Following the publication of a range of adulterated, embellished, salacious and poorly edited versions of Casanova’s memoirs, the Venetian was treated by many as either a fantasist or depraved and probably both. Casanovists such as biographer James Rives Childs, however, have found evidence in the historical record which has corroborated much of what he wrote, to the extent that where there is a lack of specific evidence to the contrary we are on firmer ground accepting rather dismissing Casanova’s account of events. This is not to say that there aren’t inaccuracies and inconsistencies but there is very little to suggest that the large bulk of what he has written isn’t fundamentally a true version of events as he experienced them.
Evidence suggests, in fact, that many of his contemporaries thought very highly of him and were astonished by his breadth of knowledge. He did, after all, keep the company of those who were themselves recognised as individuals of considerable talent, ability and reputation. These were men such as Voltaire, Albert Haller, Benjamin Franklin and Raphael Mengs, who were unlikely to suffer fools gladly. He is described in the correspondence of others, for example, as a ‘man of letters’. In a letter to Haller, a distinguished Swiss magistrate writes of Casanova: ‘He does not know so much as you but he knows much. He speaks of everything with much fire, appearing to have seen and read prodigiously’. In a letter of introduction Cardinal Albani notes: ‘I love and esteem him much for I have known him here as a man both honourable and versed in letters, as well as in the affairs of court and of commerce’. Da Ponte, librettist to Mozart, comments on how his wife ‘had been dazed by the vivacity, the eloquence, the inexhaustible vein and all the many ways, of that extraordinary man’. In other correspondence, Count Lamberg observes: ‘With the exception of the alchemist Saint-Germain, I know few persons who can equal him in the range of his knowledge and, in general, of his intelligence and imagination.’
Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ is freely available here.
27 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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