Secret Societies
and the French Revolution
together with some kindred studies
by Una Pope-Hennessy, (née Una Birch), 1876-1949

London :  John Lane, The Bodley Head
New York :  John Lane Company :  MCMXI
The Ballantyne Press Tavistock Street Covent Garden London


THE lives of notable people do not often baffle biographers by their mystery, yet any attempt to arrange the incidents of Saint-Germain’s life upon paper has proved to be as futile and unsatisfactory as the effort to piece together a puzzle of which some of the principal parts were missing.  Neither contemporary memoir-writers nor private friends have laid bare the real business or ambition of the elegant figure who was admired for so many years of the eighteenth century in Europe as “ der Wundermann.”  The things known about him are many, but they are outnumbered by the things that are not known.  It is known, for example, that he was employed in the secret service of Louis the Fifteenth ;  that he played the violin ;  wrote concertos and songs which are still extant ;  was chemist, linguist, illuminate, and adept ;  but his name, his nationality, his means of subsistence, his object in travelling and in intercourse with his fellow creatures are not known, and no one yet has made more than plausible suggestions as to the relation his accomplishments and activities bore to the central purpose of his life.  He has been called an adventurer, but though discredit is reflected on him by the word it throws no particular light on his career.  Scepticism and credulity walked hand in hand in the eighteenth century, as they do to-day, and many persons who had cast off the forms of traditional religion were ready to accord unquestioning reverence to men who claimed or evidenced the possession of supernatural powers, and it is probable that Saint-Germain made use of this state of affairs to prosecute his own designs.

It is interesting to remember that while Voltaire, with his searchlight mind, was illuminating the darker aspects of ecclesiasticism, while Boulanger and Beccaria were engaging their keen intellects in unmasking the whole foundation and structure of superstition, Cagliostro was dazzling the people by magical experiments, Cassanova was mystifying audiences, Schroepfer professing, by means of his famous mirror, to evoke spirits, and Cazotte practising the art of prophecy.  Though the contrast is curious it is not unnatural, for there must always be many people in the world who are oppressed with the sense of imprisonment, and who are grateful to those enchanters who lift men, however it may be, out of the hard and fast limitations of this mortal life into a sphere where limitations have no existence and where all things become possible.  In this sense of freedom and potentiality lie the charm and interest of those strange lives that have baffled scrutiny.

It is so rare for a human life to embody in action that imaginative quality which attracts us in poetry and art, that suggestiveness which gives the feeling of hidden power and fulness.  The struggle to work and the effort to succeed are generally visible ;  the capacity is nearly always to be gauged ;  and the individual may usually be summed up as a bundle of qualities producing certain results.  Lives in which imagination seems to rule all action, thought, and speech are almost unknown, and careers in which the boundaries of daily life are no longer felt must appeal to those who, either by circumstance or personality, are debarred from ever themselves realising the illusion of freedom.

A world of new diversion is created for us by such adventurings as those of Saint-Germain, and though in the future the enigma of his life may be solved by some laborious student, at present it is fraught with all the qualities of romance.  Now and again the curtain which shrouds his actions is drawn aside, and we are permitted to see him fiddling in the music room at Versailles, gossiping with Horace Walpole in London, sitting in Frederick the Great’s library at Berlin, or conducting Illuminist meetings in caverns by the Rhine.  But the curtain is often down, and it is only by a process of induction that the isolated scenes can be strung together into an intelligible drama of existence.

The travels of the Comte de Saint-Germain covered a long period of years and a great range of countries.  From Persia to France and from Calcutta to Rome he was known and respected.  Horace Walpole spoke with him in London in 1745 ;  Clive knew him in India in 1756 ;  Madame d’Adhémar alleges that she met him in Paris in 1789, five years after his supposed death :  while other persons pretend to have held conversations with him in the early nineteenth century.  He was on familiar and intimate terms with the crowned heads of Europe, and the honoured friend of many distinguished persons of all nationalities.  He is often mentioned in the memoirs and letters of the day, and always as a man of mystery.  Frederick the Great, Voltaire, Madame de Pompadour, Rousseau, Chatham, and Walpole, who all knew him personally, rivalled each other in curiosity as to his origin.  No one, during the many decades in which he was before the world, succeeded, however, in discovering why he appeared as a Jacobite agent in London, as a conspirator in Petersburg, as an alchemist and connoisseur of pictures in Paris, or as a Russian General at Naples.

People agreed, and this in a day when a high value was set upon manners and evidence of breeding, that Saint-Germain was well born.  His grace of bearing and ease in all society were charming.  Thiebault says :  “ In appearance Saint-Germain was refined and intellectual.  He was clearly of gentle birth and had moved in good society . . . he was a wise and prudent man who never wilfully offended against the code of honour or did anything that might offend our sense of probity.”  When in Paris his portrait was painted for the Marquis d’Urfé, and from this picture was made an engraving on copper by N. Thomas, of Paris (1783).  The intelligent and rather whimsical young face set above the delicate shoulders gives the idea that Saint-Germain was but a little man.  The portrait is labelled “ Marquis de S. Germain, der Wundermann.”  It was dedicated to to the Comte de Milly, and beneath it was inscribed this verse :

Ainsi que Prométhée il déroba le feu
     Par qui le monde existe et par qui tout respire ;
La nature à sa voix obéit et se meurt.
     S’il n’est pas Dieu lui-même un Dieu puissant l’inspire.

Though men agreed about his grace of manner they disagreed as to theories of his origin, and this may be partly owing to the fact that he chose to live under so many assumed names.  In Paris, the Hague, London, and Petersburg he was the Comte de Saint-Germain ;  in Genoa and Leghorn, Count Soltykoff ;  in Venice, Count Bellamare or Aymar ;  in Milan and Leipzig, Chevalier Weldon ;  in Schwalbach and Triesdag, Czarogy, which he pointed out was but the anagram for the family from which he really sprang—Ragoczy.  He told Prince Charles of Hesse that he was the son of Prince Ragoczy, and that he had assumed the name of Saint-Germain to please himself.  He knew a good deal about Italy, and Madame de Pompadour detected an Italian accent in all he said, and so thought him of Italian birth ;  but this might be accounted for if he really was educated at the University of Siena.  The evidence for this is slight, but there is no suggestion that he was educated elsewhere, and Madame de Genlis says that she heard men talk of him as a student there during a visit paid to that town.  Another theory is that he was the son of a cloth merchant in Moscow, and that his father’s business accounted for his unfailing supply of gold.  The theory of his Russian descent is supported by the fact that he talked Russian fluently ;  by the secret instructions of Choiseul to Pitt (1760) to have the Count arrested as a Russian spy ;  as well as by his having been concerned in the Orloff conspiracy to dethrone the Czar Peter and to set up Catherine the Second in his place.

He is said to have been born in the same year as Louis the Fifteenth (1710), but this is a matter of no moment, as it would not help men to understand Saint-Germain any the better to have his baptismal certificate in their hands, and it is enough to know that he lived and was well known in Europe from 1742 to 1782 as a man of young and interesting appearance.  Queen Christina of Sweden made a wise observation when she said :  “ There is no other youth but vigour of soul and body ;  every one who has this vigour is young, no matter if he be a hundred years old, and every one who has it not is old, no matter if his years number but eighteen.”  All who came in contact with Saint-Germain noticed that he possessed this vigour and alettness of body and soul to a remarkable extent.  People thought he lived by virtue of some charm, for he was never known to eat in public, to confess to illness or fatigue, or to grow perceptibly older in looks.

From 1737 to 1742 he was in Asia, at the Court of the Shah of Persia for a while, afterwards learning the mysticism and philosophy of the Orient in secluded mountain monasteries.  It was said that he became an adept, and there is no doubt that he was in possession of secrets and knowledge with which the majority of men are unacquainted.  His study of Oriental languages was profound, his love of the East a passion, and on his return to Europe a rumour circulated that near Aix he had constructed a retreat where, sitting on a golden altar in the attitude of the conventional Buddha, he passed periods of intense contemplation.  In 1743 he came to England, and apparently lived in London in a quiet way, writing music, playing the violin, and industriously working in Jacobite plots.  As an active Freemason he would quite naturally have been employed in this fashion.  Legitimists, it will be remembered, had been the means of introducing the English School of Masonry into France, and Saint-Germain had affiliated himself early to one of the first of the Anglo-French lodges.  To be both Jacobite and Jacobin was no impossibility, for the one activity grew in many instances out of the other.  The Count was often in direct communication with the Pretender, but when arrested on suspicion of being concerned in attempts to restore the Stuart dynasty no incriminating papers were found in his possession, and he was at once released.

Horace Walpole says :

“ The other day they seized an odd man, the Count Saint-Germain.  He has been here these two years and will not tell who he is or whence, but professes . . . that he does not go by his right name. . . . He sings and 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 an unsated curiosity about him, but in vain.  However nothing has been made out against him ;  he is released ;  and what convinces me that he is not a gentleman, stays here, and talks of his being taken up for a spy.”[1]

He left a musical record behind him to remind English people of his sojourn in this country.  Many of his compositions were published by Walsh, in Catherine Street, Strand, and his earliest English song, “ Oh, wouldst thou know what sacred charms,” came out while he was still on his first visit to London ;  but on quitting this city he entrusted certain other settings of words to Walsh, such as ” Jove, when he saw,” and the arias out of his little opera “ L’Inconstanza Delusa,” both of which compositions were published during his absence from England.  When he returned, in 1760, he gave the world a great many new songs, followed in 1780 by a set of solos for the violin.  He was an industrious and capable artist, and attracted a great deal of fashionable attention to himself both as composer and executant.

“ With regard to music, he not only played but composed ;  and both in a high taste.  Nay, his very ideas were accommodated to the art ;  and in those occurrences which had no relation to music he found means to express himself in figurative terms deduced from this science.  There could not be a more artful way of showing his attention to the subject.  I remember an incident which impressed it strongly on my memory.  I had the honour to be at an assembly of Lady ——, who to many other good and great accomplishments added a taste for music so delicate that she was made a judge in the dispute of masters.  This stranger was to be of the party ;  and towards evening he came in his usual free and polite manner, but with more hurry than was customary, and with his fingers stopped in his ears.  I can conceive easily that in most men this would have been a very ungraceful attitude, and I am afraid it would have been construed into an ungenteel entrance ;  but he had a manner that made everything agreeable.  They had been emptying a cartload of stones just at the door, to mend the pavement :  he threw himself into a chair and, when the lady asked what was the matter, he pointed to the place and said, ‘ I am stunned with a whole cartload of discords.’ ”[2]

According to Madame de Pompadour Saint-Germain made his first appearance in France in 1749.  Louis the Fifteenth thought him an entertaining and agreeable addition to his Court, and listened to his stories of adventures in every land and his gossip on the most intimate affairs of the European chanceries with delight.  No one at the Court knew anything about the Count’s history, but he seems to have made the chance acquaintance of Belle Isle and by him to have been introduced to Madame de Pompadour.  A judicious bestowal of gifts quickly ingratiated him with his new patrons.  He gave pictures by Velasquez and Murillo to Louis XV., and to the “ Marquise ” gems of great value.  His many accomplishments diverted the King.  Sometimes he showed off his retentive memory by repeating pages of print after one reading ;  sometimes he played the violin ;  and sometimes he sang ;  sometimes he wrote with both hands at once, and proved that the compartments of his brain worked independently by inscribing a love letter and a set of verses simultane ously.  The only poem of that date attributed to him which is still extant is a mystical sonnet :

Curieux scrutateur de la Nature entière,
     J’ai connu du grand tout le principe et la fin.
J’ai vu l’or en puissance au fond de sa rivière,
     J’ai saisi sa matière et surpris son levain.

J’expliquai par quel art l’âme aux flancs d’une mère
     Fait sa maison, l’emporte, et comment un pépin
Mis contre un grain de blé, sous l’humide poussière ;
     L’un plante et l’autre cep, sont le pain et le vin.

Rien n’était, Dieu voulant, rien devint quelque chose,
J’en doutais, je cherchai sur quoi l’univers pose.
     Rien gardait l’équilibre et servait de soutien.

Enfin avec le poids de l’éloge et du blâme
Je pesai l’éternel ;  il appella mon âme :
     Je mourrai, j’adorai, je ne savais plus rien.[3]

Saint-Germain was credited with the possession of alchemical secrets, and he was said to practise the crystallisation of carbon.  Madame de Hausset, who was as credulous as most of the Court ladies of that day, tells how Louis XV. showed the Count a large diamond with a flaw, remarking that it would be worth double if it were flawless.  The alchemist promptly offered, in four weeks’ time, to make it so, and begged that a jeweller might be summoned to act as judge in the matter.  At the appointed time the jeweller, who had valued the diamond at 6000 francs in the first instance, offered the King 10,000 francs for the improved stone.  Count Cobenzl was present at “ the transmutation of iron into a metal as beautiful as gold, and at least as good for all goldsmith’s work.”  Every one seemed to be convinced by ocular demonstration of the truth of Saint-Germain’s pretensions, and when Quesnay dared to call him a quack he was severely reprimanded by the King.

Whatever we may think to-day of Saint-Germain’s claims to be an alchemist we cannot doubt that he was a working chemist, for Madame de Genlis says :  “ He was well acquainted with physics and a very great chemist.  My father, who was well qualified to judge, was a great admirer of his abilities in this respect.”  She also narrates that he painted pictures in wonderful colours, from which he got “ unprecedented effects.”  It seems just possible that he may in some way have anticipated the discovery of Unverdorben and the practice of Perkins with regard to aniline dyes, for he produced brilliant results without the agency of either cochineal or indigo.  Kaunitz, who in 1755 negotiated the pact between Vienna and Versailles, received a letter from his fellow countryman Cobenzl expressing astonishment at Saint-Germain’s discoveries and telling of experiments made in dyeing skins and other substances under his own eyes.  The treatment of skins he asserted “ was carried to a perfection which surpassed all the moroccos in the world ;  the dyeing of silks was perfected to a degree hitherto unknown ;  likewise the dyeing of woollens ;  wood was dyed in the most brilliant colours which penetrated through and through the whole.  All this was accomplished without the aid of indigo or cochineal, but with the commonest ingredients and consequently at a very moderate price.  He composed colours for painting, making ultramarine as perfect as if made from lapis-lazuli ;  and he could destroy the smell of painting oils, and make the best oil of Provence from the oils of Navette, of Cobat, and from other oils even worse.  I have in my hand all these productions made under my own eyes.”

Saint-Germain always attributed his knowledge of occult chemistry to his sojourn in Asia.  In 1755 he went to the East again for the second time, and writing to Count von Lamberg he said, “ I am indebted for my knowledge of melting jewels to my second journey to India.  On my first expedition I had but a very faint idea of this wonderful secret, and all the experiments I made in Vienna, Paris, and London were as such worthless.”

This journey to India was probably undertaken at the instance of Louis XV., who for some years employed Saint-Germain as a secret agent.  The Count says that he travelled out in the same ship as General Clive, under the command of Vice-Admiral Watson, in what capacity he does not inform us, but it may have been as ship’s doctor.  After learning all he could of the English schemes for the subjugation of India he returned to Europe in the year in which Calcutta was retaken and the battle of Plassy fought.  Going straight to his employer in Paris he was immediately installed as a mark of royal favour in a suite of rooms at Chambord.

Books have been written on the secret service organised by the Duc de Broglie for Louis XV., and many of the letters to the emissaries employed have been published.  Either the King or De Broglie had an unusual gift for discerning men that were likely to serve them well in such undertakings.  The notorious Chevalier d’Eon was commissioned as a secret agent to Russia before he entered the official diplomatic service, and it will be remembered that he remained for some months as “ lectrice ” to Catherine II. before he was ordered to reassume man’s dress and figure as secretary of embassy at Petersburg.  Saint-Germain was employed on many private missions by Louis XV., who both trusted his discretion and admired his wit.  His apparent contempt for his fellow creatures pleased the King.  “ To entertain any esteem for men, Sire, one must be neither a confessor, a minister, nor a police officer,” he one day remarked.  “You may as well add, Comte,” replied Louis XV., “ a king.”

Sated with pleasure and bored with a life in which no wish, however faint, remained ungratified, Louis XV. found great entertainment after Cardinal Fleury’s death in being his own minister for foreign affairs.  He had been brought up to trust no one, and it gave him a sense of security and power to have within his hands a means of checking his accredited State officials.  In consequence of the way in which his secret service was organised the King was often in possession of news earlier than his ministers, and could hardly refrain from cynical laughter when belated information was tendered by them to him on matters of which he was already cognisant.  Negotiations for peace and alliance were essayed in various countries ;  men were unofficially sounded, public sentiment quietly gauged, opinions dexterously extracted, in such a way that when open and official action was taken the King could predict in an omniscient manner the outcome of affairs.

It is necessarily difficult to track the footsteps of any secret agent, and except for occasional glimpses caught of Saint-Germain during the Seven Years’ War through the despatches of generals we cannot know much of his doings.  He was anxious that France should make an alliance with Prussia, and it will be remembered that at this time there were two policies pulling against each other at the French Court—that of Choiseul, whose first act as Prime Minister was to ratify the treaty of peace with Maria Theresa (1758) made by his predecessor Bernis (1756), and that of the Belle-Isles, who were incessantly intriguing to get a special covenant made with Prussia, and so to break up the alliance between France and Austria, on which the credit of Choiseul rested.  This special treaty was, after a while, drawn up, and Saint-Germain, who received the document in cypher from the King’s own hand, was despatched to discuss the negotiation with Frederick the Great.  Choiseul, though he was unaware of this transaction, was naturally angry at the favour shown to Saint-Germain by his master, and determined to compass his downfall, and he did not regret the antics of a young Englishman, Lord Gower, at that time resident in Paris, who posed as “ der Wundermann,” boasting that he had been present at the Council of Trent, and had the secret of immortality, as well as doing all kinds of ridiculous things which indirectly brought discredit on Saint-Germain.  It seems possible that some knowledge of the Count’s mission to the Prussian King may have leaked out, for Voltaire, in a letter to that monarch, said :

“ Your ministers doubtless are likely to have a better look-out at Breda than I :  Choiseul, Kaunitz, and Pitt do not tell me their secret.  It is said to be only known by Saint-Germain, who supped formerly at Trenta with the Council Fathers, and who will probably have the honour of seeing your Majesty in the course of fifty years.  He is a man who never dies and who knows everything.”

Saint-Germain greatly disturbed the peace of mind of foreign generals and ministers, who became uneasy and suspicious when he discussed affairs with them, for no one knew how far the Count was empowered by the French King to treat of State business.  A secret agent, after all, may at any moment be disavowed, and must always be viewed by the official world in the light of a spy.  General Yorke, who was commanding the English forces in this campaign, wrote to his chief, Lord Holdernesse, several times on the subject of Saint-Germain, and it seems possible from the nature of Lord Holdernesse’s reply that they may have had information in England as to Saint-Germain’s real position with the King.  Writing from the Hague in March 1760, General Yorke says :

Your lordship knows the history of that extraordinary man known by the name of Count Saint-Germain, who resided some time in England, where he did nothing ;  and has within these two or three years resided in France, where he has been upon the most familiar footing with the French King, Madame de Pompadour, Monsieur de Belle-Isle, &c.;  which has procured him a grant of the Royal Castle of Chambord, and has enabled him to make a certain figure in that country.  He appeared for some days at Amsterdam, where he was much caressed and talked of, and upon the marriage of Princess Caroline he alighted at the Hague.  The same curiosity created the same attention to him here. . . . Monsieur d’Affry treats him with respect and attention, but is very jealous of him, and did not so much as renew my acquaintance with him.”[4]

Saint-Germain discussed the possibilities of peace with General Yorke, but when the Englishman showed himself secretive and undesirous of committing himself to a confidential talk the Count produced two letters from Belle-Isle by way of credentials.  In these letters the English general remarked that great praise was bestowed on Saint-Germain.  The Count told Yorke that the King, the Dauphin, Madame de Pompadour, and the Court desired peace with England, and that the only two ministers who wished to avoid this consummation were Choiseul and Bernis.  Yorke did not enjoy confiding in Saint-Germain, and talked but in vague and general terms in reply to his advances.  Lord Holdernesse approved this caution, but said that His Majesty (George II.) did not think it unlikely that Saint-Germain might have real authorisation to talk as he has done, but that General Yorke should be reminded that he cannot be disavowed by his Government, as Saint-Germain may be whenever it pleases Louis XV. so to do.

Choiseul, rather naturally, did not like being undermined by Louis XV.’s secret agents, and was especially incensed over Saint-Germain’s action at the Hague.  He went so far as to write to the official French representative, D’Affry, to order him to demand the States.  General to give up Saint-Germain, and that being done to bind him hand and foot and send him to the Bastille.  D’Affry meanwhile had written to Choiseul a despatch bitterly reproaching him for allowing a peace to be negotiated under his very eyes at the Hague, without informing him of it.  This despatch Choiseul read in Council, after which he repeated his own instructions to D’Affry on the extradition of Saint-Germain, and said, looking at Louis XV. and Belle-Isle :  “ If I did not give myself time to take the orders of the King it is because I am convinced that no one here would be rash enough to negotiate a treaty of peace without the knowledge of your Majesty’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.”

Other diplomats who met Saint-Germain at the Hague also wrote to the Foreign Secretaries of their respective countries for instructions.  It was so puzzling to them and to every one else that M. d’Affry should at first have welcomed Saint-Germain and then have nothing to say to him, and that Choiseul should go out of his way to discredit him by demanding his arrest.  Bentinck, the President of the Deputy Commissioners of the Province of Holland, who was most friendly with Saint-Germain, was extremely grieved that a plea for his arrest should have been laid before the States-General by M. d’Affry at the instance of the French Government, and immediately assisted the Count to escape from the Hague.  A few days after Saint-Germain had started for England M. d’Affry was recalled by his Court.

Kauderbach wrote to Prince Galitzin on the matter :

“ A certain Count Saint-Germain has appeared here lately (the Hague), and been the subject of much discourse, from his being suspected of having some private commission relating to the peace.  He pretended to be very intimate with Madame Pompadour and in great favour with the King.  At first he was much taken notice of by M. d’Affry ;  and had insinuated himself into families of fashion, both here and at Amsterdam.  But within these few days M. d’Affry has been with the Pensionary and with me, and has showed us a letter from M. de Choiseul, in which he says that the King had heard of Saint-Germain’s conduct with indignation ;  that he was a vagabond, a cheat, and a worthless fellow, and that the King ordered him (M. d’Affry) to demand him of Their High Mightinesses, and to desire that he may be arrested and sent immediately to Lisle, in order to his being brought from thence and confined in France.  The gentleman having got some ground to suspect what was preparing for him, went off, and it is thought he is gone to England, where he may probably open some new scene.”[5]

Later on in the same day Kauderbach discovered that Bentinck had assisted him to escape, that he was with Saint-Germain till one hour past midnight one morning, and that four hours later a carriage with four horses came to convey the Count to Helvoet Sluys.  He further wishes Galitzin joy of the adventurer.

“ I think him at the end of his resources.  He has pawned coloured stones here, such as opals, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies, and this is the man who pretends he can convert mountains into gold who has lived like this at the Hague !  He lies in a scandalous way, and he tried to convince us that he had completely cured a man who had cut off his thumb.  He picked up the thumb thirty yards away from its owner and stuck it on again with strong glue, ex ungue leonem.  I have seen the papers by which he pretends he is authorised to be confidential negotiator ;  they consist of a passport from the King of France and two letters from Marshal Belle-Isle, which, after all, stand for nothing, as the Marshal is always corresponding with the most vile newsmongers.”

Kauderbach’s opinion was not held by every one, for Saint-Germain had greatly impressed a Dutch nobleman, who was beyond measure distressed at his sudden departure from the Hague.  Writing to England Count de la “ Watn ” said, “ I know that you are the greatest man on earth, and I am mortified that these wretched people annoy you and intrigue against your peace-making efforts. . . . I hear that M. d’Affry has been unexpectedly summoned by his Court.  I only hope he may get what he deserves.”  Saint-Germain meanwhile went to England, where he suffered arrest.  “ His examination has produced nothing very material,” wrote Lord Holdernesse to Mitchell, the British envoy in Prussia, but he still thought it advisable for the Count to leave England.  This he apparently did not do, for the London papers of June 1760 tell stories of his behaviour and make guesses as to his origin and mission.

“ Whatever may have been the business of a certain foreigner here about whom the French have just made or have affected to make a great bustle, there is something in his most unintelligible history that is very entertaining ;  and there are accounts of transactions which bound so nearly upon the marvellous that it is impossible but that they must excite the attention of this Athenian age.  I imagine this gentleman, against whom no ill was ever alleged, and for whose genius and knowledge I have the most sincere respect, will not take umbrage at my observing that the high title he assumes is not the right of lineage or the gift of royal favour ;  what is his real name is perhaps one of those mysteries which at his death will surprise the world more than all the strange incidents of his life ;  but himself will not be averse, I think, to own this, by which he goes, is no more than a travelling title.

There seems something insulting in the term un inconnu, by which the French have spoken of him ;  and the terms we have borrowed from their language of an aventurier and a chevalier d’industrie always convey reproach, as they have been applied to this—I had almost said nobleman.  It is justice to declare that in any ill sense they appear to be very foreign from his character.  It is certain that, like the persons generally understood by these denominations, he has supported himself always at a considerable expense, and in perfect independence, without any visible or known way of living ;  but let those who say this always add that he does not play ;  nor is there perhaps a person in the world who can say he has enriched himself sixpence at his expense.

“ The country of this stranger is as perfectly unknown as his name ;  but concerning both, as also of his early life, busy conjecture has taken the place of knowledge ;  and as it was equal what to invent, the perverseness of human nature and perhaps envy in those who took the charge of the invention has led them to select passages less favourable than would have been furnished by truth.  Till more authentic materials shall have been produced it will be proper that the world suspend their curiosity, and charity requires not to believe some things which have no foundation.

“ All we can with justice say is :  This gentleman is to be considered as an unknown and inoffensive stranger, who has supplies for a large expence, the sources of which are not understood.

“ Many years ago he was in England, and since that time has visited the several other European kingdoms, always keeping up the appearance of a man of fashion, and always living with credit.

“ The reader who remembers Gil Blas’s master who spent his money without anybody’s understanding how he lived, ’tis applicable in more respects than one to this stranger, who, like him, has been examined also in dangerous times, but found innocent and respectable.  But there is this difference, that the hero of our story seems to have his money concentrated, as chymists keep their powerful menstruums, not in its natural and bulky form, for no carts used to come loaded to his lodgings.

“ He had the address to find the reigning foible always of the place where he was going to reside, and on that he built the scheme of rendering himself agreeable.  When he came here and he found music was the hobby of this country, and took the fiddle with as good grace as if he had been a native player in whom true virtu reigns ;  and there he appeared a connoisseur in gems, antiques, and medals ;  in France he was a fop, in Germany a chymist.

“ By these arts he introduced himself in each of those countries, and to his high praise it must be owned that to whichever of them or to whatsoever else it may have been that he was bred, yet whichever he chose for the time seemed to have been the only employment of his life.

“ ’Twas thus in all the rest ;  among the Germans, where he played chymistry, he was every inch a chymist ;  and he was certainly in Paris every inch a fop.  From Germany he carried into France the reputation of a high and sovereign alchymist, who possessed the secret powder, and in consequence the universal medicine.  The whisper ran the stranger could make gold.  The expence at which he lived seemed to confirm that account ;  but the minister at that time, to whom the matter had been whispered as important, smiling answered he would put it on a short issue.  He ordered an enquiry to be made whence the remittances he received came, and told those who had applied to him that he would soon show them what quarries they were which yielded this philosopher’s stone.  The means that great man took to explain the mystery, though very judicious, served only to increase it ;  whether the stranger had accounts of the enquiry that was ordered and found means to evade it, and by what other accident ’tis not known, but the fact is that in the space of two years, while he was thus watched, he lived as usual, paid for everything in ready money, and yet no remittance came into the kingdom for him.

“ The thing was spoken of and none now doubted what at first had been treated as a chimera ;  he was understood to possess, with the other grand secret, a remedy for all diseases, and even for the infirmities in which time triumphs over the human fabric.”[6]

One diplomat, who was as curious as every one else in London, wrote home to say that the Count frequented the houses of “ the best families in England,” that he was “ well-dressed, modest, and never ran into debt.”  Another secretary of embassy, Von Edelsheim, received a letter from his master, Frederick the Great,[7] commenting on the political phenomenon—“ a man whom no one has been able to understand, a man so high in favour with the French King that he had thought of presenting him with the Palace of Chambord.”  The secret, if secret there was, of Saint-Germain’s life was well kept, for no one knew more about him in London after he had been there several months than they did when he arrived.  When his business in England was over he went to France, and in the following year the Marquis d’Urfé met him in the Bois de Boulogne.  From Paris he went to Petersburg to help the daughter of his old friend Princess Anhalt-Zerbst to mount the throne of Russia.  This daughter, Catherine, had for seventeen miserable years been married to a drunken and dissolute husband, who, on the death of his aunt, the Tsarina Elizabeth, in 1762, became the Tsar Peter.  In this year his wife, together with the Orloffs and Saint-Germain, planned his overthrow.  The Royal guards were incited to revolt ;  Peter was coerced into abdication ;  the priests were won over and were persuaded to anoint Catherine as proxy for her son.  The Orloffs completed the coup d’état by strangling Peter and proclaiming Catherine Empress in her own right.  Gregor Orloff, who was the Tsarina’s lover, told the Margrave of Brandenburg-Anspach how large a part in this revolution Saint-Germain played.  Catherine II. lived to enjoy the throne she had seized for twenty-nine years (1762-91), and during at least the earlier portion of that time she gave her protection to the masonic and Illuminist societies founded by Saint-Germain and his accomplices within her realm, though later she turned violently against them.  From Petersburg the Count went to Brussels, where he spent Christmas 1762.  Cobenzl, who renewed acquaintance with him about this time, found him “ the most singular man ” he had ever known, and announced that he believed him to be “ the son of a clandestine union in a powerful and illustrious family.  Possessed of great wealth, he lives in the greatest simplicity ;  he knows everything and shows an uprightness and a goodness of soul worthy of admiration.”  Cobenzl was particularly interested in Saint-Germain’s chemical experiments, and longed to put some of his inventions to practical money making uses.  He begged the Count to set up an industry at Tournay, and recommended him to a “ good and trustworthy merchant ” there of his acquaintance.  His friend, who at that time was known as M. de Zurmont, acceded to his request and set up a factory where a dyeing business was carried on with profitable results.  While Saint-Germain was living at Tournay Casanova arrived at the town, and being informed of the presence of the Count within it desired to be presented to him.  On being told that M. de Zurmont received no one he wrote to request an interview, which was granted on the condition that Casanova should come incognito, and that he should not expect to be invited to partake of food.  The Count, who was dressed during this interview in Armenian clothes, and who wore a long beard, talked much of his factory and of the interest which Graf Cobenzl took in the experiment.

Madame de Pompadour during her life had extended both to Saint-Germain and Casanova a protective and kindly patronage, and at her death Saint-Germain disappeared from France for four years.  During this disappearance from obvious life he was most probably carrying out those larger activities to which his whole being was devoted.  The founding of new masonic lodges, the initiation of illuminates, the organisation of fresh groups in different parts of Europe, as well as the share he took in Weishaupt’s great scheme for the amalgamation of secret societies, kept him constantly occupied and continuously travelling.  His advantages as an illuminate agent were enormous, and he could work more effectively for the emancipation of man from the ancient tyrannies than almost any one of his generation.  As a political agent he gained the ear and heard the views of the most inaccessible ministers in Europe ;  as a man of fashion he was received in every house ;  as an alchemist and magician he invested himself in the eyes of the crowd with awe and mystery ;  as a musician he disarmed suspicion and was welcomed by the ladies of all courts ;  but these various activities seemed to have served only as a cloak for the great work of his life, served but to conceal from an unspeculative generation the seriousness of his real mission.  In 1768 the course of his journeyings took him to Berlin, where the celebrated Pernetti was living.  This learned Benedictine, who was a freethinker and in favour of the secularisation of his order, had left Avignon a short while before to become librarian to the encyclopædist King.  He welcomed the arrival of Saint-Germain with delight, and “ was not slow in recognising in him the characteristics of an adept.”  Thiebault says that during the year of his stay in Berlin they “ had marvels without end, but never anything mean or scandalous.”

From Berlin he went to Italy, travelling under the name of D’Aymar or Bellamare, and Graf von Lamberg discovered him near Venice experimenting in the bleaching of flax.  It appears that he had found time to organise a small industry there since leaving Germany, for he had over a hundred hands in regular employment.  Von Lamberg persuaded Saint-Germain to travel with him, and they visited Corsica in the year of Napoleon’s birth (1769).  A newsletter from Tunis shows that after exploring that island they went to Africa.  “ Graf Max. v. Lamberg, having paid a visit to Corsica to make various investigations, has been staying here (Tunis) since the end of June in company with the Signor de Saint-Germain, celebrated in Europe for the vastness of his political and philosophical knowledge.”[8]

The mystery of his life became deeper when he recrossed the Mediterranean to meet the Orloffs at Leghorn, for while with them he wore the uniform of a Russian general.  The Russians at the time were fighting the Turks by sea as well as on the Kaghul, and the Orloffs were waiting to embark for the war.  It was observed that they addressed Saint-Germain as Count Soltykoff.  The Count became renowned at this time for his recipe for “ Acqua Benedetta ” (anglice Russian Tea) an infusion used on Russian men-of-war to preserve the health of the troops in the severe heat.  The English Consul at Leghorn secured the recipe, and wrote home in triumph to announce the fact.

On the fall of his old enemy Choiseul the Count hastened to Paris (1770), where he established himself splendidly and soon became an effective figure in the fashionable world.  His generosity and manner of life excited the admiration of the people, and his intimacy with the old and now decrepit King gave him an importance that impressed the vulgar.  After two years of French life he went on a mission to Vienna where he associated intimately with the Orloffs, to whom he had become “ caro padre.”  Louis XV., who was at the time ruling without the hindrance of a Parliament, had probably despatched Saint-Germain to the Austrian capital to gather all possible information as to the partition of Poland.  The Treaty of Petersburg, by which this was effected, was arranged during his visit, and Austria, Russia, and Prussia shared the spoils.  After its conclusion Saint-Germain returned to Paris and remained there till the death of Louis XV.[9]  Louis XVI., on his accession, recalled Choiseul to his councils, and Saint-Germain left France.  The next few years he spent in Germany in the society of the, at that time, unknown leaders of the secret societies.  Bieberstein, Weishaupt, Prince Charles of Hesse, and Mirabeau are known to have been his friends ;  he instructed Cagliostro in the mysteries of the magician’s craft, and worked in conjunction with Nicolai at securing the German press in the interest of the perfectibilist movement.  In 1784 the illuminate, Dr. Biester, of Berlin, certified that Saint-Germain had been “ dead as a door nail for two years.”  Great uncertainty and vagueness surround his latter days, for no confidence can be reposed in the announcement by one illuminate of the death of another, for, as is well known, all means to secure the end were in their code justifiable, and it may have been to the interest of the society that Saint-Germain should have been thought dead.  He is reported to have attended the Paris Congress of Masonry as a representative mason in 1785, but no proof of this is available.  Madame d’Adhémar,[10] whose memoirs one cannot help suspecting are apocryphal, alleges that Saint-Germain frequently had interviews with the King and Queen, in which he warned them of their approaching fate, but “ M. de Maurepas, not wishing the salvation of the country to come from any one but himself, ousted the thaumaturgist and he reappeared no more ” (1788).

Madame d’Adhémar copied a letter from Saint-Germain containing prophetic verses.

The time is fast approaching when imprudent France,
Surrounded by misfortune she might have spared herself,
Will call to mind such hell as Dante painted.

Falling shall we see sceptre, censor, scales,
Towers and escutcheons, even the white flag.

Great streams of blood are flowing in each town ;
Sobs only do I hear, and exiles see.
On all sides civil discord loudly roars

And uttering cries, on all sides virtue flees
As from the Assembly votes of death arise.
Great God, who can reply to murderous judges ?
And on what brows august I see the swords descend !

The Queen asked Madame d’Adhémar what she thought of the verses.  “ They are dismaying ;  but they cannot affect your Majesty,” she said.

Saint-Germain, who had other prophecies to make, offered to meet Madame d’Adhémar in the Church of the “ Récollets ” at the eight o’clock Mass.  She went to the appointed place in her sedan chair and recounts the words of the “ Wundermann.”

SAINT-GERMAIN.  I am Cassandra, prophet of evil . . . Madame, he who sows the wind reaps the whirlwind . . . I can do nothing ;  my hands are tied by a stronger than myself.

“ MADAME.  Will you see the Queen ?

“ SAINT-GERMAIN.  No ;  she is doomed.

“ MADAME.  Doomed to what ?


“ MADAME.  And you—you too ?

“ SAINT-GERMAIN.  Yes-like Cazotte. . . . Return to the Palace ;  tell the Queen to take heed to herself, that this day will be fatal to her. . . .

“ MADAME.  But M. de Lafayette——

“ SAINT-GERMAIN.  A balloon inflated with wind !  Even now they are settling what to do with him, whether he shall be instrument or victim ;  by noon all will be decided. . . . The hour of repose is past, and the decrees of Providence must be fulfilled.

“ MADAME.  What do they want ?

“ SAINT-GERMAIN.  The complete ruin of the Bourbons.  They will expel them from all the thrones they occupy and in less than a century they will return in all their different branches to the rank of simple private individuals.  France as Kingdom, Republic, Empire, and mixed Government will be tormented, agitated, torn.  From the hands of class tyrants she will pass to those who are ambitious and without merit.”

The prophecies preserved by Madame d’Adhémar remind us of those of Cazotte, which La Harpe affirms were uttered in his presence, but it is always difficult for plain people, no matter how credulous they be, to credit any human being with foreknowledge of events, and it is quite probable that Madame d’Adhémar,[11] writing her memoirs in the early nineteenth century in the red afterglow of the Revolution, not only confused dates, but even invented words more prescient than any Saint-Germain ever spoke.  However that be, and even if the words of Madame d’Adhémar are not to be relied on, we find ourselves still face to face with an enigmatic personality of unusual power and numberless parts.  He has been dead a little more than a century, and so in time is almost one of ourselves ;  he lived surrounded by spies and secret agents ;  he took no pains to conceal his habits from the world, and yet he remains a mystery.  He was involved in many of the most important events of the eighteenth century and was responsible for much of its diplomacy.  Some day, perhaps, his life may be set down as a consecutive story inspired by a definite aim.  It is a work worth doing, for it would prove whether Saint-Germain was, as men have so often called him, a charlatan, or whether he was, as some believe him to have been, a political genius of unrivalled ambition and great accomplishment.

1. “ Letters of Horace Walpole,” vol. ii. p. 161.

2. “ London Chronicle,” June 1760.

3. “ Poèmes Philosophiques sur l’Homme.”  Chez Mercier, Paris.  1795.

4. Lord Holdernesse’s Despatches, 1760.  6818 plut. P.L. clxviii. I (I2).  “Mitchell Papers,” vol. xv.

5. The Hague, April 18, 1760.  Series Foreign Ambassadors (Intercepted).  Extract from copy of letter from M. Kauderbach to Prince Galitzin, received April 22, 1760.

6. Anecdotes of a Mysterious Stranger, “ London Chronicle,” May 31 to June 3, 1760.

7. Dated from Freyberg.  “ Œuvres posthumes de Fréd. II., Roi de Prusse,” vol, iii. p. 73.  Berlin 1783.

8. “ Le Notize del Mondo,” Florence, July 1770.

9. May 10, 1774.

10. “ Les Souvenirs de Marie-Antoinette,” cit. by Mrs. Cooper Oakley, vol. xxiii. Theos. Rev.

11. She died in 1822.