant of an illegitimate scion
of the Valois family who had committed a forgery under Louis XIII.
Her husband was a sort of gentleman-soldier in the gendarmerie, a
gambler, and a rake. Madame de la Motte-Valois, boasting of the royal
blood that flowed in her veins, had many times petitioned the King
to assist her. A small pension had been granted, but it was totally
inadequate to supply her wants. She wished also to gain a foothold at
Versailles and flutter amidst the butterfly-countesses of the _Salle
de l’Oeil-de-Boeuf_. Looking about for a noble protector, some one
who could advance her claims, she pitched upon the Cardinal de Rohan,
who was the Grand Almoner of the King. He supplied her with money,
but accomplished very little else for her. Though Grand Almoner and
a Cardinal, Louis de Rohan was _persona non grata_ at the court. He
was cordially detested by Marie Antoinette not only because of his
dissolute habits, but on account of slanderous letters he had written
about her when she was still a Dauphiness. This coldness on the part
of the Queen caused the Cardinal great anguish, as he longed to be
Prime Minister, and sway the destinies of France through the Queen
like a second Richelieu, Fleury or Mazarin. More than that, he loved
the haughty Antoinette. All these things he confided to Madame de la
Motte. When the story of Böhmer and the diamond necklace was noised
abroad, Madame de la Motte conceived a plot of wonderful audacity.
She determined to possess the priceless collar and make the Cardinal
the medium of obtaining it. She deluded the Cardinal into the belief
that she was in the Queen’s confidence. She asserted that Marie
Antoinette had at last yielded to her pleadings for recognition as
a descendant of the Valois and granted her social interviews. She
confided to him that the Queen secretly desired to be reconciled
to him. She became the pretended “go-between” between the Cardinal
and the Queen, and delivered numerous little notes to him, signed
“Antoinette de France.” Finally she arranged an interview for him,
at night, in the park of Versailles, ostensibly with the Queen, but
in reality with a young girl named d’Oliva who bore a remarkable
resemblance to Marie Antoinette. The d’Oliva saw him only for a
few moments and presented him with a rose. {66} The Cardinal was
completely duped. “Madame de la Motte persuaded him,” says Greeven,
“into the belief that the Queen was yearning for the necklace, but,
as she could not afford it, he could assure himself of her favor by
becoming security for the payment. She produced a forged instrument,
which purported to have been executed by the Queen, and upon which
he bound himself as security.” The necklace was delivered to the
Cardinal, who handed it over to Madame de la Motte, to be given to
Marie Antoinette. Thus it was, as Carlyle says, the _collier de la
reine_ vanished through “the horn-gate of dreams.”

But, asks the curious reader, what has all this to do with
Cagliostro? What part had he to play in the drama? This: When the
Countess de la Motte was arrested, she attempted to throw the blame
of the affair upon the Cardinal and Cagliostro. She alleged that they
had summoned her into one of their mystic séances. “After the usual
hocus-pocus, the Cardinal made over to her a casket containing the
diamonds without their setting and directed her to deliver them to
her husband, with instructions to dispose of them at once in London.
Upon this information Cagliostro and his wife were arrested. He was
detained without hearing, from the 22d of August, 1785, until the
30th of January, 1786, when he was first examined by the Judges, and
he was not set at liberty till the 1st of June, 1786.”

The trial was the most famous in the annals of the Parliament.
Cagliostro and the Cardinal were acquitted with honor. The Countess
de la Motte was sentenced to be exposed naked, with a rope around
her neck, in front of the Conciergerie, and to be publicly whipped
and branded by the hangman with the letter V (_Voleuse—thief_) on
each shoulder. She was further sentenced to life imprisonment in
the prison for abandoned women. She escaped from the latter place,
however, to London, where she was killed on the 23d day of August,
1791, by a fall from a window. The Count de la Motte was sentenced
_in contumacium_. He was safe in London at the time and had disposed
of the diamonds to various dealers. The d’Oliva was set free without
punishment. The man who forged the letter for Madame de la Motte,
her secretary, Villette, was banished for life. The Countess de
Cagliostro was honorably discharged. {67}

The Cardinal was unquestionably innocent, as was fully established
at the trial. His overweening ambition and his mad love for Marie
Antoinette had rendered him an easy dupe to the machinations of the
band of sharpers. But how about Cagliostro? The essayist Greeven
seems to think that the alchemist was more or less mixed up in
the swindle. He sums up the suspicions as follows: “_First_, his
[Cagliostro’s] immense influence over the Cardinal, and his intimate
relations with him render it impossible that so gigantic a fraud
could have been practiced without his knowledge. _Second_, he was in
league with the Countess for the purpose of deceiving the Cardinal,
in connection with the Queen.”

[Illustration: MADAME DE LA MOTTE’S ESCAPE. (After an English print
of 1790.)]

M. Frantz Funck-Brentano writes: “The idea of implicating Cagliostro
in the intrigue had been conceived, as Georgel says, with diabolical
cunning. If Jeanne de Valois had in the first instance made a direct
accusation against Cardinal de Rohan, no one would have believed
in it. But there was something mysterious and suspicious about
Cagliostro, and it was known what influence he exercised on the mind
of the Cardinal. ‘The alchemist,’ she suggested, ‘took the necklace
to pieces in order to increase by means of it the occult treasures of
an unheard-of fortune.’ ‘To conceal his theft,’ says Doillot [Madame
de la {68} Motte’s lawyer], ‘he ordered M. de Rohan, in virtue of the
influence he had established over him, to sell some of the diamonds
and to get a few of them mounted at Paris through the Countess de
la Motte, and to get more considerable quantities mounted and sold
in England by her husband.’ . . . Cagliostro had one unanswerable
argument: the Cardinal had made his agreement with the jewelers on
the 29th of January, 1785, and he, Cagliostro, had only arrived in
Paris at nine in the evening of the 30th.”

Cagliostro refuted the charges with wonderful _sang froid_. He
appeared in court “proud and triumphant in his coat of green silk
embroidered with gold.” “Who are you? and whence do you come?” asked
the attorney for the crown.

“I am an illustrious traveler,” he answered bombastically. Everyone
present laughed. He then harangued the judges in theatrical style.
He told the most impossible stories of his adventures in Arabia and
Egypt. He informed the judges that he was unacquainted with the place
of his birth and the name of his parents, but that he spent his
infancy in Medina, Arabia, and was brought up under the cognomen of
Acharat. He resided in the palace of the Great Muphti, and always had
the servants to attend his wants, besides his tutor, named Althotas,
who was very fond of him. Althotas told him that his (Cagliostro’s)
father and mother were Christians and nobles, who died when he was
three months old, leaving him in the care of the Muphti. On one
occasion, he asked his preceptor to tell him the name of his parents.
Althotas replied that it would be dangerous for him to know, but some
incautious expressions dropped by the tutor led him to believe that
they were from Malta. When twelve years of age he began his travels,
and learned the languages of the Orient. He remained three years in
the sacred city of Mecca. The Sherif or Governor of that place showed
him such unusual attention and kindness, that he oftentimes thought
that personage was his father. He quitted this good man with tears in
his eyes, and never saw him again.

“Adieu, nature’s unfortunate child, adieu!” cried the Sherif of Mecca
to him, as he took his departure. {69}

Whenever he arrived in any city, either of Europe, Asia, or Africa,
he found an account opened for him at the leading banker’s or
merchant’s. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, his credit was unlimited.
He had only to whisper the word “Acharat,” and his wants were
immediately supplied. He really believed that the Sherif was the
friend to whom all was owing. This was the secret of his wealth. He
denied all complicity in the necklace swindle, and scornfully refuted
the charge of Madame de la Motte, that he was “an empiric, a mean
alchemist, a dreamer on the Philosopher’s Stone, a false prophet, a
profaner of true worship, the self-dubbed Count de Cagliostro.”

“As to my being a false prophet,” he exclaimed grandiloquently, “I
have not always been so; for I once prophesied to the Cardinal de
Rohan, that Madame de la Motte would prove a dangerous woman, and the
result has verified my prediction.”

In conclusion he said that every charge that Madame de la Motte
had preferred against him was false, and that she was _mentiris
impudentissime_, which two words he requested her lawyers to
translate for her, as it was not polite to tell her so in French.

The Inquisition biographer, regarding the subject of the necklace,
says: “It is difficult to decide whether, in this celebrated affair,
Madame de la Motte or the Count Cagliostro had the greatest share of
glory. It is certain, however, that both of them acquired uncommon
_éclat_, and indeed attempted to surpass each other. We cannot
affirm that they acted in concert on this memorable occasion; we
can, however, with safety assert that Cagliostro was well acquainted
with the designs of this woman, so wonderfully formed for intrigue,
and that he always kept his eye steadily fixed upon the famous
necklace. He certainly perceived, and has indeed _confessed in his
interrogatories_ [the italics are mine], _that he was acquainted
with all the manoeuvres which she put in practice to accomplish her
criminal designs_.

“The whole affair was at length discovered. He had foreseen this;
and wished to have evaded the inevitable consequences attendant
on detection; but it was now too late. The officers of the police
were persuaded that without his aid this piece of {70} roguery and
deception could never have been carried on; and he was arrested
and imprisoned in the Bastille. He, however, did not lose courage;
he even found means to corrupt his guards, and to establish a
correspondence with the other prisoners who were confined along with
him. It was owing to this that they were enabled to be uniform in the
answers which they gave in to the various interrogatories to which



Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 7 of 28)