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.]

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