Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
MEMOIRS OF JACQUES CASANOVA de SEINGALT 1725-1798
TO PARIS AND PRISON, Volume 2e--UNDER THE LEADS
THE RARE UNABRIDGED LONDON EDITION OF 1894 TRANSLATED BY ARTHUR
MACHEN TO WHICH HAS BEEN ADDED THE CHAPTERS DISCOVERED
BY ARTHUR SYMONS.
UNDER THE LEADS
Under The Leads--The Earthquake
What a strange and unexplained power certain words exercise upon the
soul! I, who the evening before so bravely fortified myself with my
innocence and courage, by the word tribunal was turned to a stone,
with merely the faculty of passive obedience left to me.
My desk was open, and all my papers were on a table where I was
accustomed to write.
"Take them," said I, to the agent of the dreadful Tribunal, pointing
to the papers which covered the table. He filled a bag with them,
and gave it to one of the sbirri, and then told me that I must also
give up the bound manuscripts which I had in my possession. I shewed
him where they were, and this incident opened my eyes. I saw now,
clearly enough, that I had been betrayed by the wretch Manuzzi. The
books were, "The Key of Solomon the King," "The Zecorben," a
"Picatrix," a book of "Instructions on the Planetary Hours," and the
necessary incantations for conversing with demons of all sorts.
Those who were aware that I possessed these books took me for an
expert magician, and I was not sorry to have such a reputation.
Messer-Grande took also the books on the table by my bed, such as
Petrarch, Ariosto, Horace. "The Military' Philosopher" (a manuscript
which Mathilde had given me), "The Porter of Chartreux," and "The
Aretin," which Manuzzi had also denounced, for Messer-Grande asked me
for it by name. This spy, Manuzzi, had all the appearance of an
honest man--a very necessary qualification for his profession. His
son made his fortune in Poland by marrying a lady named Opeska, whom,
as they say, he killed, though I have never had any positive proof
on the matter, and am willing to stretch Christian charity to the
extent of believing he was innocent, although he was quite capable of
such a crime.
While Messer-Grande was thus rummaging among my manuscripts, books
and letters, I was dressing myself in an absent-minded manner,
neither hurrying myself nor the reverse. I made my toilette, shaved
myself, and combed my hair; putting on mechanically a laced shirt and
my holiday suit without saying a word, and without Messer-Grande--who
did not let me escape his sight for an instant--complaining that I
was dressing myself as if I were going to a wedding.
As I went out I was surprised to see a band of forty men-at-arms in
the ante-room. They had done me the honour of thinking all these men
necessary for my arrest, though, according to the axiom 'Ne Hercules
quidem contra duos', two would have been enough. It is curious that
in London, where everyone is brave, only one man is needed to arrest
another, whereas in my dear native land, where cowardice prevails,
thirty are required. The reason is, perhaps, that the coward on the
offensive is more afraid than the coward on the defensive, and thus a
man usually cowardly is transformed for the moment into a man of
courage. It is certain that at Venice one often sees a man.
defending himself against twenty sbirri, and finally escaping after
beating them soundly. I remember once helping a friend of mine at
Paris to escape from the hands of forty bum-bailiffs, and we put the
whole vile rout of them to flight.
Messer-Grande made me get into a gondola, and sat down near me with
an escort of four men. When we came to our destination he offered me
coffee, which I refused; and he then shut me up in a room. I passed
these four hours in sleep, waking up every quarter of an hour to pass
water--an extraordinary occurrence, as I was not at all subject to
stranguary; the heat was great, and I had not supped the evening
before. I have noticed at other times that surprise at a deed of
oppression acts on me as a powerful narcotic, but I found out at the
time I speak of that great surprise is also a diuretic. I make this
discovery over to the doctors, it is possible that some learned man
may make use of it to solace the ills of humanity. I remember
laughing very heartily at Prague six years ago, on learning that some
thin-skinned ladies, on reading my flight from The Leads, which was
published at that date, took great offence at the above account,
which they thought I should have done well to leave out. I should
have left it out, perhaps, in speaking to a lady, but the public is
not a pretty woman whom I am intent on cajoling, my only aim is to be
instructive. Indeed, I see no impropriety in the circumstance I have
narrated, which is as common to men and women as eating and drinking;
and if there is anything in it to shock too sensitive nerves, it is
that we resemble in this respect the cows and pigs.
It is probable that just as my overwhelmed soul gave signs of its
failing strength by the loss of the thinking faculty, so my body
distilled a great part of those fluids which by their continual
circulation set the thinking faculty in motion. Thus a sudden shock
might cause instantaneous death, and send one to Paradise by a cut
much too short.
In course of time the captain of the men-at-arms came to tell me that
he was under orders to take me under the Leads. Without a word I
followed him. We went by gondola, and after a thousand turnings
among the small canals we got into the Grand Canal, and landed at the
prison quay. After climbing several flights of stairs we crossed a
closed bridge which forms the communication between the prisons and
the Doge's palace, crossing the canal called Rio di Palazzo. On the
other side of this bridge there is a gallery which we traversed. We
then crossed one room, and entered another, where sat an individual
in the dress of a noble, who, after looking fixedly at me, said,
"E quello, mettetelo in deposito:"
This man was the secretary of the Inquisitors, the prudent Dominic
Cavalli, who was apparently ashamed to speak Venetian in my presence
as he pronounced my doom in the Tuscan language.
Messer-Grande then made me over to the warden of The Leads, who stood
by with an enormous bunch of keys, and accompanied by two guards,
made me climb two short flights of stairs, at the top of which
followed a passage and then another gallery, at the end of which he
opened a door, and I found myself in a dirty garret, thirty-six feet
long by twelve broad, badly lighted by a window high up in the roof.
I thought this garret was my prison, but I was mistaken; for, taking
an enormous key, the gaoler opened a thick door lined with iron,
three and a half feet high, with a round hole in the middle, eight
inches in diameter, just as I was looking intently at an iron
machine. This machine was like a horse shoe, an inch thick and about
five inches across from one end to the other. I was thinking what
could be the use to which this horrible instrument was put, when the
gaoler said, with a smile,
"I see, sir, that you wish to know what that is for, and as it
happens I can satisfy your curiosity. When their excellencies give
orders that anyone is to be strangled, he is made to sit down on a
stool, the back turned to this collar, and his head is so placed that
the collar goes round one half of the neck. A silk band, which goes
round the other half, passes through this hole, and the two ends are
connected with the axle of a wheel which is turned by someone until
the prisoner gives up the ghost, for the confessor, God be thanked!
never leaves him till he is dead."
"All this sounds very ingenious, and I should think that it is you
who have the honour of turning the wheel."
He made no answer, and signing to me to enter, which I did by bending
double, he shut me up, and afterwards asked me through the grated
hole what I would like to eat.
"I haven't thought anything about it yet," I answered. And he went
away, locking all the doors carefully behind him.
Stunned with grief, I leant my elbows on the top of the grating. It
was crossed, by six iron bars an inch thick, which formed sixteen
square holes. This opening would have lighted my cell, if a square
beam supporting the roof which joined the wall below the window had
not intercepted what little light came into that horrid garret.
After making the tour of my sad abode, my head lowered, as the cell
was not more than five and a half feet high, I found by groping along
that it formed three-quarters of a square of twelve feet. The fourth
quarter was a kind of recess, which would have held a bed; but there
was neither bed, nor table, nor chair, nor any furniture whatever,
except a bucket--the use of which may be guessed, and a bench fixed
in the wall a foot wide and four feet from the ground. On it I
placed my cloak, my fine suit, and my hat trimmed with Spanish paint
and adorned with a beautiful white feather. The heat was great, and
my instinct made me go mechanically to the grating, the only place
where I could lean on my elbows. I could not see the window, but I
saw the light in the garret, and rats of a fearful size, which walked
unconcernedly about it; these horrible creatures coming close under
my grating without shewing the slightest fear. At the sight of these
I hastened to close up the round hole in the middle of the door with
an inside shutter, for a visit from one of the rats would have frozen
my blood. I passed eight hours in silence and without stirring, my
arms all the time crossed on the top of the grating.
At last the clock roused me from my reverie, and I began to feel
restless that no one came to give me anything to eat or to bring me a
bed whereon to sleep. I thought they might at least let me have a
chair and some bread and water. I had no appetite, certainly; but
were my gaolers to guess as much? And never in my life had I been so
thirsty. I was quite sure, however, that somebody would come before
the close of the day; but when I heard eight o'clock strike I became
furious, knocking at the door, stamping my feet, fretting and fuming,
and accompanying this useless hubbub with loud cries. After more
than an hour of this wild exercise, seeing no one, without the
slightest reason to think I could be heard, and shrouded in darkness,
I shut the grating for fear of the rats, and threw myself at full
length upon the floor. So cruel a desertion seemed to me unnatural,
and I came to the conclusion that the Inquisitors had sworn my death.
My investigation as to what I had done to deserve such a fate was not
a long one, for in the most scrupulous examination of my conduct I
could find no crimes. I was, it is true, a profligate, a gambler, a
bold talker, a man who thought of little besides enjoying this
present life, but in all that there was no offence against the state.
Nevertheless, finding myself treated as a criminal, rage and despair
made me express myself against the horrible despotism which oppressed
me in a manner which I will leave my readers to guess, but which I
will not repeat here. But notwithstanding my brief and anxiety, the
hunger which began to make itself felt, and the thirst which
tormented me, and the hardness of the boards on which I lay, did not
prevent exhausted nature from reasserting her rights; I fell asleep.
My strong constitution was in need of sleep; and in a young and
healthy subject this imperious necessity silences all others, and in
this way above all is sleep rightly termed the benefactor of man.
The clock striking midnight awoke me. How sad is the awaking when it
makes one regret one's empty dreams. I could scarcely believe that I
had spent three painless hours. As I lay on my left side, I
stretched out my right hand to get my handkerchief, which I
remembered putting on that side. I felt about for it, when--heavens!
what was my surprise to feel another hand as cold as ice. The fright
sent an electric shock through me, and my hair began to stand on end.
Never had I been so alarmed, nor should I have previously thought
myself capable of experiencing such terror. I passed three or four
minutes in a kind of swoon, not only motionless but incapable of
thinking. As I got back my senses by degrees, I tried to make myself
believe that the hand I fancied I had touched was a mere creature of
my disordered imagination; and with this idea I stretched out my hand
again, and again with the same result. Benumbed with fright, I
uttered a piercing cry, and, dropping the hand I held, I drew back my
arm, trembling all over:
Soon, as I got a little calmer and more capable of reasoning, I
concluded that a corpse had been placed beside me whilst I slept, for
I was certain it was not there when I lay down.
"This," said I, "is the body of some strangled wretch, and they would
thus warn me of the fate which is in store for me."
The thought maddened me; and my fear giving place to rage, for the
third time I stretched my arm towards the icy hand, seizing it to
make certain of the fact in all its atrocity, and wishing to get up,
I rose upon my left elbow, and found that I had got hold of my other
hand. Deadened by the weight of my body and the hardness of the
boards, it had lost warmth, motion, and all sensation.
In spite of the humorous features in this incident, it did not cheer
me up, but, on the contrary, inspired me with the darkest fancies. I
saw that I was in a place where, if the false appeared true, the
truth might appear false, where understanding was bereaved of half
its prerogatives, where the imagination becoming affected would
either make the reason a victim to empty hopes or to dark despair. I
resolved to be on my guard; and for the first time in my life, at the
age of thirty, I called philosophy to my assistance. I had within me
all the seeds of philosophy, but so far I had had no need for it.
I am convinced that most men die without ever having thought, in the
proper sense of the word, not so much for want of wit or of good
sense, but rather because the shock necessary to the reasoning
faculty in its inception has never occurred to them to lift them out
of their daily habits.
After what I had experienced, I could think of sleep no more, and to
get up would have been useless as I could not stand upright, so I
took the only sensible course and remained seated. I sat thus till
four o'clock in the morning, the sun would rise at five, and I longed
to see the day, for a presentiment which I held infallible told me
that it would set me again at liberty. I was consumed with a desire
for revenge, nor did I conceal it from myself. I saw myself at the
head of the people, about to exterminate the Government which had
oppressed me; I massacred all the aristocrats without pity; all must
be shattered and brought to the dust. I was delirious; I knew the
authors of my misfortune, and in my fancy I destroyed them. I
restored the natural right common to all men of being obedient only
to the law, and of being tried only by their peers and by laws to
which they have agreed-in short, I built castles in Spain. Such is
man when he has become the prey of a devouring passion. He does not
suspect that the principle which moves him is not reason but wrath,
its greatest enemy.
I waited for a less time than I had expected, and thus I became a
little more quiet. At half-past four the deadly silence of the
place--this hell of the living--was broken by the shriek of bolts
being shot back in the passages leading to my cell.
"Have you had time yet to think about what you will take to eat?"
said the harsh voice of my gaoler from the wicket.
One is lucky when the insolence of a wretch like this only shews
itself in the guise of jesting. I answered that I should like some
rice soup, a piece of boiled beef, a roast, bread, wine, and water.
I saw that the lout was astonished not to hear the lamentations he
expected. He went away and came back again in a quarter of an hour
to say that he was astonished I did not require a bed and the
necessary pieces of furniture, "for" said he, "if you flatter
yourself that you are only here for a night, you are very much
"Then bring me whatever you think necessary."
"Where shall I go for it? Here is a pencil and paper; write it
I skewed him by writing where to go for my shirts, stockings, and
clothes of all sorts, a bed, table, chair, the books which Messer-
Grande had confiscated, paper, pens, and so forth. On my reading out
the list to him (the lout did not know how to read) he cried,
"Scratch out," said he, "scratch out books, paper, pens, looking-
glass and razors, for all that is forbidden fruit here, and then give
me some money to get your dinner." I had three sequins so I gave him
one, and he went off. He spent an hour in the passages engaged, as I
learnt afterwards, in attending on seven other prisoners who were
imprisoned in cells placed far apart from each other to prevent all
About noon the gaoler reappeared followed by five guards, whose duty
it was to serve the state prisoners. He opened: the cell door to
bring in my dinner and the furniture I had asked for. The bed was
placed in the recess; my dinner was laid out on a small table, and I
had to eat with an ivory spoon he had procured out of the money I had
given him; all forks, knives, and edged tools being forbidden.
"Tell me what you would like for to-morrow," said he, "for I can only
come here once a day at sunrise. The Lord High Secretary has told me
to inform you that he will send you some suitable books, but those
you wish for are forbidden."
"Thank him for his kindness in putting me by myself."
"I will do so, but you make a mistake in jesting thus."
"I don't jest at all, for I think truly that it is much better to be
alone than to mingle with the scoundrels who are doubtless here."
"What, sir! scoundrels? Not at all, not at all. They are only
respectable people here, who, for reasons known to their excellencies
alone, have to be sequestered from society. You have been put by
yourself as an additional punishment, and you want me to thank the
secretary on that account?"
"I was not aware of that."
The fool was right, and I soon found it out. I discovered that a man
imprisoned by himself can have no occupations. Alone in a gloomy
cell where he only sees the fellow who brings his food once a day,
where he cannot walk upright, he is the most wretched of men. He
would like to be in hell, if he believes in it, for the sake of the
company. So strong a feeling is this that I got to desire the
company of a murderer, of one stricken with the plague, or of a bear.
The loneliness behind the prison bars is terrible, but it must be
learnt by experience to be understood, and such an experience I would
not wish even to my enemies. To a man of letters in my situation,
paper and ink would take away nine-tenths of the torture, but the
wretches who persecuted me did not dream of granting me such an
alleviation of my misery.
After the gaoler had gone, I set my table near the grating for the
sake of the light, and sat down to dinner, but I could only swallow a
few spoonfuls of soup. Having fasted for nearly forty-eight hours,
it was not surprising that I felt ill. I passed the day quietly
enough seated on my sofa, and proposing myself to read the "suitable
books" which they had been good enough to promise me. I did not shut
my eyes the whole night, kept awake by the hideous noise made by the
rats, and by the deafening chime of the clock of St. Mark's, which
seemed to be striking in my room. This double vexation was not my
chief trouble, and I daresay many of my readers will guess what I am
going to speak of-namely, the myriads of fleas which held high
holiday over me. These small insects drank my blood with unutterable
voracity, their incessant bites gave me spasmodic convulsions and
poisoned my blood.
At day-break, Lawrence (such was the gaoler's name) came to my cell
and had my bed made, and the room swept and cleansed, and one of the
guards gave me water wherewith to wash myself. I wanted to take a
walk in the garret, but Lawrence told me that was forbidden. He gave
me two thick books which I forbore to open, not being quite sure of
repressing the wrath with which they might inspire me, and which the
spy would have infallibly reported to his masters. After leaving me
my fodder and two cut lemons he went away.
As soon as I was alone I ate my soup in a hurry, so as to take it
hot, and then I drew as near as I could to the light with one of the
books, and was delighted to find that I could see to read. I looked
at the title, and read, "The Mystical City of Sister Mary of Jesus,
of Agrada." I had never heard of it. The other book was by a Jesuit
named Caravita. This fellow, a hypocrite like the rest of them, had
invented a new cult of the "Adoration of the Sacred Heart of our Lord
Jesus Christ." This, according to the author, was the part of our
Divine Redeemer, which above all others should be adored a curious
idea of a besotted ignoramus, with which I got disgusted at the first
page, for to my thinking the heart is no more worthy a part than the
lungs, stomach; or any other of the inwards. The "Mystical City"
rather interested me.
I read in it the wild conceptions of a Spanish nun, devout to
superstition, melancholy, shut in by convent walls, and swayed by the
ignorance and bigotry of her confessors. All these grotesque,
monstrous, and fantastic visions of hers were dignified with the name
of revelations. The lover and bosom-friend of the Holy Virgin, she
had received instructions from God Himself to write the life of His
divine mother; the necessary information was furnished her by the
This life of Mary began, not with the day of her birth, but with her
immaculate conception in the womb of Anne, her mother. This Sister
Mary of Agrada was the head of a Franciscan convent founded by
herself in her own house. After telling in detail all the deeds of
her divine heroine whilst in her mother's womb, she informs us that
at the age of three she swept and cleansed the house with the
assistance of nine hundred servants, all of whom were angels whom God
had placed at her disposal, under the command of Michael, who came
and went between God and herself to conduct their mutual
What strikes the judicious reader of the book is the evident belief
of the more than fanatical writer that nothing is due to her
invention; everything is told in good faith and with full belief.
The work contains the dreams of a visionary, who, without vanity but
inebriated with the idea of God, thinks to reveal only the
inspirations of the Divine Spirit.
The book was published with the permission of the very holy and very
horrible Inquisition. I could not recover from my astonishment! Far
from its stirring up in my breast a holy and simple zeal of religion,
it inclined me to treat all the mystical dogmas of the Faith as
Such works may have dangerous results; for example, a more
susceptible reader than myself, or one more inclined to believe in
the marvellous, runs the risk of becoming as great a visionary as the
poor nun herself.
The need of doing something made me spend a week over this
masterpiece of madness, the product of a hyper-exalted brain. I took
care to say nothing to the gaoler about this fine work, but I began
to feel the effects of reading it. As soon as I went off to sleep I
experienced the disease which Sister Mary of Agrada had communicated
to my mind weakened by melancholy, want of proper nourishment and
exercise, bad air, and the horrible uncertainty of my fate. The
wildness of my dreams made me laugh when I recalled them in my waking
moments. If I had possessed the necessary materials I would have
written my visions down, and I might possibly have produced in my
cell a still madder work than the one chosen with such insight by
This set me thinking how mistaken is the opinion which makes human
intellect an absolute force; it is merely relative, and he who
studies himself carefully will find only weakness. I perceived that
though men rarely become mad, still such an event is well within the
bounds of possibility, for our reasoning faculties are like powder,
which, though it catches fire easily, will never catch fire at all
without a spark. The book of the Spanish nun has all the properties
necessary to make a man crack-brained; but for the poison to take
effect he must be isolated, put under the Leads, and deprived of all
In November, 1767, as I was going from Pampeluna to Madrid, my
coachman, Andrea Capello, stopped for us to dine in a town of Old
Castille. So dismal and dreary a place did I find it that I asked
its name. How I laughed when I was told that it was Agrada!
"Here, then," I said to myself, "did that saintly lunatic produce
that masterpiece which but for M. Cavalli I should never have known."
An old priest, who had the highest possible opinion of me the moment
I began to ask him about this truthful historian of the mother of
Christ, shewed me the very place where she had written it, and
assured me that the father, mother, sister, and in short all the
kindred of the blessed biographer, had been great saints in their
generation. He told me, and spoke truly, that the Spaniards had
solicited her canonization at Rome, with that of the venerable
Palafox. This "Mystical City," perhaps, gave Father Malagrida the
idea of writing the life of St. Anne, written, also, at the dictation
of the Holy Ghost, but the poor devil of a Jesuit had to suffer
martyrdom for it--an additional reason for his canonization, if the
horrible society ever comes to life again, and attains the universal
power which is its secret aim.
At the end of eight or nine days I found myself moneyless. Lawrence
asked me for some, but I had not got it.
"Where can I get some?"
What displeased this ignorant and gossiping fellow about me was my
silence and my laconic manner of talking.
Next day he told me that the Tribunal had assigned me fifty sous per
diem of which he would have to take charge, but that he would give me
an account of his expenditure every month, and that he would spend
the surplus on what I liked.
"Get me the Leyden Gazette twice a week."
"I can't do that, because it is not allowed by the authorities."
Sixty-five livres a month was more than I wanted, since I could not
eat more than I did: the great heat and the want of proper
nourishment had weakened me. It was in the dog-days; the strength of
the sun's rays upon the lead of the roof made my cell like a stove,
so that the streams of perspiration which rolled off my poor body as
I sat quite naked on my sofa-chair wetted the floor to right and left
I had been in this hell-on-earth for fifteen days without any
secretion from the bowels. At the end of this almost incredible time
nature re-asserted herself, and I thought my last hour was come. The
haemorrhoidal veins were swollen to such an extent that the pressure
on them gave me almost unbearable agony. To this fatal time I owe
the inception of that sad infirmity of which I have never been able
to completely cure myself. The recurrence of the same pains, though
not so acute, remind me of the cause, and do not make my remembrance
of it any the more agreeable. This disease got me compliments in
Russia when I was there ten years later, and I found it in such
esteem that I did not dare to complain. The same kind of thing
happened to me at Constantinople, when I was complaining of a cold in
the head in the presence of a Turk, who was thinking, I could see,
that a dog of a Christian was not worthy of such a blessing.
The same day I sickened with a high fever and kept my bed. I said
nothing to Lawrence about it, but the day after, on finding my dinner
untouched, he asked me how I was.
"That can't be, sir, as you have eaten nothing. You are ill, and you
will experience the generosity of the Tribunal who will provide you,
without fee or charge, with a physician, surgeon, and all necessary
He went out, returning after three hours without guards, holding a
candle in his hand, and followed by a grave-looking personage; this
was the doctor. I was in the height of the fever, which had not left
me for three days. He came up to me and began to ask me questions,
but I told him that with my confessor and my doctor I would only
speak apart. The doctor told Lawrence to leave the room, but on the
refusal of that Argus to do so, he went away saying that I was
dangerously ill, possibly unto death. For this I hoped, for my life
as it had become was no longer my chiefest good. I was somewhat glad
also to think that my pitiless persecutors might, on hearing of my
condition, be forced to reflect on the cruelty of the treatment to
which they had subjected me.
Four hours afterwards I heard the noise of bolts once more, and the
doctor came in holding the candle himself. Lawrence remained
outside. I had become so weak that I experienced a grateful
restfulness. Kindly nature does not suffer a man seriously ill to
feel weary. I was delighted to hear that my infamous turnkey was
outside, for since his explanation of the iron collar I had looked an
him with loathing.
In a quarter of an hour I had told the doctor all.
"If we want to get well," said he, "we must not be melancholy."
"Write me the prescription, and take it to the only apothecary who
can make it up. M. Cavalli is the bad doctor who exhibited 'The
Heart of Jesus,' and 'Tire Mystical City.'"
"Those two preparations are quite capable of having brought on the
fever and the haemorrhoids. I will not forsake you"
After making me a large jug of lemonade, and telling the to drink
frequently, he went away. I slept soundly, dreaming fantastic
In he morning the doctor came again with Lawrence and a surgeon, who
bled me. The doctor left me some medicine which he told me to take
in the evening, and a bottle of soap. "I have obtained leave," said
he, "for you to move into the garret where the heat is less, and the
air better than here."
"I decline the favour, as I abominate the rats, which you know
nothing about, and which would certainly get into my bed."
"What a pity! I told M. Cavalli that he had almost killed you with
his books, and he has commissioned me to take them back, and to give
you Boethius; and here it is."
"I am much obliged to you. I like it better than Seneca, and I am
sure it will do me good."
"I am leaving you a very necessary instrument, and some barley water
for you to refresh yourself with."
He visited me four times, and pulled me through; my constitution did
the rest, and my appetite returned. At the beginning of September I
found myself, on the whole, very well, suffering from no actual ills
except the heat, the vermin, and weariness, for I could not be always
One day Lawrence told me that I might go out of my cell to wash
myself whilst the bed was being made and the room swept. I took
advantage of the favour to walk up and down for the ten minutes taken
by these operations, and as I walked hard the rats were alarmed and
dared not shew themselves. On the same day Lawrence gave me an
account of my money, and brought himself in as my debtor to the
amount of thirty livres, which however, I could not put into my
pocket. I left the money in his hands, telling him to lay it out on
masses on my behalf, feeling sure that he would make quite a
different use of it, and he thanked me in a tone that persuaded me he
would be his own priest. I gave him the money every month, and I
never saw a priest's receipt. Lawrence was wise to celebrate the
sacrifice at the tavern; the money was useful to someone at all
I lived from day to day, persuading myself every night that the next
day I should be at liberty; but as I was each day deceived, I decided
in my poor brain that I should be set free without fail on the 1st of
October, on which day the new Inquisitors begin their term of office.
According to this theory, my imprisonment would last as long as the
authority of the present Inquisitors, and thus was explained the fact
that I had seen nothing of the secretary, who would otherwise have
undoubtedly come to interrogate, examine, and convict me of my
crimes, and finally to announce my doom. All this appeared to me
unanswerable, because it seemed natural, but it was fallacious under
the Leads, where nothing is done after the natural order. I imagined
the Inquisitors must have discovered my innocence and the wrong they
had done me, and that they only kept me in prison for form's sake,
and to protect their repute from the stain of committing injustice;
hence I concluded that they would give me my freedom when they laid
down their tyrannical authority. My mind was so composed and quiet
that I felt as if I could forgive them, and forget the wrong that
they had done me. "How can they leave me here to the mercy of their
successors," I thought, "to whom they cannot leave any evidence
capable of condemning me?" I could not believe that my sentence had
been pronounced and confirmed, without my being told of it, or of the
reasons by which my judges had been actuated. I was so certain that
I had right on my side, that I reasoned accordingly; but this was not
the attitude I should have assumed towards a court which stands aloof
from all the courts in the world for its unbounded absolutism. To
prove anyone guilty, it is only necessary for the Inquisitors to
proceed against him; so there is no need to speak to him, and when he
is condemned it would be useless to announce to the prisoner his
sentence, as his consent is not required, and they prefer to leave
the poor wretch the feeling of hope; and certainly, if he were told
the whole process, imprisonment would not be shortened by an hour.
The wise man tells no one of his business, and the business of the
Tribunal of Venice is only to judge and to doom. The guilty party is
not required to have any share in the matter; he is like a nail,
which to be driven into a wall needs only to be struck.
To a certain extent I was acquainted with the ways of the Colossus
which was crushing me under foot, but there are things on earth which
one can only truly understand by experience. If amongst my readers
there are any who think such laws unjust, I forgive them, as I know
they have a strong likeness to injustice; but let me tell them that
they are also necessary, as a tribunal like the Venetian could not
subsist without them. Those who maintain these laws in full vigour
are senators, chosen from amongst the fittest for that office, and
with a reputation for honour and virtue.
The last day of September I passed a sleepless night, and was on
thorns to see the dawn appear, so sure was I that that day would make
me free. The reign of those villains who had made me a captive drew
to a close; but the dawn appeared, Lawrence came as usual, and told
me nothing new. For five or six days I hovered between rage and
despair, and then I imagined that for some reasons which to me were
unfathomable they had decided to keep me prisoner for the remainder
of my days. This awful idea only made me laugh, for I knew that it
was in my power to remain a slave for no long time, but only till I
should take it into my own hands to break my prison. I knew that I
should escape or die: 'Deliberata morte ferocior'.
In the beginning of November I seriously formed the plan of forcibly
escaping from a place where I was forcibly kept. I began to rack my
brains to find a way of carrying the idea into execution, and I
conceived a hundred schemes, each one bolder than the other, but a
new plan always made me give up the one I was on the point of
While I was immersed in this toilsome sea of thought, an event
happened which brought home to me the sad state of mind I was in.
I was standing up in the garret looking towards the top, and my
glance fell on the great beam, not shaking but turning on its right
side, and then, by slow and interrupted movement in the opposite
direction, turning again and replacing itself in its original
position. As I lost my balance at the same time, I knew it was the
shock of an earthquake. Lawrence and the guards, who just then came
out of my room, said that they too, had felt the earth tremble. In
such despair was I that this incident made me feel a joy which I kept
to myself, saying nothing. Four or five seconds after the same
movement occurred, and I could not refrain from saying,
"Another, O my God! but stronger."
The guards, terrified with what they thought the impious ravings of a
desperate madman, fled in horror.
After they were gone, as I was pondering the matter over, I found
that I looked upon the overthrow of the Doge's palace as one of the
events which might lead to liberty; the mighty pile, as it fell,
might throw me safe and sound, and consequently free, on St. Mark's
Place, or at the worst it could only crush me beneath its ruins.
Situated as I was, liberty reckons for all, and life for nothing, or
rather for very little. Thus in the depths of my soul I began to
This earthquake shock was the result of those which at the same time
Various Adventures--My Companions--I Prepare to Escape--Change of
To make the reader understand how I managed to escape from a place
like the Leads, I must explain the nature of the locality.
The Leads, used for the confinement of state prisoners, are in fact
the lofts of the ducal palace, and take their name from the large
plates of lead with which the roof is covered. One can only reach
them through the gates of the palace, the prison buildings, or by the
bridge of which I have spoken called the Bridge of Sighs. It is
impossible to reach the cells without passing through the hall where
the State Inquisitors hold their meetings, and their secretary has
the sole charge of the key, which he only gives to the gaoler for a
short time in the early morning whilst he is attending to the
prisoners. This is done at day-break, because otherwise the guards
as they came and went would be in the way of those who have to do
with the Council of Ten, as the Council meets every day in a hall
called The Bussola, which the guards have to cross every time they go
to the Leads.
The prisons are under the roof on two sides of the palace; three to
the west (mine being among the number) and four to the east. On the
west the roof looks into the court of the palace, and on the east
straight on to the canal called Rio di Palazzo. On this side the
cells are well lighted, and one can stand up straight, which is not
the case in the prison where I was, which was distinguished by the
name of 'Trave', on account of the enormous beam which deprived me of
light. The floor of my cell was directly over the ceiling of the
Inquisitors' hall, where they commonly met only at night after the
sitting of the Council of Ten of which the whole three are members.
As I knew my ground and the habits of the Inquisitors perfectly well,
the only way to escape--the only way at least which I deemed likely
to succeed--was to make a hole in the floor of my cell; but to do
this tools must be obtained--a difficult task in a place where all
communication with the outside world was forbidden, where neither
letters nor visits were allowed. To bribe a guard a good deal of
money would be necessary, and I had none. And supposing that the
gaoler and his two guards allowed themselves to be strangled--for my
hands were my only weapons--there was always a third guard on duty at
the door of the passage, which he locked and would not open till his
fellow who wished to pass through gave him the password. In spite of
all these difficulties my only thought was how to escape, and as
Boethius gave me no hints on this point I read him no more, and as I
was certain that the difficulty was only to be solved by stress of
thinking I centered all my thoughts on this one object.
It has always been my opinion that when a man sets himself
determinedly to do something, and thinks of nought but his design, he
must succeed despite all difficulties in his path: such an one may
make himself Pope or Grand Vizier, he may overturn an ancient line of
kings--provided that he knows how to seize on his opportunity, and be
a man of wit and pertinacity. To succeed one must count on being
fortunate and despise all ill success, but it is a most difficult
Towards the middle of November, Lawrence told me that Messer-Grande
had a prisoner in his hands whom the new secretary, Businello, had
ordered to be placed in the worst cell, and who consequently was
going to share mine. He told me that on the secretary's reminding
him that I looked upon it as a favour to be left alone, he answered
that I had grown wiser in the four months of my imprisonment. I was
not sorry to hear the news or that there was a new secretary. This
M. Pierre Businello was a worthy man whom I knew at Paris. He
afterwards went to London as ambassador of the Republic.
In the afternoon I heard the noise of the bolts, and presently
Lawrence and two guards entered leading in a young man who was
weeping bitterly; and after taking off his handcuffs they shut him up
with me, and went out without saying a word. I was lying on my bed,
and he could not see me. I was amused at his astonishment. Being,
fortunately for himself, seven or eight inches shorter than I, he was
able to stand upright, and he began to inspect my arm-chair, which he
doubtless thought was meant for his own use. Glancing at the ledge
above the grating he saw Boethius, took it up, opened it, and put it
down with a kind of passion, probably because being in Latin it was
of no use to him. Continuing his inspection of the cell he went to
the left, and groping about was much surprised to find clothes. He
approached the recess, and stretching out his hand he touched me, and
immediately begged my pardon in a respectful manner. I asked him to
sit down and we were friends.
"Who are you?" said I.
"I am Maggiorin, of Vicenza. My father, who was a coachman, kept me
at school till I was eleven, by which time I had learnt to read and
write; I was afterwards apprenticed to a barber, where I learnt my
business thoroughly. After that I became valet to the Count of X---.
I had been in the service of the nobleman for two years when his
daughter came from the convent. It was my duty to do her hair, and
by degrees I fell in love with her, and inspired her with a
reciprocal passion. After having sworn a thousand times to exist
only for one another, we gave ourselves up to the task of shewing
each other marks of our affection, the result of which was that the
state of the young countess discovered all. An old and devoted
servant was the first to find out our connection and the condition of
my mistress, and she told her that she felt in duty bound to tell her
father, but my sweetheart succeeded in making her promise to be
silent, saying that in the course of the week she herself would tell
him through her confessor. She informed me of all this, and instead
of going to confession we prepared for flight. She had laid hands on
a good sum of money and some diamonds which had belonged to her
mother, and we were to set out for Milan to-night. But to-day the
count called me after dinner, and giving me a letter, he told me to
start at once and to deliver it with my own hand to the person to
whom it was addressed at Venice. He spoke to me so kindly and
quietly that I had not the slightest suspicion of the fate in store
for me. I went to get my cloak, said good-bye to my little wife,
telling her that I should soon return. Seeing deeper below the
surface than I, and perchance having a presentiment of my misfortune,
she was sick at heart. I came here in hot haste, and took care to
deliver the fatal letter. They made me wait for an answer, and in
the mean time I went to an inn; but as I came out I was arrested and
put in the guard-room, where I was kept till they brought me here. I
suppose, sir, I might consider the young countess as my wife?"
"You make a mistake."
"Nature, when a man listens to her and nothing else, takes him from
one folly to another, till she puts him under the Leads."
"I am under the Leads, then, am I?"
"As I am."
The poor young man shed some bitter tears. He was a well-made lad,
open, honest, and amorous beyond words. I secretly pardoned the
countess, and condemned the count for exposing his daughter to such
temptation. A shepherd who shuts up the wolf in the fold should not
complain if his flock be devoured. In all his tears and lamentations
he thought not of himself but always of his sweetheart. He thought
that the gaoler would return and bring him some food and a bed; but I
undeceived him, and offered him a share of what I had. His heart,
however, was too full for him to eat. In the evening I gave him my
mattress, on which he passed the night, for though he looked neat and
clean enough I did not care to have him to sleep with me, dreading
the results of a lover's dreams. He neither understood how wrongly
he had acted, nor how the count was constrained to punish him
publicly as a cloak to the honour of his daughter and his house.
The next day he was given a mattress and a dinner to the value of
fifteen sous, which the Tribunal had assigned to him, either as a
favour or a charity, for the word justice would not be appropriate in
speaking of this terrible body. I told the gaoler that my dinner
would suffice for the two of us, and that he could employ the young
man's allowance in saying masses in his usual manner. He agreed
willingly, and having told him that he was lucky to be in my company,
he said that we could walk in the garret for half an hour. I found
this walk an excellent thing for my health and my plan of escape,
which, however, I could not carry out for eleven months afterwards.
At the end of this resort of rats, I saw a number of old pieces of
furniture thrown on the ground to the right and left of two great
chests, and in front of a large pile of papers sewn up into separate
volumes. I helped myself to a dozen of them for the sake of the
reading, and I found them to be accounts of trials, and very
diverting; for I was allowed to read these papers, which had once
contained such secrets. I found some curious replies to the judges'
questions respecting the seduction of maidens, gallantries carried a
little too far by persons employed in girls' schools, facts relating
to confessors who had abused their penitents, schoolmasters convicted
of pederasty with their pupils, and guardians who had seduced their
wards. Some of the papers dating two or three centuries back, in
which the style and the manners illustrated gave me considerable
entertainment. Among the pieces of furniture on the floor I saw a
warming-pan, a kettle, a fire-shovel, a pair of tongs, some old
candle-sticks, some earthenware pots, and even a syringe. From this
I concluded that some prisoner of distinction had been allowed to
make use of these articles. But what interested me most was a
straight iron bar as thick as my thumb, and about a foot and a half
long. However, I left everything as it was, as my plans had not been
sufficiently ripened by time for me to appropriate any object in
One day towards the end of the month my companion was taken away, and
Lawrence told me that he had been condemned to the prisons known as
The Fours, which are within the same walls as the ordinary prisons,
but belong to the State Inquisitors. Those confined in them have the
privilege of being able to call the gaoler when they like. The
prisons are gloomy, but there is an oil lamp in the midst which gives
the necessary light, and there is no fear of fire as everything is
made of marble. I heard, a long time after, that the unfortunate
Maggiorin was there for five years, and was afterwards sent to Cerigo
for ten. I do not know whether he ever came from there. He had kept
me good company, and this I discovered as soon as he was gone, for in
a few days I became as melancholy as before. Fortunately, I was
still allowed my walk in the garret, and I began to examine its
contents with more minuteness. One of the chests was full of fine
paper, pieces of cardboard, uncut pens, and clews of pack thread; the
other was fastened down. A piece of polished black marble, an inch
thick, six inches long, and three broad, attracted my attention, and
I possessed myself of it without knowing what I was going to do with
it, and I secreted it in my cell, covering it up with my shirts.
A week after Maggiorin had gone, Lawrence told me that in all
probability I should soon get another companion. This fellow
Lawrence, who at bottom was a mere gabbling fool, began to get uneasy
at my never asking him any questions. This fondness for gossip was
not altogether appropriate to his office, but where is one to find
beings absolutely vile? There are such persons, but happily they are
few and far between, and are not to be sought for in the lower
orders. Thus my gaoler found himself unable to hold his tongue, and
thought that the reason I asked no questions must be that I thought
him incapable of answering them; and feeling hurt at this, and
wishing to prove to me that I made a mistake, he began to gossip
without being solicited.
"I believe you will often have visitors," said he, "as the other six
cells have each two prisoners, who are not likely to be sent to the
Fours." I made him no reply, but he went on, in a few seconds, "They
send to the Fours all sorts of people after they have been sentenced,
though they know nothing of that. The prisoners whom I have charge
of under the Leads are like yourself, persons of note, and are only
guilty of deeds of which the inquisitive must know nothing. If you
knew, sir, what sort of people shared your fate, you would be
astonished, It's true that you are called a man of parts; but you
will pardon me.... You know that all men of parts are treated well
here. You take me, I see. Fifty sous a day, that's something. They
give three livres to a citizen, four to a gentleman, and eight to a
foreign count. I ought to know, I think, as everything goes through
He then commenced to sing his own praises, which consisted of
"I'm no thief, nor traitor, nor greedy, nor malicious, nor brutal, as
all my predecessors were, and when I have drunk a pint over and above
I am all the better for it. If my father had sent me to school I
should have learnt to read and write, and I might be Messer-Grande
to-day, but that's not my fault. M. Andre Diedo has a high opinion
of me. My wife, who cooks for you every day, and is only twenty-
four, goes to see him when she will, and he will have her come in
without ceremony, even if he be in bed, and that's more than he'll do
for a senator. I promise you you will be always having the new-
comers in your cell, but never for any length of time, for as soon
as the secretary has got what he wants to know from them, he sends
them to their place--to the Fours, to some fort, or to the Levant;
and if they be foreigners they are sent across the frontier, for our
Government does not hold itself master of the subjects of other
princes, if they be not in its service. The clemency of the Court is
beyond compare; there's not another in the world that treats its
prisoners so well. They say it's cruel to disallow writing and
visitors; but that's foolish, for what are writing and company but
waste of time? You will tell me that you have nothing to do, but we
can't say as much."
Such was, almost word for word, the first harangue with which the
fellow honoured me, and I must say I found it amusing. I saw that if
the man had been less of a fool he would most certainly have been
more of a scoundrel.
The next day brought me a new messmate, who was treated as Maggiorin
had been, and I thus found it necessary to buy another ivory spoon,
for as the newcomers were given nothing on the first day of their
imprisonment I had to do all the honours of the cell.
My new mate made me a low bow, for my beard, now four inches long,
was still more imposing than my figure. Lawrence often lent me
scissors to cut my nails, but he was forbidden, under pain of very
heavy punishment, to let me touch my beard. I knew not the reason of
this order, but I ended by becoming used to my beard as one gets used
The new-comer was a man of about fifty, approaching my size, a little
bent, thin, with a large mouth, and very bad teeth. He had small
grey eyes hidden under thick eyebrows of a red colour, which made him
look like an owl; and this picture was set off by a small black wig,
which exhaled a disagreeable odour of oil, and by a dress of coarse
grey cloth. He accepted my offer of dinner, but was reserved, and
said not a word the whole day, and I was also silent, thinking he
would soon recover the use of his tongue, as he did the next day.
Early in the morning he was given a bed and a bag full of linen. The
gaoler asked him, as he had asked me, what he would have for dinner,
and for money to pay for it.
"I have no money."
"What! a moneyed man like you have no money?"
"I haven't a sou."
"Very good; in that case I will get you some army biscuit and water,
according to instructions."
He went out, and returned directly afterwards with a pound and a half
of biscuit, and a pitcher, which he set before the prisoner, and then
Left alone with this phantom I heard a sigh, and my pity made me
break the silence.
"Don't sigh, sir, you shall share my dinner. But I think you have
made a great mistake in coming here without money."
"I have some, but it does not do to let those harpies know of it:"
"And so you condemn yourself to bread and water. Truly a wise
proceeding! Do you know the reason of your imprisonment?"
"Yes, sir, and I will endeavour in a few words to inform you of it."
"My name is Squaldo Nobili. My father was a countryman who had me
taught reading and writing, and at his death left me his cottage and
the small patch of ground belonging to it. I lived in Friuli, about
a day's journey from the Marshes of Udine. As a torrent called Corno
often damaged my little property, I determined to sell it and to set
up in Venice, which I did ten years ago. I brought with me eight
thousand livres in fair sequins, and knowing that in this happy
commonwealth all men enjoyed the blessings of liberty, I believed
that by utilizing my capital I might make a little income, and I
began to lend money, on security. Relying on my thrift, my judgment,
and my, knowledge of the world, I chose this business in preference
to all others. I rented a small house in the neighbourhood of the
Royal Canal, and having furnished it I lived there in comfort by
myself; and in the course of two years I found I had made a profit of
ten thousand livres, though I had expended two thousand on household
expenses as I wished to live in comfort. In this fashion I saw
myself in a fair way of making a respectable fortune in time; but
one, day, having lent a Jew two sequins upon some books, I found one
amongst them called "La Sagesse," by Charron. It was then I found
out how good a thing it is to be able to read, for this book, which
you, sir, may not have read, contains all that a man need know--
purging him of all the prejudices of his childhood. With Charron
good-bye to hell and all the empty terrors of a future life; one's
eyes are opened, one knows the way to bliss, one becomes wise indeed.
Do you, sir, get this book, and pay no heed to those foolish persons
who would tell you this treasure is not to be approached."
This curious discourse made me know my man. As to Charron, I had
read the book though I did not know it had been translated into
Italian. The author who was a great admirer of Montaigne thought to
surpass his model, but toiled in vain. He is not much read despite
the prohibition to read his works, which should have given them some
popularity. He had the impudence to give his book the title of one
of Solomon's treatises--a circumstance which does not say much for
his modesty. My companion went on as follows:
"Set free by Charron from any scruples I still might have, and from
those false ideas so hard to rid one's self of, I pushed my business
in such sort, that at the end of six years I could lay my hand on ten
thousand sequins. There is no need for you to be astonished at that,
as in this wealthy city gambling, debauchery, and idleness set all
the world awry and in continual need of money; so do the wise gather
what the fool drops.
"Three years ago a certain Count Seriman came and asked me to take
from him five hundred sequins, to put them in my business, and to
give him half profits. All he asked for was an obligation in which I
promised to return him the whole sum on demand. At the end of a year
I sent him seventy-five sequins, which made fifteen per cent. on his
money; he gave me a receipt for it, but was ill pleased. He was
wrong, for I was in no need of money, and had not used his for
business purposes. At the end of the second year, out of pure
generosity, I sent him the same amount; but we came to a quarrel and
he demanded the return of the five hundred sequins. 'Certainly,' I
said, 'but I must deduct the hundred and fifty you have already
received.' Enraged at this he served me with a writ for the payment
of the whole sum. A clever lawyer undertook my defence and was able
to gain me two years. Three months ago I was spoken to as to an
agreement, and I refused to hear of it, but fearing violence I went
to the Abbe Justiniani, the Spanish ambassador's secretary, and for a
small sum he let me a house in the precincts of the Embassy, where
one is safe from surprises. I was quite willing to let Count Seriman
have his money, but I claimed a reduction of a hundred sequins on
account of the costs of the lawsuit. A week ago the lawyers on both
sides came to me. I shewed them a purse of two hundred and fifty
sequins, and told them they might take it, but not a penny more.
They went away without saying a word, both wearing an ill-pleased
air, of which I took no notice. Three days ago the Abbe Justiniani
told me that the ambassador had thought fit to give permission to the
State Inquisitors to send their men at once to my house to make
search therein. I thought the thing impossible under the shelter of
a foreign ambassador, and instead of taking the usual precautions, I
waited the approach of the men-at-arms, only putting my money in a
place of safety. At daybreak Messer-Grande came to the house, and
asked me for three hundred and fifty sequins, and on my telling him
that I hadn't a farthing he seized me, and here I am."
I shuddered, less at having such an infamous companion than at his
evidently considering me as his equal, for if he had thought of me in
any other light he would certainly not have told me this long tale,
doubtless in the belief that I should take his part. In all the
folly about Charron with which he tormented me in the three days we
were together, I found by bitter experience the truth of the Italian
proverb: 'Guardati da colui che non ha letto che un libro solo'. By
reading the work of the misguided priest he had become an Atheist,
and of this he made his boast all the day long. In the afternoon
Lawrence came to tell him to come and speak with the secretary. He
dressed himself hastily, and instead of his own shoes he took mine
without my seeing him. He came back in half an hour in tears, and
took out of his shoes two purses containing three hundred and fifty
sequins, and, the gaoler going before, he went to take them to the
secretary. A few moments afterwards he returned, and taking his
cloak went away. Lawrence told me that he had been set at liberty.
I thought, and with good reason, that, to make him acknowledge his
debt and pay it, the secretary had threatened him with the torture;
and if it were only used in similar cases, I, who detest the
principle of torture, would be the first to proclaim its utility.
On New Year's Day, 1733, I received my presents. Lawrence brought me
a dressing-gown lined with foxskin, a coverlet of wadded silk, and a
bear-skin bag for me to put my legs in, which I welcomed gladly, for
the coldness was unbearable as the heat in August. Lawrence told me
that I might spend to the amount of six sequins a month, that I might
have what books I liked, and take in the newspaper, and that this
present came from M. de Bragadin. I asked him for a pencil, and I
wrote upon a scrap of paper: "I am grateful for the kindness of the
Tribunal and the goodness of M. de Bragadin."
The man who would know what were my feelings at all this must have
been in a similar situation to my own. In the first gush of feeling
I forgave my oppressors, and was on the point of giving up the idea
of escape; so easily shall you move a man that you have brought low
and overwhelmed with misfortune. Lawrence told me that M. de
Bragadin had come before the three Inquisitors, and that on his
knees, and with tears in his eyes, he had entreated them to let him
give me this mark of his affection if I were still in the land of the
living; the Inquisitors were moved, and were not able to refuse his
I wrote down without delay the names of the books I wanted.
One fine morning, as I was walking in the garret, my eyes fell on the
iron bar I have mentioned, and I saw that it might very easily be
made into a defensive or offensive weapon. I took possession of it,
and having hidden it under my dressing-gown I conveyed it into my
cell. As soon as I was alone, I took the piece of black marble, and
I found that I had to my hand an excellent whetstone; for by rubbing
the bar with the stone I obtained a very good edge.
My interest roused in this work in which I was but an apprentice, and
in the fashion in which I seemed likely to become possessed of an
instrument totally prohibited under the Leads, impelled, perhaps,
also by my vanity to make a weapon without any of the necessary
tools, and incited by my very difficulties (for I worked away till
dark without anything to hold my whetstone except my left hand, and
without a drop of oil to soften the iron), I made up my mind to
persevere in my difficult task. My saliva served me in the stead of
oil, and I toiled eight days to produce eight edges terminating in a
sharp point, the edges being an inch and a half in length. My bar
thus sharpened formed an eight-sided dagger, and would have done
justice to a first-rate cutler. No one can imagine the toil and
trouble I had to bear, nor the patience required to finish this
difficult task without any other tools than a loose piece of stone.
I put myself, in fact, to a kind of torture unknown to the tyrants of
all ages. My right arm had become so stiff that I could hardly move
it; the palm of my hand was covered with a large scar, the result of
the numerous blisters caused by the hardness and the length of the
work. No one would guess the sufferings I underwent to bring my work
Proud of what I had done, without thinking what use I could make of
my weapon, my first care was to hide it in such a manner as would
defy a minute search. After thinking over a thousand plans, to all
of which there was some objection, I cast my eyes on my arm-chair,
and there I contrived to hide it so as to be secure from all
suspicion. Thus did Providence aid me to contrive a wonderful and
almost inconceivable plan of escape. I confess to a feeling of
vanity, not because I eventually succeeded--for I owed something to
good luck--but because I was brave enough to undertake such a scheme
in spite of the difficulties which might have ruined my plans and
prevented my ever attaining liberty.
After thinking for three or four days as to what I should do with the
bar I had made into an edged tool, as thick as a walking-stick and
twenty inches long, I determined that the best plan would be to make
a hole in the floor under my bed.
I was sure that the room below my cell was no other than the one in
which I had seen M. Cavalli. I knew that this room was opened every
morning, and I felt persuaded that, after I had made my hole, I could
easily let myself down with my sheets, which I would make into a rope
and fasten to my bed. Once there, I would hide under the table of
the court, and in the morning, when the door was opened, I could
escape and get to a place of safety before anyone could follow me. I
thought it possible that a sentry might be placed in the hall, but my
short pike ought to soon rid me of him. The floor might be of double
or even of triple thickness, and this thought puzzled me; for in that
case how was I to prevent the guard sweeping out the room throughout
the two months my work might last. If I forbade them to do so, I
might rouse suspicion; all the more as, to free myself of the fleas,
I had requested them to sweep out the cell every day, and in sweeping
they would soon discover what I was about. I must find some way out
of this difficulty.
I began by forbidding them to sweep, without giving any reason. A
week after, Lawrence asked me why I did so. I told him because of
the dust which might make me cough violently and give me some fatal
"I will make them water the floor," said he.
"That would be worse, Lawrence, for the damp might cause a plethora."
In this manner I obtained a week's respite, but at the end of that.
time the lout gave orders that my cell should be swept. He had the
bed carried out into the garret, and on pretence of having the
sweeping done with greater care, he lighted a candle. This let me
know that the rascal was suspicious of something; but I was crafty
enough to take no notice of him, and so far from giving up my plea, I
only thought how I could put it on good train. Next morning I
pricked my finger and covered my handkerchief with the blood, and
then awaited Lawrence in bed. As soon as he came I told him that I
had coughed so violently as to break a blood-vessel, which had made
me bring up all the blood he saw. "Get me a doctor." The doctor
came, ordered me to be bled, and wrote me a prescription. I told him
it was Lawrence's fault, as he had persisted in having the room
swept. The doctor blamed him for doing so, and just as if I had
asked him he told us of a young man who had died from the same cause,
and said that there was nothing more dangerous than breathing in
dust. Lawrence called all the gods to witness that he had only had
the room swept for my sake, and promised it should not happen again.
I laughed to myself, for the doctor could not have played his part
better if I had given him the word. The guards who were there were
delighted, and said they would take care only to sweep the cells of
those prisoners who had angered them.
When the doctor was gone, Lawrence begged my pardon, and assured me
that all the other prisoners were in good health although their cells
were swept out regularly.
"But what the doctor says is worth considering," said he, "and I
shall tell them all about it, for I look upon them as my children."
The blood-letting did me good, as it made me sleep, and relieved me
of the spasms with which I was sometimes troubled. I had regained my
appetite and was getting back my strength every day, but the time to
set about my work was not yet come; it was still too cold, and I
could not hold the bar for any length of time without my hand
becoming stiff. My scheme required much thought. I had to exercise
boldness and foresight to rid myself of troubles which chance might
bring to pass or which I could foresee. The situation of a man who
had to act as I had, is an unhappy one, but in risking all for all
half its bitterness vanishes.
The long nights of winter distressed me, for I had to pass nineteen
mortal hours in darkness; and on the cloudy days, which are common
enough at Venice, the light I had was not sufficient for me to be
able to read. Without any distractions I fell back on the idea of my
escape, and a man who always thinks on one subject is in danger of
becoming a monomaniac. A wretched kitchen-lamp would have made me
happy, but how am I to get such a thing? O blessed prerogative of
thought! how happy was I when I thought I had found a way to possess
myself of such a treasure! To make such a lamp I required a vase,
wicks, oil, a flint and steel, tinder, and matches. A porringer
would do for the vase, and I had one which was used for cooking eggs
in butter. Pretending that the common oil did not agree with me, I
got them to buy me Lucca oil for my salad, and my cotton counterpane
would furnish me with wicks. I then said I had the toothache, and
asked Lawrence to get me a pumice-stone, but as he did not know what
I meant I told him that a musket-flint would do as well if it were
soaked in vinegar for a day, and, then being applied to the tooth the
pain would be eased. Lawrence told me that the vinegar I had was
excellent, and that I could soak the stone myself, and he gave me
three or four flints he had in his pocket. All I had to do was to
get some sulphur and tinder, and the procuring of these two articles
set all my wits to work. At last fortune came to my assistance.
I had suffered from a kind of rash, which as it came off had left
some red spots on my arms, and occasionally caused me some
irritation. I told Lawrence to ask the doctor for a cure, and the
next day he brought me a piece of paper which the secretary had seen,
and on which the doctor had written, "Regulate the food for a day,
and the skin will be cured by four ounces of oil of sweet almonds or
an ointment of flour of sulphur, but this local application is
"Never mind the danger," said I to Lawrence; "buy me the ointment, or
rather get me the sulphur, as I have some butter by me, and I can
make it up myself. Have you any matches? Give me a few."
He found some in his pockets, and he gave me them.
What a small thing brings comfort in distress! But in my place these
matches were no small thing, but rather a great treasure.
I had puzzled my head for several hours as to what substitute I could
find for tinder--the only thing I still lacked, and which I could not
ask for under any pretense whatsoever--when I remembered that I had
told the tailor to put some under the armpits of my coat to prevent
the perspiration spoiling the stuff. The coat, quite new, was before
me, and my heart began to beat, but supposing the tailor had not put
it in! Thus I hung between hope and fear. I had only to take a step
to know all; but such a step would have been decisive, and I dared
not take it. At last I drew nigh, and feeling myself unworthy of
such mercies I fell on my knees and fervently prayed of God that the
tailor might not have forgotten the tinder. After this heartfelt
prayer I took my coat, unsewed it, and found-the tinder! My joy knew
no bounds. I naturally gave thanks to God, since it was with
confidence in Him that I took courage and searched my coat, and I
returned thanks to Him with all my heart.
I now had all the necessary materials, and I soon made myself a lamp.
Let the reader imagine my joy at having in a manner made light in the
midst of darkness, and it was no less sweet because against the
orders of my infamous oppressors. Now there was no more night for
me, and also no more salad, for though I was very fond of it the need
of keeping the oil to give light caused me to make this sacrifice
without it costing me many pangs. I fixed upon the first Monday in
Lent to begin the difficult work of breaking through the floor, for I
suspected that in the tumult of the carnival I might have some
visitors, and I was in the right.
At noon, on Quinquagesima Sunday, I heard the noise of the bolts, and
presently Lawrence entered, followed by a thick-set man whom I
recognized as the Jew, Gabriel Schalon, known for lending money to
We knew each other, so exchanged compliments. His company was by no
means agreeable to me, but my opinion was not asked. He began by
congratulating me on having the pleasure of his society; and by way
of answer I offered him to share my dinner, but he refused, saying he
would only take a little soup, and would keep his appetite for a
better supper at his own house.
"This evening. You heard when I asked for my bed he told me that we
would talk about that to-morrow. That means plainly that I shall
have no need of it. And do you think it likely that a man like me
would be left without anything to eat?"
"That was my experience."
"Possibly, but between ourselves our cases are somewhat different;
and without going any farther into that question, the Inquisitors
have made a mistake in arresting me, and they will be in some
trouble, I am certain, as to how to atone for doing so."
"They will possibly give you a pension. A man of your importance has
to be conciliated."
"True, there's not a broker on the exchange more useful than myself,
and the five sages have often profited by the advice I have given
them. My detention is a curious incident, which, perchance, will be
of service to you."
"Indeed. How, may I ask?"
"I will get you out of here in a month's time. I know to whom to
speak and what way to do it:"
"I reckon on you, then."
"You may do so."
This knave and fool together believed himself to be somebody. He
volunteered to inform me as to what was being said of me in the town,
but as he only related the idle tales of men as ignorant as himself,
he wearied me, and to escape listening to him I took up a book. The
fellow had the impudence to ask me not to read, as he was very fond
of talking, but henceforth he talked only to himself. I did not dare
to light my lamp before this creature, and as night drew on he
decided on accepting some bread and Cyprus wine, and he was
afterwards obliged to do as best he could with my mattress, which was
now the common bed of all new-comers.
In the morning he had a bed and some food from his own house. I was
burdened with this wretched fellow for two months, for before
condemning him to the Fours the secretary had several interviews with
him to bring to light his knaveries, and to oblige him to cancel a
goodly number of illegal agreements. He confessed to me himself that
he had bought of M. Domenico Micheli the right to moneys which could
not belong to the buyer till after the father of the seller was dead.
"It's true," said he, "that he agreed to give me fifty per cent., but
you must consider that if he died before his father I should lose
all." At last, seeing that my cursed fellow did not go, I determined
to light my lamp again after having made him promise to observe
secrecy. He only kept his promise while he was with me, as Lawrence
knew all about it, but luckily he attached no importance to the fact.
This unwelcome guest was a true burden to me, as he not only
prevented me from working for my escape but also from reading. He
was troublesome, ignorant, superstitious, a braggart, cowardly, and
sometimes like a madman. He would have had me cry, since fear made
him weep, and he said over and over again that this imprisonment
would ruin his reputation. On this count I reassured him with a
sarcasm he did not understand. I told him that his reputation was
too well known to suffer anything from this little misfortune, and he
took that for a compliment. He would not confess to being a miser,
but I made him admit that if the Inquisitors would give him a hundred
sequins for every day of his imprisonment he would gladly pass the
rest of his life under the Leads.
He was a Talmudist, like all modern Jews, and he tried to make me
believe that he was very devout; but I once extracted a smile of
approbation from him by telling him that he would forswear Moses if
the Pope would make him a cardinal. As the son of a rabbi he was
learned in all the ceremonies of his religion, but like most men he
considered the essence of a religion to lie in its discipline and
This Jew, who was extremely fat, passed three-quarters of his life in
bed; and though he often dozed in the daytime, he was annoyed at not
being able to sleep at night--all the more as he saw that I slept
excellently. He once took it into his head to wake me up as I was
enjoying my sleep.
"What do you want?" said I; "waking me up with a start like this."
"My dear fellow, I can't sleep a wink. Have compassion on me and let
us have a little talk."
"You scoundrel! You act thus and you dare to call yourself my friend!
I know your lack of sleep torments you, but if you again deprive me
of the only blessing I enjoy I will arise and strangle you."
I uttered these words in a kind of transport.
"Forgive me, for mercy's sake! and be sure that I will not trouble
It is possible that I should not have strangled him, but I was very
much tempted to do so. A prisoner who is happy enough to sleep
soundly, all the while he sleeps is no longer a captive, and feels no
more the weight of his chains. He ought to look upon the wretch who
awakens him as a guard who deprives him of his liberty, and makes him
feel his misery once more, since, awakening, he feels all his former
woes. Furthermore, the sleeping prisoner often dreams that he is
free again, in like manner as the wretch dying of hunger sees himself
in dreams seated at a sumptuous feast.
I congratulated myself on not having commenced my great work before
he came, especially as he required that the room should be swept out.
The first time he asked for it to be dote, the guards made me laugh
by saying that it would kill me. However, he insisted; and I had my
revenge by pretending to be ill, but from interested motives I made
no further opposition.
On the Wednesday in Holy Week Lawrence told us that the secretary
would make us the customary visit in the afternoon, the object being
to give peace to them that would receive the sacrament at Easter, and
also to know if they had anything to say against the gaoler. "So,
gentlemen," said Lawrence, "if you have any complaints to make of me
make them. Dress yourselves fully, as is customary." I told
Lawrence to get me a confessor for the day.
I put myself into full dress, and the Jew followed my example, taking
leave of me in advance, so sure was he that the secretary would set
him free on hearing what he had to say. "My presentiment," said he,
"is of the same kind as I have had before, and I have never been
"I congratulate you, but don't reckon without your host." He did not
understand what I meant.
In course of time the secretary came, and as soon as the cell-door
was opened the Jew ran out and threw himself at his feet on both
knees, I heard for five minutes nothing but his tears and complaints,
for the secretary said not one word. He came back, and Lawrence told
me to go out. With a beard of eight months' growth, and a dress made
for love-making in August, I must have presented a somewhat curious
appearance. Much to my disgust I shivered with cold, and was afraid
that the secretary would think I was trembling with fear. As I was
obliged to bend low to come out of my hole, my bow was ready made,
and drawing myself up, I looked at him calmly without affecting any
unseasonable hardihood, and waited for him to speak. The secretary
also kept silence, so that we stood facing each other like a pair of
statues. At the end of two minutes, the secretary, seeing that I
said nothing, gave me a slight bow, and went away. I re-entered my
cell, and taking off my clothes in haste, got into bed to get warm
again. The Jew was astonished at my not having spoken to the
secretary, although my silence had cried more loudly than his
cowardly complaints. A prisoner of my kind has no business to open
his mouth before his judge, except to answer questions. On Maundy
Thursday a Jesuit came to confess me, and on Holy Saturday a priest
of St. Mark's came to administer to me the Holy Communion. My
confession appearing rather too laconic to the sweet son of Ignatius
he thought good to remonstrate with me before giving me his
"Do you pray to God?" he said.
"From the morning unto the evening, and from the evening unto the
morning, for, placed as I am, all that I feel--my anxiety, my grief,
all the wanderings of my mind--can be but a prayer in the eyes of the
Divine Wisdom which alone sees my heart."
The Jesuit smiled slightly and replied by a discourse rather
metaphysical than moral, which did not at all tally with my views.
I should have confuted him on every point if he had not astonished me
by a prophecy he made. "Since it is from us," said he, "that you
learnt what you know of religion, practise it in our fashion, pray
like us, and know that you will only come out of this place on the
day of the saint whose name you bear." So saying he gave me
absolution, and left me. This man left the strongest possible
impression on my mind. I did my best, but I could not rid myself of
it. I proceeded to pass in review all the saints in the calendar.
The Jesuit was the director of M. Flaminio Corner, an old senator,
and then a State Inquisitor. This statesman was a famous man of
letters, a great politician, highly religious, and author of several
pious and ascetic works written in Latin. His reputation was
On being informed that I should be set free on the feast-day of my
patron saint, and thinking that my informant ought to know for
certain what he told me, I felt glad to have a patron-saint. "But
which is it?" I asked myself. "It cannot be St. James of
Compostella, whose name I bear, for it was on the feast-day of that
saint that Messer-Grande burst open my door." I took the almanac and
looking for the saints' days nearest at hand I found St. George--a
saint of some note, but of whom I had never thought. I then devoted
myself to St. Mark, whose feast fell on the twenty-fifth of the
month, and whose protection as a Venetian I might justly claim. To
him, then, I addressed my vows, but all in vain, for his feast came
round and still I was in prison. Then I took myself to St. James,
the brother of Christ, who comes before St. Philip, but again in the
wrong. I tried St. Anthony, who, if the tale told at Padua be true,
worked thirteen miracles a day. He worked none for me. Thus I
passed from one to the other, and by degrees I got to hope in the
protection of the saints just as one hopes for anything one desires,
but does not expect to come to pass; and I finished up by hoping only
in my Saint Bar, and in the strength of my arms. Nevertheless the
promise of the Jesuit came to pass, since I escaped from The Leads on
All Hallows Day; and it is certain that if I had a patron-saint, he
must be looked for in their number since they are all honoured on
A fortnight after Easter I was delivered from my troublesome
Israelite, and the poor devil instead of being sent back to his home
had to spend two years in The Fours, and on his gaining his freedom
he went and set up in Trieste, where he ended his days.
No sooner was I again alone than I set zealously about my work. I
had to make haste for fear of some new visitor, who, like the Jew,
might insist on the cell being swept. I began by drawing back my
bed, and after lighting my lamp I lay down on my belly, my pike in my
hand, with a napkin close by in which to gather the fragments of
board as I scooped them out. My task was to destroy the board by
dint of driving into it the point of my tool. At first the pieces I
got away were not much larger than grains of wheat, but they soon
increased in size.
The board was made of deal, and was sixteen inches broad. I began to
pierce it at its juncture with another board, and as there were no
nails or clamps my work was simple. After six hours' toil I tied up
the napkin, and put it on one side to empty it the following day
behind the pile of papers in the garret. The fragments were four or
five times larger in bulk than the hole from whence they came. I put
back my bed in its place, and on emptying the napkin the next morning
I took care so to dispose the fragments that they should not be seen.
Having broken through the first board, which I found to be two inches
thick, I was stopped by a second which I judged to be as thick as the
first. Tormented by the fear of new visitors I redoubled my efforts,
and in three weeks I had pierced the three boards of which the floor
was composed; and then I thought that all was lost, for I found I had
to pierce a bed of small pieces of marble known at Venice as terrazzo
marmorin. This forms the usual floor of venetian houses of all
kinds, except the cottages, for even the high nobility prefer the
terrazzo to the finest boarded floor. I was thunderstruck to find
that my bar made no impression on this composition; but,
nevertheless, I was not altogether discouraged and cast down. I
remembered Hannibal, who, according to Livy, opened up a passage
through the Alps by breaking the rocks with axes and other
instruments, having previously softened them with vinegar. I thought
that Hannibal had succeeded not by aceto, but aceta, which in the
Latin of Padua might well be the same as ascia; and who can guarantee
the text to be free from the blunders of the copyist? All the same,
I poured into the hole a bottle of strong vinegar I had by me, and in
the morning, either because of the vinegar or because I, refreshed
and rested, put more strength and patience into the work, I saw that
I should overcome this new difficulty; for I had not to break the
pieces of marble, but only to pulverize with the end of my bar the
cement which kept them together. I soon perceived that the greatest
difficulty was on the surface, and in four days the whole mosaic was
destroyed without the point of my pike being at all damaged.
Below the pavement I found another plank, but I had expected as much.
I concluded that this would be the last; that is the first to be put
down when the rooms below were being ceiled. I pierced it with some
difficulty, as, the hole being ten inches deep, it had become
troublesome to work the pike. A thousand times I commended myself to
the mercy of God. Those Free-thinkers who say that praying is no
good do not know what they are talking about; for I know by
experience that, having prayed to God, I always felt myself grow
stronger, which fact amply proves the usefulness of prayer, whether
the renewal of strength come straight from God, or whether it comes
only from the trust one has in Him.
On the 25th of June, on which day the Republic celebrates the
wonderful appearance of St. Mark under the form of a winged lion in
the ducal church, about three o'clock in the afternoon, as I was
labouring on my belly at the hole, stark naked, covered with sweat,
my lamp beside me. I heard with mortal fear the shriek of a bolt and
the noise of the door of the first passage. It was a fearful moment!
I blew out my lamp, and leaving my bar in the hole I threw into it
the napkin with the shavings it contained, and as swift as lightning
I replaced my bed as best I could, and threw myself on it just as the
door of my cell opened. If Lawrence had come in two seconds sooner
he would have caught me. He was about to walk over me, but crying
out dolefully I stopped him, and he fell back, saying,
"Truly, sir, I pity you, for the air here is as hot as a furnace.
Get up, and thank God for giving you such good company."
"Come in, my lord, come in," said he to the poor wretch who followed
him. Then, without heeding my nakedness, the fellow made the noble
gentleman enter, and he seeing me to be naked, sought to avoid me
while I vainly tried to find my shirt.
The new-comer thought he was in hell, and cried out,
"Where am I? My God! where have I been put? What heat! What a
stench! With whom am I?"
Lawrence made him go out, and asked me to put on my shirt to go into
the garret for a moment. Addressing himself to the new prisoner, he
said that, having to get a bed and other necessaries, he would leave
us in the garret till he came back, and that, in the mean time, the
cell would be freed from the bad smell, which was only oil. What a
start it gave me as I heard him utter the word "oil." In my hurry I
had forgotten to snuff the wick after blowing it out. As Lawrence
asked me no questions about it, I concluded that he knew all, and the
accursed Jew must have betrayed me. I thought myself lucky that he
was not able to tell him any more.
From that time the repulsion which I had felt for Lawrence
After putting on my shirt and dressing-gown, I went out and found my
new companion engaged in writing a list of what he wanted the gaoler
to get him. As soon as he saw me, he exclaimed, "Ah! it's Casanova."
I, too, recognised him as the Abbe and Count Fenarolo, a man of
fifty, amiable, rich, and a favourite in society. He embraced me,
and when I told him that I should have expected to see anybody in
that place rather than him, he could not keep back his tears, which
made me weep also.
When we were alone I told him that, as soon as his bed came, I should
offer him the recess, begging him at the same time not to accept it.
I asked him, also, not to ask to have the cell swept, saying that I
would tell him the reason another time. He promised to keep all
secrecy in the matter, and said he thought himself fortunate to be
placed with me. He said that as no one knew why I was imprisoned,
everyone was guessing at it. Some said that I was the heresiarch of
a new sect; others that Madame Memmo had persuaded the Inquisitors
that I had made her sons Atheists, and others that Antony Condulmer,
the State Inquisitor, had me imprisoned as a disturber of the peace,
because I hissed Abbe Chiari's plays, and had formed a design to go
to Padua for the express purpose of killing him.
All these accusations had a certain foundation in fact which gave
them an air of truth, but in reality they were all wholly false. I
cared too little for religion to trouble myself to found a new one.
The sons of Madame Memmo were full of wit, and more likely to seduce
than to be seduced; and Master Condulmer would have had too much on
his hands if he had imprisoned all those who hissed the Abbe Chiari;
and as for this abbe, once a Jesuit, I had forgiven him, as the
famous Father Origo, himself formerly a Jesuit, had taught me to take
my revenge by praising him everywhere, which incited the malicious to
vent their satire on the abbe; and thus I was avenged without any
trouble to myself.
In the evening they brought a good bed, fine linen, perfumes, an
excellent supper, and choice wines. The abbe ate nothing, but I
supped for two. When Lawrence had wished us good night and had shut
us up till the next day, I got out my lamp, which I found to be
empty, the napkin having sucked up all the oil. This made me laugh,
for as the napkin might very well have caught and set the room on
fire, the idea of the confusion which would have ensued excited my
hilarity. I imparted the cause of my mirth to my companion, who
laughed himself, and then, lighting the lamp, we spent the night in
pleasant talk. The history of his imprisonment was as follows:
"Yesterday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Madame Alessandria,
Count Martinengo, and myself, got into a gondola. We went to Padua
to see the opera, intending to return to Venice afterwards. In the
second act my evil genius led me to the gaming-table, where I
unfortunately saw Count Rosenberg, the Austrian ambassador, without
his mask, and about ten paces from him was Madame Ruzzini, whose
husband is going to Vienna to represent the Republic. I greeted them
both, and was just going away, when the ambassador called out to me,
so as to be heard by everyone, 'You are very fortunate in being able
to pay your court to so sweet a lady. At present the personage I
represent makes the fairest land in the world no better for me than a
galley. Tell the lady, I beseech you, that the laws which now
prevent me speaking to her will be without force at Venice, where I
shall go next year, and then I shall declare war against her.'
Madame Ruzzini, who saw that she was being spoken of, asked me what
the count had said, and I told her, word for word. 'Tell him,' said
she, 'that I accept his declaration of war, and that we shall see who
will wage it best.' I did not think I had committed a crime in
reporting her reply, which was after all a mere compliment. After
the opera we set out, and got here at midnight. I was going to sleep
when a messenger brought me a note ordering me to go to the Bussola
at one o'clock, Signor Bussinello, Secretary of the Council of Ten,
having something to say to me. Astonished at such an order--always
of bad omen, and vexed at being obliged to obey, I went at the time
appointed, and my lord secretary, without giving me a word, ordered
me to be taken here."
Certainly no fault could be less criminal than that which Count
Fenarolo had committed, but one can break certain laws in all
innocence without being any the less punishable. I congratulated him
on knowing what his crime had been, and told him that he would be set
free in a week, and would be requested to spend six months in the
Bressian. "I can't think," said he, "that they will leave me here
for a week." I determined to keep him good company, and to soften
the bitterness of his imprisonment, and so well did I sympathize with
his position that I forgot all about my own.
The next morning at day-break, Lawrence brought coffee and a basket
filled with all the requisites for a good dinner. The abbe was
astonished, for he could not conceive how anyone could eat at such an
early hour. They let us walk for an hour in the garret and then shut
us up again, and we saw no more of them throughout the day. The
fleas which tormented us made the abbe ask why I did not have the
cell swept out. I could not let him think that dirt and untidiness
was agreeable to me, or that my skin was any harder than his own, so
I told him the whole story, and shewed him what I had done. He was
vexed at having as it were forced me to make him my confidant, but he
encouraged me to go on, and if possible to finish what I was about
that day, as he said he would help me to descend and then would draw
up the rope, not wishing to complicate his own difficulties by an
escape. I shewed him the model of a contrivance by means of which I
could certainly get possession of the sheets which were to be my
rope; it was a short stick attached by one end to a long piece of
thread. By this stick I intended to attach my rope to the bed, and
as the thread hung down to the floor of the room below, as soon as I
got there I should pull the thread and the rope would fall down. He
tried it, and congratulated me on my invention, as this was a
necessary part of my scheme, as otherwise the rope hanging down would
have immediately discovered me. My noble companion was convinced
that I ought to stop my work, for I might be surprised, having to do
several days' work before finishing the hole which would cost
Lawrence his life. Should the thought of gaining my liberty at the
expense of a fellow-creature have made me desist? I should have
still persisted if my escape had meant death to the whole body of
Venetian guards, and even to the Inquisitors themselves. Can the
love of country, all holy though it be, prevail in the heart of the
man whose country is oppressing him?
My good humour did not prevent my companion having some bad quarters
of an hour. He was in love with Madame Alessandria, who had been a
singer, and was either the mistress or the wife of his friend
Martinengo; and he should have deemed himself happy, but the happier
a lover is, so much the more his unhappiness when he is snatched from
the beloved object. He sighed, wept, and declared that he loved a
woman in whom all the noble virtues were contained. I compassionated
him, and took care not to comfort him by saying that love is a mere
trifle--a cold piece of comfort given to lovers by fools, and,
moreover, it is not true that love is a mere trifle.
The week I had mentioned as the probable term of his imprisonment
passed quickly enough, and I lost my friend, but did not waste my
time by mourning for him; he was set free, and I was content. I did
not beg him to be discreet, for the least doubt on that score would
have wounded his noble spirit. During the week he was with me he
only ate soup and fruit, taking a little Canary wine. It was I who
made good cheer in his stead and greatly to his delight. Before he
left we swore eternal friendship.
The next day Lawrence gave me an account of my money, and on finding
that I had a balance of four sequins I gave them to him, telling him
it was a present from me to his wife. I did not tell him that it was
for the rent of my lamp, but he was free to think so if he chose.
Again betaking myself to my work, and toiling without cessation, on
the 23rd of August I saw it finished. This delay was caused by an
inevitable accident. As I was hollowing out the last plank, I put my
eye to a little hole, through which I ought to have seen the hall of
the Inquisitors-in fact, I did see it, but I saw also at one side of
the hole a surface about eight inches thick. It was, as I had feared
all the time it would be, one of the beams which kept up the ceiling.
I was thus compelled to enlarge my hole on the other side, for the
beam would have made it so narrow that a man of my size could never
have got through. I increased the hole, therefore, by a fourth,
working--between fear and hope, for it was possible that the space
between two of the beams would not be large enough. After I had
finished, a second little hole assured me that God had blessed my
labour. I then carefully stopped up the two small holes to prevent
anything falling down into the hall, and also lest a ray from my lamp
should be perceived, for this would have discovered all and ruined
I fixed my escape for the eve of St. Augustine's Day, because I knew
that the Grand Council assembled on that feast, and there would
consequently be nobody near the room through which I must pass in
getting away. This would have been on the twenty-seventh of the
month, but a misfortune happened to me on the twenty-fifth which
makes me still shudder when I think of it, notwithstanding the years
which have passed since then.
Precisely at noon I heard the noise of bolts, and I thought I should
die; for a violent beating of the heart made me imagine my last hour
was come. I fell into my easy chair, and waited. Lawrence came into
the garret and put his head at the grating, and said, "I give you
joy, sir, for the good news I am bringing you." At first, not being
able to think of any other news which could be good to me, I fancied
I had been set at liberty, and I trembled, for I knew that the
discovery of the hole I had made would have caused my pardon to be
Lawrence came in and told me to follow him.
"Wait till I put on my clothes."
"It's of no consequence, as you only have to walk from this
abominable cell to another, well lighted and quite fresh, with two
windows whence you can see half Venice, and you can stand upright
too." -----I could bear no more, I felt that I was fainting.
"Give me the vinegar," said I, "and go and tell the secretary that I
thank the Court for this favour, and entreat it to leave me where I
"You make me laugh, sir. Have you gone mad? They would take you
from hell to put you in heaven, and you would refuse to stir? Come,
come, the Court must be obeyed, pray rise, sir. I will give you my
arm, and will have your clothes and your books brought for you."
Seeing that resistance was of no avail, I got up, and was much
comforted at hearing him give orders for my arm-chair to be brought,
for my pike was to follow me, and with it hope. I should have much
liked to have been able to take the hole--the object of so much
wasted trouble and hope--with me. I may say with truth that, as I
came forth from that horrible and doleful place, my spirit remained
Leaning on Lawrence's shoulder, while he, thinking to cheer me up,
cracked his foolish jokes, I passed through two narrow passages, and
going down three steps I found myself in a well-lighted hall, at the
end of which, on the left-hand side, was a door leading into another
passage two feet broad by about twelve long, and in the corner was my
new cell. It had a barred window which was opposite to two windows,
also barred, which lighted the passage, and thus one had a fine view
as far as Lido. At that trying moment I did not care much for the
view; but later on I found that a sweet and pleasant wind came
through the window when it was opened, and tempered the insufferable
heat; and this was a true blessing for the poor wretch who had to
breathe the sultry prison air, especially in the hot season.
As soon as I got into my new cell Lawrence had my arm-chair brought
in, and went away, saying that he would have the remainder of my
effects brought to me. I sat on my arm-chair as motionless as a
statue, waiting for the storm, but not fearing it. What overwhelmed
me was the distressing idea that all my pains and contrivances were
of no use, nevertheless I felt neither sorry nor repentant for what I
had done, and I made myself abstain from thinking of what was going
to happen, and thus kept myself calm.
Lifting up my soul to God I could not help thinking that this
misfortune was a Divine punishment for neglecting to escape when all
was ready. Nevertheless, though I could have escaped three days
sooner, I thought my punishment too severe, all the more as I had put
off my escape from motives of prudence, which seemed to me worthy of
reward, for if I had only consulted my own impatience to be gone I
should have risked everything. To controvert the reasons which made
me postpone my flight to the 27th of August, a special revelation
would have been requisite; and though I had read "Mary of Agrada" I
was not mad enough for that.
The Subterranean Prisons Known as the Wells--Lawrence's Vengeance--
I Enter into a Correspondence With Another Prisoner, Father Balbi:
His Character--I Plan With Him a Means of Escape--How I Contrived to
Let Him Have My Pike I Am Given a Scoundrelly Companion: His
I was thus anxious and despairing when two of the guards brought me
my bed. They went back to fetch the rest of my belongings, and for
two hours I saw no one, although the door of my cell remained open.
This unnatural delay engendered many thoughts, but I could not fix
exactly on the reason of it. I only knew that I had everything to
fear, and this knowledge made me brace up my mind so that I should be
able to meet calmly all possible misfortunes.
Besides The Leads and The Fours the State Inquisitors also possess
certain horrible subterranean cells beneath the ducal palace, where
are sent men whom they do not wish to put to death, though they be
thought worthy of it.
These subterranean prisons are precisely like tombs, but they call
them "wells," because they always contain two feet of water, which
penetrates from the sea by the same grating by which light is given,
this grating being only a square foot in size. If the unfortunates
condemned to live in these sewers do not wish to take a bath of
filthy water, they have to remain all day seated on a trestle, which
serves them both for bed and cupboard. In the morning they are given
a pitcher of water, some thin soup, and a ration of army bread which
they have to eat immediately, or it becomes the prey of the enormous
water rats who swarm in those dreadful abodes. Usually the wretches
condemned to The Wells are imprisoned there for life, and there have
been prisoners who have attained a great age. A villain who died
whilst I was under the Leads had passed thirty-seven years in The
Wells, and he was forty-four when sentenced. Knowing that he
deserved death, it is possible that he took his imprisonment as a
favour, for there are men who fear nought save death. His name was
Beguelin. A Frenchman by birth, he had served in the Venetian army
during the last war against the Turks in 1716, under the command of
Field-Marshal the Count of Schulenbourg, who made the Grand Vizier
raise the siege of Corfu. This Beguelin was the marshal's spy. He
disguised himself as a Turk, and penetrated into the Mussulman
quarters, but at the same time he was also in the service of the
Grand Vizier, and being detected in this course he certainly had
reason to be thankful for being allowed to die in The Wells. The
rest of his life must have been divided between weariness and hunger,
but no doubt he often said, 'Dum vita superest, bene est'.
I have seen at Spiegelberg, in Moravia, prisons fearful in another
way. There mercy sends the prisoners under sentence of death, and
not one of them ever survives a year of imprisonment. What mercy!
During the two mortal hours of suspense, full of sombre thoughts and
the most melancholy ideas, I could not help fancying that I was going
to be plunged in one of these horrible dens, where the wretched
inhabitants feed on idle hopes or become the prey of panic fears.
The Tribunal might well send him to hell who had endeavoured to
escape from purgatory.
At last I heard hurried steps, and I soon saw Lawrence standing
before me, transformed with rage, foaming at the mouth, and
blaspheming God and His saints. He began by ordering me to give him
the hatchet and the tools I had used to pierce the floor, and to tell
him from which of the guards I had got the tools. Without moving,
and quite calmly, I told him that I did not know what he was talking
about. At this reply he gave orders that I should be searched, but
rising with a determined air I shook my fist at the knaves, and
having taken off my clothes I said to them, "Do your duty, but let no
one touch me."
They searched my mattress, turned my bed inside out, felt the
cushions of my arm-chair, and found nothing.
"You won't tell me, then, where are the instruments with which you
made the hole. It's of no matter, as we shall find a way to make you
"If it be true that I have made a hole at all, I shall say that you
gave me the tools, and that I have returned them to you."
At this threat, which made his followers smile with glee, probably
because he had been abusing them, he stamped his feet, tore his hair,
and went out like one possessed. The guards returned and brought me
all my properties, the whetstone and lamp excepted. After locking up
my cell he shut the two windows which gave me a little air. I thus
found myself confined in a narrow space without the possibility of
receiving the least breath of air from any quarter. Nevertheless, my
situation did not disturb me to any great extent, as I must confess I
thought I had got off cheaply. In spite of his training, Lawrence
had not thought of turning the armchair over; and thus, finding
myself still possessor of the iron bar, I thanked Providence, and
thought myself still at liberty to regard the bar as means by which,
sooner or later, I should make my escape.
I passed a sleepless night, as much from the heat as the change in my
prospects. At day-break Lawrence came and brought some insufferable
wine, and some water I should not have cared to drink. All the rest
was of a piece; dry salad, putrid meat, and bread harder than English
biscuit. He cleaned nothing, and when I asked him to open the
windows he seemed not to hear me; but a guard armed with an iron bar
began to sound all over my room, against the wall, on the floor, and
above all under my bed. I looked on with an unmoved expression, but
it did not escape my notice that the guard did not sound the ceiling.
"That way," said I to myself, "will lead me out of this place of
torments." But for any such project to succeed I should have to
depend purely on chance, for all my operations would leave visible
traces. The cell was quite new, and the least scratch would have
attracted the notice of my keepers.
I passed a terrible day, for the heat was like that of a furnace, and
I was quite unable to make any use of the food with which I had been
provided. The perspiration and the lack of nourishment made me so
weak that I could neither walk nor read. Next day my dinner was the
same; the horrible smell of the veal the rascal brought me made me
draw back from it instantly. "Have you received orders," said I, "to
kill me with hunger and heat?"
He locked the door, and went out without a word. On the third day I
was treated in the same manner. I asked for a pencil and paper to
write to the secretary. Still no answer.
In despair, I eat my soup, and then soaking my bread in a little
Cyprus wine I resolved to get strength to avenge myself on Lawrence
by plunging my pike into his throat. My rage told me that I had no
other course, but I grew calmer in the night, and in the morning,
when the scoundrel appeared, I contented myself with saying that I
would kill him as soon as I was at liberty. He only laughed at my
threat, and again went out without opening his lips.