Casanova-Life and Times. Born in Venice in 1725, he was an adventurer and author; with the infamous reputation as the world’s greatest lover.

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova’s autobiography, the “Histoire de ma vie” (Story of my life), is regarded as one of the most authentic sources of the customs and norms of European social life during the 18th century.

 


 

Casanova-Life and Times.  INTRODUCTION

At the time of Casanova’s birth, the city of Venice thrived as the pleasure capital of Europe, ruled by political and religious conservatives who tolerated social vices and encouraged tourism.  It was a required stop on the “Grand Tour”, travelled by young men coming of age; especially men from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

The famed Carnival, gambling houses, and beautiful courtesans were powerful attractions.  This was the milieu that bred Casanova and made him its most infamous and representative citizen of 18th century Venice.

Flirtations, bedroom games, and short-term liaisons were common among nobility and the wealthy class; who often married late or just for social connections; rather than love.

Travelling widely, he associated with European royalty, popes and cardinals, along with luminaries such as Voltaire, Goethe, and Mozart.

He spent his last years in the Castle Dux in Bohemia, as a librarian in Count Waldstein’s household; where he also wrote the story of his life.

His autobiography guaranteed Casanova an enduring reputation as a womaniser on a heroic scale and he was not immune to the attraction of his own sex either; but there was  much more to him than that.

In a life spent frequently on the run, an object of interest to every secret policeman in Europe; being described as a cad, trickster and fraudster.  He was in his time, a cleric, theatre violinist, army officer, gambler, diplomat, spy, go-between and ‘fixer’, financier and lottery promoter, Freemason and occultist, prolific author and translator of the Iliad.

The noun “Casanova”, first entered usage in written English, around 1852; meaning – “Lover; especially a man who is a promiscuous and unscrupulous”.  References in culture to Casanova are numerous; in books, films, theatre and music.

 

Casanova-Life and Times. BIOGRAPHY

This is a rather long and detailed post – but bear with it, as it is an incredible and fascinating story of his life; much of which is historically authenticated!

Youth

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was born in Venice in 2nd April 725 to actress Zanetta Farussi, wife of actor and dancer Gaetano Casanova.  Although very popular figures, they were considered to be of lower class.

Giacomo was the first of six children, being followed by Francesco Giuseppe (1727–1803), Giovanni Battista (1730–1795), Faustina Maddalena (1731–1736), Maria Maddalena Antonia Stella (1732–1800), and Gaetano Alvise (1734–1783).

The only memorial to him, is a stone plaque on the wall of the narrow Calle Malipiero in the San Samuele district, declaring that “Casanova was born here in 1725 to two impoverished actors”.

However, it is possible that his real father ,was the wealthy owner of the San Samuele Theatre; where they both appeared and where Giacomo himself would later earn his living, playing the violin.  He was baptised in the church of San Samuele.

Casonova, apparently considered himself to be Spanish ancestry; he claimed that one of his ancestors sailed with Christopher Columbus.

Due to the fact that his mother preferred to tour around Europe in the theatre, Casanova was cared for by his grandmother Marzia Baldissera.  Unfortunately, his father died when he was eight.

As a child, Casanova suffered nosebleeds and his grandmother sought help from a witch/sorcerer.  Though the unguent applied was ineffective, Casanova was fascinated by the whole process of mixing the medicine and incantations; that took place.

Perhaps to remedy the nosebleeds (a physician blamed the density of Venice’s air); Casanova, was on his ninth birthday sent to a boarding house on the mainland in Padua.  For Casanova, the neglect by his parents was a bitter memory. “So, they got rid of me,” he proclaimed.

 

Above: San Samuele – Casanova’s childhood neighbourhood (marked by yellow arrow).

(Note: it could be argued that the rest of his life was a search for the maternal warmth that was abruptly taken from him when he was a baby).

Judging from Casanova’s own account of his early exploits, he was a beautiful boy, androgynous in appearance, with curly hair that young girls “liked to run their fingers through“.

Conditions in the boarding house were so bad, that he appealed to be placed under the care of Abbé Gozzi, his primary instructor; who tutored him in academic subjects, as well as the violin.  Casanova moved in with the priest and his family and lived there through most of his teenage years.

In the household, Casanova had his first experience with the opposite sex; when Gozzi’s younger sister Bettina, fondled him at the age of 11.  He later wrote: (Bettina was “pretty, lighthearted, and a great reader of romances. … The girl pleased me at once, though I had no idea why. It was she who little by little kindled in my heart the first sparks of a feeling which later became my ruling passion”).  Although she subsequently married, Casanova maintained a lifelong attachment to Bettina and the Gozzi family.

Early on, Casanova demonstrated a quick wit, an intense appetite for knowledge and a perpetually inquisitive mind.  He entered the University of Padua at twelve and graduated at seventeen in 1742, with a degree in law  (“for which I felt an unconquerable aversion“).  His guardian’s hope was that he would enter the priesthood and become an ecclesiastical lawyer.

Casanova had also studied moral philosophy, chemistry and mathematics and was keenly interested in medicine. (“I should have been allowed to do as I wished and become a physician, in which profession quackery is even more effective than it is in legal practice”).  He frequently prescribed his own treatments for himself and friends.

While attending the university, Casanova began to gamble and quickly got into debt, causing his grandmother to recall him back to Venice; but the gambling habit had become firmly established.

 

Left: The Church of San Samuele, where Casanova was baptised, and Palazzo Malipiero (c. 1716).

 

 

Back in Venice, Casanova started his clerical law career and was admitted as an abbé after being conferred minor orders by the Patriarch of Venice; but also continued his university studies in Padua.

By now, he had become something of a dandy – tall and dark, long powdered hair; scented and elaborately curled.  He quickly found  patronage (something he was to do all his life), with an old Venetian senator named Alvise Gasparo Malipiero,the owner of Palazzo Malipiero and close to Casanova’s home in Venice.

Malipiero taught young Casanova a great deal about good food and wine and how to behave in society.  However, Casanova was caught dallying with Malipiero’s potential seduction, actress Teresa Imer and the senator kicked both of them out of his house.

Casanova’s growing curiosity about women led to his first complete sexual experience, with two sisters, Nanetta and Marta Savorgnan, then 14 and 16; who were distant relatives of the Grimanis.  Casanova proclaimed that “his life avocation was firmly established by this encounter“.

The romantic triangle continued for years, beginning a lifelong devotion to women.  He wrote in the preface of his memoir –  “I was born for the sex opposite to mine,” –  “I have always loved it and done all that I could to make myself loved by it” –  “Cultivating whatever gave pleasure to my senses was always the chief business of my life”.

 

Early career in Italy and abroad

Scandals tainted Casanova’s short church career.  After his grandmother’s death, Casanova entered a seminary for a short while; but soon his indebtedness landed him in prison for the first time.  An attempt by his mother to secure him a position with Bishop Bernardo de Bernardis in Calabria, was rejected by Casanova after a brief trial of employment.

Instead, he found employment as a scribe with the powerful Cardinal Acquaviva in Rome.  On meeting the pope, Casanova boldly asked for a dispensation to read the “forbidden books” and from eating fish (which he claimed inflamed his eyes).  He also composed love letters for another cardinal, which developed into a scandal.  Cardinal Acquaviva dismissed Casanova, thanking him for his sacrifice, but effectively ending his church career.

In search of a new profession, Casanova bought a commission to become a military officer for the Republic of Venice.

His first step was to look the part.  Reflecting that “there was now little likelihood of my achieving fortune in my ecclesiastical career, I decided to dress as a soldier … I inquire for a good tailor … he brings me everything I need to impersonate a follower of Mars. … My uniform was white, with a blue vest, a shoulder knot of silver and gold… I bought a long sword, and with my handsome cane in hand, a trim hat with a black cockade, with my hair cut in side whiskers and a long false pigtail, I set forth to impress the whole city”.

 

Constantinople in the 18th century

He joined a Venetian regiment at Corfu, his stay being broken by a brief trip to Constantinople, ostensibly to deliver a letter from his former master the Cardinal.  Finding his advancement too slow and his duty boring, he managed to lose most of his pay playing faro. Casanova soon abandoned his military career and returned to Venice.

At the age of 21, he set out to become a professional gambler, but losing all the money remaining from the sale of his commission; he turned to his old benefactor Alvise Grimani for a job.

Casanova thus began his third career, as a violinist in the San Samuele theatre, “a menial journeyman of a sublime art in which, if he who excels is admired, the mediocrity is rightly despised. … My profession was not a noble one, but I did not care. Calling everything prejudice, I soon acquired all the habits of my degraded fellow musicians.”

He and fellow friends, “often spent our nights roaming through different quarters of the city, thinking up the most scandalous practical jokes and putting them into execution … “we amused ourselves by untying the gondolas moored before private homes, which then drifted with the current”.  They also sent midwives and physicians on false calls.

 

Above: Casanova – a sketch by his brother Francesco.

(Note: For a glimpse of Casanova’s Venice, one can visit the last of the old bàcaros, or bars, “Cantina do Spade”, which Casanova wrote about visiting in his youth.  On one wall, a page copied from a history book discreetly recounts Casanova’s visit here during the carnival celebrations of 1746).

Good fortune came to the rescue when Casanova, unhappy with his lot as a musician, saved the life of a Venetian Patrician of the Bragadin family; who had a stroke while riding with Casanova in a gondola, after a wedding ball.  They immediately stopped to have the senator bled.  Because of his youth and his apparent medical knowledge, the senator thought Casanova wise beyond his years and concluded that he must be in possession of occult knowledge.  As they were cabalists themselves, the senator invited Casanova into his household and became a lifelong patron.  (Note: Cabalism – followers of mystical and occult knowledge).

 

The necessities of life

Taking a course in life that appeared natural to him – “I decided to put myself in a position where I need no longer go without the necessities of life: and what those necessities were for me no one could judge better than me…. No one in Venice could understand how an intimacy could exist between myself and three men of their character, they all heaven and I all earth; they most severe in their morals, and I addicted to every kind of dissolute living”.

For the next three years under the senator’s patronage, working nominally as a legal assistant, Casanova led the life of a nobleman, dressing magnificently.  As was natural to him, he spent most of his time gambling and engaging in amorous pursuits.

His patron was exceedingly tolerant, but finally warned Casanova that someday he would pay the price – “I made a joke of his dire Prophecies and went my way“.  However, due to further scandals (including digging up a body to surprise an enemy; who never recovered from the shock); Casanova was forced to leave Venice, before his trial.

Escaping to Parma, Casanova started a three-month affair with a Frenchwoman he named “Henriette”, perhaps the deepest love he ever experienced; a woman who combined beauty, intelligence, and culture.

In his words, “They who believe that a woman is incapable of making a man equally happy all the twenty-four hours of the day have never known an Henriette.  The joy which flooded my soul was far greater when I conversed with her during the day than when I held her in my arms at night”.  Having read a great deal and having natural taste, Henriette judged rightly of everything.”  However, after judging weaknesses in his character as a potential partner, she left him; after having slipped him some money out of high regard for him.

 

The Grand Tour

Casanova returned to Venice in a despondent state but after a good gambling streak, he recovered and set off on a grand tour, reaching Paris in 1750.

In Lyon, he joined the Freemasons as an apprentice, satisfying his interest in secret rites and providing valuable contacts and knowledge amongst intellectual and influential people. Moving on to Paris, Casanova become a companion and finally took the highest degree of Scottish Rite Master Mason.

His Memoirs stated: “It was in Lyons that a respectable individual, whose acquaintance I made at the house of M. de Rochebaron, obtained for me the favour of being initiated in the sublime trifles of Freemasonry.  I arrived in Paris a simple apprentice; a few months after my arrival I became companion and master; the last is certainly the highest degree in Freemasonry, for all the other degrees which I took afterwards are only pleasing inventions, which, although symbolical, add nothing to the dignity of master”.

Casanova stayed in Paris for two years, learned the language, spent much time at the theatre and introduced himself to notables.  Soon however, his numerous liaisons were noted by the Paris police; as they were in nearly every city he visited.

In 1752, he moved from Paris to Dresden with his brother Francesco; where his mother and sister Maria Maddalena were living.  His new play, La Moluccheide, (now lost), was performed at the Royal Theatre; where his mother often played in lead roles.

He then visited Prague and on to Vienna, where he disliked the moral atmosphere of the latter city, that was not to his liking.

Left: Portrait by Alessandro Longhi

 

In 1753, he finally returned to Venice.  Casanova resumed his escapades, picking up many enemies and gaining the greater attention of the Venetian inquisitors; involving a string of a blasphemies, seductions, fights, and public controversy.

The situation deteriorated to the extent that Senator Bragadin, (being a former inquisitor himself), advised him “to leave immediately or face the stiffest consequences”.

 

Imprisonment and escape

Left: Illustrations of Casanova’s arrest and Escape from prison from “the Story of my Flight”.

 

 

Casanova’s charmed life went awry one warm July night in 1755, just after his 30th birthday; when police burst into his bedroom.  In a society whose excesses were alternately indulged and controlled, he had been singled out by the Venetian Inquisition’s spies for prosecution as a cardsharp, a con man, a Freemason, an astrologer, a cabalist and a blasphemer (possibly in retaliation for his attentions to one of the Inquisitor’s mistresses).

The following September, he was condemned to a 5 year term in the prison cells known as the “Leads”; in the attic of the Doge’s Palace.  “The Leads” was a prison of seven cells on the top floor of the east wing of the Doge’s Palace, named for the sheet lead plates covering the roof.

They were reserved for prisoners of higher status, as well as certain types of offenders; such as political prisoners, defrocked or libertine priests, or monks and usurers.

Casanova languished there for 15 months and later described the situation – I sat in my armchair like a man in a stupor; motionless as a statue, I saw that I had wasted all the efforts I had made, and I could not repent of them.  I felt that I had nothing to hope for, and the only relief left to me was not to think of the future“.

One evening, using some hidden tools and knotted bed sheets, he made a daring break through the lead roof with the assistance Father Balbi; a disgraced monk held in the adjacent cell.  He left a note in his cell -“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord“.  After hiding out in the palace overnight, they escaped in a gondola; Casanova eventually reaching Paris in January 1757.

They were the only inmates, ever to escape from the Duccal palace.  Today, the palace’s dismal interior chambers can be visited on the so-called “Itinerari Segreti”, or Secret Tour.  Small groups are led through a hidden wall panel, passing through the Inquisition’s trial and torture rooms ;before reaching the cells that Casanova once shared with “rats big as rabbits”.   Standing in one of these cells is the most concrete connection to the writer’s life in the shadowy world of Venice.

Thirty years later in 1787, Casanova wrote the “Story of My Flight”, which was very popular and reprinted in many languages.  He repeated the tale a little later in his memoirs.

Casanova’s judgment of the exploit is characteristic: “Thus did God provide me with what I needed for an escape which was to be a wonder if not a miracle. I admit that I am proud of it; but my pride does not come from my having succeeded, for luck had a good deal to do with that; it comes from my having concluded that the thing could be done and having had the courage to undertake it”.

The miraculous escape, heralded his first exile from Venice, which lasted 18 years.  Now his career as a traveler and adventurer, began in earnest.  One dedicated Casanova afficionado, has tracked his movements and discerned that he covered nearly 40,000 miles in his lifetime; mostly by stagecoach along grueling 18th century roads!

 

Return to Paris

Casanova planned for a long stay in Paris – “I saw that to accomplish anything I must bring all my physical and moral faculties in play, make the acquaintance of the great and the powerful, exercise strict self-control, and play the chameleon“.

A more mature Casanova had matured and this time in Paris, though still depending at times on quick thinking and decisive action; he was more calculating and deliberate.

His first task was to find a new patron, reconnecting with old friend de Bernis, now the Foreign Minister of France.  Guided by his patron, Casanova promptly became one of the trustees of the first state lottery and one of its best ticket salesmen.  This quickly made him a large fortune moving in high circles, undertaking new seductions and duping socialites with his occultism and powers of memory.

In Casanova’s view, “deceiving a fool is an exploit worthy of an intelligent man“.

Left: Francoise Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, circa 1750

Casanova claimed to be a Rosicrucian and an alchemist, aptitudes which made him popular with some of the most prominent figures of the era, among them Madame de Pompadour, Count de Saint-Germain and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

So popular was alchemy among the nobles, particularly the search for the “philosopher’s stone”, that Casanova was highly sought after for his supposed knowledge and he profited handsomely.

 

De Bernis, decided to send Casanova to Dunkirk on his first spying mission.  Casanova was paid well for his brief work, which prompted one of his few remarks against the “ancien régime” and the class on which he was dependent.  He later remarked – “All the French ministers are the same. They lavished money which came out of the other people’s pockets to enrich their creatures and they were absolute: the down-trodden people counted for nothing an, through this, the indebtedness of the State and the confusion of finances were the inevitable results. A Revolution was necessary.

 

Paris in the 18th century

As the Seven Years’ War began, Casanova was again called to help increase the state treasury and was entrusted with a mission of selling state bonds in Amsterdam; Holland being the financial centre of Europe at the time.  By the following year was rich enough to start a silk manufacturing business.

The French government even offered him a title and a pension, if he would become a French citizen and work on behalf of the finance ministry; but he declined, perhaps because it would frustrate his lust for travel and adventure.

Casanova’s fortune peaked, but was not sustainable, as his management skills were poor and he wasted much of his wealth, on constant liaisons with his female harem of workers.

For his debts, Casanova was imprisoned again, this time at For-l’Évêque; but was liberated four days later, upon the insistence of the Marquise d’Urfé.  Unfortunately, his patron de Bernis, was dismissed by Louis XV at that time and Casanova hurriedly secured another mission to Holland.  He sold the rest of his belongings, in order to distance himself from his troubles and enemies.

 

On the run

Unfortunately, this time his mission failed and he fled first to Cologne, then Stuttgart in the spring of 1760, where he lost the rest of his fortune.

He was yet again arrested for his debts, but managed to escape to Switzerland. Weary of his wanton life, Casanova visited the monastery of Einsiedeln and considered the simple, scholarly life of a monk.  However, after some thought and reverting to his old instincts; he moved on, visiting Albrecht von Haller and Voltaire.

 

Finally, arriving in Marseille, then Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, Modena and Turin; he moved from one sexual romp to another!

In 1760, Casanova started styling himself the Chevalier de Seingalt, a name he would increasingly use for the rest of his life.  On occasion, he would also call himself Count de Farussi; using his mother’s maiden name.  At an audience with Pope Clement XIII, he was presented with the Papal Order of the Éperon d’or –  an impressive cross and ribbon to display on his chest.

Back in Paris, he set about one of his most outrageous schemes trying to convince his old dupe the Marquise d’Urfé; that he could turn her into a young man through occult means.  His swindle and theft of property, did not go according to plan and the Marquise d’Urfé, finally lost all faith in him.

 

 

Promoting his National Lottery scheme.

In 1763 Casanova travelled to England, hoping to sell his idea for a state lottery to officials.  Using his connections, he secured an audience with King George III; using most of the valuable items he had stolen from the Marquise d’Urfé.

Left: 18th century London by William Hogarth.

While working the political angles, he continued his sexual exploits.  Casanova did not speak English, so he came up with an idea for seeking ladies for his pleasure; by placing a newspaper advertisement, in order to “let an apartment to the right person”.  After many interviews, he settled on one Mistress Pauline; who suited him well.  Soon, he established himself in the apartment and seduced her.  These and other liaisons however, left him weak with venereal disease and he left England; “financially reduced and ill”.

Leaving England, he went on to the Austrian Netherlands to recover and then for the next three years, travelled all over Europe by coach; reaching as far as Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Again, his principal goal was to sell his lottery scheme to other governments and repeat the great success he had with the French government.  A meeting with Frederick the Great, bore no fruit; nor in the surrounding Germanic lands.  Not lacking either connections or confidence, Casanova went to Russia and met with Catherine the Great; but she flatly turned down the lottery idea.

In 1766, he was expelled from Warsaw following a pistol duel with Colonel Franciszek Branicki, over an Italian actress; a mutual lady friend.  Both duellists were wounded, Casanova on the left hand, but fortunately recovered without surgical intervention.

From Warsaw, he travelled to Breslau in the Kingdom of Prussia, then to Dresden; where he contracted yet another venereal infection.

Returning to Paris for several months in 1767, he hit the gambling salons, only to be expelled from France by order of Louis XV himself; primarily for Casanova’s scam involving the Marquise d’Urfé.

Now known across Europe for his reckless behaviour, Casanova would have difficulty overcoming his notoriety and gaining any fortune; so he headed for Spain, where his reputation had not yet preceded him!

Trying his usual approach, of leaning on well-placed contacts (often Freemasons), wining and dining with nobles of influence; he finally managed arrange an audience with the local monarch, Charles III.

When no doors opened for him, however, he could only roam across Spain, with little to show for it.  In Barcelona, he escaped assassination and landed in jail for 6 weeks.

His Spanish adventure a failure, he returned to France briefly, then on to Italy.

 

Preparing for his return to Venice after an 18-year exile.

In Rome, Casanova had to prepare a way for his return to Venice.

While waiting for supporters to gain him legal entry into Venice, Casanova began his modern translation of the Iliad, his History of the Troubles in Poland and also a comic play.

To ingratiate himself with the Venetian authorities, Casanova did some commercial spying for the state.  However, after months without a recall, he wrote a letter of appeal directly to the Inquisitors.

At last, he received his long-sought permission and burst into tears upon reading “We, Inquisitors of State, for reasons known to us, give Giacomo Casanova a free safe-conduct … empowering him to come, go, stop, and return, hold communication wheresoever he pleases without let or hindrance. So is our will“.   Casanova was permitted to return to Venice in September 1774 after 18 years of exile.

Initially on his return his reception was that of a  celebrity, for even the Inquisitors wanted to hear how he had escaped from their prison.

However, of his three bachelor patrons, only Dandolo was still alive and Casanova was invited back to live with him.  He hoped to live from his writings and also received a small stipend from Dandolo; but that was not enough.  He reluctantly supplemented his income by becoming a state spy again for Venice; reporting on religion, morals, and commerce, most of it based on gossip from social contacts.  No financial opportunities of interest came about and few doors opened for him in society; as in the past.

Now aged 49, years of reckless living and excessive travel, had taken their toll.  Casanova’s smallpox scars, sunken cheeks and hook nose became all the more noticeable.  His easy-going manner was now more guarded.  Venice had changed for Casanova.  He now had little money for gambling, few willing females worth pursuing and few acquaintances to enliven his dull days.

Left: Casanova, blowing up his condom, before use!

Prince Charles de Ligne, a friend; described him around 1784 – “He would be a good-looking man if he were not ugly; he is tall and built like Hercules, but of an African tint; eyes full of life and fire, but touchy, wary, rancorous – and this gives him a ferocious air.  It is easier to put him in a rage than to make him gay.  He laughs little, but makes others laugh. … He has a manner of saying things which reminds me of Harlequin or Figaro, and which makes them sound witty”.

Further pain arrived in the form of news of the death of his mother and his  subsequent visit to the deathbed of Bettina Gozzi; who had first introduced him to sex.

Any hope of renewed prospects, arising from the publishing of his Iliad translation in three volumes failed; having yielded little money from subscribers.

In 1779, Casanova found Francesca, an uneducated seamstress; who became his live-in lover and housekeeper and who loved him devotedly.  Later that year, the Inquisitors put him on the payroll and sent him to investigate commerce between the papal states and Venice.  Other publishing and theatre ventures failed, primarily from lack of capital.

 

Expelled from Venice for the second time

In a downward spiral, Casanova was expelled again from Venice in 1783; after writing a vicious satire poking fun at Venetian nobility.  In it, he publicly stated that Grimani was his true father.

Forced to resume his travels again, Casanova arrived in Paris and in November 1783 met Benjamin Franklin; while attending a presentation on aeronautics and the future of balloon transport.

For a while, Casanova served as secretary and pamphleteer to Sebastian Foscarini, Venetian ambassador in Vienna.

 

Final years in Dux, Bohemia

In 1785, after Ambassador Foscarini died, Casanova began searching for another position.

A few months later, he became the librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein, a chamberlain of the emperor, in the Castle of Dux, Bohemia (now Castle Duchov in the Czech Republic).  The Count, himself a Freemason, cabalist and frequent traveller; had taken to Casanova when they had met a year earlier at Foscarini’s residence.

Left: Dux Castle (now Castle Duchov in the Czech Republic).

Although the position offered security and good pay, Casanova describes his last years as boring and frustrating and he found life among peasants to be less than stimulating.

Although Casanova got on well with the Count, he was thoroughly disliked by most of the other inhabitants of the Castle of Dux, who mocked him; his only friends seemed to be his fox terrier “Finette”.

Despite his health having deteriorated dramatically, it was however, the most productive time for writing his memoirs.  Casanova considered suicide, but instead decided that he must live on to record his memoirs; which he started in 1791 on the advice of his doctor and continued until his death.

Casanova began his memoirs, ”the only remedy to keep from going mad or dying of grief”.  For nine years, he scribbled furiously for 13 hours a day in French, a language that he loved and was more widely spoken than Italian.

He later wrote to his friend Johann Ferdinand Opiz – “What pleasure in remembering one’s pleasures! It amuses me because I am inventing nothing.”

However, he was able to make visits to Vienna and Dresden for relief.

In October 1787, he visited Prague and met Lorenzo da Ponte, the librettist of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni”; at the time of the opera’s first production and probably met the composer.

Casanova, was said to have offered his draft dialogue to Da Ponte, for incorporation into the libretto of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.  Da Ponte apparently remarked in response – “This singular man never liked to be in the wrong.”  It is probable that he was also in Prague in 1791, for the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, as king of Bohemia; an event that included the first production of Mozart’s opera “La clemenza di Tito”.

In 1797, word arrived that Napoleon Bonaparte had seized Casanova’s home city and the Republic of Venice had fallen.

It was too late to return home.  Casanova died on 4 June 1798 at the age of 73.  His last words are said to have been “I have lived as a philosopher and I die as a Christian“.  The cause of death was said to be a painful disease of the bladder.

Casanova was buried at Dux (nowadays Duchcov in the Czech Republic), in the cemetery of the chapel of St Barbara, beneath a wooden marker; but the location was lost in the early 19th century when it was turned into a park.  The exact place of his grave was forgotten over the years and remains unknown today.

His memoirs written in French, are held in the National Library in Paris; after being declared an “international treasure”.   Casanova’s reams of letters and papers, which were saved by the Waldstein family; are now kept in the State Regional Archive in Prague.

As Casanova put it in his memoir – “Worthy or not, my life is my subject, and my subject is my life.”  If he had not written his marvellous memoir, he almost certainly would have been forgotten very quickly.

 

Please click the link, to see my other related posts in the category of “Art-Music-Literature”: HERE

 

 

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