The Count of Saint-Germain
Part 1 of 2
2. England and music
3. At the French court
4. Peace mission
5. Ubbergen and Tournai
6. Italy and the Turkish campaign
7. Travels in Germany
8. Prince Carl and the final years
9. Origins: Prince Rákóczy
10. Messenger and adept
11. Cagliostro and Mesmer
The Count of Saint-Germain (from an engraving by Nicolas Thomas, 1783, made from a painting attributed to Count Pietro dei Rotari (1707-62) and owned by the Marquise d’Urfé).
The Count of St. Germain was an enigmatic figure who achieved great prominence in European high society in the mid-18th century. He was on close terms with many kings, princes and statesmen, and enjoyed their confidence and admiration. He was fabulously wealthy, possessing a collection of jewels of rare size and beauty, which he often gave away as gifts. Acquaintances praised his charming grace, genteel manners and enormous erudition. He was an accomplished musician and composer, and a virtuoso on the violin. He was also a brilliant chemist, with a unique knowledge of dyes and diamonds. Frederick the Great called him a man whose riddle had never been solved. His birth and background are obscure, but towards the end of his life he revealed that he was a son of Prince Francis Rákóczy of Transylvania.
Tales about Saint-Germain grace many memoirs of the period, but their reliability varies; they often contain embellishments, exaggerations and outright fabrications, and several were not written by their alleged authors.1 There are legends that he could fuse small diamonds into larger ones, make gold, possessed the secret of eternal youth, and was hundreds or even thousands of years old. His contemporaries sometimes referred to him (often ironically) as ‘the Wonderman’. Voltaire mockingly called him ‘a man who never dies and who knows everything’. Although Saint-Germain has often been labelled a charlatan, adventurer, swindler and spy, there is no convincing evidence to back this up.
Saint-Germain’s name is frequently linked to alchemy, occultism and secret societies. Helena P. Blavatsky writes: ‘Count St. Germain was certainly the greatest Oriental Adept Europe has seen during the last centuries. But Europe knew him not.’2 According to Isabel Cooper-Oakley, ‘he brought his great knowledge to help the West, to stave off in some small measure the storm clouds that were gathering so thickly around some nations. Alas! his words of warning fell on deafened ears, and his advice went all unheeded.’3
This article first reconstructs the life and work of Saint-Germain from historical sources, and then considers what occult sources have to say about him.
1. For critical comments on the reliability of different sources, see Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte de Saint Germain: Last scion of the House of Rákóczy, London: East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 100, 105-7, 124, 188, 190-1, 197, 240, 243-4.
2. H.P. Blavatsky, The Theosophical Glossary, Los Angeles, CA: Theosophy Co., 1973 (1892), p. 309.
3. Isabel Cooper-Oakley, The Comte de St. Germain: The secret of kings, original ed., 1912, reprint, Escondido, CA: The Book Tree, 1999, p. 2.
2. England and music
The Count of Saint-Germain we are considering here is sometimes confused with several other Saint-Germains: Claude-Louis, Comte de Saint-Germain (1707-78), a Frenchman famous for his military talents, who was appointed war minister by Louis XVI in 1775, but whose career ended in disgrace because of the reforms he tried to introduce in the army; Robert-François Quesnay de Saint-Germain (1751-1805), an occultist; and Pierre-Mathieu Renault de Saint-Germain, French Governor of Calcutta in 1755.
The first historical trace of the Count of Saint-Germain seems to be a letter written on 22 November 1735 in The Hague in the Dutch Republic (officially known as the Republic of the United Provinces) by someone signing himself ‘P.M. de Saint-Germain’. It is addressed to Irish physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane, and offers to procure for him a printed copy of the Catholicon (an encyclopaedic Latin dictionary compiled by Johannes Januensis). A Frenchman by the name of Morin, who was then ambassador to The Hague, said he had met Saint-Germain there in 1735, and that when he met him again in France in the late 1750s he was astonished to find that Saint-Germain did not seem to have aged by so much as a year.1
Saint-Germain next turns up in England in 1745, where he was arrested on suspicion of being a spy. That year saw the start of the Second Jacobite Rebellion, led by Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the Young Pretender (grandson of James II, who was deposed in the English Revolution of 1688). Charles left France for Catholic Scotland in July 1745 and, supported by several Scottish clans, soon reached Edinburgh. His forces were defeated at the Battle of Culloden in the Scottish Highlands in April 1746, putting an end to any realistic hope of overthrowing the reigning (Protestant) House of Hanover and restoring the (Catholic) House of Stuart to the British throne.
In a letter of 9 December 1745, Horace Walpole, a young Whig politician (the Whigs played a central role in the Revolution of 1688), wrote to Horace Mann, the British envoy in Florence, as follows:
[T]he 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 [substitute]. 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.2
In a report dated 21 December 1745, the French chargé d’affaires in London stated that Saint-Germain
has met every highly placed person, including the Prince of Wales. He speaks several languages, French, English, German, Italian etc., is a very good musician and plays several instruments, said to be a Sicilian and of great wealth. What has drawn suspicion on him is that he has cut a very fine figure here, receiving great sums and settling all bills with such promptitude that it has never been necessary to remind him. Nobody could imagine how a man who was simply a gentleman could dispose of such vast resources, unless he were employed as a spy. He has been left in his own apartment under the guard of a State Messenger; no papers have been found in it or on his person which furnish the least evidence against him; he has been interrogated by the Secretary of State [the Duke of Newcastle], to whom he does not furnish an explanation of himself quite so satisfactory as that gentleman wishes, persisting in his refusal to state his real name, title or occupation, unless to the King himself, for, he says, his behaviour has been in no wise contrary to the laws of this country, and it is against common right to deprive an honest foreigner of his liberty without formulating an accusation.3
Soon afterwards Saint-Germain was released without charge.
The Duke of Newcastle. (en.wikipedia.org)
Whatever the main purpose of Saint-Germain’s stay in England, he made a great impression as a musician. Charles Burney, composer of the British national anthem, mentions that Prince Lobkowitch and the ‘celebrated and mysterious Count Saint-Germain’ attended all the rehearsals for an opera at the Haymarket theatre and Saint-Germain also composed several new songs for it, one of which was encored every night. A collection of six arias published around 1747 contained three by Saint-Germain. The one encored every night has accompanying lines for first and second violins, viola, cello and harpsichord. Saint-Germain participated in concerts not only as a performer but also as a director. Forty-two arias with Italian lyrics composed by Saint-Germain were published around 1750, as was Six Sonatas for two Violins with a bass for Harpsichord or Violoncello by SSSS de St. Germain. Seven Solos for a Violin, also by Saint-Germain, appeared around 1758.4
After 1745, Saint-Germain’s precise whereabouts and activities for the next 12 years are uncertain. His own statements indicate that he was probably developing various manufacturing techniques in Germany, mainly in the area of dyeing. In 1755 he was involved in promoting a machine invented by a Frenchman for cleaning and deepening ports, estuaries and waterways, and made a trip to The Hague in late 1755 or early 1756.5
1. Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte de Saint Germain: Last scion of the House of Rákóczy, London: East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 60-2, 106.
2. Count of St. Germain, en.wikipedia.org; censored version: Charles Duke Yonge (ed.), Letters of Horace Walpole, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1890, vol. 1, gutenberg.org.
3. Fuller, pp. 67-8.
4. Ibid., pp. 66-84, 310-2.
5. Ibid., pp. 89, 95-6.
3. At the French court
When the Second Jacobite Rebellion broke out in England, most of the British army was in Flanders and Germany, participating in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48), which pitted the upcoming German province of Prussia (backed by France, Spain, and Bavaria) against Austria, the seat of the Habsburg Empire (backed by Britain and the Dutch Republic). The War of the Austrian Succession was followed by the Seven Years War (1756-63), which affected Europe, North and Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines, and cost around a million lives. In this global conflict, the earlier alliances were reversed: instead of France and Prussia versus Britain and Austria, it now became France and Austria versus Britain and Prussia. This switch of alliances is known as the Diplomatic Revolution. The underlying antagonisms nevertheless remained: Prussia versus Austria, and Britain versus France.
Saint-Germain entered France during the summer or early autumn of 1757. At that time France was ruled by Louis XV. Louis enjoyed a favourable reputation at the start of his reign (1715), but he became extremely unpopular due to the extravagance of his court, his ill-advised financial policies, and his loss of territories. In 1757 he suffered an assassination attempt.
Uninterested in politics and largely influenced by his chief mistress, Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s decisions damaged the power of France, weakened the treasury, discredited the absolute monarchy, and arguably led to the French Revolution which broke out 15 years after his death. He was succeeded by his grandson Louis XVI in 1774.1
Louis XV. (en.wikipedia.org)
Madame de Pompadour, ca. 1750. (en.wikipedia.org)
Mme de Pompadour shouldered much of the blame for France’s reversal of alliances from Prussia to Austria and the disastrous Seven Years War that ensued, as well as for its recurrent financial difficulties. Her father was head clerk to the Pâris brothers (Joseph Pâris-Duverney, her godfather, and Jean Pâris-Monmartel), the biggest financiers in France, and she accepted their advice blindly. Her brother became Marquis of Marigny and the King made him Director of the King’s Manufactures and Superintendent of the King’s Buildings. In these capacities, he received several letters from Saint-Germain, who signed himself ‘Denis de S.M., Comte de St. Germain’.
I have made on my own lands the most rich and rare discovery that has yet been made, excepting only that of America. I have worked at it with a diligence, application and patience perhaps without precedent for close on twenty years. ... The object of all this work having been achieved I wish to donate the profit to the King, my expenses only deducted, without asking him for anything but the use, free, of one of the royal residences, in which to establish the people I have brought from Germany for his service. ...
It is a year that I have been talking about this, three months that I have been in Paris.2
Saint-Germain felt that his dyeing and other techniques could provide employment, increase national wealth and relieve taxation on the poor.
By May 1758 Saint-Germain had been granted use of several suites at the Château de Chambord, the most magnificent of the King’s residences after Versailles. He was also granted use of three kitchens on the ground floor (for the dyeing process) and some of its outbuildings (for housing his workforce). Work had not yet started as everything had to be brought from Germany. He met the King and Mme de Pompadour at Versailles, became a regular guest at Mme. de Pompadour’s suppers, and spent many evenings with the King and royal family.
Another regular guest at the suppers given by Mme. de Pompadour was the Duke de Choiseul. In autumn 1758 he returned to France from Vienna, where he had been ambassador, to take over as foreign minister. He strongly favoured France’s alliance with Vienna. He took a dislike to Saint-Germain, now a close friend of the King, perhaps partly because he had not been let in on the secret of Saint-Germain’s parentage. At the time, Louis XV seems to have been one of the very few people – another may have been the Duke of Newcastle – to whom Saint-Germain had revealed this secret. Louis did not receive men below a certain rank in the nobility, and would not have allowed himself to be imposed upon by a charlatan. It is worth noting that Louis XV’s predecessor and great grandfather, Louis XIV (the ‘Sun King’), had been a good friend of Saint-Germain’s father, Prince Francis II Rákóczy.
The Duke de Choiseul. (fr.wikipedia.org)
The Duke de Choiseul’s hostility towards Saint-Germain was revealed during a meal at his home. The duke asked his wife why she was not drinking, and she replied that she was following the regime recommended by Saint-Germain, and with great success. The duke then forbade her from ‘following the follies of a man so equivocal’, and went on to claim that he knew the truth about Saint-German: ‘he is the son of a Portuguese Jew, who imposes on the credulity of the town and of the Court’.3 Choiseul is simply repeating hearsay, though it is probably true that Saint-Germain had spent some time in Portugal, as he spoke the language fluently.
In her memoirs, Mme de Genlis (then known as Stéphanie-Félicité du Crest) reports that during the summer of 1759, when she was 13 years old, she saw Saint-Germain virtually every day and sometimes, while she sang, he would accompany her by ear on the harpsichord. She describes Saint-Germain as a good physician and a very great chemist. She also says he painted in oils, and claims that he painted pictures in which people were shown wearing jewellery, which – due to a special pigment he had discovered – gleamed and reflected light as though made of real stones. Saint-Germain was certainly a connoisseur of paintings, but if he also painted himself, we would most likely have heard of this from other writers.4 She also writes:
Saint-Germain’s conversation was instructive and amusing; he had travelled a great deal and knew modern history with an astonishing amount of detail, which made him speak of the most ancient people as if he had lived with them ... His principles were of the loftiest, he complied with all the exterior duties of religion with exactitude, he was very charitable, and every one agreed that his morals were the very purest.5
Yet she still persists in calling him a charlatan.
Karl Heinrich Baron von Gleichen, a prominent Freemason, met Saint-Germain in 1759 when he called on the latter’s banker, Mme Lambert. Saint-Germain often lodged at her house when in Paris. Gleichen says he followed Saint-Germain for six months but ‘he taught me nothing’, and his resulting dislike of Saint-Germain is often reflected in the way he writes about him. He makes the interesting comment that Saint-Germain, ‘unlike other charlatans, never claimed to possess supernatural knowledge’.6 Whether Saint-Germain possessed paranormal powers or not, there do not seem to be any reliable eyewitness accounts of his displaying them,7 whereas there are reliable reports of other leading occultists (such as Cagliostro and H.P. Blavatsky) doing so.8
Gleichen describes Saint-Germain as ‘a man of medium height, very robust, clothed with a magnificent simplicity and very elegant’. On one occasion Gleichen spoke of some paintings he had seen in Italy, and Saint-Germain later showed him some very beautiful paintings in his own possession and a quantity of precious stones, mainly diamonds, ‘of surprising size and perfection’. Gleichen also writes:
He possessed chemical secrets, for the making of colours, dyes, and a similor [a metal resembling gold] of rare beauty ...
He kept a very strict regime, never drinking while eating, purging himself with senapods, which he prepared himself, and that was all he had to recommend to those who asked him what they should do to prolong their lives.9
Several people reported that Saint-Germain looked about 40 to 60 years old in 1759. One of the reasons why people thought he was unnaturally old is that Gleichen reported – second-hand – that the composer Jean-Phillippe Rameau and an elderly relative of a French ambassador to Venice, who both met Saint-Germain in France, said they had also met him in Venice around 1710, looking like a man of 50 whereas in 1759 he only looked like a man of 60.10 People assumed that Saint-Germain’s mostly vegetarian diet and his regular drinking of a herbal tea containing senna pods had enabled him to live to an unnatural age. It was due to his special diet that he was never seen eating in public.
Mme du Hausset, lady-in-waiting to Mme de Pompadour, says the Saint-Germain was ‘neither stout nor lean’, ‘dressed very simply, but in good taste’, and ‘had very beautiful diamonds on his fingers as well as on his snuff-box and his watch’. Saint-Germain reportedly told her: ‘Sometimes I amuse myself, not in making people believe, but in letting them believe that I lived in the most ancient times.’11
Some of the wild tales that circulated about Saint-Germain were the result of the activities of a man called Guave, who was nicknamed Milord Gower because he liked to mimic the English. He had been employed as a spy against the British army during the Seven Years War, and courtiers now made use of his services in Paris to play the parts of all sorts of people. Sometimes he would disguise himself as Saint-Germain ‘to satisfy the curiosity of women and idlers’. Gleichen says that, when impersonating Saint-Germain, Gower would begin with minor exaggerations,
but if he saw that all was received with admiration, he would go back from century to century until the time of Christ, of whom he would speak familiarly as though he had been his friend. He would say, for instance, ‘I knew him intimately, he was the best man in the world but rather romantic and reckless; I warned him several times he would come to a bad end’ ... This kind of nonsense, which was widely repeated and taken quite seriously in Paris, gave Monsieur de Saint-Germain the reputation for possessing a medicine which rejuvenated and rendered immortal ...12
As many people testified, Saint-Germain had a secret process for removing flaws from diamonds and improving their colour and brilliance. On one occasion the King showed him one of his own diamonds which had a flaw. It was valued at 6000 livres, but without the flaw it would be worth 10,000 livres (upwards of £75,000). Saint-Germain said he could get rid of the flaw, and brought it back a month later, wrapped in amianthus, without the flaw. It was found to be virtually the same weight as before. The jeweller offered 9600 livres for it, but the King preferred to keep it as a curiosity.13
Nowadays, the colour and brilliance of diamonds can be improved by irradiating them with electrons or neutrons and flawed diamonds can be improved by boiling them in strong acids, if the flaws are accessible via a hairline crack. We have no details of the techniques used by Saint-Germain; he may have used acids (which were extensively employed in dyeing), and/or some other electrical, chemical or alchemical process.
1. Louis XV of France, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_xv.
2. Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte de Saint Germain: Last scion of the House of Rákóczy, London: East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 95-6.
3. Ibid., p. 116.
4. Ibid., pp. 107, 191.
5. The Theosophical Path, Jan 1915, p. 48. This is part of a series of 18 articles on Saint-Germain by Philip A. Malpas, The Theosophical Path, v. 6, Jan 1914 to v. 9, Jul 1915.
6. C.A. Vulpius (ed.), Curiositäten der physisch-literarisch-artistisch-historischen Vor- und Mitwelt, Weimar: Landes-Industrie-Comptoirs, vol. 7, 1818, pp. 12-22, zs.thulb.uni-jena.de; The Theosophical Path, Dec 1914, pp. 454-5.
7. The untrustworthy Chroniques de l’Oeil-de-Boeuf by Georges Touchard-Lafosse (Paris: G. Barba, 1836), which borrows heavily from the unreliable memoirs of Mme du Hausset, Mme de Genlis and Baron von Gleichen, contains the following: ‘There are people who have seen him doing things that exceed human powers. They say that he calls up spirits at the desire of those who are bold enough to ask for these terrible apparitions, which are always recognizable. Sometimes he causes replies to questions as to the future to be given by subterranean voices, which one hears very distinctly if one applies the ear to the flooring of a mysterious chamber, which is only entered for the purpose of hearing mysterious oracles. Several of these predictions have been already fulfilled, they assert, and Saint-Germain’s correspondence with the other world is a demonstrated truth for many people.’ (The Theosophical Path, Jul 1915, p. 43.)
8. Daniel Caldwell (comp.), The Esoteric World of Madame Blavatsky: Insights into the life of a modern sphinx, Wheaton, IL: Quest, 2000.
9. Fuller, p. 106.
10. Curiositäten der physisch-literarisch-artistisch-historischen Vor- und Mitwelt, vol. 7, p. 16. Jean Overton Fuller suggests that in 1717 Rameau might have met Saint-Germain’s father, Francis Rákóczy, travelling down the Rhone incognito, and might have confused the two (pp. 106, 281-3). The French ambassador that Gleichen refers to is Count Languet de Gergy, who was ambassador in Venice from October 1723 to November 1731 – i.e. 27 to 35 years earlier, rather than 50 (The Theosophical Path, Jul 1915, p. 38).
11. The Theosophical Path, Jan 1915, pp. 51-2.
12. Translated from Curiositäten der physisch-literarisch-artistisch-historischen Vor- und Mitwelt, vol. 7, pp. 15-6.
13. Fuller, p. 103.
4. Peace mission
France’s new alliance with Austria was not benefiting France and ongoing war was draining its resources. The Duke of Newcastle, who was now the British Prime Minister, and Lord Granville, Lord President of the Council, sent a letter saying that they favoured a separate peace between England and France. At Mme de Pompadour’s request, Saint-Germain informed the Duke de Choiseul of the letter, but he dismissed it out of hand. Marshal de Belle-Isle, Secretary of State for War, on the other hand, regretted the alliance with Austria and favoured peace with England. So did the King and Mme de Pompadour, but they were very close friends of Choiseul and did not want to openly oppose him. Opinion in England was also divided. For instance, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, William Pitt, opposed peace with France; he was a very powerful figure, who had established his fame as the man who was winning the war against France.
Louis, Pompadour and Belle-Isle asked Saint-Germain to find out whether Newcastle and Granville were strong enough to carry the day. Like them, Saint-Germain regretted the reversal of alliances, opposed the domination of so much of Europe by the Habsburgs, and believed that France could not afford to maintain its dependent colonies. If France concluded peace with England, Austria would do so with Prussia. Saint-Germain agreed to travel to The Hague – a neutral city – and speak with General Sir Joseph Yorke, the British ambassador, whom he knew from his time in England. It was decided not to tell Choiseul in advance but to wait until Saint-Germain had something positive to report, in the hope that Choiseul would then fall into line.
On 8 January 1760, the Prussian chargé d’affaires at The Hague, Bruno von Hellen, wrote to King Frederick II (Frederick the Great) to tell him about Saint-Germain, who was then still in Paris:
He is a sort of adventurer, who has lived in Germany and England as the Comte de Saint-Germain, who plays the violin with excellence, but also prompts from behind the scenes, and so cuts a great figure. ... The Comte must at the present time play a great role at the Court of Versailles, having entered into the intimate councils of the King and the Marquise [de Pompadour] ... [H]e seems to have really imparted to the King of France some curious discoveries which he made through chemistry, amongst others the secret of rendering colours fast.
Von Hellen speculates that Saint-Germain had won the King’s favour by convincing him he could deliver the philosopher’s stone! He also tells Frederick that Saint-Germain had frankly told the finance ministers that ‘they committed the highest degree of folly in breaking off relations with Your Majesty and mixing themselves up in the war of the Continent’ and had advised them to make peace. Von Hellen says that Saint-Germain was probably involved in the replacement of the previous French finance minister in November 1759.1
Apart from the peace initiative, Saint-Germain seems to have had another purpose for making his trip to The Hague, related to France’s dire financial straits. In Amsterdam he lodged with the brothers Adrian and Thomas Hope, directors of the East-India Company. The Hope brothers had made the French Crown or government a loan on which repayments with interest were apparently not being kept up. Baron von Reischach, Austria’s ambassador to the Hague, reported to the Austrian Chancellor, Prince von Kaunitz, in March 1760 that Saint-Germain was believed to have pledged his own credit as guarantor to secure the advance of an enormous sum to the French court.2
On 5 March 1760, Saint-Germain called on Willem Bentinck, the Count von Rhoon, at the latter’s request. Bentinck was a member of the States General (the Dutch parliament), and one of the regents for Prince Willem V of Orange. They met several times and Bentinck accompanied Saint-Germain to the ball and supper given for Willem’s 12th birthday. In his diary for 9 March 1760 Bentinck noted down many details of his conversations with Saint-Germain, which reveal how well informed the latter was about national and international affairs.
That the King of France and Madame de Pompadour, the whole Court and the whole of France desired [peace] passionately; that one man prevented it. That was the Duc de Choiseul, won over as he had been by the Court of Vienna ...
That all the confusions and troubles of Europe came from the Treaty of Versailles, 1756, which was but a consequence of that of Venice.
That there was a secret clause by which Flanders would be given to the [Spanish] Infanta in exchange for Silesia [which Austria hoped to regain from Prussia] ...
That there was only one way out of it, and that was by a peace concerted between England and France; that the usual method of preliminaries, congresses and conferences would lead to drawing things out indefinitely ...
That the King and Madame de Pompadour craved it ...; that the King of England wished for it no less; that the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Granville strongly favoured it; that Pitt, at present connected with the two others, had until now managed to thwart them, but that Pitt was hated by the King ...
[H]e entered into great detail concerning the [French] provinces, their depopulation, the ruin of the gentlemen-landowners, bringing in its train by natural consequence the ruin of the peasants who cultivated the land, all caused by the disproportion between the capital and the realm; of which one now felt the effects because the resources which supplied the provinces and, to excess, the ruinous luxury consumption of Paris, were dried up by the suspension of foreigners’ profits and the ruin of trade.3
Willem Bentinck. (en.wikipedia.org)
Bentinck also wrote:
His conversation pleased me very much, being extremely brilliant, varied, full of details concerning different countries in which he had been, very interesting anecdotes, and I was extremely pleased with his judgement of persons and places known to me, his manners were extremely polished and speak a well-bred man of the highest class.
I therefore pressed him with questions, to which he replied readily and clearly (for he speaks with such facility as though he were giddy-headed ...) ...4
Many people commented on Saint-Germain’s talkativeness and skills as a raconteur.
On 14 March 1760, General Yorke wrote to the Earl of Holdernesse, Britain’s Secretary of State for the Northern Department, to say that Saint-Germain had called on him and explained that Mme de Pompadour and Marshal de Belle-Isle, with the knowledge of the King, had sent him to The Hague to tell him of the King’s desire for peace. Saint-Germain told him that the French ambassador to The Hague, D’Affry, was not in the know, nor was Choiseul, who would be ‘turned out’. Yorke had replied that the British King wanted an honourable peace.
On the same date Count Kriegsrath Kauderback, a Saxon, the King of Poland’s representative at The Hague, wrote to tell a friend about a meeting over dinner with Saint-Germain. After recounting rumours of Saint-Germain’s immense age, he says:
What is certain is that a member of the States General who is approaching seventy has told me he saw this extraordinary man in the house of his father when he was only a child, and yet that he has the agile, loose movements of a man of thirty. His legs are ever ready to take a turn, he wears his own hair, black and growing from all over his head, and has hardly a line on his face. He never eats meat, except for a little of the white of chicken, and limits his nourishment to cereals, vegetables and fish. He takes great precautions against cold ...5
He adds that Saint-Germain claimed to have learned ‘nature’s most beautiful secrets’, was extremely rich, and had shown him stones of inestimable value. Saint-Germain told him of the French King’s lack of firmness, saying that those around him abused his good nature and flattered his weakness, especially ‘the creatures of the Pâris brothers, who, in themselves, constitute the entire ill of France’.
Choiseul soon found out about what was going on. On 19 March 1760 he sent d’Affry a letter Saint-Germain had written to Mme de Pompadour, saying that it ‘is sufficient in itself to demonstrate the absurdity of this personage; he is an adventurer of the first water, and moreover very stupid’.
[Y]ou have my order to warn him that if I hear he has meddled in politics, in a big way or in small, I will obtain an order from the King that if ever he returns to France he will spend the rest of his days in a dungeon. ...
[Y]ou will beg him never again to set foot within your doors ...6
Saint-Germain later told Bentinck:
He [d’Affry] does not realise that I have trodden underfoot both praise and blame, fear and hope, and that I have no object but the good of humanity, to do the best I can for humankind. The King knows it well, and I do not fear either Monsieur d’Affry or Monsieur de Choiseul.7
On instructions from the Earl of Holdernesse, Yorke told Saint-Germain that the British Crown was willing to discuss peace with him, provided he produced formal proofs that he was representing the French King. Saint-Germain was willing for someone holding an official position in Louis XV’s government to accompany him on further visits to Yorke. At this stage, Bentinck still felt that peace was within their grasp.
On 4 April, Yorke wrote to Holdernesse saying that since his last despatch Saint-Germain appeared to have lost ground. The next day, d’Affry wrote to Choiseul telling him he had informed all the principal ministers in The Hague, the big bankers and the Hope brothers that Saint-Germain had been repudiated. Several letters that Saint-Germain had written to Pompadour and Belle-Isle had failed to reach them, because Prince Louis of Brunswick – tutor to the young Prince Willem V and virtually regent of the Netherlands – had redirected them to Choiseul. Prince Louis realized that if Saint-Germain was talking to Yorke directly, his own role as mediator between Britain and Prussia, and between France, Austria and Russia, would disappear.
On 15 April, Choiseul wrote to d’Affry:
The King has ordered me to direct you expressly not only to decry this so-called Comte de Saint-Germain in the most humiliating and expressive terms, verbally and in actions, before all whom you suspect of knowing this knave throughout the United Provinces but to persuade the States General ... to have him arrested and transported to France, so that he can be punished according to the gravity of his fault ... [H]ave a notice inserted in the Dutch gazettes, decrying this knave once and for all ...8
Louis XV proved too weak to stand up to Choiseul and ended up sacrificing his secret envoy.
Bentinck received intelligence of the imminent danger facing Saint-Germain. He obtained from Yorke a passport to enable Saint-Germain to escape to England. The latter departed by boat in the early morning of 16 April, just hours before the order for his arrest could be executed. Bentinck later observed that Saint-Germain had nearly succeeded in his noble endeavour and failed only because ‘he relied too much on his own intentions and had not a bad enough opinion of those of the men with whom he had to deal’.9
The boat carrying Saint-Germain reached Harwich on 22 April 1760, and Saint-Germain arrived in London a few days later, where he was put under a polite form of house arrest, guarded by a state messenger. While there, he received a letter from the Comte de la Watu, a friend he had left behind in Amsterdam:
If a thunderbolt had struck me, I could not have been more confused than I was at The Hague in finding you gone. I will stake everything and make all imaginable efforts to pay my respects to you in person, for I am not unaware, Monsieur, that you are the greatest Lord of the Earth, and I am only mortified that wretched people dare to cause you troubles.
I have heard that gold and intrigues have been employed against your pacific pains.10
William Pitt refused to see Saint-Germain and insisted on his leaving Britain. The Prussian ambassador to London, Baron von Knyphausen, met Saint-Germain and, with the permission of King Frederick II of Prussia, arranged for him to travel to Aurich under the name of Count Cea (Céa was a county of the Spanish kingdom of Léon). To avoid embarrassing Frederick, however, Saint-Germain decided to take refuge elsewhere. Louis XV’s failure to stand up for Saint-Germain had hardened Frederick against him, and he was now pressing forward with the war against France.
1. Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte de Saint Germain: Last scion of the House of Rákóczy, London: East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 121-2.
2. Ibid., p. 136.
3. Ibid., pp. 126-7.
4. Ibid., 130-1.
5. Ibid., p. 135.
6. Ibid., p. 139; Isabel Cooper-Oakley, The Comte de St. Germain: The secret of kings, original ed. 1912, reprint, Escondido, CA: The Book Tree, 1999, pp. 170-1.
7. Fuller, p. 141.
8. Ibid., p. 153.
9. Cooper-Oakley, p. 212.
10. Fuller, p. 158.
5. Ubbergen and Tournai
On 12 February 1761 the Gazette des Pays-Bas published a report from The Hague, which begins:
The so-called Comte de Saint-Germain, that indecipherable man, whose true name, origin and nationality are unknown, who is rich with the revenues of unknown origin, and with knowledge acquired it is not known where or how, who enters the cabinets of Princes without being avowed, this man ... is actually here [in The Hague], not knowing where to lay his head, an exile from all lands.1
In March 1762 a Dutchman, Baron van Hardenbroek, wrote in his diary that he had heard that Saint-Germain was living at Ubbergen2 near Nijmegen, owned another property near Zutphen, and had a large laboratory in his house, where he spent whole days. He was ‘a great philosopher’, ‘of virtuous character’, intended to ‘favour the Republic with his manufactures’, and helped with the preparation of colours for a porcelain factory in Weesp. He ‘had an enormous correspondence with foreign countries’, was often visited by Bentinck, and frequently went to Amsterdam, where he knew the mayor, G.A. Hasselaar, very well (having also met him in early 1760).
[He] possesses rare, precious stones, rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds. It is said that he possesses the art of giving diamonds a brighter water and of giving stones a better colour; he is very generous and possesses great properties in the Palatinate and other parts of Germany ...3
Since Saint-Germain was initially planning to establish his factory at Ubbergen (which means ‘on the hill’), he decided to adopt the name Surmont (which has the same meaning in French).
Estate at Ubbergen (by M. Berkeboom, ca. 1715-20). (dbnl.org)
In the first half of 1762 Saint-Germain visited Russia, possibly to acquire some ingredient for his manufacturing processes. He stayed in St. Petersburg with the Italian artist Count Rotari. He was friendly with the Yousopoff family and gave Prince Yousopoff an ‘elixir for long life’. He was also remembered as a splendid violinist. There is a record of his having been with Princess Galitzin in Archangel (400 miles north of St. Petersburg) on 3 March 1762.4 There were gold fields in the vicinity and also sources of iron (used in his dyeing process).
Saint-Germain’s visit to Russia took place during the reign of Emperor Peter III, who ascended the throne on 5 January 1762. He was very pro-Prussian and was assassinated following a coup organised by the Orlov brothers (Ivan, Grigory, Alexei, and Fyodor) on 9 July in favour of Peter’s wife, who became Catherine the Great. There is a legend that Saint-Germain met the Orlovs while in Russia and played a part in the coup, though there is nothing to substantiate this. Jean Overton Fuller speculates that he did meet Catherine during this visit and disclosed his true identity.5
In early 1763 Saint-Germain travelled from the Dutch Republic to the Austrian Netherlands (formerly known as the Spanish Netherlands until the end of War of the Spanish Succession), or modern-day Belgium. In Brussels he called on Count Karl Cobenzl, the Austrian minister plenipotentiary, to obtain permission to bring some goods through the country. The conversation turned to paintings and cultural interests, and also to Saint-Germain’s manufacturing experiments and ideas. Cobenzl introduced him to Madame Nettine (probably Cobenzl’s mistress), the widow of the founder of the Nettine Bank, and to her son and son-in-law. The idea arose of launching Saint-Germain’s manufactures in Tournai (Doornik), with an advance from the bank.
A letter written by Cobenzl to Kaunitz, the Austrian Chancellor, on 8 April 1763 provides the first real details about Saint-Germain’s industrial processes.
About three months ago the person known as the Comte de St Germain passed through here and paid a call on me. I have found him the most singular man I have met in my life. His birth is not yet known to me exactly, but I believe him the son of a clandestine union contracted by a member of a powerful and illustrious house. Possessed of great wealth, he lives in the greatest simplicity. He knows everything, and is of a rectitude and goodness worthy of admiration. Amongst other proofs of knowledge, he performed several experiments before my eyes; I will shortly send Your Excellency samples. The most essential is the transformation of iron into a metal as beautiful as gold, and to say the least of it just as good for any kind of goldsmith’s work. Dyeing and the preparation of leathers surpassing all the Moroccos in the world, and the most perfect tanning. Dyeing of silks carried to a perfection never seen until now. Similar dyeing of wool. Dyeing of wool in all the most vivid colours, right through and through, and all without Indigo or Cochineal, with the most ordinary ingredients and therefore at a very modest price. Making up of colours as artists’ paints; ultramarine as perfect as that from lapis; finally, removal of smell from the oils used in painting, and preparation of best oil of Provence from rape-seed, colza and other equally inferior oils.6
Cobenzl added that he expected the profits to ‘go into millions’, and that Saint-Germain had asked only for a payment proportionate to any profits made. Kaunitz passed on this information to ‘Her Sacred, Imperial and Apostolic Majesty’ Maria Theresa, the Austrian Queen and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg.
Saint-Germain removed a flaw from a diamond belonging to Cobenzl, greatly increasing its value. He also showed him his collection of paintings and gave him a genuine Raphael as a token of his friendship. Baron von Gleichen asserted that in France Saint-Germain had shown him a painting by the Spanish artist Murillo that was as beautiful as the Raphael in Versailles. This may be the same painting that Saint-Germain gave to Cobenzl, as Gleichen may have attributed it to Murillo to fit his belief that Saint-Germain was a bastard of the Queen of Spain.7
In a letter to Kaunitz of 28 April 1763, Cobenzl says: ‘We have got a good and faithful manufacturer at Tournai, and are there making the necessary preparations.’ Regarding Saint-Germain’s wealth he writes:
he has a property in Holland two thirds paid for, and he has valuables which the man who provided him with the mortgage on their security estimates at well over a million. I have had these valuables brought here and deposited with Madame Nettine. ...
It is certain he is of illustrious birth, but as that does not serve my end I must keep the secret with which he has entrusted me.
He speaks of his wealth and must indeed possess much, since everywhere he has been, he has given prodigious presents, spent a great deal, never asked for anything and never left debts.
Cobenzl says that Saint-Germain ‘asks nothing from us, and wants to give me his secret’, and he ends with the boast: ‘there is nothing in the world we cannot make him do’.8
Kaunitz was far less enthusiastic about the project. He could not understand Saint-Germain’s disinterested motives and wondered why he did not set up business by himself. Kaunitz did not reveal to Choiseul that Saint-Germain was now staying in the Imperial domains and that they were exploring the possibility of turning his secrets to the profit of the Imperial Crown. It is not clear whether Saint-Germain knew that the royal finances were involved or thought he was dealing with Cobenzl and Nettine as private investors.
In a letter of 25 June 1763 to Kaunitz, Cobenzl says that despite being told by an Amsterdam merchant that Saint-Germain’s valuables were worth at least a million,
the effects that were brought here were not of great value, and those that remained in Holland consisted only of paintings, which he esteemed highly but which appeared to be of little worth. We perceived, moreover, that the Comte was pressed by creditors in Holland, and as incapable of order and economy in his personal affairs as marvellous in science.
It is highly unlikely, however, that the Nettine Bank would have provided an advance of 81,720 florins without first seeing Saint-Germain’s valuables. Moreover, the Raphael painting alone would have been worth that amount, but Cobenzl never told Kaunitz about it. Cobenzl says that they had succeeded in obtaining Saint-Germain’s secrets and now intended to ‘remove from the direction of the factory a man who, by his lack of order, could have eaten up the profits in extravagancies’. It would then be up to Maria Theresa to decide whether to take over the factory from Mme Nettine.9
In further letters, Cobenzl assured Kaunitz that once the factory was established, there would be no running costs, because Saint-Germain had agreed to pay them out of his own half of the takings. He also says: ‘There is certain value in the secrets; this is recognised in the leathers and hats, and all our silk and linen manufacturers find the dyes admirable.’10 Kaunitz himself was most interested in the refinement of oils, but Saint-Germain did not give them this secret.
In August 1763 Cobenzl informed Kaunitz that Saint-Germain had departed because his presence was no longer needed and because he had told him that Maria Theresa was not interested in his secrets. Saint-Germain had been induced to bring his valuables as security for an advance, but it appears that Mme Nettine did not return the valuables, even though Cobenzl informed Kaunitz that Nettine would recover her outlay.11 The details are unclear, but it seems that Saint-Germain may have been robbed of a portion of his fortune.
Saint-Germain had been refining his secret process for decades. The information provided by Cobenzl indicates that he took crude iron, did something to it that caused it to change from dark to golden, immersed it in water (perhaps with additives), and after it had imparted its properties to the water, he removed it and put in the materials to be dyed. The water in which the dyeing had been done was later used to make paints. According to a modern expert in the field of dyeing, the golden permutation of iron could be ferric chloride or more likely ferrocyanide. Using very ordinary and inexpensive ingredients, Saint-Germain was doing chemical dyeing before the age of chemical dyeing.12
Jean Overton Fuller says that Saint-Germain’s production of inexpensive fabrics in a range of cheerful colours could have brought forward the Industrial Revolution by over a century.
Saint-Germain was offering the first mass-market, and one can see from these details the sort of revolution he would have wrought in France, wherein, besides giving a paid employment to the workpeople whom the ruin of the land-owners left to starve, he would have produced clothing and other goods at a price ordinary people could afford, reducing class distinction and creating new exports, hence new internal wealth, so perhaps avoiding the bloody Revolution which eventually came.13
Very little is known about whether the factories that Saint-Germain helped to set up in various places were a lasting success and what their economic impact was.14
1. Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte de Saint Germain: Last scion of the House of Rákóczy, London: East-West Publications, 1988, p. 162.
2. The two brothers and soap manufacturers Abraham and Jacob de Mist, acting on Saint-Germain’s behalf, purchased the property at Ubbergen in September 1761 for 72,500 florins. Ownership was never transferred to Saint-Germain because in 1763, before he could pay the full amount, the de Mist brothers were declared bankrupt. To help resolve the matter, the city of Nijmegen became owner of the property for a while. (L.F. van Gent, ‘De Graaf van Saint-Germain, heer van Ubbergen’, Gelre, bijdragen en mededeelingen, v. 44, 1941, pp. 87-115.)
3. F.J.L. Krämer (ed.), Gedenkschriften van Gijsbert Jan van Hardenbroek, Amsterdam: Müller, 1901-1918, vol. 1, pp. 220-1; Fuller, p. 163.
4. Cooper-Oakley, pp. 19-21; Fuller, pp. 164-6.
5. Fuller, p. 165.
6. Ibid., pp. 167-8.
7. Ibid., p. 170.
8. Ibid, p. 172.
9. Ibid., p. 177. Some creditors did indeed come forward with claims against Saint-Germain after the De Mist brothers had gone bankrupt (‘De Graaf van Saint-Germain, heer van Ubbergen’, pp. 88-9, 99-102).
10. Fuller, pp. 180, 185.
11. Ibid., p. 186.
12. Ibid., pp. 180-2.
13. Ibid., p. 184.
14. After Saint-Germain’s departure from France in early 1760 disputes broke out among the workers at Chambord, which probably led to the operation being closed down (ibid., p. 162).
6. Italy and the Turkish campaign
Cobenzl thought that after leaving Tournai, Saint-Germain headed for Liège and then Karlsruhe to stay with the Markgraf van Baden-Durlach. In 1765 Saint-Germain was in Russia again. He had a factory in Moscow for making Indiennes or calicos (a kind of cotton cloth) using his own dyes, and he gave Catherine the Great some of his manufacturing secrets. From Russia he went to Italy. There are allusions to his having been in Venice, Milan, Genoa, Pisa and Florence. Von Gleichen heard of his travelling through villages in Piedmont, and Mme de Genlis heard that in 1767 he was living in Siena under a different name.1
During the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74, the Ottoman Empire was backed by France, while Britain assisted Russia. The Battle of Chesma (Çesme) took place on 5-7 July 1770 off the western tip of Anatolia, and resulted in a decisive Russian victory and the destruction of the Turkish fleet. Saint-Germain, under the name of General Soltikow, was present at the battle, probably on the flagship of the Russian commander, his friend Alexei Orlov.
Battle of Chesma at night (Ivan Aivazovsky, 1848). (wikipaintings.org)
Saint-Germain first met Count Alexei Orlov in Venice, where Orlov was waiting for the Russian fleet. Saint-Germain received his brevet as a Russian General, made out in the name of Chevalier Welldone, in Pisa, in the winter of 1769-70 when the Russian fleet put in at Leghorn (Italy) on its way to Turkey. After the Battle of Chesma, Orlov withdrew the fleet to Leghorn. In May 1771 the Russian fleet returned to Turkish waters, and Saint-Germain probably sailed with them.2
Alexei Orlov. (en.wikipedia.org)
The Russians were planning a vast pincer movement, with Orlov leading the sea attack from the south and Rumiansov leading the land forces from the north. But the Russian fleet appears to have delayed too long at Leghorn in early 1770, waiting for the arrival of a division sent from Britain, and lost the initiative. The aim was to pass through the Dardanelles to Constantinople and the Black Sea, but by the time they tried to pass the Dardanelles, French engineers had made it impassable.
Jean Overton Fuller suggests what the purpose of Saint-Germain’s involvement may have been.
[H]ad they reached the Black Sea, and landed in those parts of Turkey’s domains in Europe known as Wallachia and Moldavia (parts of modern Rumania), then, perhaps joined by land forces pushing down from the south of Russia, they could have marched straight through into Transylvania. ...
[I]n Transylvania, Saint-Germain could have declared his identity as a son of Francis Rákóczy, and there and in Hungary the whole population might have flocked to him, in his General’s uniform, greeting his Russian forces as liberators from the domination of Austria. He might have been received in succession to his father as Prince of Transylvania, and even have been acclaimed in Hungary.3
Saint-Germain later told Gemmingen-Guttenberg that proof of his identity was in the hands of a person on whom he was dependent. This may refer to Catherine the Great, as she would need proof of Saint-Germain’s parentage to show to foreign heads of state. However, the halting of the Russians’ advance scuppered any hopes Saint-Germain may have had.
After retiring from various official duties in 1769, Count Maximillian von Lamberg (1729-92) took up the life of a wanderer. He published a book about his travels, Mémorial d’un Mondain, in 1775.4 In it he reports having met Saint-Germain in Venice. His tales, however, seem largely fictitious. Count von Schachmann later told Saint-Germain he had read a lot about him in von Lamberg’s book, to which Saint-Germain replied: ‘He’s a madman. He does not have the honour of knowing me.’5 Several writers about Saint-Germain, including Isabel Cooper-Oakley, Philip Malpas and Manly Hall, cite von Lamberg’s tales without mentioning or being aware of Saint-Germain’s comment.
Von Lamberg says that, when he met Saint-Germain in Venice, the latter was living under the name Marquis de Belmar, bleaching linen and refining it to the quality of Italian silk, and had 100 women working for him. That is possible, but von Lamberg goes on to make a lot of less credible assertions: that he dictated to Saint-Germain a passage from Zaïre which he took down with both hands simultaneously, and when the pages were placed on top of each other they were found to be absolutely identical; that he had a balsam that restored youth and a lady who applied too much became an embryo again; that Saint-Germain could make diamonds, and could tame bees and charm snakes with his music and singing; that he claimed to be 350 years old; that if he played the violin while hidden behind a screen the audience thought they were listening to five or six instruments; and that he carried a book containing handwritten comments by persons long dead, including one by Montaigne, written in 1580.6
Von Lamberg claims that in 1773, while in Venice, he received a letter from Saint-Germain, then supposedly in Mantua, Italy. The letter, which von Lamberg probably concocted himself, has been widely quoted, including the following sentence: ‘I owe the secret of melting stones to my second voyage to India, in 1755, with Colonel Clive, under Vice-Admiral Watson.’7 It is possible that Saint-Germain visited India, but in 1755 he was busy promoting the port-cleaning machine. Saint-Germain did make a military voyage, but it was with the Russian fleet in 1760-61. In the same fictitious letter, Saint-Germain says that his (fictitious) son accompanied him on this trip to India.
The unscientific idea that Saint-Germain melted small diamonds to make bigger diamonds is also found in Casanova’s unreliable memoirs (Lamberg and Casanova met in 1761).8 Diamond and graphite are both composed of carbon. In air, diamond begins to turn into graphite at a temperature of about 700°C, and it ignites at a temperature of 850 to 1000°C. Saint-Germain stated that he could not make gold, diamonds or other precious stones, but he could improve them all.9
1. Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte de Saint Germain: Last scion of the House of Rákóczy, London: East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 189, 230.
2. Ibid., pp. 201, 205, 209.
3. Ibid., p. 206.
4. C.A. Vulpius (ed.), Curiositäten der physisch-literarisch-artistisch-historischen Vor- und Mitwelt, Weimar: Landes-Industrie-Comptoirs, vol. 7, 1818, pp. 3-11, zs.thulb.uni-jena.de.
5. Fuller, p. 240.
6. The Theosophical Path, Mar 1915, pp. 194-7.
7. Fuller, p. 191.
8. The Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova met Saint-Germain at Mme d’Urfé’s in 1757, and also claims to have met him later at The Hague and Tournai, though the alleged dates cast doubt on this. He called Saint-Germain ‘an astonishing man’ and ‘the king of impostors and quacks’. At Tournai, in 1764 (a year after Saint-Germain had left!), he supposedly watched Saint-Germain transform a silver coin into pure gold by putting it on red-hot charcoal and using a blowpipe (H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House (TPH), 1950-91, 3:127). For many years Casanova led Mme d’Urfé to believe that he himself was a magical adept who could arrange for her to reincarnate into the body of a son he would beget on her, which was necessary for her spiritual evolution and would cost her a lot of money! He threatened her that Saint-Germain would turn himself into a female gnome and attack her. She eventually realized she had been deceived. Casanova seems to have been fixated on Saint-Germain. In 1760, he lived in Berne under the name and style of Saint-Germain, professing all kinds of wonders. (Fuller, pp. 100, 124, 188, 191.)
9. Ibid., p. 276.
7. Travels in Germany
In 1774 Saint-Germain was in Ansbach (or Anspach), a small Principality in Franconia, now part of Bavaria, just to the southwest of Nuremberg. He was living under the name Count Tsarogy. Reinhard Gemmingen-Guttenberg1, a minister in Markgraf Karl Alexander’s government, writes of him as follows:
This singular man, who in his time caused so much unmerited sensation, lived for several years in the Principality of Ansbach, without anyone’s having the slightest idea he was the mysterious adventurer about whom people spread such extraordinary stories.
It was in the year 1774 that the late Markgraf von Brandenberg Karl Alexander learned that there was staying in Schwabach, a town in the Principality, a foreigner, who gave himself out for a Russian officer, lived very withdrawn and secluded, yet performed many benevolent works. ...
The foreigner seemed to be a man between 60 and 70 years old, of medium stature, lean rather than strong, his grey hair hidden under a wig, looking like an ordinary, elderly Italian. His clothes were of the very simplest; his appearance presented nothing extraordinary.
The Markgraf ordered that he be watched closely. Later, Saint-Germain asked to meet the Markgraf and thanked him for allowing him to stay in his lands undisturbed. He spoke in French but his accent ‘betrayed an Italian’. He complimented the Markgraf on his rule, and told him he would confide to him ‘certain secrets, which would contribute to the happiness and well-being of the principality’. He also displayed some very beautiful stones. The Markgraf invited Count Tsarogy to stay with him in Triesdorf, his summer residence.
He had no servants, ate alone and as simply as possible, in his own room, which he seldom left. His needs were reduced to the very minimum. He had no social circle of his own, but spent the evenings with the Markgraf and Mademoiselle Clairon, and any friends brought in by the Markgraf. He could not be persuaded to come for his meals to the Princely table ...
His conversation was always interesting and showed much knowledge of the world and of people, but sometimes there dropped a mysterious word and he broke off or changed the subject when one sought to know more about him. He liked to speak of his childhood and of his mother, whom he never mentioned without emotion. To believe him, his upbringing must have been that of a Prince. ...
What this singular man did with the whole of each day would be hard to say. He had no books with him, except for a dirty copy of Pastor Fido. He would seldom allow anybody to come into his room, but when one did one usually found him with his head wrapped in a black cloth. His preferred occupation was with the preparation of all kinds of dyes. The windows of his room, which gave onto the garden, were so spattered with dyes one could not see through them. Soon after he arrived at Triesdorf he suggested to the Markgraf that he allow it to be used for manufactures. Amongst these figured the making of the most beautiful Moroccan, Spanish and Russian type leathers out of leather of the poorest quality, preparation of beautiful Turkish yarn etc. ...
The work was carried on in a specially prepared laboratory, behind locked doors. ... [T]he author still vividly remembers the atmosphere of eager excitement in which the experiments were conducted, and how often and how heartily the Markgraf and he laughed to see themselves and their trusted helpers transformed with tan and dyes.2
Count Alexei Orlov, who was returning from Italy, sent Saint-Germain a letter inviting him to meet him at Nuremberg. Saint-Germain asked the Markgraf to accompany him and meet the hero of Chesma.
Orlov came with open arms towards Tsarogy, who was now for the first time wearing the uniform of a Russian General, embraced him and called him caro padre, caro amico (‘dear father’, ‘dear friend’), and so on. He received the Markgraf with extraordinary civility and thanked him for the protection he had given his friend. ...
The conversation was extremely interesting, and ran in part upon the campaign [against Turkey] in the Archipelago but more upon useful discoveries. Amongst other things, Orlov showed the Markgraf a piece of unignitable wood, that when a light was put to it neither caught fire nor went into cinders, but swelled up like a sponge and then fell in a light ash. ...
[Tsarogy] confided to the Markgraf that the name Tsarogy was assumed, or anagrammatical, and that he was really a Rákóczy, descended from Prince Rákóczy of Transylvania, of the time of the Emperor Leopold, the last scion.3
A problem arose when the Markgraf and Gemmingen-Guttenberg began to receive information that they interpreted to mean that Saint-Germain/Tsarogy was a liar. In 1775, in Italy, the Markgraf and Gemmingen-Guttenberg were told that the last of the Rákóczy was dead, and that Tsarogy was the ‘notorious Comte de Saint-Germain’. Another ‘trustworthy’ source informed them that he had been born in San Germano, a little town in Savoy, and that his father was a tax collector named Rotondo.
From that time on he toured the world as an adventurer, living in Paris and London as Saint-Germain, in Venice as Conte di Bellamare, in Pisa as Chevalier Schoening, in Milan as Chevalier Welldone, in Genoa as Soltikow, and must be 75 years old.4
In 1776 the Markgraf sent Gemmingen-Guttenberg to tell Saint-Germain of the Prince’s displeasure at the abuse of his goodwill. On arriving in Schwabach, he found Saint-Germain in bed, ‘confined despite his potions and usual health by age and an attack of gout [acute arthritis]’.
He listened to all of the charges in a completely relaxed manner, and said that he had, at one time or another, used all the names recited, even down to Soltikow; but, he said, under all these names he was known as a man of honour. ... He feared nothing, as there was nothing that could be set to his discredit. He asserted with steadfast assurance that he had told the Markgraf nothing untrue with regard to his name and had disclosed to him his true family. ...
[H]e thought that as he asked nothing from the Markgraf, hurt nobody and gave no trouble, he would be judged simply by his conduct.5
Gemmingen-Guttenberg casts doubt on Saint-Germain’s skills as a chemist. He mentions several instances where the leather and yarn proved to be substandard, and reports that the gold-coloured iron lost its lustre, but this could be the result of the workers involved using faulty methods or of impurities in the ingredients, given that there is plenty of testimony that the results were often successful and durable.6 Gemmingen-Guttenberg conceded that Saint-Germain possessed the art of removing flaws from diamonds. He also mentions that Saint-Germain showed him a large pocket knife, of which half was a yielding lead and half unyielding, hard iron. ‘He offered this as proof that iron could be made as yielding and ductile as lead, without losing its own proper qualities.’
Regarding Saint-Germain’s medical knowledge, Gemmingen-Guttenberg says:
His prescription consisted chiefly in a strict diet and in a tea, which he called Thé de Russie [Russian tea] or Acqua Benedetta [Blessed Water]. The Markgraf obtained the recipe for this from the ... English Consul in Leghorn. It had been taken by the Russian fleet in the Archipelago to protect the men from sunstroke. ...
It would be ungrateful to call him a deceiver. ... So long as he stayed with the Markgraf, he asked for nothing, received nothing of the least worth and engaged in nothing unbecoming. Because of his very simple life-style, his needs were almost none. If he had money, he shared it with the poor. He is not known to have left any debts.7
In October 1776, Saint-Germain travelled to Leipzig in Saxony, using the name of Welldone, but his identity was soon pierced. The Prussian ambassador to Saxony, Count von Alvensleben, wrote to Frederick the Great to inform him of Saint-Germain’s presence and that he had claimed in public to have received several letters from Frederick. In reply, Frederick did not deny the letters but asked the ambassador to find out the purpose of Saint-Germain’s visit.
Frederick was unaware that his own nephew, Prince Frederick Augustus of Brunswick, had been pressing Saint-Germain to come to Prussia. Like most German aristocrats, Prince Frederick was a Freemason. He was Master of The Three Globes Lodge in Berlin and Prior of the Strict Observance, the established form of Freemasonry in Germany (it was founded in 1754 and claimed to emanate from a worldwide network of ‘unknown superiors’). He had sent Count von Bosch, Chancellor of the Exchequer for Saxony, banker and Mason, to Saint-Germain with a letter. On 15 March 1777 Bosch informed Frederick Augustus that Saint-Germain had let it be understood that the name Count Welldone ‘hid his veritable identity as Prince Rákóczy’. Bosch also said he was convinced that Saint-Germain ‘was not an adept’, was ‘nothing less than a Theosophist’ (i.e. a mystic such as Jacob Boehme), and ‘was far from forming a correct idea of the First Cause’. Bosch says he ended his relations with Saint-Germain when the latter asked to borrow money from him. Jean Overton Fuller wonders whether the reason Saint-Germain revealed his true identity was that, now that the Orlovs had fallen from power in Russia, Prussia ‘might be the power to help him liberate Transylvania, shifting the balance of power in Europe as a whole towards freedom of thought’.8
Frederick Augustus of Brunswick. (de.wikipedia.org)
Frederick Augustus received a second opinion about Saint-Germain from another Mason, Johann Rudolf von Bischoffwerder, who criticizes Bosch for seeing everything ‘in a false light’ and not appreciating that Saint-Germain ‘sometimes has to borrow but never fails to pay back honourably’. He adds that Saint-Germain’s letter to Frederick Augustus (which has not survived) is what one would expect from someone possessing the key to spiritual knowledge. On 28 March 1777 a merchant friend of Bosch wrote to Frederick Augustus, saying ‘This Sieur Welldone is not a Mason, not a Magus, not even a Theosophist.’9
Also on 28 March, Alvensleben wrote to King Frederick to inform him that Saint-Germain wanted to propose some projects to Leipzig municipal council. He did not want any compensation for his manufacturing processes; if they were of service to humanity that would be a sufficient reward. Bischoffwerder wrote to Frederick Augustus on 5 April, saying that, despite the proof of Saint-Germain’s knowledge, he was not Clerical Prior, a grade in the Strict Observance second only to that of Grand Prior, the position held by Frederick Augustus. On 12 April, Bosch reported a conversation with a gemnologist, who assured him that Saint-Germain did not make artificial stones, but had shown him a method for improving topaz.10
On 2 May 1777, Count Ernst Heinrich Lehndorff, chamberlain to the Queen of Prussia, wrote in his diary that he had spent three days visiting Saint-Germain, ‘the most remarkable man in Europe’:
He follows a very strict diet, studies great frugality, drinks only water, never wine, and takes only one light meal a day. ... He preaches virtue, abstemiousness and good works, and sets an example in these respects. No one can reproach him with the least impropriety in any dealing. He seems not so rich as he used to be. ...
His face gives an impression of extraordinary spirituality. His speech is spirited and holds one’s attention, but he does not like contradiction. ...
People invent myths about him, and what he does not say. Some think he is a Portuguese Jew, others that he is two hundred years old and a dethroned Prince. Some accuse him of making people believe he must be the third son of Prince Rákóczy.
He speaks as a great physicist. Above all things, he is a doctor, and speaks of his precious powder, which should be drunk as tea. I let him pour me out a cup. It tasted of aniseed, and acted in much the same way. He discourses constantly of right balance between body and soul. When this is observed, he says, the life-machine cannot get out of order.11
On 7 May 1777, Fröhlich wrote to Frederick Augustus, saying: ‘Saint-Germain is still in Leipzig but all hope fades of his having the least Masonic knowledge.’12 Despite all the discouragement, Frederick Augustus had already sent Saint-Germain another letter, begging him to come, and Saint-Germain accepted the invitation. On 19 May, another Freemason, Baron von Wurmb, Councillor of State to the Saxon Court, wrote to Frederick Augustus about Saint-Germain:
Knowing that he had rebuffed certain people who wanted to see him as a wonder-worker, I proceeded upon the contrary tack, and treated him as an ordinary man, whose knowledge of chemistry and physics roused my curiosity.
I found in him a man between 60 and 70, young for his years, laughing to scorn those who credit him with extraordinary age; but hoping to live for a long time yet, through his diet and medicines. For all that, his appearance did not seem to me to promise a very much longer life. One cannot deny that he has beautiful arts, and I shall work with him on the dyeing of certain articles and in the preparation of wool and cloth, to see if it would be practical to engage in the manufacture. What I do not like is that he speaks of tens of millions, though he is far from having them at his disposal, and does not even give the appearance that he knows how to make gold.
Having gained his confidence, I drew him into speaking of Masonry; without displaying much zeal, or even particular attention, he avowed being of the 4th grade, though no longer able to remember the signs. He did not seem to know anything of the system of the Strict Observance, and I could, therefore, go no further with him. However, he evinced spontaneously a curiosity concerning the Schroepfer affair13, and after I had recounted to him what I could of it, he treated me to a story of something that had happened to him in Paris, where a group of about 200 people, led by the imbecile Duc de Bouillon and some women, followers of the Comte de Gabalis’ system, sought him out, supposing him to be the Superior in Chief. From all this, I think it may be concluded that either he dissimulates or he is not one of ours. I think the latter more likely, all the more so as in religion and philosophy he is a pure materialist.14
As we shall see later, Wurmb was not the only Mason to describe Saint-Germain as a ‘pure materialist’. However, Saint-Germain did recognize a spiritual side to the cosmos, as shown by a sonnet that appeared in Poèmes Philosophiques sur l’Homme in 1795; it is attributed to ‘le fameux Comte de Saint-Germain’. In English translation, the last two verses literally read:
Nothing was, god willed, nothing became something,
I doubted, I sought that on which the universe rests,
Nothing preserved the equilibrium and served as support.
Then, with the weight of praise and blame,
I weighed the eternal, it called my soul,
I died, I adored, I knew no more.15
Saint-Germain accompanied Wurmb from Leipzig to Dresden, the capital of Saxony. On 25 June 1777, Alvensleben, who was in Dresden, wrote King Frederick a lengthy letter about Saint-Germain. He describes Saint-Germain as probably approaching 70, and as having travelled in Europe, on the coast of Africa and in Asia Minor.
He says he is Prince Ragotzi, and to furnish me with proof of particular confidence adds that he had two brothers, who so lowered themselves as to submit to their unhappy fate, and that at a certain moment he took the name and style Comte de Saint-Germain, meaning the holy one among the brothers [sanctus germanus = holy brother]. He says that for eight years he has kept a Frenchman called Boissy in India and China at his own expense, to send him the materials and information he needs. He scoffs at doctors and drugs, yet dispenses a powder for which he claims marvels and therefore smells like a walking apothecary’s shop.16
Alvensleben enclosed a list, drawn up by Saint-Germain, of 29 manufacturing processes, which included improving, bleaching and dyeing various materials, preparing artists’ paints, preventing maladies, and preparing cosmetics. The list was signed ‘L.P.T.C. de Welldone’ (i.e. Le Prince de Tsarogy Comte de Welldone). He said his researches had cost him millions, but he was offering them to King Frederick free of charge. He believed that the processes could serve as the basis for trade and an alliance between Saxony and Russia, and that both countries should form an alliance with Prussia. Some people thought Saint-Germain wanted to become finance minister in King Frederick’s government, but Saint-Germain laughed and told Alvensleben that, being a prince, he could not accept service under another sovereign.17
On 30 June, King Frederick replied to Alvensleben, authorising him to tell Saint-Germain he was free to come to Berlin. He also sought the advice of Prince Heinrich, one of his brothers, who replied on 15 July that although Saint-Germain promised much, he knew much, and might truly possess the secret of improving materials.
On 19 July, Bieshoffwerder wrote another letter to Frederick Augustus, from Elsterwerda (48 km northwest of Dresden), saying that ‘Count Welldone is certainly not one of ours’, and expressing astonishment at the fact that Saint-Germain had discovered valuable chemical processes even though he was ‘a profane’ (i.e. someone not initiated into Freemasonry) and ‘an atheist’. When he wrote again on 16 September, however, he had undergone a change of heart:
The essay I have made with the secrets Saint-Germain has passed to me show them to be of astonishing effect, all is given still without the slightest condition beyond my word of honour as to silence, and to this hour I do not understand why I should be the depositary.18
Saint-Germain left Saxony for Berlin, the capital of Prussia, and probably visited King Frederick and Prince Frederick Augustus at their informal residence, Sans Souci. Dieudonné Thiebault relates that Saint-Germain spent over a year in Berlin, staying in a small apartment in one of the best inns. ‘He lived there very withdrawn, with two servants and a cab that waited outside all day’, and he received or visited various high-ranking individuals.19
By the autumn of 1778 Saint-Germain left Prussia for Altona, then capital of Holstein. He paid for everything in cash, but the source of his money was unknown.
He was believed to spend most of his days writing. Letters addressed to him arrived from the Empress Catherine and Princess Wilhemina. The only persons he was known to see in Altona were Countess Bentinck (the widow of Saint-Germain’s old friend, Count Bentinck, who had died on 17 October 1777), and the French Minister, Baron (Mathias) de la Housse.20
Back in France, Louis XV had sacked the Duke de Choiseul in December 1770, partly because of his opposition to Louis’ new mistress, Mme du Barry, a woman from a lower social class (Mme de Pompadour had died from consumption in April 1764). One of Choiseul’s last acts was to arrange the marriage in May 1770 of Louis’ grandson, the heir to the throne, with Marie-Antoinette, the youngest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife, Empress Maria Theresa. The grandson ascended to the throne as Louis XVI in May 1774.
There is a strong legend that Saint-Germain visited Marie-Antoinette when she was queen to warn her of the Revolution and bloodshed to come. The book Souvenirs sur Marie-Antoinette ... et sur la cour de Versailles,21 published in 1836 and supposedly written by the Countess d’Adhémar, a confidante of Marie-Antoinette, tells how the queen received anonymous messages from a ‘mysterious adviser’ (who turned out to be Saint-Germain) for a period of several years, and also describes a dramatic meeting between the Queen and Saint-Germain in 1775, warning her of a conspiracy to overthrow the monarchy and establish ‘a greedy republic, whose sceptre will be the axe of the executioner’.22
The Souvenirs sur Marie-Antoinette is now known to be spurious;23 the work was written by Etienne-Léon Lamothe-Langon, who wrote other fake memoirs, along with a novel about a love affair between Saint-Germain and Mme de Pompadour. Nevertheless, the tradition of a visit to Marie-Antoinette could still be based on fact. Jean Overton Fuller suggests that if such a visit took place, it is more likely to have been in the very late 1770s. She also speculates that, rather than warning of impending doom, Saint-Germain would have advised Louis XVI not to support Emperor Joseph, his brother-in-law, in the invasion of Bavaria, but to put his own house in order and stop the drain on its finances.24
1. C.A. Vulpius (ed.), Curiositäten der physisch-literarisch-artistisch-historischen Vor- und Mitwelt, Weimar: Landes-Industrie-Comptoirs, vol. 8, 1820, pp. 279-94, ‘Ausschlüsse über den Wundermann, Marquis St. Germain, und sein Aufenthalt in Anspach; von einen Augenzeugen’, Reinhard von Gemmingen-Guttenberg, zs.thulb.uni-jena.de. It was the inaccuracies in von Gleichen’s account of Saint-Germain’s stay in Ansbach that prompted Gemmingen-Guttenberg to write his own account, as a first-hand witness.
2. Jean Overton Fuller, The Comte de Saint Germain: Last scion of the House of Rákóczy, London: East-West Publications, 1988, pp. 197-9. Pastor Fido (Faithful Shepherd) is a long Italian poem by Giovanni Batista Guarini (1585). It is noteworthy that Saint-Germain did not have any technical books relevant to his chemical experiments.
3. Ibid., pp. 199-200.
4. Ibid., p. 200.
5. Ibid., p. 201.
6. Gemmingen-Guttenberg says that a factory set up for the gold-like metal soon failed. Later, however, Prince Carl of Hesse-Cassel established a factory for this metal at Ludwigsburg, which is said to have been very profitable. In 1996 an exhibition on Carl of Hesse-Cassel was held in the Schleswig-Holstein archives. It included examples of the gold-like metal, which is described as being ‘not unsightly’. (‘Wer war “Graf Saint-Germain”: eine historisch-kritische Bestandsaufnahme’, Jahrbuch der Heimatgemeinschaft Eckernförde e.V., no. 5, 2004, p. 33.)
7. Fuller, p. 202.
8. Ibid., pp. 218-21.
9. Ibid., pp. 221-2.
10. Ibid., pp. 222-4.
11. Ibid., p. 225.
12. Ibid., p. 226.
13. The Schroepfer affair was a scam started by Johann Georg Schroepfer, a Mason, who professed to be a magician or medium and to have a mission to fuse Freemasonry with the Society of Jesus. He invited Masons to come and hear communications from departed spirits. Some Masons (including Bosch) were persuaded to advance money for a project supposedly involving very high names. Schroepfer committed suicide after being exposed as a confidence trickster.
14. Ibid., p. 227.
15. Slightly differing versions of the French text exist, and also several alternative endings (Fuller, pp. 111-2; Isabel Cooper-Oakley, The Comte de St. Germain: The secret of kings, original ed. 1912, reprint, Escondido, CA: The Book Tree, 1999, p. 128). In the original French version, ‘dieu’ (god) is written with a small letter. For a free and very fine translation of the entire poem by Sebastian Hayes (who manages to preserve the sonnet form), see: poetryintranslation.org.
16. Fuller, p. 230.
17. Ibid., pp. 232-3.
18. Ibid., pp. 234-5.
19. Ibid., p. 238.
20. Ibid., p. 241.
21. Madame la Comtesse d’Adhémar (Etienne Léon Lamothe-Langon), Souvenirs sur Marie Antoinette ... et sur la cour de Versailles, Paris: L. Mame, 1836, vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4.
22. Cooper-Oakley, ch. 3.
23. Fuller says (p. 243): ‘The so-called recollections seem coined out of the memoirs of Madame du Hausset, Casanova and the Chroniques de l’Oeil-de-Boeuf, another concocted work.’
The Souvenirs are not always consistent. In an anonymous letter received by Marie-Antoinette in early 1789, Saint-Germain allegedly writes: ‘Woe to all those who have disdained freemasonry, who have persecuted Cagliostro and tortured the brethren!’ (The Theosophical Path, Feb 1914, p. 93). But in a later signed note to Countess d’Adhémar he supposedly writes: ‘I wanted to see the work which the demon Cagliostro prepared; it is infernal; keep yourself apart’ (ibid., Mar 1914, p. 194).
24. Fuller, pp. 242-4.
The Count of Saint-Germain: Part 2