Cagliostro (1743–1795)
Considered by some to be one of the greatest occult figures
of all time. It was the fashion during the latter half of the nineteenth
century to regard Cagliostro as a charlatan and fraud.
This viewpoint was greatly aided by the savage attack perpetrated
on his memory by Thomas Carlyle, who alluded to him
as ‘‘the Prince of Quacks.’’ Others, such as W. R. H. Trowbridge
(1918), have argued that if Cagliostro was not a man of unimpeachable
honor, he was by no means the quack and scoundrel
so many have made him out to be.
Following is an outline of Cagliostro’s life as known before
Trowbridge’s examination, after which the details of his career
are explored in view of what may be termed as Trowbridge’s
‘‘discoveries.’’
Cagliostro’s Mysterious Life
The problem of assembling a biographical sketch of Cagliostro
is difficult due to the significant amount of legendary material
that surrounds him. It is therefore necessary to apply a
critical eye when dealing with the myriad contradictions.
Cagliostro’s father, whose name is alleged to have been
Peter Balsamo, died young. From infancy, young Joseph Balsamo
showed an unconventional individualism, and when placed
in a religious seminary at Palermo he more than once ran away
from it; usually found in undesirable company. He was sent
next to a Benedictine convent, where he was under the care of
a father superior. The father superior quickly discovered his
natural aptitude, and Balsamo became the assistant of an
apothecary attached to the convent, from whom he learned the
principles of chemistry and medicine. Even then his desire was
more to discover surprising and astonishing chemical combinations
than to gain more useful knowledge. Tiring of the life at
last, he succeeded in escaping from the convent, and went to
Palermo.
In Palermo resided a goldsmith named Marano, a superstitious
man who believed devoutly in the efficacy of magic. He
became attracted to young Balsamo, who at the age of seventeen
posed as being deeply versed in occultism and had been
seen evoking spirits. Marano made his acquaintance and confided
to him that he had spent a great deal of money upon
quack alchemists, but he was convinced that by meeting him he
had at last chanced upon a real master of magic. Balsamo willingly
ministered to the man’s superstitions, and told him as a
profound secret that in a nearby field was a buried treasure,
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which he could locate by the aid of magic ceremonies. But the
operation necessitated some expensive preliminaries—at least
60 ounces of gold would be required. To this very considerable
sum Marano demurred, and Balsamo coolly asserted that he
would enjoy the vast treasure alone. But the credulity of Marano
was too strong for his better sense, and at length he
agreed to furnish the necessary funds.
At midnight they sought the field where it the supposed
treasure was hidden. Balsamo proceeded with his incantations,
and Marano, terrified at their dreadful nature, fell to the
ground in submission. He was then unmercifully attacked by a
number of scoundrels whom Balsamo had collected for that
purpose. Palermo rang with the affair, but Balsamo managed
to escape to Messina, where he adopted the title ‘‘Count Cagliostro.’’
It was in this town where he first met with the mysterious Althotas.
He was walking one day in the vicinity of the harbor
when he encountered a person of singular dress and countenance.
Attracted by his appearance, Cagliostro saluted him,
and after some conversation the stranger offered to tell the
pseudo count the story of his past and to reveal what was actually
passing in his mind at that moment. Cagliostro was interested
and made arrangements to visit the stranger.
Cagliostro duly appeared and was led along a narrow passage
lit by a single lamp in a niche of the wall. At the end was
a spacious apartment illuminated by wax candles and furnished
with everything necessary for the practice of alchemy. Althotas
expressed himself as a believer in the mutability of physical law
(rather than magic), which he regarded as a science having
fixed laws discoverable and reducible to reason. He proposed
to depart for Egypt and to take Cagliostro with him—a proposal
that the latter joyfully accepted. Althotas informed Cagliostro
that he possessed no funds but told him that it was an easy
matter for him to make sufficient gold to pay the expenses of
their voyage.
Accompanied by Cagliostro, Althotas penetrated into Africa
and the heart of Egypt, visiting the pyramids, making the acquaintance
of the priests of different temples, and receiving
from them much knowledge. Following their Egyptian tour,
they visited the principal kingdoms of Africa and Asia, and
were subsequently located at Rhodes pursuing alchemical operations.
At Malta they assisted the grandmaster Pinto, who was
infatuated with alchemical experiments, and from that moment
Althotas completely disappeared, the memoir of Cagliostro
stating that during their residence at Malta he passed away.
On the death of his comrade, Cagliostro traveled to Naples.
There he met with a Sicilian prince who conceived a strong predilection
for his society and invited him to his castle near Palermo.
He had not been long in Palermo when one day he traveled
to Messina, where he encountered by chance one of his
confederates in the affair of Marano the goldsmith. This man
warned him not to enter the town of Palermo, and finally persuaded
him to return to Naples to open a gambling house for
the fleecing of wealthy foreigners. This scheme the pair carried
out, but the Neapolitan authorities regarded them with such
grave suspicion that they prudently removed themselves to the
papal states. There they parted company, and regarding this
time the alleged memoir of Cagliostro is not very clear. Later,
in Rome, he established a fraudulent medical practice where he
retailed concotions for all the diseases that humans can acquire;
a setup that provided considerable wealth and luxury.
It was at this time that he met the young and beautiful
Lorenza Feliciani, to whom he proposed marriage; her father,
dazzled by Cagliostro’s apparent wealth and importance, consented,
and the marriage took place with some ceremony. All
biographers of Cagliostro agree in stating that Lorenza was a
thoroughly good woman, honest, devoted, and modest. The
most dreadful accusations have been made concerning the
manner in which Cagliostro treated his wife, and it has been alleged
that he thoroughly ruined her character and corrupted
her mind.
At last Caglistro and Lorenza arrived in Spain by way of Barcelona,
where they stayed for six months, proceeding afterward
to Madrid and Lisbon. From Lisbon they sailed to England,
where Cagliostro lived by duping unwitting foreigners. An English
‘‘life of Cagliostro’’ tells of his adventures in London, how
he was robbed of a large sum in plate, jewels, and money, and
how he hired apartments in Whitcomb Street, where he spent
most of his time in studying chemistry and physics, and giving
away money.
In 1772 he returned to France with Lorenza and a certain
Duplaisir. At this time it is said that Duplaisir eloped with
Lorenza, and when Cagliostro obtained an order for her arrest,
she was imprisoned in a penitentiary, where she was detained
for several months. At this time Cagliostro had attracted attention
in Paris with his alchemical successes. It was the period of
mystic enthusiasm in Europe, when princes, bishops, and the
nobility generally were keen to probe the secrets of nature, and
alchemy.
Cagliostro went too far and eventually his benefactors began
to seriously doubt his honesty. He was forced to flee to Brussels,
where he made his way to his native town of Palermo. He was
immediately arrested by the goldsmith Marano. A certain nobleman,
however, interested himself on his behalf, procured
his release, and Cagliostro embarked with Lorenza for Malta.
From that island they soon retired to Naples, and from there
to Marseilles and Barcelona. Their progress was marked by
considerable state, and having cheated an alchemist of 100,000
crowns under the pretence of achieving some alchemical secret,
they fled to England.
During his second visit to London Cagliostro was initiated
into Freemasonry and conceived his great idea of employing
that system for his own gain. He incessantly visited the various
London lodges and ingratiated himself with their principals
and officials. At this time he supposedly picked up a manuscript
at an obscure London bookstall that is said to have belonged
to a certain George Gaston. This document dealt with
the mysteries of Egyptian Masonry and abounded in magical
and mystical references. It was from this, that Cagliostro allegedly
gathered his occult inspirations.
After another tour through Holland, Italy, and Germany, he
paid a visit to the Count de St. Germain. In his usual eccentric
manner, St. Germain arranged their meeting for the hour of
two o’clock in the morning, at which time Cagliostro and
Lorenza presented themselves before the count’s temple of
mystery.
The Count de St. Germain sat upon the altar, and at his feet
two acolytes swung golden censers. In the book Lives of the Alchemystical
Philosophers, published anonymously in 1815, this interview
is thus detailed
‘‘The divinity bore upon his breast a diamond pentagram of
almost intolerable radiance. A majestic statue, white and diaphanous,
upheld on the steps of the altar a vase inscribed, ‘Elixir
of Immortality,’ while a vast mirror was on the wall, and before
it a living being, majestic as the statue, walked to and fro. Above
the mirror were these singular words—‘Store House of Wandering
Souls.’ The most solemn silence prevailed in this sacred
retreat, but at length a voice, which seemed hardly a voice, pronounced
these words—‘Who are you Whence come you What
would you’ Then the Count and Countess Cagliostro prostrated
themselves, and the former answered after a long pause, ‘I
come to invoke the God of the faithful, the Son of Nature, the
Sire of Truth. I come to demand of him one of the fourteen
thousand seven hundred secrets which are treasured in his
breast, I come to proclaim myself his slave, his apostle, his martyr.’
‘‘The divinity did not respond, but after a long silence, the
same voice asked—‘What does the partner of thy long wanderings
intend’
‘‘ ‘To obey and to serve,’ Lorenza answered.
‘‘Simultaneously with her words, profound darkness succeeded
the glare of light, uproar followed on tranquillity, terror
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on trust, and a sharp and menacing voice cried loudly—‘Woe
to those who cannot stand the tests.’
‘‘Husband and wife were immediately separated to undergo
their respective trials, which they endured with exemplary fortitude
and which are detailed in the text of their memoirs.
When the romantic mummery was over, the two postulants
were led back into the temple with the promise of admission to
the divine mysteries. There a man mysteriously draped in a
long mantle cried out to them ‘Know ye that the arcanum of
our great art is the government of mankind, and that the one
means to rule them is never to tell them the truth. Do not foolishly
regulate your actions according to the rules of common
sense; rather outrage reason and courageously maintain every
unbelievable absurdity. Remember that reproduction is the
palmary active power in nature, politics and society alike; that
it is a mania with mortals to be immortal, to know the future
without understanding the present, and to be spiritual while all
that surrounds them is material.’
‘‘After this harangue the orator genuflected devoutly before
the divinity of the temple and retired. At the same moment a
man of gigantic stature led the countess to the feet of the immortal
Count de St. Germain who thus spoke
‘‘ ‘Elected from my tenderest youth to the things of greatness,
I employed myself in ascertaining the nature of veritable
glory. Politics appeared to me nothing but the science of deception,
tactics the art of assassination, philosophy the ambitious
imbecility of complete irrationality; physics fine fancies about
Nature and the continual mistakes of persons suddenly transplanted,
into a country which is utterly unknown to them; theology
the science of the misery which results from human
pride; history the melancholy spectacle of perpetual perfidy
and blundering. Thence I concluded that the statesman was a
skillful liar, the hero an illustrious idiot, the philosopher an eccentric
creature, the physician a pitiable and blind man, the
theologian a fanatical pedagogue, and the historian a wordmonger.
Then did I hear of the divinity of this temple. I cast
my cares upon him, with my incertitudes and aspirations. When
he took possession of my soul he caused me to perceive all objects
in a new light; I began to read futurity. This universe so
limited, so narrow, so desert, was now enlarged. I abode not
only with those who are, but with those who were. He united me
to the loveliest women of antiquity. I found it eminently delectable
to know all without studying anything, to dispose of the
treasures of the earth without the solicitations of monarchs, to
rule the elements rather than men. Heaven made me liberal;
I have sufficient to satisfy my taste; all that surrounds me is rich,
loving, predestinated.’
‘‘When the service was finished the costume of ordinary life
was resumed. A superb repast terminated the ceremony. During
the course of the banquet the two guests were informed that
the Elixir of Immortality was merely Tokay coloured green or
red according to the necessities of the case. Several essential
precepts were enjoined upon them, among others that they
must detest, avoid, and calumniate men of understanding, but
flatter, foster, and blind fools, that they must spread abroad
with much mystery the intelligence that the Court de St. Germain
was five hundred years old, and that they must make gold,
but dupes before all.’’
Traveling into Courland (western Latvia), Cagliostro and
his wife succeeded in establishing several Masonic lodges according
to the rite of what he called Egyptian Freemasonry.
Persons of high rank flocked around the couple, and it is even
said that he plotted for the sovereignty of the grand duchy. It
is also alleged that he collected a very large treasure of presents
and money and set out for St. Petersburg, where he established
himself as a physician.
A large number of medical cures have been credited to Cagliostro
throughout his career, and his methods have been the
subject of considerable controversy. But there is little doubt
that the basis of them was a species of mesmeric influence. It
has been said that he trusted simply to the laying on of hands,
that he charged nothing for his services, and that most of his
time was occupied in treating the poor.
Returning to Germany, he was received in most of the towns
through which he passed as a benefactor of the human race.
Some regarded his cures as miracles, others as sorceries, while
he himself asserted they were effected by celestial aid.
For three years Cagliostro remained at Strasbourg, honored
and praised by all. He formed a strong friendship with the cardinal-archbishop,
the Prince de Rohan, who was fired by the
idea of achieving alchemical successes. Cagliostro accomplished
supposed transmutations under his eyes, and the
prince, delighted with the seeming successes, lavished immense
sums upon him. He even believed that the elixir of life
was known to Cagliostro and built a small house in which he was
to undergo a physical regeneration.
When he depleted the prince’s finances, Cagliostro went to
Lyons, where he occupied himself with the foundation of headquarters
for his Egyptian Masonic rite. He then proceeded to
Paris, where he assumed the role of master of practical magic
and evoked phantoms that he caused to appear at the wish of
the inquirer in a vase of clear water or in a mirror. Occult authority
Arthur E. Waite suggested that in this connection fraud
was an impossibility and appears to lean toward the theory that
the visions evoked by Cagliostro were such as occur in crystal
gazing and believed no one was more astonished than the
Count himself at the results he obtained. Paris rang with his
name and he received the appellation ‘‘the Divine Cagliostro.’’
Introduced to the court of Louis XVI, Cagliostro succeeded
in evoking apparitions in mirrors before many spectators—
these apparitions included many deceased persons especially
selected by those present. His residence was isolated and surrounded
by gardens, and there he established a laboratory. His
wife affected great privacy and only appeared, in a costume, at
certain hours and before a very select company. This heightened
the mystery surrounding them, and the elite of Parisian
society vied with one another to be present at their magic suppers,
at which the evocation of the illustrious dead was the principal
amusement. It is even stated that deceased statesmen, authors,
and nobles took their seats at Cagliostro’s supper table.
Cagliostro’s grand objective, however, appeared to have
been the spread of his Egyptian Masonic rite. The lodges he
founded were androgynal—they admitted both men and
women. The ladies were instructed by the master’s wife, who
figured as the grand mistress of the order, her husband adopting
the title of Grand Copt.
There is little doubt that a good deal of money was subscribed
by the neophytes of the various lodges. Each woman
who joined sacrificed on the altar of mysticism no less than 100
louis, and Cagliostro’s immense wealth was established from
the numerous gifts that were showered upon him by the powerful
and wealthy for the purpose of furthering his Masonic
schemes. Although he lived in considerable magnificence, Cagliostro
by no means led a life of abandoned luxury, for there
is evidence that he gave away vast sums to the poor and needy,
attended the sick, and played the part of healer and reformer.
A great deal of mystery surrounded the doings of the Egyptian
Masonry in its headquarters in the Faubourg Saint Honoré,
and the séances for initiation took place at midnight. The
writer Louis Figuier and the Marquis de Luchet gave striking
accounts of what occurred during the female initiations. Figuier
observed
‘‘On entering the first apartment the ladies were obliged to
disrobe and assume a white garment, with a girdle of various
colors. They were divided into six groups, distinguished by the
tint of their cinctures. A large veil was also provided, and they
were caused to enter a temple lighted from the roof, and furnished
with thirty-six arm-chairs covered with black satin.
Lorenza clothed in white, was seated on a species of throne,
supported by two tall figures, so habited that their sex could not
be determined. The light was lowered by degrees till surrounding
objects could scarcely be distinguished, when the Grand
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Mistress commanded the ladies to uncover their left legs as far
as the thigh, and raising the right arm to rest it on a neighboring
pillar. Two young women then entered sword in hand, and
with silk ropes bound all the ladies together by the arms and
legs.’’
‘‘After a period of silence, Lorenza pronounced an oration
which preached emancipation of womankind from the bonds
imposed on them by the lords of creation.
‘‘These bonds were symbolized by the silken ropes from
which the fair initiates were released at the end of the harangue,
when they were conducted into separate apartments,
each opening onto the garden. There some were pursued by
men who persecuted them with solicitations; others encountered
admirers who sighed in languishing postures at their feet.
More than one discovered the counterpart of her own love, but
the oath they had all taken necessitated the most inexorable inhumanity,
and all faithfully fulfilled what was required of them.
The new spirit infused into the regenerated women triumphed
along the whole line of the thirty-six initiates, who with intact
and immaculate symbols reentered the temple to receive the
congratulations of the sovereign priestess.
‘‘When they had breathed a little after their trials, the vaulted
roof opened suddenly, and, on a vast sphere of gold, there
descended a man, naked as the unfallen Adam, holding a serpent
in his hand, and having a burning star upon his head.
‘‘The Grand Mistress announced that this was the genius of
Truth, the immortal, the divine Cagliostro, issued without procreation
from the bosom of our father Abraham, and the depositary
of all that hath been, is, or shall be known on the universal
earth. He was there to initiate them into the secrets of
which they had been fraudulently deprived. The Grand Copt
thereupon commanded them to dispense with the profanity of
clothing, for if they would receive truth they must be as naked
as itself. The sovereign priestess setting the example unbound
her girdle and permitted her drapery to fall to the ground, and
the fair initiates following her example exposed themselves in
all the nudity of their charms to the magnetic glances of the celestial
genius, who then commenced his revelations.
‘‘He informed his daughters that the much abused magical
art was the secret of doing good to humanity. It was the initiation
into the mysteries of Nature, and the power to make use
of her occult forces. The visions which they had beheld in the
Garden where so many had seen and recognised those who
were dearest to their hearts, proved the reality of hermetic operations.
They had shewn themselves worthy to know the truth;
he undertook to instruct them by gradations therein. It was
enough at the outset to inform them that the sublime end of
that Egyptian Freemasonry which he had brought from the
very heart of the Orient was the happiness of mankind. This
happiness was illimitable in its nature, including material enjoyments
as much as spiritual peace, and the pleasures of the
understanding.’’
At the end of this harangue the Grand Copt once more seated
himself upon the sphere of gold and was borne away
through the roof.
The Affair of the Diamond Necklace
It was during this period that Cagliostro became implicated
in the extraordinary affair of a diamond necklace. He had been
on terms of great intimacy with the Cardinal de Rohan. Countess
de Lamotte had petitioned that prince for a pension on account
of long aristocratic descent. De Rohan greatly desired to
become first minister of the throne, but Marie Antoinette, the
queen, disliked him and stood in the way of this an honor.
Lamotte soon discovered this and, for purposes of her own,
told the cardinal that the queen favored his ambitions. She
then either forged, or procured someone else to forge, letters
to the cardinal claiming to come from the queen, some of which
begged for money for a poor family in which her majesty was
interested. Rohan was anxious to please the queen but was already
heavily in debt and had also misappropriated the funds
of various institutions; he was thus driven into the hands of
moneylenders.
The wretched Countess de Lamotte met by chance a poor
woman whose resemblance to the queen was exceedingly
marked. This person she trained to represent Marie Antoinette,
and arranged nightly meetings between her and Rohan,
in which the disguised woman made all sorts of promises to the
cardinal. Between them the adventuresses mulcted the unfortunate
prelate of immense sums of money.
Meanwhile, a certain Bähmer, a jeweler, was very desirous
of selling a wonderful diamond necklace in which, for over ten
years, he had locked up his whole fortune. Hearing that Mme.
de Lamotte had great influence with the queen, he approached
her for the purpose of getting her to induce Marie Antoinette
to purchase it. She at once corresponded on the matter with de
Rohan, who proceeded posthaste to Paris, to be told by Mme.
de Lamotte that the queen wished him to be security for the
purchase of the necklace, for which she had agreed to pay
1,600,000 livres in four half-yearly installments.
The cardinal was naturally overwhelmed at the suggestion
but signed the agreement, and Mme. de Lamotte became the
possessor of the necklace. She speedily broke it up, picking the
jewels from their setting with an ordinary penknife.
Matters went smoothly enough until the date when the first
installment of 400,000 livres became due. De Rohan, never
dreaming that the queen would not meet it, could not lay his
hands on such a sum; and Bähmer, noting his anxiety, mentioned
the matter to one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting, who
retorted that he must be mad, as the queen had never purchased
the necklace at all. Bähmer went at once to Mme. de Lamotte,
who laughed at him, said he was being fooled, insisted
it had nothing to do with her, and told him to go to the cardinal.
The terrified jeweler did not take her advice, however, but
went instead to the king.
The amazed Louis XVI listened to the story quietly enough,
then turned to the queen who was present. Marie Antoinette at
once broke forth in a tempest of indignation. As a matter of
fact, Bähmer had for years pestered her to buy the necklace;
but the crowning indignity was that de Rohan, whom she cordially
detested, should have been made the medium for such
a scandalous disgrace in connection with her name. She at once
decreed that the cardinal should be arrested. The king acquiesced
in this, and shortly afterward the Countess de Lamotte,
Cagliostro and his wife (who were implicated by the countess),
and others followed the cardinal to the Bastille.
The trial that followed was one of the most sensational and
stirring in the annals of French history. The king was blamed
for allowing the affair to become public at all, and there the evidence
of such conduct as displayed by aristocrats inflamed public
opinion and may have hastened the French Revolution.
Mme. de Lamotte not only charged Cagliostro with the robbery
of the necklace, but also invented for him a terrible past,
designating him an empiric, alchemist, false prophet, and Jew.
This is not the place to deal with the trial at length, but suffice
it to say that Cagliostro easily proved his complete innocence.
The Parisian public looked to Cagliostro to supply the comedy
in this great drama, and assuredly they were not disappointed,
for he provided them with what must be described as one of the
most romantic, fanciful, and absurd life stories in the history of
autobiography.
His Last Years
Although proved innocent, he had offended so many people
in high places that he was banished, amid shouts of laughter
from everyone in the court. Even the judges were convulsed,
but on his return from the courthouse the mob cheered him
heartily.
If he had accomplished nothing else, he had at least won the
hearts of the populace by his kindness and the many acts of
faithful service he had lavished upon them; and it was partly
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owing to this popularity, and partly to the violent hatred of the
court, that he owed the reception accorded him.
He was reunited with his wife and shortly afterward took his
departure for London, where he was received with considerable
éclat. There he addressed a letter to the people of France,
which obtained wide circulation and predicted the French Revolution,
the demolishment of the Bastille, and the downfall of
the monarchy. Following this, the Courier de l’Europe, a French
paper published in London, printed a so-called exposure of the
real life of Cagliostro from beginning to end. From that moment,
his descent was headlong. His reputation had preceded
him in Switzerland and Austria, and he could find no rest there.
At last he and Lorenza journeyed to Rome. In the beginning
he was well received and was even entertained by several cardinals.
He privately studied medicine and lived quietly, but he
made the great mistake of attempting to further his Masonic
ideas within the bounds of the papal states. Masonry was of
course anathema to the Roman church; and upon attempting
to found a lodge in the Eternal City itself, he was arrested on
September 27, 1789, by order of the Holy Inquisition and imprisoned
in the castle of Saint Angelo.
His examination occupied his inquisitors for no less than
eighteen months, and he was sentenced to death on April 7,
1791. He was recommended to mercy, however, and the pope
commuted his sentence to perpetual imprisonment in the castle
of Saint Angelo. On one occasion he made a desperate attempt
to escape. Requesting the services of a confessor, he attempted
to strangle the brother sent to him, but the burly
priest, in whose habit he had intended to disguise himself,
proved too strong and quickly overpowered him.
Afterward he was imprisoned in the solitary castle of San
Leo near Montefeltro, where he died and was interred in 1795.
The manner of his death is unknown.
The Countess Cagliostro’s wife was also sentenced by the Inquisition
to imprisonment for life. She was confined in the Convent
of St. Appolonia, a penitentiary for women in Rome,
where it is rumored that she died in 1794.
Cagliostro’s manuscript volume entitled ‘‘Egyptian Freemasonry’’
fell with his other papers into the hands of the Inquisition
and was solemnly condemned by it as subversive to the interests
of Christianity. It was publicly burned; but oddly enough
the Inquisition set apart one of its brethren to concoct some
kind of life of Cagliostro, which did include particulars concerning
his Masonic methods.
Cagliostro as Occult Hero
W. R. H. Trowbridge, one of Cagliostro’s biographers, made
a convincing case that Cagliostro was not the same as Joseph
Balsamo, with whom his detractors have identified him. Balsamo
was a Sicilian vagabond adventurer, and the statement that
he and Cagliostro were one and the same person originally
rests on the word of the editor of the Courier de l’Europe, and
upon an anonymous letter from Palermo to the chief of the
Paris police.
According to Trowbridge, the fact that the names of Cagliostro’s
wife and the wife of Balsamo were identical amounted to
little more than coincidence, as the name Lorenza Feliciani was
a very common one in Italy. He also claimed in his biography
that the testimony of the handwriting experts as to the remarkable
similarity between the writing of Balsamo and Cagliostro
was worthless and stated that nobody who had known Balsamo
ever saw Cagliostro. He also pointed out that Balsamo, who had
been in England in 1771, was ‘‘wanted’’ by the London police.
How was it then that six years afterward they did not recognize
him in Count Cagliostro, who spent four months in a debtors’
prison there, for no fault of his own
The whole evidence against Cagliostro’s character rested
with the editor of the Courier de l’Europe and his Inquisition biographer,
neither of whom could be credited for various reasons.
For instance, it must be recollected that the narrative of
the Inquisition biographer was supposed to be based upon the
confessions of Cagliostro under torture in the castle of Saint
Angelo. Neither was the damaging disclosure of the editor of
the Courier de l’Europe at all topical, as he raked up matter which
was at least fourteen years old, and of which he had no personal
knowledge.
Trowbridge also claimed that the dossier discovered in the
French archives in 1783, which was supposed to embody Madame
Cagliostro’s confessions when she was imprisoned regarding
the career of her husband, was a forgery. He further
disposes of the statements that Cagliostro lived on the immoral
earnings of his wife.
A born adventurer, Cagliostro was by no means a rogue, as
revealed by his beneficence. It is unlikely that the various Masonic
lodges that he founded and that were patronized by persons
of ample means provided him extensive funds, and it is a
known fact that he was subsidized by several extremely wealthy
men, who, themselves dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Europe,
did not hesitate to place their riches at his disposal for the
purpose of undermining the tyrannical powers that then wielded
sway.
There is reason to believe that he had at some period of his
life acquired a certain working knowledge of practical occultism
and that he possessed certain elementary psychic powers
of hypnotism and telepathy.
But on the whole, Cagliostro remains a mystery, and in all
likelihood the clouds that surround his origin and early years
will never be dispersed. Although Cagliostro was by no means
an exalted character, he was one of the most picturesque figures
in the later history of Europe, and assuredly the aura of
mystery that surrounds his origin does not in the least detract
from his appeal.
Sources
Funck-Brentano, Frantz. Cagliostro and Company. London,
1900.
Gervaso, Roberto. Cagliostro A Biography. London, 1974.
Trowbridge, W. R. H. Cagliostro The Splendour and Misery of
a Master of Magic. London, 1910. Reprinted as Cagliostro Savant
or Scoundrel New York Gordon Press, 1975. Reprinted as Cagliostro
Maligned Freemason and Rosicrucian. Kila, Mont. Kessiger
Publishing, 1992.

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