Part 2 out of 70
college, and to receive young boys as boarders; but two years passed
before he met with any success. During that period he taught me
everything he knew; true, it was not much; yet it was enough to open
to me the high road to all sciences. He likewise taught me the
violin, an accomplishment which proved very useful to me in a
peculiar circumstance, the particulars of which I will give in good
time. The excellent doctor, who was in no way a philosopher, made me
study the logic of the Peripatetics, and the cosmography of the
ancient system of Ptolemy, at which I would laugh, teasing the poor
doctor with theorems to which he could find no answer. His habits,
moreover, were irreproachable, and in all things connected with
religion, although no bigot, he was of the greatest strictness, and,
admitting everything as an article of faith, nothing appeared
difficult to his conception. He believed the deluge to have been
universal, and he thought that, before that great cataclysm, men
lived a thousand years and conversed with God, that Noah took one
hundred years to build the ark, and that the earth, suspended in the
air, is firmly held in the very centre of the universe which God had
created from nothing. When I would say and prove that it was absurd
to believe in the existence of nothingness, he would stop me short
and call me a fool.
He could enjoy a good bed, a glass of wine, and cheerfulness at home.
He did not admire fine wits, good jests or criticism, because it
easily turns to slander, and he would laugh at the folly of men
reading newspapers which, in his opinion, always lied and constantly
repeated the same things. He asserted that nothing was more
troublesome than incertitude, and therefore he condemned thought
because it gives birth to doubt.
His ruling passion was preaching, for which his face and his voice
qualified him; his congregation was almost entirely composed of women
of whom, however, he was the sworn enemy; so much so, that he would
not look them in the face even when he spoke to them. Weakness of
the flesh and fornication appeared to him the most monstrous of sins,
and he would be very angry if I dared to assert that, in my
estimation, they were the most venial of faults. His sermons were
crammed with passages from the Greek authors, which he translated
into Latin. One day I ventured to remark that those passages ought
to be translated into Italian because women did not understand Latin
any more than Greek, but he took offence, and I never had afterwards
the courage to allude any more to the matter. Moreover he praised me
to his friends as a wonder, because I had learned to read Greek
alone, without any assistance but a grammar.
During Lent, in the year 1736, my mother, wrote to the doctor; and,
as she was on the point of her departure for St. Petersburg, she
wished to see me, and requested him to accompany me to Venice for
three or four days. This invitation set him thinking, for he had
never seen Venice, never frequented good company, and yet he did not
wish to appear a novice in anything. We were soon ready to leave
Padua, and all the family escorted us to the 'burchiello'.
My mother received the doctor with a most friendly welcome; but she
was strikingly beautiful, and my poor master felt very uncomfortable,
not daring to look her in the face, and yet called upon to converse
with her. She saw the dilemma he was in, and thought she would have
some amusing sport about it should opportunity present itself. I, in
the meantime, drew the attention of everyone in her circle; everybody
had known me as a fool, and was amazed at my improvement in the short
space of two years. The doctor was overjoyed, because he saw that
the full credit of my transformation was given to him.
The first thing which struck my mother unpleasantly was my light-
coloured wig, which was not in harmony with my dark complexion, and
contrasted most woefully with my black eyes and eyebrows. She
inquired from the doctor why I did not wear my own hair, and he
answered that, with a wig, it was easier for his sister to keep me
clean. Everyone smiled at the simplicity of the answer, but the
merriment increased when, to the question made by my mother whether
his sister was married, I took the answer upon myself, and said that
Bettina was the prettiest girl of Padua, and was only fourteen years
of age. My mother promised the doctor a splendid present for his
sister on condition that she would let me wear my own hair, and he
promised that her wishes would be complied with. The peruke-maker
was then called, and I had a wig which matched my complexion.
Soon afterwards all the guests began to play cards, with the
exception of my master, and I went to see my brothers in my
grandmother's room. Francois shewed me some architectural designs
which I pretended to admire; Jean had nothing to skew me, and I
thought him a rather insignificant boy. The others were still very
At the supper-table, the doctor, seated next to my mother, was very
awkward. He would very likely not have said one word, had not an
Englishman, a writer of talent, addressed him in Latin; but the
doctor, being unable to make him out, modestly answered that he did
not understand English, which caused much hilarity. M. Baffo,
however, explained the puzzle by telling us that Englishmen read and
pronounced Latin in the same way that they read and spoke their own
language, and I remarked that Englishmen were wrong as much as we
would be, if we pretended to read and to pronounce their language
according to Latin rules. The Englishman, pleased with my reasoning,
wrote down the following old couplet, and gave it to me to read:
'Dicite, grammatici, cur mascula nomina cunnus,
Et cur femineum mentula nomen habet.'
After reading it aloud, I exclaimed, "This is Latin indeed."
"We know that," said my mother, "but can you explain it,"
"To explain it is not enough," I answered; "it is a question which is
worthy of an answer." And after considering for a moment, I wrote
the following pentameter
'Disce quod a domino nomina servus habet.'
This was my first literary exploit, and I may say that in that very
instant the seed of my love for literary fame was sown in my breast,
for the applause lavished upon me exalted me to the very pinnacle of
happiness. The Englishman, quite amazed at my answer, said that no
boy of eleven years had ever accomplished such a feat, embraced me
repeatedly, and presented me with his watch. My mother, inquisitive
like a woman, asked M. Grimani to tell her the meaning of the lines,
but as the abbe was not any wiser than she was M. Baffo translated it
in a whisper. Surprised at my knowledge, she rose from her chair to
get a valuable gold watch and presented to my master, who, not
knowing how to express his deep gratitude, treated us to the most
comic scene. My mother, in order to save him from the difficulty of
paying her a compliment, offered him her cheek. He had only to give
her a couple of kisses, the easiest and the most innocent thing in
good company; but the poor man was on burning coals, and so
completely out of countenance that he would, I truly believe, rather
have died than give the kisses. He drew back with his head down, and
he was allowed to remain in peace until we retired for the night.
When we found ourselves alone in our room, he poured out his heart,
and exclaimed that it was a pity he could not publish in Padua the
distich and my answer.
"And why not?" I said.
"Because both are obscene."
"But they are sublime."
"Let us go to bed and speak no more on the subject. Your answer was
wonderful, because you cannot possibly know anything of the subject
in question, or of the manner in which verses ought to be written."
As far as the subject was concerned, I knew it by theory; for,
unknown to the doctor, and because he had forbidden it, I had read
Meursius, but it was natural that he should be amazed at my being
able to write verses, when he, who had taught me prosody, never could
compose a single line. 'Nemo dat quod non habet' is a false axiom
when applied to mental acquirements.
Four days afterwards, as we were preparing for our departure, my
mother gave me a parcel for Bettina, and M. Grimani presented me with
four sequins to buy books. A week later my mother left for St.
After our return to Padua, my good master for three or four months
never ceased to speak of my mother, and Bettina, having found in the
parcel five yards of black silk and twelve pairs of gloves, became
singularly attached to me, and took such good care of my hair that
in less than six months I was able to give up wearing the wig. She
used to comb my hair every morning, often before I was out of bed,
saying that she had not time to wait until I was dressed. She washed
my face, my neck, my chest; lavished on me childish caresses which I
thought innocent, but which caused me to, be angry with myself,
because I felt that they excited me. Three years younger than she
was, it seemed to me that she could not love me with any idea of
mischief, and the consciousness of my own vicious excitement put me
out of temper with myself. When, seated on my bed, she would say
that I was getting stouter, and would have the proof of it with her
own hands, she caused me the most intense emotion; but I said
nothing, for fear she would remark my sensitiveness, and when she
would go on saying that my skin was soft, the tickling sensation made
me draw back, angry with myself that I did not dare to do the same to
her, but delighted at her not guessing how I longed to do it. When I
was dressed, she often gave me the sweetest kisses, calling me her
darling child, but whatever wish I had to follow her example, I was
not yet bold enough. After some time, however, Bettina laughing at
my timidity, I became more daring and returned her kisses with
interest, but I always gave way the moment I felt a wish to go
further; I then would turn my head, pretending to look for something,
and she would go away. She was scarcely out of the room before I was
in despair at not having followed the inclination of my nature, and,
astonished at the fact that Bettina could do to me all she was in the
habit of doing without feeling any excitement from it, while I could
hardly refrain from pushing my attacks further, I would every day
determine to change my way of acting.
In the early part of autumn, the doctor received three new boarders;
and one of them, who was fifteen years old, appeared to me in less
than a month on very friendly terms with Bettina.
This circumstance caused me a feeling of which until then I had no
idea, and which I only analyzed a few years afterwards. It was
neither jealousy nor indignation, but a noble contempt which I
thought ought not to be repressed, because Cordiani, an ignorant,
coarse boy, without talent or polite education, the son of a simple
farmer, and incapable of competing with me in anything, having over
me but the advantage of dawning manhood, did not appear to me a fit
person to be preferred to me; my young self-esteem whispered that I
was above him. I began to nurse a feeling of pride mixed with
contempt which told against Bettina, whom I loved unknown to myself.
She soon guessed it from the way I would receive her caresses, when
she came to comb my hair while I was in bed; I would repulse her
hands, and no longer return her kisses. One day, vexed at my
answering her question as to the reason of my change towards her by
stating that I had no cause for it, she, told me in a tone of
commiseration that I was jealous of Cordiani. This reproach sounded
to me like a debasing slander. I answered that Cordiani was, in my
estimation, as worthy of her as she was worthy of him. She went away
smiling, but, revolving in her mind the only way by which she could
be revenged, she thought herself bound to render me jealous.
However, as she could not attain such an end without making me fall
in love with her, this is the policy she adopted.
One morning she came to me as I was in bed and brought me a pair of
white stockings of her own knitting. After dressing my hair, she
asked my permission to try the stockings on herself, in order to
correct any deficiency in the other pairs she intended to knit for
me. The doctor had gone out to say his mass. As she was putting on
the stocking, she remarked that my legs were not clean, and without
any more ado she immediately began to wash them. I would have been
ashamed to let her see my bashfulness; I let her do as she liked, not
foreseeing what would happen. Bettina, seated on my bed, carried too
far her love for cleanliness, and her curiosity caused me such
intense voluptuousness that the feeling did not stop until it could
be carried no further. Having recovered my calm, I bethought myself
that I was guilty and begged her forgiveness. She did not expect
this, and, after considering for a few moments, she told me kindly
that the fault was entirely her own, but that she never would again
be guilty of it. And she went out of the room, leaving me to my own
They were of a cruel character. It seemed to me that I had brought
dishonour upon Bettina, that I had betrayed the confidence of her
family, offended against the sacred laws of hospitality, that I was
guilty of a most wicked crime, which I could only atone for by
marrying her, in case Bettina could make up her mind to accept for
her husband a wretch unworthy of her.
These thoughts led to a deep melancholy which went on increasing from
day to day, Bettina having entirely ceased her morning visits by my
bedside. During the first week, I could easily account for the
girl's reserve, and my sadness would soon have taken the character of
the warmest love, had not her manner towards Cordiani inoculated in
my veins the poison of jealousy, although I never dreamed of accusing
her of the same crime towards him that she had committed upon me.
I felt convinced, after due consideration, that the act she had been
guilty of with me had been deliberately done, and that her feelings
of repentance kept her away from me. This conviction was rather
flattering to my vanity, as it gave me the hope of being loved, and
the end of all my communings was that I made up my mind to write to
her, and thus to give her courage.
I composed a letter, short but calculated to restore peace to her
mind, whether she thought herself guilty, or suspected me of feelings
contrary to those which her dignity might expect from me. My letter
was, in my own estimation, a perfect masterpiece, and just the kind
of epistle by which I was certain to conquer her very adoration, and
to sink for ever the sun of Cordiani, whom I could not accept as the
sort of being likely to make her hesitate for one instant in her
choice between him and me. Half-an-hour after the receipt of my
letter, she told me herself that the next morning she would pay me
her usual visit, but I waited in vain. This conduct provoked me
almost to madness, but my surprise was indeed great when, at the
breakfast table, she asked me whether I would let her dress me up as
a girl to accompany her five or six days later to a ball for which a
neighbour of ours, Doctor Olivo, had sent letters of invitation.
Everybody having seconded the motion, I gave my consent. I thought
this arrangement would afford a favourable opportunity for an
explanation, for mutual vindication, and would open a door for the
most complete reconciliation, without fear of any surprise arising
from the proverbial weakness of the flesh. But a most unexpected
circumstance prevented our attending the ball, and brought forth a
comedy with a truly tragic turn.
Doctor Gozzi's godfather, a man advanced in age, and in easy
circumstances, residing in the country, thought himself, after a
severe illness, very near his end, and sent to the doctor a carriage
with a request to come to him at once with his father, as he wished
them to be present at his death, and to pray for his departing soul.
The old shoemaker drained a bottle, donned his Sunday clothes, and
went off with his son.
I thought this a favourable opportunity and determined to improve it,
considering that the night of the ball was too remote to suit my
impatience. I therefore managed to tell Bettina that I would leave
ajar the door of my room, and that I would wait for her as soon as
everyone in the house had gone to bed. She promised to come. She
slept on the ground floor in a small closet divided only by a
partition from her father's chamber; the doctor being away, I was
alone in the large room. The three boarders had their apartment in a
different part of the house, and I had therefore no mishap to fear.
I was delighted at the idea that I had at last reached the moment so
The instant I was in my room I bolted my door and opened the one
leading to the passage, so that Bettina should have only to push it
in order to come in; I then put my light out, but did not undress.
When we read of such situations in a romance we think they are
exaggerated; they are not so, and the passage in which Ariosto
represents Roger waiting for Alcine is a beautiful picture painted
Until midnight I waited without feeling much anxiety; but I heard the
clock strike two, three, four o'clock in the morning without seeing
Bettina; my blood began to boil, and I was soon in a state of furious
rage. It was snowing hard, but I shook from passion more than from
cold. One hour before day-break, unable to master any longer my
impatience, I made up my mind to go downstairs with bare feet, so as
not to wake the dog, and to place myself at the bottom of the stairs
within a yard of Bettina's door, which ought to have been opened if
she had gone out of her room. I reached the door; it was closed, and
as it could be locked only from inside I imagined that Bettina had
fallen asleep. I was on the point of knocking at the door, but was
prevented by fear of rousing the dog, as from that door to that of
her closet there was a distance of three or four yards. Overwhelmed
with grief, and unable to take a decision, I sat down on the last
step of the stairs; but at day-break, chilled, benumbed, shivering
with cold, afraid that the servant would see me and would think I was
mad, I determined to go back to my room. I arise, but at that very
moment I hear some noise in Bettina's room. Certain that I am going
to see her, and hope lending me new strength, I draw nearer to the
door. It opens; but instead of Bettina coming out I see Cordiani,
who gives me such a furious kick in the stomach that I am thrown at a
distance deep in the snow. Without stopping a single instant
Cordiani is off, and locks himself up in the room which he shared
with the brothers Feltrini.
I pick myself up quickly with the intention of taking my revenge upon
Bettina, whom nothing could have saved from the effects of my rage at
that moment. But I find her door locked; I kick vigorously against
it, the dog starts a loud barking, and I make a hurried retreat to my
room, in which I lock myself up, throwing myself in bed to compose
and heal up my mind and body, for I was half dead.
Deceived, humbled, ill-treated, an object of contempt to the happy
and triumphant Cordiani, I spent three hours ruminating the darkest
schemes of revenge. To poison them both seemed to me but a trifle in
that terrible moment of bitter misery. This project gave way to
another as extravagant, as cowardly-namely, to go at once to her
brother and disclose everything to him. I was twelve years of age,
and my mind had not yet acquired sufficient coolness to mature
schemes of heroic revenge, which are produced by false feelings of
honour; this was only my apprenticeship in such adventures.
I was in that state of mind when suddenly I heard outside of my door
the gruff voice of Bettina's mother, who begged me to come down,
adding that her daughter was dying. As I would have been very sorry
if she had departed this life before she could feel the effects of my
revenge, I got up hurriedly and went downstairs. I found Bettina
lying in her father's bed writhing with fearful convulsions, and
surrounded by the whole family. Half dressed, nearly bent in two,
she was throwing her body now to the right, now to the left, striking
at random with her feet and with her fists, and extricating herself
by violent shaking from the hands of those who endeavoured to keep
With this sight before me, and the night's adventure still in my
mind, I hardly knew what to think. I had no knowledge of human
nature, no knowledge of artifice and tricks, and I could not
understand how I found myself coolly witnessing such a scene, and
composedly calm in the presence of two beings, one of whom I intended
to kill and the other to dishonour. At the end of an hour Bettina
A nurse and Doctor Olivo came soon after. The first said that the
convulsions were caused by hysterics, but the doctor said no, and
prescribed rest and cold baths. I said nothing, but I could not
refrain from laughing at them, for I knew, or rather guessed, that
Bettina's sickness was the result of her nocturnal employment, or of
the fright which she must have felt at my meeting with Cordiani. At
all events, I determined to postpone my revenge until the return of
her brother, although I had not the slightest suspicion that her
illness was all sham, for I did not give her credit for so much
To return to my room I had to pass through Bettina's closet, and
seeing her dress handy on the bed I took it into my head to search
her pockets. I found a small note, and recognizing Cordiani's
handwriting, I took possession of it to read it in my room. I
marvelled at the girl's imprudence, for her mother might have
discovered it, and being unable to read would very likely have given
it to the doctor, her son. I thought she must have taken leave of
her senses, but my feelings may be appreciated when I read the
following words: "As your father is away it is not necessary to leave
your door ajar as usual. When we leave the supper-table I will go to
your closet; you will find me there."
When I recovered from my stupor I gave way to an irresistible fit of
laughter, and seeing how completely I had been duped I thought I was
cured of my love. Cordiani appeared to me deserving of forgiveness,
and Bettina of contempt. I congratulated myself upon having received
a lesson of such importance for the remainder of my life. I even
went so far as to acknowledge to myself that Bettina had been quite
right in giving the preference to Cordiani, who was fifteen years
old, while I was only a child. Yet, in spite of my good disposition
to forgiveness, the kick administered by Cordiani was still heavy
upon my memory, and I could not help keeping a grudge against him.
At noon, as we were at dinner in the kitchen, where we took our meals
on account of the cold weather, Bettina began again to raise piercing
screams. Everybody rushed to her room, but I quietly kept my seat
and finished my dinner, after which I went to my studies. In the
evening when I came down to supper I found that Bettina's bed had
been brought to the kitchen close by her mother's; but it was no
concern of mine, and I remained likewise perfectly indifferent to the
noise made during the night, and to the confusion which took place in
the morning, when she had a fresh fit of convulsions.
Doctor Gozzi and his father returned in the evening. Cordiani, who
felt uneasy, came to inquire from me what my intentions were, but I
rushed towards him with an open penknife in my hand, and he beat a
hasty retreat. I had entirely abandoned the idea of relating the
night's scandalous adventure to the doctor, for such a project I
could only entertain in a moment of excitement and rage. The next
day the mother came in while we were at our lesson, and told the
doctor, after a lengthened preamble, that she had discovered the
character of her daughter's illness; that it was caused by a spell
thrown over her by a witch, and that she knew the witch well.
"It may be, my dear mother, but we must be careful not to make a
mistake. Who is the witch?"
"Our old servant, and I have just had a proof of it."
"I have barred the door of my room with two broomsticks placed in the
shape of a cross, which she must have undone to go in; but when she
saw them she drew back, and she went round by the other door. It is
evident that, were she not a witch, she would not be afraid of
"It is not complete evidence, dear mother; send the woman to me."
The servant made her appearance.
"Why," said the doctor, "did you not enter my mother's room this
morning through the usual door?"
"I do not know what you mean."
"Did you not see the St. Andrew's cross on the door?"
"What cross is that?"
"It is useless to plead ignorance," said the mother; "where did you
sleep last Thursday night?"
"At my niece's, who had just been confined."
"Nothing of the sort. You were at the witches' Sabbath; you are a
witch, and have bewitched my daughter."
The poor woman, indignant at such an accusation, spits at her
mistress's face; the mistress, enraged, gets hold of a stick to give
the servant a drubbing; the doctor endeavours to keep his mother
back, but he is compelled to let her loose and to run after the
servant, who was hurrying down the stairs, screaming and howling in
order to rouse the neighbours; he catches her, and finally succeeds
in pacifying her with some money.
After this comical but rather scandalous exhibition, the doctor
donned his vestments for the purpose of exorcising his sister and of
ascertaining whether she was truly possessed of an unclean spirit.
The novelty of this mystery attracted the whole of my attention. All
the inmates of the house appeared to me either mad or stupid, for I
could not, for the life of me, imagine that diabolical spirits were
dwelling in Bettina's body. When we drew near her bed, her breathing
had, to all appearance, stopped, and the exorcisms of her brother did
not restore it. Doctor Olivo happened to come in at that moment, and
inquired whether he would be in the way; he was answered in the
negative, provided he had faith.
Upon which he left, saying that he had no faith in any miracles
except in those of the Gospel.
Soon after Doctor Gozzi went to his room, and finding myself alone
with Bettina I bent down over her bed and whispered in her ear.
"Take courage, get well again, and rely upon my discretion."
She turned her head towards the wall and did not answer me, but the
day passed off without any more convulsions. I thought I had cured
her, but on the following day the frenzy went up to the brain, and in
her delirium she pronounced at random Greek and Latin words without
any meaning, and then no doubt whatever was entertained of her being
possessed of the evil spirit. Her mother went out and returned soon,
accompanied by the most renowned exorcist of Padua, a very ill-
featured Capuchin, called Friar Prospero da Bovolenta.
The moment Bettina saw the exorcist, she burst into loud laughter,
and addressed to him the most offensive insults, which fairly
delighted everybody, as the devil alone could be bold enough to
address a Capuchin in such a manner; but the holy man, hearing
himself called an obtrusive ignoramus and a stinkard, went on
striking Bettina with a heavy crucifix, saying that he was beating
the devil. He stopped only when he saw her on the point of hurling
at him the chamber utensil which she had just seized. "If it is the
devil who has offended thee with his words," she said, "resent the
insult with words likewise, jackass that thou art, but if I have
offended thee myself, learn, stupid booby, that thou must respect me,
and be off at once."
I could see poor Doctor Gozzi blushing; the friar, however, held his
ground, and, armed at all points, began to read a terrible exorcism,
at the end of which he commanded the devil to state his name.
"My name is Bettina."
"It cannot be, for it is the name of a baptized girl."
"Then thou art of opinion that a devil must rejoice in a masculine
name? Learn, ignorant friar, that a devil is a spirit, and does not
belong to either sex. But as thou believest that a devil is speaking
to thee through my lips, promise to answer me with truth, and I will
engage to give way before thy incantations."
"Very well, I agree to this."
"Tell me, then, art thou thinking that thy knowledge is greater than
"No, but I believe myself more powerful in the name of the holy
Trinity, and by my sacred character."
"If thou art more powerful than I, then prevent me from telling thee
unpalatable truths. Thou art very vain of thy beard, thou art
combing and dressing it ten times a day, and thou would'st not shave
half of it to get me out of this body. Cut off thy beard, and I
promise to come out."
"Father of lies, I will increase thy punishment a hundred fold."
"I dare thee to do it."
After saying these words, Bettina broke into such a loud peal of
laughter, that I could not refrain from joining in it. The Capuchin,
turning towards Doctor Gozzi, told him that I was wanting in faith,
and that I ought to leave the room; which I did, remarking that he
had guessed rightly. I was not yet out of the room when the friar
offered his hand to Bettina for her to kiss, and I had the pleasure
of seeing her spit upon it.
This strange girl, full of extraordinary talent, made rare sport of
the friar, without causing any surprise to anyone, as all her answers
were attributed to the devil. I could not conceive what her purpose
was in playing such a part.
The Capuchin dined with us, and during the meal he uttered a good
deal of nonsense. After dinner, he returned to Bettina's chamber,
with the intention of blessing her, but as soon as she caught sight
of him, she took up a glass full of some black mixture sent from the
apothecary, and threw it at his head. Cordiani, being close by the
friar, came in for a good share of the liquid-an accident which
afforded me the greatest delight. Bettina was quite right to improve
her opportunity, as everything she did was, of course, put to the
account of the unfortunate devil. Not overmuch pleased, Friar
Prospero, as he left the house, told the doctor that there was no
doubt of the girl being possessed, but that another exorcist must be
sent for, since he had not, himself, obtained God's grace to eject
the evil spirit.
After he had gone, Bettina kept very calm for six hours, and in the
evening, to our great surprise, she joined us at the supper table.
She told her parents that she felt quite well, spoke to her brother,
and then, addressing me, she remarked that, the ball taking place on
the morrow, she would come to my room in the morning to dress my hair
like a girl's. I thanked her, and said that, as she had been so ill,
she ought to nurse herself. She soon retired to bed, and we remained
at the table, talking of her.
When I was undressing for the night, I took up my night-cap, and
found in it a small note with these words: "You must accompany me to
the ball, disguised as a girl, or I will give you a sight which will
cause you to weep."
I waited until the doctor was asleep, and I wrote the following
answer: "I cannot go to the ball, because I have fully made up my
mind to avoid every opportunity of being alone with you. As for the
painful sight with which you threaten to entertain me, I believe you
capable of keeping your word, but I entreat you to spare my heart,
for I love you as if you were my sister. I have forgiven you, dear
Bettina, and I wish to forget everything. I enclose a note which you
must be delighted to have again in your possession. You see what
risk you were running when you left it in your pocket. This
restitution must convince you of my friendship."
Bettina Is Supposed to Go Mad--Father Mancia--The Small-pox--
I Leave Padua
Bettina must have been in despair, not knowing into whose hands her
letter had fallen; to return it to her and thus to allay her anxiety,
was therefore a great proof of friendship; but my generosity, at the
same time that it freed her from a keen sorrow, must have caused her
another quite as dreadful, for she knew that I was master of her
secret. Cordiani's letter was perfectly explicit; it gave the
strongest evidence that she was in the habit of receiving him every
night, and therefore the story she had prepared to deceive me was
useless. I felt it was so, and, being disposed to calm her anxiety
as far as I could, I went to her bedside in the morning, and I placed
in her hands Cordiani's note and my answer to her letter.
The girl's spirit and talent had won my esteem; I could no longer
despise her; I saw in her only a poor creature seduced by her natural
temperament. She loved man, and was to be pitied only on account of
the consequences. Believing that the view I took of the situation
was a right one, I had resigned myself like a reasonable being, and
not like a disappointed lover. The shame was for her and not for me.
I had only one wish, namely, to find out whether the two brothers
Feltrini, Cordiani's companions, had likewise shared Bettina's
Bettina put on throughout the day a cheerful and happy look. In the
evening she dressed herself for the ball; but suddenly an attack of
sickness, whether feigned or real I did not know, compelled her to go
to bed, and frightened everybody in the house. As for myself,
knowing the whole affair, I was prepared for new scenes, and indeed
for sad ones, for I felt that I had obtained over her a power
repugnant to her vanity and self-love. I must, however, confess
that, in spite of the excellent school in which I found myself before
I had attained manhood, and which ought to have given me experience
as a shield for the future, I have through the whole of my life been
the dupe of women. Twelve years ago, if it had not been for my
guardian angel, I would have foolishly married a young, thoughtless
girl, with whom I had fallen in love: Now that I am seventy-two years
old I believe myself no longer susceptible of such follies; but,
alas! that is the very thing which causes me to be miserable.
The next day the whole family was deeply grieved because the devil of
whom Bettina was possessed had made himself master of her reason.
Doctor Gozzi told me that there could not be the shadow of a doubt
that his unfortunate sister was possessed, as, if she had only been
mad, she never would have so cruelly ill-treated the Capuchin,
Prospero, and he determined to place her under the care of Father
This Mancia was a celebrated Jacobin (or Dominican) exorcist, who
enjoyed the reputation of never having failed to cure a girl
possessed of the demon.
Sunday had come; Bettina had made a good dinner, but she had been
frantic all through the day. Towards midnight her father came home,
singing Tasso as usual, and so drunk that he could not stand. He
went up to Bettina's bed, and after kissing her affectionately he
said to her: "Thou art not mad, my girl."
Her answer was that he was not drunk.
"Thou art possessed of the devil, my dear child."
"Yes, father, and you alone can cure me."
"Well, I am ready."
Upon this our shoemaker begins a theological discourse, expatiating
upon the power of faith and upon the virtue of the paternal blessing.
He throws off his cloak, takes a crucifix with one hand, places the
other over the head of his daughter, and addresses the devil in such
an amusing way that even his wife, always a stupid, dull, cross-
grained old woman, had to laugh till the tears came down her cheeks.
The two performers in the comedy alone were not laughing, and their
serious countenance added to the fun of the performance. I marvelled
at Bettina (who was always ready to enjoy a good laugh) having
sufficient control over herself to remain calm and grave. Doctor
Gozzi had also given way to merriment; but begged that the farce
should come to an end, for he deemed that his father's eccentricities
were as many profanations against the sacredness of exorcism. At
last the exorcist, doubtless tired out, went to bed saying that he
was certain that the devil would not disturb his daughter during the
On the morrow, just as we had finished our breakfast, Father Mancia
made his appearance. Doctor Gozzi, followed by the whole family,
escorted him to his sister's bedside. As for me, I was entirely
taken up by the face of the monk. Here is his portrait. His figure
was tall and majestic, his age about thirty; he had light hair and
blue eyes; his features were those of Apollo, but without his pride
and assuming haughtiness; his complexion, dazzling white, was pale,
but that paleness seemed to have been given for the very purpose of
showing off the red coral of his lips, through which could be seen,
when they opened, two rows of pearls. He was neither thin nor stout,
and the habitual sadness of his countenance enhanced its sweetness.
His gait was slow, his air timid, an indication of the great modesty
of his mind.
When we entered the room Bettina was asleep, or pretended to be so.
Father Mancia took a sprinkler and threw over her a few drops of holy
water; she opened her eyes, looked at the monk, and closed them
immediately; a little while after she opened them again, had a better
look at him, laid herself on her back, let her arms droop down
gently, and with her head prettily bent on one side she fell into the
sweetest of slumbers.
The exorcist, standing by the bed, took out his pocket ritual and the
stole which he put round his neck, then a reliquary, which he placed
on the bosom of the sleeping girl, and with the air of a saint he
begged all of us to fall on our knees and to pray, so that God should
let him know whether the patient was possessed or only labouring
under a natural disease. He kept us kneeling for half an hour,
reading all the time in a low tone of voice. Bettina did not stir.
Tired, I suppose, of the performance, he desired to speak privately
with Doctor Gozzi. They passed into the next room, out of which they
emerged after a quarter of an hour, brought back by a loud peal of
laughter from the mad girl, who, when she saw them, turned her back
on them. Father Mancia smiled, dipped the sprinkler over and over in
the holy water, gave us all a generous shower, and took his leave.
Doctor Gozzi told us that the exorcist would come again on the
morrow, and that he had promised to deliver Bettina within three
hours if she were truly possessed of the demon, but that he made no
promise if it should turn out to be a case of madness. The mother
exclaimed that he would surely deliver her, and she poured out her
thanks to God for having allowed her the grace of beholding a saint
before her death.
The following day Bettina was in a fine frenzy. She began to utter
the most extravagant speeches that a poet could imagine, and did not
stop when the charming exorcist came into her room; he seemed to
enjoy her foolish talk for a few minutes, after which, having armed
himself 'cap-a-pie', he begged us to withdraw. His order was obeyed
instantly; we left the chamber, and the door remained open. But what
did it matter? Who would have been bold enough to go in?
During three long hours we heard nothing; the stillness was unbroken.
At noon the monk called us in. Bettina was there sad and very quiet
while the exorcist packed up his things. He took his departure,
saying he had very good hopes of the case, and requesting that the
doctor would send him news of the patient. Bettina partook of dinner
in her bed, got up for supper, and the next day behaved herself
rationally; but the following circumstance strengthened my opinion
that she had been neither insane nor possessed.
It was two days before the Purification of the Holy Virgin. Doctor
Gozzi was in the habit of giving us the sacrament in his own church,
but he always sent us for our confession to the church of Saint-
Augustin, in which the Jacobins of Padua officiated. At the supper
table, he told us to prepare ourselves for the next day, and his
mother, addressing us, said: "You ought, all of you, to confess to
Father Mancia, so as to obtain absolution from that holy man. I
intend to go to him myself." Cordiani and the two Feltrini agreed to
the proposal; I remained silent, but as the idea was unpleasant to
me, I concealed the feeling, with a full determination to prevent the
execution of the project.
I had entire confidence in the secrecy of confession, and I was
incapable of making a false one, but knowing that I had a right to
choose my confessor, I most certainly never would have been so simple
as to confess to Father Mancia what had taken place between me and a
girl, because he would have easily guessed that the girl could be no
other but Bettina. Besides, I was satisfied that Cordiani would
confess everything to the monk, and I was deeply sorry.
Early the next morning, Bettina brought me a band for my neck, and
gave me the following letter: "Spurn me, but respect my honour and
the shadow of peace to which I aspire. No one from this house must
confess to Father Mancia; you alone can prevent the execution of
that project, and I need not suggest the way to succeed. It will
prove whether you have some friendship for me."
I could not express the pity I felt for the poor girl, as I read that
note. In spite of that feeling, this is what I answered: "I can well
understand that, notwithstanding the inviolability of confession,
your mother's proposal should cause you great anxiety; but I cannot
see why, in order to prevent its execution, you should depend upon me
rather than upon Cordiani who has expressed his acceptance of it.
All I can promise you is that I will not be one of those who may go
to Father Mancia; but I have no influence over your lover; you alone
can speak to him."
She replied: "I have never addressed a word to Cordiani since the
fatal night which has sealed my misery, and I never will speak to him
again, even if I could by so doing recover my lost happiness. To you
alone I wish to be indebted for my life and for my honour."
This girl appeared to me more wonderful than all the heroines of whom
I had read in novels. It seemed to me that she was making sport of
me with the most barefaced effrontery. I thought she was trying to
fetter me again with her chains; and although I had no inclination
for them, I made up my mind to render her the service she claimed at
my hands, and which she believed I alone could compass. She felt
certain of her success, but in what school had she obtained her
experience of the human heart? Was it in reading novels? Most
likely the reading of a certain class of novels causes the ruin of a
great many young girls, but I am of opinion that from good romances
they acquire graceful manners and a knowledge of society.
Having made up my mind to shew her every kindness in my power, I took
an opportunity, as we were undressing for the night, of telling
Doctor Gozzi that, for conscientious motives, I could not confess to
Father Mancia, and yet that I did not wish to be an exception in that
matter. He kindly answered that he understood my reasons, and that
he would take us all to the church of Saint-Antoine. I kissed his
hand in token of my gratitude.
On the following day, everything having gone according to her wishes,
I saw Bettina sit down to the table with a face beaming with
satisfaction. In the afternoon I had to go to bed in consequence of
a wound in my foot; the doctor accompanied his pupils to church; and
Bettina being alone, availed herself of the opportunity, came to my
room and sat down on my bed. I had expected her visit, and I
received it with pleasure, as it heralded an explanation for which I
was positively longing.
She began by expressing a hope that I would not be angry with her for
seizing the first opportunity she had of some conversation with me.
"No," I answered, "for you thus afford me an occasion of assuring you
that, my feelings towards you being those of a friend only, you need
not have any fear of my causing you any anxiety or displeasure.
Therefore Bettina, you may do whatever suits you; my love is no more.
You have at one blow given the death-stroke to the intense passion
which was blossoming in my heart. When I reached my room, after the
ill-treatment I had experienced at Cordiani's hands, I felt for you
nothing but hatred; that feeling soon merged into utter contempt, but
that sensation itself was in time, when my mind recovered its
balance, changed for a feeling of the deepest indifference, which
again has given way when I saw what power there is in your mind. I
have now become your friend; I have conceived the greatest esteem for
your cleverness. I have been the dupe of it, but no matter; that
talent of yours does exist, it is wonderful, divine, I admire it, I
love it, and the highest homage I can render to it is, in my
estimation, to foster for the possessor of it the purest feelings of
friendship. Reciprocate that friendship, be true, sincere, and plain
dealing. Give up all nonsense, for you have already obtained from me
all I can give you. The very thought of love is repugnant to me; I
can bestow my love only where I feel certain of being the only one
loved. You are at liberty to lay my foolish delicacy to the account
of my youthful age, but I feel so, and I cannot help it. You have
written to me that you never speak to Cordiani; if I am the cause of
that rupture between you, I regret it, and I think that, in the
interest of your honour, you would do well to make it up with him;
for the future I must be careful never to give him any grounds for
umbrage or suspicion. Recollect also that, if you have tempted him
by the same manoeuvres which you have employed towards me, you are
doubly wrong, for it may be that, if he truly loves you, you have
caused him to be miserable."
"All you have just said to me," answered Bettina, "is grounded upon
false impressions and deceptive appearances. I do not love Cordiani,
and I never had any love for him; on the contrary, I have felt, and I
do feel, for him a hatred which he has richly deserved, and I hope to
convince you, in spite of every appearance which seems to convict me.
As to the reproach of seduction, I entreat you to spare me such an
accusation. On our side, consider that, if you had not yourself
thrown temptation in my way, I never would have committed towards you
an action of which I have deeply repented, for reasons which you do
not know, but which you must learn from me. The fault I have been
guilty of is a serious one only because I did not foresee the injury
it would do me in the inexperienced mind of the ingrate who dares to
reproach me with it."
Bettina was shedding tears: all she had said was not unlikely and
rather complimentary to my vanity, but I had seen too much. Besides,
I knew the extent of her cleverness, and it was very natural to lend
her a wish to deceive me; how could I help thinking that her visit to
me was prompted only by her self-love being too deeply wounded to let
me enjoy a victory so humiliating to herself? Therefore, unshaken in
my preconceived opinion, I told her that I placed implicit confidence
in all she had just said respecting the state of her heart previous
to the playful nonsense which had been the origin of my love for her,
and that I promised never in the future to allude again to my
accusation of seduction. "But," I continued, "confess that the fire
at that time burning in your bosom was only of short duration, and
that the slightest breath of wind had been enough to extinguish it.
Your virtue, which went astray for only one instant, and which has so
suddenly recovered its mastery over your senses, deserves some
praise. You, with all your deep adoring love for me, became all at
once blind to my sorrow, whatever care I took to make it clear to
your sight. It remains for me to learn how that virtue could be so
very dear to you, at the very time that Cordiani took care to wreck
it every night."
Bettina eyed me with the air of triumph which perfect confidence in
victory gives to a person, and said: "You have just reached the point
where I wished you to be. You shall now be made aware of things
which I could not explain before, owing to your refusing the
appointment which I then gave you for no other purpose than to tell
you all the truth. Cordiani declared his love for me a week after he
became an inmate in our house; he begged my consent to a marriage, if
his father made the demand of my hand as soon as he should have
completed his studies. My answer was that I did not know him
sufficiently, that I could form no idea on the subject, and I
requested him not to allude to it any more. He appeared to have
quietly given up the matter, but soon after, I found out that it was
not the case; he begged me one day to come to his room now and then
to dress his hair; I told him I had no time to spare, and he remarked
that you were more fortunate. I laughed at this reproach, as
everyone here knew that I had the care of you. It was a fortnight
after my refusal to Cordiani, that I unfortunately spent an hour with
you in that loving nonsense which has naturally given you ideas until
then unknown to your senses. That hour made me very happy: I loved
you, and having given way to very natural desires, I revelled in my
enjoyment without the slightest remorse of conscience. I was longing
to be again with you the next morning, but after supper, misfortune
laid for the first time its hand upon me. Cordiani slipped in my
hands this note and this letter which I have since hidden in a hole
in the wall, with the intention of shewing them to you at the first
Saying this, Bettina handed me the note and the letter; the first ran
as follows: "Admit me this evening in your closet, the door of which,
leading to the yard, can be left ajar, or prepare yourself to make
the best of it with the doctor, to whom I intend to deliver, if you
should refuse my request, the letter of which I enclose a copy."
The letter contained the statement of a cowardly and enraged
informer, and would certainly have caused the most unpleasant
results. In that letter Cordiani informed the doctor that his sister
spent her mornings with me in criminal connection while he was saying
his mass, and he pledged himself to enter into particulars which
would leave him no doubt.
"After giving to the case the consideration it required," continued
Bettina, "I made up my mind to hear that monster; but my
determination being fixed, I put in my pocket my father's stilletto,
and holding my door ajar I waited for him there, unwilling to let him
come in, as my closet is divided only by a thin partition from the
room of my father, whom the slightest noise might have roused up. My
first question to Cordiani was in reference to the slander contained
in the letter he threatened to deliver to my brother: he answered
that it was no slander, for he had been a witness to everything that
had taken place in the morning through a hole he had bored in the
garret just above your bed, and to which he would apply his eye the
moment he knew that I was in your room. He wound up by threatening
to discover everything to my brother and to my mother, unless I
granted him the same favours I had bestowed upon you. In my just
indignation I loaded him with the most bitter insults, I called him a
cowardly spy and slanderer, for he could not have seen anything but
childish playfulness, and I declared to him that he need not flatter
himself that any threat would compel me to give the slightest
compliance to his wishes. He then begged and begged my pardon a
thousand times, and went on assuring me that I must lay to my rigour
the odium of the step he had taken, the only excuse for it being in
the fervent love I had kindled in his heart, and which made him
miserable. He acknowledged that his letter might be a slander, that
he had acted treacherously, and he pledged his honour never to
attempt obtaining from me by violence favours which he desired to
merit only by the constancy of his love. I then thought myself to
some extent compelled to say that I might love him at some future
time, and to promise that I would not again come near your bed during
the absence of my brother. In this way I dismissed him satisfied,
without his daring to beg for so much as a kiss, but with the promise
that we might now and then have some conversation in the same place.
As soon as he left me I went to bed, deeply grieved that I could no
longer see you in the absence of my brother, and that I was unable,
for fear of consequences, to let you know the reason of my change.
Three weeks passed off in that position, and I cannot express what
have been my sufferings, for you, of course, urged me to come, and I
was always under the painful necessity of disappointing you. I even
feared to find myself alone with you, for I felt certain that I could
not have refrained from telling you the cause of the change in my
conduct. To crown my misery, add that I found myself compelled, at
least once a week, to receive the vile Cordiani outside of my room,
and to speak to him, in order to check his impatience with a few
words. At last, unable to bear up any longer under such misery,
threatened likewise by you, I determined to end my agony. I wished
to disclose to you all this intrigue, leaving to you the care of
bringing a change for the better, and for that purpose I proposed
that you should accompany me to the ball disguised as a girl,
although I knew it would enrage Cordiani; but my mind was made up.
You know how my scheme fell to the ground. The unexpected departure
of my brother with my father suggested to both of you the same idea,
and it was before receiving Cordiani's letter that I promised to come
to you. Cordiani did not ask for an appointment; he only stated that
he would be waiting for me in my closet, and I had no opportunity of
telling him that I could not allow him to come, any more than I could
find time to let you know that I would be with you only after
midnight, as I intended to do, for I reckoned that after an hour's
talk I would dismiss the wretch to his room. But my reckoning was
wrong; Cordiani had conceived a scheme, and I could not help
listening to all he had to say about it. His whining and exaggerated
complaints had no end. He upbraided me for refusing to further the
plan he had concocted, and which he thought I would accept with
rapture if I loved him. The scheme was for me to elope with him
during holy week, and to run away to Ferrara, where he had an uncle
who would have given us a kind welcome, and would soon have brought
his father to forgive him and to insure our happiness for life. The
objections I made, his answers, the details to be entered into, the
explanations and the ways and means to be examined to obviate the
difficulties of the project, took up the whole night. My heart was
bleeding as I thought of you; but my conscience is at rest, and I did
nothing that could render me unworthy of your esteem. You cannot
refuse it to me, unless you believe that the confession I have just
made is untrue; but you would be both mistaken and unjust. Had I
made up my mind to sacrifice myself and to grant favours which love
alone ought to obtain, I might have got rid of the treacherous wretch
within one hour, but death seemed preferable to such a dreadful
expedient. Could I in any way suppose that you were outside of my
door, exposed to the wind and to the snow? Both of us were
deserving of pity, but my misery was still greater than yours. All
these fearful circumstances were written in the book of fate, to make
me lose my reason, which now returns only at intervals, and I am in
constant dread of a fresh attack of those awful convulsions. They
say I am bewitched, and possessed of the demon; I do not know
anything about it, but if it should be true I am the most miserable
creature in existence." Bettina ceased speaking, and burst into a
violent storm of tears, sobs, and groans. I was deeply moved,
although I felt that all she had said might be true, and yet was
scarcely worthy of belief:
'Forse era ver, ma non pero credibile
A chi del senso suo fosse signor.'
But she was weeping, and her tears, which at all events were not
deceptive, took away from me the faculty of doubt. Yet I put her
tears to the account of her wounded self-love; to give way entirely I
needed a thorough conviction, and to obtain it evidence was
necessary, probability was not enough. I could not admit either
Cordiani's moderation or Bettina's patience, or the fact of seven
hours employed in innocent conversation. In spite of all these
considerations, I felt a sort of pleasure in accepting for ready cash
all the counterfeit coins that she had spread out before me.
After drying her tears, Bettina fixed her beautiful eyes upon mine,
thinking that she could discern in them evident signs of her victory;
but I surprised her much by alluding to one point which, with all her
cunning, she had neglected to mention in her defence. Rhetoric makes
use of nature's secrets in the same way as painters who try to
imitate it: their most beautiful work is false. This young girl,
whose mind had not been refined by study, aimed at being considered
innocent and artless, and she did her best to succeed, but I had seen
too good a specimen of her cleverness.
"Well, my dear Bettina," I said, "your story has affected me; but how
do you think I am going to accept your convulsions as natural, and to
believe in the demoniac symptoms which came on so seasonably during
the exorcisms, although you very properly expressed your doubts on
Hearing this, Bettina stared at me, remaining silent for a few
minutes, then casting her eyes down she gave way to fresh tears,
exclaiming now and then: "Poor me! oh, poor me!" This situation,
however, becoming most painful to me, I asked what I could do for
her. She answered in a sad tone that if my heart did not suggest to
me what to do, she did not herself see what she could demand of me.
"I thought," said she, "that I would reconquer my lost influence over
your heart, but, I see it too plainly, you no longer feel an interest
in me. Go on treating me harshly; go on taking for mere fictions
sufferings which are but too real, which you have caused, and which
you will now increase. Some day, but too late, you will be sorry,
and your repentance will be bitter indeed."
As she pronounced these words she rose to take her leave; but judging
her capable of anything I felt afraid, and I detained her to say that
the only way to regain my affection was to remain one month without
convulsions and without handsome Father Mancia's presence being
"I cannot help being convulsed," she answered, "but what do you mean
by applying to the Jacobin that epithet of handsome? Could you
"Not at all, not at all--I suppose nothing; to do so would be
necessary for me to be jealous. But I cannot help saying that the
preference given by your devils to the exorcism of that handsome monk
over the incantations of the ugly Capuchin is likely to give birth to
remarks rather detrimental to your honour. Moreover, you are free to
do whatever pleases you."
Thereupon she left my room, and a few minutes later everybody came
After supper the servant, without any question on my part, informed
me that Bettina had gone to bed with violent feverish chills, having
previously had her bed carried into the kitchen beside her mother's.
This attack of fever might be real, but I had my doubts. I felt
certain that she would never make up her mind to be well, for her
good health would have supplied me with too strong an argument
against her pretended innocence, even in the case of Cordiani; I
likewise considered her idea of having her bed placed near her
mother's nothing but artful contrivance.
The next day Doctor Olivo found her very feverish, and told her
brother that she would most likely be excited and delirious, but that
it would be the effect of the fever and not the work of the devil.
And truly, Bettina was raving all day, but Dr. Gozzi, placing
implicit confidence in the physician, would not listen to his mother,
and did not send for the Jacobin friar. The fever increased in
violence, and on the fourth day the small-pox broke out. Cordiani
and the two brothers Feitrini, who had so far escaped that disease,
were immediately sent away, but as I had had it before I remained at
The poor girl was so fearfully covered with the loathsome eruption,
that on the sixth day her skin could not be seen on any part of her
body. Her eyes closed, and her life was despaired of, when it was
found that her mouth and throat were obstructed to such a degree that
she could swallow nothing but a few drops of honey. She was
perfectly motionless; she breathed and that was all. Her mother
never left her bedside, and I was thought a saint when I carried my
table and my books into the patient's room. The unfortunate girl had
become a fearful sight to look upon; her head was dreadfully swollen,
the nose could no longer be seen, and much fear was entertained for
her eyes, in case her life should be spared. The odour of her
perspiration was most offensive, but I persisted in keeping my watch
On the ninth day, the vicar gave her absolution, and after
administering extreme unction, he left her, as he said, in the hands
of God. In the midst of so much sadness, the conversation of the
mother with her son, would, in spite of myself, cause me some amount
of merriment. The good woman wanted to know whether the demon who
was dwelling in her child could still influence her to perform
extravagant follies, and what would become of the demon in the case
of her daughter's death, for, as she expressed it, she could not
think of his being so stupid as to remain in so loathsome a body.
She particularly wanted to ascertain whether the demon had power to
carry off the soul of her child. Doctor Gozzi, who was an
ubiquitarian, made to all those questions answers which had not even
the shadow of good sense, and which of course had no other effect
than to increase a hundred-fold the perplexity of his poor mother.
During the tenth and eleventh days, Bettina was so bad that we
thought every moment likely to be her last. The disease had reached
its worst period; the smell was unbearable; I alone would not leave
her, so sorely did I pity her. The heart of man is indeed an
unfathomable abyss, for, however incredible it may appear, it was
while in that fearful state that Bettina inspired me with the
fondness which I showed her after her recovery.
On the thirteenth day the fever abated, but the patient began to
experience great irritation, owing to a dreadful itching, which no
remedy could have allayed as effectually as these powerful words
which I kept constantly pouring into her ear: "Bettina, you are
getting better; but if you dare to scratch yourself, you will become
such a fright that nobody will ever love you." All the physicians in
the universe might be challenged to prescribe a more potent remedy
against itching for a girl who, aware that she has been pretty, finds
herself exposed to the loss of her beauty through her own fault, if
she scratches herself.
At last her fine eyes opened again to the light of heaven; she was
moved to her own room, but she had to keep her bed until Easter. She
inoculated me with a few pocks, three of which have left upon my face
everlasting marks; but in her eyes they gave me credit for great
devotedness, for they were a proof of my constant care, and she felt
that I indeed deserved her whole love. And she truly loved me, and I
returned her love, although I never plucked a flower which fate and
prejudice kept in store for a husband. But what a contemptible
Two years later she married a shoemaker, by name Pigozzo--a base,
arrant knave who beggared and ill-treated her to such an extent that
her brother had to take her home and to provide for her. Fifteen
years afterwards, having been appointed arch-priest at Saint-George
de la Vallee, he took her there with him, and when I went to pay him
a visit eighteen years ago, I found Bettina old, ill, and dying. She
breathed her last in my arms in 1776, twenty-four hours after my
arrival. I will speak of her death in good time.
About that period, my mother returned from St. Petersburg, where the
Empress Anne Iwanowa had not approved of the Italian comedy. The
whole of the troop had already returned to Italy, and my mother had
travelled with Carlin Bertinazzi, the harlequin, who died in Paris in
the year 1783. As soon as she had reached Padua, she informed Doctor
Gozzi of her arrival, and he lost no time in accompanying me to the
inn where she had put up. We dined with her, and before bidding us
adieu, she presented the doctor with a splendid fur, and gave me the
skin of a lynx for Bettina. Six months afterwards she summoned me to
Venice, as she wished to see me before leaving for Dresden, where she
had contracted an engagement for life in the service of the Elector
of Saxony, Augustus III., King of Poland. She took with her my
brother Jean, then eight years old, who was weeping bitterly when he
left; I thought him very foolish, for there was nothing very tragic
in that departure. He is the only one in the family who was wholly
indebted to our mother for his fortune, although he was not her
I spent another year in Padua, studying law in which I took the
degree of Doctor in my sixteenth year, the subject of my thesis being
in the civil law, 'de testamentis', and in the canon law, 'utrum
Hebraei possint construere novas synagogas'.
My vocation was to study medicine, and to practice it, for I felt a
great inclination for that profession, but no heed was given to my
wishes, and I was compelled to apply myself to the study of the law,
for which I had an invincible repugnance. My friends were of opinion
that I could not make my fortune in any profession but that of an
advocate, and, what is still worse, of an ecclesiastical advocate.
If they had given the matter proper consideration, they would have
given me leave to follow my own inclinations, and I would have been a
physician--a profession in which quackery is of still greater avail
than in the legal business. I never became either a physician or an
advocate, and I never would apply to a lawyer, when I had any legal
business, nor call in a physician when I happened to be ill.
Lawsuits and pettifoggery may support a good many families, but a
greater proportion is ruined by them, and those who perish in the
hands, of physicians are more numerous by far than those who get
cured strong evidence in my opinion, that mankind would be much less
miserable without either lawyers or doctors.
To attend the lectures of the professors, I had to go to the
university called the Bo, and it became necessary for me to go out
alone. This was a matter of great wonder to me, for until then I had
never considered myself a free man; and in my wish to enjoy fully the
liberty I thought I had just conquered, it was not long before I had
made the very worst acquaintances amongst the most renowned students.
As a matter of course, the most renowned were the most worthless,
dissolute fellows, gamblers, frequenters of disorderly houses, hard
drinkers, debauchees, tormentors and suborners of honest girls,
liars, and wholly incapable of any good or virtuous feeling. In the
company of such men did I begin my apprenticeship of the world,
learning my lesson from the book of experience.
The theory of morals and its usefulness through the life of man can
be compared to the advantage derived by running over the index of a
book before reading it when we have perused that index we know
nothing but the subject of the work. This is like the school for
morals offered by the sermons, the precepts, and the tales which our
instructors recite for our especial benefit. We lend our whole
attention to those lessons, but when an opportunity offers of
profiting by the advice thus bestowed upon us, we feel inclined to
ascertain for ourselves whether the result will turn out as
predicted; we give way to that very natural inclination, and
punishment speedily follows with concomitant repentance. Our only
consolation lies in the fact that in such moments we are conscious of
our own knowledge, and consider ourselves as having earned the right
to instruct others; but those to whom we wish to impart our
experience act exactly as we have acted before them, and, as a matter
of course, the world remains in statu quo, or grows worse and worse.
When Doctor Gozzi granted me the privilege of going out alone, he
gave me an opportunity for the discovery of several truths which,
until then, were not only unknown to me, but the very existence of
which I had never suspected. On my first appearance, the boldest
scholars got hold of me and sounded my depth. Finding that I was a
thorough freshman, they undertook my education, and with that worthy
purpose in view they allowed me to fall blindly into every trap.
They taught me gambling, won the little I possessed, and then they
made me play upon trust, and put me up to dishonest practices in
order to procure the means of paying my gambling debts; but I
acquired at the same time the sad experience of sorrow! Yet these
hard lessons proved useful, for they taught me to mistrust the
impudent sycophants who openly flatter their dupes, and never to rely
upon the offers made by fawning flatterers. They taught me likewise
how to behave in the company of quarrelsome duellists, the society of
whom ought to be avoided, unless we make up our mind to be constantly
in the very teeth of danger. I was not caught in the snares of
professional lewd women, because not one of them was in my eyes as
pretty as Bettina, but I did not resist so well the desire for that
species of vain glory which is the reward of holding life at a cheap
In those days the students in Padua enjoyed very great privileges,
which were in reality abuses made legal through prescription, the
primitive characteristic of privileges, which differ essentially from
prerogatives. In fact, in order to maintain the legality of their
privileges, the students often committed crimes. The guilty were
dealt with tenderly, because the interest of the city demanded that
severity should not diminish the great influx of scholars who flocked
to that renowned university from every part of Europe. The practice
of the Venetian government was to secure at a high salary the most
celebrated professors, and to grant the utmost freedom to the young
men attending their lessons. The students acknowledged no authority
but that of a chief, chosen among themselves, and called syndic. He
was usually a foreign nobleman, who could keep a large establishment,
and who was responsible to the government for the behaviour of the
scholars. It was his duty to give them up to justice when they
transgressed the laws, and the students never disputed his sentence,
because he always defended them to the utmost, when they had the
slightest shadow of right on their side.
The students, amongst other privileges, would not suffer their trunks
to be searched by customhouse authorities, and no ordinary policeman
would have dared to arrest one of them. They carried about them
forbidden weapons, seduced helpless girls, and often disturbed the
public peace by their nocturnal broils and impudent practical jokes;
in one word, they were a body of young fellows, whom nothing could
restrain, who would gratify every whim, and enjoy their sport without
regard or consideration for any human being.
It was about that time that a policeman entered a coffee-room, in
which were seated two students. One of them ordered him out, but the
man taking no notice of it, the student fired a pistol at him, and
missed his aim. The policeman returned the fire, wounded the
aggressor, and ran away. The students immediately mustered together
at the Bo, divided into bands, and went over the city, hunting the
policemen to murder them, and avenge the insult they had received.
In one of the encounters two of the students were killed, and all the
others, assembling in one troop, swore never to lay their arms down
as long as there should be one policeman alive in Padua. The
authorities had to interfere, and the syndic of the students
undertook to put a stop to hostilities provided proper satisfaction
was given, as the police were in the wrong. The man who had shot the
student in the coffee-room was hanged, and peace was restored; but
during the eight days of agitation, as I was anxious not to appear
less brave than my comrades who were patrolling the city, I followed
them in spite of Doctor Gozzi's remonstrances. Armed with a carbine
and a pair of pistols, I ran about the town with the others, in quest
of the enemy, and I recollect how disappointed I was because the
troop to which I belonged did not meet one policeman. When the war
was over, the doctor laughed at me, but Bettina admired my valour.
Unfortunately, I indulged in expenses far above my means, owing to my
unwillingness to seem poorer than my new friends. I sold or pledged
everything I possessed, and I contracted debts which I could not
possibly pay. This state of things caused my first sorrows, and they
are the most poignant sorrows under which a young man can smart. Not
knowing which way to turn, I wrote to my excellent grandmother,
begging her assistance, but instead of sending me some money, she
came to Padua on the 1st of October, 1739, and, after thanking the
doctor and Bettina for all their affectionate care, she bought me
back to Venice. As he took leave of me, the doctor, who was shedding
tears, gave me what he prized most on earth; a relic of some saint,
which perhaps I might have kept to this very day, had not the setting
been of gold. It performed only one miracle, that of being of
service to me in a moment of great need. Whenever I visited Padua,
to complete my study of the law, I stayed at the house of the kind
doctor, but I was always grieved at seeing near Bettina the brute to
whom she was engaged, and who did not appear to me deserving of such
a wife. I have always regretted that a prejudice, of which I soon
got rid, should have made me preserve for that man a flower which I
could have plucked so easily.
I receive the minor orders from the patriarch of Venice--I get
acquainted with Senator Malipiero, with Therese Imer, with the niece
of the Curate, with Madame Orio, with Nanette and Marton, and with
the Cavamacchia--I become a preacher--my adventure with Lucie at
Pasean A rendezvous on the third story.
"He comes from Padua, where he has completed his studies." Such were
the words by which I was everywhere introduced, and which, the moment
they were uttered, called upon me the silent observation of every
young man of my age and condition, the compliments of all fathers,
and the caresses of old women, as well as the kisses of a few who,
although not old, were not sorry to be considered so for the sake of
embracing a young man without impropriety. The curate of Saint-
Samuel, the Abbe Josello, presented me to Monsignor Correre,
Patriarch of Venice, who gave me the tonsure, and who, four months
afterwards, by special favour, admitted me to the four minor orders.
No words could express the joy and the pride of my grandmother.
Excellent masters were given to me to continue my studies, and M.
Baffo chose the Abbe Schiavo to teach me a pure Italian style,
especially poetry, for which I had a decided talent. I was very
comfortably lodged with my brother Francois, who was studying
theatrical architecture. My sister and my youngest brother were
living with our grandam in a house of her own, in which it was her
wish to die, because her husband had there breathed his last. The
house in which I dwelt was the same in which my father had died, and
the rent of which my mother continued to pay. It was large and well
Although Abbe Grimani was my chief protector, I seldom saw him, and I
particularly attached myself to M. de Malipiero, to whom I had been
presented by the Curate Josello. M. de Malipiero was a senator, who
was unwilling at seventy years of age to attend any more to State
affairs, and enjoyed a happy, sumptuous life in his mansion,
surrounded every evening by a well-chosen party of ladies who had all
known how to make the best of their younger days, and of gentlemen
who were always acquainted with the news of the town. He was a
bachelor and wealthy, but, unfortunately, he had three or four times
every year severe attacks of gout, which always left him crippled in
some part or other of his body, so that all his person was disabled.
His head, his lungs, and his stomach had alone escaped this cruel
havoc. He was still a fine man, a great epicure, and a good judge of
wine; his wit was keen, his knowledge of the world extensive, his
eloquence worthy of a son of Venice, and he had that wisdom which
must naturally belong to a senator who for forty years has had the
management of public affairs, and to a man who has bid farewell to
women after having possessed twenty mistresses, and only when he felt
himself compelled to acknowledge that he could no longer be accepted
by any woman. Although almost entirely crippled, he did not appear
to be so when he was seated, when he talked, or when he was at table.
He had only one meal a day, and always took it alone because, being
toothless and unable to eat otherwise than very slowly, he did not
wish to hurry himself out of compliment to his guests, and would have
been sorry to see them waiting for him. This feeling deprived him of
the pleasure he would have enjoyed in entertaining at his board
friendly and agreeable guests, and caused great sorrow to his
The first time I had the honour of being introduced to him by the
curate, I opposed earnestly the reason which made him eat his meals
in solitude, and I said that his excellency had only to invite guests
whose appetite was good enough to enable them to eat a double share.
"But where can I find such table companions?" he asked.
"It is rather a delicate matter," I answered; "but you must take your
guests on trial, and after they have been found such as you wish them
to be, the only difficulty will be to keep them as your guests
without their being aware of the real cause of your preference, for
no respectable man could acknowledge that he enjoys the honour of
sitting at your excellency's table only because he eats twice as much
as any other man."
The senator understood the truth of my argument, and asked the curate
to bring me to dinner on the following day. He found my practice
even better than my theory, and I became his daily guest.
This man, who had given up everything in life except his own self,
fostered an amorous inclination, in spite of his age and of his gout.
He loved a young girl named Therese Imer, the daughter of an actor
residing near his mansion, her bedroom window being opposite to his
own. This young girl, then in her seventeenth year, was pretty,
whimsical, and a regular coquette. She was practising music with a
view to entering the theatrical profession, and by showing herself
constantly at the window she had intoxicated the old senator, and was
playing with him cruelly. She paid him a daily visit, but always
escorted by her mother, a former actress, who had retired from the
stage in order to work out her salvation, and who, as a matter of
course, had made up her mind to combine the interests of heaven with
the works of this world. She took her daughter to mass every day and
compelled her to go to confession every week; but every afternoon she
accompanied her in a visit to the amorous old man, the rage of whom
frightened me when she refused him a kiss under the plea that she had
performed her devotions in the morning, and that she could not
reconcile herself to the idea of offending the God who was still
dwelling in her.
What a sight for a young man of fifteen like me, whom the old man
admitted as the only and silent witness of these erotic scenes! The
miserable mother applauded her daughter's reserve, and went so far as
to lecture the elderly lover, who, in his turn, dared not refute her
maxims, which savoured either too much or too little of Christianity,
and resisted a very strong inclination to hurl at her head any object
he had at hand. Anger would then take the place of lewd desires, and
after they had retired he would comfort himself by exchanging with me
Compelled to answer him, and not knowing well what to say, I ventured
one day upon advising a marriage. He struck me with amazement when
he answered that she refused to marry him from fear of drawing upon
herself the hatred of his relatives.
"Then make her the offer of a large sum of money, or a position."
"She says that she would not, even for a crown, commit a deadly sin."
"In that case, you must either take her by storm, or banish her for
ever from your presence."
"I can do neither one nor the other; physical as well as moral
strength is deficient in me."
"Kill her, then."
"That will very likely be the case unless I die first."
"Indeed I pity your excellency."
"Do you sometimes visit her?"
"No, for I might fall in love with her, and I would be miserable."
"You are right."
Witnessing many such scenes, and taking part in many similar
conversations, I became an especial favourite with the old nobleman.
I was invited to his evening assemblies which were, as I have stated
before, frequented by superannuated women and witty men. He told me
that in this circle I would learn a science of greater import than
Gassendi's philosophy, which I was then studying by his advice
instead of Aristotle's, which he turned into ridicule. He laid down
some precepts for my conduct in those assemblies, explaining the
necessity of my observing them, as there would be some wonder at a
young man of my age being received at such parties. He ordered me
never to open my lips except to answer direct questions, and
particularly enjoined me never to pass an opinion on any subject,
because at my age I could not be allowed to have any opinions.
I faithfully followed his precepts, and obeyed his orders so well,
that in a few days I had gained his esteem, and become the child of
the house, as well as the favourite of all the ladies who visited
him. In my character of a young and innocent ecclesiastic, they
would ask me to accompany them in their visits to the convents where
their daughters or their nieces were educated; I was at all hours
received at their houses without even being announced; I was scolded
if a week elapsed without my calling upon them, and when I went to
the apartments reserved for the young ladies, they would run away,
but the moment they saw that the intruder was only I, they would
return at once, and their confidence was very charming to me.
Before dinner, M. de Malipiero would often inquire from me what
advantages were accruing to me from the welcome I received at the
hands of the respectable ladies I had become acquainted with at his
house, taking care to tell me, before I could have time to answer,
that they were all endowed with the greatest virtue, and that I would
give everybody a bad opinion of myself, if I ever breathed one word
of disparagement to the high reputation they all enjoyed. In this
way he would inculcate in me the wise precept of reserve and
It was at the senator's house that I made the acquaintance of Madame
Manzoni, the wife of a notary public, of whom I shall have to speak
very often. This worthy lady inspired me with the deepest
attachment, and she gave me the wisest advice. Had I followed it,
and profited by it, my life would not have been exposed to so many
storms; it is true that in that case, my life would not be worth
All these fine acquaintances amongst women who enjoyed the reputation
of being high-bred ladies, gave me a very natural desire to shine by
my good looks and by the elegance of my dress; but my father
confessor, as well as my grandmother, objected very strongly to this
feeling of vanity. On one occasion, taking me apart, the curate told
me, with honeyed words, that in the profession to which I had devoted
myself my thoughts ought to dwell upon the best means of being
agreeable to God, and not on pleasing the world by my fine
appearance. He condemned my elaborate curls, and the exquisite
perfume of my pomatum. He said that the devil had got hold of me by
the hair, that I would be excommunicated if I continued to take such
care of it, and concluded by quoting for my benefit these words from
an oecumenical council: 'clericus qui nutrit coman, anathema sit'.
I answered him with the names of several fashionable perfumed abbots,
who were not threatened with excommunication, who were not interfered
with, although they wore four times as much powder as I did--for I
only used a slight sprinkling--who perfumed their hair with a certain
amber-scented pomatum which brought women to the very point of
fainting, while mine, a jessamine pomade, called forth the compliment
of every circle in which I was received. I added that I could not,
much to my regret, obey him, and that if I had meant to live in
slovenliness, I would have become a Capuchin and not an abbe.
My answer made him so angry that, three or four days afterwards, he
contrived to obtain leave from my grandmother to enter my chamber
early in the morning, before I was awake, and, approaching my bed on
tiptoe with a sharp pair of scissors, he cut off unmercifully all my
front hair, from one ear to the other. My brother Francois was in
the adjoining room and saw him, but he did not interfere as he was
delighted at my misfortune. He wore a wig, and was very jealous of
my beautiful head of hair. Francois was envious through the whole of
his life; yet he combined this feeling of envy with friendship; I
never could understand him; but this vice of his, like my own vices,
must by this time have died of old age.
After his great operation, the abbe left my room quietly, but when I
woke up shortly afterwards, and realized all the horror of this
unheard-of execution, my rage and indignation were indeed wrought to
the highest pitch.
What wild schemes of revenge my brain engendered while, with a
looking-glass in my hand, I was groaning over the shameful havoc
performed by this audacious priest! At the noise I made my
grandmother hastened to my room, and amidst my brother's laughter the
kind old woman assured me that the priest would never have been
allowed to enter my room if she could have foreseen his intention,
and she managed to soothe my passion to some extent by confessing
that he had over-stepped the limits of his right to administer a
But I was determined upon revenge, and I went on dressing myself and
revolving in my mind the darkest plots. It seemed to me that I was
entitled to the most cruel revenge, without having anything to dread
from the terrors of the law. The theatres being open at that time I
put on a mask to go out, and I, went to the advocate Carrare, with
whom I had become acquainted at the senator's house, to inquire from
him whether I could bring a suit against the priest. He told me
that, but a short time since, a family had been ruined for having
sheared the moustache of a Sclavonian--a crime not nearly so
atrocious as the shearing of all my front locks, and that I had only
to give him my instructions to begin a criminal suit against the
abbe, which would make him tremble. I gave my consent, and begged
that he would tell M. de Malipiero in the evening the reason for
which I could not go to his house, for I did not feel any inclination
to show myself anywhere until my hair had grown again.
I went home and partook with my brother of a repast which appeared
rather scanty in comparison to the dinners I had with the old
senator. The privation of the delicate and plentiful fare to which
his excellency had accustomed me was most painful, besides all the
enjoyments from which I was excluded through the atrocious conduct of
the virulent priest, who was my godfather. I wept from sheer
vexation; and my rage was increased by the consciousness that there
was in this insult a certain dash of comical fun which threw over me
a ridicule more disgraceful in my estimation than the greatest crime.
I went to bed early, and, refreshed by ten hours of profound slumber,
I felt in the morning somewhat less angry, but quite as determined to
summon the priest before a court. I dressed myself with the
intention of calling upon my advocate, when I received the visit of a
skilful hair-dresser whom I had seen at Madame Cantarini's house. He
told me that he was sent by M. de Malipiero to arrange my hair so
that I could go out, as the senator wished me to dine with him on
that very day. He examined the damage done to my head, and said,
with a smile, that if I would trust to his art, he would undertake to
send me out with an appearance of even greater elegance than I could
boast of before; and truly, when he had done, I found myself so good-
looking that I considered my thirst for revenge entirely satisfied.
Having thus forgotten the injury, I called upon the lawyer to tell
him to stay all proceedings, and I hastened to M. de Malipiero's
palace, where, as chance would have it, I met the abbe.
Notwithstanding all my joy, I could not help casting upon him rather
unfriendly looks, but not a word was said about what had taken place.
The senator noticed everything, and the priest took his leave, most
likely with feelings of mortified repentance, for this time I most
verily deserved excommunication by the extreme studied elegance of my
When my cruel godfather had left us, I did not dissemble with M. de
Malipiero; I candidly told him that I would look out for another
church, and that nothing would induce me to remain under a priest
who, in his wrath, could go the length of such proceedings. The wise
old man agreed with me, and said that I was quite right: it was the
best way to make me do ultimately whatever he liked. In the evening
everyone in our circle, being well aware of what had happened,
complimented me, and assured me that nothing could be handsomer than
my new head-dress. I was delighted, and was still more gratified
when, after a fortnight had elapsed, I found that M. de Malipiero did
not broach the subject of my returning to my godfather's church. My
grandmother alone constantly urged me to return. But this calm was
the harbinger of a storm. When my mind was thoroughly at rest on
that subject, M. de Malipiero threw me into the greatest astonishment
by suddenly telling me that an excellent opportunity offered itself
for me to reappear in the church and to secure ample satisfaction
from the abbe.
"It is my province," added the senator, "as president of the
Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament, to choose the preacher who is to
deliver the sermon on the fourth Sunday of this month, which happens
to be the second Christmas holiday. I mean to appoint you, and I am
certain that the abbe will not dare to reject my choice. What say
you to such a triumphant reappearance? Does it satisfy you?"
This offer caused me the greatest surprise, for I had never dreamt of
becoming a preacher, and I had never been vain enough to suppose that
I could write a sermon and deliver it in the church. I told M. de
Malipiero that he must surely be enjoying a joke at my expense, but
he answered that he had spoken in earnest, and he soon contrived to
persuade me and to make me believe that I was born to become the most
renowned preacher of our age as soon as I should have grown fat--a
quality which I certainly could not boast of, for at that time I was
extremely thin. I had not the shadow of a fear as to my voice or to
my elocution, and for the matter of composing my sermon I felt myself
equal to the production of a masterpiece.
I told M. de Malipiero that I was ready, and anxious to be at home in
order to go to work; that, although no theologian, I was acquainted
with my subject, and would compose a sermon which would take everyone
by surprise on account of its novelty.
On the following day, when I called upon him, he informed me that the
abbe had expressed unqualified delight at the choice made by him, and
at my readiness in accepting the appointment; but he likewise desired
that I should submit my sermon to him as soon as it was written,
because the subject belonging to the most sublime theology he could
not allow me to enter the pulpit without being satisfied that I would
not utter any heresies. I agreed to this demand, and during the week
I gave birth to my masterpiece. I have now that first sermon in my
possession, and I cannot help saying that, considering my tender
years, I think it a very good one.
I could not give an idea of my grandmother's joy; she wept tears of
happiness at having a grandson who had become an apostle. She
insisted upon my reading my sermon to her, listened to it with her
beads in her hands, and pronounced it very beautiful. M. de
Malipiero, who had no rosary when I read it to him, was of opinion
that it would not prove acceptable to the parson. My text was from
Horace: 'Ploravere suis non respondere favorem sperdtum meritis'; and
I deplored the wickedness and ingratitude of men, through which had
failed the design adopted by Divine wisdom for the redemption of
humankind. But M. de Malipiero was sorry that I had taken my text
from any heretical poet, although he was pleased that my sermon was
not interlarded with Latin quotations.
I called upon the priest to read my production; but as he was out I
had to wait for his return, and during that time I fell in love with
his niece, Angela. She was busy upon some tambour work; I sat down
close by her, and telling me that she had long desired to make my
acquaintance, she begged me to relate the history of the locks of
hair sheared by her venerable uncle.
My love for Angela proved fatal to me, because from it sprang two
other love affairs which, in their turn, gave birth to a great many
others, and caused me finally to renounce the Church as a profession.
But let us proceed quietly, and not encroach upon future events.
On his return home the abbe found me with his niece, who was about my
age, and he did not appear to be angry. I gave him my sermon: he
read it over, and told me that it was a beautiful academical
dissertation, but unfit for a sermon from the pulpit, and he added,
"I will give you a sermon written by myself, which I have never
delivered; you will commit it to memory, and I promise to let
everybody suppose that it is of your own composition."
"I thank you, very reverend father, but I will preach my own sermon,
or none at all."
"At all events, you shall not preach such a sermon as this in my
"You can talk the matter over with M. de Malipiero. In the meantime
I will take my work to the censorship, and to His Eminence the
Patriarch, and if it is not accepted I shall have it printed."
"All very well, young man. The patriarch will coincide with me."
In the evening I related my discussion with the parson before all the
guests of M. de Malipiero. The reading of my sermon was called for,
and it was praised by all. They lauded me for having with proper
modesty refrained from quoting the holy fathers of the Church, whom
at my age I could not be supposed to have sufficiently studied, and
the ladies particularly admired me because there was no Latin in it
but the Text from Horace, who, although a great libertine himself,
has written very good things. A niece of the patriarch, who was
present that evening, promised to prepare her uncle in my favour, as
I had expressed my intention to appeal to him; but M. de Malipiero
desired me not to take any steps in the matter until I had seen him
on the following day, and I submissively bowed to his wishes.
When I called at his mansion the next day he sent for the priest, who
soon made his appearance. As he knew well what he had been sent for,
he immediately launched out into a very long discourse, which I did
not interrupt, but the moment he had concluded his list of objections
I told him that there could not be two ways to decide the question;
that the patriarch would either approve or disapprove my sermon.
"In the first case," I added, "I can pronounce it in your church, and
no responsibility can possibly fall upon your shoulders; in the
second, I must, of course, give way."
The abbe was struck by my determination and he said,
"Do not go to the patriarch; I accept your sermon; I only request you
to change your text. Horace was a villain."
"Why do you quote Seneca, Tertullian, Origen, and Boethius? They
were all heretics, and must, consequently, be considered by you as
worse wretches than Horace, who, after all, never had the chance of
becoming a Christian!"
However, as I saw it would please M. de Malipiero, I finally
consented to accept, as a substitute for mine, a text offered by the
abbe, although it did not suit in any way the spirit of my
production; and in order to get an opportunity for a visit to his
niece, I gave him my manuscript, saying that I would call for it the
next day. My vanity prompted me to send a copy to Doctor Gozzi, but
the good man caused me much amusement by returning it and writing
that I must have gone mad, and that if I were allowed to deliver such
a sermon from the pulpit I would bring dishonour upon myself as well
as upon the man who had educated me.
I cared but little for his opinion, and on the appointed day I
delivered my sermon in the Church of the Holy Sacrament in the
presence of the best society of Venice. I received much applause,
and every one predicted that I would certainly become the first
preacher of our century, as no young ecclesiastic of fifteen had ever
been known to preach as well as I had done. It is customary for the
faithful to deposit their offerings for the preacher in a purse which
is handed to them for that purpose.
The sexton who emptied it of its contents found in it more than fifty
sequins, and several billets-doux, to the great scandal of the weaker
brethren. An anonymous note amongst them, the writer of which I
thought I had guessed, let me into a mistake which I think better not
to relate. This rich harvest, in my great penury, caused me to
entertain serious thoughts of becoming a preacher, and I confided my
intention to the parson, requesting his assistance to carry it into
execution. This gave me the privilege of visiting at his house every
day, and I improved the opportunity of conversing with Angela, for
whom my love was daily increasing. But Angela was virtuous. She did
not object to my love, but she wished me to renounce the Church and
to marry her. In spite of my infatuation for her, I could not make
up my mind to such a step, and I went on seeing her and courting her
in the hope that she would alter her decision.
The priest, who had at last confessed his admiration for my first
sermon, asked me, some time afterwards, to prepare another for St.
Joseph's Day, with an invitation to deliver it on the 19th of March,
1741. I composed it, and the abbe spoke of it with enthusiasm, but
fate had decided that I should never preach but once in my life. It
is a sad tale, unfortunately for me very true, which some persons are
cruel enough to consider very amusing.
Young and rather self-conceited, I fancied that it was not necessary
for me to spend much time in committing my sermon to memory. Being
the author, I had all the ideas contained in my work classified in my
mind, and it did not seem to me within the range of possibilities
that I could forget what I had written. Perhaps I might not remember
the exact words of a sentence, but I was at liberty to replace them
by other expressions as good, and as I never happened to be at a
loss, or to be struck dumb, when I spoke in society, it was not
likely that such an untoward accident would befall me before an
audience amongst whom I did not know anyone who could intimidate me
and cause me suddenly to lose the faculty of reason or of speech. I
therefore took my pleasure as usual, being satisfied with reading my
sermon morning and evening, in order to impress it upon my memory
which until then had never betrayed me.
The 19th of March came, and on that eventful day at four o'clock in
the afternoon I was to ascend the pulpit; but, believing myself quite
secure and thoroughly master of my subject, I had not the moral
courage to deny myself the pleasure of dining with Count Mont-Real,
who was then residing with me, and who had invited the patrician
Barozzi, engaged to be married to his daughter after the Easter
I was still enjoying myself with my fine company, when the sexton of
the church came in to tell me that they were waiting for me in the
vestry. With a full stomach and my head rather heated, I took my
leave, ran to the church, and entered the pulpit. I went through the
exordium with credit to myself, and I took breathing time; but
scarcely had I pronounced the first sentences of the narration,
before I forgot what I was saying, what I had to say, and in my
endeavours to proceed, I fairly wandered from my subject and I lost
myself entirely. I was still more discomforted by a half-repressed
murmur of the audience, as my deficiency appeared evident. Several
persons left the church, others began to smile, I lost all presence
of mind and every hope of getting out of the scrape.
I could not say whether I feigned a fainting fit, or whether I truly
swooned; all I know is that I fell down on the floor of the pulpit,
striking my head against the wall, with an inward prayer for
Two of the parish clerks carried me to the vestry, and after a few
moments, without addressing a word to anyone, I took my cloak and my
hat, and went home to lock myself in my room. I immediately dressed
myself in a short coat, after the fashion of travelling priests, I
packed a few things in a trunk, obtained some money from my
grandmother, and took my departure for Padua, where I intended to
pass my third examination. I reached Padua at midnight, and went to
Doctor Gozzi's house, but I did not feel the slightest temptation to
mention to him my unlucky adventure.
I remained in Padua long enough to prepare myself for the doctor's
degree, which I intended to take the following year, and after Easter
I returned to Venice, where my misfortune was already forgotten; but
preaching was out of the question, and when any attempt was made to
induce me to renew my efforts, I manfully kept to my determination
never to ascend the pulpit again.
On the eve of Ascension Day M. Manzoni introduced me to a young
courtesan, who was at that time in great repute at Venice, and was
nick-named Cavamacchia, because her father had been a scourer. This
named vexed her a great deal, she wished to be called Preati, which
was her family name, but it was all in vain, and the only concession
her friends would make was to call her by her Christian name of
Juliette. She had been introduced to fashionable notice by the
Marquis de Sanvitali, a nobleman from Parma, who had given her one
hundred thousand ducats for her favours. Her beauty was then the
talk of everybody in Venice, and it was fashionable to call upon her.
To converse with her, and especially to be admitted into her circle,
was considered a great boon.
As I shall have to mention her several times in the course of my
history, my readers will, I trust, allow me to enter into some
particulars about her previous life.
Juliette was only fourteen years of age when her father sent her one
day to the house of a Venetian nobleman, Marco Muazzo, with a coat
which he had cleaned for him. He thought her very beautiful in spite
of the dirty rags in which she was dressed, and he called to see her
at her father's shop, with a friend of his, the celebrated advocate,
Bastien Uccelli, who; struck by the romantic and cheerful nature of
Juliette still more than by her beauty and fine figure, gave her an
apartment, made her study music, and kept her as his mistress. At
the time of the fair, Bastien took her with him to various public
places of resort; everywhere she attracted general attention, and
secured the admiration of every lover of the sex. She made rapid
progress in music, and at the end of six months she felt sufficient
confidence in herself to sign an engagement with a theatrical manager
who took her to Vienna to give her a 'castrato' part in one of
The advocate had previously ceded her to a wealthy Jew who, after
giving her splendid diamonds, left her also.
In Vienna, Juliette appeared on the stage, and her beauty gained for
her an admiration which she would never have conquered by her very
inferior talent. But the constant crowd of adorers who went to
worship the goddess, having sounded her exploits rather too loudly,
the august Maria-Theresa objected to this new creed being sanctioned
in her capital, and the beautfiul actress received an order to quit
Count Spada offered her his protection, and brought her back to
Venice, but she soon left for Padua where she had an engagement. In
that city she kindled the fire of love in the breast of Marquis
Sanvitali, but the marchioness having caught her once in her own box,
and Juliette having acted disrespectfully to her, she slapped her
face, and the affair having caused a good deal of noise, Juliette
gave up the stage altogether. She came back to Venice, where, made
conspicuous by her banishment from Vienna, she could not fail to make
her fortune. Expulsion from Vienna, for this class of women, had
become a title to fashionable favour, and when there was a wish to
depreciate a singer or a dancer, it was said of her that she had not
been sufficiently prized to be expelled from Vienna.
After her return, her first lover was Steffano Querini de Papozzes,
but in the spring of 1740, the Marquis de Sanvitali came to Venice
and soon carried her off. It was indeed difficult to resist this
delightful marquis! His first present to the fair lady was a sum of
one hundred thousand ducats, and, to prevent his being accused of
weakness or of lavish prodigality, he loudly proclaimed that the
present could scarcely make up for the insult Juliette had received
from his wife--an insult, however, which the courtesan never
admitted, as she felt that there would be humiliation in such an
acknowledgment, and she always professed to admire with gratitude her
lover's generosity. She was right; the admission of the blow
received would have left a stain upon her charms, and how much more
to her taste to allow those charms to be prized at such a high
It was in the year 1741 that M. Manzoni introduced me to this new
Phryne as a young ecclesiastic who was beginning to make a
reputation. I found her surrounded by seven or eight well-seasoned
admirers, who were burning at her feet the incense of their flattery.
She was carelessly reclining on a sofa near Querini. I was much
struck with her appearance. She eyed me from head to foot, as if I
had been exposed for sale, and telling me, with the air of a
princess, that she was not sorry to make my acquaintance, she invited
me to take a seat. I began then, in my turn, to examine her closely
and deliberately, and it was an easy matter, as the room, although
small, was lighted with at least twenty wax candles.
Juliette was then in her eighteenth year; the freshness of her
complexion was dazzling, but the carnation tint of her cheeks, the
vermilion of her lips, and the dark, very narrow curve of her
eyebrows, impressed me as being produced by art rather than nature.
Her teeth--two rows of magnificent pearls--made one overlook the fact
that her mouth was somewhat too large, and whether from habit, or
because she could not help it, she seemed to be ever smiling. Her
bosom, hid under a light gauze, invited the desires of love; yet I
did not surrender to her charms. Her bracelets and the rings which
covered her fingers did not prevent me from noticing that her hand
was too large and too fleshy, and in spite of her carefully hiding
her feet, I judged, by a telltale slipper lying close by her dress,
that they were well proportioned to the height of her figure--a
proportion which is unpleasant not only to the Chinese and Spaniards,
but likewise to every man of refined taste. We want a tall women to
have a small foot, and certainly it is not a modern taste, for
Holofernes of old was of the same opinion; otherwise he would not
have thought Judith so charming: 'et sandalid ejus rapuerunt oculos
ejus'. Altogether I found her beautiful, but when I compared her
beauty and the price of one hundred thousand ducats paid for it, I
marvelled at my remaining so cold, and at my not being tempted to
give even one sequin for the privilege of making from nature a study
of the charms which her dress concealed from my eyes.
I had scarcely been there a quarter of an hour when the noise made by
the oars of a gondola striking the water heralded the prodigal
marquis. We all rose from our seats, and M. Querini hastened,
somewhat blushing, to quit his place on the sofa. M. de Sanvitali,
a man of middle age, who had travelled much, took a seat near
Juliette, but not on the sofa, so she was compelled to turn round.
It gave me the opportunity of seeing her full front, while I had
before only a side view of her face.
After my introduction to Juliette, I paid her four or five visits,
and I thought myself justified, by the care I had given to the
examination of her beauty, in saying in M. de Malipiero's draw-room,
one evening, when my opinion about her was asked, that she could
please only a glutton with depraved tastes; that she had neither the
fascination of simple nature nor any knowledge of society, that she
was deficient in well-bred, easy manners as well as in striking
talents and that those were the qualities which a thorough gentleman
liked to find in a woman. This opinion met the general approbation
of his friends, but M. de Malipiero kindly whispered to me that
Juliette would certainly be informed of the portrait I had drawn of
her, and that she would become my sworn enemy. He had guessed
I thought Juliette very singular, for she seldom spoke to me, and
whenever she looked at me she made use of an eye-glass, or she
contracted her eye-lids, as if she wished to deny me the honour of
seeing her eyes, which were beyond all dispute very beautiful. They
were blue, wondrously large and full, and tinted with that
unfathomable variegated iris which nature only gives to youth, and
which generally disappears, after having worked miracles, when the
owner reaches the shady side of forty. Frederick the Great preserved
it until his death.
Juliette was informed of the portrait I had given of her to M. de
Malipiero's friends by the indiscreet pensioner, Xavier Cortantini.
One evening I called upon her with M. Manzoni, and she told him that
a wonderful judge of beauty had found flaws in hers, but she took
good care not to specify them. It was not difficult to make out that
she was indirectly firing at me, and I prepared myself for the
ostracism which I was expecting, but which, however, she kept in
abeyance fully for an hour. At last, our conversation falling upon a
concert given a few days before by Imer, the actor, and in which his
daughter, Therese, had taken a brilliant part, Juliette turned round
to me and inquired what M. de Malipiero did for Therese. I said that
he was educating her. "He can well do it," she answered, "for he is
a man of talent; but I should like to know what he can do with you?"
"Whatever he can."
"I am told that he thinks you rather stupid."
As a matter of course, she had the laugh on her side, and I,
confused, uncomfortable and not knowing what to say, took leave after
having cut a very sorry figure, and determined never again to darken