The Humbugs of the World/Chapter XLII
The Count de St. Germain, Sage, Prophet, and Magician.
Superior to Cagliostro, even in accomplishments, and second to him in notoriety only, was that human nondescript, the so-called Count de St. Germain, whom Fredrick the Great called, “a man no one has ever been able to make out.”
The Marquis de Crequy declares that St. Germain was an Alsatian Jew, Simon Wolff by name, and born at Strasburg about the close of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century; others insist that he was a Spanish Jesuit named Aymar; and others again intimate that his true title was the Marquis de Betmar, and that he was a native of Portugal. The most plausible theory, however, makes him the natural son of an Italian princess, and fixes his birth at San Germane, in Savoy, about the year 1710; his ostensible father being one Rotondo, a tax-collector of that district.
This supposition is borne out by the fact that he spoke all his many languages with an Italian accent. It was about the year 1750 that he first began to be heard of in Europe as the Count St. Germain, and put forth the astounding pretensions that soon gave him celebrity over the whole continent. The celebrated Marquis de Belleisle made his acquaintance about that time in Germany, and brought him to Paris, where he was introduced to Madame de Pompadour, whose favor he very quickly gained. The influence of that famous beauty was just then paramount with Louis XV, and the Count was soon one of the most eminent men at court. He was remarkably handsome—as an old portrait at Friersdorf, in Saxony, in the rooms he once occupied, sufficiently indicated; and his musical accomplishments, added to the ineffable charm of his manners and conversation, and the miracles he performed, rendered him an irresistible attraction, especially to the ladies, who appear to have almost idolized him. Endowed with an enchanting voice, he could also play every instrument then in vogue, but especially excelled upon the violin, which he could handle in such a manner as to give it the effect of a small orchestra. Contemporary writers declare that, in his more ordinary performances, a connoisseur could distinctly hear the separate tones of a full quartet when the count was extemporizing on his favorite Cremona. His little work, entitled “La Musique Raisonnée, published in England, for private circulation only, bears testimony to his musical genius, and to the wondrous eccentricity, as well as beauty, of his conceptions. But it was in alectromancy, or divination by signs and circles; hydromancy, or divination by water; cleidomancy, or divination by the key, and dactylomancy, or divination by the fingers, that the count chiefly excelled, although he, at the same time, professed alchemy, astrology, and prophecy in the higher branches.
The fortunes of the Count St. Germain rose so rapidly in France, that in 1760 he was sent by Louis XV, to the Court of England, to assist in negotiations for a peace. M. de Choiseul, then Prime Minister of France, however, greatly feared and detested the Count; and secretly wrote to Pitt, begging the latter to have that personage arrested, as he was certainly a Russian spy. But St. Germain, through his attendant sprites, of course, received timely warning, and escaped to the Continent. In England, he was the inseparable friend of Prince Lobkowitz—a circumstance that gave some color to his alleged connection with the Russians. His sojourn there was equally distinguished by his devotion to the ladies, and his unwavering success at the gaming-table, where he won fabulous sums, which were afterward dispensed with imperial munificence. It was there, too, that he put forward his claims to the highest rank in Masonry; and, of course, added, thereby, immensely to the éclat of his position. He spoke English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German, Russian, Polish, the Scandinavian, and many of the Oriental tongues, with equal fluency; and pretended to have traveled over the whole earth, and even to have visited the most distant starry orbs frequently, in the course of a lifetime which, with continual transmigrations, he declared to have lasted for thousands of years. His birth, he said, had been in Chaldea, in the dawn of time; and that he was the sole inheritor of the lost sciences and mysteries of his own and the Egyptian race. He spoke of his personal intimacy with all the twelve Apostles—and even the august presence of the Savior; and one of his pretensions would have been most singularly amusing, had it not bordered upon profanity. This was no less an assertion than that he had upon several occasions remonstrated with the Apostle Peter upon the irritability of his temperament! In regard to later periods of history, he spoke with the careless ease of an every-day looker on; and told anecdotes that the researches of scholars afterwards fully verified. His predictions were, indeed, most startling; and the cotemporaneous evidence is very strong and explicit, that he did foretell the time, place, and manner of the death of Louis XV, several years before it occurred. His gift of memory was perfectly amazing. Having once read a journal of the day, he could repeat its contents accurately, from beginning to end; and to this endowment he united the faculty of writing with both hands, in characters like copperplate. Thus, he could indite a love-letter with his right while he composed a verse with his left hand, and, apparently, with the utmost facility—a splendid acquisition for the Treasury Department or a literary newspaper! He would, however, have been ineligible for any faithful Post Office, since he read the contents of sealed letters at a glance; and, by his clairvoyant powers, detected crime, or, in fact, the movements of men and the phenomena of nature, at any distance. Like all the great Magi, and Brothers of the Rosy Cross, of whom he claimed to be a shining light, he most excelled in medicine; and along with remedies for “every ill that flesh is heir to,” boasted his “Aqua Benedetta” as the genuine elixir of life, capable of restoring youth to age, beauty and strength to decay, and brilliant intellect to the exhausted brain; and, if properly applied, protracting human existence through countless centuries. As a proof of its virtues, he pointed to his own youthful appearance, and the testimony of old men who had seen him sixty or seventy years earlier, and who declared that time had made no impression on him. Strangely enough, the Margrave of Anspach, of whom I shall presently speak, purchased what purported to be the recipe of the “Aqua Benedetta,” from John Dyke, the English Consul at Leghorn, towards the close of the last century; and copies of it are still preserved with religious care and the utmost secrecy by certain noble families in Berlin and Vienna, where the preparation has been used (as they believe) with perfect success against a host of diseases.
Still another peculiarity of the Count would be highly advantageous to any of us, particularly at this period of high prices and culinary scarcity. He never ate nor drank; or, at least, he was never seen to do so! It is said that boarding house régime in these days is rapidly accustoming a considerable class of our fellow-citizens to a similar condition, but I can scarcely believe it.
Again, the Count would fall into cataleptic swoons, which continued often for hours, and even days; and, during these periods, he declared that he visited, in spirit, the most remote regions of the earth, and even the farthest stars, and would relate, with astonishing power, the scenes he there had witnessed!
He, of course, laid claim to the transmutation of baser metals into gold, and stated that, in 1755, while on a visit to India, to consult the erudition of the Hindoo Brahmins, he solved, by their assistance, the problem of the artificial crystallization of pure carbon—or, in other words, the production of diamonds! One thing is certain, viz.: that upon a visit to the French ambassador to the Hague, in 1780, he, in the presence of that functionary, induced him to believe and testify that he broke to pieces, with a hammer, a superb diamond, of his own manufacture, the exact counterpart of another, of similar origin, which he had just sold for 5,500 louis d’or.
His career and transformations on the Continent were multiform. In 1762, he was mixed up with the dynastic conspiracies and changes at St. Petersburg; and his importance there was indicated ten years later, by the reception given to him at Vienna by the Russian Count Orloff, who accosted him joyously as “caro padre” (dear father,) and gave him twenty thousand golden Venetian sequins.
From Petersburg he went to Berlin, where he at once attracted the attention of Frederick the Great, who questioned Voltaire about him; the latter replying, as it is said, that he was a man who knew all things, and would live to the end of the world—a fair statement, in brief, of the position assumed by more than one of our ward politicians!
In 1774, he took up his abode at Schwabach, in Germany, under the name of Count Tzarogy, which is a transposition of Ragotzy, a well-known noble name. The Margrave of Anspach met him at the house of his favorite Clairon, the actress, and became so fond of him, that he insisted upon his company to Italy. On his return, he went to Dresden, Leipzig, and Hamburg, and finally to Eckernfiorde, in Schleswig, where he took up his residence with the Landgrave Karl of Hesse; and at length, in 1788, tired, as he said, of life, and disdaining any longer immortality, he gave up the ghost.
It was during St. Germain’s residence in Schleswig that he was visited by the renowned Cagliostro, who openly acknowledged him as master, and learned many of his most precious secrets from him—among others, the faculty of discriminating the character by the hand-writing, and of fascinating birds, animals, and reptiles.
To trace the wanderings of St. Germain is a difficult task, as he had innumerable aliases, and often totally disappeared for months together. In Venice, he was known as the Count de Bellamare; at Pisa, as the Chevalier de Schoening; at Milan, as the Chevalier Welldone; at Genoa, as the Count Soltikow, etc.
In all these journeys, his own personal tastes were quiet and simple, and he manifested more attachment for a pocket-copy of Guarini’s “Pastor Fido”—his only library—than for any other object in his possession.
On the whole, the Count de St. Germain was a man of magnificent attainments, but the use he made of his talents proved him to be also a most magnificent humbug.