Throughout the eighteenth century, there was an unusual character of apparent wealth, influence, and prosperity who was known to have come and gone amidst the royal courts of Europe. This man, whose heritage was often attributed to Transylvanian royalty, was considered a person of great interest and influence, advising the elite governing bodies by day, and dining with the rich aristocracies by night.
This man, known as the Comte de Saint Germain, carried with him an air of mystique the likes of which none during his lifetime had ever matched, or even neared. It was said by some that Saint Germain was an immortal, and that he had somehow uncovered the secrets to eternal youth. His friend Voltaire wrote describing him as ,"A man who knows everything and who never dies," and Saint Germain was also loved particularly in the courts of Louis XV, who had been said to grant him space during his visits to the Chateau of Chambord.
Amidst allegations that he could live indefinitely, Saint Germain was also a man of obvious wealth, leading some to proclaim he had unraveled the secrets of transmutation via alchemical processes, and hence could have endless access to untold wealth. Though history remembers him as the enigma described here, who was this man in the truest sense, and if any of the claims about him were true, what abilities and resources had the Comte de Saint Germain actually possessed that promoted him to such legendary status?
Throughout his life, those who knew Saint Germain lauded and praised his abilities and seemingly endless amounts of knowledge. Saint Germain, for instance, was described as a virtuoso on the violin, and a number of musical compositions do exist that are attributed to him. His involvement with secret organizations, which included Rosicrucianism, the Freemasons and Order of the Templars, the Society of Asiatic Brothers and the Knights of Light (which some accounts claim he co-founded), and even the infamous Illuminati, further promoted his appearance as some sort of nearly-divine esotericist. The Count had been known to have erected a laboratory everywhere he stayed, in addition to producing paintings and beautiful works of art. But perhaps the strangest among his many and varied character traits had been the Count's diet: though he was known to frequently dine with friends, he would eat very little while in polite company, save only a diet consisting primarily of oatmeal, and allowing an occasional lean cut of chicken.
"He is one of the oddest historical enigmas," wrote the French historian Jacques Sadoul in his 1970 work, Alchemists and Gold. "At the present time, he is supposed to be living in a mansion in Venice!" Sadoul noted curiously, in yet another testament to Saint Germain's alleged longevity. Sadoul wrote further of the Comte de Saint Germain that the seventeenth century British adept Eirenaeis Philalethes had been fingered as one possible identity of the famous immortal:
A well known fortune teller named Etteila even said that Eirenaeis Philalethes and Count de Saint Germain were one and the same individual. He declared in the Seen Degrees of the Hermetic Philosophic Work, published in 1786, 'M. de Saint-Germain unites in his own person a perfect knowledge of the three classical sciences, and is the true and only author of Philalethes' Open Door into the Secret Palace of the King.'
However, according the Sadoul, this seemed unlikely. "Personally, I do not agree with this venturesome identification," he wrote. "The Count de Saint-Germain appeared in the second half of the eighteenth century, about a hundred years after Philalethes. Nevertheless, it may be that he, like Nicholas Flamel, attained wisdom and, after a life of wandering, spent a long and serene old age in some secret refuge."
Sadoul devoted an entire chapter on the Count in his work on alchemy, where he writes that Saint Germain's actual historical existence begins in 1745 in London, where he was suspected of being a spy. Described as a middle aged man and an eloquent speaker, the name "Comte de Saint Germain" was likely a pseudonym, in that he is known to have related to his associate the Landgrave of Hesse that he called himself "Sanctus Germanus, the Holy Brother." His more regal title was no doubt a derivative of this earlier proclamation. It is also known that Saint Germain had travelled to France by 1758, where Louis XV had him as guest, and and Madame de Pompadour described, again, a middle aged man, this time of around the age of fifty, "dressed simply but of good taste," though wearing rings and other stone jewels for which he bore a legendary penchant. The known life of Saint Germain ended at the Duchy of Schleswig, castle home of his friend Charles, the Landgrave of Hesse, where he supposedly died while his friend and host had been traveling; this occurred on February 27, 1784, at which time he would have presumably been nearing or in his eighties.
The crux of Sadoul's examination regarding the Comte de Saint Germain deals with his alleged alchemical pursuits, however, as well as his possible association with Rose-Croix (Rosicrucianism). "It has even been said that Saint-Germain was Christian Rosenkreutz himself, the founder of the brotherhood, who, having discovered the Hermetic secret, acquired immortality and throughout history appeared under different identities, including that of Philalethes. Personally, I would not go so far," Sadoul objects, "but it does seem entirely probable that Saint-Germain was one of the high emissaries of the Rose-Croix, and that it was the Masters of this secret and always mysterious Society who initiated him... In any case, if he was not himself an Adept [in alchemical arts], the Count de Saint-Germain was certainly a Hermetic emissary, for his story can be explained only in light of the Philosopher's Stone."
Dennis William Hauk, who maintains a website called Alchemy Lab, features perhaps some of the most extensive written material that examines the belief in alchemical work pertaining to the mysteries surrounding Saint Germain. Reginald Merton's Comte Saint-Germain, which can be found there, explores most thoroughly the mysteries of Saint Germain, but in doing so, highlights perhaps even more revealing truths about the man than his alchemical aptitudes:
While he deliberately allowed his hearers to believe that his life had lasted inconceivably long, he never actually said so. He proceeded by veiled allusions.
"He diluted the strength of the marvelous in his stories," said his friend Gleichen, "according to the receptivity of his hearer. When he was telling a fool some event of the time of Charles V, he informed him quite crudely that he had been present. But when he spoke to somebody less credulous, he contented himself with describing the smallest circumstances, the faces and gestures of the speakers, the room and the part of it they were in, with such vivacity and in such detail that his hearers received the impression that he had actually been present at the scene. 'These fools of Parisians,' he said to me one day, 'believe that I am five hundred years old. I confirm them in this idea because I see that it gives them much pleasure -- not that I am not infinitely older than I appear.'"
If what Gleichen wrote was indeed true, it would seem that Saint Germain had been fully aware of his own mystique, and that in the right company, perhaps he even elaborated on such points so as to purposefully weave into his personality a time-traveling anti-hero; a man who had seen more than any other mortal ever had, or could, and had perhaps attended such famous historical occurrences as the wedding at Galilee, among others. In truth, while we may never know his true origins, the Comte de Saint Germain was obviously a formidable mind--a genius, perhaps--and a mind that could have easily immersed himself among almost any group. Indeed, had the Count ever really wished to become an intelligence agent for some individual (or perhaps an organization, on count of his involvement with the Rose-Croix), it seems he was fully capable of forming friendships and alliances that spanned the halls and allegiances of a number of courts and palaces; arguably, he did a finer job than anyone of his era.
The true story of Saint Germain may never be fully known, though as an entirely speculative endeavor, one might surmise that his occult eccentricities and endless knowledge would have been poorly spent on mere charlatanism, especially for one who would be equally welcomed among countrymen and royalty alike. The mystical qualities he espoused were alluring, but perhaps were more simply an elaborate curtain to screen against his true motivations and intentions; it hadn't seemed to be wealth the Count was after, and yet, to at least some reasonable extent, he seemed to possess all of it he needed. Indeed, following things logically, it begins to seem rather likely that the Comte de Saint Germain--who probably never shared with history his true name--could have been an intelligence agent of some sort... but for whom?
Or on the contrary, if it had not been the motivations of law and country that pushed him onward, perhaps instead it had been a deeper philosophy, and a belief in the individual and spiritual propensities held within every man. Merton again cites this desire to spread enlightenment and individuality that birthed the essence of immortality in Saint Germain... something he no doubt saw in each individual, rather than being an element to be physically pursued in life:
It was this immortality of the spirit that Saint-Germain tried to bring to a small group of chosen initiates. He believed that this minority, once it was developed itself, would, in its turn, help to develop another small number, and that a vast spiritual radiation would gradually descend, in beneficent waves, towards the more ignorant masses. It was a sage's dream, which was never to be realized.
And thus, perhaps we find separate justification for Saint Germain's alliances with the secret orders and rites, with whom he could freely promulgate the sacred order of man, apart from the seemingly nonsensical comings and goings of the man throughout his years on Earth. Rather than being the stuff of secrets for mere secrecy's sake, the Hermetic traditions he immersed himself in were key to his own individual essence, and it was something he wished to share with others. Similar figures throughout history, including characters that range from holy men like Jesus and Siddartha, to political philosophers as varied as Machiavelli and Jefferson, have drawn similar appeal for their transcendental attitudes; it is a perennial tradition among such individuals, also, to view them as something greater than those around them, possibly ancient, immortal, or even alien. Gods, in essence... but the universal truths they carry both may be, and yet need not stem entirely from the ethers between life and death or spirit and cosmos, in order simply to be true.
In his life, Saint Germain was an incredible man, and a human being of incredible talent and diversity. His prowess still marvels us today, and his legacy, both as the Hermetic esotericist, and as the timeless comic trickster, live on well beyond the years he existed among us. In achieving that sole individuality the way that he did, he truly did accomplish the unthinkable; for if immortality were truly what he had sought in life, we might all agree now that in death, he quite obviously found it. Indeed, a man need not live forever simply to have a shadow of influence that remains well after the body who cast it has fallen. Saint Germain found true immortality, and of the lasting variety which requires those things beyond the body--perhaps even death--to fully comprehend.