Part 8 out of 70
them was a fool. But it was in vain that I spoke in the most
forcible manner, in vain that I went to work myself, and shewed that
safety was only to be insured by active means, I could not prevent
the priest declaring that I was an Atheist, and he managed to rouse
against me the anger of the greatest part of the crew. The wind
continued to lash the sea into fury for the two following days, and
the knave contrived to persuade the sailors who listened to him that
the hurricane would not abate as long as I was on board. Imbued with
that conviction, one of the men, thinking he had found a good
opportunity of fulfilling the wishes of the priest, came up to me as
I was standing at the extreme end of the forecastle, and pushed me so
roughly that I was thrown over. I should have been irretrievably
lost, but the sharp point of an anchor, hanging along the side of the
ship, catching in my clothes, prevented me from falling in the sea,
and proved truly my sheet-anchor. Some men came to my assistance,
and I was saved. A corporal then pointed out to me the sailor who
had tried to murder me, and taking a stout stick I treated the
scoundrel to a sound thrashing; but the sailors, headed by the
furious priest, rushed towards us when they heard his screams, and I
should have been killed if the soldiers had not taken my part. The
commander and M. Dolfin then came on deck, but they were compelled to
listen to the chaplain, and to promise, in order to pacify the vile
rabble, that they would land me at the first opportunity. But even
this was not enough; the priest demanded that I should give up to him
a certain parchment that I had purchased from a Greek at Malamocco
just before sailing. I had no recollection of it, but it was true.
I laughed, and gave it to M. Dolfin; he handed it to the fanatic
chaplain, who, exulting in his victory, called for a large pan of
live coals from the cook's galley, and made an auto-da-fe of the
document. The unlucky parchment, before it was entirely consumed,
kept writhing on the fire for half an hour, and the priest did not
fail to represent those contortions as a miracle, and all the sailors
were sure that it was an infernal manuscript given to me by the
devil. The virtue claimed for that piece of parchment by the man who
had sold it to me was that it insured its lucky possessor the love of
all women, but I trust my readers will do me the justice to believe
that I had no faith whatever in amorous philtres, talismans, or
amulets of any kind: I had purchased it only for a joke.
You can find throughout Italy, in Greece, and generally in every
country the inhabitants of which are yet wrapped up in primitive
ignorance, a tribe of Greeks, of Jews, of astronomers, and of
exorcists, who sell their dupes rags and toys to which they
boastingly attach wonderful virtues and properties; amulets which
render invulnerable, scraps of cloth which defend from witchcraft,
small bags filled with drugs to keep away goblins, and a thousand
gewgaws of the same description. These wonderful goods have no
marketable value whatever in France, in England, in Germany, and
throughout the north of Europe generally, but, in revenge, the
inhabitants of those countries indulge in knavish practices of a much
The storm abated just as the innocent parchment was writhing on the
fire, and the sailors, believing that the spirits of hell had been
exorcised, thought no more of getting rid of my person, and after a
prosperous voyage of a week we cast anchor at Corfu. As soon as I
had found a comfortable lodging I took my letters to his eminence the
proveditore-generale, and to all the naval commanders to whom I was
recommended; and after paying my respects to my colonel, and making
the acquaintance of the officers of my regiment, I prepared to enjoy
myself until the arrival of the Chevalier Venier, who had promised to
take me to Constantinople. He arrived towards the middle of June,
but in the mean time I had been playing basset, and had lost all my
money, and sold or pledged all my jewellery.
Such must be the fate awaiting every man who has a taste for
gambling, unless he should know how to fix fickle fortune by playing
with a real advantage derived from calculation or from adroitness,
which defies chance. I think that a cool and prudent player can
manage both without exposing himself to censure, or deserving to be
called a cheat.
During the month that I spent in Corfu, waiting for the arrival of M.
Venier, I did not devote any time to the study, either moral or
physical, of the country, for, excepting the days on which I was on
duty, I passed my life at the coffee-house, intent upon the game, and
sinking, as a matter of course, under the adverse fortune which I
braved with obstinacy. I never won, and I had not the moral strength
to stop till all my means were gone. The only comfort I had, and a
sorry one truly, was to hear the banker himself call me--perhaps
sarcastically--a fine player, every time I lost a large stake. My
misery was at its height, when new life was infused in me by the
booming of the guns fired in honour of the arrival of the bailo. He
was on board the Europa, a frigate of seventy-two guns, and he had
taken only eight days to sail from Venice to Corfu. The moment he
cast anchor, the bailo hoisted his flag of captain-general of the
Venetian navy, and the proveditore hauled down his own colours. The
Republic of Venice has not on the sea any authority greater than that
of Bailo to the Porte. The Chevalier Venier had with him a
distinguished and brilliant suite; Count Annibal Gambera, Count
Charles Zenobio, both Venetian noblemen of the first class, and the
Marquis d'Anchotti of Bressan, accompanied him to Constantinople for
their own amusement. The bailo remained a week in Corfu, and all the
naval authorities entertained him and his suite in turn, so that
there was a constant succession of balls and suppers. When I
presented myself to his excellency, he informed me that he had
already spoken to the proveditore, who had granted me a furlough of
six months to enable me to accompany him to Constantinople as his
adjutant; and as soon as the official document for my furlough had
been delivered to me, I sent my small stock of worldly goods on board
the Europa, and we weighed anchor early the next day.
We sailed with a favourable wind which remained steady and brought us
in six days to Cerigo, where we stopped to take in some water.
Feeling some curiosity to visit the ancient Cythera, I went on shore
with the sailors on duty, but it would have been better for me if I
had remained on board, for in Cerigo I made a bad acquaintance. I
was accompanied by the captain of marines.
The moment we set foot on shore, two men, very poorly dressed and of
unprepossessing appearance, came to us and begged for assistance. I
asked them who they were, and one, quicker than the other, answered;
"We are sentenced to live, and perhaps to die, in this island by the
despotism of the Council of Ten. There are forty others as
unfortunate as ourselves, and we are all born subjects of the
"The crime of which we have been accused, which is not considered a
crime anywhere, is that we were in the habit of living with our
mistresses, without being jealous of our friends, when, finding our
ladies handsome, they obtained their favours with our ready consent.
As we were not rich, we felt no remorse in availing ourselves of the
generosity of our friends in such cases, but it was said that we were
carrying on an illicit trade, and we have been sent to this place,
where we receive every day ten sous in 'moneta lunga'. We are called
'mangia-mayroni', and are worse off than galley slaves, for we are
dying of ennui, and we are often starving without knowing how to stay
our hunger. My name is Don Antonio Pocchini, I am of a noble Paduan
family, and my mother belongs to the illustrious family of Campo San-
We gave them some money, and went about the island, returning to the
ship after we had visited the fortress. I shall have to speak of
that Pocchini in a few years.
The wind continued in our favour, and we reached the Dardanelles in
eight or ten days; the Turkish barges met us there to carry us to
Constantinople. The sight offered by that city at the distance of a
league is truly wonderful; and I believe that a more magnificent
panorama cannot be found in any part of the world. It was that
splendid view which was the cause of the fall of the Roman, and of
the rise of the Greek empire. Constantine the Great, arriving at
Byzantium by sea, was so much struck with the wonderful beauty of its
position, that he exclaimed, "Here is the proper seat of the empire
of the whole world!" and in order to secure the fulfilment of his
prediction, he left Rome for Byzantium. If he had known the prophecy
of Horace, or rather if he had believed in it, he would not have been
guilty of such folly. The poet had said that the, downfall of the
Roman empire would begin only when one of the successors of Augustus
bethought him removing the capital of the empire to where it had
originated. The Troad is not far distant from Thrace.
We arrived at the Venetian Embassy in Pera towards the middle of
July, and, for a wonder, there was no talk of the plague in
Constantinople just then. We were all provided with very comfortable
lodgings, but the intensity of the heat induced the baili to seek for
a little coolness in a country mansion which had been hired by the
Bailo Dona. It was situated at Bouyoudere. The very first order
laid upon me was never to go out unknown to the bailo, and without
being escorted by a janissary, and this order I obeyed to the letter.
In those days the Russians had not tamed the insolence of the Turkish
people. I am told that foreigners can now go about as much as they
please in perfect security.
The day after our arrival, I took a janissary to accompany me to
Osman Pacha, of Caramania, the name assumed by Count de Bonneval ever
since he had adopted the turban. I sent in my letter, and was
immediately shewn into an apartment on the ground floor, furnished in
the French fashion, where I saw a stout elderly gentleman, dressed
like a Frenchman, who, as I entered the room, rose, came to meet me
with a smiling countenance, and asked me how he could serve the
'protege' of a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, which he could
no longer call his mother. I gave him all the particulars of the
circumstances which, in a moment of despair, had induced me to ask
the cardinal for letters of introduction for Constantinople, and I
added that, the letters once in my possession, my superstitious
feelings had made me believe that I was bound to deliver them in
"Then, without this letter," he said, "you never would have come to
Constantinople, and you have no need of me?"
"True, but I consider myself fortunate in having thus made the
acquaintance of a man who has attracted the attention of the whole of
Europe, and who still commands that attention."
His excellency made some remark respecting the happiness of young men
who, like me, without care, without any fixed purpose, abandon
themselves to fortune with that confidence which knows no fear, and
telling me that the cardinal's letter made it desirable that he
should do something for me, he promised to introduce me to three or
four of his Turkish friends who deserved to be known. He invited me
to dine with him every Thursday, and undertook to send me a janissary
who would protect me from the insults of the rabble and shew me
everything worth seeing.
The cardinal's letter representing me as a literary man, the pacha
observed that I ought to see his library. I followed him through the
garden, and we entered a room furnished with grated cupboards;
curtains could be seen behind the wirework; the books were most
likely behind the curtains.
Taking a key out of his pocket, he opened one of the cupboards, and,
instead of folios, I saw long rows of bottles of the finest wines.
We both laughed heartily.
"Here are," said the pacha. "my library and my harem. I am old,
women would only shorten my life but good wine will prolong it, or
at least, make it more agreeable.
"I imagine your excellency has obtained a dispensation from the
"You are mistaken, for the Pope of the Turks is very far from
enjoying as great a power as the Christian Pope. He cannot in any
case permit what is forbidden by the Koran; but everyone is at
liberty to work out his own damnation if he likes. The Turkish
devotees pity the libertines, but they do not persecute them; there
is no inquisition in Turkey. Those who do not know the precepts of
religion, say the Turks, will suffer enough in the life to come;
there is no need to make them suffer in this life. The only
dispensation I have asked and obtained, has been respecting
circumcision, although it can hardly be called so, because, at my
age, it might have proved dangerous. That ceremony is generally
performed, but it is not compulsory."
During the two hours that we spent together, the pacha enquired after
several of his friends in Venice, and particularly after Marc Antonio
Dieto. I told him that his friends were still faithful to their
affection for him, and did not find fault with his apostasy. He
answered that he was a Mahometan as he had been a Christian, and that
he was not better acquainted with the Koran than he had been with the
Gospel. "I am certain," he added, "that I shall die-calmer and much
happier than Prince Eugene. I have had to say that God is God, and
that Mahomet is the prophet. I have said it, and the Turks care very
little whether I believe it or not. I wear the turban as the soldier
wears the uniform. I was nothing but a military man; I could not
have turned my hand to any other profession, and I made up my mind to
become lieutenant-general of the Grand Turk only when I found myself
entirely at a loss how to earn my living. When I left Venice, the
pitcher had gone too often to the well, it was broken at last, and if
the Jews had offered me the command of an army of fifty thousand men,
I would have gone and besieged Jerusalem."
Bonneval was handsome, but too stout. He had received a sabre-cut in
the lower part of the abdomen, which compelled him to wear constantly
a bandage supported by a silver plate. He had been exiled to Asia,
but only for a short time, for, as he told me, the cabals are not so
tenacious in Turkey as they are in Europe, and particularly at the
court of Vienna. As I was taking leave of him, he was kind enough to
say that, since his arrival in Turkey, he had never passed two hours
as pleasantly as those he had just spent with me, and that he would
compliment the bailo about me.
The Bailo Dona, who had known him intimately in Venice, desired me to
be the bearer of all his friendly compliments for him, and M. Venier
expressed his deep regret at not being able to make his acquaintance.
The second day after my first visit to him being a Thursday, the
pacha did not forget to send a janissary according to his promise.
It was about eleven in the morning when the janissary called for me,
I followed him, and this time I found Bonneval dressed in the Turkish
style. His guests soon arrived, and we sat down to dinner, eight of
us, all well disposed to be cheerful and happy. The dinner was
entirely French, in cooking and service; his steward and his cook
were both worthy French renegades.
He had taken care to introduce me to all his guests and at the same
time to let me know who they were, but he did not give me an
opportunity of speaking before dinner was nearly over. The
conversation was entirely kept up in Italian, and I remarked that the
Turks did not utter a single word in their own language, even to say
the most ordinary thing. Each guest had near him a bottle which
might have contained either white wine or hydromel; all I know is
that I drank, as well as M. de Bonneval, next to whom I was seated,
some excellent white Burgundy.
The guests got me on the subject of Venice, and particularly of Rome,
and the conversation very naturally fell upon religion, but not upon
dogmatic questions; the discipline of religion and liturgical
questions were alone discussed.
One of the guests, who was addressed as effendi, because he had been
secretary for foreign affairs, said that the ambassador from Venice
to Rome was a friend of his, and he spoke of him in the highest
manner. I told him that I shared his admiration for that ambassador,
who had given me a letter of introduction for a Turkish nobleman,
whom he had represented as an intimate friend. He enquired for the
name of the person to whom the letter was addressed, but I could not
recollect it, and took the letter out of my pocket-book. The effendi
was delighted when he found that the letter was for himself. He
begged leave to read it at once, and after he had perused it, he
kissed the signature and came to embrace me. This scene pleased M.
de Bonneval and all his friends. The effendi, whose name was Ismail,
entreated the pacha to come to dine with him, and to bring me;
Bonneval accepted, and fixed a day.
Notwithstanding all the politeness of the effendi, I was particularly
interested during our charming dinner in a fine elderly man of about
sixty, whose countenance breathed at the same time the greatest
sagacity and the most perfect kindness. Two years afterwards I found
again the same features on the handsome face of M. de Bragadin, a
Venetian senator of whom I shall have to speak at length when we come
to that period of my life. That elderly gentleman had listened to me
with the greatest attention, but without uttering one word. In
society, a man whose face and general appearance excite your
interest, stimulates strongly your curiosity if he remains silent.
When we left the dining-room I enquired from de Bonneval who he was;
he answered that he was wealthy, a philosopher, a man of acknowledged
merit, of great purity of morals, and strongly attached to his
religion. He advised me to cultivate his acquaintance if he made any
advances to me.
I was pleased with his advice, and when, after a walk under the shady
trees of the garden, we returned to a drawing-room furnished in the
Turkish fashion, I purposely took a seat near Yusuf Ali. Such was
the name of the Turk for whom I felt so much sympathy. He offered me
his pipe in a very graceful manner; I refused it politely, and took
one brought to me by one of M. de Bonneval's servants. Whenever I
have been amongst smokers I have smoked or left the room; otherwise I
would have fancied that I was swallowing the smoke of the others, and
that idea which is true and unpleasant, disgusted me. I have never
been able to understand how in Germany the ladies, otherwise so
polite and delicate, could inhale the suffocating fumes of a crowd of
Yusuf, pleased to have me near him, at once led the conversation to
subjects similar to those which had been discussed at table, and
particularly to the reasons which had induced me to give up the
peaceful profession of the Church and to choose a military life; and
in order to gratify his curiosity without losing his good opinion, I
gave him, but with proper caution, some of the particulars of my
life, for I wanted him to be satisfied that, if I had at first
entered the career of the holy priesthood, it had not been through
any vocation of mine. He seemed pleased with my recital, spoke of
natural vocations as a Stoic philosopher, and I saw that he was a
fatalist; but as I was careful not to attack his system openly, he
did not dislike my objections, most likely because he thought himself
strong enough to overthrow them.
I must have inspired the honest Mussulman with very great esteem, for
he thought me worthy of becoming his disciple; it was not likely that
he could entertain the idea of becoming himself the disciple of a
young man of nineteen, lost, as he thought, in a false religion.
After spending an hour in examining me, in listening to my
principles, he said that he believed me fit to know the real truth,
because he saw that I was seeking for it, and that I was not certain
of having obtained it so far. He invited me to come and spend a
whole day with him, naming the days when I would be certain to find
him at home, but he advised me to consult the Pacha Osman before
accepting his invitation. I told him that the pacha had already
mentioned him to me and had spoken very highly of his character; he
seemed much pleased. I fixed a day for my visit, and left him.
I informed M. de Bonneval of all that had occurred; he was delighted,
and promised that his janissary would be every day at the Venetian
palace, ready to execute my orders.
I received the congratulations of the baili upon the excellent
acquaintances I had already made, and M. Venier advised me not to
neglect such friends in a country where weariness of life was more
deadly to foreigners than the plague.
On the day appointed, I went early to Yusuf's palace, but he was out.
His gardener, who had received his instructions, shewed me every
attention, and entertained me very agreeably for two hours in doing
the honours of his master's splendid garden, where I found the most
beautiful flowers. This gardener was a Neapolitan, and had belonged
to Yusuf for thirty years. His manners made me suspect that he was
well born and well educated, but he told me frankly that he had never
been taught even to read, that he was a sailor when he, was taken in
slavery, and that he was so happy in the service of Yusuf that
liberty would be a punishment to him. Of course I did not venture to
address him any questions about his master, for his reserve might
have put my curiosity to the blush.
Yusuf had gone out on horseback; he returned, and, after the usual
compliments, we dined alone in a summerhouse, from which we had a
fine view of the sea, and in which the heat was cooled by a
delightful breeze, which blows regularly at the same hour every day
from the north-west; and is called the mistral. We had a good
dinner; there was no prepared dish except the cauroman, a peculiar
delicacy of the Turks. I drank water and hydromel, and I told Yusuf
that I preferred the last to wine, of which I never took much at that
time. "Your hydromel," I said, "is very good, and the Mussulmans who
offend against the law by drinking wine do not deserve any
indulgence; I believe they drink wine only because it is forbidden."
"Many of the true believers," he answered. "think that they can take
it as a medicine. The Grand Turk's physician has brought it into
vogue as a medicine, and it has been the cause of his fortune, for he
has captivated the favour of his master who is in reality constantly
ill, because he is always in a state of intoxication." I told Yusuf
that in my country drunkards were scarce, and that drunkenness was a
vice to be found only among the lowest people; he was much
astonished. "I cannot understand," he said, "why wine is allowed by
all religions, when its use deprives man of his reason."--"All
religions," I answered, "forbid excess in drinking wine, and the
crime is only in the abuse." I proved him the truth of what I had
said by telling him that opium produced the same results as wine, but
more powerfully, and consequently Mahomet ought to have forbidden the
use of it. He observed that he had never taken either wine or opium
in the course of his life.
After dinner, pipes were brought in and we filled them ourselves. I
was smoking with pleasure, but, at the same time, was expectorating.
Yusuf, who smoked like a Turk, that is to say, without spitting,
"The tobacco you are now smoking is of a very fine quality, and you
ought to swallow its balsam which is mixed with the saliva."
"I suppose you are right; smoking cannot be truly enjoyed without the
"That is true to a certain extent, but the enjoyment found in smoking
good tobacco is not the principal pleasure, because it only pleases
our senses; true enjoyment is that which works upon the soul, and is
completely independent of the senses."
"I cannot realize pleasures enjoyed by the soul without the
instrumentality of the senses."
"Listen to me. When you fill your pipe do you feel any pleasure?"
"Whence does that pleasure arise, if it is not from your soul? Let
us go further. Do you not feel pleased when you give up your pipe
after having smoked all the tobacco in it--when you see that nothing
is left but some ashes?"
"It is true."
"Well, there are two pleasures in which your senses have certainly
nothing to do, but I want you to guess the third, and the most
"The most essential? It is the perfume."
"No; that is a pleasure of the organ of smelling--a sensual
"Then I do not know."
"Listen. The principal pleasure derived from tobacco smoking is the
sight of a smoke itself. You must never see it go out of the bowl of
your pipe,--but only from the corner o your mouth, at regular
intervals which must not be too frequent. It is so truly the greatest
pleasure connected with the pipe, that you cannot find anywhere a
blind man who smokes. Try yourself the experiment of smoking a pipe
in your room, at night and without a light; you will soon lay the
"It is all perfectly true; yet you must forgive me if I give the
preference to several pleasures, in which my senses are interested,
over those which afford enjoyment only to my soul."
"Forty years ago I was of the same opinion, and in forty years, if
you succeed in acquiring wisdom, you will think like me. Pleasures
which give activity to our senses, my dear son, disturb the repose of
our soul--a proof that they do not deserve the name of real
"But if I feel them to be real enjoyments, it is enough to prove that
they are truly so."
"Granted; but if you would take the trouble of analyzing them after
you have tasted them, you would not find them unalloyed."
"It may be so, but why should I take a trouble which would only
lessen my enjoyment."
"A time will come when you will feel pleasure in that very trouble."
"It strikes me, dear father, that you prefer mature age to youth."
"You may boldly say old age."
"You surprise me. Must I believe that your early life has been
"Far from it. It was always fortunate in good health, and the master
of my own passions; but all I saw in my equals was for me a good
school in which I have acquired the knowledge of man, and learned the
real road to happiness. The happiest of men is not the most
voluptuous, but the one who knows how to choose the highest standards
of voluptuousness, which can be found, I say again, not in the
pleasures which excite our senses, but in those which give greater
repose to the soul."
"That is the voluptuousness which you consider unalloyed."
"Yes, and such is the sight of a vast prairie all covered with grass.
The green colour, so strongly recommended by our divine prophet,
strikes my eyes, and at the same moment I feel that my soul is
wrapped up in a calm so delightful that I fancy myself nearer the
Creator. I enjoy the same peace, the same repose, when I am seated
on the banks of a river, when I look upon the water so quiet, yet
always moving, which flows constantly, yet never disappears from my
sight, never loses any of its clearness in spite of its constant
motion. It strikes me as the image of my own existence, and of the
calm which I require for my life in order to reach, like the water I
am gazing upon, the goal which I do not see, and which can only be
found at the other end of the journey."
Thus did the Turk reason, and we passed four hours in this sort of
conversation. He had buried two wives, and he had two sons and one
daughter. The eldest son, having received his patrimony, had
established himself in the city of Salonica, where he was a wealthy
merchant; the other was in the seraglio, in the service of the Grand
Turk and his fortune was in the hands of a trustee. His daughter,
Zelmi, then fifteen years of age, was to inherit all his remaining
property. He had given her all the accomplishments which could
minister to the happiness of the man whom heaven had destined for her
husband. We shall hear more of that daughter anon. The mother of
the three children was dead, and five years previous to the time of
my visit, Yusuf had taken another wife, a native of Scio, young and
very beautiful, but he told me himself that he was now too old, and
could not hope to have any child by her. Yet he was only sixty years
of age. Before I left, he made me promise to spend at least one day
every week with him.
At supper, I told the baili how pleasantly the day had passed.
"We envy you," they said, "the prospect you have before you of
spending agreeably three or four months in this country, while, in
our quality of ministers, we must pine away with melancholy."
A few days afterwards, M. de Bonneval took me with him to dine at
Ismail's house, where I saw Asiatic luxury on a grand scale, but
there were a great many guests, and the conversation was held almost
entirely in the Turkish language--a circumstance which annoyed me and
M. de Bonneval also. Ismail saw it, and he invited me to breakfast
whenever I felt disposed, assuring me that he would have much
pleasure in receiving me. I accepted the invitation, and I went ten
or twelve days afterwards. When we reach that period my readers must
kindly accompany me to the breakfast. For the present I must return
to Yusuf who, during my second visit, displayed a character which
inspired, me with the greatest esteem and the warmest affection.
We had dined alone as before, and, conversation happening to turn
upon the fine arts, I gave my opinion upon one of the precepts in the
Koran, by which the Mahometans are deprived of the innocent enjoyment
of paintings and statues. He told me that Mahomet, a very sagacious
legislator, had been right in removing all images from the sight of
the followers of Islam.
"Recollect, my son, that the nations to which the prophet brought the
knowledge of the true God were all idolators. Men are weak; if the
disciples of the prophet had continued to see the same objects, they
might have fallen back into their former errors."
"No one ever worshipped an image as an image; the deity of which the
image is a representation is what is worshipped."
"I may grant that, but God cannot be matter, and it is right to
remove from the thoughts of the vulgar the idea of a material
divinity. You are the only men, you Christians, who believe that you
"It is true, we are sure of it, but observe that faith alone gives us
"I know it; but you are idolators, for you see nothing but a material
representation, and yet you have a complete certainty that you see
God, unless you should tell me that faith disaffirms it."
"God forbid I should tell you such a thing! Faith, on the contrary,
affirms our certainty."
"We thank God that we have no need of such self-delusion, and there
is not one philosopher in the world who could prove to me that you
"That would not be the province of philosophy, dear father, but of
theology--a very superior science."
"You are now speaking the language of our theologians, who differ
from yours only in this; they use their science to make clearer the
truths we ought to know, whilst your theologians try to render those
truths more obscure."
"Recollect, dear father, that they are mysteries."
"The existence of God is a sufficiently important mystery to prevent
men from daring to add anything to it. God can only be simple; any
kind of combination would destroy His essence; such is the God
announced by our prophet, who must be the same for all men and in all
times. Agree with me that we can add nothing to the simplicity of
God. We say that God is one; that is the image of simplicity. You
say that He is one and three at the same time, and such a definition
strikes us as contradictory, absurd, and impious."
"It is a mystery."
"Do you mean God or the definition? I am speaking only of the
definition, which ought not to be a mystery or absurd. Common sense,
my son, must consider as absurd an assertion which substantiallv
nonsensical. Prove to me that three is not a compound, that it
cannot be a compound and I will become a Christian at once."
"My religion tells me to believe without arguing, and I shudder, my
dear Yusuf, when I think that, through some specious reasoning, I
might be led to renounce the creed of my fathers. I first must be
convinced that they lived in error. Tell me whether, respecting my
father's memory, I ought to have such a good opinion of myself as to
sit in judgement over him, with the intention of giving my sentence
My lively remonstrance moved Yusuf deeply, but after a few instants
of silence he said to me,--
"With such feelings, my son, you are sure to find grace in the eyes
of God, and you are, therefore, one of the elect. If you are in
error, God alone can convince you of it, for no just man on earth can
refute the sentiment you have just given expression to."
We spoke of many other things in a friendly manner, and in the
evening we parted with the often repeated assurance of the warmest
affection and of the most perfect devotion.
But my mind was full of our conversation, and as I went on pondering
over the matter, I thought that Yusuf might be right in his opinion
as to the essence of God, for it seemed evident that the Creator of
all beings ought to be perfectly simple; but I thought at the same
time how impossible it would be for me, because the Christian
religion had made a mistake, to accept the Turkish creed, which might
perhaps have just a conception of God, but which caused me to smile
when I recollected that the man who had given birth to it had been an
arrant imposter. I had not the slightest idea, however, that Yusuf
wished to make a convert of me.
The third time I dined with him religion was again the subject of
"Do you believe, dear father, that the religion of Mahomet is the
only one in which salvation can be secured?"
"No, my dear son, I am not certain of it, and no man can have such a
certainty; but I am sure that the Christian religion is not the true
one, because it cannot be universal."
"Because there is neither bread nor wine to be found in three-fourths
of the world. Observe that the precepts of the Koran can be followed
I did not know how to answer, and I would not equivocate.
"If God cannot be matter," I said, "then He must be a spirit?"
"We know what He is not but we do not know what He is: man cannot
affirm that God is a spirit, because he can only realize the idea in
an abstract manner. God immaterial; that is the extent of our
knowledge and it can never be greater."
I was reminded of Plato, who had said exactly the same an most
certainly Yusuf never read Plato.
He added that the existence of God could be useful only to those who
did not entertain a doubt of that existence, and that, as a natural
consequence, Atheists must be the most miserable of men. God has
made in man His own image in order that, amongst all the animals
created by Him, there should be one that can understand and confess
the existence of the Creator. Without man, God would have no witness
of His own glory, and man must therefore understand that his first
and highest duty is to glorify God by practising justice and trusting
to His providence.
"Observe, my son, that God never abandons the man who, in the midst
of misfortunes, falls down in prayer before Him, and that He often
allows the wretch who has no faith in prayer to die miserably."
"Yet we meet with Atheists who are fortunate and happy."
"True; but, in spite of their tranquillity, I pity them because they
have no hope beyond this life, and are on a level with animals.
Besides, if they are philosophers, they must linger in dark
ignorance, and, if they never think, they have no consolation, no
resource, when adversity reaches them. God has made man in such a
manner that he cannot be happy unless he entertains no doubt of the
existence of his Divine Creator; in all stations of life man is
naturally prone to believe in that existence, otherwise man would
never have admitted one God, Creator of all beings and of all
"I should like to know why Atheism has only existed in the systems of
the learned, and never as a national creed."
"Because the poor feel their wants much more than the rich, There are
amongst us a great many impious men who deride the true believers
because they have faith in the pilgrimage to Mecca. Wretches that
they are, they ought to respect the ancient customs which, exciting
the devotion of fervent souls, feed religious principles, and impart
courage under all misfortunes. Without such consolation, people
would give way to all the excess of despair."
Much pleased with the attention I gave to all he said, Yusuf would
thus yield to the inclination he felt to instruct me, and, on my
side, feeling myself drawn towards him by the charm which amiable
goodness exerts upon all hearts, I would often go and spend the day
with him, even without any previous invitation, and Yusuf's
friendship soon became one of my most precious treasures.
One morning, I told my janissary to take me to the palace of Ismail
Effendi, in order to fulfil my promise to breakfast with him. He
gave me the most friendly welcome, and after an excellent breakfast
he invited me to take a walk in his garden. We found there a pretty
summer-house which we entered, and Ismail attempted some liberties
which were not at all to my taste, and which I resented by rising in
a very abrupt manner. Seeing that I was angry, the Turk affected to
approve my reserve, and said that he had only been joking. I left
him after a few minutes, with the intention of not visiting him
again, but I was compelled to do so, as I will explain by-and-by.
When I saw M. de Bonneval I told him what had happened and he said
that, according to Turkish manners, Ismail had intended to give me a
great proof of his friendship, but that I need not be afraid of the
offence being repeated. He added that politeness required that I
should visit him again, and that Ismail was, in spite of his failing,
a perfect gentleman, who had at his disposal the most beautiful
female slaves in Turkey.
Five or six weeks after the commencement of our intimacy, Yusuf asked
me one day whether I was married. I answered that I was not; the
conversation turned upon several moral questions, and at last fell
upon chastity, which, in his opinion, could be accounted a virtue
only if considered from one point of view, namely, that of total
abstinence, but he added that it could not be acceptable to God;
because it transgressed against the very first precept He had given
"I would like to know, for instance," he said, "what name can be
given to the chastity of your knights of Malta. They take a vow of
chastity, but it does not mean that they will renounce women
altogether, they renounce marriage only. Their chastity, and
therefore chastity in general, is violated only by marriage; yet I
observe that marriage is one of your sacraments. Therefore, those
knights of Malta promise not to give way to lustful incontinence in
the only case in which God might forgive it, but they reserve the
license of being lustful unlawfully as often as they please, and
whenever an opportunity may offer itself; and that immoral, illicit
license is granted to them to such an extent, that they are allowed
to acknowledge legally a child which can be born to them only through
a double crime! The most revolting part of it all is that these
children of crime, who are of course perfectly innocent themselves,
are called natural children, as if children born in wedlock came into
the world in an unnatural manner! In one word, my dear son, the vow
of chastity is so much opposed to Divine precepts and to human nature
that it can be agreeable neither to God nor to society, nor to those
who pledge themselves to keep it, and being in such opposition to
every divine and human law, it must be a crime."
He enquired for the second time whether I was married; I replied in
the negative, and added that I had no idea of ever getting married.
"What!" he exclaimed; "I must then believe that you are not a perfect
man, or that you intend to work out your own damnation; unless you
should tell me that you are a Christian only outwardly."
"I am a man in the very strongest sense of the word, and I am a true
Christian. I must even confess that I adore women, and that I have
not the slightest idea of depriving myself of the most delightful of
"According to your religion, damnation awaits you."
"I feel certain of the contrary, because, when we confess our sins,
our priests are compelled to give us absolution."
"I know it, but you must agree with me that it is absurd to suppose
that God will forgive a crime which you would, perhaps, not commit,
if you did not think that, after confession, a priest, a man like
you, will give you absolution. God forgives only the repenting
"No doubt of it, and confession supposes repentance; without it,
absolution has no effect."
"Is onanism a crime amongst you?"
"Yes, even greater than lustful and illegitimate copulation."
"I was aware of it, and it has always caused me great surprise, for
the legislator who enacts a law, the execution of which is
impossible, is a fool. A man in good health, if he cannot have a
woman, must necessarily have recourse to onanism, whenever imperious
nature demands it, and the man who, from fear of polluting his soul,
would abstain from it, would only draw upon himself a mortal
"We believe exactly the reverse; we think that young people destroy
their constitutions, and shorten their lives through self-abuse. In
several communities they are closely watched, and are as much as
possible deprived of every opportunity of indulging in that crime."
"Those who watch them are ignorant fools, and those who pay the
watchers for such a service are even more stupid, because prohibition
must excite the wish to break through such a tyrannical law, to set
at nought an interdiction so contrary to nature."
"Yet it seems to me that self-abuse in excess must be injurious to
health, for it must weaken and enervate."
"Certainly, because excess in everything is prejudicial and
pernicious; but all such excess is the result of our severe
prohibition. If girls are not interfered with in the matter of self-
abuse, I do not see why boys should be."
"Because girls are very far from running the same risk; they do not
lose a great deal in the action of self-abuse, and what they lose
does not come from the same source whence flows the germinal liquid
"I do not know, but we have some physicians who say that chlorosis in
girls is the result of that pleasure indulged in to excess."
After many such conversations, in which he seemed to consider me as
endowed with reason and talent, even when I was not of his opinion,
Yusuf Ali surprised me greatly one day by the following proposition:
"I have two sons and a daughter. I no longer think of my sons,
because they have received their share of my fortune. As far as my
daughter is concerned she will, after my death, inherit all my
possessions, and I am, besides, in a position while I am alive to
promote the fortune of the man who may marry her. Five years ago I
took a young wife, but she has not given me any progeny, and I know
to a certainty that no offspring will bless our union. My daughter,
whose name is Zelmi, is now fifteen; she is handsome, her eyes are
black and lovely like her mother's, her hair is of the colour of the
raven's wing, her complexion is animated alabaster; she is tall, well
made, and of a sweet disposition; I have given her an education which
would make her worthy of our master, the Sultan. She speaks Greek
and Italian fluently, she sings delightfully, and accompanies herself
on the harp; she can draw and embroider, and is always contented and
cheerful. No living man can boast of having seen her features, and
she loves me so dearly that my will is hers. My daughter is a
treasure, and I offer her to you if you will consent to go for one
year to Adrianople to reside with a relative of mine, who will teach
you our religion, our language, and our manners. You will return at
the end of one year, and as soon as you have become a Mussulman my
daughter shall be your wife. You will find a house ready furnished,
slaves of your own, and an income which will enable you to live in
comfort. I have no more to say at present. I do not wish you to
answer me either to-day, or to-morrow, or on any fixed day. You will
give me your decision whenever you feel yourself called upon by your
genius to give it, and you need not give me any answer unless you
accept my offer, for, should you refuse it, it is not necessary that
the subject should be again mentioned. I do not ask you to give full
consideration to my proposal, for now that I have thrown the seed in
your soul it must fructify. Without hurry, without delay, without
anxiety, you can but obey the decrees of God and follow the immutable
decision of fate. Such as I know you, I believe that you only
require the possession of Zelmi to be competely happy, and that you
will become one of the pillars of the Ottoman Empire."
Saying those words, Yusuf pressed me affectionately in his arms, and
left me by myself to avoid any answer I might be inclined to make. I
went away in such wonder at all I had just heard, that I found myself
at the Venetian Embassy without knowing how I had reached it. The
baili thought me very pensive, and asked whether anything was the
matter with me, but I did not feel disposed to gratify their
curiosity. I found that Yusuf had indeed spoken truly: his proposal
was of such importance that it was my duty, not only not to mention
it to anyone, but even to abstain from thinking it over, until my
mind had recovered its calm sufficiently to give me the assurance
that no external consideration would weigh in the balance and
influence my decision. I had to silence all my passions; prejudices,
principles already formed, love, and even self-interest were to
remain in a state of complete inaction.
When I awoke the next morning I began to think the matter over, and I
soon discovered that, if I wanted to come to a decision, I ought not
to ponder over it, as the more I considered the less likely I should
be to decide. This was truly a case for the 'sequere Deum' of the
I did not visit Yusuf for four days, and when I called on him on the
fifth day, we talked cheerfully without once mentioning his proposal,
although it was very evident that we were both thinking of it. We
remained thus for a fortnight, without ever alluding to the matter
which engrossed all our thoughts, but our silence was not caused by
dissimulation, or by any feeling contrary to our mutual esteem and
friendship; and one day Yusuf suggested that very likely I had
communicated his proposal to some wise friend, in order to obtain
good advice. I immediately assured him it was not so, and that in a
matter of so delicate a nature I thought I ought not to ask anybody's
"I have abandoned myself to God, dear Yusuf, and, full of confidence
in Him, I feel certain that I shall decide for the best, whether I
make up my mind to become your son, or believe that I ought to remain
what I am now. In the mean time, my mind ponders over it day and
night, whenever I am quiet and feel myself composed and collected.
When I come to a decision, I will impart it to you alone, and from
that moment you shall have over me the authority of a father."
At these words the worthy Yusuf, his eyes wet with tears, placed his
left hand over my head, and the first two fingers of the right hand
on my forehead, saying:
"Continue to act in that way, my dear son, and be certain that you
can never act wrongly."
"But," I said to him, "one thing might happen, Zelmi might not accept
"Have no anxiety about that. My daughter loves you; she, as well as
my wife and her nurse, sees you every time that we dine together, and
she listens to you with pleasure."
"Does she know that you are thinking of giving her to me as my wife?"
"She knows that I ardently wish you to become a true believer, so as
to enable me to link her destiny to yours."
"I am glad that your habits do not permit you to let me see her,
because she might dazzle me with her beauty, and then passion would
soon have too much weight in the scale; I could no longer flatter
myself that my decision had been taken in all the unbiased, purity of
Yusuf was highly delighted at hearing me speak in that manner, and I
spoke in perfect good faith. The mere idea of seeing Zelmi caused me
to shudder. I felt that, if I had fallen in love with her, I would
have become a Mussulman in order to possess her, and that I might
soon have repented such a step, for the religion of Mahomet presented
to my eyes and to my mind nothing but a disagreeable picture, as well
for this life as for a future one. As for wealth, I did not think it
deserved the immense sacrifice demanded from me. I could find equal
wealth in Europe, without stamping my forehead with the shameful
brand of apostasy. I cared deeply for the esteem of the persons of
distinction who knew me, and did not want to render myself unworthy
of it. Besides, I felt an immense desire to obtain fame amongst
civilized and polite nations, either in the fine arts or in
literature, or in any other honourable profession, and I could not
reconcile myself to the idea of abandoning to my equals the triumph
which I might win if I lived amongst them. It seemed to me, and I am
still of the same opinion, that the decision of wearing the turban
befits only a Christian despairing of himself and at the end of his
wits, and fortunately I was lost not in that predicament. My
greatest objection was to spend a year in Adrianople to learn a
language for which I did not feel any liking, and which I should
therefore have learned but imperfectly. How could I, at my age,
renounce the prerogative, so pleasant to my vanity, of being reputed
a fine talker? and I had secured that reputation wherever I was
known. Then I would often think that Zelmi, the eighth wonder of
creation in the eyes of her father might not appear such in my eyes,
and it would have been enough to make me miserable, for Yusuf was
likely to live twenty years longer, and I felt that gratitude, as
well as respect, would never have permitted me to give that excellent
man any cause for unhappiness by ceasing to shew myself a devoted and
faithful husband to his daughter. Such were my thoughts, and, as
Yusuf could not guess them, it was useless to make a confidant of
A few days afterwards, I dined with the Pacha Osman and met my
Effendi Ismail. He was very friendly to me, and I reciprocated his
attentions, though I paid no attention to the reproaches he addressed
to me for not having come to breakfast with him for such a long time.
I could not refuse to dine at his house with Bonneval, and he treated
me to a very pleasing sight; Neapolitan slaves, men and women,
performed a pantomime and some Calabrian dances. M. de Bonneval
happened to mention the dance called forlana, and Ismail expressing a
great wish to know it, I told him that I could give him that pleasure
if I had a Venetian woman to dance with and a fiddler who knew the
time. I took a violin, and played the forlana, but, even if the
partner had been found, I could not play and dance at the same time.
Ismail whispered a few words to one of his eunuchs, who went out of
the room and returned soon with some message that he delivered to
him. The effendi told me that he had found the partner I wanted, and
I answered that the musician could be had easily, if he would send a
note to the Venetian Embassy, which was done at once. The Bailo Dona
sent one of his men who played the violin well enough for dancing
purposes. As soon as the musician was ready, a door was thrown open,
and a fine looking woman came in, her face covered with a black
velvet mask, such as we call moretta in Venice. The appearance of
that beautiful masked woman surprised and delighted every one of the
guests, for it was impossible to imagine a more interesting object,
not only on account of the beauty of that part of the face which the
mask left exposed, but also for the elegance of her shape, the
perfection of her figure, and the exquisite taste displayed in her
costume. The nymph took her place, I did the same, and we danced the
forlana six times without stopping.
I was in perspiration and out of breath, for the foylana is the most
violent of our national dances; but my beautiful partner stood near
me without betraying the slightest fatigue, and seemed to challenge
me to a new performance. At the round of the dance, which is the
most difficult step, she seemed to have wings. I was astounded, for
I had never seen anyone, even in Venice, dance the forlana so
splendidly. After a few minutes rest, rather ashamed of my feeling
tired, I went up to her, and said, 'Ancora sei, a poi basta, se non
volete vedermi a morire.' She would have answered me if she had been
able, but she wore one of those cruel masks which forbid speech. But
a pressure of her hand which nobody could see made me guess all I
wanted to know. The moment we finished dancing the eunuch opened the
door, and my lovely partner disappeared.
Ismail could not thank me enough, but it was I who owed him my
thanks, for it was the only real pleasure which I enjoyed in
Constantinople. I asked him whether the lady was from Venice, but he
only answered by a significant smile.
"The worthy Ismail," said M. de Bonneval to me, as we were leaving
the house late in the evening, "has been to-day the dupe of his
vanity, and I have no doubt that he is sorry already for what he has
done. To bring out his beautiful slave to dance with you! According
to the prejudices of this country it is injurious to his dignity, for
you are sure to have kindled an amorous flame in the poor girl's
breast. I would advise you to be careful and to keep on your guard,
because she will try to get up some intrigue with you; but be
prudent, for intrigues are always dangerous in Turkey."
I promised to be prudent, but I did not keep my promise; for, three
or four days afterwards, an old slave woman met me in the street, and
offered to sell me for one piaster a tobacco-bag embroidered in gold;
and as she put it in my hand she contrived to make me feel that there
was a letter in the bag.
I observed that she tried to avoid the eyes of the janissary who was
walking behind me; I gave her one piaster, she left me, and I
proceeded toward Yusuf's house. He was not at home, and I went to
his garden to read the letter with perfect freedom. It was sealed
and without any address, and the slave might have made a mistake; but
my curiosity was excited to the highest pitch; I broke the seal, and
found the following note written in good enough Italian:
"Should you wish to see the person with whom you danced the forlana,
take a walk towards evening in the garden beyond the fountain, and
contrive to become acquainted with the old servant of the gardener by
asking her for some lemonade. You may perchance manage to see your
partner in the forlana without running any risk, even if you should
happen to meet Ismail; she is a native of Venice. Be careful not to
mention this invitation to any human being."
"I am not such a fool, my lovely countrywoman," I exclaimed, as if
she had been present, and put the letter in my pocket. But at that
very moment, a fine-looking elderly woman came out of a thicket,
pronounced my name, and enquired what I wanted and how I had seen
her. I answered that I had been speaking to the wind, not supposing
that anyone could hear me, and without any more preparation, she
abruptly told me that she was very glad of the opportunity of
speaking with me, that she was from Rome, that she had brought up
Zelmi, and had taught her to sing and to play the harp. She then
praised highly the beauty and the excellent qualities of her pupil,
saying that, if I saw her, I would certainly fall in love with her,
and expressing how much she regretted that the law should not allow
"She sees us at this very moment," she added, "from behind that green
window-blind, and we love you ever since Yusuf has informed us that
you may, perhaps, become Zelmi's husband."
"May I mention our conversation to Yusuf ?" I enquired.
Her answering in the negative made me understand that, if I had
pressed her a little, she would have allowed me to see her lovely
pupil, and perhaps it was with that intention that she had contrived
to speak to me, but I felt great reluctance to do anything to
displease my worthy host. I had another reason of even greater
importance: I was afraid of entering an intricate maze in which the
sight of a turban hovering over me made me shudder.
Yusuf came home, and far from being angry when he saw me with the
woman, he remarked that I must have found much pleasure in conversing
with a native of Rome, and he congratulated me upon the delight I
must have felt in dancing with one of the beauties from the harem of
the voluptuous Ismail.
"Then it must be a pleasure seldom enjoyed, if it is so much talked
"Very seldom indeed, for there is amongst us an invincible prejudice
against exposing our lovely women to the eyes of other men; but
everyone may do as he pleases in his own house: Ismail is a very
worthy and a very intelligent man."
"Is the lady with whom I danced known?"
"I believe not. She wore a mask, and everybody knows that Ismail
possesses half a dozen slaves of surpassing beauty."
I spent a pleasant day with Yusuf, and when I left him, I ordered my
janissary to take me to Ismail's. As I was known by his servants,
they allowed me to go in, and I proceeded to the spot described in
the letter. The eunuch came to me, informed me that his master was
out, but that he would be delighted to hear of my having taken a walk
in the garden. I told him that I would like a glass of lemonade, and
he took me to the summerhouse, where I recognized the old woman who
had sold me the tobacco-pouch. The eunuch told her to give me a
glass of some liquid which I found delicious, and would not allow me
to give her any money. We then walked together towards the fountain,
but he told me abruptly that we were to go back, as he saw three
ladies to whom he pointed, adding that, for the sake of decency, it
was necessary to avoid them. I thanked him for his attentions, left
my compliments for Ismail, and went away not dissatisfied with my
first attempt, and with the hope of being more fortunate another
The next morning I received a letter from Ismail inviting me to go
fishing with him on the following day, and stating that he intended
to enjoy the sport by moonlight. I immediately gave way to my
suppositions, and I went so far as to fancy that Ismail might be
capable of arranging an interview between me and the lovely Venetian.
I did not mind his being present. I begged permission of Chevalier
Venier to stop out of the palace for one night, but he granted it
with the greatest difficulty, because he was afraid of some love
affair and of the results it might have. I took care to calm his
anxiety as much as I could, but without acquainting him with all the
circumstances of the case, for I thought I was wise in being
I was exact to the appointed time, and Ismail received me with the
utmost cordiality, but I was surprised when I found myself alone with
him in the boat. We had two rowers and a man to steer; we took some
fish, fried in oil, and ate it in the summer-house. The moon shone
brightly, and the night was delightful. Alone with Ismail, and
knowing his unnatural tastes, I did not feel very comfortable for, in
spite of what M. de Bonneval had told me, I was afraid lest the Turk
should take a fancy to give me too great a proof of his friendship,
and I did not relish our tete-a-tete. But my fears were groundless.
"Let us leave this place quietly," said Ismail, "I have just heard a
slight noise which heralds something that will amuse us."
He dismissed his attendants, and took my hand, saying,
"Let us go to a small room, the key of which I luckily have with me,
but let us be careful not to make any noise. That room has a window
overlooking the fountain where I think that two or three of my
beauties have just gone to bathe. We will see them and enjoy a very
pleasing sight, for they do not imagine that anyone is looking at
them. They know that the place is forbidden to everybody except me."
We entered the room, we went to the window, and, the moon shining
right over the basin of the fountain, we saw three nymphs who, now
swimming, now standing or sitting on the marble steps, offered
themselves to our eyes in every possible position, and in all the
attitudes of graceful voluptuousness. Dear reader, I must not paint
in too vivid colours the details of that beautiful picture, but if
nature has endowed you with an ardent imagination and with equally
ardent senses, you will easily imagine the fearful havoc which that
unique, wonderful, and enchanting sight must have made upon my poor
A few days after that delightful fishing and bathing party by
moonlight, I called upon Yusuf early in the morning; as it was
raining, I could not go to the garden, and I went into the dining-
room, in which I had never seen anyone. The moment I entered the
room, a charming female form rose, covering her features with a thick
veil which fell to the feet. A slave was sitting near the window,
doing some tambour-work, but she did not move. I apologized, and
turned to leave the room, but the lady stopped me, observing, with a
sweet voice, that Yusuf had commanded her to entertain me before
going out. She invited me to be seated, pointing to a rich cushion
placed upon two larger ones, and I obeyed, while, crossing her legs,
she sat down upon another cushion opposite to me. I thought I was
looking upon Zelmi, and fancied that Yusuf had made up his mind to
shew me that he was not less courageous than Ismail. Yet I was
surprised, for, by such a proceeding, he strongly contradicted his
maxims, and ran the risk of impairing the unbiased purity of my
consent by throwing love in the balance. But I had no fear of that,
because, to become enamoured, I should have required to see her face.
"I suppose," said the veiled beauty, "that you do not know who I am?"
"I could not guess, if I tried."
"I have been for the last five years the wife of your friend, and I
am a native of Scio. I was thirteen years of age when I became his
I was greatly astonished to find that my Mussulman philosopher had
gone so far as to allow me to converse with his wife, but I felt more
at ease after I had received that information, and fancied that I
might carry the adventure further, but it would be necessary to see
the lady's face, for a finely-dressed body, the head of which is not
seen, excites but feeble desires. The fire lighted by amorous
desires is like a fire of straw; the moment it burns up it is near
its end. I had before me a magnificent appearance, but I could not
see the soul of the image, for a thick gauze concealed it from my
hungry gaze. I could see arms as white as alabaster, and hands like
those of Alcina, 'dove ne nodo appasisce ne vena accede', and my
active imagination fancied that all the rest was in harmony with
those beautiful specimens, for the graceful folds of the muslin,
leaving the outline all its perfection, hid from me only the living
satin of the surface; there was no doubt that everything was lovely,
but I wanted to see, in the expression of her eyes, that all that my
imagination created had life and was endowed with feeling. The
Oriental costume is a beautiful varnish placed upon a porcelain vase
to protect from the touch the colours of the flowers and of the
design, without lessening the pleasure of the eyes. Yusuf's wife was
not dressed like a sultana; she wore the costume of Scio, with a
short skirt which concealed neither the perfection of the leg nor the
round form of the thigh, nor the voluptuous plump fall of the hips,
nor the slender, well-made waist encompassed in a splendid band
embroidered in silver and covered with arabesques. Above all those
beauties, I could see the shape of two globes which Apelles would
have taken for the model of those of his lovely Venus, and the rapid,
inequal movement of which proved to me that those ravishing hillocks
were animated. The small valley left between them, and which my eyes
greedily feasted upon, seemed to me a lake of nectar, in which my
burning lips longed to quench their thirst with more ardour than they
would have drunk from the cup of the gods.
Enraptured, unable to control myself, I thrust my arm forward by a
movement almost independent of my will, and my hand, too audacious,
was on the point of lifting the hateful veil, but she prevented me by
raising herself quickly on tiptoe, upbraiding me at the same time for
my perfidious boldness, with a voice as commanding as her attitude.
"Dost thou deserve," she said, "Yusuf's friendship, when thou abusest
the sacred laws of hospitality by insulting his wife?"
"Madam, you must kindly forgive me, for I never had any intention to
insult you. In my country the lowest of men may fix his eyes upon
the face of a queen."
"Yes, but he cannot tear off her veil, if she chooses to wear it.
Yusuf shall avenge me."
The threat, and the tone in which it was pronounced, frightened me.
I threw myself at her feet, and succeeded in calming her anger.
"Take a seat," she said.
And she sat down herself, crossing her legs with so much freedom that
I caught a glimpse of charms which would have caused me to lose all
control over myself if the delightful sight had remained one moment
longer exposed to my eyes. I then saw that I had gone the wrong way
to work, and I felt vexed with myself; but it was too late.
"Art thou excited?" she said.
"How could I be otherwise," I answered, "when thou art scorching me
with an ardent fire?"
I had become more prudent, and I seized her hand without thinking any
more of her face.
"Here is my husband," she said, and Yusuf came into the room. We
rose, Yusuf embraced me, I complimented him, the slave left the room.
Yusuf thanked his wife for having entertained me, and offered her his
arm to take her to her own apartment. She took it, but when she
reached the door, she raised her veil, and kissing her husband she
allowed me to see her lovely face as if it had been done unwittingly.
I followed her with my eyes as long as I could, and Yusuf, coming
back to me, said with a laugh that his wife had offered to dine with
"I thought," I said to him, "that I had Zelmi before me."
"That would have been too much against our established rules. What I
have done is not much, but I do not know an honest man who would be
bold enough to bring his daughter into the presence of a stranger."
"I think your wife must be handsome; is she more beautiful than
"My daughter's beauty is cheerful, sweet, and gentle; that of Sophia
is proud and haughty. She will be happy after my death. The man who
will marry her will find her a virgin."
I gave an account of my adventure to M. de Bonneval, somewhat
exaggerating the danger I had run in trying to raise the veil of the
handsome daughter of Scio.
"She was laughing at you," said the count, "and you ran no danger.
She felt very sorry, believe me, to have to deal with a novice like
you. You have been playing the comedy in the French fashion, when
you ought to have gone straight to the point. What on earth did you
want to see her nose for? She knew very well that she would have
gained nothing by allowing you to see her. You ought to have secured
the essential point. If I were young I would perhaps manage to give
her a revenge, and to punish my friend Yusuf. You have given that
lovely woman a poor opinion of Italian valour. The most reserved of
Turkish women has no modesty except on her face, and, with her veil
over it, she knows to a certainty that she will not blush at
anything. I am certain that your beauty keeps her face covered
whenever our friend Yusuf wishes to joke with her."
"She is yet a virgin."
"Rather a difficult thing to admit, my good friend; but I know the
daughters of Scio; they have a talent for counterfeiting virginity."
Yusuf never paid me a similar compliment again, and he was quite
A few days after, I happened to be in the shop of an Armenian
merchant, looking at some beautiful goods, when Yusuf entered the
shop and praised my taste; but, although I had admired a great many
things, I did not buy, because I thought they were too dear. I said
so to Yusuf, but he remarked that they were, on the contrary, very
cheap, and he purchased them all. We parted company at the door, and
the next morning I received all the beautiful things he had bought;
it was a delicate attention of my friend, and to prevent my refusal
of such a splendid present, he had enclosed a note stating that, on
my arrival in Corfu, he would let me know to whom the goods were to
be delivered. He had thus sent me gold and silver filigrees from
Damascus, portfolios, scarfs, belts, handkerchiefs and pipes, the
whole worth four or five hundred piasters. When I called to thank
him, I compelled him to confess that it was a present offered by his
The day before my departure from Constantinople, the excellent man
burst into tears as I bade him adieu, and my grief was as great as
his own. He told me that, by not accepting the offer of his
daughter's hand, I had so strongly captivated his esteem that his
feelings for me could not have been warmer if I had become his son.
When I went on board ship with the Bailo Jean Dona, I found another
case given to me by him, containing two quintals of the best Mocha
coffee, one hundred pounds of tobacco leaves, two large flagons
filled, one with Zabandi tobacco, the other with camussa, and a
magnificent pipe tube of jessamine wood, covered with gold filigrane,
which I sold in Corfu for one hundred sequins. I had not it in my
power to give my generous Turk any mark of my gratitude until I
reached Corfu, but there I did not fail to do so. I sold all his
beautiful presents, which made me the possessor of a small fortune.
Ismail gave me a letter for the Chevalier de Lezze, but I could not
forward it to him because I unfortunately lost it; he presented me
with a barrel of hydromel, which I turned likewise into money.
M. de Bonneval gave me a letter for Cardinal Acquaviva, which I sent
to Rome with an account of my journey, but his eminence did not think
fit to acknowledge the receipt of either. Bonneval made me a present
of twelve bottles of malmsey from Ragusa, and of twelve bottles of
genuine scopolo--a great rarity, with which I made a present in Corfu
which proved very useful to me, as the reader will discover.
The only foreign minister I saw much in Constantinople was the lord
marshal of Scotland, the celebrated Keith, who represented the King
of Prussia, and who, six years later was of great service to me in
We sailed from Constantinople in the beginning of September in the
same man-of-war which had brought us, and we reached Corfu in
fourteen days. The Bailo Dona did not land. He had with him eight
splendid Turkish horses; I saw two of them still alive in Gorizia in
the year 1773.
As soon as I had landed with my luggage, and had engaged a rather
mean lodging, I presented myself to M. Andre Dolfin, the
proveditore-generale, who promised me again that I should soon be
promoted to a lieutenancy. After my visit to him, I called upon M.
Camporese, my captain, and was well received by him. My third visit
was to the commander of galleases, M. D----R-----, to whom M. Antonio
Dolfin, with whom I had travelled from Venice to Corfu, had kindly
recommended me. After a short conversation, he asked me if I would
remain with him with the title of adjutant. I did not hesitate one
instant, but accepted, saying how deeply honoured I felt by his
offer, and assuring him that he would always find me ready to carry
out his orders. He immediately had me taken to my room, and, the
next day, I found myself established in his house. I obtained from
my captain a French soldier to serve me, and I was well pleased when
I found that the man was a hairdresser by trade, and a great talker
by nature, for he could take care of my beautiful head of hair, and I
wanted to practise French conversation. He was a good-for-nothing
fellow, a drunkard and a debauchee, a peasant from Picardy, and he
could hardly read or write, but I did not mind all that; all I wanted
from him was to serve me, and to talk to me, and his French was
pretty good. He was an amusing rogue, knowing by heart a quantity of
erotic songs and of smutty stories which he could tell in the most
When I had sold my stock of goods from Constantinople (except the
wines), I found myself the owner of nearly five hundred sequins.
I redeemed all the articles which I had pledged in the hands of Jews,
and turned into money everything of which I had no need. I was
determined not to play any longer as a dupe, but to secure in
gambling all the advantages which a prudent young man could obtain
without sullying his honour.
I must now make my readers acquainted with the sort of life we were
at that time leading in Corfu. As to the city itself, I will not
describe it, because there are already many descriptions better than
the one I could offer in these pages.
We had then in Corfu the 'proveditore-generale' who had sovereign
authority, and lived in a style of great magnificence. That post was
then filled by M. Andre Dolfin, a man sixty years of age, strict,
headstrong, and ignorant. He no longer cared for women, but liked to
be courted by them. He received every evening, and the supper-table
was always laid for twenty-four persons.
We had three field-officers of the marines who did duty on the
galleys, and three field-officers for the troops of the line on board
the men-of-war. Each galeass had a captain called 'sopracomito', and
we had ten of those captains; we had likewise ten commanders, one for
each man-of-war, including three 'capi di mare', or admirals. They
all belonged to the nobility of Venice. Ten young Venetian noblemen,
from twenty to twenty-two years of age, were at Corfu as midshipmen
in the navy. We had, besides, about a dozen civil clerks in the
police of the island, or in the administration of justice, entitled
'grandi offciali di terra'. Those who were blessed with handsome
wives had the pleasure of seeing their houses very much frequented by
admirers who aspired to win the favours of the ladies, but there was
not much heroic love-making, perhaps for the reason that there were
then in Corfu many Aspasias whose favours could be had for money.
Gambling was allowed everywhere, and that all absorbing passion was
very prejudicial to the emotions of the heart.
The lady who was then most eminent for beauty and gallantry was
Madame F----. Her husband, captain of a galley, had come to Corfu
with her the year before, and madam had greatly astonished all the
naval officers. Thinking that she had the privilege of the choice,
she had given the preference to M. D---- R-----, and had dismissed
all the suitors who presented themselves. M. F---- had married her
on the very day she had left the convent; she was only seventeen
years of age then, and he had brought her on board his galley
immediately after the marriage ceremony.
I saw her for the first time at the dinner-table on the very day of
my installation at M. D---- R-----'s, and she made a great impression
upon me. I thought I was gazing at a supernatural being, so
infinitely above all the women I had ever seen, that it seemed
impossible to fall in love with her She appeared to me of a nature
different and so greatly superior to mine that I did not see the
possibility of rising up to her. I even went so far as to persuade
myself that nothing but a Platonic friendship could exist between her
and M. D----R-----, and that M. F---- was quite right now not to shew
any jealousy. Yet, that M. F---- was a perfect fool, and certainly
not worthy of such a woman. The impression made upon me by Madame
F----was too ridiculous to last long, and the nature of it soon
changed, but in a novel manner, at least as far as I was concerned.
My position as adjutant procured me the honour of dining at M. D----
R-----'s table, but nothing more. The other adjutant, like me, an
ensign in the army, but the greatest fool I had ever seen, shared
that honour with me. We were not, however, considered as guests, for
nobody ever spoke to us, and, what is more, no one ever honoured us
with a look. It used to put me in a rage. I knew very well that
people acted in that manner through no real contempt for us, but it
went very hard with me. I could very well understand that my
colleague, Sanzonio, should not complain of such treatment, because
he was a blockhead, but I did not feel disposed to allow myself to be
put on a par with him. At the end of eight or ten days, Madame
F----, not having con descended to cast one glance upon my person,
began to appear disagreeable to me. I felt piqued, vexed, provoked,
and the more so because I could not suppose that the lady acted in
that manner wilfully and purposely; I would have been highly pleased
if there had been premeditation on her part. I felt satisfied that
I was a nobody in her estimation, and as I was conscious of being
somebody, I wanted her to know it. At last a circumstance offered
itself in which, thinking that she could address me, she was
compelled to look at me.
M. D---- R----- having observed that a very, very fine turkey had
been placed before me, told me to carve it, and I immediately went to
work. I was not a skilful carver, and Madame F----, laughing at my
want of dexterity, told me that, if I had not been certain of
performing my task with credit to myself, I ought not to have
undertaken it. Full of confusion, and unable to answer her as my
anger prompted, I sat down, with my heart overflowing with spite and
hatred against her. To crown my rage, having one day to address me,
she asked me what was my name. She had seen me every day for a
fortnight, ever since I had been the adjutant of M. D---- R-----;
therefore she ought to have known my name. Besides, I had been very
lucky at the gaming-table, and I had become rather famous in Corfu.
My anger against Madame F was at its height.
I had placed my money in the hands of a certain Maroli, a major in
the army and a gamester by profession, who held the faro bank at the
coffee-house. We were partners; I helped him when he dealt, and he
rendered me the same office when I held the cards, which was often
the case, because he was not generally liked. He used to hold the
cards in a way which frightened the punters; my manners were very
different, and I was very lucky. Besides I was easy and smiling when
my bank was losing, and I won without shewing any avidity, and that
is a manner which always pleases the punters.
This Maroli was the man who had won all my money during my first stay
in Corfu, and finding, when I returned, that I was resolved not to be
duped any more, he judged me worthy of sharing the wise maxims
without which gambling must necessarily ruin all those who meddle
with it. But as Maroli had won my confidence only to a very slight
extent, I was very careful. We made up our accounts every night, as
soon as playing was over; the cashier kept the capital of the bank,
the winnings were divided, and each took his share away.
Lucky at play, enjoying good health and the friendship of my
comrades, who, whenever the opportunity offered, always found me
generous and ready to serve them, I would have been well pleased with
my position if I had been a little more considered at the table of
M. D---- R-----, and treated with less haughtiness by his lady who,
without any reason, seemed disposed to humiliate me. My self-love
was deeply hurt, I hated her, and, with such a disposition of mind,
the more I admired the perfection of her charms, the more I found her
deficient in wit and intelligence. She might have made the conquest
of my heart without bestowing hers upon me, for all I wanted was not
to be compelled to hate her, and I could not understand what pleasure
it could be for her to be detested, while with only a little kindness
she could have been adored. I could not ascribe her manner to a
spirit of coquetry, for I had never given her the slightest proof of
the opinion I entertained of her beauty, and I could not therefore
attribute her behaviour to a passion which might have rendered me
disagreeable in her eyes; M. D---- R----- seemed to interest her only
in a very slight manner, and as to her husband, she cared nothing for
him. In short, that charming woman made me very unhappy, and I was
angry with myself because I felt that, if it had not been for the
manner in which she treated me, I would not have thought of her, and
my vexation was increased by the feeling of hatred entertained by my
heart against her, a feeling which until then I had never known to
exist in me, and the discovery of which overwhelmed me with
One day a gentleman handed me, as we were leaving the dinner-table, a
roll of gold that he had lost upon trust; Madame F---- saw it, and
she said to me very abruptly,--
"What do you do with your money?"
"I keep it, madam, as a provision against possible losses."
"But as you do not indulge in any expense it would be better for you
not to play; it is time wasted."
"Time given to pleasure is never time lost, madam; the only time
which a young man wastes is that which is consumed in weariness,
because when he is a prey to ennui he is likely to fall a prey to
love, and to be despised by the object of his affection."
"Very likely; but you amuse yourself with hoarding up your money, and
shew yourself to be a miser, and a miser is not less contemptible
than a man in love. Why do you not buy yourself a pair of gloves?"
You may be sure that at these words the laughter was all on her side,
and my vexation was all the greater because I could not deny that she
was quite right. It was the adjutant's business to give the ladies
an arm to their carriages, and it was not proper to fulfil that duty
without gloves. I felt mortified, and the reproach of avarice hurt
me deeply. I would a thousand times rather that she had laid my
error to a want of education; and yet, so full of contradictions is
the human heart, instead of making amends by adopting an appearance
of elegance which the state of my finances enabled me to keep up, I
did not purchase any gloves, and I resolved to avoid her and to
abandon her to the insipid and dull gallantry of Sanzonio, who
sported gloves, but whose teeth were rotten, whose breath was putrid,
who wore a wig, and whose face seemed to be covered with shrivelled
I spent my days in a continual state of rage and spite, and the most
absurd part of it all was that I felt unhappy because I could not
control my hatred for that woman whom, in good conscience, I could
not find guilty of anything. She had for me neither love nor
dislike, which was quite natural; but being young and disposed to
enjoy myself I had become, without any wilful malice on her part, an
eye-sore to her and the butt of her bantering jokes, which my
sensitiveness exaggerated greatly. For all that I had an ardent wish
to punish her and to make her repent. I thought of nothing else. At
one time I would think of devoting all my intelligence and all my
money to kindling an amorous passion in her heart, and then to
revenge myself by treating her with contempt. But I soon realized
the impracticability of such a plan, for even supposing that I should
succeed in finding my way to her heart, was I the man to resist my
own success with such a woman? I certainly could not flatter myself
that I was so strong-minded. But I was the pet child of fortune, and
my position was suddenly altered.
M. D---- R---- having sent me with dispatches to M. de Condulmer,
captain of a 'galeazza', I had to wait until midnight to deliver
them, and when I returned I found that M. D---- R---- had retired to
his apartment for the night. As soon as he was visible in the
morning I went to him to render an account of my mission. I had been
with him only a few minutes when his valet brought a letter saying
that Madame F----'s adjutant was waiting for an answer. M. D----
R----- read the note, tore it to pieces, and in his excitement
stamped with his foot upon the fragments. He walked up and down the
room for a little time, then wrote an answer and rang for the
adjutant, to whom he delivered it. He then recovered his usual
composure, concluded the perusal of the dispatch sent by M. de
Condulmer, and told me to write a letter. He was looking it over
when the valet came in, telling me that Madame F---- desired to see
me. M. D---- R---- told me that he did not require my services any
more for the present, and that I might go. I left the room, but I
had not gone ten yards when he called me back to remind me that my
duty was to know nothing; I begged to assure him that I was well
aware of that. I ran to Madame F-----'s house, very eager to know
what she wanted with me. I was introduced immediately, and I was
greatly surprised to find her sitting up in bed, her countenance
flushed and excited, and her eyes red from the tears she had
evidently just been shedding. My heart was beating quickly, yet I
did not know why.
"Pray be seated," she said, "I wish to speak with you."
"Madam," I answered, "I am not worthy of so great a favour, and I
have not yet done anything to deserve it; allow me to remain
She very likely recollected that she had never been so polite before,
and dared not press me any further. She collected her thoughts for
an instant or two, and said to me:
"Last evening my husband lost two hundred sequins upon trust at your
faro bank; he believed that amount to be in my hands, and I must
therefore give it to him immediately, as he is bound in honour to pay
his losses to-day. Unfortunately I have disposed of the money, and I
am in great trouble. I thought you might tell Maroli that I have
paid you the amount lost by my husband. Here is a ring of some
value; keep it until the 1st of January, when I will return the two
hundred sequins for which I am ready to give you my note of hand."
"I accept the note of hand, madam, but I cannot consent to deprive
you of your ring. I must also tell you that M. F---- must go himself
to the bank, or send some one there, to redeem his debt. Within ten
minutes you shall have the amount you require."
I left her without waiting for an answer, and I returned within a few
minutes with the two hundred ducats, which I handed to her, and
putting in my pocket her note of hand which she had just written, I
bowed to take my leave, but she addressed to me these precious words:
"I believe, sir, that if I had known that you were so well disposed
to oblige me, I could not have made up my mind to beg that service
"Well, madam, for the future be quite certain that there is not a man
in the world capable of refusing you such an insignificant service
whenever you will condescend to ask for it in person."
"What you say is very complimentary, but I trust never to find myself
again under the necessity of making such a cruel experiment."
I left Madame F-----, thinking of the shrewdness of her answer. She
had not told me that I was mistaken, as I had expected she would, for
that would have caused her some humiliation: she knew that I was with
M. D---- R----- when the adjutant had brought her letter, and she
could not doubt that I was aware of the refusal she had met with.
The fact of her not mentioning it proved to me that she was jealous
of her own dignity; it afforded me great gratification, and I thought
her worthy of adoration. I saw clearly that she could have no love
for M. D---- R-----, and that she was not loved by him, and the
discovery made me leap for joy. From that moment I felt I was in
love with her, and I conceived the hope that she might return my
The first thing I did, when I returned to my room, was to cross out
with ink every word of her note of hand, except her name, in such a
manner that it was impossible to guess at the contents, and putting
it in an envelope carefully sealed, I deposited it in the hands of a
public notary who stated, in the receipt he gave me of the envelope,
that he would deliver it only to Madame F-----, whenever she should
request its delivery.
The same evening M. F----- came to the bank, paid me, played with
cash in hand, and won some fifty ducats. What caused me the greatest
surprise was that M. D---- R----- continued to be very gracious to
Madame F----, and that she remained exactly the same towards him as
she used to be before. He did not even enquire what she wanted when
she had sent for me. But if she did not seem to change her manner
towards my master, it was a very different case with me, for whenever
she was opposite to me at dinner, she often addressed herself to me,
and she thus gave me many opportunities of shewing my education and
my wit in amusing stories or in remarks, in which I took care to
blend instruction with witty jests. At that time F---- had the great
talent of making others laugh while I kept a serious countenance
myself. I had learnt that accomplishment from M. de Malipiero, my
first master in the art of good breeding, who used to say to me,--
"If you wish your audience to cry, you must shed tears yourself, but
if you wish to make them laugh you must contrive to look as serious
as a judge."
In everything I did, in every word I uttered, in the presence of
Madame F----, the only aim I had was to please her, but I did not
wish her to suppose so, and I never looked at her unless she spoke to
me. I wanted to force her curiosity, to compel her to suspect nay,
to guess my secret, but without giving her any advantage over me: it
was necessary for me to proceed by slow degrees. In the mean time,
and until I should have a greater happiness, I was glad to see that
my money, that magic talisman, and my good conduct, obtained me a
consideration much greater than I could have hoped to obtain either
through my position, or from my age, or in consequence of any talent
I might have shewn in the profession I had adopted.
Towards the middle of November, the soldier who acted as my servant
was attacked with inflammation of the chest; I gave notice of it to
the captain of his company, and he was carried to the hospital. On
the fourth day I was told that he would not recover, and that he had
received the last sacraments; in the evening I happened to be at his
captain's when the priest who had attended him came to announce his
death, and to deliver a small parcel which the dying man had
entrusted to him to be given up to his captain only after his death.
The parcel contained a brass seal engraved with ducal arms, a
certificate of baptism, and a sheet of paper covered with writing in
French. Captain Camporese, who only spoke Italian, begged me to
translate the paper, the contents of which were as follows:
"My will is that this paper, which I have written and signed with my
own hand, shall be delivered to my captain only after I have breathed
my last: until then, my confessor shall not make any use of it, for I
entrust it to his hands only under the seal of confession. I entreat
my captain to have me buried in a vault from which my body can be
exhumed in case the duke, my father, should request its exhumation.
I entreat him likewise to forward my certificate of baptism, the seal
with the armorial bearings of my family, and a legal certificate of
my birth to the French ambassador in Venice, who will send the whole
to the duke, my father, my rights of primogeniture belonging, after
my demise, to the prince, my brother. In faith of which I have
signed and sealed these presents: Francois VI. Charles Philippe
Louis Foucaud, Prince de la Rochefoucault."
The certificate of baptism, delivered at St. Sulpice gave the same
names, and the title of the father was Francois V. The name of the
mother was Gabrielle du Plessis.
As I was concluding my translation I could not help bursting into
loud laughter; but the foolish captain, who thought my mirth out of
place, hurried out to render an account of the affair to the
proveditore-generale, and I went to the coffee-house, not doubting
for one moment that his excellency would laugh at the captain, and
that the post-mortem buffoonery would greatly amuse the whole of
I had known in Rome, at Cardinal Acquaviva's, the Abbe de Liancourt,
great-grandson of Charles, whose sister, Gabrielle du Plessis, had
been the wife of Francois V., but that dated from the beginning of
the last century. I had made a copy from the records of the cardinal
of the account of certain circumstances which the Abbe de Liancourt
wanted to communicate to the court of Spain, and in which there were
a great many particulars respecting the house of Du Plessis. I
thought at the same time that the singular imposture of La Valeur
(such was the name by which my soldier generally went) was absurd and
without a motive, since it was to be known only after his death, and
could not therefore prove of any advantage to him.
Half an hour afterwards, as I was opening a fresh pack of cards, the
Adjutant Sanzonio came in, and told the important news in the most
serious manner. He had just come from the office of the proveditore,
where Captain Camporese had run in the utmost hurry to deposit
in the hands of his excellency the seal and the papers of the
deceased prince. His excellency had immediately issued his orders
for the burial of the prince in a vault with all the honours due to
his exalted rank. Another half hour passed, and M. Minolto,
adjutant of the proveditore-generale, came to inform me that his
excellency wanted to see me. I passed the cards to Major Maroli, and
went to his excellency's house. I found him at supper with several
ladies, three or four naval commanders, Madame F----, and M. D----
"So, your servant was a prince!" said the old general to me.
"Your excellency, I never would have suspected it, and even now that
he is dead I do not believe it."
"Why? He is dead, but he was not insane. You have seen his armorial
bearings, his certificate of baptism, as well as what he wrote with
his own hand. When a man is so near death, he does not fancy
"If your excellency is satisfied of the truth of the story, my duty
is to remain silent."
"The story cannot be anything but true, and your doubts surprise me."
"I doubt, monsignor, because I happen to have positive information
respecting the families of La Rochefoucault and Du Plessis. Besides,
I have seen too much of the man. He was not a madman, but he
certainly was an extravagant jester. I have never seen him write,
and he has told me himself a score of times that he had never
"The paper he has written proves the contrary. His arms have the
ducal bearings; but perhaps you are not aware that M. de la
Rochefoucault is a duke and peer of the French realm?"
"I beg your eminence's pardon; I know all about it; I know even more,
for I know that Francois VI. married a daughter of the house of
"You know nothing."
When I heard this remark, as foolish as it was rude, I resolved on
remaining silent, and it was with some pleasure that I observed the
joy felt by all the male guests at what they thought an insult and a
blow to my vanity. An officer remarked that the deceased was a fine
man, a witty man, and had shewn wonderful cleverness in keeping up
his assumed character so well that no one ever had the faintest
suspicion of what he really was. A lady said that, if she had known
him, she would have been certain to find him out. Another flatterer,
belonging to that mean, contemptible race always to be found near the
great and wealthy of the earth, assured us that the late prince had
always shewn himself cheerful, amiable, obliging, devoid of
haughtiness towards his comrades, and that he used to sing
beautifully. "He was only twenty-five years of age," said Madame
Sagredo, looking me full in the face, "and if he was endowed with all
those qualities, you must have discovered them."
"I can only give you, madam, a true likeness of the man, such as I
have seen him. Always gay, often even to folly, for he could throw a
somersault beautifully; singing songs of a very erotic kind, full of
stories and of popular tales of magic, miracles, and ghosts, and a
thousand marvellous feats which common-sense refused to believe, and
which, for that very reason, provoked the mirth of his hearers. His
faults were that he was drunken, dirty, quarrelsome, dissolute, and
somewhat of a cheat. I put up with all his deficiences, because he
dressed my hair to my taste, and his constant chattering offered me
the opportunity of practising the colloquial French which cannot be
acquired from books. He has always assured me that he was born in
Picardy, the son of a common peasant, and that he had deserted from
the French army. He may have deceived me when he said that he could
Just then Camporese rushed into the room, and announced that La
Veleur was yet breathing. The general, looking at me significantly,
said that he would be delighted if the man could be saved.
"And I likewise, monsignor, but his confessor will certainly kill him
"Why should the father confessor kill him?"
"To escape the galleys to which your excellency would not fail to
send him for having violated the secrecy of the confessional."
Everybody burst out laughing, but the foolish old general knitted his
brows. The guests retired soon afterwards, and Madame F-----, whom
I had preceded to the carriage, M. D---- R----- having offered her
his arm, invited me to get in with her, saying that it was raining.
It was the first time that she had bestowed such an honour upon me.
"I am of your opinion about that prince," she said, "but you have
incurred the displeasure of the proveditore."
"I am very sorry, madam, but it could not have been avoided, for I
cannot help speaking the truth openly."
"You might have spared him," remarked M. D---- R-----, "the cutting
jest of the confessor killing the false prince."
"You are right, sir, but I thought it would make him laugh as well as
it made madam and your excellency. In conversation people generally
do not object to a witty jest causing merriment and laughter."
"True; only those who have not wit enough to laugh do not like the
"I bet a hundred sequins that the madman will recover, and that,
having the general on his side, he will reap all the advantages of
his imposture. I long to see him treated as a prince, and making
love to Madame Sagredo"
Hearing the last words, Madame F-----, who did not like Madame
Sagredo, laughed heartily, and, as we were getting out of the
carriage, M. D---- R----- invited me to accompany them upstairs. He
was in the habit of spending half an hour alone with her at her own
house when they had taken supper together with the general, for her
husband never shewed himself. It was the first time that the happy
couple admitted a third person to their tete-a-tete. I felt very
proud of the compliment thus paid to me, and I thought it might have
important results for me. My satisfaction, which I concealed as well
as I could, did not prevent me from being very gay and from giving a
comic turn to every subject brought forward by the lady or by her
We kept up our pleasant trio for four hours; and returned to the
mansion of M. D---- R----- only at two o'clock in the morning. It
was during that night that Madame F---- and M. D---- R----- really
made my acquaintance. Madame F---- told him that she had never
laughed so much, and that she had never imagined that a conversation,
in appearance so simple, could afford so much pleasure and merriment.
On my side, I discovered in her so much wit and cheerfulness, that I
became deeply enamoured, and went to bed fully satisfied that, in the
future, I could not keep up the show of indifference which I had so
far assumed towards her.
When I woke up the next morning, I heard from the new soldier who
served me that La Valeur was better, and had been pronounced out of
danger by the physician. At dinner the conversation fell upon him,
but I did not open my lips. Two days afterwards, the general gave
orders to have him removed to a comfortable apartment, sent him a
servant, clothed him, and the over-credulous proveditore having paid
him a visit, all the naval commanders and officers thought it their
duty to imitate him, and to follow his example: the general curiosity
was excited, there was a rush to see the new prince. M. D---- R-----
followed his leaders, and Madame Sagredo, having set the ladies in
motion, they all called upon him, with the exception of Madame F----,
who told me laughingly that she would not pay him a visit unless I
would consent to introduce her. I begged to be excused. The knave
was called your highness, and the wonderful prince styled Madame
Sagredo his princess. M. D---- R----- tried to persuade me to call
upon the rogue, but I told him that I had said too much, and that I
was neither courageous nor mean enough to retract my words. The
whole imposture would soon have been discovered if anyone had
possessed a peerage, but it just happened that there was not a copy
in Corfu, and the French consul, a fat blockhead, like many other
consuls, knew nothing of family trees. The madcap La Valeur began to
walk out a week after his metamorphosis into a prince. He dined and
had supper every day with the general, and every evening he was
present at the reception, during which, owing to his intemperance, he
always went fast asleep. Yet, there were two reasons which kept up
the belief of his being a prince: the first was that he did not seem
afraid of the news expected from Venice, where the proveditore had
written immediately after the discovery; the second was that he
solicited from the bishop the punishment of the priest who had
betrayed his secret by violating the seal of confession. The poor
priest had already been sent to prison, and the proveditore had not
the courage to defend him. The new prince had been invited to dinner
by all the naval officers, but M. D---- R----- had not made up his
mind to imitate them so far, because Madame F---- had clearly warned
him that she would dine at her own house on the day he was invited.
I had likewise respectfully intimated that, on the same occasion, I
would take the liberty of dining somewhere else.
I met the prince one day as I was coming out of the old fortress
leading to the esplanade. He stopped, and reproached me for not
having called upon him. I laughed, and advised him to think of his
safety before the arrival of the news which would expose all the
imposture, in which case the proveditore was certain to treat him
very severely. I offered to help him in his flight from Corfu, and
to get a Neapolitan captain, whose ship was ready to sail, to conceal
him on board; but the fool, instead of accepting my offer, loaded me
He was courting Madame Sagredo, who treated him very well, feeling
proud that a French prince should have given her the preference over
all the other ladies. One day that she was dining in great ceremony
at M. D---- R-----'s house, she asked me why I had advised the prince
to run away.
"I have it from his own lips," she added, "and he cannot make out
your obstinacy in believing him an impostor."
"I have given him that advice, madam, because my heart is good, and
my judgment sane."
"Then we are all of us as many fools, the proveditore included?"
"That deduction would not be right, madam. An opinion contrary to
that of another does not necessarily make a fool of the person who
entertains it. It might possibly turn out, in ten or twelve days,
that I have been entirely mistaken myself, but I should not consider
myself a fool in consequence. In the mean time, a lady of your
intelligence must have discovered whether that man is a peasant or a
prince by his education and manners. For instance, does he dance
"He does not know one step, but he is the first to laugh about it; he
says he never would learn dancing."
"Does he behave well at table?"
"Well, he doesn't stand on ceremony. He does not want his plate to
be changed, he helps himself with his spoon out of the dishes; he
does not know how to check an eructation or a yawn, and if he feels
tired he leaves the table. It is evident that he has been very badly
"And yet he is very pleasant, I suppose. Is he clean and neat?"
"No, but then he is not yet well provided with linen."
"I am told that he is very sober."
"You are joking. He leaves the table intoxicated twice a day, but he
ought to be pitied, for he cannot drink wine and keep his head clear.
Then he swears like a trooper, and we all laugh, but he never takes
"Is he witty?"
"He has a wonderful memory, for he tells us new stories every day."
"Does he speak of his family?"
"Very often of his mother, whom he loved tenderly. She was a Du
"If his mother is still alive she must be a hundred and fifty years
"Not at all; she was married in the days of Marie de Medicis."
"But the certificate of baptism names the prince's mother, and his
"Does he know what armorial bearings he has on that seal?"
"Do you doubt it?"
"Very strongly, or rather I am certain that he knows nothing about
We left the table, and the prince was announced. He came in, and
Madame Sagredo lost no time in saying to him, "Prince, here is M.
Casanova; he pretends that you do not know your own armorial
bearings." Hearing these words, he came up to me, sneering, called me
a coward, and gave me a smack on the face which almost stunned me. I
left the room very slowly, not forgetting my hat and my cane, and
went downstairs, while M. D---- R----- was loudly ordering the
servants to throw the madman out of the window.