Sources: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery
One of the most notorious charlatans of the eighteenth century was
Giuseppe Balsamo, who was born at Palermo, Sicily, June 2, 1743. Though
of humble origin, this arch-impostor assumed the title of Count
Alessandro di Cagliostro, and styled himself Grand Cophta, Prophet and
Thaumaturge. He married Lorenza Feliciani, the daughter of a
girdle-maker of Rome. Balsamo professed alchemy and free-masonry,
practised medicine and sorcery, and raised money by various methods of
imposture. He rode about in his own coach, attended by a numerous
retinue in rich liveries. His attire consisted of an iron-gray coat, a
scarlet waistcoat trimmed with gold lace, and red breeches. His jaunty
hat was adorned with a white feather, and handsome rings encircled his
fingers. He carried a sword after the fashion of the times, and his
shoe-buckles shone like flashing jewels.
Balsamo was a man of great energy; gifted with persuasive eloquence
which seemed to exercise a charm over his hearers. Having rare natural
abilities, he enriched his mind by diligent studies and observations of
human nature, during his tours abroad. But in spite of these advantages
he failed to rise above the sphere of an unscrupulous charlatan.
In 1780 he settled in Strasburg, where he established a reputation by
some marvellous cures. Here was the culmination of his fame and fortune.
Five years later he came to Paris, where he became implicated in the
notorious affair of the "Diamond Necklace," and was imprisoned in the
Bastille for some months. His death occurred at the fortress of Saint
Leon, Rome, in 1795. A sublimer rascal never breathed, wrote W.
Russell, LL.D., in "Eccentric Personages." Balsamo had unlimited faith
in the gullibility of mankind, and was amply endowed with the gifts
which enable their possessor to shear the simpletons of society.