Casanova in London (1763)

Casanova, Giacomo
Francesco Narici, ‘Giacomo Casanova’, Wikimedia Commons, 1760.


"I conceived the idea of asking her to introduce me to Lady Betty, so I went up to her and proffered my request, but she replied politely that she could not do so not having the honour to know my name."

I went in due time to the assembly, and the secretary at the door wrote down my name as I handed in my ticket. When Madame Cornelis saw me she said she was delighted I had come in by ticket, and that she had had some doubts as to whether I would come.

“You might have spared yourself the trouble of doubting,” said I, “for after hearing that I had been to Court you might have guessed that a matter of two guineas would not have kept me away. I am sorry for our old friendship’s sake that I did not pay the money to you; for you might have known that I would not condescend to be present in the modest manner you indicated.”

This address, delivered with an ironical accent, embarrassed Madame Cornelis, but Lady Harrington, a great supporter of hers, came to her rescue.

“I have a number of guineas to hand over to you, my dear Cornelis, and amongst others two from M. de Seingalt, who, I fancy, is an old friend of yours. Nevertheless, I did not dare to tell him so,” she added, with a sly glance in my direction.

“Why not, my lady? I have known Madame Cornelis for many years.”

“I should think you have,” she answered, laughing, “and I congratulate you both. I suppose you know the delightful Miss Sophie too, Chevalier?”

“Certainly, my lady, who so knows the mother knows the daughter.”

“Quite so, quite so.”

Sophie was standing by, and after kissing her fondly Lady Harrington said,—

“If you love yourself, you ought to love her, for she is the image of you.”

“Yes, it is a freak of nature.”

“I think there is something more than a freak in this instance.”

With these words the lady took Sophie’s hand, and leaning on my arm she led us through the crowd, and I had to bear in silence the remarks of everyone.

“There is Madame Cornelis’s husband.”

“That must be M. Cornelis.”

“Oh! there can be no doubt about it.”

“No, no,” said Lady Harrington, “you are all quite wrong.”

I got tired of these remarks, which were all founded on the remarkable likeness between myself and Sophie. I wanted Lady Harrington to let the child go, but she was too much amused to do so.

“Stay by me,” she said, “if you want to know the names of the guests.” She sat down, making me sit on one side and Sophie on the other.

Madame Cornelis then made her appearance, and everyone asked her the same questions, and made the same remarks about me. She said bravely that I was her best and her oldest friend, and that the likeness between me and her daughter might possibly be capable of explanation. Everyone laughed and said it was very natural that it should be so. To change the subject, Madame Cornelis remarked that Sophie had learnt the minuet and danced it admirably.

“Then fetch a violin player,” said Lady Harrington, “that we may have the pleasure of witnessing the young artist’s performance.”

The ball had not yet begun, and as soon as the violinist appeared, I stepped forward and danced with Sophie, to the delight of the select circle of spectators.

The ball lasted all night without ceasing, as the company ate by relays, and at all times and hours; the waste and prodigality were worthy of a prince’s palace. I made the acquaintance of all the nobility and the Royal Family, for they were all there, with the exception of the king and queen, and the Prince of Wales. Madame Cornelis must have received more than twelve hundred guineas, but the outlay was enormous, without any control or safeguard against the thefts, which must have been perpetrated on all sides. She tried to introduce her son to everybody, but the poor lad looked like a victim, and did nothing but make profound bows. I pitied him from my heart.

As soon as I got home I went to bed and spent the whole of the next day there. The day after I went to the “Staven Tavern,” as I had been told that the prettiest girls in London resorted to it. Lord Pembroke gave me this piece of information; he went there very frequently himself. When I got to the tavern I asked for a private room, and the landlord, perceiving that I did not know English, accosted me in French, and came to keep me company. I was astonished at his grave and reverend manner of speaking, and did not like to tell him that I wanted to dine with a pretty Englishwoman. At last, however, I summoned up courage to say, with a great deal of circumlocution, that I did not know whether Lord Pembroke had deceived me in informing me that I should find the prettiest girls in London at his house.

“No, sir,” said he, “my lord has not deceived you, and you can have as many as you like.”

“That’s what I came for.”

He called out some name, and a tidy-looking lad making his appearance, he told him to get me a wench just as though he were ordering a bottle of champagne. The lad went out, and presently a girl of herculean proportions entered.

“Sir,” said I, “I don’t like the looks of this girl.”

“Give her a shilling and send her away. We don’t trouble ourselves about ceremonies in London.”

This put me at my ease, so I paid my shilling and called for a prettier wench. The second was worse than the first, and I sent her away, and ten others after her, while I could see that my fastidiousness amused the landlord immensely.

“I’ll see no more girls,” said I at last, “let me have a good dinner. I think the procurer must have been making game of me for the sake of the shillings.”

“It’s very likely; indeed it often happens so when a gentleman does not give the name and address of the wench he wants.”

In the evening as I was walking in St. James’s Park, I remembered it was a Ranelagh evening, and wishing to see the place I took a coach and drove there, intending to amuse myself till midnight, and to find a beauty to my taste.

I was pleased with the rotunda. I had some tea, I danced some minuets, but I made no acquaintances; and although I saw several pretty women, I did not dare to attack any of them. I got tired, and as it was near midnight I went out thinking to find my coach, for which I had not paid, still there, but it was gone, and I did not know what to do. An extremely pretty woman who was waiting for her carriage in the doorway, noticed my distress, and said that if I lived anywhere near Whitehall, she could take me home. I thanked her gratefully, and told her where I lived. Her carriage came up, her man opened the door, and she stepped in on my arm, telling me to sit beside her, and to stop the carriage when it got to my house.

As soon as we were in the carriage, I burst out into expressions of gratitude; and after telling her my name I expressed my regret at not having seen her at Soho Square.

“I was not in London,” she replied, “I returned from Bath to-day.”

I apostrophised my happiness in having met her. I covered her hands with kisses, and dared to kiss her on the cheek; and finding that she smiled graciously, I fastened my lips on hers, and before long had given her an unequivocal mark of the ardour with which she had inspired me.

She took my attentions so easily that I flattered myself I had not displeased her, and I begged her to tell me where I could call on her and pay my court while I remained in London, but she replied,—

“We shall see each other again; we must be careful.”

I swore secrecy, and urged her no more. Directly after the carriage stopped, I kissed her hand and was set down at my door, well pleased with the ride home.

For a fortnight I saw nothing of her, but I met her again in a house where Lady Harrington had told me to present myself, giving her name. It was Lady Betty German’s, and I found her out, but was asked to sit down and wait as she would be in soon. I was pleasantly surprised to find my fair friend of Ranelagh in the room, reading a newspaper. I conceived the idea of asking her to introduce me to Lady Betty, so I went up to her and proffered my request, but she replied politely that she could not do so not having the honour to know my name.


Taken from The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, 1725-1798. Transl. by Arthur Machen. London: Elek Books, 1894, vol. 5, chap. 8. Full text from Project Guntenberg.