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Saint-Germain, Comte De

SAINT-GERMAIN, COMTE DE (c. 1710-0. 1780) called der Wundermann, a celebrated adventurer who by the assertion of his discovery of some extraordinary secrets of nature exercised considerable influence at several European courts. Of his parentage and place of birth nothing is definitely known; the common version is that he was a Portuguese Jew, but various surmises have been made as to his being of royal birth. It was also stated that he obtained his money, of which he had abundance, from acting as spy to one of the European courts. But this is hard to maintain. He knew nearly all the European languages, and spoke German, English, Italian, French (with a Piedmontese accent) , Portuguese and Spanish. Grimm affirms him to have been the man of the best parts he had ever known. He was a musical composer and a capable violinist. His knowledge of history was comprehensive, and his accomplishments as a chemist, on which be based his reputation, were in many ways real and considerable. He pretended to have a secret for removing flaws from diamonds, and to be able to transmute metals. The most remarkable of his professed discoveries was of a liquid which could prolong life, and by which he asserted he had himself lived 2000 years. After spending some time in Persia, Saint-Germain is mentioned in a letter of Horace Walpole's as being in London about 1743, and as being arrested as a Jacobite spy and released. Walpole says: " 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." At the court of Louis XV., where he appeared about 1748, he exercised for a time extraordinary influence and was employed on secret missions by Louis XV.; but, having interfered in the dispute between Austria and France, he was compelled in June 1760, on account of the hostility of the duke of Choiseul, to remove to England. He appears to have resided in London for one or two years, but was at St Petersburg in 1762, and is asserted to have played an important part in connexion with the conspiracy against the emperor Peter III. in July of that year, a plot which placed Catherine II. on the Russian throne. He then went to Germany, where, according to the Memoires authentiques of Cagliostro, he was the founder of freemasonry, and initiated Cagliostro into that rite. He was again in Paris from 1770 to 1774, and after frequenting several of the German courts he took up his residence in Schleswig-Holstein, where he and the Landgrave Charles of Hesse pursued together the study of the " secret " sciences. He died at Schleswig in or about 1780-1785, although he is said to have been seen in Paris in 1789.

Andrew Lang in his Historical Mysteries (1904) discusses the career of Saint-Germain, and cites the various authorities for it. SaintGermain figures prominently in the correspondence of Grimm and of Voltaire. See also Oettinger, Graf Saint-German (1846) ; F. Biilau, Geheime Geschichten und rathselhafte Menschen, Band i. (1850-1860); Lascelles Wraxall, Remarkable Adventures (1863); and U. Birch in the Nineteenth Century (January 1908).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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