Figures of Several Centuries
by Arthur Symons
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First published, December 1916.

Reprinted, January, June 1917.





























The Confessions of St. Augustine are the first autobiography, and they have this to distinguish them from all other autobiographies, that they are addressed directly to God. Rousseau's unburdening of himself is the last, most effectual manifestation of that nervous, defiant consciousness of other people which haunted him all his life. He felt that all the men and women whom he passed on his way through the world were at watch upon him, and mostly with no very favourable intentions. The exasperation of all those eyes fixed upon him, the absorbing, the protesting self-consciousness which they called forth in him, drove him, in spite of himself, to set about explaining himself to other people, to the world in general. His anxiety to explain, not to justify, himself was after all a kind of cowardice before his own conscience. He felt the silent voices within him too acutely to keep silence. Cellini wrote his autobiography because he heard within him such trumpeting voices of praise, exultation, and the supreme satisfaction of a violent man who has conceived himself to be always in the right, that it shocked him to think of going down into his grave without having made the whole world hear those voices. He hurls at you this book of his own deeds that it may smite you into acquiescent admiration. Casanova, at the end of a long life in which he had tasted all the forbidden fruits of the earth, with a simplicity of pleasure in which the sense of their being forbidden was only the least of their abounding flavours, looked back upon his past self with a slightly pathetic admiration, and set himself to go all over those successful adventures, in love and in other arts, firstly, in order that he might be amused by recalling them, and then because he thought the record would do him credit. He neither intrudes himself as a model, nor acknowledges that he was very often in the wrong. Always passionate after sensations, and for their own sake, the writing of an autobiography was the last, almost active, sensation that was left to him, and he accepted it energetically.

Probably St. Augustine first conceived of the writing of an autobiography as a kind of penance, which might be fruitful also to others. By its form it challenges the slight difficulty that it appears to be telling God what God knew already. But that is the difficulty which every prayer also challenges. To those we love, are we not fond of telling many things about ourselves which they know already? A prayer, such confessions as these, are addressed to God by one of those subterfuges by which it is necessary to approach the unseen and infinite, under at least a disguise of mortality. And the whole book, as no other such book has ever been, is lyrical. This prose, so simple, so familiar, has in it the exaltation of poetry. It can pass, without a change of tone, from the boy's stealing of pears: 'If aught of those pears came within my mouth, what sweetened it was the sin'; to a tender human affection: 'And now he lives in Abraham's bosom: whatever that be which is signified by that bosom, there lives my Nebridius, my sweet friend'; and from that to the saint's rare, last ecstasy: 'And sometimes Thou admittedst me to an affection, very unusual, in my inmost soul, rising to a strange sweetness, which if it were perfected in me, I know not what in it would not belong to the life to come.' And even self-analysis, of which there is so much, becoming at times a kind of mathematics, even those metaphysical subtleties which seem, to sharpen thought upon thought to an almost invisible fineness of edge, become also lyrical, inter-penetrated as they are with this sense of the divine.

To St. Augustine all life is seen only in its relation to the divine; looked at from any other side, it has no meaning, and, looked at even with this light upon it, is but for the most part seen as a blundering in the dark, a wandering from the right path. In so far as it is natural, it is evil. In so far as it is corrected by divine grace, it leaves the human actors in it without merit; since all virtue is God's, though all vice is man's.

This conception of life is certainly valuable in giving harmony to the book, presenting as it does a sort of background. It brings with it a very impressive kind of symbolism into its record of actual facts, to all of which it gives a value, not in themselves, if you please to put it so, or, perhaps more properly, their essential value. When nothing which happens, happens except under God's direct responsibility, when nothing is said which is not one of your 'lines' in the drama which is being played, not so much by as through you, there can be no exteriorities, nothing can be trivial, in a record of life so conceived. And this point of view also helps the writer to keep all his details in proportion; the autobiographer's usual fault, artistically at least, being an inordinate valuation of small concerns, because they happened to him. To St. Augustine, while not the smallest human event is without significance, in its relation to eternity, not the greatest human event is of importance, in its relation to time; and his own share in it would but induce a special, it may seem an exaggerated, humility on his part. Thus, speaking of his early studies, his triumphs in them, not without a certain naivete: 'Whatever was written, either in rhetoric or logic, geometry, music, and arithmetic, by myself without much difficulty or any instruction, I understood, Thou knowest, O Lord my God; because both quickness and understanding and acuteness in discerning is Thy gift.' Or, again, speaking of the youthful excellences ('excellently hadst Thou made him') of that son who was the son of his beloved mistress: 'I had no part in that boy, but the sin.'

Intellectual pride, one sees in him indeed, at all times, by the very force with which it is repressed into humility; and, in all that relates to that mistress, in the famous cry: 'Give me chastity, but not yet!' in all those insurgent memories of 'these various and shadowy loves,' we see the force of the flesh, in one who lived always with so passionate a life, alike of the spirit and the senses. Now, recalling what was sinful in him, in his confessions to God, he is reluctant to allow any value to the most honourable of human sentiments, to so much as forgive the most estimable of human weaknesses. 'And now, Lord, in writing I confess it unto Thee. Read it who will, and interpret it how he will: and if any finds sin therein, that I wept my mother for a small portion of an hour (the mother who for the time was dead to mine eyes, who had for many years wept for me that I might live in Thine eyes), let him not deride me; but rather, if he be one of large charity, let him weep for himself for my sins unto Thee, the Father of all the brethren of Thy Christ.' And yet it is of this mother that he writes his most tender, his most beautiful pages. 'The day was now approaching whereon she was to depart this life (which day Thou well knewest, we knew not), it came to pass, Thyself, as I believe, by Thy secret ways so ordering it, that she and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window, which looked into the garden of the house where we now lay, at Ostia....' It is not often that memory, in him, is so careful of 'the images of earth, and water, and air,' as to call up these delicate pictures. They too had become for him among the desirable things which are to be renounced for a more desirable thing.

That sense of the divine in life, and specially of the miracles which happen a certain number of times in every existence, the moments which alone count in the soul's summing-up of itself, St. Augustine has rendered with such significance, with such an absolute wiping out from the memory of everything else, just because he has come to that, it might seem, somewhat arid point of spiritual ascent. That famous moment of the Tolle, lege: 'I cast myself down I know not how, under a certain fig-tree, giving full vent to my tears ... when lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, "Take up and read, take up and read"'; the Bishop's word to Monnica ('as if it had sounded from heaven'), 'It is not possible that the son of those tears should perish'; the beggar-man, 'joking and joyous,' in the streets of Milan: it is by these, apparently trifling, these all-significant moments that his narrative moves, with a more reticent and effective symbolism than any other narrative known to me. They are the moments in which the soul has really lived, or has really seen; and the rest of life may well be a blindness and a troubled coming and going.

I said that the height from which St. Augustine apprehends these truths may seem a somewhat arid one. That is perhaps only because it is nearer the sky, more directly bathed in what he calls, beautifully, 'this queen of colours, the light.' There is a passage in the tenth book which may almost be called a kind of aesthetics. They are aesthetics indeed of renunciation, but a renunciation of the many beauties for the one Beauty, which shall contain as well as eclipse them; 'because those beautiful patterns which through men's souls are conveyed into their cunning hands, come from that Beauty, which is above our souls.' And it is not a renunciation by one who had never enjoyed what he renounces, or who feels himself, even now, quite safe from certain forms of its seduction. He is troubled especially by the fear that 'those melodies which Thy words breathe soul into, when sung with a sweet and attuned voice,' may come to move him 'more with the voice than with the words sung.' Yet how graciously he speaks of music, allowing 'that the several affections of our spirit, by a sweet variety, have their own proper measures in the voice and singing, by some hidden correspondence wherewith they are stirred up.' It is precisely because he feels so intimately the beauty of all things human, though it were but 'a dog coursing in the field, a lizard catching flies,' that he desires to pass through these to that passionate contemplation which is the desire of all seekers after the absolute, and which for him is God. He asks of all the powers of the earth: 'My questioning them, was my thoughts on them; and their form of beauty gave the answer.' And by how concrete a series of images does he strive to express the inexpressible, in that passage of pure poetry on the love of God! 'But what do I love, when I love thee? not beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the brightness of the light, so gladsome to our eyes, nor sweet melodies of varied songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers, and ointments, and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs acceptable to embracements of flesh. None of these I love, when I love my God; and yet I love a kind of light, and melody, and fragrance, and meat, and embracement, when I love my God, the light, melody, fragrance, meat, embracement of my inner man: where there shineth unto my soul what space cannot contain, and there soundeth what time beareth not away, and there smelleth what breathing disperseth not, and there tasteth what eating diminisheth not, and there clingeth what satiety divorceth not. This is it which I love when I love my God.'

Mentioning in his confessions only such things as he conceives to be of import to God, it happens, naturally, that St. Augustine leaves unsaid many things that would have interested most men, perhaps more. 'What, then, have I to do with men, that they should hear my confessions—as if they could heal my infirmities,—a race curious to know the lives of others, slothful to amend their own?' Finding, indeed, many significant mentions of things and books and persons, Faustus the Manichee, the 'Hortensius' of Cicero, the theatre, we shall find little pasture here for our antiquarian, our purely curious, researches. We shall not even find all that we might care to know, in St. Augustine himself, of the surface of the mind's action, which we call character, or the surface emotions, which we call temperament. Here is a soul, one of the supreme souls of humanity, speaking directly to that supreme soul which it has apprehended outside humanity. Be sure that, if it forgets many things which you, who overhear, would like it to have remembered, it will remember everything which it is important to remember, everything which the recording angel, who is the soul's finer criticism of itself, has already inscribed in the book of the last judgment.




There is something a little accidental about all Lamb's finest work. Poetry he seriously tried to write, and plays and stories; but the supreme criticism of the Specimens of English Dramatic Poets arose out of the casual habit of setting down an opinion of an extract just copied into one's note-book, and the book itself, because, he said, 'the book is such as I am glad there should be.' The beginnings of his miscellaneous prose are due to the 'ferreting' of Coleridge. 'He ferrets me day and night,' Lamb complains to Manning in 1800, 'to do something. He tends me, amidst all his own worrying and heart-oppressing occupations, as a gardener tends his young tulip.... He has lugged me to the brink of engaging to a newspaper, and has suggested to me for a first plan the forgery of a supposed manuscript of Burton, the anatomist of melancholy'; which was done, in the consummate way we know, and led in its turn to all the rest of the prose. And Barry Cornwall tells us that 'he was almost teased into writing the Elia essays.'

He had begun, indeed, deliberately, with a story, as personal really as the poems, but, unlike them, set too far from himself in subject and tangled with circumstances outside his knowledge. He wrote Rosamund Gray before he was twenty-three, and in that 'lovely thing,' as Shelley called it, we see most of the merits and defects of his early poetry. It is a story which is hardly a story at all, told by comment, evasion, and recurrence, by 'little images, recollections, and circumstances of past pleasures' or distresses; with something vague and yet precise, like a dream partially remembered. Here and there is the creation of a mood and moment, almost like Coleridge's in the Ancient Mariner; but these flicker and go out. The style would be laughable in its simplicity if there were not in it some almost awing touch of innocence; some hint of that divine goodness which, in Lamb, needed the relief and savour of the later freakishness to sharpen it out of insipidity. There is already a sense of what is tragic and endearing in earthly existence, though no skill as yet in presenting it; and the moral of it is surely one of the morals or messages of Elia: 'God has built a brave world, but methinks he has left his creatures to bustle in it how they may.'

Lamb had no sense of narrative, or, rather, he cared in a story only for the moments when it seemed to double upon itself and turn into irony. All his attempts to write for the stage (where his dialogue might have been so telling) were foiled by his inability to 'bring three together on the stage at once,' as he confessed in a letter to Mrs. Shelley; 'they are so shy with me, that I can get no more than two; and there they stand till it is the time, without being the season, to withdraw them.' Narrative he could manage only when it was prepared for him by another, as in the Tales from Shakespeare and the Adventures of Ulysses. Even in Mrs. Leicester's School, where he came nearest to success in a plain narrative, the three stories, as stories, have less than the almost perfect art of the best of Mary Lamb's: of Father's Wedding-Day, which Landor, with wholly pardonable exaggeration, called 'with the sole exception of the Bride of Lammermoor, the most beautiful tale in prose composition in any language, ancient or modern.' There is something of an incomparable kind of story-telling in most of the best essays of Elia, but it is a kind which he had to find out, by accident and experiment, for himself; and chiefly through letter-writing. 'Us dramatic geniuses,' he speaks of, in a letter to Manning against the taking of all words in a literal sense; and it was this wry dramatic genius in him that was, after all, the quintessential part of himself. 'Truth,' he says in this letter, 'is one and poor, like the cruse of Elijah's widow. Imagination is the bold face that multiplies its oil: and thou, the old cracked pipkin, that could not believe it could be put to such purposes.' It was to his correspondents, indeed to the incitement of their wakeful friendship, that he owes more perhaps than the mere materials of his miracles.

To be wholly himself, Lamb had to hide himself under some disguise, a name, 'Elia,' taken literally as a pen name, or some more roundabout borrowing, as of an old fierce critic's, Joseph Ritson's, to heighten and soften the energy of marginal annotations on a pedant scholar. In the letter in which he announces the first essays of Elia, he writes to Barron Field: 'You shall soon have a tissue of truth and fiction, impossible to be extricated, the interleavings shall be so delicate, the partitions perfectly invisible.' The correspondents were already accustomed to this 'heavenly mingle.' Few of the letters, those works of nature, and almost more wonderful than works of art, are to be taken on oath. Those elaborate lies, which ramify through them into patterns of sober-seeming truth, are in anticipation, and were of the nature of a preliminary practice for the innocent and avowed fiction of the essays. What began in mischief ends in art.


'I am out of the world of readers,' Lamb wrote to Coleridge, 'I hate all that do read, for they read nothing but reviews and new books. I gather myself up into the old things.' 'I am jealous for the actors who pleased my youth,' he says elsewhere. And again: 'For me, I do not know whether a constitutional imbecility does not incline me too obstinately to cling to the remembrances of childhood; in an inverted ratio to the usual sentiment of mankind, nothing that I have been engaged in since seems of any value or importance compared to the colours which imagination gave to everything then.' In Lamb this love of old things, this willing recurrence to childhood, was the form in which imagination came to him. He is the grown-up child of letters, and he preserves all through his life that child's attitude of wonder, before 'this good world, which he knows—which was created so lovely, beyond his deservings.' He loves the old, the accustomed, the things that people have had about them since they could remember. 'I am in love,' he says in the most profoundly serious of his essays, 'with this green earth; the face of town and country; and the sweet security of streets.' He was a man to whom mere living had zest enough to make up for everything that was contrary in the world. His life was tragic, but not unhappy. Happiness came to him out of the little things that meant nothing to others, or were not so much as seen by them. He had a genius for living, and his genius for writing was only a part of it, the part which he left to others to remember him by.

Lamb's religion, says Pater, was 'the religion of men of letters, religion as understood by the soberer men of letters in the last century'; and Hood says of him: 'As he was in spirit an Old Author, so was he in faith an Ancient Christian.' He himself tells Coleridge that he has 'a taste for religion rather than a strong religious habit,' and, later in life, writes to a friend: 'Much of my seriousness has gone off.' On this, as on other subjects, he grew shyer, withdrew more into himself; but to me it seems that a mood of religion was permanent with him. 'Such religion as I have,' he said, 'has always acted on me more by way of sentiment than argumentative process'; and we find him preferring churches when they are empty, as many really religious people have done. To Lamb religion was a part of human feeling, or a kindly shadow over it. He would have thrust his way into no mysteries. And it was not lightly, or with anything but a strange-complexioned kind of gratitude, that he asked: 'Sun, and sky, and breeze, and solitary walks, and summer holidays, and the greenness of fields, and the delicious juices of meats and fishes, and society, and the cheerful glass, and candle-light, and fire-side conversations, and innocent vanities, and jests, and irony itself—do these things go out with life?'

It was what I call Lamb's religion that helped him to enjoy life so humbly, heartily, and delicately, and to give to others the sensation of all that is most enjoyable in the things about us. It may be said of him, as he says of the fox in the fable: 'He was an adept in that species of moral alchemy, which turns everything into gold.' And this moral alchemy of his was no reasoned and arguable optimism, but a 'spirit of youth in everything,' an irrational, casuistical, 'matter-of-lie' persistence in the face of all logic, experience, and sober judgment; an upsetting of truth grown tedious and custom gone stale. And for a truth of the letter it substituted a new, valiant truth of the spirit; for dead things, living ideas; and gave birth to the most religious sentiment of which man is capable: grateful joy.

Among the innumerable objects and occasions of joy which Lamb found laid out before him, at the world's feast, books were certainly one of the most precious, and after books came pictures. 'What any man can write, surely I may read!' he says to Wordsworth, of Caryl on Job, six folios. 'I like books about books,' he confesses, the test of the book-lover. 'I love,' he says, 'to lose myself in other men's minds. When I am not walking, I am reading; I cannot sit and think. Books think for me.' He was the finest of all readers, far more instant than Coleridge; not to be taken unawares by a Blake ('I must look on him as one of the most extraordinary persons of the age,' he says of him, on but a slight and partial acquaintance), or by Wordsworth when the Lyrical Ballads are confusing all judgments, and he can pick out at sight 'She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways' as 'the best piece in it,' and can define precisely the defect of much of the book, in one of those incomparable letters of escape, to Manning: 'It is full of original thought, but it does not often make you laugh or cry. It too artfully aims at simplicity of expression.' I choose these instances because the final test of a critic is in his reception of contemporary work; and Lamb must have found it much easier to be right, before every one else, about Webster, and Ford, and Cyril Tourneur, than to be the accurate critic that he was of Coleridge, at the very time when he was under the 'whiff and wind' of Coleridge's influence. And in writing of pictures, though his knowledge is not so great nor his instinct so wholly 'according to knowledge,' he can write as no one has ever written in praise of Titian (so that his very finest sentence describes a picture of Titian) and can instantly detect and minutely expose the swollen contemporary delusion of a would-be Michael Angelo, the portentous Martin.

Then there were the theatres, which Lamb loved next to books. There has been no criticism of acting in English like Lamb's, so fundamental, so intimate and elucidating. His style becomes quintessential when he speaks of the stage, as in that tiny masterpiece, On the Acting of Munden, which ends the book of Elia, with its great close, the Beethoven soft wondering close, after all the surges: 'He understands a leg of mutton in its quiddity. He stands wondering, amid the commonplace materials of life, like primeval man with the sun and stars about him.' He is equally certain of Shakespeare, of Congreve, and of Miss Kelly. When he defines the actors, his pen seems to be plucked by the very wires that work the puppets. And it is not merely because he was in love with Miss Kelly that he can write of her acting like this, in words that might apply with something of truth to himself. He has been saying of Mrs. Jordan, that 'she seemed one whom care could not come near; a privileged being, sent to teach mankind what it most wants, joyousness.' Then he goes on: 'This latter lady's is the joy of a freed spirit, escaping from care, as a bird that had been limed; her smiles, if I may use the expression, seemed saved out of the fire, relics which a good and innocent heart had snatched up as most portable; her contents are visitors, not inmates: she can lay them by altogether; and when she does so, I am not sure that she is not greatest.' Is not this, with all its precise good sense, the rarest poetry of prose, a poetry made up of no poetical epithets, no fanciful similes, but 'of imagination all compact,' poetry in substance?

Then there was London. In Lamb London found its one poet. 'The earth, and sea, and sky (when all is said),' he admitted, 'is but as a house to live in'; and, 'separate from the pleasure of your company,' he assured Wordsworth, 'I don't much care if I never see a mountain in my life. I have passed all my days in London, until I have formed as many and intense local attachments as any of your mountaineers can have done with dead nature. The lighted shops of the Strand and Fleet Street, the innumerable trades, tradesmen, and customers, coaches, waggons, play-houses, all the bustle and wickedness round about Covent Garden, the very women of the town, the watchmen, drunken scenes, rattles—life awake, if you awake, at all hours of the night, the impossibility of being dull in Fleet Street, the crowds, the very dirt and mud, the sun shining upon houses and pavements, the print shops, the old bookstalls, parsons cheapening books, coffee-houses, steams of soups from kitchens, the pantomime, London itself a pantomime and a masquerade—all these things work themselves into my mind and feed me, without a power of satiating me. The wonder of these sights impels me into night-walks about her crowded streets, and I often shed tears in the motley Strand from fulness of joy at so much life.' There, surely, is the poem of London, and it has almost more than the rapture, in its lover's catalogue, of Walt Whitman's poems of America. Almost to the end, he could say (as he does again to Wordsworth, not long before his death), 'London streets and faces cheer me inexpressibly, though of the latter not one known one were remaining.' He traces the changes in streets, their distress or disappearance, as he traces the dwindling of his friends, 'the very streets, he says,' writes Mary, 'altering every day.' London was to him the new, better Eden. 'A garden was the primitive prison till man with Promethean felicity and boldness sinned himself out of it. Thence followed Babylon, Nineveh, Venice, London, haberdashers, goldsmiths, taverns, play-houses, satires, epigrams, puns—these all came in on the town part, and thither side of innocence.' To love London so was part of his human love, and in his praise of streets he has done as much for the creation and perpetuating of joy as Wordsworth ('by whose system,' Mary Lamb conjectured, 'it was doubtful whether a liver in towns had a soul to be saved') has done by his praise of flowers and hills.

And yet, for all his 'disparagement of heath and highlands,' as he confessed to Scott, Lamb was as instant and unerring in his appreciation of natural things, once brought before them, as he was in his appreciation of the things of art and the mind and man's making. He was a great walker, and sighs once, before his release from the desk: 'I wish I were a caravan driver or a penny post man, to earn my bread in air and sunshine.' We have seen what he wrote to Wordsworth about his mountains, before he had seen them. This is what he writes of them to Manning, after he has seen them: 'Such an impression I never received from objects of sight before, nor do I suppose I can ever again.... In fine, I have satisfied myself that there is such a thing as that which tourists call romantic, which I very much suspected before.' And to Coleridge he writes: 'I feel that I shall remember your mountains to the last day I live. They haunt me perpetually.' All this Lamb saw and felt, because no beautiful thing could ever appeal to him in vain. But he wrote of it only in his letters, which were all of himself; because he put into his published writings only the best or the rarest or the accustomed and familiar part of himself, the part which he knew by heart.


Beyond any writer pre-eminent for charm, Lamb had salt and sting. There is hardly a known grace or energy of prose which he has not somewhere exemplified; as often in his letters as in his essays; and always with something final about it. He is never more himself than when he says, briefly: 'Sentiment came in with Sterne, and was a child he had by Affectation'; but then he is also never more himself than when he expands and develops, as in this rendering of the hisses which damned his play in Drury Lane:

It was not a hiss neither, but a sort of a frantic yell, like a congregation of mad geese, with roaring something like bears, mows and mops like apes, sometimes snakes, that hissed me into madness. 'Twas like St. Anthony's temptations. Mercy on us, that God should give His favourite children, men, mouths to speak with, to discourse rationally, to promise smoothly, to flatter agreeably, to encourage warmly, to counsel wisely: to sing with, to drink with, and to kiss with: and that they should turn them into the mouths of adders, bears, wolves, hyenas, and whistle like tempests, and emit breath through them like distillations of aspic poison, to asperse and vilify the innocent labours of their fellow creatures who are desirous to please them!

Or it may be a cold in the head which starts the heroic agility of his tongue, and he writes a long letter without a full stop, which is as full of substance as one of his essays. His technique is so incredibly fine, he is such a Paganini of prose, that he can invent and reverse an idea of pyramidal wit, as in this burlesque of a singer: 'The shake, which most fine singers reserve for the close or cadence, by some unaccountable flexibility, or tremulousness of pipe, she carrieth quite through the composition; so that the time, to a common air or ballad, keeps double motion, like the earth—running the primary circuit of the tune, and still revolving upon its own axis'; and he can condense into six words the whole life-history and the soul's essential secret of Coleridge, when he says of him, in almost the last fragment of prose that he wrote, 'he had a hunger for eternity.'

To read Lamb makes a man more humane, more tolerant, more dainty; incites to every natural piety, strengthens reverence; while it clears his brain of whatever dull fumes may have lodged there, stirs up all his senses to wary alertness, and actually quickens his vitality, like high pure air. It is, in the familiar phrase, 'a liberal education'; but it is that finer education which sets free the spirit. His natural piety, in the full sense of the word, seems to me deeper and more sensitive than that of any other English writer. Kindness, in him, embraces mankind, not with the wide engulfing arms of philanthropy, but with an individual caress. He is almost the sufficient type of virtue, so far as virtue can ever be loved; for there is not a weakness in him which is not the bastard of some good quality, and not an error which had an unsocial origin. His jests add a new reverence to lovely and noble things, or light up an unsuspected 'soul of goodness in things evil.'

No man ever so loved his friends, or was so honest with them, or made such a religion of friendship. His character of Hazlitt in the 'Letter to Southey' is the finest piece of emotional prose which he ever wrote, and his pen is inspired whenever he speaks of Coleridge. 'Good people, as they are called,' he writes to Wordsworth, 'won't serve. I want individuals. I am made up of queer points and want so many answering needles.' He counts over his friends in public, like a child counting over his toys, when some one has offered an insult to one of them. He has delicacies and devotions towards his friends, so subtle and so noble that they make every man his friend. And, that love may deepen into awe, there is the tragic bond, that protecting love for his sister which was made up of so many strange components: pity for madness, sympathy with what came so close to him in it, as well as mental comradeship, and that paradox of his position, by which he supports that by which he is supported.

It is, then, this 'human, too human' creature, who comes so close to our hearts, whom we love and reverence, who is also, and above all, or at least in the last result, that great artist in prose, faultless in tact, flawless in technique, that great man of letters, to whom every lover of 'prose as a fine art' looks up with an admiration which may well become despair. What is it in this style, this way of putting things, so occasional, so variegated, so like his own harlequin in his 'ghastly vest of white patchwork,' 'the apparition of a dead rainbow'; what is it that gives to a style, which no man can analyse, its 'terseness, its jocular pathos, which makes one feel in laughter?' Those are his own words, not used of himself; but do they not do something to define what can, after all, never be explained?


Lamb's defects were his qualities, and nature drove them inward, concentrating, fortifying, intensifying them; to a not wholly normal or healthy brain, freakish and without consecution, adding a stammering tongue which could not speak evenly, and had to do its share, as the brain did, 'by fits.' 'You,' we find Lamb writing to Godwin,

'cannot conceive of the desultory and uncertain way in which I (an author by fits) sometimes cannot put the thoughts of a common letter into sane prose.... Ten thousand times I have confessed to you, talking of my talents, my utter inability to remember in any comprehensive way what I have read. I can vehemently applaud, or perversely stickle, at parts; but I cannot grasp at a whole. This infirmity (which is nothing to brag of) may be seen in my two little compositions, the tale and my play, in both which no reader, however partial, can find any story.'

'My brain,' he says, in a letter to Wordsworth, 'is desultory, and snatches off hints from things.' And, in a wise critical letter to Southey, he says, summing up himself in a single phrase: 'I never judge system-wise of things, but fasten upon particulars.'

Is he, in these phrases that are meant to seem so humble, really apologising for what was the essential quality of his genius? Montaigne, who (it is Lamb that says it) 'anticipated all the discoveries of succeeding essayists,' affected no humility in the statement of almost exactly the same mental complexion. 'I take the first argument that fortune offers me,' he tells us; 'they are all equally good for me; I never design to treat them in their totality, for I never see the whole of anything, nor do those see it who promise to show it to me.... In general I love to seize things by some unwonted lustre.' There, in the two greatest of the essayists, one sees precisely what goes to the making of the essayist. First, a beautiful disorder: the simultaneous attack and appeal of contraries, a converging multitude of dreams, memories, thoughts, sensations, without mental preference, or conscious guiding of the judgment; and then, order in disorder, a harmony more properly musical than logical, a separating and return of many elements, which end by making a pattern. Take that essay of Elia called Old China, and, when you have recovered from its charm, analyse it. You will see that, in its apparent lawlessness and wandering like idle memories, it is constructed with the minute care, and almost with the actual harmony, of poetry; and that vague, interrupting, irrelevant, lovely last sentence is like the refrain which returns at the end of a poem.

Lamb was a mental gipsy, to whom books were roads open to adventures; he saw skies in books, and books in skies, and in every orderly section of social life magic possibilities of vagrancy. But he was also a Cockney, a lover of limit, civic tradition, the uniform of all ritual. He liked exceptions, because, in every other instance, he would approve of the rule. He broke bounds with exquisite decorum. There was in all his excesses something of 'the good clerk.'

Lamb seemed to his contemporaries notably eccentric, but he was nearer than them all to the centre. His illuminating rays shot out from the very heart of light, and returned thither after the circuit. Where Coleridge lost himself in clouds or in quicksands, Lamb took the nearest short-cut, and, having reached the goal, went no step beyond it.

And he was a bee for honey, not, like Coleridge, a browsing ox. To him the essence of delight was choice; and choice, with him, was readier when the prize was far-fetched and dear bought: a rarity of manners, books, pictures, or whatever was human or touched humanity. 'Opinion,' he said, 'is a species of property; and though I am always desirous to share with my friends to a certain extent, I shall ever like to keep some tenets and some property properly my own.' And then he found, in rarity, one of the qualities of the best; and was never, like most others, content with the good, or in any danger of confusing it with the best. He was the only man of that great age, which had Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and Shelley, and the rest, whose taste was flawless. All the others, who seemed to be marching so straight to so determined a goal, went astray at one time or other; only Lamb, who was always wandering, never lost sense of direction, or failed to know how far he had strayed from the road.

The quality which came to him from that germ of madness which lay hidden in his nature had no influence upon his central sanity. It gave him the tragic pathos and mortal beauty of his wit, its dangerous nearness to the heart, its quick sense of tears, its at times desperate gaiety; and, also, a hard, indifferent levity, which, to brother and sister alike, was a rampart against obsession, or a stealthy way of temporising with the enemy. That tinge is what gives its strange glitter to his fooling; madness playing safely and lambently around the stoutest common sense. In him reason always justifies itself by unreason, and if you consider well his quips and cranks you will find them always the play of the intellect. I know one who read the essays of Elia with intense delight, and was astonished when I asked her if she had been amused. She had seen so well through the fun to its deep inner meaning that the fun had not detained her. She had found in all of it nothing but a pure intellectual reason, beyond logic, where reason is one with intuition.



Villon was the first modern poet; he remains the most modern of poets. One requires a certain amount of old French, together with some acquaintance with the argot of the time, to understand the words in which he has written down his poems; many allusions to people and things have only just begun to be cleared up, but, apart from these things, no poet has ever brought himself closer to us, taken us into his confidence more simply, than this personnage peu recommandable, faineant, ivrogne, joueur, debauche, ecornifleur, et, qui pis est, souteneur de filles, escroc, voleur, crocheteur de portes et de coffres. The most disreputable of poets, he confesses himself to us with a frankness in which shamelessness is difficult to distinguish from humility. M. Gaston Paris, who for the most part is content to take him as he is, for better for worse, finds it necessary to apologise for him when he comes to the ballad of La Grosse Margot: this, he professes, we need not take as a personal confession, but as a mere exercise in composition! But if we are to understand Villon rightly, we must not reject even la grosse Margot from her place in his life. He was no dabbler in infamy, but one who loved infamous things for their own sake. He loved everything for its own sake: la grosse Margot in the flesh, les dames du temps jadis in the spirit,

Sausses, brouets et gros poissons, Tartes, flaons, oefs frits et pochez, Perdus, et en toutes facons,

his mother, le bon royaume de France, and above all, Paris. Il a parcouru toute la France sans rapporter une seule impression de campagne. C'est un poete de ville, plus encore: un poete de quartier. Il n'est vraiment chez lui que sur la Montague Sainte-Genevieve, entre le Palais, les colleges, le Chatelet, les tavernes, les rotisseries, les tripots et les rues ou Marion l'Idole et la grande Jeanne de Bretagne tiennent leur 'publique ecole'. It is in this world that he lived, for this world that he wrote. Fils du peuple, entre par l'instruction dans la classe lettree, puis declasse par ses vices, il dut a son humble origine de rester en communication constante avec les sources eternelles de toute vraie poesie. And so he came into a literature of formalists, like a child, a vigorous, unabashed, malicious child, into a company of greybeards.

Villon, before any one in French literature, called things by their names, made poetry as Homer made it, with words that meant facts. He was a thief and a vagabond who wrote in the 'grand style' by daring to be sincere to himself, to the aspect under which human things came to him, to the precise names of precise things. He had a sensitiveness in his soul which perhaps matched the deftness of his fingers, in their adroit, forbidden trade: his soul bent easily from his mother praying in the cloister to the fat Margot drinking in the tavern; he could dream exquisitely over the dead ladies who had once been young, and who had gone like last year's snow, and then turn to the account-book of his satirical malice against the clerks and usurers for whom he was making the testament of his poverty. He knew winter, 'when the wolves live on wind,' and how the gallows looks when one stands under it. And he knew all the secrets of the art of verse-making which courtly poets, like the King, used for the stringing together of delicate trifles, ornamental evasions of facts. He was no poet of the people, but a scholar vagabond, loving the gutter; and so he has the sincerity of the artist as well as the only half-convincing sincerity of the man. There has been no greater artist in French verse, as there has been no greater poet; and the main part of the history of poetry in France is the record of a long forgetting of all that Villon found out for himself.




The Memoirs of Casanova, though they have enjoyed the popularity of a bad reputation, have never had justice done to them by serious students of literature, of life, and of history. One English writer, indeed, Mr. Havelock Ellis, has realised that 'there are few more delightful books in the world,' and he has analysed them in an essay on Casanova, published in Affirmations, with extreme care and remarkable subtlety. But this essay stands alone, at all events in English, as an attempt to take Casanova seriously, to show him in his relation to his time, and in his relation to human problems. And yet these Memoirs are perhaps the most valuable document which we possess on the society of the eighteenth century; they are the history of a unique life, a unique personality, one of the greatest of autobiographies; as a record of adventures, they are more entertaining than Gil Blas, or Monte Cristo, or any of the imaginary travels, and escapes, and masquerades in life, which have been written in imitation of them. They tell the story of a man who loved life passionately for its own sake: one to whom woman was, indeed, the most important thing in the world, but to whom nothing in the world was indifferent. The bust which gives us the most lively notion of him shows us a great, vivid, intellectual face, full of fiery energy and calm resource, the face of a thinker and a fighter in one. A scholar, an adventurer, perhaps a Cabalist, a busy stirrer in politics, a gamester, one 'born for the fairer sex,' as he tells us, and born also to be a vagabond; this man, who is remembered now for his written account of his own life, was that rarest kind of autobiographer, one who did not live to write, but wrote because he had lived, and when he could live no longer.

And his Memoirs take one all over Europe, giving sidelights, all the more valuable in being almost accidental, upon many of the affairs and people most interesting to us during two-thirds of the eighteenth century. Giacomo Casanova was born in Venice, of Spanish and Italian parentage, on April 2, 1725; he died at the Chateau of Dux, in Bohemia, on June 4, 1798. In that lifetime of seventy-three years he travelled, as his Memoirs show us, in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, England, Switzerland, Belgium, Russia, Poland, Spain, Holland, Turkey; he met Voltaire at Ferney, Rousseau at Montmorency, Fontenelle, d'Alembert and Crebillon at Paris, George III. in London, Louis XV. at Fontainebleau, Catherine the Great at St. Petersburg, Benedict XII. at Rome, Joseph II. at Vienna, Frederick the Great at Sans-Souci. Imprisoned by the Inquisitors of State in the Piombi at Venice, he made, in 1755, the most famous escape in history. His Memoirs, as we have them, break off abruptly at the moment when he is expecting a safe conduct, and the permission to return to Venice after twenty years' wanderings. He did return, as we know from documents in the Venetian archives; he returned as secret agent of the Inquisitors, and remained in their service from 1774 until 1782. At the end of 1782 he left Venice; and next year we find him in Paris, where, in 1784, he met Count Waldstein at the Venetian Ambassador's, and was invited by him to become his librarian at Dux. He accepted, and for the fourteen remaining years of his life lived at Dux, where he wrote his Memoirs.

Casanova died in 1798, but nothing was heard of the Memoirs (which the Prince de Ligne, in his own Memoirs, tells us that Casanova had read to him, and in which he found du dramatique, de la rapidite, du comique, de la philosophie, des choses neuves, sublimes, inimitables meme) until the year 1820, when a certain Carlo Angiolini brought to the publishing house of Brockhaus, in Leipzig, a manuscript entitled Histoire de ma vie jusqu'a l'an 1797, in the handwriting of Casanova. This manuscript, which I have examined at Leipzig, is written on foolscap paper, rather rough and yellow; it is written on both sides of the page, and in sheets or quires; here and there the paging shows that some pages have been omitted, and in their place are smaller sheets of thinner and whiter paper, all in Casanova's handsome, unmistakable handwriting. The manuscript is done up in twelve bundles, corresponding with the twelve volumes of the original edition; and only in one place is there a gap. The fourth and fifth chapters of the twelfth volume are missing, as the editor of the original edition points out, adding: 'It is not probable that these two chapters have been withdrawn from the manuscript of Casanova by a strange hand; everything leads us to believe that the author himself suppressed them, in the intention, no doubt, of re-writing them, but without having found time to do so.' The manuscript ends abruptly with the year 1774, and not with the year 1797, as the title would lead us to suppose.

This manuscript, in its original state, has never been printed. Herr Brockhaus, on obtaining possession of the manuscript, had it translated into German by Wilhelm Schuetz, but with many omissions and alterations, and published this translation, volume by volume, from 1822 to 1828, under the title, Aus den Memoiren des Venetianers Jacob Casanova de Seingalt. While the German edition was in course of publication, Herr Brockhaus employed a certain Jean Laforgue, a professor of the French language at Dresden, to revise the original manuscript, correcting Casanova's vigorous, but at times incorrect, and often somewhat Italian, French according to his own notions of elegant writing, suppressing passages which seemed too free-spoken from the point of view of morals and of politics, and altering the names of some of the persons referred to, or replacing those names by initials. This revised text was published in twelve volumes, the first two in 1826, the third and fourth in 1828, the fifth to the eighth in 1832, and the ninth to the twelfth in 1837; the first four bearing the imprint of Brockhaus at Leipzig and Ponthieu et Cie at Paris; the next four the imprint of Heideloff et Campe at Paris; and the last four nothing but A Bruxelles. The volumes are all uniform, and were all really printed for the firm of Brockhaus. This, however far from representing the real text, is the only authoritative edition, and my references throughout this article will always be to this edition.

In turning over the manuscript at Leipzig, I read some of the suppressed passages, and regretted their suppression; but Herr Brockhaus, the present head of the firm, assured me that they are not really very considerable in number. The damage, however, to the vivacity of the whole narrative, by the persistent alterations of M. Laforgue, is incalculable. I compared many passages, and found scarcely three consecutive sentences untouched. Herr Brockhaus (whose courtesy I cannot sufficiently acknowledge) was kind enough to have a passage copied out for me, which I afterwards read over, and checked word by word. In this passage Casanova says, for instance: Elle venoit presque tous les jours lui faire une belle visite. This is altered into: Cependant chaque jour Therese venait lui faire une visite. Casanova says that some one avoit, comme de raison, forme le projet d'allier Dieu avec le diable. This is made to read: Qui, comme de raison, avait saintement forme le projet d'allier les interets du ciel aux oeuvres de ce monde. Casanova tell us that Therese would not commit a mortal sin pour devenir reine du monde: pour une couronne, corrects the indefatigable Laforgue. Il ne savoit que lui dire becomes Dans cet etat de perplexite; and so forth. It must, therefore, be realised that the Memoirs, as we have them, are only a kind of pale tracing of the vivid colours of the original.

When Casanova's Memoirs were first published, doubts were expressed as to their authenticity, first by Ugo Foscolo (in the Westminster Review, 1827), then by Querard, supposed to be an authority in regard to anonymous and pseudonymous writings, finally by Paul Lacroix, le bibliophile Jacob, who suggested, or rather expressed his 'certainty,' that the real author of the Memoirs was Stendhal, whose 'mind, character, ideas and style' he seemed to recognise on every page. This theory, as foolish and as unsupported as the Baconian theory of Shakespeare, has been carelessly accepted, or at all events accepted as possible, by many good scholars who have never taken the trouble to look into the matter for themselves. It was finally disproved by a series of articles of Armand Baschet, entitled Preuves curieuses de l'authenticite des Memoires de Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, in Le Livre, January, February, April and May, 1881; and these proofs were further corroborated by two articles of Alessandro d'Ancona, entitled Un Avventuriere del Secolo XVIII., in the Nuova Antologia, February 1 and August 1, 1882. Baschet had never himself seen the manuscript of the Memoirs, but he had learnt all the facts about it from Messrs. Brockhaus, and he had himself examined the numerous papers relating to Casanova in the Venetian archives. A similar examination was made at the Frari at about the same time by the Abbe Fulin; and I myself, in 1894, not knowing at the time that the discovery had been already made, made it over again for myself. There the arrest of Casanova, his imprisonment in the Piombi, the exact date of escape, the name of the monk who accompanied him, are all authenticated by documents contained in the riferte of the Inquisition of State; there are the bills for the repairs of the roof and walls of the cell from which he escaped; there are the reports of the spies on whose information he was arrested, for his too dangerous free-spokenness in matters of religion and morality. The same archives contain forty-eight letters of Casanova to the Inquisitors of State, dating from 1763 to 1782, among the Riferte dei Confidenti, or reports of secret agents; the earliest asking permission to return to Venice, the rest giving information in regard to the immoralities of the city, after his return there; all in the same handwriting as the Memoirs. Further proof could scarcely be needed, but Baschet has done more than prove the authenticity, he has proved the extraordinary veracity, of the Memoirs. F. W. Barthold, in Die Geschichtlichen Persoenlichkeiten in J. Casanova's Memoiren, 2 vols., 1846, had already examined about a hundred of Casanova's allusions to well-known people, showing the perfect exactitude of all but six or seven, and out of these six or seven inexactitudes ascribing only a single one to the author's intention. Baschet and d'Ancona both carry on what Barthold had begun; other investigators, in France, Italy and Germany, have followed them; and two things are now certain, first, that Casanova himself wrote the Memoirs published under his name, though not textually in the precise form in which we have them; and, second, that as their veracity becomes more and more evident as they are confronted with more and more independent witnesses, it is only fair to suppose that they are equally truthful where the facts are such as could only have been known to Casanova himself.


For more than two-thirds of a century it has been known that Casanova spent the last fourteen years of his life at Dux, that he wrote his Memoirs there, and that he died there. During all this time people have been discussing the authenticity and the truthfulness of the Memoirs, they have been searching for information about Casanova in various directions, and yet hardly any one has ever taken the trouble, or obtained the permission, to make a careful examination in precisely the one place where information was most likely to be found. The very existence of the manuscripts at Dux was known only to a few, and to most of these only on hearsay; and thus the singular good fortune was reserved for me, on my visit to Count Waldstein in September 1899, to be the first to discover the most interesting things contained in these manuscripts. M. Octave Uzanne, though he had not himself visited Dux, had indeed procured copies of some of the manuscripts, a few of which were published by him in Le Livre, in 1887 and 1889. But with the death of Le Livre in 1889 the Casanova inedit came to an end, and has never, so far as I know, been continued elsewhere. Beyond the publication of these fragments, nothing has been done with the manuscripts at Dux, nor has an account of them ever been given by any one who has been allowed to examine them.

For five years, ever since I had discovered the documents in the Venetian archives, I had wanted to go to Dux; and in 1899, when I was staying with Count Luetzow at Zampach, in Bohemia, I found the way kindly opened for me. Count Waldstein, the present head of the family, with extreme courtesy, put all his manuscripts at my disposal, and invited me to stay with him. Unluckily, he was called away on the morning of the day that I reached Dux. He had left everything ready for me, and I was shown over the castle by a friend of his, Dr. Kittel, whose courtesy I should like also to acknowledge. After a hurried visit to the castle we started on the long drive to Oberleutensdorf, a smaller Schloss near Komotau, where the Waldstein family was then staying. The air was sharp and bracing; the two Russian horses flew like the wind; I was whirled along in an unfamiliar darkness, through a strange country, black with coal mines, through dark pine woods, where a wild peasantry dwelt in little mining towns. Here and there, a few men and women passed us on the road, in their Sunday finery; then a long space of silence, and we were in the open country, galloping between broad fields; and always in a haze of lovely hills, which I saw more distinctly as we drove back next morning.

The return to Dux was like a triumphal entry, as we dashed through the market-place filled with people come for the Monday market, pots and pans and vegetables strewn in heaps all over the ground, on the rough paving stones, up to the great gateway of the castle, leaving but just room for us to drive through their midst. I had the sensation of an enormous building: all Bohemian castles are big, but this one was like a royal palace. Set there in the midst of the town, after the Bohemian fashion, it opens at the back upon great gardens, as if it were in the midst of the country. I walked through room after room, along corridor after corridor; everywhere there were pictures, everywhere portraits of Wallenstein, and battle-scenes in which he led on his troops. The library, which was formed, or at least arranged, by Casanova, and which remains as he left it, contains some 25,000 volumes, some of them of considerable value; one of the most famous books in Bohemian literature, Skala's History of the Church, exists in manuscript at Dux, and it is from this manuscript that the two published volumes of it were printed. The library forms part of the Museum, which occupies a ground-floor wing of the castle. The first room is an armoury, in which all kinds of arms are arranged, in a decorative way, covering the ceiling and the walls with strange patterns. The second room contains pottery, collected by Casanova's Waldstein on his Eastern travels. The third room is full of curious mechanical toys, and cabinets, and carvings in ivory. Finally, we come to the library, contained in the two innermost rooms. The book-shelves are painted white, and reach to the low-vaulted ceilings, which are white-washed. At the end of a bookcase, in the corner of one of the windows, hangs a fine engraved portrait of Casanova.

After I had been all over the castle, so long Casanova's home, I was taken to Count Waldstein's study, and left there with the manuscripts. I found six huge cardboard cases, large enough to contain foolscap paper, lettered on the back: Graefl. Waldstein-Wartenberg'sches Real Fideicommiss. Dux-Oberleutensdorf: Handschriftlicher Nachlass Casanova. The cases were arranged so as to stand like books; they opened at the side; and on opening them, one after another, I found series after series of manuscripts roughly thrown together, after some pretence at arrangement, and lettered with a very generalised description of contents. The greater part of the manuscripts were in Casanova's handwriting, which I could see gradually beginning to get shaky with years. Most were written in French, a certain number in Italian. The beginning of a catalogue in the library, though said to be by him, was not in his handwriting. Perhaps it was taken down at his dictation. There were also some copies of Italian and Latin poems not written by him. Then there were many big bundles of letters addressed to him, dating over more than thirty years. Almost all the rest was in his own handwriting.

I came first upon the smaller manuscripts, among which I found, jumbled together on the same and on separate scraps of paper, washing-bills, accounts, hotel bills, lists of letters written, first drafts of letters with many erasures, notes on books, theological and mathematical notes, sums, Latin quotations, French and Italian verses, with variants, a long list of classical names which have and have not been francises, with reasons for and against; 'what I must wear at Dresden'; headings without anything to follow, such as: 'Reflexions on respiration, on the true cause of youth—the crows'; a new method of winning the lottery at Rome; recipes, among which is a long printed list of perfumes sold at Spa; a newspaper cutting, dated Prague, 25th October 1790, on the thirty-seventh balloon ascent of Blanchard; thanks to some 'noble donor' for the gift of a dog called 'Finette'; a passport for Monsieur de Casanova, Venitien, allant d'ici en Hollande, October 13, 1758 (Ce Passeport bon pour quinze jours), together with an order for post-horses, gratis, from Paris to Bordeaux and Bayonne.[1]

Occasionally, one gets a glimpse into his daily life at Dux, as in this note, scribbled on a fragment of paper (here and always I translate the French literally): 'I beg you to tell my servant what the biscuits are that I like to eat, dipped in wine, to fortify my stomach. I believe that they can all be found at Roman's.' Usually, however, these notes, though often suggested by something closely personal, branch off into more general considerations; or else begin with general considerations, and end with a case in point. Thus, for instance, a fragment of three pages begins: 'A compliment which is only made to gild the pill is a positive impertinence, and Monsieur Bailli is nothing but a charlatan; the monarch ought to have spit in his face, but the monarch trembled with fear.' A manuscript entitled Essai d'Egoisme, dated, 'Dux, this 27th June, 1769,' contains, in the midst of various reflections, an offer to let his appartement in return for enough money to 'tranquillise for six months two Jew creditors at Prague.' Another manuscript is headed 'Pride and Folly,' and begins with a long series of antitheses, such as: 'All fools are not proud, and all proud men are fools. Many fools are happy, all proud men are unhappy.' On the same sheet follows this instance or application:

Whether it is possible to compose a Latin distich of the greatest beauty without knowing either the Latin language or prosody. We must examine the possibility and the impossibility, and afterwards see who is the man who says he is the author of the distich, for there are extraordinary people in the world. My brother, in short, ought to have composed the distich, because he says so, and because he confided it to me tete-a-tete. I had, it is true, difficulty in believing him; but what is one to do? Either one must believe, or suppose him capable of telling a lie which could only be told by a fool; and that is impossible, for all Europe knows that my brother is not a fool.

Here, as so often in these manuscripts, we seem to see Casanova thinking on paper. He uses scraps of paper (sometimes the blank page of a letter, on the other side of which we see the address) as a kind of informal diary; and it is characteristic of him, of the man of infinitely curious mind, which this adventurer really was, that there are so few merely personal notes among these casual jottings. Often, they are purely abstract; at times, metaphysical jeux d'esprit, like the sheet of fourteen 'Different Wagers,' which begins:

I wager that it is not true that a man who weighs a hundred pounds will weigh more if you kill him. I wager that if there is any difference, he will weigh less. I wager that diamond powder has not sufficient force to kill a man.

Side by side with these fanciful excursions into science, come more serious ones, as in the note on Algebra, which traces its progress since the year 1494, before which 'it had only arrived at the solution of problems of the second degree, inclusive.' A scrap of paper tells us that Casanova 'did not like regular towns.' 'I like,' he says, 'Venice, Rome, Florence, Milan, Constantinople, Genoa.' Then he becomes abstract and inquisitive again, and writes two pages, full of curious, out-of-the-way learning, on the name of Paradise:

The name of Paradise is a name in Genesis which indicates a place of pleasure (lieu voluptueux): this term is Persian. This place of pleasure was made by God before he had created man.

It may be remembered that Casanova quarrelled with Voltaire, because Voltaire had told him frankly that his translation of L'Ecossaise was a bad translation. It is piquant to read another note written in this style of righteous indignation:

Voltaire, the hardy Voltaire, whose pen is without bit or bridle; Voltaire, who devoured the Bible, and ridiculed our dogmas, doubts, and after having made proselytes to impiety, is not ashamed, being reduced to the extremity of life, to ask for the sacraments, and to cover his body with more relics than St. Louis had at Amboise.

Here is an argument more in keeping with the tone of the Memoirs:

A girl who is pretty and good, and as virtuous as you please, ought not to take it ill that a man, carried away by her charms, should set himself to the task of making their conquest. If this man cannot please her by any means, even if his passion be criminal, she ought never to take offence at it, nor treat him unkindly; she ought to be gentle, and pity him, if she does not love him, and think it enough to keep invincibly hold upon her own duty.

Occasionally he touches upon aesthetical matters, as in a fragment which begins with liberal definition of beauty:

Harmony makes beauty, says M. de S. P. (Bernardin de St. Pierre), but the definition is too short, if he thinks he has said everything. Here is mine. Remember that the subject is metaphysical. An object really beautiful ought to seem beautiful to all whose eyes fall upon it. That is all; there is nothing more to be said.

At times we have an anecdote and its commentary, perhaps jotted down for use in that latter part of the Memoirs which was never written, or which has been lost. Here is a single sheet, dated 'this 2nd September, 1791,' and headed Souvenir:

The Prince de Rosenberg said to me, as we went down stairs, that Madame de Rosenberg was dead, and asked me if the Comte de Waldstein had in the library the illustration of the Villa d'Altichiero, which the Emperor had asked for in vain at the city library of Prague, and when I answered 'yes,' he gave an equivocal laugh. A moment afterwards, he asked me if he might tell the Emperor. 'Why not, monseigneur? It is not a secret.' 'Is His Majesty coming to Dux?' 'If he goes to Oberlaitensdorf (sic) he will go to Dux, too; and he may ask you for it, for there is a monument there which relates to him when he was Grand Duke.' 'In that case, His Majesty can also see my critical remarks on the Egyptian prints.'

The Emperor asked me this morning, 6th October, how I employed my time at Dux, and I told him that I was making an Italian anthology. 'You have all the Italians, then?' 'All, sire.' See what a lie leads to. If I had not lied in saying that I was making an anthology, I should not have found myself obliged to lie again in saying that we have all the Italian poets. If the Emperor comes to Dux, I shall kill myself.

'They say that this Dux is a delightful spot,' says Casanova in one of the most personal of his notes, 'and I see that it might be for many; but not for me, for what delights me in my old age is independent of the place which I inhabit. When I do not sleep I dream, and when I am tired of dreaming I blacken paper, then I read, and most often reject all that my pen has vomited.' Here we see him blackening paper, on every occasion, and for every purpose. In one bundle I found an unfinished story about Roland, and some adventure with women in a cave; then a 'Meditation on arising from sleep, 19th May 1789'; then a 'Short Reflection of a Philosopher who finds himself thinking of procuring his own death. At Dux, on getting out of bed on 13th October 1793, day dedicated to St. Lucy, memorable in my too long life.' A big budget, containing cryptograms, is headed 'Grammatical Lottery'; and there is the title-page of a treatise on The Duplication of the Hexahedron, demonstrated geometrically to all the Universities and all the Academies of Europe.[2] There are innumerable verses, French and Italian, in all stages, occasionally attaining the finality of these lines, which appear in half a dozen tentative forms:

Sans mystere point de plaisirs, Sans silence point de mystere. Charme divin de mes loisirs, Solitude! que tu m'es chere!

Then there are a number of more or less complete manuscripts of some extent. There is the manuscript of the translation of Homer's Iliad, in ottava rima (published in Venice, 1775-8); of the Histoire de Venise, of the Icosameron, a curious book published in 1787, purporting to be 'translated from English,' but really an original work of Casanova; Philocalies sur les Sottises des Mortels, a long manuscript never published; the sketch and beginning of Le Polemarque, ou la Calomnie demasquee par la presence d'esprit. Tragicomedie en trois actes, composee a Dux dans le mois de Juin de l'Annee, 1791, which recurs again under the form of the Polemoscope: La Lorgnette menteuse ou la Calomnie demasquee, acted before the Princess de Ligne, at her chateau at Teplitz, 1791. There is a treatise in Italian, Delle Passioni; there are long dialogues, such as Le Philosophe et le Theologien, and Reve: Dieu-Moi; there is the Songe d'un Quart d'Heure, divided into minutes; there is the very lengthy criticism of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre; there is the Confutation d'une Censure indiscrete qu'on lit dans la Gazette de Iena, 19 Juin 1789; with another large manuscript, unfortunately imperfect, first called L'Insulte, and then Placet au Public, dated 'Dux, this 2nd March, 1790,' referring to the same criticism on the Icosameron and the Fuite des Prisons. L'Histoire de ma Fuite des Prisons de la Republique de Venise, qu'on appelle les Plombs, which is the first draft of the most famous part of the Memoirs, was published at Leipzig in 1788; and, having read it in the Marcian Library at Venice, I am not surprised to learn from this indignant document that it was printed 'under the care of a young Swiss, who had the talent to commit a hundred faults of orthography.'


We come now to the documents directly relating to the Memoirs, and among these are several attempts at a preface, in which we see the actual preface coming gradually into form. One is entitled Casanova au Lecteur, another Histoire de mon Existence, and a third Preface. There is also a brief and characteristic Precis de ma vie, dated November 17, 1797. Some of these have been printed in Le Livre, 1887. But by far the most important manuscript that I discovered, one which, apparently, I am the first to discover, is a manuscript entitled Extrait du Chapitre 4 et 5. It is written on paper similar to that on which the Memoirs are written; the pages are numbered 104-148; and though it is described as Extrait, it seems to contain, at all events, the greater part of the missing chapters to which I have already referred, Chapters IV. and V. of the last volume of the Memoirs. In this manuscript we find Armelline and Scolastica, whose story is interrupted by the abrupt ending of Chapter III.; we find Mariuccia of Vol. VII., Chapter IX., who married a hairdresser; and we find also Jaconine, whom Casanova recognises as his daughter, 'much prettier than Sophia, the daughter of Therese Pompeati, whom I had left at London.'[3] It is curious that this very important manuscript, which supplies the one missing link in the Memoirs, should never have been discovered by any of the few people who have had the opportunity of looking over the Dux manuscripts. I am inclined to explain it by the fact that the case in which I found this manuscript contains some papers not relating to Casanova. Probably, those who looked into this case looked no further. I have told Herr Brockhaus of my discovery, and I hope to see Chapters IV. and V. in their places when the long-looked-for edition of the complete text is at length given to the world.

Another manuscript which I found tells with great piquancy the whole story of the Abbe de Brosses' ointment, the curing of the Princess de Conti's pimples, and the birth of the Duc de Montpensier, which is told very briefly, and with much less point, in the Memoirs (vol. iii., p. 327). Readers of the Memoirs will remember the duel at Warsaw with Count Branicki in 1766 (vol. x., pp. 274-320), an affair which attracted a good deal of attention at the time, and of which there is an account in a letter from the Abbe Taruffi to the dramatist, Francesco Albergati, dated Warsaw, March 19, 1766, quoted in Ernesto Masi's Life of Albergati, Bologna, 1878. A manuscript at Dux in Casanova's handwriting gives an account of this duel in the third person; it is entitled, Description de l'affaire arrivee a Varsovie le 5 Mars, 1766. D'Ancona, in the Nuova Antologia (vol. lxvii., p. 412), referring to the Abbe Taruffi's account, mentions what he considers to be a slight discrepancy: that Taruffi refers to the danseuse, about whom the duel was fought, as La Casacci, while Casanova refers to her as La Catai. In this manuscript Casanova always refers to her as La Casacci; La Catai is evidently one of M. Laforgue's arbitrary alterations of the text.

In turning over another manuscript, I was caught by the name Charpillon, which every reader of the Memoirs will remember as the name of the harpy by whom Casanova suffered so much in London, in 1763-4. This manuscript begins by saying: 'I have been in London for six months and have been to see them (that is, the mother and daughter) in their own house,' where he finds nothing but 'swindlers, who cause all who go there to lose their money in gambling.' This manuscript adds some details to the story told in the ninth and tenth volumes of the Memoirs, and refers to the meeting with the Charpillons four and a half years before, described in Volume V., pages 482-485. It is written in a tone of great indignation. Elsewhere, I found a letter written by Casanova, but not signed, referring to an anonymous letter which he had received in reference to the Charpillons, and ending: 'My handwriting is known.' It was not until the last that I came upon great bundles of letters addressed to Casanova, and so carefully preserved that little scraps of paper, on which postscripts are written, are still in their places. One still sees the seals on the backs of many of the letters, on paper which has slightly yellowed with age, leaving the ink, however, almost always fresh. They come from Venice, Paris, Rome, Prague, Bayreuth, The Hague, Genoa, Fiume, Trieste, etc., and are addressed to as many places, often poste restante. Many are letters from women, some in beautiful handwriting, on thick paper; others on scraps of paper, in painful hands, ill-spelt. A Countess writes pitifully, imploring help; one protests her love, in spite of the 'many chagrins' he has caused her; another asks 'how they are to live together'; another laments that a report has gone about that she is secretly living with him, which may harm his reputation. Some are in French, more in Italian. Mon cher Giacometto, writes one woman, in French; Carissimo e Amatissimo, writes another, in Italian. These letters from women are in some confusion, and are in need of a good deal of sorting over and rearranging before their full extent can be realised. Thus I found letters in the same handwriting separated by letters in other handwritings; many are unsigned, or signed only by a single initial; many are undated, or dated only with the day of the week or month. There are a great many letters, dating from 1779 to 1786, signed 'Francesca Buschini,' a name which I cannot identify; they are written in Italian, and one of them begins: Unico Mio vero Amico ('my only true friend'). Others are signed 'Virginia B.'; one of these is dated, 'Forli, October 15, 1773.' There is also a 'Theresa B.,' who writes from Genoa. I was at first unable to identify the writer of a whole series of letters in French, very affectionate and intimate letters, usually unsigned, occasionally signed 'B.' She calls herself votre petite amie; or she ends with a half-smiling, half-reproachful 'good-night, and sleep better than I.' In one letter, sent from Paris in 1759, she writes: 'Never believe me, but when I tell you that I love you, and that I shall love you always.' In another letter, ill-spelt, as her letters often are, she writes: 'Be assured that evil tongues, vapours, calumny, nothing can change my heart, which is yours entirely, and has no will to change its master.' Now, it seems to me that these letters must be from Manon Baletti, and that they are the letters referred to in the sixth volume of the Memoirs. We read there (page 60) how on Christmas Day, 1759, Casanova receives a letter from Manon in Paris, announcing her marriage with 'M. Blondel, architect to the King, and member of his Academy'; she returns him his letters, and begs him to return hers, or burn them. Instead of doing so he allows Esther to read them, intending to burn them afterwards. Esther begs to be allowed to keep the letters, promising to 'preserve them religiously all her life.' 'These letters,' he says, 'numbered more than two hundred, and the shortest were of four pages.' Certainly there are not two hundred of them at Dux, but it seems to me highly probable that Casanova made a final selection from Manon's letters, and that it is these which I have found.

But, however this may be, I was fortunate enough to find the set of letters which I was most anxious to find: the letters from Henriette, whose loss every writer on Casanova has lamented. Henriette, it will be remembered, makes her first appearance at Cesena, in the year 1748; after their meeting at Geneva, she reappears, romantically a propos, twenty-two years later, at Aix in Provence; and she writes to Casanova proposing un commerce epistolaire, asking him what he has done since his escape from prison, and promising to do her best to tell him all that has happened to her during the long interval. After quoting her letter, he adds: 'I replied to her, accepting the correspondence that she offered me, and telling her briefly all my vicissitudes. She related to me in turn, in some forty letters, all the history of her life. If she dies before me, I shall add these letters to these Memoirs; but to-day she is still alive, and always happy, though now old.' It has never been known what became of these letters, and why they were not added to the Memoirs. I have found a great quantity of them, some signed with her married name in full, 'Henriette de Schnetzmann,' and I am inclined to think that she survived Casanova, for one of the letters is dated Bayreuth, 1798, the year of Casanova's death. They are remarkably charming, written with a mixture of piquancy and distinction; and I will quote the characteristic beginning and end of the last letter I was able to find. It begins: 'No, it is impossible to be sulky with you!' and ends: 'If I become vicious, it is you, my Mentor, who make me so, and I cast my sins upon you. Even if I were damned I should still be your most devoted friend, Henriette de Schnetzmann.' Casanova was twenty-three when he met Henriette; now, herself an old woman, she writes to him when he is seventy-three, as if the fifty years that had passed were blotted out in the faithful affection of her memory. How many more discreet and less changing lovers have had the quality of constancy in change, to which this life-long correspondence bears witness? Does it not suggest a view of Casanova not quite the view of all the world? To me it shows the real man, who perhaps of all others best understood what Shelley meant when he said:

True love in this differs from gold or clay, That to divide is not to take away.

But, though the letters from women naturally interested me the most, they were only a certain proportion of the great mass of correspondence which I turned over. There were letters from Carlo Angiolini, who was afterwards to bring the manuscript of the Memoirs to Brockhaus; from Balbi, the monk with whom Casanova escaped from the Piombi; from the Marquis Albergati, playwright, actor, and eccentric, of whom there is some account in the Memoirs; from the Marquis Mosca, 'a distinguished man of letters whom I was anxious to see,' Casanova tells us in the same volume in which he describes his visit to the Moscas at Pesaro; from Zulian, brother of the Duchess of Fiano; from Richard Lorrain, bel homme, ayant de l'esprit, le ton et le gout de la bonne societe, who came to settle at Gorizia in 1773, while Casanova was there; from the Procurator Morosini, whom he speaks of in the Memoirs as his 'protector,' and as one of those through whom he obtained permission to return to Venice. His other 'protector,' the avogador Zaguri, had, says Casanova, 'since the affair of the Marquis Albergati, carried on a most interesting correspondence with me'; and in fact I found a bundle of no less than a hundred and thirty-eight letters from him, dating from 1784 to 1798. Another bundle contains one hundred and seventy-two letters from Count Lamberg. In the Memoirs Casanova says, referring to his visit to Augsburg at the end of 1761:

I used to spend my evenings in a very agreeable manner at the house of Count Max de Lamberg, who resided at the court of the Prince-Bishop with the title of Grand Marshal. What particularly attached me to Count Lamberg was his literary talent. A first-rate scholar, learned to a degree, he has published several much esteemed works. I carried on an exchange of letters with him which ended only with his death four years ago in 1792.

Casanova tells us that, at his second visit to Augsburg in the early part of 1767, he 'supped with Count Lamberg two or three times a week,' during the four months he was there. It is with this year that the letters I have found begin: they end with the year of his death, 1792. In his Memorial d'un Mondain Lamberg refers to Casanova as 'a man known in literature, a man of profound knowledge.' In the first edition of 1774, he laments that 'a man such as M. de S. Galt' should not yet have been taken back into favour by the Venetian government, and in the second edition, 1775, rejoices over Casanova's return to Venice. Then there are letters from Da Ponte, who tells the story of Casanova's curious relations with Mme. d'Urfe, in his Memorie scritte da esso, 1829; from Pittoni, Bono, and others mentioned in different parts of the Memoirs, and from some dozen others who are not mentioned in them. The only letters in the whole collection that have been published are those from the Prince de Ligne and from Count Koenig.


Casanova tells us in his Memoirs that, during his later years at Dux, he had only been able to 'hinder black melancholy from devouring his poor existence, or sending him out of his mind,' by writing ten or twelve hours a day. The copious manuscripts at Dux show us how persistently he was at work on a singular variety of subjects, in addition to the Memoirs, and to the various books which he published during those years. We see him jotting down everything that comes into his head, for his own amusement, and certainly without any thought of publication; engaging in learned controversies, writing treatises on abstruse mathematical problems, composing comedies to be acted before Count Waldstein's neighbours, practising verse-writing in two languages, indeed with more patience than success, writing philosophical dialogues in which God and himself are the speakers, and keeping up an extensive correspondence, both with distinguished men and with delightful women. His mental activity, up to the age of seventy-three, is as prodigious as the activity which he had expended in living a multiform and incalculable life. As in life everything living had interested him, so in his retirement from life every idea makes its separate appeal to him; and he welcomes ideas with the same impartiality with which he had welcomed adventures. Passion has intellectualised itself, and remains not less passionate. He wishes to do everything, to compete with every one; and it is only after having spent seven years in heaping up miscellaneous learning, and exercising his faculties in many directions, that he turns to look back over his own past life, and to live it over again in memory, as he writes down the narrative of what had interested him most in it. 'I write in the hope that my history will never see the broad daylight of publication,' he tells us, scarcely meaning it, we may be sure, even in the moment of hesitancy which may naturally come to him. But if ever a book was written for the pleasure of writing it, it was this one; and an autobiography written for oneself is not likely to be anything but frank.

'Truth is the only God I have ever adored,' he tells us: and we now know how truthful he was in saying so. I have only summarised in this article the most important confirmations of his exact accuracy in facts and dates; the number could be extended indefinitely. In the manuscripts we find innumerable further confirmations; and their chief value as testimony is that they tell us nothing which we should not have already known, if we had merely taken Casanova at his word. But it is not always easy to take people at their own word, when they are writing about themselves; and the world has been very loth to believe in Casanova as he represents himself. It has been specially loth to believe that he is telling the truth when he tells us about his adventures with women. But the letters contained among these manuscripts show us the women of Casanova writing to him with all the fervour and all the fidelity which he attributes to them; and they show him to us in the character of as fervid and faithful a lover. In every fact, every detail, and in the whole mental impression which they convey, these manuscripts bring before us the Casanova of the Memoirs. As I seemed to come upon Casanova at home, it was as if I came upon an old friend, already perfectly known to me, before I had made my pilgrimage to Dux.



[1] See the account of this visit to Holland, and the reference to taking a passport, Memoirs, v. 238.

[2] See Charles Henry, Les Connaissances Mathematiques de Casanova. Rome 1883.

[3] See Memoirs, ix. 272, et seq.



Biography as a fine art can go no further than Walton's Life and Death of Dr. Donne. From the 'good and virtuous parents' of the first line to the 'small quantity of Christian dust' of the last, every word is the touch of a cunning brush painting a picture. The picture lives, and with so vivid and gracious a life that it imposes itself upon us as the portrait of a real man, faithfully copied from the man as he lived. But that is precisely the art of the painter. Walton's picture is so beautiful because everything in it is sacrificed to beauty; because it is a convention, a picture in which life is treated almost as theme for music. And so there remains an opportunity, even after this masterpiece, for a life of Donne which shall make no pretence to harmonise a sometimes discordant existence, or indeed to produce, properly speaking, a piece of art at all; but which shall be faithful to the document, a piece of history. Such a book has now been written by Mr. Gosse, in his Life and Letters of John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's. It is perhaps the most solid and serious contribution which Mr. Gosse has made to English literature, and we may well believe that it will remain the final authority on so interesting and so difficult a subject. For the first time, in the light of this clear analysis, and of these carefully arranged letters, we are able, if not indeed to see Donne as he really was, at all events to form our own opinion about every action of his life. This is one of the merits of Mr. Gosse's book; he has collected his documents, and he has given them to us as they are, guiding us adroitly along the course of the life which they illustrate, but not allowing himself to dogmatise on what must still remain conjectural. And he has given us a series of reproductions of portraits, of the highest importance in the study of one who is not merely a difficult poet, but a very ambiguous human being. They begin with the eager, attractive, somewhat homely youth of eighteen, grasping the hilt of his sword so tightly that his knuckles start out from the thin covering of flesh; passing into the mature Donne as we know him, the lean, humorous, large-browed, courtly thinker, with his large intent eyes, a cloak folded elegantly about his uncovered throat, or the ruff tightening about his carefully trimmed beard; and ending with the ghastly emblem set as a frontispiece to Death's Duel, the dying man wrapped already in his shroud, which gathers into folds above his head, as if tied together like the mouth of a sack, while the sunken cheeks and hollow closed eyelids are mocked by the shapely moustache, brushed upwards from the lips. In the beautiful and fanciful monument in St. Paul's done after the drawing from which this frontispiece was engraved, there is less ghastliness and a more harmonious beauty in the brave attitude of a man who dresses for death as he would dress for Court, wearing the last livery with an almost foppish sense of propriety. Between them these portraits tell much, and Mr. Gosse, in his narrative, tells us everything else that there is to tell, much of it for the first time; and the distinguished and saintly person of Walton's narrative, so simple, so easily explicable, becomes more complex at every moment, as fresh light makes the darkness more and more visible. At the end we seem to have become singularly intimate with a fascinating and puzzling creature, whom each of us may try to understand after his fashion, as we try to understand the real secrets of the character of our friends.

Donne's mind, then, if I may make my own attempt to understand him, was the mind of the dialectician, of the intellectual adventurer; he is a poet almost by accident, or at least for reasons with which art in the abstract has but little to do. He writes verse, first of all, because he has observed keenly, and because it pleases the pride of his intellect to satirise the pretensions of humanity. Then it is the flesh which speaks in his verse, the curiosity of woman, which he has explored in the same spirit of adventure; then passion, making a slave of him for love's sake, and turning at last to the slave's hatred; finally, religion, taken up with the same intellectual interest, the same subtle indifference, and, in its turn, passing also into passionate reality. A few poems are inspired in him by what he has seen in remote countries; some are marriage songs and funeral elegies, written for friendship or for money. But he writes nothing 'out of his own head,' as we say; nothing lightly, or, it would seem, easily; nothing for the song's sake. He speaks, in a letter, of 'descending to print anything in verse'; and it is certain that he was never completely absorbed by his own poetry, or at all careful to measure his achievements against those of others. He took his own poems very seriously, he worked upon them with the whole force of his intellect; but to himself, even before he became a divine, he was something more than a poet. Poetry was but one means of expressing the many-sided activity of his mind and temperament. Prose was another, preaching another; travel and contact with great events and persons scarcely less important to him, in the building up of himself.

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