Casanova De Seingalt, Giovanni Jacopo
CASANOVA DE SEINGALT, GIOVANNI JACOPO (1725-1798), Italian adventurer, was born at Venice in 1725. His father belonged to an ancient and even noble family, but alienated his friends by embracing the dramatic profession early in life. He made a runaway marriage with Zanetta Farusi, the beautiful daughter of a Venetian shoemaker; and Giovanni was their eldest child. When he was but a year old, his parents, taking a journey to London, left him in charge of his grandmother, who, perceiving his precocious and lively intellect, had him educated far above her means. At sixteen he passed his examination and entered the seminary of St Cyprian in Venice, from which he was expelled a short time afterwards for some scandalous and immoral conduct, which would have cost him his liberty, had not his mother managed somehow to procure him a situation in the household of the Cardinal Acquaviva. He made but a short stay, however, in that prelate's establishment, all restraint being irksome to his wayward disposition, and took to travelling. Then began that existence of adventure and intrigue which only ended with his death. He visited Rome, Naples, Corfu and Constantinople. By turns journalist, preacher, abbé, diplomatist, he was nothing very long, except homme à bonnes fortunes, which profession he cultivated till the end of his days. In 1755, having returned to Venice, he was denounced as a spy and imprisoned. On the 1st of November 1756 he succeeded in escaping, and made his way to Paris. Here he was made director of the state lotteries, gained much financial reputation and a considerable fortune, and frequented the society of the most notable French men and women of the day. In 1759 he set out again on his travels. He visited in turn the Netherlands, South Germany, Switzerland - where he made the acquaintance of Voltaire, - Savoy, southern France, Florence - -whence he was expelled, - and Rome, where the pope gave him the order of the Golden Spur. In 1761 he returned to Paris, and for the next four or five years lived partly here, partly in England, South Germany and Italy. In 1764 he was in Berlin, where he refused the offer of a post made him by Frederick II. He then travelled by way of Riga and St Petersburg to Warsaw, where he was favourably received by King Stanislaus Poniatowski. A scandal, followed by a duel, forced him to flee, and he returned by a devious route to Paris, only to find a lettre de cachet awaiting him, which drove him to seek refuge in Spain. Expelled from Madrid in 1769, he went by way of Aix - where he met Cagliostro - to Italy once more. From 1774, with which year his memoirs close, he was a police spy in the service of the Venetian inquisitors of state; but in 1782, in consequence of a satirical libel on one of his patrician patrons, he had once more to go into exile. In 1785 he was appointed by Count Waldstein, an old Paris acquaintance, his librarian at the château of Dux in Bohemia. Here he lived until his death, which probably occurred on the 4th of June 1798.
The main authority for Casanova's life is his Mémoires (12 vols., Leipzig, 1826-1838; later ed. in 8 vols., Paris, 1885), which were written at Dux. They are clever, well written and, above all, cynical, and interesting as a trustworthy picture of the morals and manners of the times. Among Casanova's other works may be mentioned Confutazione della storia del governo Veneto d'Amelot de la Houssaye (Amsterdam, 1769), an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Venetian government; and the Histoire of his escape from prison (Leipzig, 1788; reprinted Bordeaux, 1884; Eng. trans, by P. Villars, 1892). Ottmann's Jacob Casanova (Stuttgart, 1900) contains a bibliography.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)