Giacomo Casanova

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The reader of these Memoirs will discover that I never had any fixed aim before my eyes, and that my system, if it can be called a system, has been to glide away unconcernedly on the stream of life, trusting to the wind wherever it led.

Giacomo Casanova (2 April 17254 June 1798) was an Italian adventurer and author; also known as Jacques Casanova de Seingalt.

Quotes[edit]

I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.
Reason is a particle of the Creator's divinity. When we use it with a spirit of humility and justice we are certain to please the Giver of that precious gift.
  • I saw that everything famous and beautiful in the world, if we judge by the descriptions and drawings of writers and artists, always loses when we go to see it and examine it closely.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, vol. 11, chap. 4, p. 112
  • Great God, and you witnesses of my death, I have lived as a philosopher, and I die as a Christian.
    • Last words, according to his friend the Prince de Ligne (Mémoires et mélanges historiques et littéraires, book IV, p. 42, translated for instance in: The Freeman, p. 224)

Memoirs of J. Casanova de Seingalt (1894)[edit]

My success and my misfortunes, the bright and the dark days I have gone through, everything has proved to me that in this world, either physical or moral, good comes out of evil just as well as evil comes out of good.
I have often met with happiness after some imprudent step which ought to have brought ruin upon me, and although passing a vote of censure upon myself I would thank God for his mercy.
This work exists in two French editions and translations: The "Laforgue edition" (1826-1838), heavily rewritten and censored: translated as Memoirs of J. Casanova de Seingalt (trans. Machen 1894) and The "Brockhaus-Plon edition" (1960-1962), the original text translated as History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), and as the digest The Story of My Life (trans. Sartarelli/Hawkes 2001), 500pg of excerpts from the 4000pg text. These quotes are primarily from the Full text online as translated by Arthur Machen in 1894, with additional material discovered by Arthur Symons. This was translated from the heavily rewritten and censored edition established by Jean Laforgue, the only version available until the original French text was published in 1960.
You will be amused when you see that I have more than once deceived without the slightest qualm of conscience, both knaves and fools.
  • I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.
  • I believe in the existence of an immaterial God, the Author and Master of all beings and all things, and I feel that I never had any doubt of His existence, from the fact that I have always relied upon His providence, prayed to Him in my distress, and that He has always granted my prayers. Despair brings death, but prayer does away with despair; and when a man has prayed he feels himself supported by new confidence and endowed with power to act. As to the means employed by the Sovereign Master of human beings to avert impending dangers from those who beseech His assistance, I confess that the knowledge of them is above the intelligence of man, who can but wonder and adore.
  • Man is free, but his freedom ceases when he has no faith in it; and the greater power he ascribes to faith, the more he deprives himself of that power which God has given to him when He endowed him with the gift of reason. Reason is a particle of the Creator's divinity. When we use it with a spirit of humility and justice we are certain to please the Giver of that precious gift.
  • Man is free; yet we must not suppose that he is at liberty to do everything he pleases, for he becomes a slave the moment he allows his actions to be ruled by passion. The man who has sufficient power over himself to wait until his nature has recovered its even balance is the truly wise man, but such beings are seldom met with.
Should anyone bring against me an accusation of sensuality he would be wrong, for all the fierceness of my senses never caused me to neglect any of my duties.
  • The reader of these Memoirs will discover that I never had any fixed aim before my eyes, and that my system, if it can be called a system, has been to glide away unconcernedly on the stream of life, trusting to the wind wherever it led. How many changes arise from such an independent mode of life!
  • My success and my misfortunes, the bright and the dark days I have gone through, everything has proved to me that in this world, either physical or moral, good comes out of evil just as well as evil comes out of good. My errors will point to thinking men the various roads, and will teach them the great art of treading on the brink of the precipice without falling into it. It is only necessary to have courage, for strength without self-confidence is useless. I have often met with happiness after some imprudent step which ought to have brought ruin upon me, and although passing a vote of censure upon myself I would thank God for his mercy. But, by way of compensation, dire misfortune has befallen me in consequence of actions prompted by the most cautious wisdom. This would humble me; yet conscious that I had acted rightly I would easily derive comfort from that conviction.
  • In spite of a good foundation of sound morals, the natural offspring of the Divine principles which had been early rooted in my heart, I have been throughout my life the victim of my senses; I have found delight in losing the right path, I have constantly lived in the midst of error, with no consolation but the consciousness of my being mistaken. Therefore, dear reader, I trust that, far from attaching to my history the character of impudent boasting, you will find in my Memoirs only the characteristic proper to a general confession, and that my narratory style will be the manner neither of a repenting sinner, nor of a man ashamed to acknowledge his frolics. They are the follies inherent to youth; I make sport of them, and, if you are kind, you will not yourself refuse them a good-natured smile. You will be amused when you see that I have more than once deceived without the slightest qualm of conscience, both knaves and fools. As to the deceit perpetrated upon women, let it pass, for, when love is in the way, men and women as a general rule dupe each other. But on the score of fools it is a very different matter. I always feel the greatest bliss when I recollect those I have caught in my snares, for they generally are insolent, and so self-conceited that they challenge wit. We avenge intellect when we dupe a fool, and it is a victory not to be despised for a fool is covered with steel and it is often very hard to find his vulnerable part. In fact, to gull a fool seems to me an exploit worthy of a witty man. I have felt in my very blood, ever since I was born, a most unconquerable hatred towards the whole tribe of fools, and it arises from the fact that I feel myself a blockhead whenever I am in their company. I am very far from placing them in the same class with those men whom we call stupid, for the latter are stupid only from deficient education, and I rather like them. I have met with some of them — very honest fellows, who, with all their stupidity, had a kind of intelligence and an upright good sense, which cannot be the characteristics of fools. They are like eyes veiled with the cataract, which, if the disease could be removed, would be very beautiful.
  • I have written the history of my life, and I have a perfect right to do so; but am I wise in throwing it before a public of which I know nothing but evil? No, I am aware it is sheer folly, but I want to be busy, I want to laugh, and why should I deny myself this gratification?
  • An ancient author tells us somewhere, with the tone of a pedagogue, if you have not done anything worthy of being recorded, at least write something worthy of being read. It is a precept as beautiful as a diamond of the first water cut in England, but it cannot be applied to me, because I have not written either a novel, or the life of an illustrious character. Worthy or not, my life is my subject, and my subject is my life. I have lived without dreaming that I should ever take a fancy to write the history of my life, and, for that very reason, my Memoirs may claim from the reader an interest and a sympathy which they would not have obtained, had I always entertained the design to write them in my old age, and, still more, to publish them.
  • The chief business of my life has always been to indulge my senses; I never knew anything of greater importance. I felt myself born for the fair sex, I have ever loved it dearly, and I have been loved by it as often and as much as I could.
  • The man who forgets does not forgive, he only loses the remembrance of the harm inflicted on him; forgiveness is the offspring of a feeling of heroism, of a noble heart, of a generous mind, whilst forgetfulness is only the result of a weak memory, or of an easy carelessness, and still oftener of a natural desire for calm and quietness. Hatred, in the course of time, kills the unhappy wretch who delights in nursing it in his bosom.
  • Should anyone bring against me an accusation of sensuality he would be wrong, for all the fierceness of my senses never caused me to neglect any of my duties.
  • One of the advantages of a great sorrow is that nothing else seems painful.
  • Nothing is so catching as the plague; now, fanaticism, no matter of what nature, is only the plague of the human mind.
  • Economy in pleasure is not to my taste.
  • Learn from me that a wise man who has heard a criminal accusation related with so many absurd particulars ceases to be wise when he makes himself the echo of what he has heard, for if the accusation should turn out to be a calumny, he would himself become the accomplice of the slanderer.

Referenced[edit]

This section needs better organization and integration onto the page
  • As for myself, I always willingly acknowledge my own self as the principal cause of every good and of every evil which may befall me; therefore I have always found myself capable of being my own pupil, and ready to love my teacher.
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 1, Preface
  • I have always loved truth so passionately that I have often resorted to lying as a way of first introducing it into minds which were ignorant of its charms.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, Preface, p. 34
  • I have always had such sincere love for truth, that I have often begun by telling stories for the purpose of getting truth to enter the heads of those who could not appreciate its charms.
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 1, Preface
  • [Malipiero's advice to Casanova.] If you wish your audience to cry, you must shed tears yourself, but if you wish to make them laugh you must contrive to look as serious as a judge.
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 1 (Venetian Years), chap. 14
  • Man is free; but not unless he believes he is[.]
    • The Story of My Life (trans. Sartarelli/Hawkes 2001), Preface, p. 1
  • Man is a free agent; but he is not free if he does not believe it[.]
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, Preface, p. 26
  • Man is free, but his freedom ceases when he has no faith in it[.]
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 1, Preface
  • [Marriage] is the tomb of love.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, vol. 9, chap. 8, p. 208 ("She will not believe it, for she knows too well that marriage is a sacrament which I detest." "Why?" "Because it is the tomb of love.")
  • [Matrimony] is the grave of love.
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 5 (In London and Moscow), chap. 8 (“She won’t believe it, as she knows my horror for the sacrament of matrimony.” “How is that?” “I hate it because it is the grave of love.”)
  • [T]hey who do not love [life] do not deserve it.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, Preface, p. 35
  • [T]hose who do not love [life] are unworthy of it.
    • The Story of My Life (trans. Sartarelli/Hawkes 2001), Preface, p. 10
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 1, Preface (I hate death; for, happy or miserable, life is the only blessing which man possesses, and those who do not love it are unworthy of it.)
  • [W]e avenge intelligence when we deceive a fool, and the victory is worth the trouble[.]
    • The Story of My Life (trans. Sartarelli/Hawkes 2001), Preface, p. 3
  • We avenge intellect when we dupe a fool, and it is a victory not to be despised[.]
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 1, Preface (We avenge intellect when we dupe a fool, and it is a victory not to be despised [...])
  • Whether happy or unhappy, life is the only treasure man possesses[.]
    • The Story of My Life (trans. Sartarelli/Hawkes 2001), Preface, p. 10
  • Happy or unhappy, life is the only treasure which man possesses[.]
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, Preface, p. 35
  • [H]appy or miserable, life is the only blessing which man possesses[.]
    • Memoirs (trans. Machen 1894), book 1, Preface (I hate death; for, happy or miserable, life is the only blessing which man possesses, and those who do not love it are unworthy of it.)
  • When a sonnet is mediocre it is bad, for it should be sublime.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 7, chapter 7, p. 143
  • This extremely interesting girl, after giving me a single glance from her beautiful eyes, stubbornly refused to look at me again. My vanity at once made me think that it was only so that I would be at full liberty to study her impeccable beauty. It was on this girl that I instantly set my sights, as if all Europe were only a seraglio provided for my pleasures.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 7, chapter 2, p. 19
  • Even if astrology had been a real science, I knew nothing about it. We find countless events in real history which would never have occurred if they had not been predicted. This is because we are the authors of our so-called destiny, and all the 'antecedent necessities' of the Stoics are chimerical; the argument which proves the power of destiny seems strong only because it is sophistical. Cicero laughed at it. Someone whom he had invited to dinner, who had promised to go, and who had not appeared, wrote to him that since he had not gone it was evident that he had not been iturus ('going to go'). Cicero answers him: Veni ergo cras, et veni etiamsi venturus non sis ('Then come tomorrow, and come even if you are not going to come'). At this date, when I am conscious that I rely entirely on my common sense, I owe this explanation to my reader, despite the axiom, Fata viam inveniunt ('Destiny finds the way'). If the fatalists are obliged by their own philosophy to consider the concatenation of all events necessary, a parte ante ('a priori'), what remains of man's moral freedom is nothing; and in that case he can neither earn merit nor incur guilt. I cannot in conscience admit that I am a machine.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 7, chapter 8, p. 172
  • If I had married a woman intelligent enough to guide me, to rule me without my feeling that I was ruled, I should have taken good care of my money, I should have had children, and I should not be, as now I am, alone in the world and possessing nothing.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 8, chapter 4, p. 94
  • Since, though I do not repent my amorous exploits, I am far from wanting my example to contribute to the corruption of the fair sex, which deserves our homage for so many reasons, I hope that my observations will foster prudence in fathers and mothers and thus at least deserve their esteem.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 8, chapter 4, p. 110
  • Things have come to such a point in good society that, if you want to be polite, you can no longer ask a man from what country he comes, for if he is a Norman or a Calabrian he has, when he tells you so, to beg your pardon, or, if he is from the Pays de Vaud, to say he is Swiss. Nor will you ask a nobleman what his arms are, for if he does not know the jargon of heraldry you will embarrass him. you must not compliment a gentleman on his fine hair, for if it is a wig, he may think you are mocking him, nor praise a man or a woman on their fine teeth, for they may be false.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 8, chapter 9, p. 243
  • I loved, I was loved, my health was good, I had a great deal of money, and I spent it, I was happy and I confessed it to myself.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 8, chapter 10, p. 274
  • The spirit of rebellion is present in every great city, and the great task of wise government is to keep it dormant, for if it wakes it is a torrent which no dam can hold back.
    • History of My Life (trans. Trask 1967), 1997 reprint, v. 9, chapter 7, p. 174

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