Alessandro Cagliostro

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Giuseppe Balsamo Cagliostro. Line engraving by C. Guérin, 1781
Giuseppe Balsamo, 'Conte di Cagliostro', by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1786, marble - National Gallery of Art, Washington - DSC09994

Count Alessandro di Cagliostro (2 June 1743 – 26 August 1795) was the alias of occultist & alchemist Giuseppe Balsamo. He became a glamorous figure associated with the royal courts of Europe where he pursued various occult arts, including psychic healing, and alchemy.

Quotes[edit]

Balsamo the Magician (or The Memoirs of a Physician) by Alex. Dumas (1891)[edit]

(An historical romance of the Great French Revolution), (Full text)

  • I cannot speak. Some things must not be told to princes... My wizard is worn out... Nothing is to follow but the gold turning into dry leaves, as in the Arabian tale.
  • Your highness shall know your fate, since your blindness drives you to it... Let her hear, for since she wanted to know, know she shall!
  • Do not try to irritate me. I am but the instrument of a higher Power, used to enlighten you. Insult fate and it will revenge itself, well knowing how. I merely interpret its moves. Do not fling at me the wrath which will recoil on yourself, for you can not visit on me the woes of which I am the sinister herald.
  • Is it fault of mine that truth is so awful as to produce such effects? Did I seek out the princess, and beg to be presented to her? No, I was avoiding her, when they almost dragged me before her, and she ordered me to answer her interrogation.
  • She saw it in the gap which I tore in the veil over the future. That future which has appeared so awful to your royal highness that you have fled into a cloister to wrestle against it at the altar with tears and prayers.
  • Is it fault of mine, I say, if this future, revealed to you as a holy woman, should be shown to me as a precursor; and if the dauphiness, alarmed at the fate personally threatening her, swooned when it loomed upon her? For her reign is doomed as the most fatal and unfortunate of the entire monarchy.
  • Perchance your prayers will earn your grace, but then you will see nothing of what comes to pass, as you will rest in the arms of the angels. Pray, lady; continue to pray!
  • Alas, is it your fault, or that of the Creator? Why were you made the angel with the infallible gaze, by whose aid I should make the universe submit? Why is it that you are the one to read a soul through its bodily envelope as one may read a book through a glass! Because you are an angel of purity, Lorenza, and nothing throws a shadow upon your soul. In your radiant and immaculate bosom the divine spark may be enshrined, a place without sullying where it may fitly nestle. You are a seer because you are blameless, Lorenza.
  • What are you saying—and you a Christian woman? Is your creed which bids you return good for evil but a hypocrisy, that you pretend to follow it, and you boast of revenge—evil for good?
  • Heaven forgets, or tolerates—waiting for you to reform
  • Mark this, my child, that I have tried to have this place fit for a queen, with nothing lacking for your comfort. So calm your folly. Live here as you would do in your convent cell.
  • The kinder, more patient and attentive you are, the more of your bars I will remove, so that in some months—who knows how soon?—you will become perhaps more free than I am, in the sense that you will not want to curtail my liberty.
  • Once for all I beg you to lay aside this pack of puerile beliefs brought from Rome, and all the rubbish of absurd superstitions which you have carted about with you since you ran away from the nunnery. Indeed, a nunnery is much to be deplored.
  • There is little loss. I let the boiling go on the hundredth of a minute too long. Trifles are enormous in the hermetical art, but anyway, here are two crucibles empty and two ingots cast, and they amount to a hundred weight of fine gold.
  • Your highness is forgetting that I see as clearly in your heart what is going on now as I saw your carriage coming from the Carmelite convent, traversing the town and stopping under the trees fifty paces off from my house.
  • You are right not to meet my glance, my lord, for then I see into your heart too clearly. It is a mirror which retains the image which it has reflected.
  • The people will rise, and at last royalty will have arrayed against it philosophy, which is intelligence, Parliament, which is the middle class, and the mob, which is the people; in other words, the lever with which Archimedes can raise the world.
  • Balsamo walked over to the elevator, and with a stamp of the foot, caused it to carry him down to the other floor. Mute, crushed by the genius of this wizard, he was forced to believe in impossible things by his doing them.

Cagliostro’s Letter to the English People (1787)[edit]

Theosophical Path Magazine, Volume 42, (July 1932) (Full text)

  • I arrived at Dover... Well-intentioned people had warned the customs authorities of my arrival and of the nature of the effects I brought with me; so my trunks were emptied...and each thing they contained was unfolded and scrutinized with the most minute exactitude.
  • Finding this quiet appropriation of my property a little too much, I took the liberty to ask for their return; they gravely replied that my diamond and other jewels were confiscated to the profit of Great Britain I returned sadly to my inn... I resigned myself, however, and slept the most profound sleep. I do not know what passed during the night; but the next morning, when I returned to the Custom House, I found the greatest change in manners and faces. The customs authorities spoke to me in the most respectful tone. They made a million excuses and gave me back my jewel box...
  • Now, my enemies think I am crushed. They have said to one another ‘let us trample under foot this man who knows us too well’; but they do not know that in spite of their efforts I shall rise triumphant, when the time of trial is over. They rejoice in the wounds they have inflicted upon me; but these foolish people in their mad transports do not see hovering over them the cloud from which the lightning will dart.
  • Oh that the truly terrible example I have just put before their eyes, provoking in their hearts a salutary repentance, might save me the grief of having to lament their fate! Let them recognize their errors! Let them make one simple step toward justice, and my lips will open only to bless them.
  • I do not know whether my enemies will reply to me, or adopt the role of silence. Whatever they may do I declare to them that this letter will be my only reply to all their calumnies, past, present or future; and I give my word of honor to the public that whatsoever they may say or do, I shall not write a single line more in my justification. (Postscriptum)

Cagliostro: the Splendour And Misery of a Master of Magic by W.R.H. Trowbridge, (William Rutherford Hayes), (August 1910) [edit]

Full text

  • I amuse myself, not by making people believe what I wish, but by letting them believe what they wish. These fools of Parisians declare that I am five hundred, and I confirm them in the idea since it pleases them.
  • I quitted the Bastille, about half-past eleven in the evening. The night was dark, the quarter in which I resided but little frequented. What was my surprise, then, to hear myself acclaimed by eight or ten thousand persons. My door was forced open; the courtyard, the staircase, the rooms were crowded with people. I was carried straight to the arms of my wife.
  • A torrent of tears streamed from my eyes, and I was able at last, without dying, to press to my heart...
  • Oh, you privileged beings to whom heaven has made the rare and fatal gift of an ardent soul and a sensitive heart, you who have experienced the delights of a first love, you alone will understand me, you alone will appreciate what after ten months of torture the first moment of bliss is like!

Quotes about[edit]

  • What is singular about Cagliostro, is that in spite of possessing the characteristics that one associates with a charlatan, he never behaved as such all the time he was at Strasburg or at Paris. On the contrary, he never took a sou from a person, lived honourably, always paid with the greatest exactitude what he owed, and was very charitable.

Was Cagliostro a Charlatan? by Helena P. Blavatsky[edit]

Lucifer, Vol. V, No. 29, January 1890, (Full text), pp. 389-95

  • The mention of Cagliostro’s name produces a twofold effect. With the one party, a whole sequence of marvelous events emerges from the shadowy past; with others the modern progeny of a too realistic age, the name of Alexander, Count Cagliostro, provokes wonder, if not contempt.
  • People are unable to understand that this “enchanter and magician” (read “Charlatan”) could ever legitimately produce such an impression as he did on his contemporaries... that reputation which made a believer in him, a brother Mason, say, that (like Prince Bismarck and some Theosophists) “Cagliostro might well be said to be the best abused and most hated man in Europe.”
  • Schiller and Goethe were among his great admirers, and remained so to their deaths. Goethe while travelling in Sicily devoted much labour and time to collecting information about “Giuseppe Balsamo” in his supposed native land; and it was from these copious notes that the author of Faust wrote his play “The Great Kophta.”
  • Why this wonderful man is receiving so little honour in England, is due to Carlyle. The most fearlessly truthful historian of his age he, who abominated falsehood under whatever appearance, has stamped with the imprimatur of his honest and famous name, and thus sanctified the most iniquitous of historical injustices ever perpetrated by prejudice and bigotry.
  • Asks Bottini, 'Why, if he really possessed the powers he claimed, has he not indeed vanished from his jailors, and thus escaped the degrading punishment altogether?' We have heard of another prisoner, greater in every respect than Cagliostro ever claimed to be. Of that prisoner too, it was said in mocking tones, “He saved others; himself he cannot save . . . let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe...

Thomas Carlyle[edit]

  • As indeed had been obscurely foreshadowed by Cagliostro prophetic Quack of Quacks, when he, four years ago, quitted the grim durance;—to fall into a grimmer, of the Roman Inquisition, and not quit it.
  • On the whole, therefore, has it not been fulfilled what was prophesied, ex-postfacto indeed, by the Archquack Cagliostro, or another? He, as he looked in rapt vision and amazement into these things, thus spake: “Ha! What is this? Angels, Uriel, Anachiel, and the other Five; Pentagon of Rejuvenescence; Power that destroyed Original Sin; Earth, Heaven, and thou Outer Limbo, which men name Hell! Does the EMPIRE Of IMPOSTURE waver? Burst there, in starry sheen updarting, Light-rays from out its dark foundations; as it rocks and heaves, not in travail-throes, but in death-throes? Yea, Light-rays, piercing, clear, that salute the Heavens,—lo, they kindle it; their starry clearness becomes as red Hellfire!..." This Prophecy, we say, has it not been fulfilled, is it not fulfilling?
  • Accordingly, what Century, since the end of the Roman world, which also was a time of skepticism, simulacra and universal decadence, so abounds with Quacks as that Eighteenth? Consider them, with their tumid sentimental vaporing about virtue, benevolence,—the wretched Quack-squadron, Cagliostro at the head of them!

Balsamo the Magician, by Alex. Dumas (1891)[edit]

Chapter 32, The Nun's Husband (Full text)

  • He was a man about thirty, taller than the average, but so wonderfully well built that the utmost strength and skill seemed to circulate in his supple and nervy limbs.
  • Seldom did he speak of love, and I remember me of no caresses save a kiss night and morning
  • I am not myself when he is by, but his; whatever he wills, I must do; one look fascinates me and subdues me.
  • I am ignorant what he is. I only know that no king inspires more respect—no idol commands more adoration—than he from those to whom he deigns to reveal himself.
  • His countenance was a notable mixture of power and intelligence, with all the play of Southern races; his glance, able to display any emotion, seemed to pierce any one on whom it fell with beams that sounded the very soul. His cheeks had been browned by a sun hotter than that of France. His mouth was large but finely shaped, and parted to reveal magnificent teeth, all the whiter from his dark complexion. His hand was small but muscular; his foot long but fine.
  • He knows everything and divines what he knew not. He is the contemporary of all time. He has lived through all ages. He speaks—the Lord forgive me! and forgive him for such blasphemy! not only of Alexander the Great, Cæsar and Charlemagne, as though he had known them, albeit I believe they were dead ever so long ago, but also of the high priest Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate and Our Lord Himself, whose martyrdom he claims to have witnessed.
  • He is a dangerous man, terrible too, before whom everything bends, snaps and crumbles away. When he is taken to be defenseless he is armed at all points; when believed alone, he stamps his foot and an army springs up; or at a beck of the finger—smiling the while.

Cagliostro and His Egyption Rite of Freemasonry, by Henry Ridgely Evans, (1919)[edit]

(Full text)

After a long imprisonment and many examinations by the inquisitors of the Holy Office, Cagliostro was finally condemned to death as a heretic, sorcerer and FreeMason... but Pope Pius VI commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.
  • In his magical seances, Cagliostro made use of a young boy (pupille) or young girl (colombe) in the state of virgin innocence, to whom power was given over the seven spirits that surround the throne of the divinity and preside over the seven planets.
  • He lavished money right and left, cured the poor without pay, and treated the great with arrogance. The Cardinal de Rohan invited the sorcerer and his wife to live at the episcopal palace.
  • On August 22, 1785, Cagliostro was arrested under a lettre de cachet and cast into the Bastille, charged with complicity in the affair of the Diamond Necklace, an intrigue that involved in its toils a queen, a cardinal, a courtesan and a conjurer.
  • He appeared in court proud and triumphant in his coat of green silk embroidered with gold. "Who are you, and whence do you come?" asked the attorney for the Crown. "I am an illustrious traveler," he answered bombastically. There was great laughter in court, in which the judges joined.
  • The day after his acquittal he was banished from France by order of the king. At St. Denis his carriage was driven between two dense and silent lines of sympathizers; and, as his vessel cleared the port of Boulogne, 5,000 persons knelt down on the shore to receive his blessing.
  • He taught that the Philosopher's Stone was no fable, and that belief many before and since his time have shared...
  • Egyptian Masonry he asserted to have been instituted by Enoch and Elijah, who taught its divine mysteries, and he reintroduced adoptive or androgynous Masonry...
  • All religions were tolerated under this system: a belief in God was the sole qualification...
  • Cagliostro is supposed by some writers to have been an agent of the Illuminati, a secret order pledged to overturn the thrones of Europe and establish democracy... hence this trampling upon the lilies alluded to the stamping out of the French monarchy by the Illuminati, which was an order grafted on Freemasonry.
  • That he believed in his mission to enlighten the world through his mystic doctrines admits of no doubt in my mind. Had he been a mere charlatan he would not have practiced his system of medicine and Masonry in such a humanitarian manner.

W.R.H. Trowbridge, (William Rutherford Hayes) in Cagliostro: the Splendour And Misery of a Master of Magic, (August 1910) (Full text)[edit]

Preface[edit]

  • Whatever sympathy for Cagliostro my researches may have evoked it has always been exceeded by contempt of those who, combining an unreasoning prejudice with a slovenly system of compilation, have repeated the old charges against him with parrot-like stupidity. The object of this book is not so much an attempt to vindicate Cagliostro as to correct and revise, if possible, what I believe to be a false judgment of history.

Part I The Power of Prejudice[edit]

  • Documents and books relating to him abound, but they possess little or no value. The most interesting are frequently the most unreliable. The fact that material so questionable should provide as many reasons for rejecting its evidence (which is, by the way, almost entirely hostile) as for accepting it, has induced theosophists, spiritualists, occultists, and all who are sympathetically drawn to the mysterious to become his apologists. By these amiable visionaries Cagliostro is regarded as one of the princes of occultism whose mystical touch has revealed the arcana of the spiritual world to the initiated, and illumined the path along which the speculative scientist proceeds on entering the labyrinth of the supernatural.
  • In his own day, with very few exceptions, those whom he charmed or duped—as you will—by acts that in any case should have inspired gratitude rather than contempt observed a profound silence.
  • The portrait Carlyle has drawn of Cagliostro is the one most familiar to English readers. Now, though Carlyle's judgments have in the main been upheld by the latest historians (who have had the advantage of information to which he was denied access), nevertheless, like everybody else, he made mistakes. In his case, however, these mistakes were inexcusable, for they were due, not to the lack of data, but to the strong prejudices by which he suffered himself to be swayed to the exclusion of that honesty and fairness he deemed so essential to the historian.
  • It could surely be no innocent victim of injustice who aroused contempt so malevolent, hatred so universal. The mystery in which he masqueraded was alone sufficient to excite suspicion.
  • The "noble traveler," as he described himself... on his examination, confessed that Cagliostro was only one of the several names he had assumed in the course of his life. An alias (he had termed it incognito) is always suspicious.
  • From ridicule to calumny is but a step, and for every voice raised in defense of his honesty there were a dozen to decry him.
  • On the day he was set at liberty (for he had no difficulty in proving his innocence) eight or ten thousand people came en masse to offer him their congratulations... But this ovation... was Intended less as a mark of respect to him than as an Insult to the queenQueen, who was known to regard the verdict as a stigma on her honour.

Part I: II Giuseppe Balsamo[edit]

  • From the Seminary of San Rocco, where he received his first schooling, he ran away several times. As the rod, which appears to have played an important part in the curriculum of the seminary, failed to produce the beneficial results that are supposed to ensue from its frequent application, his uncles, anxious to get rid of so troublesome a charge, decided to confide the difficult task of coaxing or licking him into shape to the Benfratelli of Cartegirone. Giuseppe was accordingly enrolled as a novice in this brotherhood, whose existence was consecrated to the healing of the sick, and placed under the supervision of the Convent-Apothecary. He was at the time thirteen.
  • It was in the laboratory of the convent that Cagliostro learnt "the principles of chemistry and medicine" which he afterwards practiced with such astonishing results.
  • It was a universal custom in all religious associations that one of their number during meals should read aloud to the others passages from the Lives of the Saints. This dull and unpopular task having one day been allotted to Giuseppe (probably as a punishment) he straightway proceeded, careless of the consequences, to read out whatever came into his head, substituting for the names of the Saints those of the most notable courtesans of Palermo. The effect of this daring sacrilege was dire and immediate. With fist and foot the scandalized monks instantly fell upon the boy and having belaboured him, as the saying is, within an inch of his life, indignantly packed him back to Palermo as hopelessly incorrigible and utterly unworthy of ever becoming a Benfratello.
  • The band of young desperadoes to which he belonged frequently came into collision with the night-watch, whose prisoners, if any, they would attempt to set free.
  • He more than once saw the inside of the Palermo jail; but from lack of sufficient proof, or from the nature of the charge against him, or owing to the intercession of his estimable uncles, as often as he was arrested he was let off again.
  • According to the Inquisition- biographer, one day whilst he and his companions were idling away the time together the conversation having turned upon a certain girl whom they all knew, one of the number wondered what she was doing at that moment, whereupon Giuseppe immediately offered to gratify him. Marking a square on the ground he made some passes with his hands above it, after which the figure of the girl was seen in the square playing at tressette with three of her friends. So great was the effect of this exhibition of clairvoyance... upon the amazed Apaches that they went at once to look for the girl and found her in the same attitude playing the very game and with the very persons that Balsamo had shown them.

Part II: V Cagliostro in Paris[edit]

  • He described people and places of the distant past with a minuteness of detail that produced the impression that he had been personally acquainted with them.
  • The least credulous believed him to be at least a hundred. Madame de Pompadour said to him once that old Madame de Gergy remembered having met him fifty years before in Venice when he passed for a man of sixty.
  • Even his valet was supposed to have discovered the secret of immortality. This fellow, a veritable Scapin, assisted him admirably in mystifying the credulous. "Your master," said a skeptic one day, seizing him by the collar, "is a rogue who is taking us all in. Tell me, is it true that he was present at the marriage at Cana?" "You forget, sir," was the reply, I have only been in his service a century."
  • Thus it was reported that Cagliostro stopped one day before a Descent from the Cross in the Louvre and began to talk of the Crucifixion as if he had witnessed it. Though the story was devoid of foundation it was not without effect, and many declared, and believed too, that the Grand Cophta had lived hundreds, and even thousands of years.
  • Touched by his evident distress, Cagliostro yielded as usual to his charitable impulses. He found employment for Sacchi in his hospital, and paid him liberally....A week later a man, whose wife and daughter had been cured of a dangerous illness by Cagliostro, called to inform him that Sacchi was a spy of his enemies the doctors, and that he was seeking to damage him by extorting fees from his patients. Horrified at the ingratitude and treachery of which he was the victim, Cagliostro forthwith turned "the reptile he had harboured" out of doors. Destitute of honour, rage now deprived Sacchi of common sense. Having been rash enough to threaten the life of the person who had exposed him, he was expelled from the city by the Marquis de Lasalle, the Commandant of Strasburg, who had been cured of a dangerous illness by Cagliostro.

Part II: VIII Nature's unfortunate child[edit]

  • This mysterious end, so in keeping with Cagliostro's mysterious origin and personality, appeals to the imagination. Nothing excites curiosity like a mystery. Since his death there have been as many attempts to lift the veil in which his end is shrouded as were made in his lifetime to discover the secret of his birth. Of these specimens of sheer futility, Madame Blavatsky's is the most interesting, the most unlikely, and the most popular among the believers in the supernatural who have allowed their imaginations to run riot on Cagliostro generally.
  • According to the equally extraordinary High Priestess of the Theosophists, Cagliostro escaped from San Leo, and long after his supposed death in 1795 was met by various people in Russia, even residing for some time in the house of Madame Blavatsky's father, where in the midst of winter he produced by magical power a plate full of fresh strawberries for a sick person who was craving it.

Arthur Edward Waite[edit]

  • He assumed now the role of a practical magician, and astonished the city by the evocation of phantoms, which he caused to appear, at the wish of the inquirer, either in a mirror or in a vase of clear water. These phantoms equally represented dead and living beings, and as occasionally collusion appears to have been well-nigh impossible, and as the theory of coincidence is preposterous, there is reason to suppose that he produced results which must sometimes have astonished himself. All Paris, at any rate, was set wondering at his enchantments and prodigies, and it is seriously stated that Louis XVI was so infatuated with "Le divine Cagliostro" that he declared that anyone who injured him should be considered guilty of treason.

External links[edit]

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