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Cagliostro

Cagliostro, Alexandre Comte de (1743-1795), a celebrated charlatan and quack, who made so great an impression upon his contemporaries that Goethe made a journey to Palermo in order to study him, and embodied his observations in a romance called The Grand Cophte; and Lavater also travelled to Bale to see him. Cagliostro's real name was Joseph Balsamo, and, born of poor parents at Palermo, he became in youth a member of the Brotherhood of Mercy, and learnt something of medicine there. Expelled from the Order, he entered upon the career of magician and finder of hidden treasures. He began by swindling a goldsmith out of a quantity of gold, and he also committed some forgeries, and then disappeared to travel under many aliases, and contrived to make many dupes by his audacity, his pretensions, and his medical cures, real or pretended. Coming to Rome, he married a beautiful Roman woman - Lorenza Feliciani - who by her beauty and cleverness was of the utmost service to him in his undertakings. In Malta he met the sage Althotas, whose disciple he became, and in 1780 we find him at Strasbourg, and laying claim to supernatural gifts. He claimed to have lived in the time of Christ, and to have prophesied the Crucifixion. In 1785 he was at Paris, where he inaugurated a system of Egyptian freemasonry, to which women were admitted, which had for its object the physical and moral regeneration of its adepts. For the former Cagliostro promised to them the discovery of the primary matter and the acacia, which should bestow perpetual youth and health. But the affair of the queen's necklace caused his imprisonment in the Bastille. After his acquittal and liberation he was exiled to England, and began again his travels about Europe. In 1789 he was again in Rome, where he was condemned to death by the Inquisition, a sentence which was commuted into imprisonment for life. At the same time his wife was condemned to perpetual seclusion in a convent. A French writer says of him: - "If we strip Cagliostro of his white plume, his gold lace, and his glittering spangles .... if we take from the picture its magic frame, what remains ? Not a supernatural being, but a man endowed with rare moral energy, gifted with fascinating, irresistible eloquence, and profiting by a knowledge acquired by long travels, numerous observations, and patient laborious study." One great instrument by which Cagliostro obtained dupes was the generosity with which he threw sprats to catch whales, an instrument which some of us have seen largely employed recently by a modern - sed longo intervallo - Cagliostro.

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