Carlyle considers Cagliostro’s curative cosmetic cream career

[The great Cagliostro was an 18th century European adventurer, sorcerer, freemason, doctor, conman, forger, mystic, revolutionary, and thief (etc.) who also sold his own miracle rejuvenators to ageing rich women. Caglisotro was a curiosity to Goethe, who on his travels through Italy sought out and interviewed Cagliostro’s worried mother back in the slums of Palermo, Sicily. Cagliostro was a curiosity to just about everybody. He claimed to be nobility, others said he was a clown. It is possible that Goethe had Cagliostro in mind when writing Faust.

The author of this article excerpted from Fraser’s Magazine of 1833 (38 years after Cagliostro’s death in an Italian prison) is Thomas Carlyle who calls him the “Quack of Quacks.” Carlyle was a historian, essayist and satirist. In writing, he was as grandiose as Cagliostro was reputed to have been in speech. Carlyle’s prose style justifies the two-installment’s subtitle “in two flights,” as he writes like a swallow flies: with acrobatic swoops and turns.]

Count Cagliostro

Fraser’s magazine, Volume 8:

“For it is to be observed, that the Count, on his own side, even in his days of highest splendour, is not idle. Faded dames of quality have many wants: the Count has not studied in the Convent Laboratory, or pilgrimed to the Count Saint-Germain, in Westphalia, to no purpose. With loftiest condescension he stoops to impart somewhat of his supernatural secrets,— for a consideration. Rowland’s Kalydor is valuable; but what lo the Beautifying-water of Count Alessandro! He that will undertake to smooth wrinkles, and make withered green parchment into a fair carnation skin, is he not one whom faded dames of quality will delight to honour ? Or again, let the Beautifying-water succeed or not, have not sucli dames (if calumny may be in aught believed) another want ? This want too the indefatigable Cagliostro will supply,— for a consideration. For faded gentlemen of quality the Count likewise has help. Not a charming Countess alone; but a ” Wine of Egypt” (cantharides not being unknown to him), sold in drops, more precious than nectar; which what faded gentleman of quality would not purchase with any thing short of life ? Consider now what may be done with potions, washes, charms, love-philtres, among a class of mortals, idle from the mother’s womb; rejoicing to be taught the Ionic dances, and meditating of love from their tender nails! Thus waxing, waning, broad-shining or extinct, an inconstant but unwearied Moon, rides on its course the Cagliostric star. Thus are Count and Countess busy in their vocation; thus do they spend the golden season of their youth, —” for the Greatest Happiness of the greatest number?” Happy enough, had there been no sumptuary or adultery or swindlery Law-acts; no Heaven above, no Hell beneath ; no flight of Time, and gloomy land of Eld and Destitution and Desperation, towards which, by law of Fate, they see themselves, at all moments, with frightful regularity, unaidably drifting.”

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[What good is reading an article by Carlyle if you can’t explain it to someone?—Rowland’s Kalydor was an English skin lotion that had been sold since the late 1820s. “Eld” is elderly – gloomy land of old age; and a cantharide is Spanish Fly – an infamous sexual stimulant. Sumptuary laws attempted to limit extravagant consumption.

Incidentally, skin rejuvenating compounds were often corrosive face peels and bleaches. Not incidentally, the real Faust was said to have traded a hair removal compound to a prison chaplain in exchange for wine, but the salve contained arsenic which burned his flesh. As it turns out, later on—in the mid-nineteenth century—arsenic became a popular beauty treatment, both applied externally, and eaten to lighten the complexion. It is a testament to Faust’s intimacy with the Devil that he was 300 years ahead of the rest of the cosmetics industry.]

Charles MacKay: Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds

[Charles Mackay’s 1841 classic gives a skeptical perspective on Dee and Kelley. Although written in 1841, Mackay’s book is still widely read and referenced, especially the sections on tulip mania and the South Sea Bubble for their cautionary lessons for new investors about the risks of contagious enthusiasm. As for Dee and Kelley, this book may be out of date]

Vol. III – Philosophical Delusions 2

Chapter 45 – Dr. Dee and Edward Kelly

John Dee and Edward Kelly claim to be mentioned together, having been so long associated in the same pursuits, and undergone so many strange vicissitudes in each other’s society. Dee was altogether a wonderful man, and had he lived in an age when folly and superstition were less rife, he would, with the same powers which he enjoyed, have left behind him a bright and enduring reputation.

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The Talmudic mysteries, which he had also deeply studied, impressed him with the belief, that he might hold converse with spirits and angels, and learn from them all the mysteries of the universe. Holding the same idea as the then obscure sect of the Rosicrucians, some of whom he had perhaps encountered in his travels in Germany, he imagined that, by means of the philosopher’s stone, he could summon these kindly spirits at his will. By dint of continually brooding upon the subject, his imagination became so diseased, that he at last persuaded himself that an angel appeared to him, and promised to be his friend and companion as long as he lived.

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He had at this time in his service, as his assistant, one Edward Kelly, who, like himself, was crazy upon the subject of the philosopher’s stone. There was this difference, however, between them, that, while Dee was more of an enthusiast than an impostor, Kelly was more of an impostor than an enthusiast. In early life he was a notary, and had the misfortune to lose both his ears for forgery. This mutilation, degrading enough in any man, was destructive to a philosopher; Kelly, therefore, lest his wisdom should suffer in the world’s opinion, wore a black skull-cap, which, fitting close to his head, and descending over both his cheeks, not only concealed his loss, but gave him a very solemn and oracular appearance. So well did he keep his secret, that even Dee, with whom he lived so many years, appears never to have discovered it.

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[The book is also at Google:]

Charles MacKay-The Slow Poisoners

Charles MacKay:
Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds

[Extraordinary Popular Delusions is a well-known book written some years back—in 1841—that is still recommended to open the eyes of those who want to think for themselves and be aware of crowd and mob psychology. In these few excerpts, he writes about the past popular passion for poison.]

Vol. II – Peculiar Follies
Chapter 16 – The Slow Poisoners

“The atrocious system of poisoning, by poisons so slow in their operation, as to make the victim appear, to ordinary observers, as if dying from a gradual decay of nature, has been practised in all ages. Those who are curious in the matter may refer to Beckmann on Secret Poisons, in his “History of Inventions,” in which he has collected several instances of it from the Greek and Roman writers. Early in the sixteenth century the crime seems to have gradually increased, till, in the seventeenth, it spread over Europe like a pestilence. It was often exercised by pretended witches and sorcerers, and finally became a branch of education amongst all who laid any claim to magical and supernatural arts. In the twenty-first year of Henry VIII. an act was passed, rendering it high-treason: those found guilty of it, were to be boiled to death.”

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“But it was in Italy that poisoning was most prevalent. From a very early period, it seems to have been looked upon in that country as a perfectly justifiable means of getting rid of an enemy. The Italians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries poisoned their opponents with as little compunction as an Englishman of the present day brings an action at law against any one who has done him an injury. The writings of contemporary authors inform us that, when La Spara and La Tophania carried on their infernal trade, ladies put poison bottles on their dressing-tables as openly, and used them with as little scruple upon others, as modern dames use Eau de Cologne or lavender-water upon themselves. So powerful is the influence of fashion, it can even cause murder to be regarded as a venial peccadillo.”

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“In process of time, poison vending became a profitable trade. Eleven years after this period, it was carried on at Rome to such an extent that the sluggish government was roused to interference. Beckmann, in his “History of Inventions,” and Lebret, in his “Magazin zum Gebrauche der Staaten Kirche Geschichte,” or Magazine of Materials for a History of a State Church, relates that, in the year 1659, it was made known to Pope Alexander VII. that great numbers of young women had avowed in the confessional that they had poisoned their husbands with slow poisons. The Catholic clergy, who in general hold the secrets of the confessional so sacred, were shocked and alarmed at the extraordinary prevalence of the crime.”

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“The corrupt Government of the day, although it could wink at the atrocities of a wealthy and influential courtier, like Penautier, was scandalised to see the crime spreading among the people. Disgrace was, in fact, entailed, in the eyes of Europe, upon the name of Frenchman. Louis XIV, to put a stop to the evil, instituted what was called the Chambre Ardente, or Burning Chamber, with extensive powers, for the trial and punishment of the prisoners.”

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A few infamous poisoners in European history….

[A few infamous poisoners in European history. In Goethe’s Faust, Mephistopheles provides Faust with a “sleeping” potion which kills Gretchen’s mother. Oops!

Well, Gretchen’s mother was sure to get in the way, and Mephistopheles was no apothecary. How was he to know? For getting rid of unwanted in-laws and husbands, you wanted to go to someone who knew what they were doing. At the domestic level, poisoning was suited to long-suffering wives particularly, who couldn’t use violence against their husbands, but were in the position of being able to slip something into their food or drink, and then care for them to the end of their lives.

But how was a girl to find a good poison and know how to use it?

It’s easy when you think about it. Women mixed with the criminal underbelly of society through their encounters with fortune tellers, astrologers, healers, and medicine and cosmetics dealers. Private consultations were normal and intimate. The woman would share details of her problems and the consultant would determine the best way to satisfy her and take her money. For the consultant, in lieu of simple poisoning, there was also fraud and extortion.]

From Wikipedia’s History of Poison:

“In the Medieval Europe, poison became a more popular form of killing, though cures surfaced for many of the more widely known poisons. This was stimulated by the increased availability of poisons; shops known as apothecaries, selling various medicinal wares, were open to the public, and from there, substances that were traditionally used for curative purposes were employed for more sinister means. At approximately the same time, other areas of the world were making great advances in terms of poison; Arabs had successfully made arsenic odorless and transparent, making assassinations impossible to detect. This “poison epidemic” was also prevalent in parts of Asia at this time, as well.”

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“According to the charges laid against her in 1675, in 1666 Marie-Madeleine-Marguerite de Brinvilliers had conspired with her lover, Captain Godin de Sainte-Croix, also called the Chevalier de Sainte Croix, to poison her father Antoine Dreux d’Aubray, and in 1670 she had likewise killed two of her brothers, Antoine and François d’Aubray, in order to inherit their estates. Her alleged accomplice Sainte-Croix had died of natural causes in 1672, so could not be charged. There were also rumours that Brinvilliers had poisoned poor people during her visits to hospitals, but she was not charged with any such killings.

The charges against Brinvilliers originated from diaries and letters found in the possession of Sainte Croix after his death, contained in a red leather box which he had marked as not to be opened until after the death of Brinvilliers. She was accused of using Tofana poison and was reported to have learned how to make it from Sainte Croix, who had himself learned the method from Exili, an Italian poisoner who had been his cellmate in the Bastille.

In 1675, on being accused, Brinvilliers fled to England, the Netherlands, and finally a convent near Liège, where she was arrested by a policeman pretending to be a priest. On 17 July 1676, she was tortured with the water cure, that is, made to drink sixteen pints of water (more than 9 litres) and forced to confess. On the strength of the documents left behind by Sainte Croix and her own confession she was sentenced to death, despite the objections of her defence counsel that there was no good evidence for her guilt. She was then beheaded, and her body was burned at the stake.”

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“The Affair of the Poisons (Affaire des Poisons) was a major murder scandal in France during the reign of King Louis XIV. During it, a number of prominent members of the aristocracy were implicated and sentenced on charges of poisoning and witchcraft. The scandal reached into the inner circle of the king.”

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Giovanna Bonanno (… – July 30, 1789), was an alleged Italian witch and professional poisoner.
Little is known of Giovanna Bonanno’s early life, though she is believed to have been the same woman called Anna Panto, mentioned in 1744 as the wife of one Vincenzo Bonanno. She was a beggar in Palermo, Sicily in the reign of Viceroy Caracciolo. During her trial, she confessed to being a poisoner, and that she sold poison to women who wanted to murder their husbands. The typical client was a woman with a lover; she bought the first dose to give her husband stomach pains, the second to get him to hospital, and the third to kill him. The doctor was, in these cases, unable to ascertain the cause of the deaths. In the Ziza quarter in Palermo, several suspicious cases had occurred. The wife of a baker, a nobleman who had wasted his family’s fortune, and another baker’s wife (who was thought to have had an affair with a gardener) had all became ill.

One day, a friend of Bonanno, Maria Pitarra, was delivering a poison when she realized that the victim was to be the son of a friend, and decided to warn the mother. The mother made an order for the poison herself, and when Bonanno arrived, she was arrested. The trial opened in October 1788. Bonanno was accused of sorcery. Some of the apothecaries who were selling her potions were called to testify. She was executed by hanging in 1789.”

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[In the witches’ kitchen scene of Goethe’s Faust, Faust asks Mephistopeles why they have to resort to a witch for a potion; why can’t Mephistopheles create one?

Why is that old witch necessary!
Why can’t you, yourself, make the brew?

What a lovely occupation for me!
And build a thousand bridges, meanwhile, too.

It’s not just art and science that tell,
Patience is needed in the work as well.

A calm mind’s busy years in its creation,
Only time strengthens the fermentation

And everything about it
Is quite a peculiar show!

It’s true the Devil taught it:
The Devil can’t make it though.

So forgive Mephistopeles, if he tries, but fumbles a few. It’s not an easy business—how well would you do?

Cornelius Agrippa & His Dog….

Cornelius Agrippa & His Dog.

“After Agrippa’s death, rumors circulated about his having summoned demons. In the most famous of these, Agrippa, upon his deathbed, released a black dog which had been his familiar. This black dog resurfaced in various legends about Faustus, and in Goethe’s version became the ‘schwarze Pudel’ Mephistopheles.”

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[Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486 – 1535) was a German magician/astrologer/alchemist living at the same time as the historical Faust (approx. 1480 – 1540). The first extant Faust book comes from 1587.]

Adam, Prometheus & Faust

Adam, Prometheus & Faust

“Adam and the Fall provide a metaphor for the movement from innocence into consciousness and conscience in young men and women of the modern world; Prometheus as the culture-bringing hero is appropriated as the ambivalent image for a Marxist society pursuing and then questioning its technological prowess; and Faust exemplifies a modern capitalist society willing to seal a pact with evil in the quest for knowledge and its power. The modifications of the myth, in sum, provide a key to the anxieties and hopes of the society that recognizes itself in the mythic model.”

The sin of knowledge: ancient themes and modern variations.
By Theodore Ziolkowski. P. 72.

The Sin of Knowledge

The Sin of Knowledge
By Theodore Ziolkowski

“In the course of the fifty years following his death Faust had become notorious as a negative exemplum for a life of sexual degeneracy, charlatanry, and sorcery. Inevitably, stones so varied and popular began to be collected. In the university town of Erfurt a group of tales relating Faust’s adventures among the students was assembled; in Nuremberg around 1570 a schoolmaster named Christoph Rosshirt recorded another set of tales in a manuscript notebook. In the early 1570s many of these stories were gathered into the so-called Wolfenbuttel manuscript, a work that appears to have been circulated widely in expensive manuscript copies. (Because this manuscript is so close to the subsequently printed text, it is commonly assumed that both of them go back to a slightly older common source, though probably not in Latin as formerly believed; the author seems to rely wholly on German works.) But none of these earlier compilations were published. It was not until 1587 that Johann Spies in Frankfurt am Main, hitherto known primarily as the publisher of Lutheran tracts, brought out the Historia, which enjoyed an instantaneous popular success and provided the basis for the myth of Faust that was to engage the Western consciousness and conscience for the next four hundred years.”

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The Sin of Knowledge is available from Amazon:

The sin of knowledge: ancient themes and modern variations (At Amazon)

Philip Begardi…

Philip Begardi, a physician in Worms

“Paradoxically, Faust was saved from the oblivion into which most contemporary necromancers and astrologers fell at least in part by his very notoriety. In 1539, around the time of his death, Philip Begardi, a physician in Worms, attested that many people had complained to him that they had been cheated by Faustus. What better way for humanists to discredit false learning and for theologians to stigmatize black magic than to portray as an object lesson such a blatant and sordid example?”
See this ref. for more on the orig. Faust.

The sin of knowledge: ancient themes and modern variations (At Amazon)

By Theodore Ziolkowski

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