The latter were ornamented with mirrors, and on that occasion were all illuminated for some reason or other. It was a magnificent scene, but all this glitter and light put the stage into the background.
After we had gazed for some time at the scene, which is almost peculiar to Naples, the duke took me to his private box and introduced me to his friends, who consisted of all the wits in the town.
I have often laughed on hearing philosophers declare that the intelligence of a nation is not so much the result of the climate as of education. Such sages should be sent to Naples and then to St. Petersburg, and be told to reflect, or simply to look before them. If the great Boerhaave had lived at Naples he would have learnt more about the nature of sulphur by observing its effects on vegetables, and still more on animals. In Naples, and Naples alone, water, and nothing but water, will cure diseases which are fatal elsewhere, despite the doctors' efforts.
The duke, who had left me to the wits for a short time, returned and took me to the box of his mistress, who was accompanied by an old lady of respectable appearance. As he went in he said, "'Leonilda mia, ti presento il cavalier Don Giacomo Casanova, Veneziano, amico mio'."
She received me kindly and modestly, and stopped listening to the music to talk to me.
When a woman is pretty, one recognizes her charms instantaneously; if one has to examine her closely, her beauty is doubtful. Leonilda was strikingly beautiful. I smiled and looked at the duke, who had told me that he loved her like a daughter, and that he only kept her for form's sake. He understood the glance, and said,--
"You may believe me."
"It's credible," I replied.
Leonilda no doubt understood what we meant, and said, with a shy smile,--
"Whatever is possible is credible."
"Quite so," said I, "but one may believe, or not believe, according to the various degrees of possibility."
"I think it's easier to believe than to disbelieve. You came to Naples yesterday; that's true and yet incredible."
"Would any man suppose that a stranger would come to Naples at a time when the inhabitants are wishing themselves away?"
"Indeed, I have felt afraid till this moment, but now I feel quite at my ease, since, you being here, St. Januarius will surely protect Naples."
"Because I am sure he loves you; but you are laughing at me."
"It is such a funny idea. I am afraid that if I had a lover like St. Januarius I should not grant him many favours."
"Is he very ugly, then?"
"If his portrait is a good likeness, you can see for yourself by examining his statue."
Gaiety leads to freedom, and freedom to friendship. Mental graces are superior to bodily charms.
Leonilda's frankness inspired my confidence, and I led the conversation to love, on which she talked like a past mistress.
"Love," said she, "unless it leads to the possession of the beloved object, is a mere torment; if bounds are placed to passion, love must die."
"You are right; and the enjoyment of a beautiful object is not a true pleasure unless it be preceded by love."
"No doubt if love precedes it accompanies, but I do not think it necessarily follows, enjoyment."
"True, it often makes love to cease."
"She is a selfish daughter, then, to kill her father; and if after enjoyment love still continue in the heart of one, it is worse than murder, for the party in which love still survives must needs be wretched."
"You are right; and from your strictly logical arguments I conjecture that you would have the senses kept in subjection: that is too hard!"
"I would have nothing to do with that Platonic affection devoid of love, but I leave you to guess what my maxim would be."
"To love and enjoy; to enjoy and love. Turn and turn about."
"You have hit the mark."
With this Leonilda burst out laughing, and the duke kissed her hand. Her governess, not understanding French, was attending to the opera, but I was in flames.