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The Comte de Saint Germain (born 1712?; died 27 February 1784) was a European courtier, with an interest in science and the arts. He achieved prominence in European high society of the mid-1700s. In order to deflect inquiries as to his origins, he would invent fantasies, such as that he was 500 years old, leading Voltaire to sarcastically dub him "The Wonderman".
His birth and background are obscure, but towards the end of his life he claimed that he was a son of Prince Francis II Rákóczi of Transylvania. His name has occasionally caused him to be confused with Claude Louis, Comte de Saint-Germain, a noted French general, and Robert-François Quesnay de Saint Germain, an active occultist.
The Count claimed to be a son of Francis II Rákóczi, the Prince of Transylvania, possibly legitimate, possibly by Duchess Violante Beatrice of Bavaria. This would account for his wealth and fine education. It also explains why kings would accept him as one of their own. The will of Francis II Rákóczi mentions his eldest son, Leopold George, who was believed to have died at the age of four. The speculation is that his identity was safeguarded as a protective measure from the persecutions against the Hapsburg dynasty.
He appears to have begun to be known under the title of the Count of St Germain during the early 1740s.
According to David Hunter, the Count contributed some of the songs to L'incostanza delusa, an opera performed at the Haymarket Theatre in London on all but one of the Saturdays from the 9th of February to the 20th of April 1745. Later, in a letter of December of that same year, Horace Walpole mentions the Count St. Germain as being arrested in London on suspicion of espionage (this was during the Jacobite rebellion) but released without charge:
The other day they seized an odd man, who goes by the name of Count St. Germain. He has been here these two years, and will not tell who he is, or whence, but professes [two wonderful things, the first] that he does not go by his right name; [and the second that he never had any dealings with any woman - nay, nor with any succedaneum (this was censored by Walpole's editors until 1954)] He sings, plays on the violin wonderfully, composes, is mad, and not very sensible. He is called an Italian, a Spaniard, a Pole; a somebody that married a great fortune in Mexico, and ran away with her jewels to Constantinople; a priest, a fiddler, a vast nobleman. The Prince of Wales has had unsatiated curiosity about him, but in vain. However, nothing has been made out against him; he is released; and, what convinces me that he is not a gentleman, stays here, and talks of his being taken up for a spy.
The Count gave two private musical performances in London in April and May 1749. On one such occasion, Lady Jemima Yorke described how she was 'very much entertain'd by him or at him the whole Time- I mean the Oddness of his Manner which it is impossible not to laugh at, otherwise you know he is very sensible & well-bred in conversation'. She continued:
'He is an Odd Creature, and the more I see him the more curious I am to know something about him. He is everything with everybody: he talks Ingeniously with Mr Wray, Philosophy with Lord Willoughby, and is gallant with Miss Yorke, Miss Carpenter, and all the Young Ladies. But the Character and Philosopher is what he seems to pretend to, and to be a good deal conceited of: the Others are put on to comply with Les Manieres du Monde, but that you are to suppose his real characteristic; and I can't but fancy he is a great Pretender in All kinds of Science, as well as that he really has acquired an uncommon Share in some'.
Walpole reports that St Germain:
'spoke Italian and French with the greatest facility, though it was evident that neither was his language; he understood Polish, and soon learnt to understand English and talk it a little [...] But Spanish or Portuguese seemed his natural language'.
Walpole concludes that the Count was 'a man of Quality who had been in or designed for the Church. He was too great a musician not to have been famous if he had not been a gentleman'. Walpole describes the Count as pale, with 'extremely black' hair and a beard. 'He dressed magnificently, [and] had several jewels' and was clearly receiving 'large remittances, but made no other figure'.
St Germain appeared in the French court in around 1748. In 1749 he was employed by Louis XV for diplomatic missions.
A mime and English comedian known as Mi'Lord Gower impersonated St-Germain in Paris salons. His stories were wilder than the real Count's — he had advised Jesus, for example. Inevitably, hearsay of his routine got confused with the original.
Giacomo Casanova describes in his memoirs several meetings with the "celebrated and learned impostor". Of his first meeting, in Paris in 1757, he writes:
The most enjoyable dinner I had was with Madame de Robert Gergi, who came with the famous adventurer, known by the name of the Count de St. Germain. This individual, instead of eating, talked from the beginning of the meal to the end, and I followed his example in one respect as I did not eat, but listened to him with the greatest attention. It may safely be said that as a conversationalist he was unequalled.
St. Germain gave himself out for a marvel and always aimed at exciting amazement, which he often succeeded in doing. He was scholar, linguist, musician, and chemist, good-looking, and a perfect ladies' man. For awhile he gave them paints and cosmetics; he flattered them, not that he would make them young again (which he modestly confessed was beyond him) but that their beauty would be preserved by means of a wash which, he said, cost him a lot of money, but which he gave away freely.
He had contrived to gain the favour of Madame de Pompadour, who had spoken about him to the king, for whom he had made a laboratory, in which the monarch — a martyr to boredom — tried to find a little pleasure or distraction, at all events, by making dyes. The king had given him a suite of rooms at Chambord, and a hundred thousand francs for the construction of a laboratory, and according to St. Germain the dyes discovered by the king would have a materially beneficial influence on the quality of French fabrics.
This extraordinary man, intended by nature to be the king of impostors and quacks, would say in an easy, assured manner that he was three hundred years old, that he knew the secret of the Universal Medicine, that he possessed a mastery over nature, that he could melt diamonds, professing himself capable of forming, out of ten or twelve small diamonds, one large one of the finest water without any loss of weight. All this, he said, was a mere trifle to him. Notwithstanding his boastings, his bare-faced lies, and his manifold eccentricities, I cannot say I thought him offensive. In spite of my knowledge of what he was and in spite of my own feelings, I thought him an astonishing man as he was always astonishing me.
In 1779 St. Germain arrived in Altona in Schleswig. Here he made an acquaintance with Prince Charles of Hesse-Kassel, who also had an interest in mysticism and was a member of several secret societies. The Count showed the Prince several of his gems and he convinced the latter that he had invented a new method of colouring cloth. The Prince was impressed and installed the Count in an abandoned factory at Eckernförde he had acquired especially for the Count, and supplied him with the materials and cloths that St. Germain needed to proceed with the project. The two met frequently in the following years, and the Prince outfitted a laboratory for alchemical experiments in his nearby summer residence Louisenlund, where they, among other things, cooperated in creating gemstones and jewelry. The Prince later recounts in a letter that he was the only person in whom the Count truly confided. He told the Prince that he was the son of the Transylvanian Prince Francis II Rákóczi, and that he had been 88 years of age when he arrived in Schleswig.
The Count died in his residence in the factory on the 27th February 1784, while the Prince was staying in Kassel, and the death was recorded in the register of the St. Nicolai Church in Eckernförde. He was buried March 2 and the cost of the burial was listed in the accounting books of the church the following day. The official burial site for the Count is at Nicolai Church (German St. Nicolaikirche) in Eckernförde. He was buried in a private grave. On April 3 the same year, the mayor and the city council of Eckernförde issued an official proclamation about the auctioning off of the Count's remaining effects in case no living relative would appear within a designated time period to lay claim on them. Prince Charles donated the factory to the crown and it was afterward converted into a hospital.
Jean Fuller-Overton found, during her research, that the Count's estate upon his death was: a packet of paid and receipted bills and quittances, 82 Rthler and 13 shillings (cash), 29 various groups of items of clothing (this includes gloves, stockings, trousers, shirts, etc.), 14 linen shirts, 8 other groups of linen items, and various sundries (razors, buckles, toothbrushes, sunglasses, combs, etc.). There were no diamonds, jewels, gold, or any other riches. There were no kept cultural items from travels, personal items (like his violin), or any notes of correspondence.
The following list of music comes from Appendix II from Jean Overton-Fuller's book "The Comte de Saint Germain".
Six Sonatas for two violins with a bass for harpsichord or violoncello.
Seven Solos for a Violin.
Numbered in order of their appearance in the Musique Raisonnee, with their page numbers in that volume. * Marks those performed in L'Incostanza Delusa and published in the Favourite Songs from that opera.
The best-known biography is Isabel Cooper-Oakley's The Count of St. Germain (1912), which gives a satisfactory biographical sketch. It is a compilation of letters, diaries and private records written about the Count by members of the French aristocracy who knew him in the 18th century. Another interesting biographical sketch can be found in The History of Magic, by Eliphas Levi, originally published in 1913.
There have also been numerous French and German biographies, among them Der Wiedergänger: Das zeitlose Leben des Grafen von Saint-Germain by Peter Krassa, Le Comte de Saint-Germain by Marie-Raymonde Delorme and L'énigmatique Comte De Saint-Germain by Pierre Ceria and François Ethuin. In his work Sages and Seers (1959), Manly Palmer Hall refers to the biography Graf St.-Germain by E. M. Oettinger (1846).
One book attributed to the Count of Saint Germain is La Très Sainte Trinosophie (The Most Holy Trinosophia), and although there is little evidence that it was written by him, the original was certainly in his possession at one point. There are also two triangular books in the Manly Palmer Hall Collection of Alchemical Manuscripts at the Getty Research Library which are attributed to Saint Germain.
Myths, legends and speculations about St. Germain began to be widespread in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and continue today. They include beliefs that he is immortal, the Wandering Jew, an alchemist with the "Elixir of Life", a Rosicrucian, and that he prophesied the French Revolution. He is said to have met the forger Giuseppe Balsamo (alias Cagliostro) in London and the composer Rameau in Venice. Some groups honor Saint Germain as a supernatural being called an Ascended Master.
The Count has inspired a number of fictional creations: