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Una Birch, The Comte de Saint-Germain

Una Birch, The Comte de Saint-Germain

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Published by: lectora on Dec 08, 2007
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Secret Societies
and the French Revolutiontogether with some kindred studiesby Una Pope-Hennessy, (née Una Birch), 1876-1949London : John Lane, The Bodley HeadNew York : John Lane Company : MCMXIThe Ballantyne Press Tavistock Street Covent GardenLondon
THE COMTE DESAINT-GERMAIN
THE lives of notable people donot often baffle biographers bytheir mystery, yet any attempt to arrange the incidents of Saint-Germain’slife upon paper has proved to be as futile and unsatisfactory as the effort topiece together a puzzle of which some of the principal parts were missing.Neither contemporary memoir-writers nor private friends have laid bare thereal business or ambition of the elegant figure who was admired for so manyyears of the eighteenth century in Europe as “ der Wundermann.” Thethings known about him are many, but they are outnumbered by the thingsthat are not known. It is known, for example, that he was employed in thesecret service of Louis the Fifteenth ; that he played the violin ; wroteconcertos 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 fellowcreatures are not known, and no one yet has made more than plausiblesuggestions as to the relation his accomplishments and activities bore to thecentral purpose of his life. He has been called an adventurer, but thoughdiscredit is reflected on him by the word it throws no particular light on hiscareer. Scepticism and credulity walked hand in hand in the eighteenthcentury, as they do to-day, and many persons who had cast off the forms of traditional religion were ready to accord unquestioning reverence to menwho claimed or evidenced the possession of supernatural powers, and it isprobable that Saint-Germain made use of this state of affairs to prosecute hisown designs.It is interesting to remember that while Voltaire, with his searchlightmind, was illuminating the darker aspects of ecclesiasticism, whileBoulanger and Beccaria were engaging their keen intellects in unmaskingthe whole foundation and structure of superstition, Cagliostro was dazzlingthe people by magical experiments, Cassanova was mystifying audiences,Schroepfer professing, by means of his famous mirror, to evoke spirits, andCazotte practising the art of prophecy. Though the contrast is curious it isnot unnatural, for there must always be many people in the world who areoppressed with the sense of imprisonment, and who are grateful to thoseenchanters who lift men, however it may be, out of the hard and fast
 
limitations of this mortal life into a sphere where limitations have noexistence and where all things become possible. In this sense of freedomand potentiality lie the charm and interest of those strange lives that havebaffled scrutiny.It is so rare for a human life to embody in action that imaginativequality which attracts us in poetry and art, that suggestiveness which givesthe feeling of hidden power and fulness. The struggle to work and the effortto succeed are generally visible ; the capacity is nearly always to be gauged; and the individual may usually be summed up as a bundle of qualitiesproducing certain results. Lives in which imagination seems to rule allaction, thought, and speech are almost unknown, and careers in which theboundaries of daily life are no longer felt must appeal to those who, either bycircumstance or personality, are debarred from ever themselves realising theillusion of freedom.A world of new diversion is created for us by such adventurings asthose of Saint-Germain, and though in the future the enigma of his life maybe solved by some laborious student, at present it is fraught with all thequalities of romance. Now and again the curtain which shrouds his actionsis drawn aside, and we are permitted to see him fiddling in the music roomat Versailles, gossiping with Horace Walpole in London, sitting in Frederickthe Great’s library at Berlin, or conducting Illuminist meetings in caverns bythe 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 intelligibledrama 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 fromCalcutta to Rome he was known and respected. Horace Walpole spoke withhim in London in 1745 ; Clive knew him in India in 1756 ; Madamed’Adhémar alleges that she met him in Paris in 1789, five years after hissupposed death : while other persons pretend to have held conversationswith him in the early nineteenth century. He was on familiar and intimateterms with the crowned heads of Europe, and the honoured friend of manydistinguished persons of all nationalities. He is often mentioned in thememoirs and letters of the day, and always as a man of mystery. Frederickthe Great, Voltaire, Madame de Pompadour, Rousseau, Chatham, andWalpole, who all knew him personally, rivalled each other in curiosity as tohis origin. No one, during the many decades in which he was before theworld, succeeded, however, in discovering why he appeared as a Jacobiteagent in London, as a conspirator in Petersburg, as an alchemist andconnoisseur of pictures in Paris, or as a Russian General at Naples.
 
People agreed, and this in a day when a high value was set uponmanners and evidence of breeding, that Saint-Germain was well born. Hisgrace 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 prudentman who never wilfully offended against the code of honour or did anythingthat might offend our sense of probity.” When in Paris his portrait waspainted for the Marquis d’Urfé, and from this picture was made an engravingon copper by N. Thomas, of Paris (1783). The intelligent and ratherwhimsical young face set above the delicate shoulders gives the idea thatSaint-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, andbeneath it was inscribed this verse :
Ainsi que Prométhée il déroba le feuPar 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 totheories of his origin, and this may be partly owing to the fact that he choseto live under so many assumed names. In Paris, the Hague, London, andPetersburg he was the Comte de Saint-Germain ; in Genoa and Leghorn,Count Soltykoff ; in Venice, Count Bellamare or Aymar ; in Milan andLeipzig, Chevalier Weldon ; in Schwalbach and Triesdag, Czarogy, whichhe pointed out was but the anagram for the family from which he reallysprang—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 toplease himself. He knew a good deal about Italy, and Madame dePompadour 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 theUniversity of Siena. The evidence for this is slight, but there is nosuggestion that he was educated elsewhere, and Madame de Genlis says thatshe 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, andthat his father’s business accounted for his unfailing supply of gold. Thetheory of his Russian descent is supported by the fact that he talked Russianfluently ; by the secret instructions of Choiseul to Pitt (1760) to have theCount arrested as a Russian spy ; as well as by his having been concerned inthe Orloff conspiracy to dethrone the Czar Peter and to set up Catherine theSecond in his place.He is said to have been born in the same year as Louis the Fifteenth

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