Part 22 out of 70
Having casually remarked that I had no longer a house in Muran,
Righelini told me that if I liked he could get me a delightful house
at a low rent on the Tondamente Nuovo.
As this quarter facing north, and as agreeable in summer as
disagreeable in winter, was opposite to Muran, where I should have to
go twice a week, I told the doctor I should be glad to look at the
I took leave of the rich and fortunate ambassador at midnight, and
before passing the day with my new prize I went to sleep so as to be
fresh and capable of running a good course.
I went to Barberine at an early hour, and as soon as she saw me she
"My mother will not be back till the evening, and my brother will
take his dinner at the school. Here is a fowl, a ham, some cheese,
and two bottles of Scopolo wine. We will take our mess whenever you
"You astonish me, sweetheart, for how did you manage to get such a
"We owe it to my mother, so to her be the praise."
"You have told her, then, what we are going to do?"
"No, not I, for I know nothing about it; but I told her you were
coming to see me, and at the same time I gave her the ten sequins."
"And what did your mother say?"
"She said she wouldn't be sorry if you were to love me as you loved
"I love you better, though I love her well."
"You love her? Why have you left her, then?"
"I have not left her, for we supped together yesterday evening; but
we no longer live together as lovers, that is all. I have yielded
her up to a rich friend of mine, who has made her fortune."
"That is well, though I don't understand much about these affairs. I
hope you will tell Tonine that I have taken her place, and I should
be very pleased if you would let her know that you are quite sure you
are my first lover."
"And supposing the news vexes her?"
"So much the better. Will you do it for me? it's the first favour I
have asked of you."
"I promise to do so."
After this rapid dialogue we took breakfast, and then, perfectly
agreed, we went to bed, rather as if we were about to sacrifice to
Hymen than to love.
The game was new to Barberine, and her transports, her green notions-
-which she told me openly--her inexperience, or rather her
awkwardness, enchanted me. I seemed for the first time to pluck the
fruit of the tree of knowledge, and never had I tasted fruit so
delicious. My little maid would have been ashamed to let me see how
the first thorn hurt her, and to convince me that she only smelt the
rose, she strove to make me think she experienced more pleasure than
is possible in a first trial, always more or less painful. She was
not yet a big girl, the roses on her swelling breasts were as yet but
buds, and she was a woman only in her heart.
After more than one assault delivered and sustained with spirit, we
got up for dinner, and after we had refreshed ourselves we mounted
once more the altar of love, where we remained till the evening.
Laura found us dressed and well pleased with each other on her
return. I made Barberine another present of twenty sequins, I swore
to love her always, and went on my way. At the time I certainly
meant to keep to my oath, but that which destiny had in store for me
could not be reconciled with these promises which welled forth from
my soul in a moment of excitement.
The next morning Righelini took me to see the lodging he had spoken
to me about. I liked it and took it on the spot, paying the first
quarter in advance. The house belonged to a widow with two
daughters, the elder of whom had just been blooded. Righelini was
her doctor, and had treated her for nine months without success. As
he was going to pay her a visit I went in with him, and found myself
in the presence of a fine waxen statue. Surprise drew from me these
"She is pretty, but the sculptor should give her some colour."
On which the statue smiled in a manner which would have been charming
if her lips had but been red.
"Her pallor," said Righelini, "will not astonish you when I tell you
she has just been blooded for the hundred and fourth time."
I gave a very natural gesture of surprise.
This fine girl had attained the age of eighteen years without
experiencing the monthly relief afforded by nature, the result being
that she felt a deathly faintness three or four times a week, and the
only relief was to open the vein.
"I want to send her to the country," said the doctor, "where pure and
wholesome air, and, above all, more exercise, will do her more good
than all the drugs in the world."
After I had been told that my bed should be made ready by the
evening, I went away with Righelini, who told me that the only cure
for the girl would be a good strong lover.
"But my dear doctor," said I, "can't you make your own prescription?"
"That would be too risky a game, for I might find myself compelled to
marry her, and I hate marriage like the devil."
Though I was no better inclined towards marriage than the doctor, I
was too near the fire not to get burnt, and the reader will see in
the next chapter how I performed the miraculous cure of bringing the
colours of health into the cheeks of this pallid beauty.
The Fair Invalid I Cure Her--A Plot Formed to Ruin Me--What Happened
at the House of the Young Countess Bonafede--The Erberia--Domiciliary
Visit--My Conversation with M. de Bragadin--I Am Arrested by Order of
the State Inquisitors.
After leaving Dr. Righelini I went to sup with M. de Bragadin, and
gave the generous and worthy old man a happy evening. This was
always the case; I made him and his two good friends happy whenever I
took meals with them.
Leaving them at an early hour, I went to my lodging and was greatly
surprised to find my bedroom balcony occupied. A young lady of an
exquisite figure rose as soon as she saw me, and gracefully asked me
pardon for the liberty she had taken.
"I am," she said, "the statue you saw this morning. We do not light
the candles in the evening for fear of attracting the gnats, but when
you want to go to bed we will shut the door and go away. I beg to
introduce you to my younger sister, my mother has gone to bed."
I answered her to the effect that the balcony was always at her
service, and that since it was still early I begged their permission
to put on my dressing-gown and to keep them company. Her
conversation was charming; she made me spend two most delightful
hours, and did not leave me till twelve o'clock. Her younger sister
lighted me a candle, and as they went they wished me a good night.
I lay down full of this pretty girl, and I could not believe that she
was really ill. She spoke to the point, she was cheerful, clever,
and full of spirits. I could not understand how it came to pass that
she had not been already cured in a town like Venice, if her cure was
really only to be effected in the manner described by Dr. Righelini;
for in spite of her pallor she seemed to me quite fair enough to
charm a lover, and I believed her to be spirited enough to determine
to take the most agreeable medicine a doctor can prescribe.
In the morning I rang the bell as I was getting up, and the younger
sister came into my room, and said that as they kept no servant she
had come to do what I wanted. I did not care to have a servant when
I was not at M. de Bragadin's, as I found myself more at liberty to
do what I liked. After she had done me some small services, I asked
her how her sister was.
"Very well," said she, "for her pale complexion is not an illness,
and she only suffers when her breath fails her. She has a very good
appetite, and sleeps as well as I do."
"Whom do I hear playing the violin?"
"It's the dancing master giving my sister a lesson."
I hurried over my dressing that I might see her; and I found her
charming, though her old dancing master allowed her to turn in her
toes. All that this young and beautiful girl wanted was the
Promethean spark, the colour of life; her whiteness was too like
snow, and was distressing to look at.
The dancing master begged me to dance a minuet with his pupil, and I
assented, asking him to play larghissimo. "The signorina would find
it too tiring," said he; but she hastened to answer that she did not
feel weak, and would like to dance thus. She danced very well, but
when we had done she was obliged to throw herself in a chair. "In
future, my dear master," said she, "I will only dance like that, for
I think the rapid motion will do me good."
When the master was gone, I told her that her lessons were too short,
and that her master was letting her get into bad habits. I then set
her feet, her shoulders, and her arms in the proper manner. I taught
her how to give her hand gracefully, to bend her knees in time; in
fine, I gave her a regular lesson for an hour, and seeing that she
was getting rather tired I begged her to sit down, and I went out to
pay a visit to M. M.
I found her very sad, for C---- C----'s father was dead, and they had
taken her out of the convent to marry her to a lawyer. Before
leaving C---- C---- had left a letter for me, in which she said that
if I would promise to marry her at some time suitable to myself, she
would wait for me, and refuse all other offers. I answered her
straightforwardly that I had no property and no prospects, that I
left her free, advising her not to refuse any offer which might be to
In spite of this dismissal C---- C---- did not marry N---- till after
my flight from The Leads, when nobody expected to see me again in
Venice. I did not see her for nineteen years, and then I was grieved
to find her a widow, and poorly off. If I went to Venice now I
should not marry her, for at my age marriage is an absurdity, but I
would share with her my little all, and live with her as with a dear
When I hear women talking about the bad faith and inconstancy of men,
and maintaining that when men make promises of eternal constancy they
are always deceivers, I confess that they are right, and join in
their complaints. Still it cannot be helped, for the promises of
lovers are dictated by the heart, and consequently the lamentations
of women only make me want to laugh. Alas! we love without heeding
reason, and cease to love in the same manner.
About this time I received a letter from the Abbe de Bernis, who
wrote also to M---- M----. He told me that I ought to do my utmost
to make our nun take a reasonable view of things, dwelling on the
risks I should run in carrying her off and bringing her to Paris,
where all his influence would be of no avail to obtain for us that
safety so indispensable to happiness. I saw M---- M----; we shewed
each other our letters, she had some bitter tears, and her grief
pierced me to the heart. I still had a great love for her in spite
of my daily infidelities, and when I thought of those moments in
which I had seen her given over to voluptuousness I could not help
pitying her fate as I thought of the days of despair in store for
her. But soon after this an event happened which gave rise to some
wholesome reflections. One day, when I had come to see her, she
"They have just been burying a nun who died of consumption the day
before yesterday in the odour of sanctity. She was called 'Maria
Concetta.' She knew you, and told C---- C---- your name when you
used to come to mass on feast days. C---- C---- begged her to be
discreet, but the nun told her that you were a dangerous man, whose
presence should be shunned by a young girl. C---- C---- told me all
this after the mask of Pierrot."
"What was this saint's name when she was in the world?"
"I know her."
I then told M---- M---- the whole history of my loves with Nanette
and Marton, ending with the letter she wrote me, in which she said
that she owed me, indirectly, that eternal salvation to which she
hoped to attain.
In eight or ten days my conversation with my hostess' daughter--
conversation which took place on the balcony, and which generally
lasted till midnight--and the lesson I gave her every morning,
produced the inevitable and natural results; firstly, that she no
longer complained of her breath failing, and, secondly, that I fell
in love with her. Nature's cure had not yet relieved her, but she no
longer needed to be let blood. Righelini came to visit her as usual,
and seeing that she was better he prophesied that nature's remedy,
without which only art could keep her alive, would make all right
before the autumn. Her mother looked upon me as an angel sent by God
to cure her daughter, who for her part shewed me that gratitude which
with women is the first step towards love. I had made her dismiss
her old dancing master, and I had taught her to dance with extreme
At the end of these ten or twelve days, just as I was going to give
her her lesson, her breath failed instantaneously, and she fell back
into my arms like a dead woman. I was alarmed, but her mother, who
had become accustomed to see her thus, sent for the surgeon, and her
sister unlaced her. I was enchanted with her exquisite bosom, which
needed no colouring to make it more beautiful. I covered it up,
saying that the surgeon would make a false stroke if he were to see
her thus uncovered; but feeling that I laid my hand upon her with
delight, she gently repulsed me, looking at me with a languishing
gaze which made the deepest impression on me.
The surgeon came and bled her in the arm, and almost instantaneously
she recovered full consciousness. At most only four ounces of blood
were taken from her, and her mother telling me that this was the
utmost extent to which she was blooded, I saw it was no such matter
for wonder as Righelini represented it, for being blooded twice a
week she lost three pounds of blood a month, which she would have
done naturally if the vessels had not been obstructed.
The surgeon had hardly gone out of the door when to my astonishment
she told me that if I would wait for her a moment she would come back
and begin her dancing. This she did, and danced as if there had been
nothing the matter.
Her bosom, on which two of my senses were qualified to give evidence,
was the last stroke, and made me madly in love with her. I returned
to the house in the evening, and found her in her room with the
sister. She told me that she was expecting her god-father, who was
an intimate friend of her father's, and had come every evening to
spend an hour with her for the last eighteen years.
"How old is he?"
"He is over fifty."
"Is he a married man?"
"Yes, his name is Count S----. He is as fond of me as a father would
be, and his affection has continued the same since my childhood.
Even his wife comes to see me sometimes, and to ask me to dinner.
Neat autumn I am going into the country with her, and I hope the
fresh air will do me good. My god-father knows you are staying with
us and is satisfied. He does not know you, but if you like you can
make his acquaintance."
I was glad to hear all this, as I gained a good deal of useful
information without having to ask any awkward questions. The
friendship of this Greek looked very like love. He was the husband
of Countess S----, who had taken me to the convent at Muran two years
I found the count a very polite man. He thanked me in a paternal
manner for my kindness to his daughter, and begged me to do him the
honour of dining with him on the following day, telling me that he
would introduce me to his wife. I accepted his invitation with
pleasure, for I was fond of dramatic situations, and my meeting with
the countess promised to be an exciting one. This invitation bespoke
the courteous gentleman, and I charmed my pretty pupil by singing his
praises after he had gone.
"My god-father," said she, "is in possession of all the necessary
documents for withdrawing from the house of Persico our family
fortune, which amounts to forty thousand crowns. A quarter of this
sum belongs to me, and my mother has promised my sister and myself
to share her dowry between us."
I concluded from this that she would bring her husband fifteen
thousand Venetian ducats.
I guessed that she was appealing to me with her fortune, and wished
to make me in love with her by shewing herself chary of her favours;
for whenever I allowed myself any small liberties, she checked me
with words, of remonstrance to which I could find no answer. I
determined to make her pursue another course.
Next day I took her with me to her god-father's without telling her
that I knew the countess. I fancied the lady would pretend not to
know me, but I was wrong, as she welcomed me in the handsomest manner
as if I were an old friend. This, no doubt, was a surprise for the
count, but he was too much a man of the world to, shew any
astonishment. He asked her when she had made my acquaintance, and
she, like a woman of experience, answered without the slightest
hesitation that we had seen each other two years ago at Mira. The
matter was settled, and we spent a very pleasant day.
Towards evening I took the young lady in my gondola back to the
house, but wishing to shorten the journey I allowed myself to indulge
in a few caresses. I was hurt at being responded to by reproaches,
and for that reason, as soon as she had set foot on her own doorstep,
instead of getting out I went to Tonine's house, and spent nearly the
whole night there with the ambassador, who came a little after me.
Next day, as I did not get up till quite late, there was no dancing
lesson, and when I excused myself she told me not to trouble any more
about it. In the evening I sat on the balcony far into the night,
but she did not come. Vexed at this air of indifference I rose early
in the morning and went out, not returning till nightfall. She was
on the balcony, but as she kept me at a respectful distance I only
talked to her on commonplace subjects. In the morning I was roused
by a tremendous noise. I got up, and hurriedly putting on my
dressing-gown ran into her room to see what was the matter, only to
find her dying. I had no need to feign an interest in her, for I
felt the most tender concern. As it was at the beginning of July it
was extremely hot, and my fair invalid was only covered by a thin
sheet. She could only speak to me with her eyes, but though the lids
were lowered she looked upon me so lovingly! I asked her if she
suffered from palpitations, and laying my hand upon her heart I
pressed a fiery kiss upon her breast. This was the electric spark,
for she gave a sigh which did her good. She had not strength to
repulse the hand which I pressed amorously upon her heart, and
becoming bolder I fastened my burning lips upon her languid mouth.
I warmed her with my breath, and my audacious hand penetrated to the
very sanctuary of bliss. She made an effort to push me back, and
told me with her eyes, since she could not speak, how insulted she
felt. I drew back my hand, and at that moment the surgeon came.
Hardly was the vein opened when she drew a long breath, and by the
time the operation was over she wished to get up. I entreated her to
stay in bed, and her mother added her voice to mine; at last I
persuaded her, telling her that I would not leave her for a second,
and that I would have my dinner by her bedside. She then put on a
corset and asked her sister to draw a sarcenet coverlet over her, as
her limbs could be seen as plainly as through a crape veil.
Having given orders for my dinner, I sat down by her bedside, burning
with love, and taking her hand and covering it with kisses I told her
that I was sure she would get better if she would let herself love.
"Alas!" she said, "whom shall I love, not knowing whether I shall be
loved in return?"
I did not leave this question unanswered, and continuing the amorous
discourse with animation I won a sigh and a lovelorn glance. I put
my hand on her knee, begging her to let me leave it there, and
promising to go no farther, but little by little I attained the
center, and strove to give her some pleasant sensations.
"Let me alone," said she, in a sentimental voice, drawing away, "'tis
perchance the cause of my illness."
"No, sweetheart," I replied, "that cannot be." And my mouth stopped
all her objections upon her lips.
I was enchanted, for I was now in a fair way, and I saw the moment of
bliss in the distance, feeling certain that I could effect a cure if
the doctor was not mistaken. I spared her all indiscreet questions
out of regard for her modesty; but I declared myself her lover,
promising to ask nothing of her but what was necessary to feed the
fire of my love. They sent me up a very good dinner, and she did
justice to it; afterwards saying that she was quite well she got up,
and I went away to dress myself for going out. I came back early in
the evening, and found her on my balcony. There, as I sat close to
her looking into her face, speaking by turns the language of the eyes
and that of sighs, fixing my amorous gaze upon those charms which the
moonlight rendered sweeter, I made her share in the fire which
consumed me; and as I pressed her amorously to my bosom she completed
my bliss with such warmth that I could easily see that she thought
she was receiving a favour and not granting one. I sacrificed the
victim without staining the altar with blood.
Her sister came to tell her that it grew late.
"Do you go to bed," she answered; "the fresh air is doing me good,
and I want to enjoy it a little longer."
As soon as we were alone we went to bed together as if we had been
doing it for a whole year, and we passed a glorious night, I full of
love and the desire of curing her, and she of tender and ardent
voluptuousness. At day-break she embraced me, her eyes dewy with
bliss, and went to lie down in her own bed. I, like her, stood in
need of a rest, and on that day there was no talk of a dancing
lesson. In spite of the fierce pleasure of enjoyment and the
transports of this delightful girl, I did not for a moment lay
prudence aside. We continued to pass such nights as these for three
weeks, and I had the pleasure of seeing her thoroughly cured. I
should doubtless have married her, if an event had not happened to me
towards the end of the month, of which I shall speak lower down.
You will remember, dear reader, about a romance by the Abbe Chiari, a
satirical romance which Mr. Murray had given me, and in which I fared
badly enough at the author's hands I had small reason to be pleased
with him, and I let him know my opinion in such wise that the abbe
who dreaded a caning, kept upon his guard. About the same time I
received an anonymous letter, the writer of which told me that I
should be better occupied in taking care of myself than in thoughts
of chastising the abbe, for I was threatened by an imminent danger.
Anonymous letter-writers should be held in contempt, but one ought to
know how, on occasion, to make the best of advice given in that way.
I did nothing, and made a great mistake.
About the same time a man named Manuzzi, a stone setter for his first
trade, and also a spy, a vile agent of the State Inquisitors--a man
of whom I knew nothing--found a way to make my acquaintance by
offering to let me have diamonds on credit, and by this means he got
the entry of my house. As he was looking at some books scattered
here and there about the room, he stopped short at the manuscripts
which were on magic. Enjoying foolishly enough, his look of
astonishment, I shewed him the books which teach one how to summon
the elementary spirits. My readers will, I hope, do me the favour to
believe that I put no faith in these conjuring books, but I had them
by me and used to amuse myself with them as one does amuse one's self
with the multitudinous follies which proceed from the heads of
visionaries. A few days after, the traitor came to see me and told
me that a collector, whose name he might not tell me, was ready to
give me a thousand sequins for my five books, but that he would like
to examine them first to see if they were genuine. As he promised to
let me have them back in twenty-four hours, and not thinking much
about the matter, I let him have them. He did not fail to bring them
back the next day, telling me that the collector thought them
forgeries. I found out, some years after, that he had taken them to
the State Inquisitors, who thus discovered that I was a notable
Everything that happened throughout this fatal month tended to my
ruin, for Madame Memmo, mother of Andre, Bernard, and Laurent Memmo,
had taken it into her head that I had inclined her sons to atheistic
opinions, and took counsel with the old knight Antony Mocenigo,
M. de Bragadin's uncle, who was angry with me, because, as he said,
I had conspired to seduce his nephew. The matter was a serious one,
and an auto-da-fe was very possible, as it came under the
jurisdiction of the Holy Office--a kind of wild beast, with which it
is not good to quarrel. Nevertheless, as there would be some
difficulty in shutting me up in the ecclesiastical prisons of the
Holy Office, it was determined to carry my case before the State
Inquisitors, who took upon themselves the provisional duty of putting
a watch upon my manner of living.
M. Antony Condulmer, who as a friend of Abbe Chiari's was an enemy of
mine, was then an Inquisitor of State, and he took the opportunity of
looking upon me in the light of a disturber of the peace of the
commonwealth. A secretary of an embassy, whom I knew some years
after, told me that a paid informer, with two other witnesses, also,
doubtless, in the pay of this grand tribunal, had declared that I was
guilty of only believing in the devil, as if this absurd belief, if
it were possible, did not necessarily connote a belief in God! These
three honest fellows testified with an oath that when I lost money at
play, on which occasion all the faithful are wont to blaspheme, I was
never heard to curse the devil. I was further accused of eating meat
all the year round, of only going to hear fine masses, and I was
vehemently suspected of being a Freemason. It was added that I
frequented the society of foreign ministers, and that living as I did
with three noblemen, it was certain that I revealed, for the large
sums which I was seen to lose, as many state secrets as I could worm
out of them.
All these accusations, none of which had any foundation in fact,
served the Tribunal as a pretext to treat me as an enemy of the
commonwealth and as a prime conspirator. For several weeks I was
counselled by persons whom I might have trusted to go abroad whilst
the Tribunal was engaged on my case. This should have been enough,
for the only people who can live in peace at Venice are those whose
existence the Tribunal is ignorant of, but I obstinately despised all
these hints. If I had listened to the indirect advice which was
given me, I should have become anxious, and I was the sworn foe of
all anxiety. I kept saying to myself, "I feel remorse for nothing
and I am therefore guilty of nothing, and the innocent have nothing
to fear." I was a fool, for I argued as if I had been a free man in
a free country. I must also confess that what to a great extent kept
me from thinking of possible misfortune was the actual misfortune
which oppressed me from morning to night. I lost every day, I owed
money everywhere, I had pawned all my jewels, and even my portrait
cases, taking the precaution, however, of removing the portraits,
which with my important papers and my amorous letters I had placed in
the hands of Madame Manzoni. I found myself avoided in society. An
old senator told me, one day, that it was known that the young
Countess Bonafede had become mad in consequence of the love philtres
I had given her. She was still at the asylum, and in her moments of
delirium she did nothing but utter my name with curses. I must let
my readers into the secret of this small history.
This young Countess Bonafede, to whom I had given some sequins a few
days after my return to Venice, thought herself capable of making me
continue my visits, from which she had profited largely. Worried by
her letters I went to see her several times, and always left her a
few sequins, but with the exception of my first visit I was never
polite enough to give her any proofs of my affection. My coldness
had baulked all her endeavours for a year, when she played a criminal
part, of which, though I was never able absolutely to convict her, I
had every reason to believe her guilty.
She wrote me a letter, in which she importuned me to come and see her
at a certain hour on important business.
My curiosity, as well as a desire to be of service to her, took me
there at the appointed time; but as soon as she saw me she flung her
arms round my neck, and told me that the important business was love.
This made me laugh heartily, and I was pleased to find her looking
neater than usual, which, doubtless, made me find her looking
prettier. She reminded me of St. Andre, and succeeded so well in her
efforts that I was on the point of satisfying her desires. I took
off my cloak, and asked her if her father were in. She told me he
had gone out. Being obliged to go out for a minute, in coming back I
mistook the door, and I found myself in the next room, where I was
much astonished to see the count and two villainous-looking fellows
"My dear count," I said, "your daughter has just told me that you
"I myself told her to do so, as I have some business with these
gentlemen, which, however, can wait for another day."
I would have gone, but he stopped me, and having dismissed the two
men he told me that he was delighted to see me, and forthwith began
the tale of his troubles, which were of more than one kind. The
State Inquisitors had stopped his slender pension, and he was on the
eve of seeing himself driven out with his family into the streets to
beg his bread. He said that he had not been able to pay his landlord
anything for three years, but if he could pay only a quarter's rent,
he would obtain a respite, or if he persisted in turning him out, he
could make a night-flitting of it, and take up his abode somewhere
else. As he only wanted twenty ducats, I took out six sequins and
gave them to him. He embraced me, and shed tears of joy; then,
taking his poor cloak, he called his daughter, told her to keep me
company, and went out.
Alone with the countess, I examined the door of communication between
the two rooms and found it slightly open.
"Your father," I said, "would have surprised me, and it is easy to
guess what he would have done with the two sbirri who were with him.
The plot is clear, and I have only escaped from it by the happiest of
She denied, wept, called God to witness, threw herself on her knees;
but I turned my head away, and taking my cloak went away without a
word. She kept on writing to me, but her letters remained
unanswered, and I saw her no more.
It was summer-time, and between the heat, her passions, hunger, and
wretchedness, her head was turned, and she became so mad that she
went out of the house stark naked, and ran up and down St. Peter's
Place, asking those who stopped her to take her to my house. This
sad story went all over the town and caused me a great deal of
annoyance. The poor wretch was sent to an asylum, and did not
recover her reason for five years. When she came out she found
herself reduced to beg her bread in the streets, like all her
brothers, except one, whom I found a cadet in the guards of the King
of Spain twelve years afterwards.
At the time of which I am speaking all this had happened a year ago,
but the story was dug up against me, and dressed out in the attire of
fiction, and thus formed part of those clouds which were to discharge
their thunder upon me to my destruction.
In the July of 1755 the hateful court gave Messer-Grande instructions
to secure me, alive or dead. In this furious style all orders for
arrests proceeding from the Three were issued, for the least of their
commands carried with it the penalty of death.
Three or four days before the Feast of St. James, my patron saint,
M---- M---- made me a present of several ells of silver lace to trim
a sarcenet dress which I was going to wear on the eve of the feast.
I went to see her, dressed in my fine suit, and I told her that I
should come again on the day following to ask her to lend me some
money, as I did not know where to turn to find some. She was still
in possession of the five hundred sequins which she had put aside
when I had sold her diamonds.
As I was sure of getting the money in the morning I passed the night
at play, and I lost the five hundred sequins in advance. At day-
break, being in need of a little quiet, I went to the Erberia, a
space of ground on the quay of the Grand Canal. Here is held the
herb, fruit, and flower market.
People in good society who come to walk in the Erberia at a rather
early hour usually say that they come to see the hundreds of boats
laden with vegetables, fruit and flowers, which hail from the
numerous islands near the town; but everyone knows that they are men
and women who have been spending the night in the excesses of Venus
or Bacchus, or who have lost all hope at the gaming-table, and come
here to breath a purer air and to calm their minds. The fashion of
walking in this place shews how the character of a nation changes.
The Venetians of old time who made as great a mystery of love as of
state affairs, have been replaced by the modern Venetians, whose most
prominent characteristic is to make a mystery of nothing. Those who
come to the Erberia with women wish to excite the envy of their
friends by thus publishing their good fortune. Those who come alone
are on the watch for discoveries, or on the look-out for materials to
make wives or husbands jealous, the women only come to be seen, glad
to let everybody know that they are without any restraint upon their
actions. There was certainly no question of smartness there,
considering the disordered style of dress worn. The women seemed to
have agreed to shew all the signs of disorder imaginable, to give
those who saw them something to talk about. As for the men, on whose
arms they leaned, their careless and lounging airs were intended to
give the idea of a surfeit of pleasure, and to make one think that
the disordered appearance of their companions was a sure triumph they
had enjoyed. In short it was the correct thing to look tired out,
and as if one stood in need of sleep.
This veracious description, reader, will not give you a very high
opinion of the morals of my dear fellow citizens; but what object
should I have at my age for deceiving? Venice is not at the world's
end, but is well enough known to those whose curiosity brings them
into Italy; and everyone can see for himself if my pictures are
After walking up and down for half an hour, I came away, and thinking
the whole house still a-bed I drew my key out to open the door, but
what was my astonishment to find it useless, as the door was open,
and what is more, the lock burst off. I ran upstairs, and found them
all up, and my landlady uttering bitter lamentations.
"Messer-Grande," she told me, "has entered my house forcibly,
accompanied by a band of sbirri. He turned everything upside down,
on the pretext that he was in search of a portmanteau full of salt--a
highly contraband article. He said he knew that a portmanteau had
been landed there the evening before, which was quite true; but it
belonged to Count S----, and only contained linen and clothes.
Messer-Grande, after inspecting it, went out without saying a word."
He had also paid my room a visit. She told me that she must have
some reparation made her, and thinking she was in the right I
promised to speak to M. de Bragadin on the matter the same day.
Needing rest above all things, I lay down, but my nervous excitement,
which I attributed to my heavy losses at play, made me rise after
three or four hours, and I went to see M. de Bragadin, to whom I told
the whole story begging him to press for some signal amends. I made
a lively representation to him of all the grounds on which my
landlady required proportionate amends to be made, since the laws
guaranteed the peace of all law-abiding people.
I saw that the three friends were greatly saddened by what I said,
and the wise old man, quietly but sadly, told me that I should have
my answer after dinner.
De la Haye dined with us, but all through the meal, which was a
melancholy one, he spoke not a word. His silence should have told me
all, if I had not been under the influence of some malevolent genii
who would not allow me to exercise my common sense: as to the sorrow
of my three friends, I put that down to their friendship for me.
My connection with these worthy men had always been the talk of the
town, and as all were agreed that it could not be explained on
natural grounds, it was deemed to be the effect of some sorcery
exercised by me. These three men were thoroughly religious and
virtuous citizens; I was nothing if not irreligious, and Venice did
not contain a greater libertine. Virtue, it was said, may have
compassion on vice, but cannot become its friend.
After dinner M. de Bragadin took me into his closet with his two
friends, from whom he had no secrets. He told me with wonderful
calmness that instead of meditating vengeance on Messer-Grande I
should be thinking of putting myself in a place of safety.
"The portmanteau," said he, "was a mere pretext; it was you they
wanted and thought to find. Since your good genius has made them
miss you, look out for yourself; perhaps by to-morrow it may be too
late. I have been a State Inquisitor for eight months, and I know
the way in which the arrests ordered by the court are carried out.
They would not break open a door to look for a box of salt. Indeed,
it is possible that they knew you were out, and sought to warn you to
escape in this manner. Take my advice, my dear son, and set out
directly for Fusina, and thence as quickly as you can make your way
to Florence, where you can remain till I write to you that you may
return with safety. If you have no money I will give you a hundred
sequins for present expenses. Believe me that prudence bids you go."
Blinded by my folly, I answered him that being guilty of nothing I
had nothing to fear, and that consequently, although I knew his
advice was good, I could not follow it.
"The high court," said he, "may deem you guilty of crimes real or
imaginary; but in any case it will give you no account of the
accusations against you. Ask your oracle if you shall follow my
advice or not." I refused because I knew the folly of such a
proceeding, but by way of excuse I said that I only consulted it when
I was in doubt. Finally, I reasoned that if I fled I should be
shewing fear, and thus confessing my guilt, for an innocent man,
feeling no remorse, cannot reasonably be afraid of anything.
"If secrecy," said I, "is of the essence of the Court, you cannot
possibly judge, after my escape, whether I have done so rightly or
wrongly. The same reasons, which, according to your excellence, bid
me go, would forbid my return. Must I then say good-bye for ever to
my country, and all that is dear to me?" As a last resource he tried
to persuade me to pass the following day and night, at least, at the
palace. I am still ashamed of having refused the worthy old man to
whom I owed so much this favour; for the palace of a noble is sacred
to the police who dare not cross its threshold without a special
order from the Tribunal, which is practically never given; by
yielding to his request I should have avoided a grievous misfortune,
and spared the worthy old man some acute grief.
I was moved to see M. de Bragadin weeping, and perhaps I might have
granted to his tears that which I had obstinately refused to his
arguments and entreaties. "For Heaven's sake!" said I, "spare me the
harrowing sight of your tears." In an instant he summoned all his
strength to his assistance, made some indifferent remarks, and then,
with a smile full of good nature, he embraced me, saying, "Perhaps I
may be fated never to see you again, but 'Fata viam invenient'."
I embraced him affectionately, and went away, but his prediction was
verified, for I never saw him again; he died eleven years afterwards.
I found myself in the street without feeling the slightest fear, but
I was in a good deal of trouble about my debts. I had not the heart
to go to Muran to take away from M. M. her last five hundred sequins,
which sum I owed to the man who won it from me in the night; I
preferred asking him to wait eight days, and I did so. After
performing this unpleasant piece of business I returned home, and,
having consoled my landlady to the utmost of my power, I kissed the
daughter, and lay down to sleep. The date was July 25th, 1755.
Next morning at day-break who should enter my room but the awful
Messer-Grande. To awake, to see him, and to hear him asking if I
were Jacques Casanova, was the work of a moment. At my "yes, I am
Casanova," he told me to rise, to put on my clothes, to give him all
the papers and manuscripts in my possession, and to follow him.
"On whose authority do you order me to do this?"
"By the authority of the Tribunal."
by Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
MEMOIRS OF JACQUES CASANOVA de SEINGALT 1725-1798
TO PARIS AND PRISON, Volume 2e--UNDER THE LEADS
THE RARE UNABRIDGED LONDON EDITION OF 1894 TRANSLATED BY ARTHUR
MACHEN TO WHICH HAS BEEN ADDED THE CHAPTERS DISCOVERED
BY ARTHUR SYMONS.
UNDER THE LEADS
Under The Leads--The Earthquake
What a strange and unexplained power certain words exercise upon the
soul! I, who the evening before so bravely fortified myself with my
innocence and courage, by the word tribunal was turned to a stone,
with merely the faculty of passive obedience left to me.
My desk was open, and all my papers were on a table where I was
accustomed to write.
"Take them," said I, to the agent of the dreadful Tribunal, pointing
to the papers which covered the table. He filled a bag with them,
and gave it to one of the sbirri, and then told me that I must also
give up the bound manuscripts which I had in my possession. I shewed
him where they were, and this incident opened my eyes. I saw now,
clearly enough, that I had been betrayed by the wretch Manuzzi. The
books were, "The Key of Solomon the King," "The Zecorben," a
"Picatrix," a book of "Instructions on the Planetary Hours," and the
necessary incantations for conversing with demons of all sorts.
Those who were aware that I possessed these books took me for an
expert magician, and I was not sorry to have such a reputation.
Messer-Grande took also the books on the table by my bed, such as
Petrarch, Ariosto, Horace. "The Military' Philosopher" (a manuscript
which Mathilde had given me), "The Porter of Chartreux," and "The
Aretin," which Manuzzi had also denounced, for Messer-Grande asked me
for it by name. This spy, Manuzzi, had all the appearance of an
honest man--a very necessary qualification for his profession. His
son made his fortune in Poland by marrying a lady named Opeska, whom,
as they say, he killed, though I have never had any positive proof
on the matter, and am willing to stretch Christian charity to the
extent of believing he was innocent, although he was quite capable of
such a crime.
While Messer-Grande was thus rummaging among my manuscripts, books
and letters, I was dressing myself in an absent-minded manner,
neither hurrying myself nor the reverse. I made my toilette, shaved
myself, and combed my hair; putting on mechanically a laced shirt and
my holiday suit without saying a word, and without Messer-Grande--who
did not let me escape his sight for an instant--complaining that I
was dressing myself as if I were going to a wedding.
As I went out I was surprised to see a band of forty men-at-arms in
the ante-room. They had done me the honour of thinking all these men
necessary for my arrest, though, according to the axiom 'Ne Hercules
quidem contra duos', two would have been enough. It is curious that
in London, where everyone is brave, only one man is needed to arrest
another, whereas in my dear native land, where cowardice prevails,
thirty are required. The reason is, perhaps, that the coward on the
offensive is more afraid than the coward on the defensive, and thus a
man usually cowardly is transformed for the moment into a man of
courage. It is certain that at Venice one often sees a man.
defending himself against twenty sbirri, and finally escaping after
beating them soundly. I remember once helping a friend of mine at
Paris to escape from the hands of forty bum-bailiffs, and we put the
whole vile rout of them to flight.
Messer-Grande made me get into a gondola, and sat down near me with
an escort of four men. When we came to our destination he offered me
coffee, which I refused; and he then shut me up in a room. I passed
these four hours in sleep, waking up every quarter of an hour to pass
water--an extraordinary occurrence, as I was not at all subject to
stranguary; the heat was great, and I had not supped the evening
before. I have noticed at other times that surprise at a deed of
oppression acts on me as a powerful narcotic, but I found out at the
time I speak of that great surprise is also a diuretic. I make this
discovery over to the doctors, it is possible that some learned man
may make use of it to solace the ills of humanity. I remember
laughing very heartily at Prague six years ago, on learning that some
thin-skinned ladies, on reading my flight from The Leads, which was
published at that date, took great offence at the above account,
which they thought I should have done well to leave out. I should
have left it out, perhaps, in speaking to a lady, but the public is
not a pretty woman whom I am intent on cajoling, my only aim is to be
instructive. Indeed, I see no impropriety in the circumstance I have
narrated, which is as common to men and women as eating and drinking;
and if there is anything in it to shock too sensitive nerves, it is
that we resemble in this respect the cows and pigs.
It is probable that just as my overwhelmed soul gave signs of its
failing strength by the loss of the thinking faculty, so my body
distilled a great part of those fluids which by their continual
circulation set the thinking faculty in motion. Thus a sudden shock
might cause instantaneous death, and send one to Paradise by a cut
much too short.
In course of time the captain of the men-at-arms came to tell me that
he was under orders to take me under the Leads. Without a word I
followed him. We went by gondola, and after a thousand turnings
among the small canals we got into the Grand Canal, and landed at the
prison quay. After climbing several flights of stairs we crossed a
closed bridge which forms the communication between the prisons and
the Doge's palace, crossing the canal called Rio di Palazzo. On the
other side of this bridge there is a gallery which we traversed. We
then crossed one room, and entered another, where sat an individual
in the dress of a noble, who, after looking fixedly at me, said,
"E quello, mettetelo in deposito:"
This man was the secretary of the Inquisitors, the prudent Dominic
Cavalli, who was apparently ashamed to speak Venetian in my presence
as he pronounced my doom in the Tuscan language.
Messer-Grande then made me over to the warden of The Leads, who stood
by with an enormous bunch of keys, and accompanied by two guards,
made me climb two short flights of stairs, at the top of which
followed a passage and then another gallery, at the end of which he
opened a door, and I found myself in a dirty garret, thirty-six feet
long by twelve broad, badly lighted by a window high up in the roof.
I thought this garret was my prison, but I was mistaken; for, taking
an enormous key, the gaoler opened a thick door lined with iron,
three and a half feet high, with a round hole in the middle, eight
inches in diameter, just as I was looking intently at an iron
machine. This machine was like a horse shoe, an inch thick and about
five inches across from one end to the other. I was thinking what
could be the use to which this horrible instrument was put, when the
gaoler said, with a smile,
"I see, sir, that you wish to know what that is for, and as it
happens I can satisfy your curiosity. When their excellencies give
orders that anyone is to be strangled, he is made to sit down on a
stool, the back turned to this collar, and his head is so placed that
the collar goes round one half of the neck. A silk band, which goes
round the other half, passes through this hole, and the two ends are
connected with the axle of a wheel which is turned by someone until
the prisoner gives up the ghost, for the confessor, God be thanked!
never leaves him till he is dead."
"All this sounds very ingenious, and I should think that it is you
who have the honour of turning the wheel."
He made no answer, and signing to me to enter, which I did by bending
double, he shut me up, and afterwards asked me through the grated
hole what I would like to eat.
"I haven't thought anything about it yet," I answered. And he went
away, locking all the doors carefully behind him.
Stunned with grief, I leant my elbows on the top of the grating. It
was crossed, by six iron bars an inch thick, which formed sixteen
square holes. This opening would have lighted my cell, if a square
beam supporting the roof which joined the wall below the window had
not intercepted what little light came into that horrid garret.
After making the tour of my sad abode, my head lowered, as the cell
was not more than five and a half feet high, I found by groping along
that it formed three-quarters of a square of twelve feet. The fourth
quarter was a kind of recess, which would have held a bed; but there
was neither bed, nor table, nor chair, nor any furniture whatever,
except a bucket--the use of which may be guessed, and a bench fixed
in the wall a foot wide and four feet from the ground. On it I
placed my cloak, my fine suit, and my hat trimmed with Spanish paint
and adorned with a beautiful white feather. The heat was great, and
my instinct made me go mechanically to the grating, the only place
where I could lean on my elbows. I could not see the window, but I
saw the light in the garret, and rats of a fearful size, which walked
unconcernedly about it; these horrible creatures coming close under
my grating without shewing the slightest fear. At the sight of these
I hastened to close up the round hole in the middle of the door with
an inside shutter, for a visit from one of the rats would have frozen
my blood. I passed eight hours in silence and without stirring, my
arms all the time crossed on the top of the grating.
At last the clock roused me from my reverie, and I began to feel
restless that no one came to give me anything to eat or to bring me a
bed whereon to sleep. I thought they might at least let me have a
chair and some bread and water. I had no appetite, certainly; but
were my gaolers to guess as much? And never in my life had I been so
thirsty. I was quite sure, however, that somebody would come before
the close of the day; but when I heard eight o'clock strike I became
furious, knocking at the door, stamping my feet, fretting and fuming,
and accompanying this useless hubbub with loud cries. After more
than an hour of this wild exercise, seeing no one, without the
slightest reason to think I could be heard, and shrouded in darkness,
I shut the grating for fear of the rats, and threw myself at full
length upon the floor. So cruel a desertion seemed to me unnatural,
and I came to the conclusion that the Inquisitors had sworn my death.
My investigation as to what I had done to deserve such a fate was not
a long one, for in the most scrupulous examination of my conduct I
could find no crimes. I was, it is true, a profligate, a gambler, a
bold talker, a man who thought of little besides enjoying this
present life, but in all that there was no offence against the state.
Nevertheless, finding myself treated as a criminal, rage and despair
made me express myself against the horrible despotism which oppressed
me in a manner which I will leave my readers to guess, but which I
will not repeat here. But notwithstanding my brief and anxiety, the
hunger which began to make itself felt, and the thirst which
tormented me, and the hardness of the boards on which I lay, did not
prevent exhausted nature from reasserting her rights; I fell asleep.
My strong constitution was in need of sleep; and in a young and
healthy subject this imperious necessity silences all others, and in
this way above all is sleep rightly termed the benefactor of man.
The clock striking midnight awoke me. How sad is the awaking when it
makes one regret one's empty dreams. I could scarcely believe that I
had spent three painless hours. As I lay on my left side, I
stretched out my right hand to get my handkerchief, which I
remembered putting on that side. I felt about for it, when--heavens!
what was my surprise to feel another hand as cold as ice. The fright
sent an electric shock through me, and my hair began to stand on end.
Never had I been so alarmed, nor should I have previously thought
myself capable of experiencing such terror. I passed three or four
minutes in a kind of swoon, not only motionless but incapable of
thinking. As I got back my senses by degrees, I tried to make myself
believe that the hand I fancied I had touched was a mere creature of
my disordered imagination; and with this idea I stretched out my hand
again, and again with the same result. Benumbed with fright, I
uttered a piercing cry, and, dropping the hand I held, I drew back my
arm, trembling all over:
Soon, as I got a little calmer and more capable of reasoning, I
concluded that a corpse had been placed beside me whilst I slept, for
I was certain it was not there when I lay down.
"This," said I, "is the body of some strangled wretch, and they would
thus warn me of the fate which is in store for me."
The thought maddened me; and my fear giving place to rage, for the
third time I stretched my arm towards the icy hand, seizing it to
make certain of the fact in all its atrocity, and wishing to get up,
I rose upon my left elbow, and found that I had got hold of my other
hand. Deadened by the weight of my body and the hardness of the
boards, it had lost warmth, motion, and all sensation.
In spite of the humorous features in this incident, it did not cheer
me up, but, on the contrary, inspired me with the darkest fancies. I
saw that I was in a place where, if the false appeared true, the
truth might appear false, where understanding was bereaved of half
its prerogatives, where the imagination becoming affected would
either make the reason a victim to empty hopes or to dark despair. I
resolved to be on my guard; and for the first time in my life, at the
age of thirty, I called philosophy to my assistance. I had within me
all the seeds of philosophy, but so far I had had no need for it.
I am convinced that most men die without ever having thought, in the
proper sense of the word, not so much for want of wit or of good
sense, but rather because the shock necessary to the reasoning
faculty in its inception has never occurred to them to lift them out
of their daily habits.
After what I had experienced, I could think of sleep no more, and to
get up would have been useless as I could not stand upright, so I
took the only sensible course and remained seated. I sat thus till
four o'clock in the morning, the sun would rise at five, and I longed
to see the day, for a presentiment which I held infallible told me
that it would set me again at liberty. I was consumed with a desire
for revenge, nor did I conceal it from myself. I saw myself at the
head of the people, about to exterminate the Government which had
oppressed me; I massacred all the aristocrats without pity; all must
be shattered and brought to the dust. I was delirious; I knew the
authors of my misfortune, and in my fancy I destroyed them. I
restored the natural right common to all men of being obedient only
to the law, and of being tried only by their peers and by laws to
which they have agreed-in short, I built castles in Spain. Such is
man when he has become the prey of a devouring passion. He does not
suspect that the principle which moves him is not reason but wrath,
its greatest enemy.
I waited for a less time than I had expected, and thus I became a
little more quiet. At half-past four the deadly silence of the
place--this hell of the living--was broken by the shriek of bolts
being shot back in the passages leading to my cell.
"Have you had time yet to think about what you will take to eat?"
said the harsh voice of my gaoler from the wicket.
One is lucky when the insolence of a wretch like this only shews
itself in the guise of jesting. I answered that I should like some
rice soup, a piece of boiled beef, a roast, bread, wine, and water.
I saw that the lout was astonished not to hear the lamentations he
expected. He went away and came back again in a quarter of an hour
to say that he was astonished I did not require a bed and the
necessary pieces of furniture, "for" said he, "if you flatter
yourself that you are only here for a night, you are very much
"Then bring me whatever you think necessary."
"Where shall I go for it? Here is a pencil and paper; write it
I skewed him by writing where to go for my shirts, stockings, and
clothes of all sorts, a bed, table, chair, the books which Messer-
Grande had confiscated, paper, pens, and so forth. On my reading out
the list to him (the lout did not know how to read) he cried,
"Scratch out," said he, "scratch out books, paper, pens, looking-
glass and razors, for all that is forbidden fruit here, and then give
me some money to get your dinner." I had three sequins so I gave him
one, and he went off. He spent an hour in the passages engaged, as I
learnt afterwards, in attending on seven other prisoners who were
imprisoned in cells placed far apart from each other to prevent all
About noon the gaoler reappeared followed by five guards, whose duty
it was to serve the state prisoners. He opened: the cell door to
bring in my dinner and the furniture I had asked for. The bed was
placed in the recess; my dinner was laid out on a small table, and I
had to eat with an ivory spoon he had procured out of the money I had
given him; all forks, knives, and edged tools being forbidden.
"Tell me what you would like for to-morrow," said he, "for I can only
come here once a day at sunrise. The Lord High Secretary has told me
to inform you that he will send you some suitable books, but those
you wish for are forbidden."
"Thank him for his kindness in putting me by myself."
"I will do so, but you make a mistake in jesting thus."
"I don't jest at all, for I think truly that it is much better to be
alone than to mingle with the scoundrels who are doubtless here."
"What, sir! scoundrels? Not at all, not at all. They are only
respectable people here, who, for reasons known to their excellencies
alone, have to be sequestered from society. You have been put by
yourself as an additional punishment, and you want me to thank the
secretary on that account?"
"I was not aware of that."
The fool was right, and I soon found it out. I discovered that a man
imprisoned by himself can have no occupations. Alone in a gloomy
cell where he only sees the fellow who brings his food once a day,
where he cannot walk upright, he is the most wretched of men. He
would like to be in hell, if he believes in it, for the sake of the
company. So strong a feeling is this that I got to desire the
company of a murderer, of one stricken with the plague, or of a bear.
The loneliness behind the prison bars is terrible, but it must be
learnt by experience to be understood, and such an experience I would
not wish even to my enemies. To a man of letters in my situation,
paper and ink would take away nine-tenths of the torture, but the
wretches who persecuted me did not dream of granting me such an
alleviation of my misery.
After the gaoler had gone, I set my table near the grating for the
sake of the light, and sat down to dinner, but I could only swallow a
few spoonfuls of soup. Having fasted for nearly forty-eight hours,
it was not surprising that I felt ill. I passed the day quietly
enough seated on my sofa, and proposing myself to read the "suitable
books" which they had been good enough to promise me. I did not shut
my eyes the whole night, kept awake by the hideous noise made by the
rats, and by the deafening chime of the clock of St. Mark's, which
seemed to be striking in my room. This double vexation was not my
chief trouble, and I daresay many of my readers will guess what I am
going to speak of-namely, the myriads of fleas which held high
holiday over me. These small insects drank my blood with unutterable
voracity, their incessant bites gave me spasmodic convulsions and
poisoned my blood.
At day-break, Lawrence (such was the gaoler's name) came to my cell
and had my bed made, and the room swept and cleansed, and one of the
guards gave me water wherewith to wash myself. I wanted to take a
walk in the garret, but Lawrence told me that was forbidden. He gave
me two thick books which I forbore to open, not being quite sure of
repressing the wrath with which they might inspire me, and which the
spy would have infallibly reported to his masters. After leaving me
my fodder and two cut lemons he went away.
As soon as I was alone I ate my soup in a hurry, so as to take it
hot, and then I drew as near as I could to the light with one of the
books, and was delighted to find that I could see to read. I looked
at the title, and read, "The Mystical City of Sister Mary of Jesus,
of Agrada." I had never heard of it. The other book was by a Jesuit
named Caravita. This fellow, a hypocrite like the rest of them, had
invented a new cult of the "Adoration of the Sacred Heart of our Lord
Jesus Christ." This, according to the author, was the part of our
Divine Redeemer, which above all others should be adored a curious
idea of a besotted ignoramus, with which I got disgusted at the first
page, for to my thinking the heart is no more worthy a part than the
lungs, stomach; or any other of the inwards. The "Mystical City"
rather interested me.
I read in it the wild conceptions of a Spanish nun, devout to
superstition, melancholy, shut in by convent walls, and swayed by the
ignorance and bigotry of her confessors. All these grotesque,
monstrous, and fantastic visions of hers were dignified with the name
of revelations. The lover and bosom-friend of the Holy Virgin, she
had received instructions from God Himself to write the life of His
divine mother; the necessary information was furnished her by the
This life of Mary began, not with the day of her birth, but with her
immaculate conception in the womb of Anne, her mother. This Sister
Mary of Agrada was the head of a Franciscan convent founded by
herself in her own house. After telling in detail all the deeds of
her divine heroine whilst in her mother's womb, she informs us that
at the age of three she swept and cleansed the house with the
assistance of nine hundred servants, all of whom were angels whom God
had placed at her disposal, under the command of Michael, who came
and went between God and herself to conduct their mutual
What strikes the judicious reader of the book is the evident belief
of the more than fanatical writer that nothing is due to her
invention; everything is told in good faith and with full belief.
The work contains the dreams of a visionary, who, without vanity but
inebriated with the idea of God, thinks to reveal only the
inspirations of the Divine Spirit.
The book was published with the permission of the very holy and very
horrible Inquisition. I could not recover from my astonishment! Far
from its stirring up in my breast a holy and simple zeal of religion,
it inclined me to treat all the mystical dogmas of the Faith as
Such works may have dangerous results; for example, a more
susceptible reader than myself, or one more inclined to believe in
the marvellous, runs the risk of becoming as great a visionary as the
poor nun herself.
The need of doing something made me spend a week over this
masterpiece of madness, the product of a hyper-exalted brain. I took
care to say nothing to the gaoler about this fine work, but I began
to feel the effects of reading it. As soon as I went off to sleep I
experienced the disease which Sister Mary of Agrada had communicated
to my mind weakened by melancholy, want of proper nourishment and
exercise, bad air, and the horrible uncertainty of my fate. The
wildness of my dreams made me laugh when I recalled them in my waking
moments. If I had possessed the necessary materials I would have
written my visions down, and I might possibly have produced in my
cell a still madder work than the one chosen with such insight by
This set me thinking how mistaken is the opinion which makes human
intellect an absolute force; it is merely relative, and he who
studies himself carefully will find only weakness. I perceived that
though men rarely become mad, still such an event is well within the
bounds of possibility, for our reasoning faculties are like powder,
which, though it catches fire easily, will never catch fire at all
without a spark. The book of the Spanish nun has all the properties
necessary to make a man crack-brained; but for the poison to take
effect he must be isolated, put under the Leads, and deprived of all
In November, 1767, as I was going from Pampeluna to Madrid, my
coachman, Andrea Capello, stopped for us to dine in a town of Old
Castille. So dismal and dreary a place did I find it that I asked
its name. How I laughed when I was told that it was Agrada!
"Here, then," I said to myself, "did that saintly lunatic produce
that masterpiece which but for M. Cavalli I should never have known."
An old priest, who had the highest possible opinion of me the moment
I began to ask him about this truthful historian of the mother of
Christ, shewed me the very place where she had written it, and
assured me that the father, mother, sister, and in short all the
kindred of the blessed biographer, had been great saints in their
generation. He told me, and spoke truly, that the Spaniards had
solicited her canonization at Rome, with that of the venerable
Palafox. This "Mystical City," perhaps, gave Father Malagrida the
idea of writing the life of St. Anne, written, also, at the dictation
of the Holy Ghost, but the poor devil of a Jesuit had to suffer
martyrdom for it--an additional reason for his canonization, if the
horrible society ever comes to life again, and attains the universal
power which is its secret aim.
At the end of eight or nine days I found myself moneyless. Lawrence
asked me for some, but I had not got it.
"Where can I get some?"
What displeased this ignorant and gossiping fellow about me was my
silence and my laconic manner of talking.
Next day he told me that the Tribunal had assigned me fifty sous per
diem of which he would have to take charge, but that he would give me
an account of his expenditure every month, and that he would spend
the surplus on what I liked.
"Get me the Leyden Gazette twice a week."
"I can't do that, because it is not allowed by the authorities."
Sixty-five livres a month was more than I wanted, since I could not
eat more than I did: the great heat and the want of proper
nourishment had weakened me. It was in the dog-days; the strength of
the sun's rays upon the lead of the roof made my cell like a stove,
so that the streams of perspiration which rolled off my poor body as
I sat quite naked on my sofa-chair wetted the floor to right and left
I had been in this hell-on-earth for fifteen days without any
secretion from the bowels. At the end of this almost incredible time
nature re-asserted herself, and I thought my last hour was come. The
haemorrhoidal veins were swollen to such an extent that the pressure
on them gave me almost unbearable agony. To this fatal time I owe
the inception of that sad infirmity of which I have never been able
to completely cure myself. The recurrence of the same pains, though
not so acute, remind me of the cause, and do not make my remembrance
of it any the more agreeable. This disease got me compliments in
Russia when I was there ten years later, and I found it in such
esteem that I did not dare to complain. The same kind of thing
happened to me at Constantinople, when I was complaining of a cold in
the head in the presence of a Turk, who was thinking, I could see,
that a dog of a Christian was not worthy of such a blessing.
The same day I sickened with a high fever and kept my bed. I said
nothing to Lawrence about it, but the day after, on finding my dinner
untouched, he asked me how I was.
"That can't be, sir, as you have eaten nothing. You are ill, and you
will experience the generosity of the Tribunal who will provide you,
without fee or charge, with a physician, surgeon, and all necessary
He went out, returning after three hours without guards, holding a
candle in his hand, and followed by a grave-looking personage; this
was the doctor. I was in the height of the fever, which had not left
me for three days. He came up to me and began to ask me questions,
but I told him that with my confessor and my doctor I would only
speak apart. The doctor told Lawrence to leave the room, but on the
refusal of that Argus to do so, he went away saying that I was
dangerously ill, possibly unto death. For this I hoped, for my life
as it had become was no longer my chiefest good. I was somewhat glad
also to think that my pitiless persecutors might, on hearing of my
condition, be forced to reflect on the cruelty of the treatment to
which they had subjected me.
Four hours afterwards I heard the noise of bolts once more, and the
doctor came in holding the candle himself. Lawrence remained
outside. I had become so weak that I experienced a grateful
restfulness. Kindly nature does not suffer a man seriously ill to
feel weary. I was delighted to hear that my infamous turnkey was
outside, for since his explanation of the iron collar I had looked an
him with loathing.
In a quarter of an hour I had told the doctor all.
"If we want to get well," said he, "we must not be melancholy."
"Write me the prescription, and take it to the only apothecary who
can make it up. M. Cavalli is the bad doctor who exhibited 'The
Heart of Jesus,' and 'Tire Mystical City.'"
"Those two preparations are quite capable of having brought on the
fever and the haemorrhoids. I will not forsake you"
After making me a large jug of lemonade, and telling the to drink
frequently, he went away. I slept soundly, dreaming fantastic
In he morning the doctor came again with Lawrence and a surgeon, who
bled me. The doctor left me some medicine which he told me to take
in the evening, and a bottle of soap. "I have obtained leave," said
he, "for you to move into the garret where the heat is less, and the
air better than here."
"I decline the favour, as I abominate the rats, which you know
nothing about, and which would certainly get into my bed."
"What a pity! I told M. Cavalli that he had almost killed you with
his books, and he has commissioned me to take them back, and to give
you Boethius; and here it is."
"I am much obliged to you. I like it better than Seneca, and I am
sure it will do me good."
"I am leaving you a very necessary instrument, and some barley water
for you to refresh yourself with."
He visited me four times, and pulled me through; my constitution did
the rest, and my appetite returned. At the beginning of September I
found myself, on the whole, very well, suffering from no actual ills
except the heat, the vermin, and weariness, for I could not be always
One day Lawrence told me that I might go out of my cell to wash
myself whilst the bed was being made and the room swept. I took
advantage of the favour to walk up and down for the ten minutes taken
by these operations, and as I walked hard the rats were alarmed and
dared not shew themselves. On the same day Lawrence gave me an
account of my money, and brought himself in as my debtor to the
amount of thirty livres, which however, I could not put into my
pocket. I left the money in his hands, telling him to lay it out on
masses on my behalf, feeling sure that he would make quite a
different use of it, and he thanked me in a tone that persuaded me he
would be his own priest. I gave him the money every month, and I
never saw a priest's receipt. Lawrence was wise to celebrate the
sacrifice at the tavern; the money was useful to someone at all
I lived from day to day, persuading myself every night that the next
day I should be at liberty; but as I was each day deceived, I decided
in my poor brain that I should be set free without fail on the 1st of
October, on which day the new Inquisitors begin their term of office.
According to this theory, my imprisonment would last as long as the
authority of the present Inquisitors, and thus was explained the fact
that I had seen nothing of the secretary, who would otherwise have
undoubtedly come to interrogate, examine, and convict me of my
crimes, and finally to announce my doom. All this appeared to me
unanswerable, because it seemed natural, but it was fallacious under
the Leads, where nothing is done after the natural order. I imagined
the Inquisitors must have discovered my innocence and the wrong they
had done me, and that they only kept me in prison for form's sake,
and to protect their repute from the stain of committing injustice;
hence I concluded that they would give me my freedom when they laid
down their tyrannical authority. My mind was so composed and quiet
that I felt as if I could forgive them, and forget the wrong that
they had done me. "How can they leave me here to the mercy of their
successors," I thought, "to whom they cannot leave any evidence
capable of condemning me?" I could not believe that my sentence had
been pronounced and confirmed, without my being told of it, or of the
reasons by which my judges had been actuated. I was so certain that
I had right on my side, that I reasoned accordingly; but this was not
the attitude I should have assumed towards a court which stands aloof
from all the courts in the world for its unbounded absolutism. To
prove anyone guilty, it is only necessary for the Inquisitors to
proceed against him; so there is no need to speak to him, and when he
is condemned it would be useless to announce to the prisoner his
sentence, as his consent is not required, and they prefer to leave
the poor wretch the feeling of hope; and certainly, if he were told
the whole process, imprisonment would not be shortened by an hour.
The wise man tells no one of his business, and the business of the
Tribunal of Venice is only to judge and to doom. The guilty party is
not required to have any share in the matter; he is like a nail,
which to be driven into a wall needs only to be struck.
To a certain extent I was acquainted with the ways of the Colossus
which was crushing me under foot, but there are things on earth which
one can only truly understand by experience. If amongst my readers
there are any who think such laws unjust, I forgive them, as I know
they have a strong likeness to injustice; but let me tell them that
they are also necessary, as a tribunal like the Venetian could not
subsist without them. Those who maintain these laws in full vigour
are senators, chosen from amongst the fittest for that office, and
with a reputation for honour and virtue.
The last day of September I passed a sleepless night, and was on
thorns to see the dawn appear, so sure was I that that day would make
me free. The reign of those villains who had made me a captive drew
to a close; but the dawn appeared, Lawrence came as usual, and told
me nothing new. For five or six days I hovered between rage and
despair, and then I imagined that for some reasons which to me were
unfathomable they had decided to keep me prisoner for the remainder
of my days. This awful idea only made me laugh, for I knew that it
was in my power to remain a slave for no long time, but only till I
should take it into my own hands to break my prison. I knew that I
should escape or die: 'Deliberata morte ferocior'.
In the beginning of November I seriously formed the plan of forcibly
escaping from a place where I was forcibly kept. I began to rack my
brains to find a way of carrying the idea into execution, and I
conceived a hundred schemes, each one bolder than the other, but a
new plan always made me give up the one I was on the point of
While I was immersed in this toilsome sea of thought, an event
happened which brought home to me the sad state of mind I was in.
I was standing up in the garret looking towards the top, and my
glance fell on the great beam, not shaking but turning on its right
side, and then, by slow and interrupted movement in the opposite
direction, turning again and replacing itself in its original
position. As I lost my balance at the same time, I knew it was the
shock of an earthquake. Lawrence and the guards, who just then came
out of my room, said that they too, had felt the earth tremble. In
such despair was I that this incident made me feel a joy which I kept
to myself, saying nothing. Four or five seconds after the same
movement occurred, and I could not refrain from saying,
"Another, O my God! but stronger."
The guards, terrified with what they thought the impious ravings of a
desperate madman, fled in horror.
After they were gone, as I was pondering the matter over, I found
that I looked upon the overthrow of the Doge's palace as one of the
events which might lead to liberty; the mighty pile, as it fell,
might throw me safe and sound, and consequently free, on St. Mark's
Place, or at the worst it could only crush me beneath its ruins.
Situated as I was, liberty reckons for all, and life for nothing, or
rather for very little. Thus in the depths of my soul I began to
This earthquake shock was the result of those which at the same time
Various Adventures--My Companions--I Prepare to Escape--Change of
To make the reader understand how I managed to escape from a place
like the Leads, I must explain the nature of the locality.
The Leads, used for the confinement of state prisoners, are in fact
the lofts of the ducal palace, and take their name from the large
plates of lead with which the roof is covered. One can only reach
them through the gates of the palace, the prison buildings, or by the
bridge of which I have spoken called the Bridge of Sighs. It is
impossible to reach the cells without passing through the hall where
the State Inquisitors hold their meetings, and their secretary has
the sole charge of the key, which he only gives to the gaoler for a
short time in the early morning whilst he is attending to the
prisoners. This is done at day-break, because otherwise the guards
as they came and went would be in the way of those who have to do
with the Council of Ten, as the Council meets every day in a hall
called The Bussola, which the guards have to cross every time they go
to the Leads.
The prisons are under the roof on two sides of the palace; three to
the west (mine being among the number) and four to the east. On the
west the roof looks into the court of the palace, and on the east
straight on to the canal called Rio di Palazzo. On this side the
cells are well lighted, and one can stand up straight, which is not
the case in the prison where I was, which was distinguished by the
name of 'Trave', on account of the enormous beam which deprived me of
light. The floor of my cell was directly over the ceiling of the
Inquisitors' hall, where they commonly met only at night after the
sitting of the Council of Ten of which the whole three are members.
As I knew my ground and the habits of the Inquisitors perfectly well,
the only way to escape--the only way at least which I deemed likely
to succeed--was to make a hole in the floor of my cell; but to do
this tools must be obtained--a difficult task in a place where all
communication with the outside world was forbidden, where neither
letters nor visits were allowed. To bribe a guard a good deal of
money would be necessary, and I had none. And supposing that the
gaoler and his two guards allowed themselves to be strangled--for my
hands were my only weapons--there was always a third guard on duty at
the door of the passage, which he locked and would not open till his
fellow who wished to pass through gave him the password. In spite of
all these difficulties my only thought was how to escape, and as
Boethius gave me no hints on this point I read him no more, and as I
was certain that the difficulty was only to be solved by stress of
thinking I centered all my thoughts on this one object.
It has always been my opinion that when a man sets himself
determinedly to do something, and thinks of nought but his design, he
must succeed despite all difficulties in his path: such an one may
make himself Pope or Grand Vizier, he may overturn an ancient line of
kings--provided that he knows how to seize on his opportunity, and be
a man of wit and pertinacity. To succeed one must count on being
fortunate and despise all ill success, but it is a most difficult
Towards the middle of November, Lawrence told me that Messer-Grande
had a prisoner in his hands whom the new secretary, Businello, had
ordered to be placed in the worst cell, and who consequently was
going to share mine. He told me that on the secretary's reminding
him that I looked upon it as a favour to be left alone, he answered
that I had grown wiser in the four months of my imprisonment. I was
not sorry to hear the news or that there was a new secretary. This
M. Pierre Businello was a worthy man whom I knew at Paris. He
afterwards went to London as ambassador of the Republic.
In the afternoon I heard the noise of the bolts, and presently
Lawrence and two guards entered leading in a young man who was
weeping bitterly; and after taking off his handcuffs they shut him up
with me, and went out without saying a word. I was lying on my bed,
and he could not see me. I was amused at his astonishment. Being,
fortunately for himself, seven or eight inches shorter than I, he was
able to stand upright, and he began to inspect my arm-chair, which he
doubtless thought was meant for his own use. Glancing at the ledge
above the grating he saw Boethius, took it up, opened it, and put it
down with a kind of passion, probably because being in Latin it was
of no use to him. Continuing his inspection of the cell he went to
the left, and groping about was much surprised to find clothes. He
approached the recess, and stretching out his hand he touched me, and
immediately begged my pardon in a respectful manner. I asked him to
sit down and we were friends.
"Who are you?" said I.
"I am Maggiorin, of Vicenza. My father, who was a coachman, kept me
at school till I was eleven, by which time I had learnt to read and
write; I was afterwards apprenticed to a barber, where I learnt my
business thoroughly. After that I became valet to the Count of X---.
I had been in the service of the nobleman for two years when his
daughter came from the convent. It was my duty to do her hair, and
by degrees I fell in love with her, and inspired her with a
reciprocal passion. After having sworn a thousand times to exist
only for one another, we gave ourselves up to the task of shewing
each other marks of our affection, the result of which was that the
state of the young countess discovered all. An old and devoted
servant was the first to find out our connection and the condition of
my mistress, and she told her that she felt in duty bound to tell her
father, but my sweetheart succeeded in making her promise to be
silent, saying that in the course of the week she herself would tell
him through her confessor. She informed me of all this, and instead
of going to confession we prepared for flight. She had laid hands on
a good sum of money and some diamonds which had belonged to her
mother, and we were to set out for Milan to-night. But to-day the
count called me after dinner, and giving me a letter, he told me to
start at once and to deliver it with my own hand to the person to
whom it was addressed at Venice. He spoke to me so kindly and
quietly that I had not the slightest suspicion of the fate in store
for me. I went to get my cloak, said good-bye to my little wife,
telling her that I should soon return. Seeing deeper below the
surface than I, and perchance having a presentiment of my misfortune,
she was sick at heart. I came here in hot haste, and took care to
deliver the fatal letter. They made me wait for an answer, and in
the mean time I went to an inn; but as I came out I was arrested and
put in the guard-room, where I was kept till they brought me here. I
suppose, sir, I might consider the young countess as my wife?"
"You make a mistake."
"Nature, when a man listens to her and nothing else, takes him from
one folly to another, till she puts him under the Leads."
"I am under the Leads, then, am I?"
"As I am."
The poor young man shed some bitter tears. He was a well-made lad,
open, honest, and amorous beyond words. I secretly pardoned the
countess, and condemned the count for exposing his daughter to such
temptation. A shepherd who shuts up the wolf in the fold should not
complain if his flock be devoured. In all his tears and lamentations
he thought not of himself but always of his sweetheart. He thought
that the gaoler would return and bring him some food and a bed; but I
undeceived him, and offered him a share of what I had. His heart,
however, was too full for him to eat. In the evening I gave him my
mattress, on which he passed the night, for though he looked neat and
clean enough I did not care to have him to sleep with me, dreading
the results of a lover's dreams. He neither understood how wrongly
he had acted, nor how the count was constrained to punish him
publicly as a cloak to the honour of his daughter and his house.
The next day he was given a mattress and a dinner to the value of
fifteen sous, which the Tribunal had assigned to him, either as a
favour or a charity, for the word justice would not be appropriate in
speaking of this terrible body. I told the gaoler that my dinner
would suffice for the two of us, and that he could employ the young
man's allowance in saying masses in his usual manner. He agreed
willingly, and having told him that he was lucky to be in my company,
he said that we could walk in the garret for half an hour. I found
this walk an excellent thing for my health and my plan of escape,
which, however, I could not carry out for eleven months afterwards.
At the end of this resort of rats, I saw a number of old pieces of
furniture thrown on the ground to the right and left of two great
chests, and in front of a large pile of papers sewn up into separate
volumes. I helped myself to a dozen of them for the sake of the
reading, and I found them to be accounts of trials, and very
diverting; for I was allowed to read these papers, which had once
contained such secrets. I found some curious replies to the judges'
questions respecting the seduction of maidens, gallantries carried a
little too far by persons employed in girls' schools, facts relating
to confessors who had abused their penitents, schoolmasters convicted
of pederasty with their pupils, and guardians who had seduced their
wards. Some of the papers dating two or three centuries back, in
which the style and the manners illustrated gave me considerable
entertainment. Among the pieces of furniture on the floor I saw a
warming-pan, a kettle, a fire-shovel, a pair of tongs, some old
candle-sticks, some earthenware pots, and even a syringe. From this
I concluded that some prisoner of distinction had been allowed to
make use of these articles. But what interested me most was a
straight iron bar as thick as my thumb, and about a foot and a half
long. However, I left everything as it was, as my plans had not been
sufficiently ripened by time for me to appropriate any object in
One day towards the end of the month my companion was taken away, and
Lawrence told me that he had been condemned to the prisons known as
The Fours, which are within the same walls as the ordinary prisons,
but belong to the State Inquisitors. Those confined in them have the
privilege of being able to call the gaoler when they like. The
prisons are gloomy, but there is an oil lamp in the midst which gives
the necessary light, and there is no fear of fire as everything is
made of marble. I heard, a long time after, that the unfortunate
Maggiorin was there for five years, and was afterwards sent to Cerigo
for ten. I do not know whether he ever came from there. He had kept
me good company, and this I discovered as soon as he was gone, for in
a few days I became as melancholy as before. Fortunately, I was
still allowed my walk in the garret, and I began to examine its
contents with more minuteness. One of the chests was full of fine
paper, pieces of cardboard, uncut pens, and clews of pack thread; the
other was fastened down. A piece of polished black marble, an inch
thick, six inches long, and three broad, attracted my attention, and
I possessed myself of it without knowing what I was going to do with
it, and I secreted it in my cell, covering it up with my shirts.
A week after Maggiorin had gone, Lawrence told me that in all
probability I should soon get another companion. This fellow
Lawrence, who at bottom was a mere gabbling fool, began to get uneasy
at my never asking him any questions. This fondness for gossip was
not altogether appropriate to his office, but where is one to find
beings absolutely vile? There are such persons, but happily they are
few and far between, and are not to be sought for in the lower
orders. Thus my gaoler found himself unable to hold his tongue, and
thought that the reason I asked no questions must be that I thought
him incapable of answering them; and feeling hurt at this, and
wishing to prove to me that I made a mistake, he began to gossip
without being solicited.
"I believe you will often have visitors," said he, "as the other six
cells have each two prisoners, who are not likely to be sent to the
Fours." I made him no reply, but he went on, in a few seconds, "They
send to the Fours all sorts of people after they have been sentenced,
though they know nothing of that. The prisoners whom I have charge
of under the Leads are like yourself, persons of note, and are only
guilty of deeds of which the inquisitive must know nothing. If you
knew, sir, what sort of people shared your fate, you would be
astonished, It's true that you are called a man of parts; but you
will pardon me.... You know that all men of parts are treated well
here. You take me, I see. Fifty sous a day, that's something. They
give three livres to a citizen, four to a gentleman, and eight to a
foreign count. I ought to know, I think, as everything goes through
He then commenced to sing his own praises, which consisted of
"I'm no thief, nor traitor, nor greedy, nor malicious, nor brutal, as
all my predecessors were, and when I have drunk a pint over and above
I am all the better for it. If my father had sent me to school I
should have learnt to read and write, and I might be Messer-Grande
to-day, but that's not my fault. M. Andre Diedo has a high opinion
of me. My wife, who cooks for you every day, and is only twenty-
four, goes to see him when she will, and he will have her come in
without ceremony, even if he be in bed, and that's more than he'll do
for a senator. I promise you you will be always having the new-
comers in your cell, but never for any length of time, for as soon
as the secretary has got what he wants to know from them, he sends
them to their place--to the Fours, to some fort, or to the Levant;
and if they be foreigners they are sent across the frontier, for our
Government does not hold itself master of the subjects of other
princes, if they be not in its service. The clemency of the Court is
beyond compare; there's not another in the world that treats its
prisoners so well. They say it's cruel to disallow writing and
visitors; but that's foolish, for what are writing and company but
waste of time? You will tell me that you have nothing to do, but we
can't say as much."
Such was, almost word for word, the first harangue with which the
fellow honoured me, and I must say I found it amusing. I saw that if
the man had been less of a fool he would most certainly have been
more of a scoundrel.
The next day brought me a new messmate, who was treated as Maggiorin
had been, and I thus found it necessary to buy another ivory spoon,
for as the newcomers were given nothing on the first day of their
imprisonment I had to do all the honours of the cell.
My new mate made me a low bow, for my beard, now four inches long,
was still more imposing than my figure. Lawrence often lent me
scissors to cut my nails, but he was forbidden, under pain of very
heavy punishment, to let me touch my beard. I knew not the reason of
this order, but I ended by becoming used to my beard as one gets used
The new-comer was a man of about fifty, approaching my size, a little
bent, thin, with a large mouth, and very bad teeth. He had small
grey eyes hidden under thick eyebrows of a red colour, which made him
look like an owl; and this picture was set off by a small black wig,
which exhaled a disagreeable odour of oil, and by a dress of coarse
grey cloth. He accepted my offer of dinner, but was reserved, and
said not a word the whole day, and I was also silent, thinking he
would soon recover the use of his tongue, as he did the next day.
Early in the morning he was given a bed and a bag full of linen. The
gaoler asked him, as he had asked me, what he would have for dinner,
and for money to pay for it.
"I have no money."
"What! a moneyed man like you have no money?"
"I haven't a sou."
"Very good; in that case I will get you some army biscuit and water,
according to instructions."
He went out, and returned directly afterwards with a pound and a half
of biscuit, and a pitcher, which he set before the prisoner, and then
Left alone with this phantom I heard a sigh, and my pity made me
break the silence.
"Don't sigh, sir, you shall share my dinner. But I think you have
made a great mistake in coming here without money."
"I have some, but it does not do to let those harpies know of it:"
"And so you condemn yourself to bread and water. Truly a wise
proceeding! Do you know the reason of your imprisonment?"
"Yes, sir, and I will endeavour in a few words to inform you of it."
"My name is Squaldo Nobili. My father was a countryman who had me
taught reading and writing, and at his death left me his cottage and
the small patch of ground belonging to it. I lived in Friuli, about
a day's journey from the Marshes of Udine. As a torrent called Corno
often damaged my little property, I determined to sell it and to set
up in Venice, which I did ten years ago. I brought with me eight
thousand livres in fair sequins, and knowing that in this happy
commonwealth all men enjoyed the blessings of liberty, I believed
that by utilizing my capital I might make a little income, and I
began to lend money, on security. Relying on my thrift, my judgment,
and my, knowledge of the world, I chose this business in preference
to all others. I rented a small house in the neighbourhood of the
Royal Canal, and having furnished it I lived there in comfort by
myself; and in the course of two years I found I had made a profit of
ten thousand livres, though I had expended two thousand on household
expenses as I wished to live in comfort. In this fashion I saw
myself in a fair way of making a respectable fortune in time; but
one, day, having lent a Jew two sequins upon some books, I found one
amongst them called "La Sagesse," by Charron. It was then I found
out how good a thing it is to be able to read, for this book, which
you, sir, may not have read, contains all that a man need know--
purging him of all the prejudices of his childhood. With Charron
good-bye to hell and all the empty terrors of a future life; one's
eyes are opened, one knows the way to bliss, one becomes wise indeed.
Do you, sir, get this book, and pay no heed to those foolish persons
who would tell you this treasure is not to be approached."
This curious discourse made me know my man. As to Charron, I had
read the book though I did not know it had been translated into
Italian. The author who was a great admirer of Montaigne thought to
surpass his model, but toiled in vain. He is not much read despite
the prohibition to read his works, which should have given them some
popularity. He had the impudence to give his book the title of one
of Solomon's treatises--a circumstance which does not say much for
his modesty. My companion went on as follows:
"Set free by Charron from any scruples I still might have, and from
those false ideas so hard to rid one's self of, I pushed my business
in such sort, that at the end of six years I could lay my hand on ten
thousand sequins. There is no need for you to be astonished at that,
as in this wealthy city gambling, debauchery, and idleness set all
the world awry and in continual need of money; so do the wise gather
what the fool drops.
"Three years ago a certain Count Seriman came and asked me to take
from him five hundred sequins, to put them in my business, and to
give him half profits. All he asked for was an obligation in which I
promised to return him the whole sum on demand. At the end of a year
I sent him seventy-five sequins, which made fifteen per cent. on his
money; he gave me a receipt for it, but was ill pleased. He was
wrong, for I was in no need of money, and had not used his for
business purposes. At the end of the second year, out of pure
generosity, I sent him the same amount; but we came to a quarrel and
he demanded the return of the five hundred sequins. 'Certainly,' I
said, 'but I must deduct the hundred and fifty you have already
received.' Enraged at this he served me with a writ for the payment
of the whole sum. A clever lawyer undertook my defence and was able
to gain me two years. Three months ago I was spoken to as to an
agreement, and I refused to hear of it, but fearing violence I went
to the Abbe Justiniani, the Spanish ambassador's secretary, and for a
small sum he let me a house in the precincts of the Embassy, where
one is safe from surprises. I was quite willing to let Count Seriman
have his money, but I claimed a reduction of a hundred sequins on
account of the costs of the lawsuit. A week ago the lawyers on both
sides came to me. I shewed them a purse of two hundred and fifty
sequins, and told them they might take it, but not a penny more.
They went away without saying a word, both wearing an ill-pleased
air, of which I took no notice. Three days ago the Abbe Justiniani
told me that the ambassador had thought fit to give permission to the
State Inquisitors to send their men at once to my house to make
search therein. I thought the thing impossible under the shelter of
a foreign ambassador, and instead of taking the usual precautions, I
waited the approach of the men-at-arms, only putting my money in a
place of safety. At daybreak Messer-Grande came to the house, and
asked me for three hundred and fifty sequins, and on my telling him
that I hadn't a farthing he seized me, and here I am."
I shuddered, less at having such an infamous companion than at his
evidently considering me as his equal, for if he had thought of me in
any other light he would certainly not have told me this long tale,
doubtless in the belief that I should take his part. In all the
folly about Charron with which he tormented me in the three days we
were together, I found by bitter experience the truth of the Italian
proverb: 'Guardati da colui che non ha letto che un libro solo'. By
reading the work of the misguided priest he had become an Atheist,
and of this he made his boast all the day long. In the afternoon
Lawrence came to tell him to come and speak with the secretary. He
dressed himself hastily, and instead of his own shoes he took mine
without my seeing him. He came back in half an hour in tears, and
took out of his shoes two purses containing three hundred and fifty
sequins, and, the gaoler going before, he went to take them to the
secretary. A few moments afterwards he returned, and taking his
cloak went away. Lawrence told me that he had been set at liberty.
I thought, and with good reason, that, to make him acknowledge his
debt and pay it, the secretary had threatened him with the torture;
and if it were only used in similar cases, I, who detest the
principle of torture, would be the first to proclaim its utility.
On New Year's Day, 1733, I received my presents. Lawrence brought me
a dressing-gown lined with foxskin, a coverlet of wadded silk, and a
bear-skin bag for me to put my legs in, which I welcomed gladly, for
the coldness was unbearable as the heat in August. Lawrence told me
that I might spend to the amount of six sequins a month, that I might
have what books I liked, and take in the newspaper, and that this
present came from M. de Bragadin. I asked him for a pencil, and I
wrote upon a scrap of paper: "I am grateful for the kindness of the
Tribunal and the goodness of M. de Bragadin."
The man who would know what were my feelings at all this must have
been in a similar situation to my own. In the first gush of feeling
I forgave my oppressors, and was on the point of giving up the idea
of escape; so easily shall you move a man that you have brought low
and overwhelmed with misfortune. Lawrence told me that M. de
Bragadin had come before the three Inquisitors, and that on his
knees, and with tears in his eyes, he had entreated them to let him
give me this mark of his affection if I were still in the land of the
living; the Inquisitors were moved, and were not able to refuse his
I wrote down without delay the names of the books I wanted.
One fine morning, as I was walking in the garret, my eyes fell on the
iron bar I have mentioned, and I saw that it might very easily be
made into a defensive or offensive weapon. I took possession of it,
and having hidden it under my dressing-gown I conveyed it into my
cell. As soon as I was alone, I took the piece of black marble, and
I found that I had to my hand an excellent whetstone; for by rubbing
the bar with the stone I obtained a very good edge.
My interest roused in this work in which I was but an apprentice, and
in the fashion in which I seemed likely to become possessed of an
instrument totally prohibited under the Leads, impelled, perhaps,
also by my vanity to make a weapon without any of the necessary
tools, and incited by my very difficulties (for I worked away till
dark without anything to hold my whetstone except my left hand, and
without a drop of oil to soften the iron), I made up my mind to
persevere in my difficult task. My saliva served me in the stead of
oil, and I toiled eight days to produce eight edges terminating in a
sharp point, the edges being an inch and a half in length. My bar
thus sharpened formed an eight-sided dagger, and would have done
justice to a first-rate cutler. No one can imagine the toil and
trouble I had to bear, nor the patience required to finish this
difficult task without any other tools than a loose piece of stone.
I put myself, in fact, to a kind of torture unknown to the tyrants of
all ages. My right arm had become so stiff that I could hardly move
it; the palm of my hand was covered with a large scar, the result of
the numerous blisters caused by the hardness and the length of the
work. No one would guess the sufferings I underwent to bring my work
Proud of what I had done, without thinking what use I could make of
my weapon, my first care was to hide it in such a manner as would
defy a minute search. After thinking over a thousand plans, to all
of which there was some objection, I cast my eyes on my arm-chair,
and there I contrived to hide it so as to be secure from all
suspicion. Thus did Providence aid me to contrive a wonderful and
almost inconceivable plan of escape. I confess to a feeling of
vanity, not because I eventually succeeded--for I owed something to
good luck--but because I was brave enough to undertake such a scheme
in spite of the difficulties which might have ruined my plans and
prevented my ever attaining liberty.
After thinking for three or four days as to what I should do with the
bar I had made into an edged tool, as thick as a walking-stick and
twenty inches long, I determined that the best plan would be to make
a hole in the floor under my bed.
I was sure that the room below my cell was no other than the one in
which I had seen M. Cavalli. I knew that this room was opened every
morning, and I felt persuaded that, after I had made my hole, I could
easily let myself down with my sheets, which I would make into a rope
and fasten to my bed. Once there, I would hide under the table of
the court, and in the morning, when the door was opened, I could
escape and get to a place of safety before anyone could follow me. I
thought it possible that a sentry might be placed in the hall, but my
short pike ought to soon rid me of him. The floor might be of double
or even of triple thickness, and this thought puzzled me; for in that
case how was I to prevent the guard sweeping out the room throughout
the two months my work might last. If I forbade them to do so, I
might rouse suspicion; all the more as, to free myself of the fleas,
I had requested them to sweep out the cell every day, and in sweeping
they would soon discover what I was about. I must find some way out
of this difficulty.
I began by forbidding them to sweep, without giving any reason. A
week after, Lawrence asked me why I did so. I told him because of
the dust which might make me cough violently and give me some fatal
"I will make them water the floor," said he.
"That would be worse, Lawrence, for the damp might cause a plethora."
In this manner I obtained a week's respite, but at the end of that.
time the lout gave orders that my cell should be swept. He had the