“The first known devotee of this modern way of travelling [by carriage] is Giacomo Casanova. This quite clearly means that the adventurer from Venice and world famous lover was also the first great user of the modern private carriage of whom we have complete knowledge, thus being the forerunner of all of us motorists.”
In this excerpt from his Foreword, Hartmut Günther piqued my interest. I had heard of Casanova the adventurer, the lover, the gambler, the spy, the priest–but not Casanova the carriage devotee. Most people think of C as the great lover, while some know that he also did many other things. But it’s also true that his memoirs comprise the most detailed travelogue of the 18th century, providing an enormous amount of details regarding clothing, food, post roads, inns, passports, and other elements of travel.
As a birthday present this year, my friend Marco, a great Casanovist, sent me a copy of Hartmut Günther’s book The Casanova Tour: A Handbook for the Use of the Private Travelling Carriage in Eighteenth Century Europe and America. It contains such remarkable information as a Table of all of C’s journeys, from 1734 to 1797. By studying C’s memoirs, letters, and other documents, Gunther determined that C traveled by fourteen different methods (including donkey, mule, and sledge) for a lifetime total of 64,480 kilometers! Of that total kilometers C traveled up to 1774, 54.4% of his travel was by carriages he owned, plus another 8.1% by other private carriages. If he were alive today, I bet he’d be thrilled to be zipping along the autobahn in a snazzy BMW or Fiat. The only thing missing from these statistics that I personally would like to have seen was how many miles C traveled in a gondola–but that would probably be impossible to ever know, as he didn’t record every time he stepped aboard one of Venice’s iconic boats.
Casanova often traveled by post, which means he went from one postal station to the next in hired carriages that traveled these roads meant for mail (or post) delivery. In fact, the author’s own ancestor, Johannes Eckart (1725-1790) met Casanova in 1783 when C stayed at the Thurn and Taxis Imperial Post station in Emskirchen where Eckart was the postmaster. Günther includes in this book maps of the post stations around Europe. In fact, he even includes the story of how Casanova spoke with local officials in order to have Udine added to the post route between Trieste and Venice, and with this diplomatic favor thereby secured the help he needed to return to Venice after his exile. C also was paid a handsome 100 silver ducats.
In case you like old documents, Günther includes a bill for cleaning C’s carriage in 1783 in Ausgburg. Marco Leeflang (my friend!) found this among C’s papers at the castle in Dux, where he died. I love historical minutiae. Günther also includes a translation of a letter Casanova received from his Venetian girlfriend Francesca Buschini. She remarked to Casanova that he had traveled “eighteen posts without stopping…after 42 hours fresh as a rose, and that you slept at least eighteen hours as well as if you had been in bed.” In his own memoirs, C writes of traveling in his “dressing gown and nightcap” so he can sleep more comfortably. Günther also includes an ad C placed to try to sell his carriage: “For sale a travelling carriage, with two seats, on four wheels. Address to Hotel du Louvre, street between the bridges.” We generally think of famous persons only doing lofty deeds, not traveling in their dressing gowns or selling their carriages.
So, though today is my birthday and Marco sent me this lovely gift, I now can share it with you! As I was searching for a photo of the post inn where C met Johannes Eckart, I discovered that Günther has actually made this remarkable book available online for free! So happy birthday to you all!