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Giacomo Casanova

Venetian adventurer and author

1725-1798

A selection from the autobiography,
THE STORY OF MY LIFE

Narrated by John Lescault

Download mp3 file: The Story of My Life

This file is 4.5 MB; running time is 19 minutes
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Supper was served as usual; it was delicate enough, but the thought of approaching bliss had taken away our appetites, and we ate only for form’s sake. At ten o’clock we were at liberty, and could indulge our passion without any fear of being disturbed.

But this delightful woman, who had so plainly told me a few hours before that when I was cured we would live together as man and wife, was now ashamed to undress before me. She could not make up her mind, and told me so, laughing at herself. From this circumstance I gathered that the decency of the body is more tenacious in its grasp than the purity of the soul.

“But, sweetheart,” said I, “you dressed and undressed for a fortnight before your betrothed.”

“Yes, but he was always lying in his hammock with his back towards me at night, and in the morning he never turned round and wished me good day till he knew I was dressed.”

“What, he never turned?”

“I never let him take any liberties.”

“Such virtue is incomprehensible to me.”

“You see the Count was to be my husband, and I was to be his wife, and in such cases a young woman is careful. Besides, I believe that if one will but refrain from taking the first step, continence is easy. Then the Count was naturally timid, and would never have taken any liberties without my encouraging him, which I took care not to do. For this once, you will allow me to sleep with you in my clothes.”

“Certainly, if you wish me to be dressed also, otherwise it would be unbearable for both of us.”

“You are very cruel.”

“But, dearest, are you not ashamed of these foolish scruples?”

“Well, well, put out the candles, and in a minute I will be beside you.”

“Very good; though the want of light will deprive me of a great pleasure. Quick, out with them!”

My charming Portuguese did not reflect that the moon shone full into the room, and that the muslin curtains would not prevent my seeing her exquisite figure, which shewed to greater advantage in the position she happened to take. If Pauline had been a coquette I should have considered her scruples as mere artifice calculated to increase my ardour; but she had no need to use such stratagems. At last she was within my arms, and we clasped each other closely and in silence that was only broken by the murmur of our kisses. Soon our union became closer, and her sighs and the ardour of her surrender shewed me that her passion was more in need of relief than mine. I was sufficiently master of myself to remember that I must have a care for her honour, greatly to her astonishment, for she confessed she had never thought of such a thing, and had given herself up freely, resolved to brave the consequences which she believed to be inevitable. I explained the mystery and made her happy.

Till this moment love alone had swayed me, but now that the bloody sacrifice was over I felt full of respect and gratitude. I told her effusively that I knew how great was my happiness, and that I was ready to sacrifice my life to her to prove my love.

The thought that our embraces would have no dangerous result had put Pauline at her ease, and she have reins to her ardent temperament, while I did valiant service, till at last we were exhausted and the last sacrifice was not entirely consummated. We abandoned ourselves to a profound and peaceful sleep. I was the first to awake; the sun was shining in through the window, and I gazed on Pauline. As I looked at this woman, the first beauty in Portugal, the only child of an illustrious family, who had given herself to me all for love, and whom I should possess for so short a time, I could not restrain a profound sigh.

Pauline awoke, and her gaze, as bright as the rising sun in springtime, fixed itself on me truthfully and lovingly.

“What are you thinking of, dearest?”

“I am trying to convince myself that my happiness is not a dream, and if it be real I want it to last for ever. I am the happy mortal to whom you have given up your great treasure, of which I am unworthy, though I love you tenderly.”

“Sweetheart, you are worthy of all my devotion and affection, if you have not ceased to respect me.”

“Can you doubt it, Pauline?”

“No, dearest, I think you love me, and that I shall never repent having trusted in you.”

The sweet sacrifice was offered again, and Pauline rose and laughed to find that she was no longer ashamed of her nakedness before me. Then, passing from jest to earnest, she said,—

“If the loss of shame is the result of knowledge, how was it that our first parents were not ashamed till they had acquired knowledge?”

“I don’t know, dearest, but tell me, did you ever ask your learned Italian master that same question?”

“Yes, I did.”

“What did he say?”

“That their shame arose not from their enjoyment, but from disobedience; and that in covering the parts which had seduced them, they discovered, as it were, the sin they had committed. Whatever may be said on the subject, I shall always think that Adam was much more to blame than Eve.”

“How is that?”

“Because Adam had received the prohibition from God, while Eve had only received it from Adam.”

“I thought that both of them received the prohibition directly from God.”

“You have not read Genesis, then.”

“You are laughing at me.”

“Then you have read it carelessly, because it is distinctly stated that God made Eve after he had forbidden Adam to eat of the fruit.”

“I wonder that point has not been remarked by our commentators; it seems a very important one to me.”

“They are a pack of knaves, all sworn enemies of women.”

“No, no, they give proofs of quite another feeling only too often.”

“We won’t say anything more about it. My teacher was an honest man.”

“Was he a Jesuit?”

“Yes, but of the short robe.”

“What do you mean?”

“We will discuss the question another time.”

“Very good; I should like to have it proved to me that a man can be a Jesuit and honest at the same time.”

“There are exceptions to all rules.”

My Pauline was a profound thinker, and strongly attached to her religion. I should never have discovered that she possessed this merit if I had not slept with her. I have known several women of the same stamp; if you wish to know the elevation of their souls, you must begin by damning them. When this is done, one enjoys their confidence, for they have no secrets for the happy victor. This is the reason why the charming though feeble sex loves the brave and despises the cowardly. Sometimes they appear to love cowards, but always for their physical beauty. Women amuse themselves with such fellows, but are the first to laugh if they get caned.

After the most delicious night I had ever passed, I resolved not to leave my house till Pauline had to return to Portugal. She did not leave me for a moment, save to hear mass on Sundays. I shut my door to everybody.

Pauline went to her room after our amorous conflict, and I did not see her again till dinner-time; but when I did see her I thought her an angel. Her face had caught the hues of the lily and the rose, and had an air of happiness I could not help admiring.

As we both wanted to have our portraits taken, I asked Martinelli to send me the best miniature-painter in London. I had my miniature mounted in a ring and gave it to Pauline; and this was the only present she would accept from me, who would have thought myself all the richer if she had accepted all I had.

We spent three weeks in a happy dream which no pen can describe. I was quite well again, and we tasted all the sweets of love together. All day and all night we were together, our desires were satisfied only to be renewed; we enjoyed the extremest bliss. In a word, it is difficult to form a just idea of the state of two individuals who enjoy all the range of physical and mental pleasures together, whose life is for the present without thought of the future; whose joys are mutual and continual; such, nevertheless, was the position of myself and my divine Pauline.

Every day I discovered in her some fresh perfection which made me love her more; her nature was inexhaustible in its treasures, for her mental qualities even surpassed her physical beauties, and an excellent education had wonderfully increased the powers of her intelligence. With all the beauty and grace of a woman she had that exalted character which is the lot of the best of men. She began to flatter herself that the fatal letter would never come, and the count was little more than a dream of the past. Sometimes she would say that she could not understand how a pretty face could exercise such a strong influence over us in spite of our reason.

“I have found out too late,” she added, “that chance alone can make a marriage, contracted for such physical reasons, happy.”

The 1st of August was a fatal day for both of us. Pauline received a letter from Lisbon, which summoned her home without delay, and I had a letter from Paris announcing the death of Madame d’Urfe. Madame du Rumain told me that on the evidence of her maid the doctors had pronounced her death to be due to an overdose of the liquid she called “The Panacea.” She added that a will had been found which savoured of a lunatic asylum, for she had left all her wealth to the son or daughter that should be born of her, declaring that she was with child. I was to be the governor of the infant; this vexed me exceedingly, as I knew I should be the laughing-stock of Paris for a week at least. Her daughter, the Comtesse de Chatelet, had taken possession of all her real estate and of her pocket-book, which contained, to my surprise, four hundred thousand francs. It was a great shock for me, but the contents of the two letters Pauline had received was a greater blow. One was from her aunt, and the other from Oeiras, who begged her to return to Lisbon as soon as possible, and assured her that she should be put in possession of her property on her arrival, and would be at liberty to marry the Count in the sight of all the world. He sent her a cheque for twenty million reis. I was not aware of the small value of the coin, and was in an ecstasy; but Pauline laughed, and said it only came to two thousand pounds, which was a sufficient sum, however, to allow her to travel in the style of a duchess. The minister wanted her to come by sea, and all she had to do was to communicate with the Portuguese ambassador, who had orders to give her a passage on a Portuguese frigate which happened to be riding in an English port. Pauline would not hear of the voyage, or of applying to the ambassador, for she did not want anyone to think that she had been obliged to return. She was angry with the minister for having sent her a cheque, thinking that he must be aware that she had been in need, but I soon brought her to see reason on this point, telling her that it was a very thoughtful and delicate proceeding on the part of Oeiras, and that he had merely lent-her the money, and not given it to her.

Pauline was rich, and she was a high-minded woman. Her generosity may be estimated by her giving me her ring when she was in want, and she certainly never counted on my purse, though she may have felt sure that I would not abandon her. I am sure she believed me to be very rich, and my conduct was certainly calculated to favour that idea.

The day and even the night passed sadly. The next day Pauline addressed me as follows:

“We must part, dear friend, and try to forget one another, for my honour obliges me to become the wife of the count as soon as I arrive in Lisbon. The first fancy of my heart, which you have almost effaced, will regain all its old force when I see you no longer, and I am sure I shall love my husband, for he is a goodhearted, honest, and pleasant young man; that much I know from the few days we lived together.

“Now I have a favour to ask of you, which I am sure you will grant. Promise me never to come to Lisbon without my permission. I hope you will not seek to know my reasons; you would not, I am sure, come to trouble my peace, for if I sinned I should be unhappy, and you would not desire that for me. I have dreamed we have lived together as man and wife, and now we are parted I shall fancy myself a widow about to undertake another marriage.”

I burst into tears, and pressing her to my breast promised I would do as she wished.

Pauline wrote to her aunt and Oeiras that she would be in Lisbon in October, and that they should have further news of her when she reached Spain. She had plenty of money, and bought a carriage and engaged a maid, and these arrangements took up her time during the last week she spent with me. I made her promise me to let Clairmont accompany her as far as Madrid. She was to send me back my faithful servant when she reached the Spanish capital, but fate had decreed that I should see his face no more.

The last few days were spent partly in sorrow and partly in delight. We looked at each other without speaking, and spoke without knowing what we said. We forgot to eat, and went to bed hoping that love and anguish would keep us awake, but our exhausted bodies fell into a heavy sleep, and when we awoke we could only sigh and kiss again.

Pauline allowed me to escort her as far as Calais, and we started on the 10th of August, only stopping at Dover to embark the carriage on the packet, and four hours afterwards we disembarked at Calais, and Pauline, considering her widowhood had begun, begged me to sleep in another room. She started on the 12th of August, preceded by my poor Clairmont, and resolved only to travel by daytime.

The analogy between my parting with Pauline and my parting with Henriette fifteen years before, was exceedingly striking; the two women were of very similar character, and both were equally beautiful, though their beauty was of a different kind. Thus I fell as madly in love with the second as with the first, both being equally intelligent. The fact that one had more talent and less prejudices than the other must have been an effect of their different educations. Pauline had the fine pride of her nation, her mind was a serious cast, and her religion was more an affair of the heart than the understanding. She was also a far more ardent mistress than Henriette. I was successful with both of them because I was rich; if I had been a poor man I should never have known either of them. I have half forgotten them, as everything is forgotten in time, but when I recall them to my memory I find that Henriette made the profounder impression on me, no doubt because I was twenty-five when I knew her, while I was thirty-seven in London.

The older I get the more I feel the destructive effects of old age; and I regret bitterly that I could not discover the secret of remaining young and happy for ever. Vain regrets! we must finish as we began, helpless and devoid of sense.

I went back to England the same day, and had a troublesome passage. Nevertheless, I did not rest at Dover; and as soon as I got to London I shut myself up with a truly English attack of the spleen, while I thought of Pauline and strove to forget her. Jarbe put me to bed, and in the morning, when he came into my room, he made me shudder with a speech at which I laughed afterwards.

“Sir,” said he, “the old woman wants to know whether she is to put up the notice again.”

“The old hag! Does she want me to choke her?”

“Good heavens-no, sir! She is very fond of you, seeing you seemed so sad, she thought . . .”

“Go and tell her never to think such things again, and as for you . . .”

“I will do as you wish, sir.”

“Then leave me.”

More information about Giacomo Casanova from Wikipedia




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