The Historical Comte de Saint-Germain
"IT is not surprising that the English can discover nothing of the true origins, of the Count Saint-Germain," wrote the Prime Minister of England in 1749, "for England has no secret police. However, the French can learn nothing of him, either, and they have the most efficient secret police in the world."
The Prime Minister was not alone in his perplexity. His letter echoes statements of many other men and women of his time. There was endless puzzlement about the intelligent, well-traveled, and cultured stranger in all the courts of Europe. It was not as if le Comte de Saint-Germain was inconspicuous or retiring-quite the contrary. He was a prominent figure for about forty years and no one ever unraveled his mystery, which apparently delighted him.
To the Baron von Gleichen, who had mentioned the rumors circulating in France, that le Comte was many centuries old, Saint-Germain gave the following equivocal answer: "It amuses me to allow it to be believed that I have lived in ancient times. The Parisians imagine that I am five hundred years old, and I encourage them in that thought, because it pleases me and them. Of course, I am really far older than I look." Von Gleichen adds in his memoirs that after reflection, he realized that Saint-Germain had given him no useful information at all, and he found himself in sympathy with the bewildered Frenchmen.
Two of those Parisians left descriptions of le Comte. Madame du Hausset recalled him in her memoirs thus: "Le Comte seemed to be forty years old, or perhaps a trifle more; well-made and deep chested, he was neither corpulent nor thin; he had a fine wry countenance and always appeared to advantage. His taste in clothes was extremely simple, restricted for the most part to garments of black and white. Once he appeared at a court gala with shoe-buckles and garters thickly studded with diamonds... It is not known by anyone where the extraordinary wealth of this man originated. The King [Louis XVI would not tolerate any condescending or mocking talk about M. le Comte, and was often closeted with him in his laboratory." Madame de Genlis confirms these impressions in her memoirs: "He [Saint-Germain] was somewhat below middle size, well-proportioned, and strong, and very active in his movements. His hair was dark, nearly black; his complexion olive. His humorous and intelligent face was expressive of talent. He had the most remarkable eyes, profoundly dark and of a most penetrating character, so that it seemed he could read the very souls of all who met him. He spoke French elegantly with a little accent, and likewise English, Italian, Spanish, German, and Portuguese. He was also said to converse in Latin and Greek. He was an excellent musician and could accompany any song on the harpsichord extempore, and with a perfection that astonished Philidor, as much as his style of preluding. He often entertained us with impromptu works played at the keyboard, on the violin, or the guitar."
Casanova met him on at least three occasions, and did not like him at all. When news of Saint-Germain's "death" reached him, he remarked in his memoirs that it was learned that the imposter Saint-Germain was really the violinist Giovannini. The composer Rameau concluded that Saint-Germain was really the musician Balletti. Astonishingly enough, there is some evidence that suggests both Casanova and Rameau were correct.
Not the least mystifying aspect of the mysterious Comte de Saint-Germain was his long list of aliases. In the Netherlands, for instance, when it was learned that le Comte had invested a large amount of money in a particular firm that owned a foundry as well as making dredging equipment, the government required him to sell off his shares in the business because, being a foreigner, he was not allowed to have so much money invested in an industry that might be militarily critical to the Netherlands. Saint-Germain complied at once, and the government was satisfied, as they never learned that the man who bought Saint-Germain's share of the business was, in fact, another of le Comte's aliases. In his lifetime, he admitted to having more than twenty aliases in a dozen countries. How many he may have had beyond that is impossible to guess.
He was an alchemist, a mystic, a composer, and a patron of the arts. He entertained elegantly, lived conspicuously well, traveled everywhere, and was received by the most august figures eagerly. There are four and possibly five literary works attributed to him, though only one poem, in Poemes Philosophiques sur l'homme (Paris, 1795), is known to have come truly from his pen. The other titles are questionable. He was Anton Mesmer's teacher for three or four years. He hobnobbed with all the major noble, political, artistic, academic, and mystical figures of his day. And he remained a mystery.
He claimed to speak over thirty languages, and though this figure was not put to the test, there is hard evidence that he spoke more than a dozen. He was fluent in all the European languages, including Polish (he served as Polish translator for Frederick the Great) and Czech (he translated dispatches intercepted by French couriers). He most certainly had Russian (translations into Italian), Greek (more translations and conversations), Arabic and Turkish (translations for an Austrian nobleman with whom he stayed as a guest in 1755 or 1756), Swedish (he spoke with the ambassador to the Prussian court), and several Balkan dialects. When writing songs, he preferred to set the music to Italian or English lyrics, claiming that they were more musical languages than French.
In occult circles it is generally accepted that Saint-Germain was the son of the Prince of Transylvania, Francis (or Franz or Ferenc) Ragoczy (or Rakoczi), whose fortune were varied, but who lost his title, lands, rights, and crown before the end of his life. His family was exiled and two of his children were taken into the "protection" of the Hapsburgs. The third child (either the eldest or youngest, depending on which school you favor) was "lost" and therefore assumed to have been Saint-Germain.
Piecing together the few solid bits of information about this man (and there are comparatively few for a man who led so public a life), I have come up with what I think may have been the background of this brilliant, elusive man.
First, as to nationality, I believe he was Czech: his face was occasionally described as Slavic, and his skill with languages suggests an Eastern European background and education. In the western part of Europe there was no particular reason to learn Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Greek, or Turkish; in Eastern Europe there was real necessity for a polyglot fluency. His broad and well-developed knowledge of music, letters, and art makes it unlikely that he was Hungarian because at that time the political situation in Hungary was such that few children and young people received instruction in music and art beyond the most rudimentary levels. Saint-Germain was not only talented, but very well trained; his virtuoso accomplishments were not the result of catch-as-catch-can studies.
Saint-Germain was intimately familiar with the traditions and rituals of the Orthodox Church as well as with those of the Roman Catholic Church, which again suggests Eastern European beginnings. Although he was familiar with the occult disciplines of the Kabbalah, Saint-Germain did not appear to have any deep understanding of Jewish traditions and regular religious practices, which seems to indicate that he was not (as was often suspected during his lifetime) a Jew, Wandering or otherwise. Hebrew was not among those languages which he spoke easily, although he was able to read it, which reenforces this conclusion.
Because of the ease with which Saint-Germain and his various aliases moved through European financial capitals and institutions, I believe he had a background in commerce. I think he came from a very upper-level merchant's family, and as the most monetarily successful group of merchants dealt in jewels, and Saint-Germain himself was famous for the number and quality of his jewels, it appears possible that he came from a family of Czech jewel merchants. The quality of his education supports this. In the eighteenth century, the children of well-to-do jewel merchants and those dealing in other rare substances (exotic fabrics, woods, and spices, primarily) often received education at least on a par with the nobility, and were generally more highly motivated to expand their studies than those of superior social classes. The son of a merchant would wish to prepare himself to travel extensively on business, to be pleasant company, and to excel at social graces for the benefit of business. Saint-Germain's interest in occult and alchemical studies is consistent with this background, for jewel merchants often sponsored such experimentation in the hope that the means to make artificial but genuine jewels would be discovered.
But why would the son of a wealthy Czech diamond merchant want to baffle most of the European nobility for nearly forty years? Probably for no more complicated reason than simple enjoyment. He often admitted that he took great delight in watching the investigators of various countries and governments try to discover his "true" identity. He threw out tantalizing clues that led nowhere, or contradicted others he had offered at an earlier time. From one or two of his recorded remarks, it is apparent that he knew very well what he was doing, and found the confusion that resulted from these mendacities quite enjoyable.
Assuming that he was in fact not forty but in his mid-twenties when he first came to France in 1743, he would have been in his mid-sixties at the time of his supposed death in 1786. That he was able to disguise his age effectively is not especially surprising, as at that time both men and women used cosmetics, and it was comparatively simple to change one's appearance to seem somewhat older. In a youth-oriented culture it is not easy to understand why he would wish to do so, but the society of the French court, and indeed all European courts, was not enamored with youth for youth's sake. To say that he was in his mid-forties, or to let it be assumed that he was, would make Saint-Germain's position and claims more credible. A Magus of twenty-five is rather silly, but an experienced, well-traveled man of the world, approaching middle-age, is another matter entirely. He was a man to be trusted and confided in. As a merchant's son, he would have had the opportunity for travel that might not be available to the children of noble houses in such troubled times as the first half of the eighteenth century. Assuming he began to go on journeys in his early teens, which was fairly common among rich merchants' heirs, he would have had at least ten years of international travel behind him by the time he arrived in Paris in the spring of 1743.
At one time or another during his years at various European courts, he attended meetings of Kabbalistic, Rosicrucian, and Masonic Lodges. He was well regarded by all those groups, and his studies were taken seriously. He was also interested in all aspects of technology. At one time he advanced quite a good deal of money to a man in Amsterdam who had invented a steam dredge for clearing silted-up canals (that was before he had to sell off his foundry shares). On another occasion he financed a project to develop a more stable spring-and-shock-absorber device for carriages. Both ventures were fairly successful. He was believed during his lifetime to be a partner in at least three importing companies, and the Italians thought the figure was higher than that.
Saint-Germain's "death" occurred under highly suspicious circumstances-he was alone but for servants at a friend's isolated chateau. When he "died", his body either disappeared mysteriously, or had to be buried at once for fear of infection, depending on which of the two most prevalent stories you wish to believe. Yet he was seen by those who had known him several times after his "death", and in one instance aided a few aristocratic friends to escape from the guillotine in 1793. The noble family he aided said afterward, when they had reached Germany, that they had traveled part of the way with the courier for a firm of jewel merchants.
The last authentic contact with Saint-Germain was in Genoa in 1802, when a French military officer saw him at the palazzo of one of the Genovese noblemen. At the time, Saint-Germain said that he was about to embark to Egypt to further his occult studies. According to the French colonel, Saint-Germain sailed four days later, and that was the last anyone saw of him. However, it is curious to note that there is a persistent oral tradition in some of the higher occult circles in the Near East, that claims a very old and powerful European Magus died near Cairo in 1817. It is my personal conviction that the very old and powerful European Magus was Saint-Germain.
When I first began to develop the idea for the Saint-Germain cycle of novels back in 1972-3, I began researching the eighteenth century for Hotel Transylvania. At the time it was not my intention to use Saint-Germain as a vampire, but as a major secondary character, as I used Botticelli and Nero in later books. In the years I have studied occult subjects, I had become familiar with Saint-Germain and thought that he would be a colorful and ambiguous addition to an historical horror story. However, the more I read about him, the more convinced I became that I did not need to invent a vampire and juxtapose him with Saint-Germain: my vampire was already developed and available. He stood five-foot-six; wore black and white almost exclusively; rarely, if ever, ate or drank in public, though he often gave extravagant supper parties; was believed to have uncanny powers; claimed to be anything from two to four thousand years old; was a linguist and widely traveled; was enormously cultured; was a patron of the arts; was a great mystery. I took him at his highly equivocal word and assumed that all the various rumors he encouraged were true and went on from there. In the Saint-Germain cycle of books, the only thing I claim for Saint-Germain/Ragoczy that he did not claim for himself in his lifetime is vampirism, and since he said that he had achieved his great longevity by drinking the Elixir of Life, I doubt vampirism is stretching the point too far.
For those who are interested, I have constructed a biography for my vampiric Saint-Germain. He is about 4,000 years old, taking the most outlandish figure given by the historical man. He was born in the region now called Transylvania of proto-Etruscan stock. Because he was born at the dark of the year (the historical Saint-Germain told King Louis XV that his birthday was December 24th), he was initiated into the priesthood, which was vampiric, but before he died and changed, he was taken captive and made a slave. Some of this information appears in the novel Path of the Eclipse, which is fourth in the cycle.
My choice of proto-Etruscan background is not entirely capricious. Those of you who have seen Etruscan sarcophagi know that the Etruscan attitude about death and the afterlife was unique. Instead of lying in supine, shown in sleeping postures, or represented at profound religious rites, most Etruscans are depicted in very lively pursuits-eating, drinking, playing, making love. Since one arm of current academic thought tends to the theory that the Etruscans originated in the Carpathians and on the Hungarian plains, I found them irresistible for this character. The Etruscan representations of the afterlife seem so appropriate for the cycle of novels, and their possible early location so providential that I seized on them without apology.
Should you be interested in delving further into the background of the historical Saint-Germain, here are a few sources that might be of use to you:
Jacques Casanova de Seingalt, Memoirs
A. Cockren, Alchemy Rediscovered and Restored
Isabel Cooper-Oakley, The Comte de Saint-Germain
Madame la Comtesse de Genlis, Memoirs
Baron von Gleichen, Memoirs
Poemes Philosophiques sur l'homme
Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians
If you are curious about Saint-Germain's music (which is not available in the United States) some of it is still extant and available with effort. A few titles are:
Six Sonatas for Two Violins with a Bass for the
Harpsichord or Violoncello Seven Solos for a Violin
I trust that le Comte de Saint-Germain, whoever he was, would find his affectionate transmogrification at my hands amusing and complimentary. Surely anyone who enjoyed baffling people as much as he did would be pleased to add one more bizzare attribute to his list. Without doubt he has given me six years of joy in his well-loved vampire persona, which is as good a way as any for him to continue his self-proclaimed immortality.
Le Comte de Saint-Germain: it has been an honor and a pleasure to know him.