Money matters: the discovery of an unpublished letter by Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

Duchov by Miloslav Rejha is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Duchcov Castle, Bohemia, 2nd  December 1791. Giacomo Casanova, the famous 18th-century Italian adventurer, has just received a letter from his nephew Carlo, a would-be entrepreneur living in Dresden. In his letter, Carlo asked his uncle for money on behalf of Sala, a Dresden merchant, who was apparently claiming the payment of a debt previously contracted by Casanova. Unfortunately for Carlo, Giacomo Casanova had already paid Sala the day before; Carlo’s alleged attempt to steal money from his uncle has failed.

After reading Carlo’s letter, Casanova takes pen and paper and starts inking a spectacular rebuke, addressed rather coldly to “Carlo, Mr. Nephew” (Signor Nipote Carlo). This unpublished letter has been recently found in the Library of Trinity College Cambridge, pasted inside a 1833 edition of Casanova’s Memoirs. The book, in five tomes, is part of the Crewe Collection, which was bequeathed to the Wren Library in 2015.

The letter pasted onto the first flyleaf of Mémoires

At the time, Casanova was employed as librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein, a Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Emperor, and was living in the Castle of Dux (Duchcov), Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. After a life of adventures and travels around Europe, this was a particularly unhappy and frustrating time for him. However, Casanova’s stay in Duchcov allowed him to live close to his family, who had been based in Dresden since the late 1730s. During his short trips to the city, he was able to visit his sister Maria Maddalena with her daughter Marianna and son-in-law Carlo Angiolini; and his brother Giovanni Alvise together with his wider family, including his son Carlo.

In the opening paragraph of his letter, Casanova goes straight to the point: he has already paid his debt of eight talers to Sala; moreover, his good relationship with the merchant is proven by the fact that Sala himself has offered to add some chocolate to Giacomo’s order as a gift. Carlo’s ill-timed request is called out immediately as a clumsy scam to obtain some money from his uncle.

Letter, page 1

Casanova then proceeds to highlight some traits of Carlo’s personality, shedding light on a previous attempted, and likely successful, scam (latrocinio; theft) for which Carlo begged his uncle for forgiveness. After using a few harsh words such as reckless madman (pazzo scapestrato) and accusing Carlo of having “a empty and ignorant head” (la vostra vuota, ed ignorante testa), Giacomo becomes softer and more sympathetic towards his nephew; in an attempt to offer Carlo some mitigating circumstances, he exhorts him to say whether he was drunk when he wrote the letter (ditemi, se eravate ubbriaco…). This circumstance would grant him Casanova’s forgiveness: a forgiveness which, if Carlo asked for until his death, he would always obtain, without any repercussion (vi accorderò il divin perdono che domandereste fino alla morte, che otterreste sempre, senza profittarne mai).

Money matters are not completely resolved though: in the following paragraph, Casanova admits he still owes Carlo twenty talers, part of a bigger previous debt, in which Sala was also involved. Casanova promises to pay his debt so that Carlo isn’t forced to escape from Dresden again (Non sarà mai vero, povero nipote mio, che il denaro che io posso dovervi, abbia ad esser cagione che scappiate un altra volta da Dresda): an action that Carlo had clearly carried out at least once before, and that Casanova discourages vehemently.

Letter, page 2

In the last paragraph of the letter Giacomo encourages his nephew to change his ways before Carlo’s father, Giovanni, “pays the big inevitable debt to nature” . Even if the relationship between Giacomo and Giovanni Casanova had notoriously been very rocky, Giacomo demonstrates empathy towards his brother, who must clearly feel ashamed and worried for a son who has strayed from the good path.

The last sentence of the letter is a spectacular summary of both Carlo’s past and present behaviour and Casanova’s knowledge of it, coupled with the willingness to keep it secret to avoid adding grief and worries to the whole family. Casanova encourages his nephew with the words “…begin to consider the idea of revealing [to your father] all of the intrigues you have immersed yourself in, which I know well.” (Cominciate intanto a disporvi di palesargli tutti gl’imbrogli in cui vi siete immerso, e che mi son noti.). The letter is signed “Your most affectionate uncle Giacomo” (Vostro affettuossissimo zio Giacomo), which again demonstrates the contrasting feelings Casanova has towards his nephew. We gain an impression of a man who held dear his family ties, even though the Casanovas had been scattered throughout Europe for decades, and relationships between its members hadn’t always been trouble-free.

Letter, page 3

Not much is known about Carlo.[1] He was one of the eight children of Giovanni Battista, also known as Giovanni Alvise Casanova, a famous painter, and Thérèse Rolland, who had been one of Giacomo’s lovers before marrying his brother. His desire to become a merchant emerges from this letter, when Casanova says “you, who wish to become a merchant, should truly learn to conduct business according to the civil laws of honesty” (Voi dunque, che volete far il mestiere di mercante, imparate a farlo con le leggi civili dell’onestà). The only other known correspondence between Giacomo and Carlo can be found in Pompeo Molmenti’s monumental work Carteggi Casanoviani, although Carlo is mistakenly identified as Carlo Angiolini, the husband of Casanova’s niece Teresa. The letter, published by Molmenti for the first time and dated 11th December 1790, is very similar to the Trinity one in both content and style, although the general tone is less angry and more affectionate; money matters are discussed, and Molmenti quotes it to prove the estranged relationship between Giacomo and Giovanni, Carlo’s father.[2]

The Trinity letter allows us to correctly identify Carlo Casanova as the addressee of the letter published by Molmenti, and therefore constitutes the second known example of a letter from Giacomo Casanova to his nephew Carlo. It is a fairly rare example of a letter sent by Casanova to a close relative, shedding further light on the relationships between members of this lively and fascinating 18th-century family.

A transcription and translation from Italian to English of the letter can be read here.

Memorial for Giovanni Battista Casanova, Dresden

This blog was written by Maria Giovanna De Simone, Library Assistant at Trinity College.

Bibliography:

  • Casanova, Giacomo, Historie de ma vie, Paris, Gallimard, 2013-15; Trinity library classmark LL 198 CAS-2 101-103.
  • Molmenti, Pompeo, Carteggi casanoviani, Milano, Sandron, (1920?); the letter from Giacomo to Carlo Casanova (mistakenly identified as Carlo Angiolini) is published on page 269. A description of the good relationship between Giacomo and Carlo Angiolini, and of members of the Casanova family in Dresden in the 1790s can be found on pages XXVI-XXXII.
  • Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Roma, Treccani, 1961- ; entries for Giacomo Casanova and Giovanni Battista Casanova.

[1] A mention is found in the chronology preceding the 2013-15 Gallimard edition of Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie: “1782. Son neveu, Carlo Casanova, fils de son frère Giovanni, vient à Venise et habite chez lui [Giacomo].”. See volume I, page LXXXV.

[2] Carlo Angiolini wasn’t a merchant, but a musician at the Royal Court Theatre in Dresden. He was the man who would be with Casanova at the time of his death, and the one who collected the manuscript which was posthumously published as the Historie de ma vie; his relationship with Giacomo had always been good and affectionate. Besides, Giacomo wouldn’t have had a reason to be on bad terms with Angiolini’s father; hence the proof of Molmenti’s mistake in identifying Angiolini as the addressee of the letter.

4 thoughts on “Money matters: the discovery of an unpublished letter by Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

  1. Pingback: Money matters: the discovery of an unpublished letter by Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  2. Edward Kossakowski (Trinity 1978)

    Maria, fascinating. Thank you. Sadly not Beethoven’s Count Waldstein (Ferdinand Gabriel Ernst). That would have made for an intriguing novel.

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