The memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt
Some of the ladies of Trieste thought they would like to act a French play, and I was made stage manager. I had not only to choose the pieces, but to distribute the parts, the latter being a duty of infinite irksomeness.
All the actresses were new to the boards, and I had immense trouble in hearing them repeat their parts, which they seemed unable to learn by heart. It is a well-known fact that the revolution which is really wanted in Italy is in female education. The very best families with few exceptions are satisfied with shutting up their daughters in a convent for several years till the time comes for them to marry some man whom they never see till the eve or the day of their marriage. As a consequence we have the ‘cicisbeo’, and in Italy as in France the idea that our nobles are the sons of their nominal fathers is a purely conventional one.
What do girls learn in convents, especially in Italian convents? A few mechanical acts of devotion and outward forms, very little real religion, a good deal of deceit, often profligate habits, a little reading and writing, many useless accomplishments, small music and less drawing, no history, no geography or mythology, hardly any mathematics, and nothing to make a girl a good wife and a good mother.
As for foreign languages, they are unheard of; our own Italian is so soft that any other tongue is hard to acquire, and the ‘dolce far niente’ habit is an obstacle to all assiduous study.
I write down these truths in spite of my patriotism. I know that if any of my fellow-countrywomen come to read me they will be very angry; but I shall be beyond the reach of all anger.
To return to our theatricals. As I could not make my actresses get their parts letter perfect, I became their prompter, and found out by experience all the ungratefulness of the position.
The actors never acknowledged their debt to the prompter, and put down to his account all the mistakes they make.
A Spanish doctor is almost as badly off; if his patient recovers, the cure is set down to the credit of one saint or another; but if he dies, the physician is blamed for his unskilful treatment.
A handsome negress, who served the prettiest of my actresses to whom I shewed great attentions, said to me one day,—
“I can’t make out how you can be so much in love with my mistress, who is as white as the devil.”
“Have you never loved a white man?” I asked.
“Yes,” said she, “but only because I had no negro, to whom I should certainly have given the preference.”
Soon after the negress became mine, and I found out the falsity of the axiom, ‘Sublata lucerna nullum discrimen inter feminas’, for even in the darkness a man would know a black woman from a white one.
I feel quite sure myself that the negroes are a distinct species from ourselves. There is one essential difference, leaving the colour out of account—namely, that an African woman can either conceive or not, and can conceive a boy or a girl. No doubt my readers will disbelieve this assertion, but their incredulity would cease if I instructed them in the mysterious science of the negresses.
Count Rosenberg, grand chamberlain of the emperor, came on a visit to Trieste in company with an Abbe Casti, whose acquaintance I wished to make on account of some extremely blasphemous poems he had written. However, I was disappointed; and instead of a man of parts, I found the abbe to be an impudent worthless fellow, whose only merit was a knack of versification.
Count Rosenberg took the abbe with him, because he was useful in the capacities of a fool and a pimp-occupations well suited to his morals, though by no means agreeable to his ecclesiastical status. In those days syphilis had not completely destroyed his uvula.
I heard that this shameless profligate, this paltry poetaster, had been named poet to the emperor. What a dishonour to the memory of the great Metastasio, a man free from all vices, adorned with all virtues, and of the most singular ability.
Casti had neither a fine style, nor a knowledge of dramatic requirements, as appears from two or three comic operas composed by him, in which the reader will find nothing but foolish buffooneries badly put together. In one of these comic operas he makes use of slander against King Theodore and the Venetian Republic, which he turns into ridicule by means of pitiful lies.
In another piece called The Cave of Trophonius, Casti made himself the laughing-stock of the literary world by making a display of useless learning which contributes nothing towards the plot.
Among the persons of quality who came to Gorice, I met a certain Count Torriano, who persuaded me to spend the autumn with him at a country house of his six miles from Gorice.
If I had listened to the voice of my good genius I should certainly never have gone.
The count was under thirty, and was not married. He could not exactly be called ugly in spite of his hangdog countenance, in which I saw the outward signs of cruelty, disloyalty, treason, pride, brutal sensuality, hatred, and jealousy. The mixture of bad qualities was such an appalling one that I thought his physiognomy was at fault, and the goods better than the sign. He asked me to come and see him so graciously that I concluded that the man gave the lie to his face.
I asked about him before accepting the invitation, and I heard nothing but good. People certainly said he was fond of the fair sex, and was a fierce avenger of any wrong done to him, but not thinking either of these characteristics unworthy of a gentleman I accepted his invitation. He told me that he would expect me to meet him at Gorice on the first day of September, and that the next day we would leave for his estate.
In consequence of Torriano’s invitation I took leave of everybody, especially of Count Wagensberg, who had a serious attack of that malady which yields so easily to mercury when it is administered by a skilled hand, but which kills the unfortunate who falls amongst quacks. Such was the fate of the poor count; he died a month after I had left Trieste.
I left Trieste in the morning, dined at Proseco, and reached Gorice in good time. I called at Count Louis Torriano’s mansion, but was told he was out. However, they allowed me to deposit what little luggage I had when I informed them that the count had invited me. I then went to see Count Torres, and stayed with him till supper-time.
When I got back to the count’s I was told he was in the country, and would not be back till the next day, and that in the meantime my trunks had been taken to the inn where a room and supper had been ordered.
I was extremely astonished, and went to the inn, where I was served with a bad supper in an uncomfortable room; however, I supposed that the count had been unable to accommodate me in his house, and I excused him though I wished he had forewarned me. I could not understand how a gentleman who has a house and invites a friend can be without a room wherein to lodge him.
Next morning Count Torriano came to see me, thanked me for my punctuality, congratulated himself on the pleasure he expected to derive from my society, and told me he was very sorry we could not start for two days, as a suit was to be heard the next day between himself and a rascally old farmer who was trying to cheat him.
“Well, well,” said I, “I will go and hear the pleadings; it will be an amusement for me.”
Soon after he took his leave, without asking me where I intended dining, or apologizing for not having accommodated me himself.
I could not make him out; I thought he might have taken offence at my descending at his doors without having given him any warning.
“Come, come, Casanova,” I said to myself, “you may be all abroad. Knowledge of character is an unfathomable gulf. We thought we had studied it deeply, but there is still more to learn; we shall see. He may have said nothing out of delicacy. I should be sorry to be found wanting in politeness, though indeed I am puzzled to know what I have done amiss.”
I dined by myself, made calls in the afternoon, and supped with Count Tomes. I told him that I promised myself the pleasure of hearing the eloquence of the bar of Gorice the next day.
“I shall be there, too,” said he, “as I am curious to see what sort of a face Torriano will put on it, if the countryman wins. I know something about the case,” he continued, “and Torriano is sure of victory, unless the documents attesting the farmer’s indebtedness happen to be forgeries. On the other hand, the farmer ought to win unless it can be shewn that the receipts signed by Torriano are forgeries. The farmer has lost in the first court and in the second court, but he has paid the costs and appealed from both, though he is a poor man. If he loses to- morrow he will not only be a ruined man, but be sentenced to penal servitude, while if he wins, Torriano should be sent to the galleys, together with his counsel, who has deserved this fate many times before.”
I knew Count Tomes passed for somewhat of a scandal-monger, so his remarks made little impression on me beyond whetting my curiosity. The next day I was one of the first to appear in the court, where I found the bench, plaintiff and defendant, and the barristers, already assembled. The farmer’s counsel was an old man who looked honest, while the count’s had all the impudence of a practised knave. The count sat beside him, smiling disdainfully, as if he was lowering himself to strive with a miserable peasant whom he had already twice vanquished.
The farmer sat by his wife, his son, and two daughters, and had that air of modest assurance which indicates resignation and a good conscience.
I wondered how such honest people could have lost in two courts; I was sure their cause must be a just one.
They were all poorly clad, and from their downcast eyes and their humble looks I guessed them to be the victims of oppression.
Each barrister could speak for two hours.
The farmer’s advocate spoke for thirty minutes, which he occupied by putting in the various receipts bearing the count’s signature up to the time when he had dismissed the farmer, because he would not prostitute his daughters to him. He then continued, speaking with calm precision, to point out the anachronisms and contradictions in the count’s books (which made his client a debtor), and stated that his client was in a position to prosecute the two forgers who had been employed to compass the ruin of an honest family, whose only crime was poverty. He ended his speech by an appeal for costs in all the suits, and for compensation for loss of time and defamation of character.
The harangue of the count’s advocate would have lasted more than two hours if the court had not silenced him. He indulged in a torrent of abuse against the other barrister, the experts in hand-writing, and the peasant, whom he threatened with a speedy consignment to the galleys.
The pleadings would have wearied me if I had been a blind man, but as it was I amused myself by a scrutiny of the various physiognomies before me. My host’s face remained smiling and impudent through it all.
The pleadings over, the court was cleared, and we awaited the sentence in the adjoining room.
The peasant and his family sat in a corner apart, sad, sorry, and comfortless, with no friend to speak a consoling word, while the count was surrounded by a courtly throng, who assured him that with such a case he could not possibly lose; but that if the judges did deliver judgment against him he should pay the peasant, and force him to prove the alleged forgery.
I listened in profound silence, sympathising with the countryman rather than my host, whom I believed to be a thorough-paced scoundrel, though I took care not to say so.
Count Torres, who was a deadly foe to all prudence and discretion, asked me my opinion of the case, and I whispered that I thought the count should lose, even if he were in the right, on account of the infamous apostrophes of his counsel, who deserved to have his ears cut off or to stand in the pillory for six months.
“And the client too,” said Tomes aloud; but nobody had heard what I had said.
After we had waited for an hour the clerk of the court came in with two papers, one of which he gave to the peasant’s counsel and the other to Torriano’s. Torriano read it to himself, burst into a loud laugh, and then read it aloud.
The court condemned the count to recognize the peasant as his creditor, to pay all costs, and to give him a year’s wages as damages; the peasant’s right to appeal ad minimum on account of any other complaints he might have being reserved.
The advocate looked downcast, but Torriano consoled him by a fee of six sequins, and everybody went away.
I remained with the defendant, and asked him if he meant to appeal to Vienna.
“I shall appeal in another sort,” said he; but I did not ask him what he meant.
We left Gorice the next morning.
My landlord gave me the bill, and told me he had received instructions not to insist on my paying it if I made any difficulty, as in that case the count would pay himself.
This struck me as somewhat eccentric, but I only laughed. However, the specimens I had seen of his character made me imagine that I was going to spend six weeks with a dangerous original.
In two hours we were at Spessa, and alighted at a large house, with nothing distinguished about it from an architectural point of view. We went up to the count’s room, which was tolerably furnished, and after shewing me over the house he took me to my own room. It was on the ground floor, stuffy, dark, and ill furnished.
“Ah!” said he, “this is the room my poor old father used to love to sit in; like you, he was very fond of study. You may be sure of enjoying perfect liberty here, for you will see no one.”
We dined late, and consequently no supper was served. The eating and the wine were tolerable, and so was the company of a priest, who held the position of the count’s steward; but I was disgusted at hearing the count, who ate ravenously, reproach me with eating too slowly.
When we rose from table he told me he had a lot to do, and that we should see each other the next day.
I went to my room to put things in order, and to get out my papers. I was then working at the second volume of the Polish troubles.
In the evening I asked for a light as it was growing dark, and presently a servant came with one candle. I was indignant; they ought to have given me wax lights or a lamp at least. However, I made no complaint, merely asking one of the servants if I was to rely on the services of any amongst them.
“Our master has given us no instructions on the subject, but of course we will wait on you whenever you call us.”
This would have been a troublesome task, as there was no bell, and I should have been obliged to wander all over the house, to search the courtyard, and perhaps the road, whenever I wanted a servant.
“And who will do my room?” I asked.
“Then she has a key of her own?”
“There is no need for a key, as your door has no lock, but you can bolt yourself in at night.”
I could only laugh, whether from ill humour or amusement I really cannot say. However, I made no remark to the man.
I began my task, but in half an hour I was so unfortunate as to put out the candle whilst snuffing it. I could not roam about the house in the dark searching for a light, as I did not know my way, so I went to bed in the dark more inclined to swear than to laugh.
Fortunately the bed was a good one, and as I had expected it to be uncomfortable I went to sleep in a more tranquil humour.
In the morning nobody came to attend on me, so I got up, and after putting away my papers I went to say good morning to my host in dressing-gown and nightcap. I found him under the hand of one of his men who served him as a valet. I told him I had slept well, and had come to breakfast with him; but he said he never took breakfast, and asked me, politely enough, not to trouble to come and see him in the morning as he was always engaged with his tenants, who were a pack of thieves. He then added that as I took breakfast he would give orders to the cook to send me up coffee whenever I liked.
“You will also be kind enough to tell your man to give me a touch with his comb after he has done with you.”
“I wonder you did not bring a servant.”
“If I had guessed that I should be troubling you, I should certainly have brought one.”
“It will not trouble me but you, for you will be kept waiting.”
“Not at all. Another thing I want is a lock to my door, for I have important papers for which I am responsible, and I cannot lock them up in my trunk whenever I leave my room.”
“Everything is safe in my house.”
“Of course, but you see how absurd it would be for you to be answerable in case any of my papers were missing. I might be in the greatest distress, and yet I should never tell you of it.”
He remained silent for some time, and then ordered his man to tell the priest to put a lock on my door and give me the key.
While he was thinking, I noticed a taper and a book on the table beside his bed. I went up to it, and asked politely if I might see what kind of reading had beguiled him to sleep. He replied as politely, requesting me not to touch it. I withdrew immediately, telling him with a smile that I felt sure that it was a book of prayers, but that I would never reveal his secret.
“You have guessed what it is,” he said, laughing.
I left him with a courteous bow, begging him to send me his man and a cup of coffee, chocolate, or broth, it mattered not which.
I went back to my room meditating seriously on his strange behaviour, and especially on the wretched tallow candle which was given me, while he had a wax taper. My first idea was to leave the house immediately, for though I had only fifty ducats in my possession my spirit was as high as when I was a rich man; but on second thoughts I determined not to put myself in the wrong by affronting him in such a signal manner.
The tallow candle was the most grievous wrong, so I resolved to ask the man whether he had not been told to give me wax lights. This was important, as it might be only a piece of knavery or stupidity on the part of the servant.
The man came in an hour with a cup of coffee, sugared according to his taste or that of the cook. This disgusted me, so I let it stay on the table, telling him, with a burst of laughter (if I had not laughed I must have thrown the coffee in his face), that that was not the way to serve breakfast. I then got ready to have my hair done.
I asked him why he had brought me a wretched tallow candle instead of two wax lights.
“Sir,” the worthy man replied, humbly, “I could only give you what the priest gave me; I received a wax taper for my master and a candle for you.”
I was sorry to have vexed the poor fellow, and said no more, thinking the priest might have taken a fancy to economise for the count’s profit or his own. I determined to question him on the subject.
As soon as I was dressed I went out to walk off my bad humour. I met the priest-steward, who had been to the locksmith. He told me that the man had no ready-made locks, but he was going to fit my door with a padlock, of which I should have the key.
“Provided I can lock my door,” I said, “I care not how it’s done.”
I returned to the house to see the padlock fitted, and while the locksmith was hammering away I asked the priest why he had given a tallow candle instead of one or two wax tapers.
“I should never dare to give you tapers, sir, without express orders from the count.”
“I should have thought such a thing would go without saying.”
“Yes, in other houses, but here nothing goes without saying. I have to buy the tapers and he pays me, and every time he has one it is noted down.”
“Then you can give me a pound of wax lights if I pay you for them?”
“Of course, but I think I must tell the count, for you know . . . .”
“Yes, I know all about it, but I don’t care:”
I gave him the price of a pound of wax lights, and went for a walk, as he told me dinner was at one. I was somewhat astonished on coming back to the house at half-past twelve to be told that the count had been half an hour at table.
I did not know what to make of all these acts of rudeness; however, I moderated my passion once more, and came in remarking that the abbe had told me dinner was at one.
“It is usually,” replied the count, “but to-day I wanted to pay some calls and take you with me, so I decided on dining at noon. You will have plenty of time.”
He then gave orders for all the dishes that had been taken away to be brought back.
I made no answer, and sat down to table, and feigning good humour ate what was on the table, refusing to touch those dishes which had been taken away. He vainly asked me to try the soup, the beef, the entrees; I told him that I always punished myself thus when I came in late for a nobleman’s dinner.
Still dissembling my ill humour, I got into his carriage to accompany him on his round of visits. He took me to Baron del Mestre, who spent the whole of the year in the country with his family, keeping up a good establishment.
The count spent the whole of the day with the baron, putting off the other visits to a future time. In the evening we returned to Spessa. Soon after we arrived the priest returned the money I had given him for the candles, telling me that the count had forgotten to inform him that I was to be treated as himself.
I took this acknowledgement for what it was worth.
Supper was served, and I ate with the appetite of four, while the count hardly ate at all.
The servant who escorted me to my room asked me at what time I should like breakfast. I told him, and he was punctual; and this time the coffee was brought in the coffee-pot and the sugar in the sugar basin.
The valet did my hair, and the maid did my room, everything was changed, and I imagined that I had given the count a little lesson, and that I should have no more trouble with him. Here, however, I was mistaken, as the reader will discover.
Three or four days later the priest came to me one morning, to ask when I would like dinner, as I was to dine in my room.
“Why so?” I asked.
“Because the count left yesterday for Gorice, telling me he did not know when he should come back. He ordered me to give you your meals in your room.”
“Very good. I will dine at one.”
No one could be more in favour of liberty and independence than myself, but I could not help feeling that my rough host should have told me he was going to Gorice. He stayed a week, and I should have died of weariness if it had not been for my daily visits to the Baron del Mestre. Otherwise there was no company, the priest was an uneducated man, and there were no pretty country girls. I felt as if I could not bear another four weeks of such a doleful exile.
When the count came back, I spoke to him plainly.
“I came to Spessa,” I said, “to keep you company and to amuse myself; but I see that I am in the way, so I hope you will take me back to Gorice and leave me there. You must know that I like society as much as you do, and I do not feel inclined to die of solitary weariness in your house.”
He assured me that it should not happen again, that he had gone to Gorice to meet an actress, who had come there purposely to see him, and that he had also profited by the opportunity to sign a contract of marriage with a Venetian lady.
These excuses and the apparently polite tone in which they were uttered induced me to prolong my stay with the extraordinary count.
He drew the whole of his income from vineyards, which produced an excellent white wine and a revenue of a thousand sequins a year. However, as the count did his best to spend double that amount, he was rapidly ruining himself. He had a fixed impression that all the tenants robbed him, so whenever he found a bunch of grapes in a cottage he proceeded to beat the occupants unless they could prove that the grapes did not come from his vineyards. The peasants might kneel down and beg pardon, but they were thrashed all the same.
I had been an unwilling witness of several of these arbitrary and cruel actions, when one day I had the pleasure of seeing the count soundly beaten by two peasants. He had struck the first blow himself, but when he found that he was getting the worst of it he prudently took to his heels.
He was much offended with me for remaining a mere spectator of the fray; but I told him very coolly that, being the aggressor, he was in the wrong, and in the second place I was not going to expose myself to be beaten to a jelly by two lusty peasants in another man’s quarrel.
These arguments did not satisfy him, and in his rage he dared to tell me that I was a scurvy coward not to know that it was my duty to defend a friend to the death.
In spite of these offensive remarks I merely replied with a glance of contempt, which he doubtless understood.
Before long the whole village had heard what had happened, and the joy was universal, for the count had the singular privilege of being feared by all and loved by none. The two rebellious peasants had taken to their heels. But when it became known that his lordship had announced his resolution to carry pistols with him in all future visits, everybody was alarmed, and two spokesmen were sent to the count informing him that all his tenants would quit the estate in a week’s time unless he gave them a promise to leave them in peace in their humble abodes.
The rude eloquence of the two peasants struck me as sublime, but the count pronounced them to be impertinent and ridiculous.
“We have as good a right to taste the vines which we have watered with the sweat of our brow,” said they, “as your cook has to taste the dishes before they are served on your table.”
The threat of deserting just at the vintage season frightened the count, and he had to give in, and the embassy went its way in high glee at its success.
Next Sunday we went to the chapel to hear mass, and when we came in the priest was at the altar finishing the Credo. The count looked furious, and after mass he took me with him to the sacristy, and begun to abuse and beat the poor priest, in spite of the surplice which he was still wearing. It was really a shocking sight.
The priest spat in his face and cried help, that being the only revenge in his power.
Several persons ran in, so we left the sacristy. I was scandalised, and I told the count that the priest would be certain to go to Udine, and that it might turn out a very awkward business.
“Try to prevent his doing so,” I added, “even by violence, but in the first place endeavour to pacify him.”
No doubt the count was afraid, for he called out to his servants and ordered them to fetch the priest, whether he could come or no. His order was executed, and the priest was led in, foaming with rage, cursing the count, calling him excommunicated wretch, whose very breath was poisonous; swearing that never another mass should be sung in the chapel that had been polluted with sacrilege, and finally promising that the archbishop should avenge him.
The count let him say on, and then forced him into a chair, and the unworthy ecclesiastic not only ate but got drunk. Thus peace was concluded, and the abbe forgot all his wrongs.
A few days later two Capuchins came to visit him at noon. They did not go, and as he did not care to dismiss them, dinner was served without any place being laid for the friars. Thereupon the bolder of the two informed the count that he had had no dinner. Without replying, the count had him acommodated with a plateful of rice. The Capuchin refused it, saying that he was worthy to sit, not only at his table, but at a monarch’s. The count, who happened to be in a good humour, replied that they called themselves “unworthy brethren,” and that they were consequently not worthy of any of this world’s good things.
The Capuchin made but a poor answer, and as I thought the count to be in the right I procceded to back him up, telling the friar he ought to be ashamed at having committed the sin of pride, so strictly condemned by the rules of his order.
The Capuchin answered me with a torrent of abuse, so the count ordered a pair of scissors to be brought, that the beards of the filthy rogues might be cut off. At this awful threat the two friars made their escape, and we laughed heartily over the incident.
If all the count’s eccentricities had been of this comparatively harmless and amusing nature, I should not have minded, but such was far from being the case.
Instead of chyle his organs must have distilled some virulent poison; he was always at his worst in his after dinner hours. His appetite was furious; he ate more like a tiger than a man. One day we happened to be eating woodcock, and I could not help praising the dish in the style of the true gourmand. He immediately took up his bird, tore it limb from limb, and gravely bade me not to praise the dishes I liked as it irritated him. I felt an inclination to laugh and also an inclination to throw the bottle at his head, which I should probably have indulged in had I been twenty years younger. However, I did neither, feeling that I should either leave him or accommodate myself to his humours.
Three months later Madame Costa, the actress whom he had gone to see at Gorice, told me that she would never have believed in the possibility of such a creature existing if she had not known Count Torriano.
“Though he is a vigorous lover,” she continued, “it is a matter of great difficulty with him to obtain the crisis; and the wretched woman in his arms is in imminent danger of being strangled to death if she cannot conceal her amorous ecstacy. He cannot bear to see another’s pleasure. I pity his wife most heartily.”
I will now relate the incident which put an end to my relations with this venomous creature.
Amidst the idleness and weariness of Spessa I happened to meet a very pretty and very agreeable young widow. I made her some small presents, and finally persuaded her to pass the night in my room. She came at midnight to avoid observation, and left at day-break by a small door which opened on to the road.
We had amused ourselves in this pleasant manner for about a week, when one morning my sweetheart awoke me that I might close the door after her as usual. I had scarcely done so when I heard cries for help. I quickly opened it again, and I saw the scoundrelly Torriano holding the widow with one hand while he beat her furiously with a stick he held in the other. I rushed upon him, and we fell together, while the poor woman made her escape.
I had only my dresing-gown on, and here I was at a disadvantage; for civilized man is a poor creature without his clothes. However, I held the stick with one hand, while I queezed his throat with the other. On his side he clung to the stick with his right hand, and pulled my hair with the left. At last his tongue started out and he had to let go.
I was on my feet again in an instant, and seizing the stick I aimed a sturdy blow at his head, which, luckily for him, he partially parried.
I did not strike again, so he got up, ran a little way, and began to pick up stones. However, I did not wait to be pelted, but shut myself in my room and lay down on the bed, only sorry that I had not choked the villain outright.
As soon as I had rested I looked to my pistols, dressed myself, and went out with the intention of looking for some kind of conveyance to take me back to Gorice. Without knowing it I took a road that led me to the cottage of the poor widow, whom I found looking calm though sad. She told me she had received most of the blows on her shoulders, and was not much hurt. What vexed her was that the affair would become public, as two peasants had seen the count beating her, and our subsequent combat.
I gave her two sequins, begging her to come and see me at Gorice, and to tell me where I could find a conveyance.
Her sister offered to shew me the way to a farm, where I could get what I wanted. On the way she told me that Torriano had been her sister’s enemy before the death of her husband because she rejected all his proposals.
I found a good conveyance at the farm, and the man promised to drive me in to Gorice by dinner-time.
I gave him half-a-crown as an earnest, and went away, telling him to come for me.
I returned to the count’s and had scarcely finished getting ready when the conveyance drove up.
I was about to put my luggage in it, when a servant came from the count asking me to give him a moment’s conversation.
I wrote a note in French, saying that after what had passed we ought not to meet again under his roof.
A minute later he came into my room, and shut the door, saying,—
“As you won’t speak to me, I have come to speak to you.”
“What have you got to say?”
“If you leave my house in this fashion you will dishonour me, and I will not allow it.”
“Excuse me, but I should very much like to see how you are going to prevent me from leaving your house.”
“I will not allow you to go by yourself; we must go together.”
“Certainly; I understand you perfectly. Get your sword or your pistols, and we will start directly. There is room for two in the carriage.”
“That won’t do. You must dine with me, and then we can go in my carriage.”
You make a mistake. I should be a fool if I dined with you when our miserable dispute is all over the village; to-morrow it will have reached Gorice.”
“If you won’t dine with me, I will dine with you, and people may say what they like. We will go after dinner, so send away that conveyance.”
I had to give in to him. The wretched count stayed with me till noon, endeavouring to persuade me that he had a perfect right to beat a country-woman in the road, and that I was altogether in the wrong.
I laughed, and said I wondered how he derived his right to beat a free woman anywhere, and that his pretence that I being her lover had no right to protect her was a monstrous one.
“She had just left my arms,” I continued, “was I not therefore her natural protector? Only a coward or a monster like yourself would have remained indifferent, though, indeed, I believe that even you would have done the same.”
A few minutes before we sat down to dinner he said that neither of us would profit by the adventure, as he meant the duel to be to the death.
“I don’t agree with you as far as I am concerned,” I replied; “and as to the duel, you can fight or not fight, as you please; for my part I have had satisfaction. If we come to a duel I hope to leave you in the land of the living, though I shall do my best to lay you up for a considerable time, so that you may have leisure to reflect on your folly. On the other hand, if fortune favours you, you may act as you please”
“We will go into the wood by ourselves, and my coachman shall have orders to drive you wherever you like if you come out of the wood by yourself.”
“Very good indeed; and which would you prefer—swords or pistols?”
“Swords, I think.”
“Then I promise to unload my pistols as soon as we get into the carriage.”
I was astonished to find the usually brutal count become quite polite at the prospect of a duel. I felt perfectly confident myself, as I was sure of flooring him at the first stroke by a peculiar lunge. Then I could escape through Venetian territory where I was not known.
But I had good reasons for supposing that the duel would end in smoke as so many other duels when one of the parties is a coward, and a coward I believed the count to be.
We started after an excellent dinner; the count having no luggage, and mine being strapped behind the carriage.
I took care to draw the charges of my pistols before the count.
I had heard him tell the coachman to drive towards Gorice, but every moment I expected to hear him order the man to drive up this or that turning that we might settle our differences.
I asked no questions, feeling that the initiative lay with him; but we drove on till we were at the gates of Gorice, and I burst out laughing when I heard the count order the coachman to drive to the posting inn.
As soon as we got there he said,—
“You were in the right; we must remain friends. Promise me not to tell anyone of what has happened.”
I gave him the promise; we shook hands, and everything was over.
The next day I took up my abode in one of the quietest streets to finish my second volume on the Polish troubles, but I still managed to enjoy myself during my stay at Gorice. At last I resolved on returning to Trieste, where I had more chances of serving and pleasing the State Inquisitors.
I stayed at Gorice till the end of the year 1773, and passed an extremely pleasant six weeks.
My adventure at Spessa had become public property. At first everybody addressed me on the subject, but as I laughed and treated the whole thing as a joke it would soon be forgotten. Torriano took care to be most polite whenever we met; but I had stamped him as a dangerous character, and whenever he asked me to dinner or supper I had other engagements.
During the carnival he married the young lady of whom he had spoken to me, and as long as he lived her life was misery. Fortunately he died a madman thirteen or fourteen years after.
Whilst I was at Gorice Count Charles Coronini contributed greatly to my enjoyment. He died four years later, and a month before his death he sent me his will in ostosyllabic Italian verses—a specimen of philosophic mirth which I still preserve. It is full of jest and wit, though I believe if he had guessed the near approach of death he would not have been so cheerful, for the prospect of imminent destruction can only enliven the heart of a maniac.
During my stay at Gorice a certain M. Richard Lorrain came there. He was a bachelor of forty, who had done good financial service under the Viennese Government, and had now retired with a comfortable pension. He was a fine man, and his agreeable manners and excellent education procured him admission into the best company in the town.
I met him at the house of Count Torres, and soon after he was married to the young countess.
In October the new Council of Ten and the new Inquisitors took office, and my protectors wrote to me that if they could not obtain my pardon in the course of the next twelve months they would be inclined to despair. The first of the Inquisitors was Sagredo, and intimate friend of the Procurator Morosini’s; the second, Grimani, the friend of my good Dandolo; and M. Zaguri wrote to me that he would answer for the third, who, according to law, was one of the six councillors who assist the Council of Ten.
It may not be generally known that the Council of Ten is really a council of seventeen, as the Doge has always a right to be present.
I returned to Trieste determined to do my best for the Tribunal, for I longed to return to Venice after nineteen years’ wanderings.
I was then forty-nine, and I expected no more of Fortune’s gifts, for the deity despises those of ripe age. I thought, however, that I might live comfortably and independently at Venice.
I had talents and experience, I hoped to make use of them, and I thought the Inquisitors would feel bound to give me some sufficient employment.
I was writing the history of the Polish troubles, the first volume was printed, the second was in preparation, and I thought of concluding the work in seven volumes. Afterwards I had a translation of the “Iliad” in view, and other literary projects would no doubt present themselves.
In fine, I thought myself sure of living in Venice, where many persons who would be beggars elsewhere continue to live at their ease.
I left Gorice on the last day of December, 1773, and on January 1st I took up my abode at Trieste.
I could not have received a warmer welcome. Baron Pittoni, the Venetian consul, all the town councillors, and the members of the club, seemed delighted to see me again. My carnival was a pleasant one, and in the beginning of Lent I published the second volume of my work on Poland.
The chief object of interest to me at Trieste was an actress in a company that was playing there. She was no other than the daughter of the so-called Count Rinaldi, and my readers may remember her under the name of Irene. I had loved her at Milan, and neglected her at Genoa on account of her father’s misdeeds, and at Avignon I had rescued her at Marcoline’s request. Eleven years had passed by since I had heard of her.
I was astonished to see her, and I think more sorry than glad, for she was still beautiful, and I might fall in love again; and being no longer in a position to give her assistance, the issue might be unfortunate for me. However, I called on her the next day, and was greeted with a shriek of delight. She told me she had seen me at the theatre, and felt sure I would come and see her.
She introduced me to her husband, who played parts like Scapin, and to her nine-year-old daughter, who had a talent for dancing.
She gave me an abridged account of her life since we had met. In the year I had seen her at Avignon she had gone to Turin with her father. At Turin she fell in love with her present husband, and left her parents to join her lot to his.
“Since that,” she said, “I have heard of my father’s death, but I do not know what has become of my mother.”
After some further conversation she told me she was a faithful wife, though she did not push fidelity so far as to drive a rich lover to despair.
“I have no lovers here,” she added, “but I give little suppers to a few friends. I don’t mind the expense, as I win some money at faro.”
She was the banker, and she begged me to join the party now and then.
“I will come after the play to-night,” I replied, “but you must not expect any high play of me.”
I kept the appointment and supped with a number of silly young tradesmen, who were all in love with her.
After supper she held a bank, and I was greatly astonished when I saw her cheating with great dexterity. It made me want to laugh; however, I lost my florins with a good grace and left. However, I did not mean to let Irene think she was duping me, and I went to see her next morning at rehearsal, and complimented her on her dealing. She pretended not to understand what I meant, and on my explaining myself she had the impudence to tell me that I was mistaken.
In my anger I turned my back on her saying, “You will be sorry for this some day.”
At this she began to laugh, and said, “Well, well, I confess! and if you tell me how much you lost you shall have it back, and if you like you shall be a partner in the game.”
“No, thank you, Irene, I will not be present at any more of your suppers. But I warn you to be cautious; games of chance are strictly forbidden.”
“I know that, but all the young men have promised strict secrecy.”
“Come and breakfast with me whenever you like.”
A few days later she came, bringing her daughter with her. The girl was pretty, and allowed me to caress her.
One day Baron Pittoni met them at my lodgings, and as he liked young girls as well as I he begged Irene to make her daughter include him in her list of favoured lovers.
I advised her not to reject the offer, and the baron fell in love with her, which was a piece of luck for Irene, as she was accused of playing unlawful games, and would have been severely treated if the baron had not given her warning. When the police pounced on her, they found no gaming and no gamesters, and nothing could be done.
Irene left Trieste at the beginning of Lent with the company to which she belonged. Three years later I saw her again at Padua. Her daughter had become a charming girl, and our acquaintance was renewed in the tenderest manner.
[Thus abruptly end the Memoirs of
Created: Monday, February
14, 2005; Last updated:
Friday, August 28, 2015