Miklós Szentkuthy: Saint Orpheus Breviary - Vol. 1. Marginalia on Casanova

2009. február 5.
Szentkuthy Miklós Szent Orpheus breviáriuma című művének első részéből, a Széljegyzetek Casanovához című részből olvashatnak egy részletet angol nyelven, Tim Wilkinson fordításában, a vele készült interjú kiegészítéseként.

MIKLÓS SZENTKUTHY: SAINT ORPHEUS BREVIARY

VOL. 1. MARGINALIA ON CASANOVA (2nd, 1973 edition)

 

Translated from the Hungarian: Szent Orpheus Breviáruna

1. Széljegyzetek Casanovához (1939)

Budapest: Magvető Könyvkiadó, 1973

TRANSLATION BY TIM WILKINSON

 

Vita (Life of a Saint)

Alfonso Maria di Liguori (1696-1787)

Saint Alphonsus died at the age of ninety-one but, after writing uncounted books and letters, he was prohibited from writing, for health reasons, at the age of eighty-three, because, although he was able to formulate with greatest ease, he never amended, or even tried to correct himself, thoughts and sentiment just poured out of him, now simply, now in a baroque manner, like incessant rain, but behind his matchless stylistic flair raged huge passions, both sorrows and joys, regarding the fate of God, the soul and unfathomable body of men, the purpose or unacceptable purposelessness of history. Scholasticism, Freudian discoveries, Marxist observations, existentialist desperations likewise tore his body and soul to shreds, like the winged eagle of destiny Prometheus's liver, he was chock full of foot-tapping impatience and brain-dizzying fear that he was late with autobiography, his portrait of God, his scrutiny of history, the writing of the Summa Summarum of his research into nature and the soul, And just when these favoured topics, achieved a final maturity inside him in the unstable proportion of questions or answers he was barred from writing.

     This well-meant hygienic prohibition arrived from several quarters: on one occasion he had been feeding doves on the window-sill of his cell from a tin. but a dove did not wish to eat and alighted on his shoulder, and Alfonso, with sinful lack of modesty was under the belief that the Holy Ghost-Muse had come in person to give him inspiration, not that there would have been a problem as regards the Holy Ghost, only it had not come to give him inspiration but to snatch Alfonso's quill with its bill and carry it off for fun, perhaps like some kind of silver arrow of Venus to the dancing of the Catholic Parnassus among the boughs of the monastery garden. On another occasion, half the College of Cardinals, all cardinals in purple, turned up at his ice-cold studio (already wilted but still treasured tulips and bouquets huddled the same way in the ice box of the kitchen corridor) so as to prohibit him from writing, but those were more in the way of scarlet Tartuffes: they were not interested in Alfonso's health but some of Alfonso politically risky theses-of course, they also brought along doctors in fancy dress to expound their accumulated tommyrot of lengthy eras-and in any event they advised that Alfonso be excommunicated (therapeutic foresight lacking, alas, any effect either) as he occupied himself with the most fantastic facts of the whole body and the deepest soul, whereas (according to them) body and soul lie at an inexpressibly far remove from philosophically circumscribed province of medicine.

     Alfonso also noticed that the extraordinary intellectual tension evoked late temptations from his organism, the penitences of old penitents flourishing like the Arabian Nights in his imagination, adolescents memories were as if they had been the healthy spots of sick puberty in his soul, so that he (as the rascally lexicographers used to express it) "the greatest confessor of all confessors: himself went off to confess, but no-one dared to undertake that holy operation until in the end -why had it not occurred to him before!-he trudged off to one of his greatest foes, his head hung down to his chest, who then heard the catalogue of the senile Alfonso's sins with infernal or barracks of Hades lust, took indescribable delight in proscribing writing, and not feeling bound by any confidence of the confessional in "this special and typical case" the company in the glass palaces of the Neapolitan king cranked out stale jokes about the doddering exhibitionist satyr that required no wit at all.

     When he had still been at liberty to write his head had ached to badly, he felt dizzy and fevered (damn and blast these not so rare conjunctions of radiant raison and all kinds of abominable morbidity), he would clutch an ice-cooled marble tablet his temple with the aid of a contraption that was the brainchild of a nun's head. He had acquired the marble tablet out of the classical collection of Pope Benedict XIV from an ancient villa, and it depicted the scene when Orpheus had to leave his wife in the underworld-every thinker's thought is his wife, and he always had to leave her behind in he underworld-and it stands to reason that Alfonso did not rest his head on the embossed side. In any case, he had several of these temple-cooling marble tablets, and when (having been forbidden to write) he piled these up in a corner and contemplated them in turn, in a fine symbolic act, in the manner of a philosopher and poet, in much the same way as one can suppose with the tile adhesives of tile stoves, varying what can be varied: if he had done that, not giving a hoot to the thieving pigeon, the travelling political circus of cardinals and cynical slanderers, he declared in the Roman manner, "One doesn't have to live, one has to write." He summoned a very old, very intellectual "nun" (a fairly alarming character sketch thus far) from whom heavenly and earthly beauty, "sacro-sexy" features radiated along virtually angelic set-squares, and-hush! hush!-in her chapel in the woods, dictated to her in great secrecy-no question of any true or trashy storytelling Boccaccio novella, nor could or can it have been. And yet, something... but not in the aforementioned sense. That "something" is (our story does not run to punch lines, so we can divulge the ends of several novels in advance): the nun was none other than the duchess whom Alfonso's father had selected for his son "a century ago", but, as we shall see, nothing came of the marriage, the duchess became an enemy of Alfonso's for ever (with jealousy being perhaps the least cause), and now here she anew, a sham nun in sham costume, though lost time, "temps perdu", was her best disguise. It was to her that Alfonso dictated the memoirs from which this present outline was prepared.

     Alfonso and Casanova, unless my old head is calculating as badly as it normally does, co-existed for sixty-two years. When Casanova was born, Alfonso was already twenty-nine, while Casanova lived another fourteen years after Alfonso died. They met in Italy under the most diverse imaginable circumstances, with each other's memoirs often being turned over in each other's heads, and if not always in the way that this Breviary demands, one can always shove the years a bit forwards or back in the interests of symbolic moral. Which has nothing to do with either historical error, or the paltriest commercial anachronism, let alone with lying, just as the prodigal, pervading scent of elder in May or jasmine, drifting far and wide, is neither a lie or a close-lipped kaleidoscope of perfumes, for the elder bushes stays in place after all, a solid positive (to someone who is a connoisseur), and even in those most far-lying areas the straying scent of elder is still that of elder.

     Casanova lived in the Bohemian castle of Count Waldstein, in Dux, between 1785 and 1798 as "court" librarian, those were the last thirteen years of his life, from the age of sixty till his death. A librarian with every good reason, because, as you will be able see in the following saintly reading, Casanova was (admittedly with slight St Orpheus exaggeration) an intellectual of the eighteenth century, far more interesting than he was a sexually and otherwise oriented chameleon daredevil. One would probably not be far off the mark in presuming that the count was not solely interested in the historiographer, philosopher and mathematician in Casanova. He was solitary unto him self, working on his memoirs, though he never did get round to writing the remaining parts, and of what there was some fifty percent was lost; academic historicism loves to employ such episodes as the pedestals for broad-brimmed hypotheses-in diametrical opposition, of course, to our own methods. He was then getting on for seventy. The library was partly composed of the interiors of huge, baroque churches, theatre auditoriums, and ballroom associations, with snaking balconies, sky-high windows overlooking the grounds, crushingly heavy velvet curtains cascading from a cornucopia, ceiling frescoes teeming with a potpourri of theology and mythology the books themselves near-invisible, seeming like tiny organ pipes and panpipes behind soap-bubble glass doors. On the other hand, the library was also composed of the most intimate little boudoirs, the lascivious trysting rooms of the mind, with a tightly packed splendour of books instead of walls. The latter reminded Casanova of love, the former of the throne rooms of the Vatican and empresses. Now he was working in a large room, very hot, his upper body naked, though with the order of the Knights of the Golden Spurs hanging round his neck amidst the runnels of perspiration. (Was that where it was originally worn? Of what matter could that be to him in his old age, in this Versailles-like hall of mirrors!) The order of the Golden Spurs had been bestowed on him by the pope, and this is important to us from the point of view of the Breviary because on the order, apart from the Maltese Cross and the spurs symbolizing sadism, an image of St Silvester I, a life of whom can be read at the start of the seventh chapter of our prayer book. Pope St Silvester I interested Casanova from a Voltairean angle because this pope (in the fourth century AD) almost had a stroke and became transfixed to the bronze gate  of St Peter's Church in Rome (it was painted bright green) when he that Empress St Helena, during her lengthy pilgrimage to Palestine to recover the True Cross, had nearly became a manifest Jew, so that Europe had been within an ace of converting to the Jewish faith, and St Peter's Church becoming a synagogue. Casanova had no great desire to reflect too much right now, in the heat, on the alternatives of Providence and Nonsense and would far rather gaze on the attractive marble relief inserted into the wall that he had been given by Cardinal Aquariva, combined with a splendid post, though he had been kicked out of the latter the next day on account of the routine amusements that he had committed during the unveiling of that very antique relief.

     The title given to the relief in Count Waldstein's catalogue (Casanova reworked and explained away) is "Musikalische Unterhaltung", or musical diversion, though, for all its Hellenistic-rococo charm, the most ancient myths of death and orgy were lurking in it about which  Alfonso wrote in the depth-psychological book Theologia Moralis, intended for those who take confessions, that continue to live on even today, as may be discerned with the greatest ease, in people, in children, in puzzling animals and puzzling flowers, in primitive peoples indeed in our Catholic ceremonies and the most formal Court ceremonial, to say nothing of so-called neuroticism, being covered by no more than a gossamer-thin shroud or by mendacious iron masks.

     On the relief is an intimate bacchanalia, with beds, mandolin-strumming hetaera, a homosexual lute-god in unmistakable "boy for sale" pose, a Neapolitan lemon-cynic, the chest approaching the loveliness of a bodice. While writing the explanatory catalogue, Casanova often broke into gusts of laughter at the various descriptions of the world of Antiquity, its stillborn afterlives in various periods of Europe, in the circus Renaissance, neurotic romanticism, puritanical moralising, and Biedermeier-bourgeois psychoanalysis. He found the most acceptable imitations in certain gargoyles of Gothic cathedrals and the art of his own Mannerist-rococo century though the eternal clumsy, wholesale contrasting of art, comparative religion, myth and rationalism bored him immeasurably (and whom do they not? When not? Where not?)

     In his whole life Casanova only ever met one person who professed a similar notion, with similar undying irony and humour, not just about progressively tenacious and dormant Greek mythology, but the whole business about Europa being carried off on the back of a bull, and that one person was Pope Benedict XIV. If you by any chance glanced at the Table of Contents for this chapter before looking at this Life of a Saint, then you may have seen the heading "Benedict XIV: his symbolic statue of the eighteenth century."

     Before he was elected, the process dragged out over six months. (What a legal brainwave it would were it to carry on until doomsday! Could it be that even the Protestant issue might thereby possibly achieve some form of temporary resolution? Casanova asked Benedict XIV, Falstaffian both on the outside and in.) Precisely the opposite came to this soon-to-be pope's mind. When the electoral college of cardinals attended what happened to be a most joyous garden party in Tivoli (they were joyous because these were the ones who had no chance at all), the soon-to-be and still chuckling pope raised his glass to say: "Why the ridiculously long deliberations over the naming? If you are looking for a saint, there's Alfonso di Liguori, and he pointed towards the depths of the grounds, with respectful pantomime gestures to imitate eating roots, falling into a trance, rapture when praying, and chasing a squirrel under his arm. "If you are looking for an open-minded diplomat (though sometimes the narrow-minded type would be a better bet in this zodiac), then you have Aldobrandini, who by no chance at all contrived the world's sneakiest-snakiest maze in the grounds of hi residence. If you want a wise old head, a laughing Christian Democritus, then there's always me. Choose me." They elected him.

     The pope was very fond of the classics (Alfonso di Liguori, a researcher into souls and hormones in his confessional, never forget the quote that the pope had cited from Oedipus at the Tivoli banquet: "I am who I am. Why should I fear to trace my birth? Nothing can make me other than I am." In the evenings, liberated from the daily run of religion and politics, he arranged great debates (using his own conical slippers to send fanatics to where such toads and howling monkeys belonged), and on one such he held a long discourse based on is experiences in Istanbul. Casanova spoke against Turkish fatalism (even though he was much attracted to it), whereas Alfonso presented a dramatic account about the death of a similarly fatalistic, theologically disposed Jansenist nun.

     Our Breviary would fall into a sin of omission if we failed to remark that Benedict XIV wrote lives of saints, with Casanova delivering the political dirt in towering piles of files and Alfonso his flowering bunches of legends. Both had free access to the pope at any time. The Vatican's entire army and its Amazon horde of nuns did not dare go within ten rooms of Benedict's studio (Hush! hush, the Holy Father is working), meanwhile the pope could barely wait for someone, anyone, to enter and tell him a good joke with the relish of genuinely spiritual people.

     Benedict's teeth were set on edge, to use the vernacular, by the wrangling, like the braying of flea-bitten assess, that went on over the conversion of the Chinese, maybe because he was far from convinced that this could be accomplished in practice, maybe because he did not consider it to be one of God's divine intentions, thinking of the Main Protagonist of the gospels "Go into the world, and preach this unto peoples of all nations." There was also a particular reason for the irritation in that here in Europe, with its frequent humbug, missionaries were attacked for making the maximum possible concessions to Chinese converts to retain much, a very great deal of the ancient customs of Brahma, folklore and Buddha. Yes, retain! That was applauded by enlightened Casanova, whereas Alfonso remained profoundly silent, because this did not particularly appeal to him and (in this exceptional case, this is not an authenticated fact) the pope used a bishop's mitre for an inkpot and crossed his legs in a Buddha-like pose.

     Skipping the Buddha-like pose, Alfonso could acted exactly the same when the pope allowed the Spanish king to confer   bishops with their sees and other benefices (albeit in exchange for the king paying a huge church levy on the basis of cross-eyed "that makes us even" law). Benedict explained as follows to the grimly black and blue Alfonso: "I would be crazy to reopen that sterile and bloody Investiture Dispute! An emperor bestows the tiara on the pope, the pope crowns the emperor, kiss of peace, murderous war to boot, emperor chops tiara to bits, pope crushes crown, antipopes spring up like mushrooms. Ugh! There's been enough of that!" Whereupon Alfonso again turned hermit, Casanova clapped again (that's laid-back liberalism for you!), but five minutes later, out of defiance himself turned hermit because the pope delivered such a sound cuff to Venice, the state so loved by Casanova, that the whole Byzantine junk-dealer-antique shop all but slid under water, along with St Mark's, the ghetto, its Moorish palaces, its senators perching with faces like funeral weepers on their sacks of money.

     Alfonso, like many of our saints, did not set off as a saint but a lawyer (Casanova's start was no different). In this life, we can only touch on the mental nourishment: Casanova survived the French revolution by nine years, living in the baroque hermitic surrounds in Dux, whereas Alfonso died one year before the revolution. What manner of thoughts could have been going through the heads of these two lawyers, one cum-saint, one cum-adventurer, in the company of wigs crawling with lice and bishops' mitres that resembled a leather-bound wine list? It is no surprise that a series of attempts were made to expel Alfonso from law school in his very first year because he puzzled over the foundations of law, its final causes, which attracts general hostility from all university chairs and courts. What is the contribution of Christianity and the gospels to European law? What is the Roman heritage? What did the Goths and Teutons add to the mixture? How did those who paved the way for the French revolution fit in? What about his father's grandee family? The money-grubbing, rapacious, sophistic shysters. Here all possible ethics had to be examined in space and time, and only after that could one slap an only half-legible skew-whiff stamp of nullus nullificatus-no countermanding-on an enacting clause (full of subclauses). When the father learnt about his son's investigations, viler than even the curse of leprosy, into "final causes", it was all he could do not to run him through in the university's assembly hall (a fine gentry comedy), whereafter Alfonso followed his intellectual dabbling in secret, in the same way fellows pursued their sexual lives, and already as a law student he was an unbeatable legal adviser to a range of products across the social scale, from the Vatican to Don Quixote feudal puppets.

     A big trial brought a decisive change in his life. In much the same way as physicians call spectacular operations carried out before a big public "music-hall surgery," this was a music-hall hearing, if only because millions hung on which way it went, with Alfonso's father himself being involved as well as, to add further romantic spice, the fabulously beautiful woman (picked by family) to whom Alfonso was affianced. In the trial Alfonso spoke on behalf of his father and his fiancée. He always spoke without notes, with a sea of documents, an ocean of tiny bills strewn before him on his table, but all he would do is occasionally point to one or another, knowing the whole thing off pat. In one of the "boxes" was his father, now swollen up from barrel-size into an even bulkier barrel in the knowledge of a certain win, while on another balcony was the fiancée, quite deliberately attired in such a stunning costume that, in its blossoming-bejeweled whiteness, it was hard to tell apart from a wedding dress, with its liturgical piquancy flickering from the Madonna of the myrtles to the maenads.

     Alfonso cited from a last will and testament of around six hundred pages from memory, as was his wont, but he stopped short at one particular article, thought about it, then unexpectedly tossed in four different directions the four paperweights that served to prevent to file from curling, and exclaiming "back to the beginning" with almost a fishwife's lack of grace, the thing being, the thing being what? The thing being that at that moment he came to realise that he was representing a flawed and false case that in all good reason and conscience he held to be incompatible, and he stormed out of the courtroom, decorated as it was in the style of a Handelian opera.

     Gigantic theatrical upheaval, and after the chorus and counterblast of bawling lawyers had calmed down slightly, a mercenary commander's wolf howl-"After him!"-unleashed an even greater infernal chaos, and people did in fact rush out after him, like policemen on the tail of a regular gang of regicides, with the subtle difference that one of the groups (as it happened, the one in which the barrel-father was riding, and the fiancée, half-naked in rent garments of "seminude snaky curves," as twittering sculptors who are imagined to be ultramodern are in the habit of labeling their half-baked jokes), well anyway, one of the groups did indeed come upon the decamping advocate in the Church of Holy Cross of Jerusalem prostrated on the altar steps in front of the Most Majestic Holy Sacrament locked in the tabernacle. The halfway-trial-losing-halfway-wining barrel stopped short, as did not dare to go as far as the altar, and the father rushed over to the priests, his sword clattering as it got caught up with the collection box, to demand that they drive his sacrilegious (but then on what grounds?) son away from the altar.

     The very next moment, however, the risk of "sacrilege" himself drew perilously near as Alfonso ripped off the door to the tabernacle as if it were a badly glued gold-paper poster, then grasped the Sacrament with the strength of his sword-wielding ancestors and raised it on high above the paralysed herd of legal eagles. "No question about it, here one must kneel!" muttered a dwarfish lawyer with a head like a dried fig, and in a trice all that could be seen were bowed heads, in the manner of a Goya painting, and all that could be heard was the asthmatic, muffled holy-mother-of-God stirring that is part of the technique of kneeling. (Casanova as a lay child parishioner once preached in church in Venice, as you will soon be able to read.)

     If a very large portion of Christian painting, or bible myths about the Jews, in the Middle Ages, often the finest part, happened to treat topics that are not in the gospels or the canonical Old Testament, then this Breviary too, for the sake of their novelistic or instructively symbolic delight, may also record similar unofficial data, in this case relating to precisely the trial in question.

     Since by the time he was born Alfonso was already twenty-nine years old, the infant Casanova can play no particular part in the foregoing comedy. However, there is one apocryphal tale which maintains that while the discussion was in full swing Alfonso's duchess-fiancée (to take her mind off the excitement) played ball in the grounds with her woman friends (the nun-Astartes of Boticelli's Primavera), and Casanova jumped over the fence, giving rise to the normal screams, the normal joy at having such a gallant playmate drop in out of the blue, and the normal amatory conclusion amidst the impenetrable scenery of the darkest bushes, the whitest statues and the greenest fishpond mirror. When Alfonso unexpectedly flung a falsified law book at another wall-the ten commandments of Moses' tablets-and repudiated the role of "defence" counsel in the suit being pursued by his father and his fiancée, then-according to this unofficial version- Alfonso did not race to any church, but his father grabbed him by the scruff of the neck (in all likelihood, just symbolically), took him home to his palace, and there, before the eyes of a huge throng, had it established by doctors of theology and medicine that his son had suddenly been possessed by the devil.

     When the exorcists who were on duty at the palace tried out various artifices on Alfonso in vain, and in the most unfrequented chamber a jovial little, wise cardinal-Socrates whispered in the furious father's ear that these artifices were anyway poppycock with Alfonso, everybody knew that a lot smarter thing would be to lock up Alfonso with his glorious intended, this lady (learning greatly from the utility of Salome's dance) would persuade him to continue representing his father's and her own interests in the trials.

     Still glinting on the duchess, in an almost literal sense, were what from all quarters are recognised to be the dewdrops of love, so it was with natural merriment and like a juggler directing balls that she listened to the advice offered by the little cardinal-Socrates and, locking up (having herself locked up with) Alfonso, and instantly set about a replay of the stage work that had been learnt from Casanova. But as, thank goodness, that was all in vain the duchess returned to Casanova in the grounds, Alfonso showed up as a priest at the monastery and university, while his father was able to trifle for a time with lame apoplexy.

     In the next episode factual truths and (one supposes) imagination commingled in the healthiest way, and moreover they connect with the epic grace of an apoplectic fit. When Alfonso preached the sermon as an ordained priest, in a most tattered soutane, under the prayer-lined palmette vault of the Gothic vaulting of a church at daybreak on Ash Wednesday, immediately after carnival, the father saw his son again for the first time as a beggar dragged out of a rubbish bin; whereas father and his family were clothed partly in Spanish royal costumes, partly still in the harlequin fancy dress of Shrove Tuesday, reeled half-drunk or else formed a guard of honour at the foot of the pulpit (a broad Italian stage made to run about on).

     Grandees detest that dissolute breed of the clown and virtuous proletarians (in his eyes his son was now one of the latter and nothing more), so the father swooned away on his aristocratic dismay, which was tantamount to an earthquake there, among the reed-thin columns with their vine-leaf-capitals. After the homily, taking confessions (whether a person was of the street or the quality or a drunken jester, just one church rule applied, and that was: join the queue), supposedly (out of diabolical vengefulness and a perverse delight) the duchess also confessed unimaginable imagined sins to her ex-betrothed, with Casanova, in the disguise of a Capuchin friar, standing behind to prompt her. Apocryphally, this is where the idea of the "Theologia Moralis" occurred to Alfonso (this is the long-forgotten term by which "Freudianism" was known in eighteenth-century Rococo jargon). When, on one of his thousand missionary trips to a nunnery, Alfonso was received with evidently hostile feelings because a rumour had spread through half Italy (true, by the way!) that on the occasion of that memorable confessional Alfonso had treated the jesters with much more forgiving tolerance than he did the so-called decent or honest folk.

     The mother superior was the most vulgar combination of the customary princess plus sadism plus small-mindedness plus sexual repression and set about Alfonso, the meekest of souls, like a bullying female figurehead, squawking out to him some tale of a French Cistercian convent (Port-Royal as it is referred to in guidebooks) where the nuns were so strict to their rule-fatalistic, deterministic, fanatics of eternal guilty conscience-that even the saintliest among them kicked the Holy Sacrament out of the window at the time she was being given extreme unction because she sensed that she was not in possession of salvation and divine grace, and she was still labouring in the original guilty conscience of original sin. "The lady was very much mistaken, indeed committing  sacrilege," commented Alfonso with a drawing-room gesture of dismissal. "It's a good job that Jesus couldn't care less about cavilling bitches of her sort!"

     One can just imagine the frame of mind in which, after the mother superior's dogmatic yapping, both bestially self-lacerating and therefore lacerating to others, he received the poor, meek, modest and innocent little scullery-maid of a nun who (sincerely and by way of solace) recounted to Liguori by the washtub a vision she had had that he would be a great saint, the founder of a great clerical order, a plumber of souls for the Church to outdo all the old theological doctors. To start with Alfonso flew into a hysterical rage but then gave the girl absolution at the end of the confession with a kiss of peace-she skipped out of the kitchen, a song on her lips: "In spite of everything, I know what I know!"-something of that sort was blazing in her stubborn, ironic eyes.

     Alfonso did indeed become a founder of the Redemptorist order but from beginning to end just acquired enemies-evil men, imbeciles, dullards and interested parties (drovers and slaves of the Bloody Ass of fate) left him in the lurch, accused him, ridiculed him, denounced him, misunderstood him (is may perhaps raise a smile to learn that in the end even the old Casanova felt himself to be a martyr, especially after hearing some kind of awkwardly modern negative saint, especially Mozart's Magic Flute, in the cushioned womb of his curtained Viennese landau following an "escape" from Dux).

     Heretics revelling in the blind rigour of blind fate crowed against his infinite understanding-philosophers distorting an almost nihilistic anarchy out of the French enlightenment, lords with millions of acres to their name who saw worse in the saint of the poor than they presumed in Robespierre-the bigoted (which is to say cowardly-aggressive) adversaries of psychoanalysis, strict legal machine-minds, presidents of Supreme Courts of the Judicature-the Vatican (Clement XIII and XIV) initially idolised him, but subsequently, in response to the King of Naples's policies, spat on his tiara and beggar's clothes, and "in the Church's interest" unleashed what was almost a crusade on Liguori's Jesus and his congregation-a bunch of adventurers sided with Liguori, thinking that they would be able to procure rich pickings from his order-envious people who brewed the witches' cauldron of hatred almost just for the heck of brewing it, l'art pour l'art, closet homosexuals who deemed to have hit upon a safe place, neurotic visionaries, persons with tunnel vision, the superstitious.

     When he nevertheless managed to cobble together his order, Clement XIII compelled him to accept a bishopric, and Alfonso embarked on his high pastoral activities (having demanded that much from the pope) that, having sold off all the treasures in the bishop's palace at an memorably eyetie-style auction (a play! novel! this Breviary has a job denying itself of this plum), he had the gates barred with huge locks and he put it under military guard while he moved into a more modest villa (though it was not so modest in its dimensions). It was not so much the high-key work of missions, more the gilded vilifications of diplomacy that made him ill, his distress over the shady sides of the human soul, the impending atheistic revolution ("deism" he regarded as an atrociously badly-cut mask of unbelief) and for now disenchantingly inept clashes of the extremes of pathologically rabid reaction, and his wish, his longing to be back in what he imagined to be the beautiful, reformed congregation-those are what made him ill. He asked the pope to be allowed to return home, if necessary on a stretcher, by litter (the sweet coffin of a walker in woods?), but taken back to his congregation to look at the heavens and write his memoirs.

     Closing scene in the wood. Stout-hearted monks carried him slowly, carefully in the ceremonial litter of the resigned bishop ("if those crazy papists like drapes, fasts and mannerist opera scenery then, damn it all, let them feast their eyes on it, by now I will gladly be a flashily beribboned May Day nag for them") when all of a sudden, amid the dark bushes, at he head of a small army, the Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, Marie Theresa's daughter, jumped out and began bawling and cursing and laughing hysterically like a hyena, all of this directed at Alfonso just when he was sleeping peacefully on his fevered bed-sheets. The queen and her spouse (Ferdinand IV, long a nervous wreck through orgying) lived more in fear and trembling of the French Revolution than possibly anyone else in the whole of Europe, with Ferdinand being the royal house's domestic jester and alcoholic, now wasted into a harem-voyeuristic eunuch, his consort (who brought in women of any kind by the wagonload) reigned in his stead and she fancied she could discern a French revolutionary spy network in, of all things, Liguori's Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.

     On a playground suited to Jesus and children (a grassy clearing among the bushes), the queen barked that Alfonso had written his book, Theologia Moralis, for the benefit of revolutionaries, and every piece of information that it contained regarding perversions (unfounded slanders, of course)had been drawn from the life of Ferdinand IV in order that Paris might snigger, gloat, and take up arms against Naples. Alfonso sat up in his bed, wove the ribbons of his mitre into droll bows, and although his chin had long sunk to his chest, he was still able to nod, for it seemed as if he was still nodding affirmatively after each and every shrieked charge. It was at this point that the Angelus bell rang out from a nearby village. With the assistance of two friars, Alfonso climbed from bed and kneeled in the grass (begging pardon of the blades of grass) and prayed, with the soldiers also kneeling because they saw a celestial light above Alfonso's head., whereas the queen in her fury flung one of her bloodied pencil-heeled shoes at Alfonso and raced off into a thicket. All along their way, Alfonso toyed with the shoe with childish and urbane expertise before giving it to a peasant girl when they were the monastery: "Royal sale! Look after it; it will be useful for the dowry. The reverend fathers will explain all. What are you loitering about for, brothers and countrymen? We'll be late for supper! Presto, presto!"