Freemason ... Shaman ... Prophet ... Seducer ... Swindler ... Thief ... Heretic
Who was the mysterious Count Cagliostro?
Depending on whom you ask, he was either a great healer or a dangerous charlatan. Internationally acclaimed historian Iain McCalman documents how Cagliostro crossed paths -- and often swords -- with the likes of Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette, and Pope Pius VI. He was a muse to William Blake and the inspiration for both Mozart's Magic Flute and Goethe's Faust. Louis XVI had him thrown into the Bastille for his alleged involvement in what would come to be known as "the affair of the necklace." Yet in London, Warsaw, and St. Petersburg, he established "healing clinics" for the poorest of the poor, and his dexterity in the worlds of alchemy and spiritualism won him acclaim among the nobility across Europe.
Also the leader of an exotic brand of Freemasonry, Count Cagliostro was indisputably one of the most influential and notorious figures of the latter eighteenth century, overcoming poverty and an ignoble birth to become the darling -- and bane -- of upper-crust Europe.
Cultural historian McCalman (editor, An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age) presents an enlightening account of the career of one of the most famous charlatans of the 18th century, Count Alessandro di Cagliostro. He was born poor, in 1743, in Sicily, where he began his career as a petty street thug. Setting the pattern for the rest of his life, Cagliostro was forced to flee Sicily after defrauding a local merchant. He traveled all over Europe, usually one step ahead of the authorities, spreading his brand of Freemasonry and billing himself as an alchemist and healer. Tremendously charismatic, he gained legions of followers. In Russia, he tried to convert Catherine the Great to Freemasonry, but she viewed him as politically subversive and harried him out of the country. Cagliostro's journeys finally brought him to Italy, where he was hounded as a fake by the newspapers. The amorous adventurer Casanova described Cagliostro as a fraud who fleeced the gullible. While in Italy, his wife, Seraphina, grew tired of all the traveling and the constant bad publicity, and betrayed him to the Inquisition, which, shocked by his Freemasonry and his claims to have supernatural powers, sentenced him to life in prison; he died there in 1795. McCalman's account is adeptly researched and written with a light, charming touch; as the author makes abundantly clear, the Age of Reason was also an age of mysticism and downright quackery. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 13, 2004
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