The following review was contributed by:
NORM GOLDMAN EDITOR OF BOOKPLEASURES
On the back cover of historian Iain McCalman’s latest book, The Last Alchemist Count Cagliostro, Master Of Magic In The Age Of Reason, it states, “depending on whom you ask, he was either a great healer or a dangerous charlatan.”
This just about sums up an intriguing historical novel pertaining to one of the most charismatic and interesting characters of the late 18th century, Giuseppe Balzamo or better known as, Count Alessandro di Cagliostro.
No doubt, after reading this unbelievable biography, I would have to ask, would the real Cagliostro stand up?
This gentleman certainly seemed to have extraordinary mystical and even cabalistic powers, although at times, they may have been somewhat diabolic.
Even after his death there were many stories about him that perhaps stretched one’s imagination but nevertheless were quite entertaining.
Written in narrative format, McCalman explores the many facets of Cagliostro’s life and his escapades as a freemason, necromancer, shaman, Copt, prophet, rejuvenator, and finally a heretic.
In fact, such a fascinating character was he that a kind of cult of Cagliostro swept Paris, or as the author termed it, “Cagliostromania.”
We learn of his belief in Egyptian Freemasonry, which we are not quite sure if it actually existed or was a figment of his imagination. Nonetheless, it did open up for him many doors to the royal courts of Europe, for it entailed science, religion and magic, all of great interest during the Age of Reason.
Traveling with Cagliostro and his wife Seraphina throughout their world travels, we can’t help being captivated with his uncanny ability to meet up with such figures as Casanova, or his implication in such notorious events as the Diamond Necklace affair in France involving Marie Antoinette, Cardinal deRohan and Countess de Lamotte. Apparently, the Countess swindled 1.6 million francs for a necklace for Marie Antoinette and then accused Cagliostro for stealing it. As a result, Cagliostro was sent to the Bastille, tried for fraud, and eventually exonerated and banished from France.
We are also enamored by Cagliostro’s sympathy for the poor or the “petit people,” who adored him, while he spent his life among them as well as the sick, distributing remedies free of charge and paying out of his own pocket for soup.
In Italy his reputation as a healer attracted crowds, who besieged him in carriages, in chairs or stretchers,”
However, it was also here where the church imprisoned him after his wife, who was fed up with his shenanigans, denounced him to the Inquisition as a heretic, magician, conjuror and Freemason. This led to a trial, where he was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, the Pope subsequently commuted his sentence to life imprisonment in the fortress of San Leo in the Apennines, where he died.
The eloquent writing of The Last Alchemist Count Cagliostro, Master Of Magic In The Age Of Reason is a fascinating endeavor taking our curiosities to new levels, and even the most skeptical readers will want this one on their bookshelves.