I had five travelling companions, whom I judged, from their appearance, to be either pirates or banditti, and I took very good care not to let them see or guess that I had a well-filled purse. I likewise thought it prudent to go to bed without undressing during the whole journey—an excellent measure of prudence for a young man travelling in that part of the country.
I reached Naples on the 16th of September, 1743, and I lost no time in presenting the letter of the Bishop of Martorano. It was addressed to a M. Gennaro Polo at St. Anne’s. This excellent man, whose duty was only to give me the sum of sixty ducats, insisted, after perusing the bishop’s letter, upon receiving me in his house, because he wished me to make the acquaintance of his son, who was a poet like myself. The bishop had represented my poetry as sublime. After the usual ceremonies, I accepted his kind invitation, my trunk was sent for, and I was a guest in the house of M. Gennaro Polo.
My Stay in Naples; It Is Short but Happy—Don Antonio Casanova—Don Lelio Caraffa—I Go to Rome in Very Agreeable Company, and Enter the Service of Cardinal Acquaviva—Barbara—Testaccio—Frascati
I had no difficulty in answering the various questions which Doctor Gennaro addressed to me, but I was surprised, and even displeased, at the constant peals of laughter with which he received my answers. The piteous description of miserable Calabria, and the picture of the sad situation of the Bishop of Martorano, appeared to me more likely to call forth tears than to excite hilarity, and, suspecting that some mystification was being played upon me, I was very near getting angry when, becoming more composed, he told me with feeling that I must kindly excuse him; that his laughter was a disease which seemed to be endemic in his family, for one of his uncles died of it.
“What!” I exclaimed, “died of laughing!”
“Yes. This disease, which was not known to Hippocrates, is called li flati.”
“What do you mean? Does an hypochondriac affection, which causes sadness and lowness in all those who suffer from it, render you cheerful?”
“Yes, because, most likely, my flati, instead of influencing the hypochondrium, affects my spleen, which my physician asserts to be the organ of laughter. It is quite a discovery.”
“You are mistaken; it is a very ancient notion, and it is the only function which is ascribed to the spleen in our animal organization.”
“Well, we must discuss the matter at length, for I hope you will remain with us a few weeks.”
“I wish I could, but I must leave Naples to-morrow or the day after.”
“Have you got any money?”
“I rely upon the sixty ducats you have to give me.”
At these words, his peals of laughter began again, and as he could see that I was annoyed, he said, “I am amused at the idea that I can keep you here as long as I like. But be good enough to see my son; he writes pretty verses enough.”