Sleeping with the enemy


After his escape from ‘Il Piombi’ on 1st November, 1756 Casanova spent the next two months as a fugitive making his way to Paris, where he was to arrive 5th January 1757 – pretty good progress in the eighteenth century for a man on the run travelling in the depths of winter.  The first couple of days of freedom, however, were going to be the trickiest to negotiate.  He may have left the city of Venice but he was still in the heart of the Republic of Venice whose police forces and numerous informants were now on high alert.  Casanova and Father Balbi decided to split up, reckoning that it would give them a better chance to make good their escape.  Now we find Casanova at his nerveless, calculating and audacious best:

As soon as I saw Father Balbi far enough off I got up, and seeing at a little distance a shepherd keeping his flock on the hill-side, I made my way-towards him to obtain such information as I needed. “What is the name of this village, my friend?” said I.

“Valde Piadene, signor,” he answered, to my surprise, for I found I was much farther on my way that I thought. I next asked him the owners of five or six houses which I saw scattered around, and the persons he mentioned chanced to be all known to me, but were not the kind of men I should have cared to trouble with my presence. On my asking him the name of a palace before me, he said it belonged to the Grimanis, the chief of whom was a State Inquisitor, and then resident at the palace, so I had to take care not to let him see me. Finally, at my enquiring the owner of a red house in the distance, he told me, much to my surprise, that it belonged to the chief of police. Bidding farewell to the kindly shepherd I began to go down the hill mechanically, and I am still puzzled to know what instinct directed my steps towards that house, which common sense and fear also should have made me shun. I steered my course for it in a straight line, and I can say with truth that I did so quite unwittingly. If it be true that we have all of us an invisible intelligence—a beneficent genius who guides our steps aright—as was the case with Socrates, to that alone I should attribute the irresistible attraction which drew me towards the house where I had most to dread. However that may be, it was the boldest stroke I have played in my whole life.

Greeted by the police chief’s pregnant wife, Casanova claimed to be a good friend of her husband’s from which, for some mysterious reason, she deduced him to be her husband’s superior, a Signor Vetturi.  She informed him that her husband was out searching for two escaped prisoners and that she wasn’t expecting him back for three or four days.  Notwithstanding his finery, Casanova was still in something of a mess from his escape, his clothes covered in blood.  He explained this away by claiming that he had hurt himself hunting in the mountains and asked her if she could put him up.  The wife obliged, herself and her mother duly taking care of his wounds before feeding him and putting him to bed where, from exhaustion, he slept solidly until the next morning when he went on his way.

I made haste to lengthen the distance between me and the place where I had found the kindliest hospitality, the utmost politeness, the most tender care, and best of all, new health and strength, and as I walked I could not help feeling terrified at the danger I had been in. I shuddered involuntarily; and at the present moment, after so many years, I still shudder when I think of the peril to which I had so heedlessly exposed myself. I wondered how I managed to go in, and still more how I came out; it seemed absurd that I should not be followed. For five hours I tramped on, keeping to the woods and mountains, not meeting a soul besides a few countryfolk, and turning neither to the right nor left.

(Casanova’s memoirs, ‘To Paris and Prison’, Chapter XXXI)


 ‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is now freely available here.

27 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.

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