This book review is long overdue. Last April the publisher sent me a copy of The Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of Reason by Iain McCalman, a biographical study of the career of the famous (or infamous) Count Alessandro di Cagliostro, an adventurer, alchemist, and possible charlatan who traveled across Europe in the late 18th century. To Freemasons Cagliostro is a curious mystery. He was made a Mason at Esperance Lodge No. 289 in London in 1776, and shortly thereafter founded his Egyptian Rite, adopting the title of Grand Kophta. This Rite, despite its similarly themed name, was unconnected to the Rites of Memphis and Misraïm, and unfortunately most details surrounding it have been lost to history. We do know that it was an adoptive rite, meaning that both men and women were initiated into its ranks.
The Last Alchemist explores Cagliostro's life through a series of seven of his most famous adventures, from his early career posing as Colonel Pellegrini in London to his sad death in San Leo prison in Italy, where he was imprisoned after being convicted of founding a Masonic lodge in Rome. Throughout his life and career, and indeed throughout the book, the contrasts of Cagliostro's character are shown. From his alchemical trickery in Latvia to his involvement in the affair of the diamond necklace in Paris, to his seemingly genuine efforts to heal and comfort the poor in Russia and his spiritual guidance of his close friends, it is difficult to know exactly what to make of this bizarre man. McCalman likewise does not seem to know what to make of him, and instead does an excellent job presenting these seven vignettes in such a way as to display the conflicting natures of one of the 18th centuries most recognizable names.
In other news, tomorrow night we begin practicing for a Fellowcraft degree. As Senior Warden, I've been put in charge. I'll need to learn the "G" lecture and make sure that all of the spots are filled. After having been in charge of an Entered Apprentice degree last year, I am not worried and confident that I'll be able to pull everything off.