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In 1756, when the elite of Parisian society dressed in gaudy fashions of bright colours, a tall man who appeared to be in his mid-forties, arrived at court in the French capital dressed completely in black and wearing fabulous diamond rings.  A learned man, he could speak French, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Italian, German, English, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Sanskrit and Chinese fluently and play piano and violin as well as being an excellent singer.  His knowledge of history, politics, philosophy, theology and many other subjects was encyclopaedic.  He had impeccable manners, was ever gracious and introduced himself as the Count de St Germain.

St Germain was also apparently an accomplished physician.  He cured a young woman at court of mushroom poisoning and had also cured Marshall de Bellisle, whom he arrived at  court with, of a disease he contracted during a military campaign.  When word got around about this fantastic man, many wished to meet him.  Among these was the Countess von Gery, who had met a man of the same name in Venice some forty years earlier.

The two met and the Countess found St Germain absolutely charming company, and thought him very familiar.  She therefore asked if she had possibly met his father during her time in Venice.  Count St Germain shook his head and explained that he was indeed the same man the Countess had met in Venice.   The Countess was confused and stated that if he were the same man, then he had not aged a day in some forty years and thus expressed doubt at his claim.  The Count then recounted many facts about their meeting in Venice which only he and the Countess could allegedly have known.  At the end of this he smiled and said “I am very old.”The Countess went white and exclaimed, “You must be a devil.”  At this, the Count’s composure is said to have changed completely.  He became pale and whispered “Please, no such names.” before excusing himself from the room.

It was then that rumours of the Count using supernatural powers or witchcraft began to circulate, whilst others thought he may be the Wandering Jew of legend.  The story of the Wandering Jew was brought back to Europe by crusading knights.  Completely anti-Semitic (the crusaders despised Jews as much as they despised Mohammedans), it claims that as Jesus was carrying his cross up the hill, one Jew, whom some name Cartaphilus, berated Jesus and told him to hurry up.  The legend claims that Jesus replied to him, “I go.  But thou shall wait for my return.” before continuing up the hill.  The legend continues that Cartaphilus laughed at the time, but as the years rolled on, he watched those younger than him, first children, then grandchildren, die before him, and it slowly dawned upon him what Jesus had meant.  Could the Count de St Germain then be Cartaphilus?  Thought the cream of French society.  Could that be the secret of his great knowledge?

Great knowledge St Germain did indeed possess.  Apart from all mentioned above, he performed many marvels of science – and apparently alchemy – at the French court.  He once took a diamond from the king, valued at 6000 francs, and removed the flaws to the point that a jeweller valued it at 10,000 francs.  He was claimed to have transmuted silver to gold, in the presence of Casanova, no less.  Spurious claims of alchemy apart, it is a fact that Count de St Germain set up a factory in Paris with a new method of dyeing silks and softening leather, which added to his not inconsiderable fortune.

Whilst the Count de St Germain when pressed would neither confirm nor deny that he was the Wandering Jew of legend, he would speak often of Jesus and the events of the New Testament as if he knew the participants and was actually there at the time.  He would speak most movingly of Jesus and would openly weep, particularly if pressed for more details, when he would quickly change the subject.

Of course, not all society accepted the preposterous Wandering Jew theory, but as this was the 18th century, some thought he may have discovered the elixir of life, or some other substance allowing him great longevity.  To support this they pointed out that the Count never sat at table with other guests but always retired to his room to dine alone.  Some even claimed he did indeed have such an elixir, stating that he had told them so and that he was older than any of them could ever imagine.

One young noble recounted a remarkable exchange he had with one of the Count’s servants. Being skeptical, the noble had told the servant “Your master is a liar.”  To which the servant had reputedly replied “I know that better than you young sir. He tells everyone that he is four thousand years old. But I have been in his service one hundred years, and when I came the count told me he was three thousand years old.  Whether he has added nine hundred years by accident or has lied to me I cannot say.”  On another occasion when the count was being pressed on a matter of ancient history, he asked his valet to prompt his memory, to which his servant replied “Perhaps the Count forgets that I have been in his service only five hundred years?”  If Count de St Germain did indeed possess the elixir of life, it seems he was sharing it with his servants.

So who was this miraculous Count?  Documents have been uncovered that before he arrived in Paris, he may have been arrested in London in 1745 on suspicion of being a spy in the Jacobite cause of Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), who was at the time approaching Derby.  Horace Walpole recorded in a letter,

…the other day they seized an olld man who goes by the name of Count Saint Germain.  He has been here these two years and will not tell whence… …He sings, plays on the violin wonderfully, composes, is mad, and not very sensible.  He is called an Italian, a Spaniard, a Pole; someoen 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 unsatisfied curiosity about him.

The year 1755 found the Count in Vienna where he was a wealthy aristocrat.  In 1760 the King of France sent St Germain on a diplomatic mission to the Hague where he took part in peace negotiations between England and the Netherlands.  He is then reputed to have made a fortune in Holland before taking part in the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74, being raised to the rank of general in the Imperial Russian Army.

Then for ten years there is no mention of him, until in 1784 an elderly man, apparently in his seventies, who suffered from rheumatism and bouts of depression, died in the small town of Eckenforde, in Schleswig-Holstein (now part of Germany).  This man, slightly built but with a vast knowledge and impeccable manners, was declared to be by Charles, Prince of Hesse-Cassel, the Count de St Germain, “one of the greatest sages who ever lived.”   If St Germain had the elixir of life, it had apparently ran out, as he died alone in a quiet German town.

And yet, there is one final twist.  After the fall of the Bastille in 1789, Marie Antoinette received a letter porporting to be from Count de Saint Germain, warning her that France would soon be turned on its head by a vast conspiracy.  Madame Adhemer, a close friend of the queen who fled and survived the revolution claimed to have met the Count, and that he had just returned from Japan where he had allegedly uncovered a world-wide plot to bring down France.  By 1870 there were so many reports of alleged meetings with the Count de St Germain that Emperor Napoleon III of France had an investigation carried out.  Hundreds of documents from this investigation were destroyed when fire ripped through the Hotel de Ville in 1871.

So just who was this Count de St Germain?  There is no doubt such a man existed.  We have Walpole’s description, his place in peace negotiations and his rise to become a Russian general, as well as his attendance at the French court.  He was real enough, but then what of his vast knowledge?  We can certainly rule out the claims that he lived thousands of years, for the simple fact that is not physically possible.  Could he then have been an extremely clever trickster who worked his way into high society?  Certainly, there have been many fantastic human beings throughout history, prodigies with a vast mental capacity as well as being very talented.  It is a possibility that Count de St Germain was one such man, but abused his great mental aptitudes for personal gain.

This of course must be the most logical explanation.  But if that were the case, he had already amassed a vast fortune.  Why take it further.  How did he ensure the silence of his servants, who would have been in on his ruse?  There being no honour among thieves, there is no guarantee that they would have not talked.  And what became of them when he ended up alone, if indeed the man who died in Eckenforde was St Germain.   And of course, if he were a clever conman, then how could he have known details of a meeting with Countess von Gery some forty years earlier?

Perhaps we shall never know.

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