The Last Alchemist
Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of ReasonBook - 2003
Who was the mysterious Count Cagliostro? Depending on whom you ask, he was either a great healer and mystic or a dangerous charlatan whose revolutionary notions and influences threatened to undermine the monarchies of France and Russia. Whatever else he was, Count Alessandro di Cagliostro, the leader of an exotic brand of Freemasonry, 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.
Internationally acclaimed historian Iain McCalman has not written a work of biography in the strictest sense; rather, he uses seven key "episodes" in Cagliostro's political and spiritual evolution to provide a dazzling panoramic portrait of eighteenth-century European culture and history. 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 The Magic Flute and Goethe's Faust. LouisXVI 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, a radical notion at that time; and his dexterity in the worlds of alchemy and spiritualism won him acclaim among the nobility across Europe.
But it was his progress through the rites of Egyptian Freemasonry -- including the Illuminati, a genuinely conspiratorial secret society dedicated to the overthrow of established religion and monarchy -- that was both his highest achievement and his undoing. In 1791, on the order of Pope Pius VI, Cagliostro was arrested for heresy. He spent the last five years of his life in solitary confinement in an Italian prison, where he died in 1795.