COUNT DE SAINT-GERMAIN
[The Theosophist, Vol. II, No. 8, May, 1881, pp. 168-170]
At long intervals have appeared in Europe certain men, whose rare intellectual endowments, brilliant conversation, and mysterious modes of life have astounded and dazzled the public mind. The article now copied from All the Year Round* relates to one of these men—the Count de Saint-Germain. In Hargrave Jennings’ curious work, The Rosicrusians, is described another, a certain Signor Gualdi, who was once the talk of Venetian society. A third was the historical personage known as Alessandro di Cagliostro, whose name has been made the synonym of infamy by a forged Catholic biography. It is not now intended to compare these three individuals with each other or with the common run of men. We copy the article of our London contemporary for quite another object. We wish to show how basely personal character is traduced without the slightest provocation, unless the fact of one’s being brighter in mind, and more versed in the secrets of natural law can be construed as a sufficient provocation to set the slanderer’s pen and the gossip’s tongue in motion. Let the reader attentively note what follows:—
* [Vol. XIV, June 5, 1875, pp. 228-34. New Series. This journal was conducted by Charles Dickens, and published in London by Chapman Hall from 1859 to 1895.—Compiler.]
“This famous adventurer,” says the writer in All the Year Round, meaning the Count de Saint-Germain,
is supposed to have been an Hungarian by birth, but the early part of his life was by himself carefully wrapped in mystery. His person and his title alike stimulated curiosity. His age was unknown, and his parentage equally obscure. We catch the first glimpse of him in Paris, a century and a quarter ago, filling the court and the town with his renown. Amazed Paris saw a man—apparently of middle age—a man who lived in magnificent style, who went to dinner parties, where he ate nothing, but talked incessantly, and with exceeding brilliancy, on every imaginable topic. His tone was, perhaps, over-trenchant—the tone of a man who knows perfectly what he is talking about. Learned, speaking every civilised language admirably, a great musician, an excellent chemist, he played the part of a prodigy, and played it to perfection. Endowed with extraordinary confidence, or consummate impudence, he not only laid down the law magisterially concerning the present, but spoke without hesitation of events two hundred years old. His anecdotes of remote occurrences were related with extraordinary minuteness. He spoke of scenes at the Court of Francis the First as if he had seen them, describing exactly the appearance of the king, imitating his voice, manner, and language—affecting throughout the character of an eyewitness. In like style he edified his audience with pleasant stories of Louis the Fourteenth, and regaled them with vivid descriptions of places and persons. Hardly saying in so many words that he was actually present when the events happened, he yet contrived, by his great graphic power, to convey that impression. Intending to astonish, he succeeded completely. Wild stories were current concerning him. He was reported to be three hundred years old, and to have prolonged his life by the use of a famous elixir. Paris went mad about him. He was questioned constantly about his secret of longevity, and was marvellously adroit in his replies, denying all power to make old folks young again, but quietly asserting his possession of the secret of arresting decay in the human frame. Diet, he protested, was, with his marvellous elixir, the true secret of long life, and he resolutely refused to eat any food but such as had been specially prepared for him—oatmeal, groats, and the white meat of chickens. On great occasions he drank a little wine, sat up as late as anybody would listen to him, but took extraordinary precautions against the cold. To ladies he gave mysterious cosmetics, to preserve their beauty unimpaired; to men he talked openly of his method of transmuting metals, and of a certain process for melting down a dozen little diamonds into one large stone. These astounding assertions were backed by the possession of apparently unbounded wealth, and a collection of jewels of rare size and beauty. . . .
From time to time this strange being appeared in various European capitals, under various names—as Marquis de Montferrat; Count Bellamare,
at Venice; Chevalier Schoening, at Pisa; Chevalier Weldon, at Milan; Count Saltikoff, at Genoa; Count Tzarogy, at Schwabach; and, finally, as Count de Saint-Germain, at Paris; but, after his disaster at the Hague, no longer seems so wealthy as before, and has at times the appearance of seeking his fortune.
At Tournay he is “interviewed” by the renowned Chevalier de Seingalt, who finds him in an Armenian robe and pointed cap, with a long beard descending to his waist, and ivory wand in hand—the complete make-up of a necromancer. Saint-Germain is surrounded by a legion of bottles, and is occupied in developing the manufacture of hats upon chemical principles. Seingalt being indisposed, the Count offers to physic him gratis, and offers to dose him with an elixir which appears to have been ether; but the other refuses, with many polite speeches. It is the scene of the two augurs. Not being allowed to act as a physician, Saint-Germain determines to show his power as an alchemist; takes a twelve-sous piece from the other augur, puts it on red-hot charcoal, and works with the blowpipe. The piece of money is fused and allowed to cool. “Now,” says Saint-Germain, “take your money again.” —“But it is gold.”—“Of the purest.” Augur number two does not believe in the transmutation, and looks on the whole operation as a trick, but he pockets the piece nevertheless, and finally presents it to the celebrated Marshal Keith, then governor of Neuchâtel.
Again in pursuit of dyeing and other manufacturing schemes, Saint-Germain turned up at St. Petersburg, Dresden, and Milan. Once he got into trouble, and was arrested in a petty town of Piedmont on a protested bill of exchange; but he pulled out a hundred thousand crowns’ worth of jewels, paid on the spot, bullied the governor of the town like a pickpocket, and was released with the most respectful excuses.
Very little doubt exists that during one of his residences in Russia, he played an important part in the revolution which placed Catherine the Second on the throne. In support of this view, Baron Gleichen cites the extraordinary attention bestowed on Saint-Germain at Leghorn in 1770, by Count Alexis Orloff, and a remark made by Prince Gregory Orloff to the Margrave of Anspach during his stay at Nuremberg.
After all, who was he?—the son of a Portuguese king, or of a Portuguese Jew? Or did he, in his old age, tell the truth to his protector and enthusiastic admirer, Prince Charles of Hesse-Cassel? According to the story told his last friend, he was the son of a Prince Rakoczy, of Transylvania, and his first wife a Tékély. He was placed, when an infant, under the protection of the last of the Medici. When he grew up, and heard that his two brothers, sons of the Princess Hesse-Rheinfels, or Rothenburg, had received the names of Saint-Charles and Saint-Elizabeth, he determined to take the name of their holy brother, Sanctus Germanus. What was the truth? One thing alone is certain, that he was a protégé of the last Medici. Prince Charles, who appears to have regretted his death, which happened in 1783, very
sincerely, tells us that he fell sick, while pursuing his experiments in colours, at Eckernförde, and died shortly after, despite the innumerable medicaments prepared by his own private apothecary. Frederick the Great, who, despite his scepticism, took a queer interest in astrologers, said of him, “This is a man who does not die.” Mirabeau adds, epigrammatically, “He was always a careless fellow, and at last, unlike his predecessors, forgot not to die.”*
And now we ask what shadow of proof is herein afforded either that Saint-Germain was an “adventurer,” that he meant to “play the part of a prodigy,” or that he sought to make money out of dupes? Not one single sign is there of his being other than what he seemed, viz., a gentleman of magnificent talents and education, and the possessor of ample means to honestly support his standing in society. He claimed to know how to fuse small diamonds into large ones, and to transmute metals, and backed his assertions “by the possession of apparently unbounded wealth, and a collection of jewels of rare size and beauty.” Are “adventurers” like this? Do charlatans enjoy the confidence and admiration of the cleverest statemen and nobles of Europe for long years and not even at their deaths show in one thing that they were undeserving? Some encyclopedists (see New Amer. Cyclop., Vol. XIV, p. 267) say:—“He is supposed to have been employed during the greater part of his life as a spy at the courts at which he resided!” But upon what evidence is this supposition based? Has any one found it in any of the state papers in the secret archives of either of these courts? Not one word, not one fraction or shred of fact to build this base calumny upon, has ever been found. It is simply a malicious lie. The treatment that the memory of this great man, this pupil of Indian and Egyptian hierophants, this proficient in the secret wisdom of the East, has had from Western writers is a stigma upon human nature. And so has the stupid world behaved towards every other person who like Saint-Germain, has revisited it after long seclusion devoted to study, with his stores of accumulated esoteric wisdom,
* [This article ends with the following words: “What was this man? An eccentric prince, or a successful scoundrel? A devotee of science, a mere schemer, or a strange mixture of all?—a problem, even to himself.”—Compiler.]
in the hope of bettering it and making it wiser and happier.
One other point should be noticed. The above account gives no particulars of the last hours of the mysterious Count or of his funeral. Is it not absurd to suppose that if he really died at the time and place mentioned, he would have been laid in the ground without the pomp and ceremony, the official supervision, the police registration which attend the funerals of men of his rank and notoriety? Where are these data? He passed out of public sight more than a century ago, yet no memoir contains them. A man who so lived in the full blaze of publicity could not have vanished, if he really died then and there, and left no trace behind. Moreover, to this negative we have the alleged positive proof that he was living several years after 1784. He is said to have had a most important private conference with the Empress of Russia in 1785 or 1786, and to have appeared to the Princesse de Lamballe when she stood before the tribunal, a few moments before she was struck down with a bullet, and a butcher-boy cut off her head; and to Jeanne du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV, as she waited on her scaffold at Paris the stroke of the guillotine in the Days of Terror, of 1793. A respected member of our Society, residing in Russia, possesses some highly important documents about the Count de Saint-Germain, and for the vindication of the memory of one of the grandest characters of modern times, it is hoped that the long-needed but missing links in the chain of his chequered history, may speedily be given to the world through these columns.*
[After reading the above, the student should consult the Bio-Bibliographical Appendix in the present Volume, s.v. SAINT-GERMAIN, for pertinent information concerning this remarkable personage, the correction of some errors and a selective bibliography of the subject.—Compiler.]
* [The individual hinted at by H.P.B. was most likely her aunt, Miss Nadyezhda Andreyevna de Fadeyev. No information is available at this time as to what became of these documents.—Compiler.]