Read The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt Volume III Part 14

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“You were sure of success, then,” said he, “as you did not come to see me the day after your astounding operation.”

“Of course I was sure, but if I had not been too busy you would have seen me, for all that.”

“May I take a bath?”

“No, don’t bathe till you feel quite well.”

“Very good. Everybody is in a state of astonishment at your feat, as I could not help telling the miracle to all my acquaintances. There are certainly some sceptics who laugh at me, but I let them talk.”

“You should have kept your own counsel; you know what Paris is like.

Everybody will be considering me as a master-quack.”

“Not at all, not at all. I have come to ask a favour of you.”

“What’s that?”

“I have an aunt who enjoys a great reputation for her skill in the occult sciences, especially in alchemy. She is a woman of wit, very, rich, and sole mistress of her fortune; in short, knowing her will do you no harm. She longs to see you, for she pretends to know you, and says that you are not what you seem. She has entreated me to take you to dine with her, and I hope you will accept the invitation. Her name is the Marchioness d’Urfe.”

I did not know this lady, but the name of d’Urfe caught my attention directly, as I knew all about the famous Anne d’Urfe who flourished towards the end of the seventeenth century. The lady was the widow of his great-grandson, and on marrying into the family became a believer in the mystical doctrines of a science in which I was much interested, though I gave it little credit. I therefore replied that I should be glad to go, but on the condition that the party should not exceed the count, his aunt, and myself.

“She has twelve people every day to dinner, and you will find yourself in the company of the best society in Paris.”

“My dear fellow, that’s exactly what I don’t want; for I hate to be thought a magician, which must have been the effect of the tales you have told.”

“Oh, no! not at all; your character is well known, and you will find yourself in the society of people who have the greatest regard for you.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“The d.u.c.h.ess de l’Oragnais told me, that, four or five years ago, you were often to be seen at the Palais Royal, and that you used to spend whole days with the d.u.c.h.ess d’Orleans; Madame de Bouffers, Madame de Blots, and Madame de Melfort have also talked to me about you. You are wrong not to keep up your old acquaintances. I know at least a hundred people of the first rank who are suffering from the same malady as that of which you cured me, and would give the half of their goods to be cured.”

De la Tour d’Auvergne had reason on his side, but as I knew his wonderful cure had been due to a singular coincidence, I had no desire to expose myself to public ridicule. I therefore told him that I did not wish to become a public character, and that he must tell Madame d’Urfe that I would have the honour of calling on her in strict privacy only, and that she might tell me the day and hour on which I should kneel before her.

The same evening I had a letter from the count making an appointment at the Tuileries for the morrow; he was to meet me there, and take me to his aunt’s to dinner. No one else was to be present.

The next day we met each other as had been arranged, and went to see Madame d’Urfe, who lived on the Quai des Theatins, on the same side as the “Hotel Bouillon.”

Madame d’Urfe, a woman advanced in years, but still handsome, received me with all the courtly grace of the Court of the Regency. We spent an hour and a half in indifferent conversation, occupied in studying each other’s character. Each was trying to get at the bottom of the other.

I had not much trouble in playing the part of the unenlightened, for such, in point of fact, was my state of mind, and Madame d’Urfe unconsciously betrayed the desire of shewing her learning; this put me at my ease, for I felt sure I could make her pleased with me if I succeeded in making her pleased with herself.

At two o’clock the same dinner that was prepared every day for twelve was served for us three. Nothing worthy of note (so far as conversation went) was done at dinner, as we talked commonplace after the manner of people of fashion.

After the dessert Tour d’Auvergne left us to go and see the Prince de Turenne, who was in a high fever, and after he was gone Madame d’Urfe began to discuss alchemy and magic, and all the other branches of her beloved science, or rather infatuation. When we got on to the magnum opus, and I asked her if she knew the nature of the first matter, it was only her politeness which prevented her from laughing; but controlling herself, she replied graciously that she already possessed the philosopher’s stone, and that she was acquainted with all the operations of the work. She then shewed me a collection of books which had belonged to the great d’Urfe, and Renee of Savoy, his wife; but she had added to it ma.n.u.scripts which had cost her more than a hundred thousand francs.

Paracelsus was her favourite author, and according to her he was neither man, woman, nor hermaphrodite, and had the misfortune to poison himself with an overdose of his panacea, or universal medicine. She shewed me a short ma.n.u.script in French, where the great work was clearly explained.

She told me that she did not keep it under lock and key, because it was written in a cypher, the secret of which was known only to herself.

“You do not believe, then, in steganography.”

“No, sir, and if you would like it, I will give you this which has been copied from the original.”

“I accept it, madam, with all the more grat.i.tude in that I know its worth.”

From the library we went into the laboratory, at which I was truly astonished. She shewed me matter that had been in the furnace for fifteen years, and was to be there for four or five years more. It was a powder of projection which was to transform instantaneously all metals into the finest gold. She shewed me a pipe by which the coal descended to the furnace, keeping it always at the same heat. The lumps of coal were impelled by their own weight at proper intervals and in equal quant.i.ties, so that she was often three months without looking at the furnace, the temperature remaining the same the whole time. The cinders were removed by another pipe, most ingeniously contrived, which also answered the purpose of a ventilator.

The calcination of mercury was mere child’s play to this wonderful woman. She shewed me the calcined matter, and said that whenever I liked she would instruct me as to the process. I next saw the Tree of Diana of the famous Taliamed, whose pupil she was. His real name was Maillot, and according to Madame d’Urfe he had not, as was supposed, died at Ma.r.s.eilles, but was still alive; “and,” added she, with a slight smile, “I often get letters from him. If the Regent of France,” said she, “had listened to me he would be alive now. He was my first friend; he gave me the name of Egeria, and he married me to M. d’Urfe.”

She possessed a commentary on Raymond Lully, which cleared up all difficult points in the comments of Arnold de Villanova on the works of Roger Bacon and Heber, who, according to her, were still alive. This precious ma.n.u.script was in an ivory casket, the key of which she kept religiously; indeed her laboratory was a closed room to all but myself.

I saw a small cask full of ‘platina del Pinto’, which she told me she could trans.m.u.te into gold when she pleased. It had been given her by M.

Vood himself in 1743. She shewed me the same metal in four phials. In the first three the platinum remained intact in sulphuric, nitric, and muriatic acid, but in the fourth, which contained ‘aqua regia’, the metal had not been able to resist the action of the acid. She melted it with the burning-gla.s.s, and said it could be melted in no other way, which proved, in her opinion, its superiority to gold. She shewed me some precipitated by sal ammoniac, which would not precipitate gold.

Her athanor had been alight for fifteen years. The top was full of black coal, which made me conclude that she had been in the laboratory two or three days before. Stopping before the Tree of Diana, I asked her, in a respectful voice, if she agreed with those who said it was only fit to amuse children. She replied, in a dignified manner, that she had made it to divert herself with the crystallization of the silver, spirit of nitre, and mercury, and that she looked upon it as a piece of metallic vegetation, representing in little what nature performed on a larger scale; but she added, very seriously, that she could make a Tree of Diana which should be a very Tree of the Sun, which would produce golden fruit, which might be gathered, and which would continue to be produced till no more remained of a certain ingredient. I said modestly that I could not believe the thing possible without the powder of projection, but her only answer was a pleased smile.

She then pointed out a china basin containing nitre, mercury, and sulphur, and a fixed salt on a plate.

“You know the ingredients, I suppose?” said she.

“Yes; this fixed salt is a salt of urine.”

“You are right.”

“I admire your sagacity, madam. You have made an a.n.a.lysis of the mixture with which I traced the pentacle on your nephew’s thigh, but in what way can you discover the words which give the pentacle its efficacy?”

“In the ma.n.u.script of an adept, which I will shew you, and where you will find the very words you used.”

I bowed my head in reply, and we left this curious laboratory.

We had scarcely arrived in her room before Madame d’Urfe drew from a handsome casket a little book, bound in black, which she put on the table while she searched for a match. While she was looking about, I opened the book behind her back, and found it to be full of pentacles, and by good luck found the pentacle I had traced on the count’s thigh.

It was surrounded by the names of the spirits of the planets, with the exception of those of Saturn and Mars. I shut up the book quickly. The spirits named were the same as those in the works of Agrippa, with which I was acquainted. With an unmoved countenance I drew near her, and she soon found the match, and her appearance surprised me a good deal; but I will speak of that another time.

The marchioness sat down on her sofa, and making me to do the like she asked me if I was acquainted with the talismans of the Count de Treves?

“I have never heard of them, madam, but I know those of Poliphilus:”

“It is said they are the same.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“We shall see. If you will write the words you uttered, as you drew the pentacle on my nephew’s thigh, and if I find the same talisman with the same words around it, the ident.i.ty will be proved.”

“It will, I confess. I will write the words immediately.”

I wrote out the names of the spirits. Madame d’Urfe found the pentacle and read out the names, while I pretending astonishment, gave her the paper, and much to her delight she found the names to be the same.

“You see,” said she, “that Poliphilus and the Count de Treves possessed the same art.”

“I shall be convinced that it is so, if your book contains the manner of p.r.o.nouncing the ineffable names. Do you know the theory of the planetary hours?”

“I think so, but they are not needed in this operation.”

———-

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