1902 Encyclopedia > Giovanni Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt

Giovanni Jacopo Casanova de Seingalt
(also known as: Giacomo Casanova)
Italian adventurer

GIOVANNI JACOPO CASANOVA DE SEINGALT (1725-1803) one of the most noted adventurers of the 18th century, was born at Venice in 1725. His father belonged to an ancient and even noble family, but alienated his friends by embracing the dramatic profession early in life. He made a runaway marriage with Zanetta Farusi, the beautiful daughter of a Venetian shoemaker; and Giovanni was their eldest child. When he was but a year old, his parents, taking a journey to London, left him in charge of his grandmother, who perceiving his precocious and lively intellect, had him educated far above her means. At sixteen he passed his examination and entered the seminary of St Cyprian in Venice, from which he was expelled a short time afterwards for some scandalous and immoral conduct, which would have cost him his liberty, had not his mother managed somehow to procure him a situation in the household of the Cardinal Acquaviva. He made but a short stay, however, in that prelate's establish-ment, all restraint being irksome to his wayward disposi-tion, and took to travelling. Then began that existence of adventure and intrigue which only ended with his death. He visited Rome, Naples, Corfu, Constantinople, and penetrated even so far as St Petersburg, where he was introduced to Catherine II. By turns journalist, preacher, abbe, diplomatist, he was nothing very long, except homme a bonnes fortunes, which profession he assiduously culti-vated till the end of his days. In 1755 having returned to Venice, he was denounced to the Government as a political spy, and committed to prison. After several fruit-less attempts he succeeded in establishing a communication with another prisoner, in whose company he made his escape on the night of the 31st of October 1756. This exploit, afterwards so graphically related by him in a separate volume, and also in his Memoirs, gained him great celebrity. From that day he became a man of fashion, and recommenced his life of dissolute and profligate adventure. Exhibiting his effrontery and audacity at every court in Europe, he at last made his way through Germany, in which country he was presented to Frederick the Great, into France. Here he became acquainted with Rousseau, Voltaire, and many more notabilities, had interviews with Louis XV., and was almost tenderly intimate with Madame de Pompadour. Handsome, witty, and eloquent, it is not to be wondered at that such a man should have been received with open arms in the dissolute coteries of the 18th century. Consummate profligate and charlatan as he was, he was loaded with honours by the Italian princes, and even decorated by the Pope himself.

After eighteen years' absence from his native town, he endeavoured to reinstate himself in the esteem of the Venetians by a refutation of the work of Amelot de la Houssaye on the constitution of the republic ; and when at last serious matters took the place of his pleasures, he became, in 1782, librarian to a German prince without a library. This prince was Count Waldstein, whom he accompanied to his chateau at Dux in Bohemia, in which place he died in 1803, after having written his Memoirs, a work not unlike the Confessions of Rousseau, but far more depraved in tone. They are the frank avowal of a godless life, notwithstanding the frequent professions of Christianity in the preface. Much as they have been overrated, a certain literary merit cannot be denied to them. They are principally interesting for the faithful pictures they give us of the morals and manners of the times. The Mémoires were published at Leipsic, 10 vols., in 1828-38, and at Paris, 4 vols., in 1843. He also wrote several works on history in Italian; Récit de ma Captivité, 1788; a translation in verse of the Iliad, 1778 ; and a Narrative of Eighty Years spent among the Inhabitants of the Interior of the Globe, 1788-1800.

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