All the Year Round on Cagliostro-Part 2

All the Year Round on Cagliostro-Part 2. Image of the page from the periodical.
All the Year Round on Cagliostro-Part 2. Image of the page from the periodical.
This is a two-part 1875 article on Cagliostro published in Charles Dicken’s weekly periodical All the Year Around. Click here for Part I


The idea of Egyptian masonry is not Cagliostro’s own—he being rather an adapter than an inventor. He buys from a Masonic bookseller the manuscripts of an entirely unknown freemason, one George Colton. Cagliostro sees at once that Colton was possessed with the idea of allying freemasonry with superstition and magic, and, seizing upon the notion, he takes advantage of his grade as a ” Knight Templar ” (it would seem) to launch the new system of Egyptian freemasonry. Manuals of this mysterious and extinct branch of the craft were in existence, when the familiar of the Inquisition penned his curious account. The familiar hardly appears to be prejudiced against Cagliostro as an individual. He merely considers him as a freemason, excommunicato and accursed, and concerns himself not much about minute differences between Egyptian and other masons. So far as can be seen, Egyptian masonry is a curious muddle of the Rosicrucian mystery of fixing the soul in the body, by arresting physical decay, and the doctrine of perfectibility preached by the Illuminati. ” In his system he promises his sectaries to conduct them to perfection, by means of physical and moral regeneration; to enable them by the former to find the primary matter, or the philosopher’s stone, and the acacia which consolidates in man the powers of the most vigorous youth, and renders him immortal; and by the second, to procure a pentagon, which restores man to his state of primitive innocence, which he has lost by original sin.” This system is referred to Enoch and to Elias, and is declared to have been the original masonry—since degenerated into “buffoonery,” saith Cagliostro, to the horror of the Inquisitorial scribe, who agrees with Clement the Twelfth in thinking all masonry devilish and worthy of death. Both males and females are to be admitted to the Egyptian lodges by the Grand Cophta, to whom almost divine honours are paid. No religion is excluded. Jews, Calvinists, and Lutherans are admitted, as well as Catholics. ” He who would obtain moral regeneration— that is to say, primitive innocence—must choose a very high mountain, to which he will give the name of Sinai, and upon its summit will construct a pavilion, divided into three stories, and call it Sion. The upper chamber will be fifteen feet square, with four oval windows on each side, with a single trap-door to enter it by; the second or middle chamber will be perfectly round, without windows, and capable of containing thirteen little beds. A single lamp suspended in the middle will afford the necessary light, and there will be no furniture but such as is absolutely necessary. The second chamber will be called Ararat—the name of the mountain on which the ark rested—in sign of the repose which is reserved for elect masons of God alone. The first chamber, situate on the ground-floor, will be of the size necessary for a refectory, and there will be in it three cabinets, to hold provisions, vestments, and masonic symbols.” In this retreat, thirteen master masons of Egyptian lodges, having previously gone through all probationary steps, are to shut themselves up for forty days, passing their time in masonic work. After the thirtythird day, they will enjoy the favour of communicating, visibly, with the “seven primitive angels “—corresponding with the seven planets known in Cagliostro’s time—and to know the seal and mark of each of these immortal beings. These signs will be stamped by the angels themselves, upon a lambskin properly purified. On the work being done, on the fortieth day, every master will receive this stamped lambskin or pentagon, on which the primitive angels have graven their monogram and seal. Furnished with this pentacle, the master will be filled with divine fire, and his body will become pure as that of a little child, his insight will be boundless, his power immense ; he will no longer aspire to anything but perfect repose, in order to arrive at immortality, and he will be able to say of himself, ” I am, that I am.”

Moral regeneration achieved, there remains only physical perfection to be attained, by which the person possessing it may arrive at the spirituality of five thousand five hundred and fifty-seven years, and prolong his life in health -and tranquillity until it pleases God to call him into His presence. The aspirant must retire once in every fifty years, at the full of the May moon, into the country with a friend, and there, shut within a chamber and an alcove, must undergo for forty days the most austere diet, eating but little of light soup and tender herbs, drinking nothing but distilled water, or rain-water fallen in May. Each repast must commence with water, and finish with a biscuit or a crust of bread. All this would avail little were it not for certain white drops (composition not explained) and grains of primary matter. The effect of the first grain of primary matter is remarkable. ” The patient loses all consciousness, goes into convulsions, and, after a violent perspiration, comes to, and is then served with refreshment. The second grain throws the patient into a fever, makes him delirious, and causes the loss of his skin, hair, and teeth, ‘the third throws him into a deep sleep, from which he wakes with a new skin, teeth and hair, thoroughly regenerated.”

Before we laugh at this ridiculous twaddle, and at the people who were imposed upon by it, let us recollect that the ideas expressed in it were none of them new or unfamiliar. To the mystics of that day, no superstition was more common than that the soul could be ” fixed in the body ” and ultimately ” translated ” into the next world—death, by proper treatment, being aItogether abolished. To the Roman Catholic Church all these doctrines were, of course, abhorrent. Speaking of Egyptian freemasonry, the familiar of the Holy Inquisition says, ” The whole breathes impiety, superstition, and sacrilege,” and resembles ” whatever is worst in ordinary masonry,” thus giving the regular brotherhood a back-hander in passing. Having taken his system of Egyptian freemasonry ready-made from George Colton, Giuseppe leaves London and hies him to he Hague, where he is received under the vault of steel, formed by two rows of brethren with crossed swords. His wife— useful Seraphina—officiates as grand mistress, and the count delivers one of those harangues for which he is famous—a kind of ” hash” of all arts and sciences sacred and profane, of not one of which does he really understand anything. But what Giuseppe lacks in knowledge he makes up in impudence, and fees roll in gaily as he moves from town to town, founding Egyptian lodges. During this German tour he stumbles on the greatest adventurer of his or any other day—the celebrated Casanova. This worthy, to whom all the secrets of Rougecroix are played-out machinery, bestows his benediction on Cagliostro, and gives him a word of caution, to keep clear of the Holy City—a warning which Giuseppe unluckily disregarded. Great success attends him at Leipzig, and in his honour a banquet is given, at which he fails not to denounce the magical operations of Schrepfer, busy just then in raising the dead. ” This man,” says Cagliostro, with magnificent impudence, “will feel the hand of God upon him before a moon has passed away.” Within a month Schrepfer shoots himself; Cagliostro is a prophet, and all things are possible to him. At Mittau the regular masons admit him to their lodges, where he thunders out interminable harangues of senseless trash, accusing the brotherhood of magic, of superstition, of following the abominable Schrepfer, of hankering after Swedenborg, and of a lurking regard for the Jew Falk and other chiefs of the Illuminati. All this must be abolished, saith the unblushing Sicilian, and Egyptian freemasonry set up in its stead. A lodge is founded, and the master at once gives proof of his power; at least, this is what he, Cagliostro, tells the judges at the Roman Inquisition. To a full lodge meeting he brings a little child, the son of a nobleman, and places him on his knees before a table, on which is placed a bottle of pure water, having behind it a few lighted wax-candles. The hierophant pronounces an exorcism and imposes his hands on the child’s head, after which they pray fervently for the success of their work. Cagliostro now tells the child to look into the waterbottle and say what he sees there. The child instantly cries out that he sees a garden. Cagliostro now tells him to pray for a sight of the archangel Michael, and the child first sees “something white,” and afterwards an ” angelic-looking child of about his own age.” The father now asks his little one it he can see his sister, at the moment in a country house fifteen miles from Mittau. Exorcised and re-exorcised, having the hands of the Venerable once more imposed upon his head, and praying first abundantly, the child looks again at the water, and says that his sister at this moment is coming downstairs and embracing one of his brothers, known to be hundreds of miles away. This is declared to be impossible, but Giuseppe stands to his guns, tells the company they can go themselves and verify the fact, and after allowing them to kiss his hand, closes the lodge with the usual ceremonies. The brethren of the Egyptian lodge fail not to verify the arrival of the supposed distant brother, who had, in fact, turned up suddenly and unexpectedly at home.

This little ” coup” — easily enough arranged, like a similar trick played later on in Paris—produces an immense ebullition in Mittau. Enthusiastic believers prostrate themselves in worship before Giuseppe and Seraphina — surely the oddest prophet and prophetess that foolish people ever selected for adoration. Prophesying right and left, by the month sometimes of a little boy—well prompted —or by a young girl, the “niece of an actress, who saw all she was wanted to see,” Cagliostro makes a few lucky shots in first-class fortune telling, increases his reputation, and lines his pockets at the same time. At St. Petersburg he is a failure. Prince Potemkin, thinking there may be some real science at the bottom of Cagliostro’s quackery and rhodomontade, tries to set him to work out the resolution of some chemical problems. Cagliostro does not like this, talking being much more in his way than working, and after making many promises to transmute metals, &c., he comes down to the composition of a novel kind of pinchbeck for soldiers’ buttons—failing signally therein.

At Warsaw he is successful in founding Egyptian lodges, and employing the pupil or ” columb ” to look into the water-bottle on grand occasions, but again comes to signal grief over an attempt at transmuting metals. Thence he works his way by Frankfort-on-the-Maine, where he has solemn converse with the Illuminati, to Strasbourg, where he remains for several years, enjoying great wealth and consideration, thanks to the patronage of that very weak-headed old voluptuary, the Prince Cardinal de Rohan, the purblind, greyhaired adorer of the unfortunate Queen of France. This period may be considered as that of his greatest elevation. Innumerable people, who ought to know better, believe in him thoroughly. Silly old de Rohan can never have enough of his company at Saverne. “We must admit that he plays his cards with rare skill. Founding Egyptian lodges one day, the next sees him dispensing medicines to the poor on a magnificent scale, and curing many—so they say. Charles Henry Baron Gleichen pronounces him an excellent physician, never wearies of telling his marvellous cures, and even goes the length of thinking the snubnosed, oily-looking impostor good-looking, and of paying a certain respect to his Egyptian freemasonry. This part of Cagliostro’s career — in Strasbourg and in Switzerland — is remarkable enough. He is undoubtedly able to heal the sick and feed the hungry—is rich, no one knowing whence his money comes. Is it all a sham, I wonder, this outbreak of benevolence on his part, or has he so often told others that he is the Grand Cophta—the regenerator of mankind, that he has at last come to believe it himself ? Is he, after all, fashioned of a species of prophetic clay—rough, coarse, and inferior, it is true, and heavily charged with impurities, but still the stuff of which leaders of men are made ? There must be something remarkable in the man. He is ugly and ignorant, vulgar and tedious, knows no science, can speak no language correctly, but yet leads thousands of his betters by the nose ! The Baron de Besenoal, a sufficiently acute observer, writing, too, after the affair of the queen’s necklace, says of Giuseppe: ” He is one of those beings who appear from time to time—unknown persons who pass for adepts, meddling with medicine, alchemy, sometimes with magic—wonderful in themselves, and made more marvellous still by public renown, and who, after having ruined fools, finish their exploits in fetters. What is most singular is, that Count Cagliostro, having all the outward appearance of this kind of people, acted quite differently from them during his residence at Strasbourg and Paris; in fact, never took a sou from anybody. Living honourably enough, he always paid with the greatest exactitude, and gave a great deal away in charity, without anybody ever knowing whence he derived his funds.”

The period of Cagliostro’s glory was not fated to be lengthy. The unhappy patronage of the Prince Bishop of Strasbourg was the immediate cause of his ruin. Fain would I discourse herein of the famous Diamond Necklace, had not that work been already done in grand graphic English by inapproachable Thomas Carlyle, and in full accurate detail by painstaking Henry Vizetelly. The story is, therefore, too well known to need more than the remark, that the most recent and complete researches fail to convict Cagliostro of any share in the daring conspiracy. Lamotte and his wife (more or less of the House of Valois), Villette, Legnay d’0liva(a mere tool), were found guilty at the time, and the cardinal and Cagliostro duly acquitted. Lamotte himself escaped scot free and carried off all the booty, losing the proceeds at Newmarket. The Grand Cophta was liberated; but, according to his own account—probable enough—was infamously pillaged by the French police, who seem to have pretty well cleared him out. According to Cagliostro, they must have made a good thing of it: ” Fifteen rouleaux, sealed with my arms, each of them containing fifty double louis d’or; a money bag, containing one thousand two hundred and thirty-three Roman and Venetian sequins ; twenty-four Spanish quadruples in a rouleau sealed with my seal; and a green portfolio, containing forty-seven bills on the Caisse d’Escompte of one thousand livres each,” melted away (if they ever existed) to two rouleaux of twenty-five double louis d’or each, and a few jewels.

A great demonstration was made by Cagliostro’s followers on his release, but his joy was soon dashed by a command to leave France; and once more he was driven to England. In Sloane-street, Knightsbridge, dwelt the great conjuror, and there published his Letter to the English people—cruelly criticised by M. de Morande, editor of the Courrier de l’Europe. Cagliostro, on one point, gave a memorable answer to this gentleman, who was pleased to poke fun at a statement made by Cagliostro, in some public place, that, in Arabia the Stony people are in the habit of fattening pigs on food mixed with arsenic, whereby the pork becomes, as it were, arsenicated; the arsenical pigs are then let loose in the woods and are eaten by beasts of prey, who die in consequence. This pleasant custom, not entirely dissimilar from a practice which prevailed in the early days of Tasmania, was agreeably “chaffed” by M. de Morande in the Courrier de l’Europe, and defended by Cagliostro in the Public Advertiser, under date September 3,1786, thus : ” In physics and chemistry, Mr. Joker, arguments go for little and sneers for nothing—experience is all. Permit me, then, to propose a little experiment, which will divert the public either at your expense or at mine. I invite you to breakfast for the 9th November next, at nine o’clock in the morning ; you will furnish the wine and the accessories; I will furnish one dish in my own style—a little sucking-pig, fattened according to my method. Two hours before breakfast I will present him to you alive, fat and healthy. You will engage to have him killed and cooked, and I will not go near him till the moment when he is put on the table; you shall cut him yourself into four pieces, choose that which attracts you the most, and give me any piece you please. The day after this breakfast one of four things will have happened—either we shall be both dead or both alive, or I shall be dead and you alive, or you dead and I alive. Out of these four chances I give you three, and I bet five thousand guineas that the day after the breakfast you will be dead, and I shall be in good health. You will confess that no fairer offer could be made, and that you must either accept the wager or confess your ignorance, and that you have foolishly and dully cut your jokes upon a subject beyond your knowledge.” This characteristic letter failed to persuade M. de Morande to a pig-breakfast, and he was . fain to back out as best he might, getting well laughed at for his pains.

Despite the halo of bogus glory acquired in this contest, Giuseppe feels once more, for the third and last time, that the fogs of England disagree with the charlatanic system; that the brutal inhabitants of gloomy Albion have small sympathy with Egyptian pills, vegetable powders, wine of Egypt, and so forth; and that his restless foot must once more take the road—not in excessively splendid style this time. France, where followers and sympathisers are many, is closed, and is, moreover, weightily concerned over business of its own ; but Parisian sympathisers nevertheless convey money to their Grand Cophta, who sets forth in May, 1787, his old creditors having become unruly. He remains for some months at Bienne, in Switzerland, where Dame Lorenza-Seraphina shows signs of revolt, but is presently quieted and reduced to submission. By Aix les Bains he travels on to Turin, but is instantly ordered to quit the city. At Roveredo he fares no better; Egyptian freemasonry avails him nought at Trent; at Vicenza he pawns his diamonds. Wherever he places his foot the order comes promptly, ” Get up ! Away! Oat of my dominions in twenty-four hours !’ France and Sardinia reject him; England is too hot to hold him. The Prince Bishop of Trent catches a rare wigging from the Emperor for permitting the outcast to rest in his domain; and the hunted creature is scared from Germany by this dread news. Where shall he rest, whither take shelter from the enemies who spring up at every step ? He turns to his wife, poor injured Lorenza, the once innocent girl, whom he had only married to drag through the slough of vicious Europe. Poor Lorenza-Seraphina, unhappy Grand Cophtess, is weary too, and entreats him— not suspecting that her wrongs have converted her into his Nemesis—to go to Rome, ” to her family : among her husband’s friends.” To Rome then hies Cagliostro—unheeding prophetic Casanova— in the month of May, 1789. Poorer and poorer he becomes ; his hand has lost its canning. He practises medicine, but good fortune has left him. Something must be done; and desperate Cagliostro strives once more to evoke the phantom of Egyptian freemasonry, under the shadow of the Vatican—a fatal attempt. On the evening of the 27th December, 1789, he is arrested, and conducted to the Castle of St. Angelo, where, after being told that his wife, also under lock and key, has begun to confess, he supplies the Inquisition with a curious account of his life and misdeeds. He is condemned to death, but the sentence is commuted to perpetual imprisonment in the Castle of Santa Leone, in the Duchy of Urbino, where he lingers till the summer of 1795, when he is found dead in his cell. The unfortunate Grand Cophtess drags out a much longer span, immured in a convent. After once filling Europe with their name, they were both forgotten long before they died; lost in the turmoil of great events, vanished in the mighty storm which heralded the Period of Transition.

This is Part 2 of a two-part 1875 article on Cagliostro published in Charles Dicken’s weekly periodical All the Year Around.

Click here for Part 1

PeriodicalAll the year round, Volume 14 June 26, 1875, No. 343. Pages 293-297
PublisherCharles Dickens, Jr.
Original fromIndiana University
Digitized22 May 2009